Disclaimer: Rattling off the credits so I don't get killed--"The X-Files" belongs to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. The cartoon "Captain N: The Game Master" should belong to DIC. Mark Moore came up with Stacey and Romeo's last names, Julius' name, and Kevin's parents. Steve Cronen came up with Det. Walker's name. Deepest apologies go out to James Cameron for mentions and ripping off of the Terminator films. The mention of "Dakota Jones" comes from a fanfic by Christine Morgan. Kelly Keene came out of my own warped imagination. This was my first foray into fanfic for both series, so be warned. There are several fairly obscure in-jokes in here inspired by friends of mine.

Timeline - For Captain N, right before the series ender. It was supposed to be the first season of X-Files, but then I was persuaded to write Skinner back in, and had to yank continuity to make it in 1992 to fit the premise. Actually, I've messed with continuity a LOT here for the sake of humor. Plenty of language, but nothing worse than a PG-13. Yet more apologies to anybody living in Northridge, CA; most of the locations mentioned don't really exist at all, but they're there for convenience.

Scared yet? Well, send me feedback! Write me to tell me you read this thing! And enjoy! (ALO, June 1998)

The N-Files
by Mandi Ohlin

Northridge, California
October 14, 1992
2:45 P.M.

There seemed to be a dull thudding at the back of his brain; it reverberated through his skull, settling into a steady rhythm as he drifted towards consciousness. Sensation returned, and the sound asserted itself as a mechanical beep, seemingly far away.

Kevin Keene opened his eyes, and immediately closed them again at the bright lights above him. He squinted, blinked a few times, and finally the brilliant blur solidified into the white walls and ceiling of a hospital room. As he recognized it, he started in surprise. What was he doing in the hospital?

He tried to sit up, but changed his mind as he realized how tired he felt. Not only that, his head felt as though it had been used for a punching bag. Confused, he turned his head, spotting a figure asleep in a nearby chair. At first, he didn't recognize her, but as she stirred, it dawned on him. "Kelly? That you?" he croaked hoarsely, wishing for a glass of water.

"Hmm?" She lifted her head, peering at him with sleep-glazed eyes. Then it dawned on her. "Kevin??" In her excitement, she shot straight up a few inches, immediately hitting her head on a small shelf above her. "Ow! Damn!"

Despite himself, Kevin managed a low laugh. That was definitely Kelly. "Watch your head, Squirrel."

"Oh, very funny." She finished rubbing her head, and pulled up a chair beside him. "How are you feeling? Everything intact?"

Kevin shrugged. "Ten fingers, ten toes, I think I'm all here." He trailed off, staring at his sister. It was definitely Kelly Keene staring at him, but yet it wasn't the same little sister who continually broke into his room to try to beat his video game scores. She didn't look little at all; she actually looked older. It was like looking at an eighth grade picture of someone and then seeing their high school senior photograph.

She noticed the strange look on his face. "What? What's wrong?"

"How long have I been out?" Kevin asked. "Why are your braces gone, and what the hell just happened?"

Someone at the door cleared his throat. Kelly and Kevin turned to see two figures standing in the doorway, one in a white coat and the other in jeans and sweater. Kelly immediately looked guilty. "Oh. I forgot to tell you. He's awake."

"Thanks for the notice," Ned Keene said sarcastically, reaching over to ruffle her hair and taking a seat on the other side of his son's bed. "How you doing?"

"I think my head's going to explode," Kevin groaned. "Where's Mom?"

"Stuck in traffic and going out of her mind, last time I heard," his dad answered. "It figures the day you finally decide to show up, she has to be out of town on business."

Confused, Kevin blinked a few times, his gaze shifting to the doctor. "Hey, Dr. Richards." At least his father and the doctor looked normal enough; Kevin remembered the man from previous trips to the hospital. Although he didn't know when his dad had decided to grow a mustache.

Richards smiled and nodded. "Kevin, it's good to see you again." He checked his clipboard. "Actually, you're in much better shape than we feared. I think if nothing untoward happens, you should be back home in a couple of days." A frown crossed his face. "At least those idiots from the news station have the sense to stay out of the recovery wing."

Kevin shook his head. "News station? This is too weird. Can someone tell me how many years I've been in a coma? What's going on?"

The doctor, Kelly, and Ned exchanged glances. "Kevin," Ned said quietly, "you've only been out at least a day or so. That is, it's been a day since we found you."

"Found me? Where was I?"

Something occurred to Kelly. "Kev, the last time you checked, what was the date?"

That was not a question he'd been expecting. "Um.....September 9th, 1989."

Kelly gaped, staring at the other two. "1989? Holy sh--" She broke off at Ned's stare. "Never mind."

A chill ran up Kevin's spine as his father, sister, and doctor stared at each other. "What's the date?" No one answered, and Kevin spoke through gritted teeth. "What's today's date??"

"October 14th," Dr. Richards finally answered. "1992."

Kevin couldn't even think of a response.

FBI Headquarters
Washington, DC
October 15
9:15 a.m.

When Dana Scully came into the office she and her partner shared, one glance at the look on Mulder's face made her want to turn around, go home, and crawl back into bed. She had learned to recognize that expression; it usually signaled a wild goose chase after the paranormal, or worse, an omen of an upcoming case from hell. To add to her suspicions, he was deeply engrossed in a series of newspaper clippings and reports, oblivious even to the bag of sunflower seeds by his elbow.

This was going to be trouble.

"All right, Mulder," she said, setting her bag on a chair. "What is it this time? I'd like to get this over with today."

Fox Mulder looked up, confused, then grinned. Obviously, he had learned to recognize her expressions as well. "A little incident in Northridge, California," he answered. "September of 1989, a fifteen-year-old kid named Kevin Keene, and apparently his dog, vanished without a trace. And I do mean without a trace." He shook a sheet of police reports at Scully, who snatched them up.

"No forced entry, no sign of actual exit or entry from the room," she murmured. "Last person to see him was his sister, who testified to his locking the door and not coming out."

Mulder grinned. "Picture this, Scully. The sister became tired of banging on the door and sulked in the stairwell. She never lost sight of the door. Then the kid started playing video games and tuning out his mother, who began yelling at him to clean his room."

"And let me guess, he didn't," Scully said blandly. "Fascinating."

"I'm not done yet. The Keene house--and only the Keene house; none of the other residences on the block had any problems--experienced a brownout at that time, and then some sort of power surge occurred. The sister apparently heard her brother yelling and the dog barking right at the same time, then the brownout ended just as the sounds ceased." Mulder had stood up and was pacing excitedly as he spoke. "When the mother and sister came up to check, both Kevin and the dog were gone."

"So? He could have climbed out the window."

"Scully, look at the report. The window was locked shut, on the inside. The room took some minor structural damage as well. That's not a runaway, and it's not your run-of-the-mill kidnapper."

She sighed. "It's also a three-year-old file."

"Not since two days ago," Mulder added. "Guess who suddenly turned up three blocks from his house. In the same clothes he disappeared in, with the same dog. And absolutely no memory of the three years he lost."

He looked like a kid at Christmas, and Scully decided to burst his bubble. "Mulder, what does that have to do with anything? I know what you're thinking, but you can't go in there expecting another Billy Miles."

"So you admit that really did happen."

"Mulder--" She broke off, biting back what she was about to say. It was too early in the day to get into an all-out shouting match with her partner. "All I'm saying," she finally said, sitting down across from him, "is that lately the Bureau hasn't had the X-Files division as a high priority. So far, everything we've had to investigate involves a recent crime, an immediate problem. Not to mention less than seven states away from D.C."

Mulder frowned, letting some of her meaning penetrate. "Scully, there is something to this. I know it."

"Maybe there is," she answered after a moment. "You can bring it up to Skinner if you like, and see what he has to say." Scully sat down, still holding the reports."But I have the feeling it's going to take a miracle to get them to fly us down there. And trust me, it probably won't be first class if they do."

He grinned anyway as she continued to scan the reports. "So you want me to drive?"

October 20
Northridge High School
10:45 p.m.

"Oh, *wow,*" Angela Driscoll slurred as she staggered across the deserted football field, trailing after her friend. "Brian, wait up! You're going too damn fast!"

"That's because you're too damn smashed, Angie!" she heard him shout from the shadows ahead of her. "Go home already!"

She giggled and tried to move faster. "Hell no! I'm not walking home this late, and you're the one with the car! Get your ass back here and drive me home now!"

Suddenly, he was there beside her, supporting her. "Go back to the car and wait for me, then. I told you, I gotta check this out. T.J. Walker said his dad saw these weird blue lights out here last night. You know, Detective Walker? Who doesn't drink?"

"Shut up. I'm coming with you."

"Go back to the car, Angie." With that, she shoved her in the direction of his car and jogged down the field towards the line of trees. Angela glanced back towards the car, then towards the trees, and followed him, a bit steadier and faster than before.

As she reached the trees, she looked around. No sign of him. "Bri?" No answer. "Come on, this isn't funny!" Still no answer. "Brian Mitchell, if you don't show yourself, I'm going to call my brother and get him to whip your ass, you hear me?"

Another silence, then she saw a shadow move. "Jerk," she muttered, stumbling towards the sound. "Brian, you really don't know how to treat a--"

She was cut off by a blood-curdling scream. Then silence. "Bri?" she whispered. There was no answer. Cautiously, she moved forward. "Brian? Are you there?"

Her question was answered as she nearly tripped over the body in the bushes. Covering her mouth in horror, she turned away only to face yet another shadow. Only this one was no shadow.

And it gave her no time to scream.

October 25
Downtown Northridge
9:30 a.m.

The rented sedan pulled up to the curb beside the vacant lot. At the moment, the lot could hardly be termed "vacant," not with the swarms of police and reporters moving to and fro. As she stepped out, Scully made a face at the number of news vans pulling up. "Great. This is only going to make things harder."

Mulder glanced around, surprised rather than annoyed at the number. "There must not be a lot of sensational stories around here."

"If you call this sensational," a voice behind him spoke up, "I sure as hell don't want to see what you consider depressing." Mulder turned to face the speaker, a man in his late forties, African-American, and, Scully couldn't help but notice, built like a tank. He was a few inches taller than her partner, and several inches broader.

Mulder pulled out his badge, and Scully did the same, trying to hide her amusement. "Agent Fox Mulder. This is Agent Dana Scully."

"FBI," the man finished, looking mildly impressed. "Finally. I was hoping you weren't part of the circus there." He whipped out his own badge and put it away. "Miles Walker. I'm supposed to be in charge of this investigation." He jerked his head towards the camera crews.

Scully nodded as she and Mulder shook hands with him in turn. "Detective Walker, isn't it? We spoke on the phone."

"Right after we racked up homicide number five," Walker sighed, gesturing them to follow him. "In the past five days, we've lost four kids."

"And you think it's the same killer," Mulder added.

Walker nodded as they approached the blockade and were waved through. "Pretty much the same MO, not to mention too close together to be random killings. Besides, relatively speaking, this isn't much of a high-crime area, even this close to L.A. The past few months, things have been almost peaceful, and now this."

"What do you mean by the same M.O, exactly?" Scully asked as they approached the crime scene. For answer, Walker gestured towards the body in the dirt.

The boy couldn't be any older than fifteen or sixteen, a skinny Caucasian male with dark brown hair and green eyes. There wasn't much else of great detail about him that was left, save for the bright red letter jacket he was wearing. "My God," she whispered, staring at the gashes. The teen's lower midsection was slashed open, right at the belt line. Oddly enough, despite the blood that covered him, thatwas the only major knife wound, with one exception. Where once the kid had a right hand, there was only a stump.

For a moment, Mulder looked like he was considering going vegetarian. "The hand and the midsection? Same with every one?"

"Goes for the right hand first, then always the waist." The police detective grimaced. "Then the psycho actually kills the kid." Walker shuddered. "Damn, it's driving me nuts. I keep thinking that the next kid's going to be one of my boys."

"I'll definitely need to do an autopsy," Scully said. "Detective, has the killer left any clues behind? Fingerprints, hair, debris?"

Walker blinked. "Debris?"

"Certain fabrics, even animal hair or feathers?" Mulder suggested. "We may not be dealing with an isolated individual, Detective. There have been cases of underground cults, occult and voudoun practitioners, being found responsible for what investigators originally believed to be the work of a serial killer."

Sighing, Walker shook his head and motioned to one of his officers. "I'll talk to the Chief about getting clearance for the autopsy. In the meantime, I'm guessing you two are going to want to be updated." He cast a glance at the reporters skulking around behind the police blockade. "After we get this mess cleared out, how does a cup of coffee sound?"

Northridge Police Department
10:15 a.m.

Police Chief Wilson scanned the reports as Walker spoke, not even looking at the detective. Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, unsure what he would do. It turned out that Walker had called them in almost entirely on his own, with only a reluctant agreement from the chief.

So it was a surprise when Wilson finally looked up and answered. "Agent Scully, you can go right ahead. Anything you can pick up on that we haven't would be a big help."

Walker stopped in mid-sentence, shocked. Apparently, he was not used to getting what he wanted from the gruff police chief. "You're serious, sir?"

"I don't see why not," Wilson answered, scribbling a number on a piece of scrap paper and handing it to her. "Talk to Max Farrell; with all the media attention this has been getting, he might appreciate the help."

"I'd like to accompany Detective Walker for this investigation," Mulder added. "We may be able to put a profile of the killer together with the reports."

"Fine, fine." Wilson waved a hand dismissively. "Sorry to rush you folks out of here, but it's been a madhouse. You may be used to crimes like this, but here it's rare. Tends to scare people."

Walker got the hint and put a hand on Mulder's coat, nudging the agent out of the office. "That's our cue to leave," he murmured. Scully smiled at that as she turned and followed the two men out the door.

The door slammed shut, giving way to a brief silence before Wilson spoke to the air. "I really don't see the point of this. How is letting those two in helping at all?"

"Whether they know it or not," the empty room answered, "Agents Mulder and Scully will be a great help to us." A middle-aged man in a dark coat stepped out from behind the file cabinet; the office was too small for him to hide in the shadows as he usually did. "They'll do all the investigating for us on this one."

Wilson scowled. "I'm sorry, sir, but I just don't like it. Especially Agent Mulder."

"Agent Mulder has come close to the truth several times." A puff of cigarette smoke filled the air. "I hope he does."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"This time, it's not our secret he's uncovering."

Pete's Pizza Shack
10:30 a.m.

"This is my kind of breakfast!" Romeo Roberts exclaimed happily as the large pepperoni pizza was carefully down at their table. "Stace, you are awesome!"

Stacey Anderson giggled and plopped down beside Kevin. "Like, forget it, Romeo. You still gotta pay your tab."

"Hey, your dad owns the place, he won't care!" Romeo reached for the pizza, only to have Kelly slap his hand away.

"Dork! You eat pizza 24-7! Besides, Stacey made this possible, she gets to serve."

Romeo pouted, and the other three laughed as Stacey reached over and slowly lifted a piece from the pan, trying to keep the cheese from sliding off as she plopped it on a plate and handed it to Kevin. "The guest of honor gets the first piece."

"I'm hurt," Romeo moaned, clutching his chest. Kevin and Stacey laughed as Kelly stuck her tongue out at him. Kevin wondered when Romeo had become such a joker.

He shrugged it off and reached for the slice. "Maybe next time, man. This looks great!"

Stacey giggled as the rest of the group reached for a slice and Kevin dug in. "Kevy! You look like you haven't had pizza in years!"

He stopped, looking thoughtful. "Maybe I haven't. I don't know."

The happy mood suddenly sobered at that. "So you really don't remember anything?" Romeo asked.

Kevin sighed. "Dude, it's like this. I'm playing Nintendo in my room, doing really badly at Punch-Out, and the next thing I know, I wake up in the hospital three years older. I don't remember anything in between."

"That sucks," Romeo said. Kelly glared at him, and he cringed. "Don't let her kick me!"

That brought on a fresh wave of laughter. As much as Romeo annoyed Kelly, it was good to have him along. She pretended to look hurt, but dissolved into giggles as Romeo reached behind her and tried to tickle her. Having nowhere to go, she was stuck, and the giggling changed to a high-pitched squeaking sound, a cross between giggling and hyperventilating. Kevin grinned as he recognized it. "Uh-oh, the squirrel's back!"

"Stop--calling--me--that!" Kelly gasped, managing to flick some of her soda at Romeo's face. Surprised, he stopped, giving Stacey the opportunity to join in, and retaliated. It would have turned into all-out war if Duke hadn't poked his head out from under the table and barked at them.

"Who made you the den mother?" Romeo asked the dog. Duke just whined, and they abandoned the flicking fight as abruptly as it had begun.

"So where's Rick, anyway?" Kevin asked, changing the subject. "I thought you guys were both home on break."

"He's around," Kelly put in. "Said he was going to be running late or something." As she spoke, Duke lifted his head, ears cocked. Without warning, the dog jumped up and zipped out from his cave of tennis shoes, barking loudly. "Duke! Hey, come back here!"

"You've gotta get that dog on a leash," Romeo said, but Duke didn't dash out the door. It wasn't possible to get around the figure standing in the doorway, a well-built young black man who grinned as he reached down to pet the excited dog. "Yo, Rick! Over here!"

Rick Walker pretended to be anxiously scanning the otherwise empty pizza joint. "It's too crowded in here! Where are you?"

"Like, duh, Rick, we're over here!" Stacey laughed as Rick followed Duke back to their table. The dog had an almost pleased look as he scuttled back into the warm dark cave of the table and promptly flopped back down on Kevin's feet.

"Hey, Keene!" Rick broke into a big grin as he reached over to high-five Kevin, who was flanked on both sides by Stacey and Kelly, and weighted down by Duke. "How you doin'?"

Kevin glanced around. "Not too bad. Move over, guys, will you?" They obeyed, until Rick was finally able to scoot in next to Romeo. "How come you're late?"

Rick's smile faded. "Dad got called in early this morning. Didn't say why, but I think I know. The psycho strikes again."

"What?" Stacey turned white as a sheet. "Who?"

"Probably someone else from Northridge High," Rick muttered. "Always is. It's becoming dangerous to wear your letter jacket around nowadays."

There was a long, grim silence that followed. Romeo shook himself and turned to Stacey, changing the subject yet again. "Hey, can you turn on the arcade games?"

"Like, yeah! Great idea!" Stacey literally bounced out of the seat, and was followed by the rest of the group towards the machines, Duke trailing behind.

Kevin was looking curiously at the number of games he didn't recognize as Stacey ran around finding plugs and flipping switches. "You think we should ask your dad?"

"He's cooking," Stacey answered, gesturing towards the kitchen doors. "Nobody interrupts Dad when he's cooking, you know?"

"Some things never change," Kevin joked as Rick headed towards the machines. He started as he realized that one of them was a machine for Mega Man 4. "Hey, when'd they start putting this on arcade machines?"

Stacey shrugged. "Like, I dunno. I think Dad got a deal from Uncle Ralph. He works for Capcom, you know?" she added as Rick reached into his jacket pocket.

He pulled out a handful of quarters. "Wanna play? See who can make it the longest on one game."

Kevin blinked. "I don't know, man. I've never played this one."

"Like we have much experience, Kev," Kelly said as she pushed past him to stand beside Rick. "It's kind of a new game anyway, and I only got a hold of it a few weeks ago."

"Well--" He trailed off, pretending to be indecisive. "All right!"

Within five minutes, all three of them were completely absorbed in the game, tuning out everything around them. Rick went first, going through Flash Man and getting halfway through Pharaoh Man's stage. Kelly got almost as far, dying about a screen before Rick had. But Kevin, who had never even seen the machine before, was way ahead of the other two, beating Pharaoh Man and moving on.

Romeo leaned over to Stacey. "Whoa. Some things really don't change."

"I guess," Stacey muttered. For some reason, it bothered her. "But, for someone who's totally three years out of practice, he's too good!"

Duke just looked knowingly at all of them.

Police Department
12:30 p.m.

"So the victims are all high school students," Scully said as Mulder and Walker looked over the reports and photos tacked to the wall.

Mulder nodded. "Young white males, between the ages of 15 and 17." He paused at one of the photographs. "The only exception is the second victim, female, Caucasian, age 16."

"Angela Driscoll," Walker said sadly, putting down the plastic coffee cup. It turned out his idea of getting a cup of coffee usually meant the nearest convenience store. "Found her with Brian Mitchell in the woods behind the athletic field." He sighed. "I feel sort of responsible for those two."

"Responsible? Why?" Scully looked up from the report, surprised.

Walker looked at the floor. "Night before the murders started, I was passing by on the way home, and saw this blue light show going on behind the trees. It ended pretty quickly, and nothing happened, so I didn't report it. Figured it was a bunch of kids getting geared up for Halloween." His brow furrowed. "I made the mistake of telling my younger son, T.J., the UFO fanatic in our family."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Scully asked, acutely aware of the light shining in Mulder's eyes. Oh, no, here we go again!

His face was dark with sorrow as he turned to her. "Brian Mitchell was one of T.J's best friends. And an even worse UFO nut than my son. If I hadn't told him in the first place--"

Mulder finished for him. "The killer would have got someone else, Detective. You aren't responsible for the murders." He turned back to the wall. "It seems that Miss Driscoll was the only victim not fitting the wound patterns on every other student."

"Fatal damage to her spinal column, internal bleeding and broken ribs, but no knife wounds," Scully read. "She was just killed right there. Violently, but almost as an afterthought."

Walker nodded, regaining his composure. "That's what I noticed too. The evidence seems to point towards her not being the intended target. She probably came after the fact and paid for it." He still wasn't able to hide the anger in his voice. "Other than her, the rest fit a pattern."

Studying the photos, Scully stopped. "It's even evident in the clothing. All five kids, including Angela, are wearing the same letter jacket."

"All Northridge students," Walker added. "They're considering it a curse around town to be seen in the letter jackets now."

"I can see why."

Mulder was focusing on the profiles of the students. Similar physically, dark hair, blue or green eyes, interests... "Huh. Scully, check this out. Our killer must be at least keeping tabs on the students." He pointed to several bits of information. "All three boys were on the varsity swim team. And all four were members of this school gaming club." He turned to Walker. "What, do you have their life stories up here?"

"Everything we could get," Walker said. "There's a general bloodlust for this killer by now. Parents are willing to donate any information they can that would prove helpful." He paused and looked where Mulder was pointing. "You're right, though."

Scully frowned. "How could he know? Could it be another student? A teacher?" She paused. "Has anything odd happened that could connect to these murders?"

She immediately regretted it. "Detective," Mulder said, "can you pull up a report on Kevin Keene?"

"Oh no," Scully murmured.

It watched the people strolling down the sidewalks casually, oblivious to the danger only a few feet away. Were it capable of passion, there might have been hunger in its gaze. But the artificial eyes were cold, calculating, like the sensors behind them.

Each person that passed was scanned and weighed against its slowly reorganizing profile in its memory banks. The difference in physics between this universe and its own left the picture muddled, two-dimensional. But after a day or two, it was functioning properly; perhaps it had reached peak performance.

Which also would mean that there was nowhere to go but down. Its mission was to hunt down and kill, and that was all. It was not receiving instructions from its creator; it had been found and only partially repaired after nearly being destroyed by an older model. Within three or four days the malfunctions would be too numerous to ignore.

But at the moment, all its systems were at peak performance. There was not much time left to locate its target, and its disguise was still holding, as long as it did not come out in full daylight. According to its calculations, it would only take a maximum of 36 hours to locate the target.

Wily would be very pleased.

Northridge High School
1:00 p.m.

"This is the place," Walker announced as the two men turned down a footpath in the strip of forest behind the athletic fields. "I almost missed it; things look different when there isn't a swarm of reporters getting in the way."

Mulder nodded, only half paying attention. His mind was busy with the amount of coincidences that had gone on in the past few days. As Scully had predicted, he couldn't get authorization to investigate for some reason. Instead, they had been assigned to a kidnapping case in Chicago, which for once had been straightforward--the kidnapper was caught two days later. It was almost laughable. Almost as if he was being kept busy to keep him away from the Keene case.

Then Detective Walker had contacted the FBI about a homicide case in California. At first he didn't get much response, but after the third murder, Skinner had called them in and handed them the case report, along with two coach tickets to Los Angeles. Scully had been right about one thing--the Bureau wasn't going to pay for first class.

And by some strange twist of fate, the case he'd been itching to investigate was right before him. Sort of.

Scully was still trying to get clearance for the autopsy, which wasn't easy with the reporters hovering around the station. When Mulder and Walker had left her, she was figuring out a strategic plan with the coroner on how to get past the fanatics and when a good time to schedule the autopsy would be. When Mulder had commented on the unbelievable media circus, Walker's only comment was, "It's the Valley. Go figure."

He knelt next to Walker, examining the earth. After three days, the signs of struggle were still visible; the soil, untouched by rain, had dried and hardened the imprints. There was nothing special that Mulder could see, aside from the fact that it had been over with swiftly. His gaze turned to the set of tracks that probably belonged to the killer; they were the only footprints without any pattern at all, as if the soles of his shoes were completely flat. "These look like they were made this morning. I would have expected most of this to be covered over by now."

"We've had it marked off for a few days," Walker answered. "Besides, superstition is running rampant about this neck of the woods. No one's brave enough to try to cross through here if they can help it, not so close to Halloween."

Mulder turned back to the smooth set of footprints, skirting the scuffed-up earth so as not to disturb the evidence. "Detective. These prints--they don't have a source. They just started in the middle of the dirt here."

"What's that?" Walker walked along the other bank to see where Mulder was looking. "O'Donnell's report said they started in the grass, coming from the development north of here."

"It's a decoy," Mulder said. "The killer intentionally retraced his steps. Look how deep the footprints are up to this point. The prints by the grass point off too much at an angle." He moved further downstream. "And you see this smooth patch right here? It's too smooth."

Walker crossed and reached down to touch the ground Mulder indicated. "Shit. This isn't dry yet." He stood up, following an imaginary path along the ground. "And if the tracks are really going in this direction..." He walked along a grassy patch and kicked away some scattered leaves and twigs. "Bingo."

Mulder stared at the patch of earth. Although they had been eroded, there were two unmistakable indentations. "Too deep to cover completely. He or she must have jumped down onto the mud from a height."

"So why bother covering that up?" Walker frowned.

"Because," Mulder said with a grin, "our killer doesn't want anyone to know where--or what--they jumped from."

"I'll be damned," was the detective's response as his gaze followed the tracks again. "Why the hell didn't they pick up on that?"

Mulder shrugged. "Probably didn't help with those news crews around. I'm surprised they didn't tail us from the station."

"They think Tim O'Donnell's still in charge; the Chief got so sick of them he threw them some false info." Walker was silent for a minute, thinking. "You know, the Chief has been really throwing his weight around on this one. I've never seen him get results so consistently."

Nodding, Mulder stood up and scanned the area, only half paying attention. "Where was Kevin Keene found again?"

The point was made, and Walker's eyes widened in realization. "Right where you're standing."

Keene residence
2:15 p.m.

"I can't believe we got into a Coke fight," Kelly murmured for the eighteenth time, examining a lock of hair sticky with drying soda. Sighing, she pounded on the bathroom door. "Kevin, hurry up! What did you do, fall in?"

"I've only been in here a minute!"

"Make that thirty. I don't even take this long in the morning." She leaned against the door, folding her arms. "You know, this is one thing I didn't miss."

The door flew open, and she fell backwards. "Aaah!" The next thing Kelly knew, she was lying flat on her back, looking up at Kevin's amused grin. "Stop laughing at me, you geek."

Kevin couldn't stop chuckling. "Oh, man, I missed this."

"What? Witnessing my continual humiliation?"

"You know what I mean." He reached down to pull her up. "But the humiliation is cool, too."

She snorted, but returned the grin. "Bite me." As she turned towards the towels, she paused, realizing that he'd managed to pull her up easily with one arm. "Whatever you've been doing, remind me not to pick a fight with you," she said, rubbing her hand.

"Not bad for a guy with amnesia," he answered as she shut the door and turned on the water.

Twenty minutes later, she was clean, dry, and changed. As she headed down the hall towards the stairs, she stopped by the open door of Kevin's room. He was sitting on his bed, staring at the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo sitting on the television. What struck her as odd was that he wasn't playing at all, just staring at the game system. He'd been playing Mega Man again, but the game was paused. "What's with you?"

Surprised, he jumped and turned, breaking out of whatever trance he'd been in. "What? Oh, um, nothing. Nothing, really."

"I won't say a word. I swear on the sacred library of hint books." She pointed to the array of tip books sitting on the shelf beside the television, putting one hand on her heart. "You might as well tell me, Kev, because you know I'm going to squeeze it out of you anyway."

He made a face, torn between telling her to go to hell and between thinking better of it. "Yeah, well, it's nuts." She folded her arms and stared at him. "All right, all right. It's just that--I zoned out seriously when we were trying to see how far we could get on that machine. No, I mean a major zone out," he added, seeing her nod. "I see a game system and I have to play it. Like, I want to play it, sure, but the big thing is that I feel like I have to. But at the same time, I don't know, it bugs me. Big time." Sighing, he leaned back and sat on his hands. "Maybe I was kidnapped by a cult that brainwashed me and made me play Nintendo all day."

"The horror! The horror! Give me a break." She would have said more if the doorbell hadn't sounded downstairs.

"Kelly!!" Lately, whenever Cheryl Keene needed something done, she always called Kelly for it. Never Kevin. "Can you get the door? I've got my hands full here."

Kelly groaned and rolled her eyes. "Coming, Mom!" She turned and thundered down the stairs in her usual annoying way and jogged into the foyer as the doorbell rang again, insistently. "Yeah, yeah, Rick, I'm coming, you'll live." For all his talent and football scholarships, Rick was rather absent-minded; he had a habit of leaving his house key at a friend's and coming back half an hour later to get it.

She opened the door and immediately regretted the snide remark. Neither of the two people in suits looked like they were in search of a house key. "Um, can I help you?"

The man looked her over quickly, making a mental connection. "Are you Kelly Keene?"

"Yes," she answered tentatively, hoping it was the right answer.

They whipped out badges, and she suddenly wasn't so sure. "Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI. We're here about Kevin Keene."

She must have turned pale, because the woman quickly added, "We just need to question him, Miss Keene. Your brother's not in any trouble."

Yet, Kelly thought. "I think you're going to want to talk to my mom about this."

Cheryl Keene, Mulder noticed, looked a lot like her daughter--the same shade of dark brown hair, although straight, and blue eyes--but her reaction was markedly different. As soon as she heard "FBI," and that they wanted to talk to her son, her hands were on her hips and she was right on the defense. "Now hold on one second. I may not see everything my kids do, but even their antics aren't enough to interest the FBI. My son has not done anything wrong."

Not that he remembers, Mulder finished mentally, and felt a twinge of guilt for having thought it. "We're just here to question him," Scully repeated, but she never had a chance to finish the sentence as a brown-and-white blur suddenly whizzed down the stairs and into the hallway, making a beeline for the foyer and the open door behind the agents.

Kelly whirled. "Duke! Stop!" Surprisingly enough, the dog obeyed, abruptly halting in his stampede inches in front of the agents, looking up at them with a tongue-lolling grin. Mulder remembered reading somewhere that the only type of dog that grinned like that was either a biting dog or a damned good one. And this didn't look like a biting dog.

"Kelly, could you go get--" Cheryl began, but Kelly was already charging up the stairs. "Never mind," she sighed as her husband came up from the basement.

He was of average height and build, with thick curly black hair and a mustache. Adjusting his glasses as he looked them over, he was about as thrilled to see them as Cheryl had been. "Can I help you?" he asked cautiously, with an oh-no-not-again expression on his face. "You're not with Channel 8, I hope."

"Actually, no." The badges emerged again. "I'm Agent Fox Mulder, and this is Agent Dana Scully of the FBI."

"Ned, they're here about Kevin," Cheryl put in.

"Just for questioning," Mulder said with a smile. "Honest."

"Actually, Mr. and Mrs. Keene, I'd like to ask you a few questions first," Scully said as they sat down in the living room. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the dog trotting over to Mulder with curiosity. "We have reason to believe that your son's reappearance--or disappearance, as it were--may be connected to the recent homicides in the area."

Cheryl looked shocked. "You don't honestly think he was involved--"

Mulder cut her off. "We're leaning more towards the theory that whoever is committing these crimes may have been responsible for his disappearance." That didn't ease their apprehension much, so he added, "At the least, we think that your son's disappearance may have some connection."

"No one's accusing anyone of anything," Scully added. Faintly, she could hear an argument upstairs and suppressed a smile; doubtless the older brother was probably not going to believe the word of his kid sister right off the bat. From her own experience, it was a law of nature.

"Has your son been acting noticeably strange?" Mulder asked. "That is, strange for someone who's dealing with a three-year memory block?"

Ned Keene smiled at that, and shook his head. "Actually, he's adjusting pretty well. Better than some of us."

Scully checked some notes she had been scribbling. Mulder was partially occupied with the dog, who was trying to wheedle some attention out of her partner. Finally she forced herself to smile. "Mulder, the only way to get that dog to leave you alone is pet him already."

He shot her a look, but reluctantly reached over and absently scratched the dog's head. "How, exactly, did you find him?"

"Actually, Kelly and a friend discovered him during sports practice," Cheryl said. "She told us that Duke came out of the bushes all of a sudden making a fuss, and led them right to him."

Scully stopped writing and stared at the dog in surprise. "Are you telling me that both Kevin and your dog disappeared and reappeared at the same time?" The wheels started turning in Mulder's head.

"Has Kevin had any sort of therapy or counseling in the past few days?" he finally asked. "Any return of his memory?"

"No, and no," Ned answered. "We decided to wait until things calm down before putting him through that."

"Putting me through what?" Mulder and Scully looked up to see Kelly coming down the stairs with a taller teenager in tow. He stopped when he saw them. "Oh."

"Sit down, Kevin," Cheryl said, and her son promptly took a seat in one of the chairs across from them. "This is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully from the FBI. They want to talk to you."

No shit, Kelly mouthed. Cheryl shot her a look.

Kevin rolled his eyes before turning back to the agents. He was about a foot taller than his sister, but they shared the same dark hair and blue eyes. "Did I--did I do something?" he said after a moment. There was no attempt at humor; he was literally unaware of the answer.

"Not that we know of," Scully said. "Kevin, we're investigating a series of murders, and we need to evaluate every possible connection to the case."

Mulder, trying to hide his excitement, cut to the chase. "Is there anything you can tell us--anything the police reports can't--about your experience? Just tell us what you remember, starting with September of 1989."

Kevin bit his lip, thinking. "Okay. Saturday morning I'm in my room, with Duke, playing Nintendo. I remember Mom yelling at me to clean my room. Then all of a sudden, the screen goes into total static, and then starts acting wacked out, and then I just blacked out." He shook his head. "Next thing I know, I'm in the hospital."

Scully stopped in mid-scribble. "What do you mean, exactly, by 'acting wacked out?'"

"I don't really know." His brow furrowed in concentration. "It's, like, right at that point everything starts to fuzz. There was some power surge or something, and Duke started barking his head off. Then--nothing." He scowled, frustrated; it was obvious he'd had this conversation before.

Mulder nodded in understanding, and to Scully's surprise, he stood up. "I think that's enough for now." He turned to the two adults. "Sorry for taking up your time."

With that, he turned to leave, and Scully followed, but Kevin stood up. "Agent Mulder?" Mulder turned. "I just want to know. Putting me through what?"

"Therapy," Cheryl said. "For memory loss."

Kevin looked relieved, but interested. "What kind of therapy?"

"Actually, one of the most successful involves regression hypnosis," Mulder explained. "If done by a professional, they can be effective."

"I don't know if we really want to go that far yet," Cheryl said quickly. "Besides, that's not really a proven--"

"Cheryl--" Ned began.

"Well, it isn't! And I don't like the idea of hypnosis. I'm sorry." She frowned. "I don't think so, Agent Mulder. Have you ever seen the results of these regressions?"

"A few times," Mulder answered before dropping the bomb. "It worked for me several years ago."

Scully decided to end the game then and there. She pulled her business card from her pocket and scribbled a number on the back. "I'm sorry, but we do have to go. We're staying at this number if you change your mind." Kevin took the card, surprised. "Again, I'm sorry to have taken up your time." With that, she all but shoved Mulder out of the door before he could protest.

Only when she was sure they were out of sight and around the corner did she drop her composure and reach over to smack her partner in the back of the head. "What were you doing in there??"

"Trying to get an investigation moving along, Scully," he answered, rubbing his head. "What did you have to go and smack me for? That hurt!"

"Because we're here to investigate a multiple homicide, not scare these people!" she snapped. "And I have to agree with Cheryl Keene," she added as they approached the rental car. "Those regressions don't take the place of solid evidence."

"Which we don't have."

"And we need the subject's consent, which we also don't have." She threw the passenger door open. "If you want to go dig up every coincidence you can, go ahead, but I'm going to get some actual investigation done."

"And that would be?" He smirked at her.

"While you were checking out the high school, they found another kid. If all goes well, tomorrow I'm going to take a look at a body."

October 26
Northridge High School
2:30 p.m.

"I can't believe you're doing this now, Keene," Romeo joked as the lime-green Del Sol pulled up in front of the normally deserted high school building. School was closed for meetings, and they were the only students within 5 miles of the building.

Kevin snorted. "They wouldn't let me take it during classes. Go figure."

"No, man, I can't believe you're blowing off the chance to delay going back to school as long as possible." Kevin had signed up to take a state test to skip from his freshman year to his senior year--that is, if he passed. His situation had been so unique (and so completely out of his control) that his application had been approved the next day. Which meant that he was allowed to take the test within a week after applying.

"I've got to get caught up to everybody, Romeo. Hell, I still can't get over this--my little sister has her license and I haven't even started Driver's Ed yet!"

Kelly shrugged. "So what if I'm, like, talented? Get your stuff and get moving. I've got to get to work today on time and drop this other carless loser off."

"Yes, your Highness," Kevin said. Something triggered in his brain as he said it, and he paused briefly as he grabbed the papers from the back seat. "Uh, Rick said he'd pick me up at two-thirty. See you later."

The tester was waiting in the library, and handed him a test booklet after glancing over his papers. "Sit over there," she said, gesturing towards a study carol in the back. "You have two hours to complete all the sections."

He shrugged, and started in on the math. The first several questions were easy--algebra and geometry, both of which he remembered taking. Then it switched to functions he didn't know so well:

Use the Pythagorean Theorem and definition of tangent to prove that

sec2x = tan2x + 1.

"How the hell am I supposed to do this?" he muttered.

"...and this brings us to the Pythagorean Theorem," Dr. Right lectured, "which states that the square of the cosine plus the square of the sine equals 1 exactly! Now if you remember, the tangent of x is equal to the sine of x over the cosine of x, which leads us to..."

Kevin's already wavering attention was broken as Lana leaned over to him and whispered, "I know why we have to learn mathematics, and I know this was my idea, but when are we ever going to use this?"

"To get Simon to think for once," he whispered, indicating the Vampire Hunter, who was too busy looking in his hand mirror to even notice Dr. Right. Mega Man was fascinated, and Kid Icarus was just confused.

She laughed as Right continued his lecture....

Kevin blinked, finding himself in the library again. Confused, he tried to remember where he'd just been, but he couldn't reach the memory. Scowling, he looked at the problem again.

He was surprised to find that he understood it.

City Morgue
4:30 p.m.

"Sorry it took so long to get clearance for this." Max Farrell, the county coroner, apologized yet again as Scully finished washing up. "With all the crazies who've been pretending to be officials or cops to get a story, we've just got to be careful."

"Believe me, I understand." She slipped on the latex gloves and followed him out to the examining table. "Have you found any anomalies?"

Farrell frowned. "Anything out of the ordinary for a sicko who cuts off hands and slashes stomachs? No." He beckoned her over and pointed to the wrist. "But I have noticed something in the nature of the cutting. It's actually sloppy, if you take it in context."

The wrist was severed at a diagonal. "Sloppy as in not ritualistic?"

"Hell no. This one just goes for the right hand, and it doesn't matter how it's cut. Just that it's done, and it's always done first."

She continued examining the wrist. "It's not so sloppy. The slice is too clean to have been broken off or taken off with a hacksaw. Definitely a blade, but a fair-sized one; I don't know of any hand knives that would cut through bone with a single slice. Even at an angle."

"Single slice?" It was Farrell's turn to ask questions.

"You did say yourself that the hand is the first thing this 'sicko' goes for. There's only time for one slice if the victim is able to run, and the cut of the bone is too smooth for it to have been hacked at."

Farrell scowled. "You may think this is nuts, but the only thing I know that would come close to doing what you propose would be a sword or a katana blade. The kind of stuff that's only used in bad kung fu films."

Scully briefly considered this, and recalled the X-Files she had witnessed with Mulder. "It is nuts. But I don't think you're the one who's crazy; if the rest of the victims look like this, we've got a killer swordsman."

"An ambidextrous killer swordsman," Farrell said dryly. Scully stared at him. "Well, just look at the directions of these incisions. The wrist was severed from right to left, indicating left-handedness. But if you look at the ones at the waistline, they vary in direction--right to left, left to right, left to right. Too quick and precise for the killer to have been using his or her wrong hand to throw us off."

She frowned, turning to the midsection, seeing that Farrell's observations were on the mark. But as she did so, she noticed a glimmer amidst the gore. Reaching over to the tray, she picked up a magnifying glass and a pair of sterilized tweezers. On closer observation, she found that the glimmer had come from a tiny metal sliver lodged in what was left of the lower intestine. Carefully, she removed it, holding the shard up. "What's this?"

Farrell handed her a small plastic bag, and she dropped the sliver safely inside. "I'm not sure," he answered, holding the bag up to the light. "That is, I couldn't tell you specifically the type of metal, not from such a small sample."

"Have you encountered any more of these in the past five bodies?" Scully asked.

"No, this is the first one. In fact...." He trailed off, something suddenly occurring to him. "I've noticed a sort of 'accuracy curve' in the victims."

"What do you mean?"

He set the bag gently on the tray. "Let's clean up here, and I'll show you."

Keene residence
4:45 p.m.

"Kev, you feeling all right?" Rick asked as the Jeep turned onto Kevin's street. "Did you just turn into a mute or something?"

Kevin turned from the window, dazed. "Huh? What do you mean?"

Rick grinned and punched his friend in the shoulder as he pulled up to the curb. "Man, you know what I mean. You just zoned out completely there." His smile faded. "The test wasn't that bad, was it?"

"No, it was all right," Kevin said distantly, then shook himself. "I think I passed, but it, you know, gave me some kind of brain freeze."

"So? That's what tests like that are supposed to do!" Rick looked at Kevin curiously as his friend reached in his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, staring at it intently. "You sure you're okay?"

Kevin nodded, still looking at the paper. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow, Rick." Still distracted, he got out of the car and headed up the driveway, his attention still focused on the card.

"Hang in there, Keene!" Rick shouted before pulling away. Kevin managed a wave before unlocking the door and going inside.

This time, the key works, he thought, and paused, confused. When hadn't it worked?

The house was empty and silent. Cheryl and Ned were still across the street at a neighbor's, and Kelly and Romeo were out doing something somewhere. Duke was sleeping in the middle of the living room on his side, right smack on top of the television remote. Kevin grinned and headed for the kitchen, snatching up the receiver and dialing.

As the phone on the other end rang once, then twice, Kevin watched the dog out of the corner of his eye. Duke would twitch every five seconds, kick, and roll over, turning the television on. By the fifth ring, the dog had surfed past six channels. I wonder if he remembers.

Finally, someone picked up. "Mulder here."

Kevin bit his lip. "Agent Mulder? Um, this is Kevin Keene. You know that regression therapy you were talking about?"

Northridge Police Department
5:30 p.m.

"I still don't understand," Scully said as she looked over the photographs again. "How do you mean, an accuracy curve?"

Farrell frowned. "It's like a bell curve, or a statistical density curve. Look how sloppy the killer's pattern is in the case of Brian Mitchell compared to the victim following. He just chopped wildly in the right two regions and bashed the kid's head in." He indicated another set of photos and x-rays. "Victim number two, Brian Harrington. More precise on the cuts. Isolated the mess to an area and bothered to clean up." He went to the next set. "Victim number three, Nick Skleres, was so well hidden it was sheer luck we found him." He folded his arms. "Then we drop down to Ryan Fifer, who was dug up by a construction worker, and now to Tim Kline here. Not as well hidden, the cuts are slipping in precision, and we get some debris in the wound."

Scully looked at the coroner as he spoke. Unlike some others she'd worked with, he had an odd approach to the business of examining bodies. He wasn't detached at all, but when he spoke of the murders, instead of becoming disgusted, he sounded angry. "So you're saying that our killer reached peak performance with Skleres, and now he's slipping?"

He nodded. "Want to hear my theory? This guy's getting desperate. For some reason, real or imagined, he's running out of time." As she stared at him, he shrugged.

"Either that," Scully muttered, looking at the sliver, "or a very strange person has a vendetta against the swim team."

Keene residence
7:30 p.m.

"You agreed to do what?" Cheryl gasped.

Kevin groaned softly; he'd expected such an outburst. "Mom, I know what I'm doing."

"Get yourself hypnotized by some doctor we've never heard of before? How can you be sure you can trust them?"

Ned patted her shoulder. "Cheryl, calm down. This is the FBI. They're probably going to take extreme cautions with this."

She wasn't appeased. "Just so they don't get sued. And how can they just let someone Kevin's age agree to something like that? Don't they need permission?"

"I'm 18." Kevin reached down to pat Duke and slip the dog a piece of chicken.

Ned shrugged. "That's true, but I wish you would have told us."

"You're not going to let him go through with it, are you?" Cheryl asked, astonished.

"Cheryl, he'll probably do it anyway."

Kelly, who had been silent the entire time, suddenly spoke up. "I think it's a good idea." Everyone stopped talking and stared at her in surprise. "Well? Hanging around here isn't exactly jogging his memory. I think Duke remembers more. And now there's a psychopath roaming around town and the FBI thinks getting Kevin's memory back will help stop him. I say go for it."

"You want money, don't you?" Kevin muttered, and his sister just grinned.

Ocean View Motel
9:00 p.m.

"You want to know what I think?"

Scully turned from the mess of photos, reports, and notes on the bed to face her partner. "I'm almost afraid to hear it."

He grinned. "I'm thinking this may be the work of some sort of cult. The patterned killings, the general weirdness. Some cults are so expert at brainwashing that perhaps years of a person's life can be erased."

"So you're saying, what? That Kevin Keene may have escaped from a cult, and they're coming after him?"

"Or he could be responsible. Some people who escape from cults don't always break from their grip. It could even be part of a ritual, and he's been given subliminal messages to carry it out."

Scully sat down heavily on the bed. "When is the pizza getting here?"

Mulder shrugged. "Few more minutes. You're not buying this, are you?"


"Well, we could always fall back on my original theory."

Scully stood up at that. "Not the UFOs again. Please."

"Have a better idea?"

"Obsessive kidnappers I can accept," she answered, starting to pace, "but really, Mulder, I would definitely rule out your UFO theories. This case is too weird--" She trailed off and stopped, staring at the bed. "Oh my God."

"What is it?" Mulder moved to stand beside her as she bent over and rearranged the pictures so that they were side by side, arranged in order of death. Next to Tim Kline's photo, she placed the one from the reports on Kevin that Mulder had brought. "Scully--"

He trailed off, but it was clear he could see what she saw. Looking from Brian Mitchell to Tim Kline, the row of images seemed to be progressing, looking more and more like Kevin Keene. "He may not be the culprit, Mulder. He may be the target."

October 27
Northridge Hospital Medical
1:00 p.m.

"All right, Kevin, I want you to go back," Dr. Werber said once he was sure the teen was under. "Back to the gray place we talked about on the phone, where it gets blurred."

Kevin was leaning back in the chair, completely under and relaxed. "I'm trying," he mumbled. "I don't know if--whoa!" He tensed up suddenly at something they couldn't see behind his closed eyelids.

Werber waited a moment before speaking. "Are you in the gray place?"

"Yeah, I think," Kevin gasped. "Just got to beat this, and...what the hell? This isn't part of the game!"

"Kevin--" Werber began, but suddenly Kevin cried out and started thrashing about, gripping the side of the chair as if hanging on for dear life. "What do you see?"

"Nooo!" Kevin yelled. "It's got me! I can't hang on--it's pulling me in! Duke! No! I'm falling!"

"Kevin, when I snap my fingers," Werber said hastily, "you won't be falling anymore. You'll go forward to a time when you weren't falling. Now." He snapped his fingers, and Kevin ceased thrashing, relaxing limply into the armchair again. "Where are you?"

"I--" Kevin broke off. "No way. This is not real. This can't be for real!" he added, addressing someone they couldn't see.

Werber paused. "Who are you talking to?"

Kevin was too deep in the trance to hear him. "You've got the wrong guy," he continued to an unseen audience. "I'm not the one you're looking for."

"Kevin, I'm going to snap my fingers again," Werber said, "and you're going to be floating in darkness. Nothing can hurt you, you're just resting." He snapped his fingers again and Kevin sagged limply. "Now I want you to skip forward, to the day before you woke up in the hospital. What do you see?"

"I see a tunnel. We've been going through them for hours. I keep feeling that this was too easy...."

"Who's we, Kevin?" Werber asked, but again Kevin was too wrapped up in the memory to answer.

"All we have to do is get through--" Kevin stopped, tensing suddenly. "No! It's a trap! We're surrounded! I can't get through! Wily, you lying sack of--" He broke off, something else getting his attention. "No, Simon, don't press that button!! Oh, damn, no, not again!"

"I'm going to snap my fingers one more time, Kevin, and you're going to wake up!" Werber cried. "On the count of three, one, two--"

Just befor Werber snapped his fingers, Kevin suddenly shouted, "Lana!!"

And then it was over.

Northridge Police Department
1:30 p.m.

"This is unbelievable," Scully muttered. "First the reporters disappear, then the lab results come in overnight? What is this, the Twilight Zone? I'm used to having paperwork dumped on me at every turn."

Detective Walker nodded. "Same here. All of a sudden, things are getting done around here. Ever since you and Agent Mulder showed up. That badge must work wonders."

She snorted as she opened the envelope. "Hardly. You wouldn't believe the hard time we've--" She stopped, staring at the paper she had unfolded. "I don't believe this. This makes no sense."

"What is it?"

"According to this," she said, waving the results at him, "the debris we found couldn't have come from any ordinary knife. It's made of silicon."

Northridge Hospital Medical
2:30 p.m.

"This is hopeless," Kevin muttered, leaning back and pressing his palms into his forehead in frustration. "I just don't get this. It's like something in my brain keeps blocking it out."

Mulder looked at the tape recorder in his hand. Three tries had brought several clues, but none that made any sense. And none of it rang any bells for Kevin when they played it back for him. When Werber had pressed Kevin for certain details in the regressions, also, the teenager had hedged and skipped around giving a straight answer--something unheard of in regression hypnosis.

Nothing he was able to describe fit the template of extraterrestrial encounters, either. Actually, it didn't fit any template, come to think of it. So far, from what he knew, it involved a girl named Lana, a moron named Simon, and a bunch of other bits and pieces that sounded like rambling more than anything else.

He was starting to think that his luck was running out. It had been enough of a miracle that Heitz Werber had been in the area, attending a convention in Los Angeles, and had agreed to fly down to Northridge to help. But as far as miracles went, that was it for the day.

"I think you should take some time and sleep on it," Werber advised, noticing the exhaustion evident on his patient's face.

Kevin nodded. "Yeah, I--" He suddenly froze, his gaze fixing on the shelf above the desk. As he stared past them, a shudder seemed to pass through him. Shaking it off, he blinked and rubbed his eyes. "Maybe you're right. I shouldn't be this out of it."

"You've been through more than your share today," Werber added. "It's already two-thirty."

Kevin jerked up. "Two-thirty? What? I gotta go."

"I can take you home," Mulder offered. "You might want to be careful out there, from what we've heard today."

Kevin shook his head, tired. "I already bagged a ride for two-thirty. Thanks, Agent Mulder, but I'll be all right." He shook hands briefly with Werber and hurried out the door.

Mulder followed, intent on persuading Kevin, but it was too late. By the time he got down the stairs and down to the east lobby, the black Jeep with Kevin and a friend was driving away.

He turned back to the stairwell and headed back up to the office. As he entered, he stopped as he caught sight of the object that had given the teen pause.

It was a gag gift, apparently a pot shot at the psychiatry profession. Mulder stared at it for a moment, wondering why Kevin would have been disturbed by a pink plastic brain in a jar.

Downtown Northridge
3:00 p.m.

"What do you mean, you don't take credit?" Mike Vincent all but yelled at the man behind the counter. "Come on, Mr. Anderson, I always pay my tab when I get a chance!"

Pete Anderson folded his arms. "Mike, I'm sorry, but you've already racked up a tab worse than Romeo here. Until you pay it off, I can't add to it."

There was a long pause as the two opponents stared at each other, then Mike decided to break the deadlock; there was no point in arguing with Stacey's father about credit. Muttering under his breath, he turned and stormed out the door. It was just a shitty week in general.

Actually, it was a lot of little things that were getting on his nerves. And of course, Kevin Keene had showed up again. Mike had no clue how to handle that. He'd beat up on Keene their freshman year, but when he disappeared, there was no one left to compete with. Not really. So now that Kevin was back.....what was he going to do?

He was so distracted he didn't remember to take off his letter jacket.

It was starting to come apart. No amount of self-diagnostics and repair attempts would change that. Shape-shifting was becoming more taxing, and could only be used when necessary. Which was why it was huddled in the relative darkness of an alley instead of blending in with the crowds outside.

There was only one option left. Captain N must be found and terminated at the earliest opportunity. There was no more playing around, no more "practice" runs. Before it malfunctioned severely, its objective had to be fulfilled at all cost. Secrecy and precision were paramount.

As it ran the seventeenth diagnostic repair that hour, a sound nearby caused it to redefine "secrecy."

"Thanks for the lift, Rick," Kevin groaned as the Jeep cruised past the row of fast-food joints and surf shops. "Didn't feel like driving home with the FBI."

Rick shrugged. "No problem. Was it that weird?"

"Damn, it's hot," Kevin changed the subject, rolling down the windows. "Three years, and you still haven't gotten the air conditioner fixed, dude?"

"You know how much a new one costs?" Rick shot back, just as a cry of pain and anger reached their ears. "What was that? Hey, no, Keene, don't!" he added, but he was too late as Kevin hopped out of the Jeep and ran towards the alley where the sound had come from.

Mike decided to take the shortcut home, and came to regret it. As he jogged down the alley, he slowed as he spotted a shape behind a cluster of garbage cans. "Hey, who's there?"

The shape didn't move, and Mike remembered suddenly the news stories of the past week. "Come on, man," he said, kneeling down beside a pile of trash nearby. "Show yourself." His searching hand found and grasped a length of metal pipe.

As the shadow jumped out at him, he wished he had something bigger. Sheer panic saved him, as he was just fast enough to chuck the pipe right at what he thought was its head, startling the....thing...enough to throw it off course and into the wall. He cried out as he felt something slice at his right wrist.

Mike forgot his wrist as his attacker moved. He couldn't believe what he was seeing, and there was no way he was going to let it near him. Ignoring his injury, he dived behind the dumpster as it came at him again, and slammed his shoulder into a stack of junk boxes, pushing the stack into his attacker as it lashed out again, grazing his hip as the boxes rained on top of it.

Bolting for the street, he suddenly saw a familiar Jeep pull up and an even more familiar figure dashing towards the alley. "Mike??" Kevin yelled.

"Keene!" Mike yelled. He dashed out into the brightness of day, the hip wound causing him to limp a little. His attacker, for some reason, did not pursue; its sensors were locked on Kevin. Seeing just what was in the alley behind Mike, Kevin literally gaped in shock. "Get out of here!" Mike cried, startling him back to reality.

Kevin grabbed Mike's good arm, dragging his friend towards the Jeep. "Shut up and get in!" Mike scrambled into the back as Kevin hopped in and they drove away.

"What the hell happened to you??" Rick Walker managed as he floored the accelerator.

Mike glanced out the rearview in time to glimpse a human form come stumbling out of the alley. "Man, you'd never believe it." The throbbing in his wrist returned to his attention, and he looked down at the gash.

It was filled with metal splinters.