It wasn't a headache. Not exactly. It was just the droning of the plane's engines that had been going on for so long now that Scully was convinced it had somehow insinuated itself into the rhythms of her brain. It had driven itself into her until a kind of nausea had built up, not like air sickness, but just plain tiredness. She was fed up with being on the plane, and the thought that there was another ten hours of this to go made her feel frustrated. The little kids in the middle row a few seats behind were doing better than she was, but their parents had had the presence of mind to buy Mickey Mouse colouring books at Disneyworld. Scully knuckled sleep out of her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair. The Pacific passed relentlessly below and the cabin was beginning to fill with light as people woke up and raised their little plastic blinds to look out of their little perspex windows.
Mulder was still asleep. When Scully had finally drifted off, hours ago, her partner had been very determinedly awake, hammering away at his laptop. At some time, when the plane was dark and still though, even Mulder's paranoia had given out. It was an indictment on his personal credo of "trust no one". The pilots and cabin staff hadn't gone to sleep. Any one of them would have had access to any one of the sleeping passengers... Scully stopped herself in mid thought and stared intently at her partner. For what seemed like a very long time there was no movement at all. Then, eventually, she followed the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Scully smiled at herself, she was getting as bad as he was, but, as Mulder so often reminded her, "just 'cause I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me."
Two flight attendants came slowly down the aisle, wheeling a trolley full of what was bound to be a lame excuse for breakfast. Mulder's legs stuck out into the aisle, almost tripping the female attendant. She smiled at the sleeping passenger and gently moved his feet under the seat in front of him. Mulder didn't even twitch. When sleep finally caught up to him, he abandoned himself to it. Breakfast came and went, Scully let him be. Waking him would have done him no good, and forcing that food upon him would only have added insult to injury. She was slightly envious of his determined ability to sleep and she had a sneaking suspicion that when they got there he wouldn't suffer a wink of jet lag, while she would only be recovered by the time they had to turn around and head back home again. However long that may take.
Mulder had a secret agenda. There was no other explanation for them taking this case. Skinner had looked upon the request kindly, and Scully was rather under the impression that the Assistant Director thought he was sending the two of them on a bit of a junket. A straight murder investigation with an overseas holiday thrown in. Skinner perhaps thought that Mulder thought he had been working too hard and needed vacation. That was a joke. Mulder? Vacation? The man's deathbed would be wired up to the internet so that he could be onto any UFO sightings as he was on his way out. There was no question that the reason Mulder had requested this case was because he was onto something, and Scully wished he would tell her about it. She wished it so badly that she was probably going to have to stand on him on her way to the lavatory in order to wake him up and grill him. It would be a good move for a number of reasons; he wouldn't be lying there looking so damned comfortable, while he was only half awake and vulnerable she'd have a better chance at getting information out of him, and she needed to force some food into him. He'd got away with avoiding breakfast, but if he didn't get some morning tea or something soon, his blood sugar levels were going to drop and he'd be surly till they got there.
He was looking dreamy and foolish when she came back from the bathroom. "Hi, Scully."
"Sleep well?" It seemed innocent enough, but it was the kind of question that was likely to get a fairly terse reply.
"Mulder I told you at the beginning of this little trip that I don't particularly like plane travel. Since then I've revised my opinion. I hate it. I hate the noise, I hate the food. My skin's so dry from the air in here that it feels like it's about to crack and peel off. I don't know how they do it, but they even manage to make the water taste bad on planes. Now I can tolerate this when it's a two hour hop at home, but I'm going to need a really satisfying explanation for why we're going to Australia."
Mulder looked moderately surprised. "There's been a murder of a US Government employee."
"Forgive me for being naive, but I was under the impression that they actually have some kind of police force in Australia."
"Cade Wilson was working on a classified project. In order to get the full profile of the man we may need to spend an extensive amount of time interviewing the people he was working with."
"Can I have the real reason now?"
"Scully, I'm an employee of the United States Government ready to direct my life to satisfy its merest whim. One of our countrymen has been killed on foreign soil. Justice must be done, and it must be seen to be done in the eyes of these foreigners. What makes you think I need any other reason?"
"Mulder, I've worked with you for enough years now to know a hidden agenda when I smell one. Now are you going to tell me what's really going on, or do I have to kill you and tell Skinner you had to be subdued with extreme prejudice due to an acute case of claustrophobia."
Mulder grinned and pulled a bundle of papers out of his briefcase. They were copies of the Dandenong Trader, not more than a week old. "These were hand delivered, there wasn't time for them to even be posted from Australia. They were left outside my door the day before we left."
Scully flicked through the newspapers, they were tabloids, a local paper, about seventy percent advertising. She frowned at the black ink smearing her hands, as if this whole business wasn't bad enough, now she was going to be covered in newsprint. The papers all had bold headlines and smudged pictures of UFOs. "Cute, Mulder, but I thought you'd gotten over this kind of tabloid headline when you were about sixteen."
"Take a close look, Scully," he pointed to a paragraph, "These lights were seen five nights in a row over the Belgrave-Hallam road."
"So the hoaxers didn't want to go too far from home."
"The unit Wilson was working for is located in Harkaway, about five kilometres from where the lights were spotted. Wilson was killed in Selby, about five kilometres in the other direction."
"Speak English, Mulder."
"About five minutes' travelling time. As the saucer flies."
"So you think there's a connection?"
He shrugged, "Who else is going to look for one?"
It was nine in the morning when the plane arrived in Melbourne. A blustery winter morning that had given them a roller coaster landing that had Scully almost swearing she'd walk home before she'd get on another plane. They survived it though, and made their way past customs
They were met on the other side by Harry Williams, an un-uniformed Senior Detective in the Australian Federal Police. Williams was perhaps a year older than Mulder and towered above him like a genial giraffe. He didn't bother with an airport trolley, just hefted Mulder and Scully's bags under his arms and led the way to his car.
The sun was shining as they made their way through the car park, but the air was cold and the wind was strong. "Lucky your flight arrived when it did," commented Williams. "Much more of this and I reckon they're gonna have to close the airport."
It took almost two hours to get to where they were staying. They had to travel through Melbourne and the city surprised Scully, not because it was exceptional as far as cities went, but because of the long avenues lined with elm trees, their branches already covered with delicate Spring greenery. Scully really hadn't thought about such a thing, but if anything, she might have expected eucalypts or some other native plant, not tall, flourishing elms, though. Eventually the city gave way to suburbs and they travelled along interminable freeways where the going was slow due to roadworks. Scully dozed in the back seat. Mulder sat in the front and chatted with Williams. Scully was lulled by the droning of their voices and the comforting sound of the car's engine. She hadn't realised Mulder had ever lived in Australia.
When they finally turned off the freeway the scenery turned from light industrial to rural. They seemed to be surrounded by huge eucalypts. Williams finally turned the car down a dirt track. "Nearly home," he told them. They were going to be staying at his house.
The house was set amongst the trees on the dirt road. It was a sprawling shoebox of western red cedar, but well hidden by bushes. Harry's wife Robyn came out as the car rolled down the driveway. She smiled, introducing herself and calling Mulder and Scully by name. She mispronounced Dana, calling her "Dah-na" rather than "Day-na". She called Mulder "Mulder." He grinned at that. It made a nice change for someone to get his name right and his partner's name wrong.
Robyn showed them to their rooms. They were in the west wing of the house with a rather luxurious shared bathroom between the two bedrooms. Robyn smiled at the two of them, clearly she was happy to provide them with two rooms and let them take care of the details themselves. Scully's room was on the south side, the window looking out onto a pleasant courtyard containing daffodils and a large urn with goldfish in it. There were baskets of fuchsias hanging up and a large tree fern in the corner. It was pretty and relaxing. The wind hardly disturbed the courtyard at all.
Mulder's room was on the north side of the bathroom, just down the hall from Scully's. It had a balcony overlooking the valley. There was a twenty foot drop from the balcony, but the view across the valley was lovely. The hill opposite was thick with the rich green of eucalypts. Half way down the hill he could see the road leading to Belgrave. Scully came up behind him to look out the window.
"Great view of Safeway's car park," Robyn grinned.
Mulder liked the view, though he didn't like the wind. It was coming from the north, and booming through his room. He stepped out onto the balcony and a cold gust hit him in the face. A moment later a kookaburra landed on the verandah rail beside him and sat there, glaring expectantly at him.
"Looks like you have a welcoming committee," said Scully.
"Oh, he just wants to be fed," said Robyn. "When you've finished unpacking come into the dining room and we'll have some lunch."
Mulder and Scully unpacked and showered. It felt good to wash hours of flying grime off. Mulder came into the dining room with his hair still damp. Scully came in with her hair blown dry and just stockings on her feet. The house was warm and comfortable and lunch was pumpkin soup and garlic bread. The house seemed huge, but it was a single open plan room with an exposed beam ceiling. Lounge room merged with dining room, and the dining room was divided from the kitchen only by a low bench. They sat at the table and looked out a north facing window at another verandah. They watched a group of rosellas squabbling over sunflower seeds. A red and blue rosella kept chasing off the scruffy looking green rosellas.
"Don't tell them what you have in your pockets, Mulder," said Scully.
Mulder looked slightly hurt. "Actually, I wasn't allowed to bring any sunflower seeds into the country. I was going to wait till you all had your backs turned, and then I was going out there and mug the birds."
Scully grinned at him.
"Don't laugh," he said. "That's how come I started eating sunflower seeds in the first place."
The kookaburra was back, with several friends, and they watched for a few minutes as Robyn hand fed the birds on pieces of meat. A tabby cat sat staring out the window, leering at the birds. It lashed its tail chattered its teeth and squeaked at the birds. Magpies came stalking along the verandah rail, hassling the rosellas, but not game to take on the kookaburras. A little silky terrier singled out Scully as the most likely prospect for a handout, and sat by her feet, trying to mesmerize her into feeding it. Eventually it worked, and Scully slipped it a crust of her garlic bread. It was a pleasant, entertaining way to spend lunch.
"Just the two of you?" said Scully. "No children?"
Harry laughed. "With all these birds and animals we don't have room for children."
"Big house for just two people," said Mulder.
"Robyn's actually setting the place up as a Bed and Breakfast. You two are our test case."
Robyn came back in from giving the birds their lunch and brought coffee and cake to the table.
"I have to ask," said Scully. "How did you know to call him Mulder?"
Robyn looked slightly confused. "Well, we got notification that you two were coming. I'm sorry I mispronounced your name, Dana. It's just that I have a friend who spells her name the same way and pronounces it the other way."
"Yes, but calling Mulder Mulder."
"Oh, I guess it was presumptive. I hope you don't mind. I just like to be on a first name basis with everyone who comes into my house." She didn't look at all apologetic.
"But Mulder is my surname," said Mulder.
Robyn looked quite surprised. "Oh. I'm sorry. That is rude of me, isn't it? I'd just never heard of anyone called Fox before, so I assumed it was your surname. I'll call you..."
"No." He held up his hands. "Call me Mulder. That's what I like."
"It's his foible," said Scully. "Humour him."
After lunch Scully said she was going to the morgue. Forensic pathologists had made preliminary studies, but she wanted to look at the body herself, make her own conclusions based on solid evidence, not what she'd read in someone else's report.
"I really thought it was pretty straightforward," said Harry. "I mean, they got the dogs and everything. I was pretty surprised, really, when I heard they were sending you two across."
"Dogs?" said Scully.
"The two dogs that killed Wilson," said Harry. He frowned. "I thought you knew. Wilson got his throat ripped out by a couple of pitbulls. Horrible animals, I don't understand why anyone would want to keep them for pets."
Scully turned a very cool stare at her partner. "Dogs, Mulder?" she said.
"Causing the untimely death of a U.S. citizen, working for the U.S. government on foreign soil," said Mulder.
"Mulder when you described this man's death, you used the word "murder" to me."
"We don't know what the dogs' motive was," he suggested.
"Don't worry, Mulder," she placed a placating hand on his arm. "I'm sure there will be a murder here before too much longer. Harry, would you please make sure that the dogs' bodies aren't destroyed before I can see them."
"Are you going to the morgue as well, Mulder?" asked Robyn.
"Not yet," muttered Scully.
"Ah, no...I have some...other business that I need to tend to."
Scully gave him a look that would have registered on a Geiger counter.
Harry drove Scully to the morgue in his car. Mulder was left with the rental car and a bunch of maps leading him to the U.F.O. sites that had been written about in the local newspapers. He drove along twisted, unmade roads and got lost several times. Eventually he found his way to the paddock that had been marked on the map.
It wasn't much of a crop circle. The paddock was mostly used for agisting horses and some cattle. Still, it was clear where the grass had been flattened into a large circular shape. There were burnt patches as well. Mulder paced the circumference of the circle, stopping at the burnt patches to dig the soil and deposit small amounts of it into stoppered vials he carried. The burnt patches were oddly located at random about the paddock. Some of them weren't even in the flattened circle. Mulder frowned. He went back to his car and pulled the newspapers out of his case. He looked at the weather reports and the descriptions of the nights that the lights had been seen; fine and cool. Cold with a light drizzle. Some rain. Fine and cold. No mention of wind.
Mulder searched again. In one corner of the paddock was a small group of gum trees. One of the trees had been damaged as if it had been run into by a car. There was glass on the ground, brown shards of broken beer bottles and the clear glass of whiskey bottles. Mulder scoured the paddock. This time he found remains of something near one of the burnt patches. It was fabric of some kind. Mulder lifted it up with the tip of his pen and dropped it into a plastic evidence bag. It looked like latex. It looked like the remains of a large balloon. Further on he found the charred remains of a signal flare.
It was hardly worth keeping any of this, now that he had figured out what had gone on. Fox Mulder had travelled all the way to Australia for a hoax. Somebody's drunken idea of a joke. Large balloons, filled with helium, sent aloft with burning signal flares. A bright light that hovered in the still night sky, and then disappeared. A crop circle made by a "U.F.O." whose inhabitants were too drunk to avoid a tree. Mulder sighed. Scully was going to take lumps out of him.
Cade Wilson's body was a mess. Not that Scully hadn't seen worse. Her own dog had done quite a job on his first owner, but then Queequeeg had acted out of necessity, and he had been a delicate eater. Wilson had been mauled by the two pit bulls. They had apparently used him for a game of tug-of-war after he was dead. It wasn't a nice thought at all, and there was no sensible explanation for why anybody would want to keep a dog like that for a pet.
She studied the measurements and photographs of the dogs' jawprints that the forensic pathologist gave her. She frowned as she looked at the information before her. There was no question that the two pitbulls had mauled Wilson. Their tooth marks were as individual as fingerprints and she could tell which dog had made each bite. They had torn his arms and face. They had almost pulled one of his feet off, and they had mauled his genitals in ways that made her want to cross her legs. She could probably tell Mulder all about those injuries the next time he really annoyed her. But neither of the pitbulls had given Wilson the bite on the neck and throat that killed him. A third dog...a third animal had been there as well. As far as Scully could tell, Wilson was well and truly dead by the time the two pitbulls attacked him, they had been playing with the body like it was a big toy.
Scully was looking forward to getting back to the house with Harry. It had been a long flight and the jetlag was beginning to catch up with her. Harry drove slowly along the small roads near his house. Several times they stopped to chat with the drivers of cars coming in opposite directions, or Harry would just wave, and the other driver would wave back. It seemed like everyone around there knew everyone, and nobody was in much of a hurry.
When they got back, Scully gratefully accepted the hot tea Robyn gave her. She sat by the window watching the kookaburras fluff up their feathers against the cold. Mulder came in the door not long after Scully and Harry arrived. The house smelt of good cooking and it was warm inside, the gentle breath of the ducted heating a contrast to the howling wind outside. Robyn had lit a fire in the little dining room/loungeroom fireplace. It gave focus to the warmth. Mulder stood in front of the fireplace, letting the warm seep through to his bones. It had been really cold out there tracking down stupid hoaxers.
"So how was your U.F.O.?" asked Scully. She really knew how to hurt.
"Great if you like helium-powered signal flares. How was your dogbite?"
"The dogbites were terrific. I just wish I knew what had killed Wilson."
"Not a dog?"
"I don't know. I'm going in tomorrow afternoon to talk to a zoologist, see if we can figure out the dentition of the animal that killed Wilson."
Robyn called them to dinner. "Vegetarian lasagne," she explained. "I didn't think you'd be wanting a heavy meal so soon after your flight. I hope you don't mind eating vegetarian, Mulder." She cast a hooded glance at Harry, "I know a lot of blokes who don't think they've had a proper meal if they haven't had meat."
"I'm fine," said Mulder.
"He's just pathetically grateful when anybody feeds him," said Scully.
The combination of warmth and good food and general fatigue caught Scully early. She needed to sleep. She even caught Mulder rubbing his eyes. "Not going to sit up all night watching television?" she asked.
He looked blearily at her.
"We could put a tv in your room if you like," said Robyn earnestly. "It's not a problem, there's a..."
"No, it's fine, really. Thanks," Mulder waved off her helpfulness.
He had been asleep. Despite the way the wind buffeted his room he knew he had been asleep, because he had been having a really stupid dream about going to someone's wedding and wearing a garment covered in silk-ribbon embroidered flowers. Now he was awake, though, suddenly alarmed and out of bed at the sound of Scully's yell. He dashed into Scully's room, gun in hand.
"What is it? What happened?"
Scully was standing beside the bed looking flustered. Her hair was flattened and her nightgown was still twisted about her middle. She'd had time to grab her gun, but no time to straighten her nightdress. She was peering intently out the window, trying to make something out in the dark courtyard beyond.
"Something's out there, Mulder."
Mulder scratched at his head and adjusted the waistband of his boxers up and tugged the hem of his tee shirt down. It was something like two in the morning and the house was quite cool now. "Something like what?" he said. "The cat? A branch scratching at the window?"
Scully shook her head. "I don't know. I heard something, and it wasn't a cat."
"The wind then." He was tired.
"It wasn't the wind, Mulder, there's something out there."
"You were probably dreaming." Apparently a little sleep deprivation made Mulder terse.
"Mulder I heard it, it..."
At that moment the wind did drop, and this time they both heard the noise. It was a strange, rumbling growling sound. Not low, like the growl of a dog, but mid range, it sounded to Scully a little like someone with some sort of chronic obstructive airways disease, trying very hard to breathe after just performing in a triathalon.
"What the hell was that?" said Mulder, his face going pale.
A light came on in the front room and Robyn came trudging in, clutching a dressing gown about her and scratching at her flattened hair. "You okay?" she said.
Scully gestured towards the window. "There's something in the courtyard."
Robyn shrugged. "Goldfish?"
"It made a noise," said Mulder.
"Did it sound like this?" said Robyn, and made a very good impersonation of the sound they had heard.
"That would be Droopy."
"The friendly ghost?" said Mulder.
"Brushy tail," said Robyn. "Hold on." She disappeared back into the main part of the house and returned a moment later with a piece of bread and honey. She pulled back the curtains and opened Scully's window. Cold air came flooding in, and a moment later something landed with a thump on the window sill. "Droopy, come and say hello to our guests and stop scaring them." She handed over the bread and honey.
The animal on the window sill looked to Mulder like a large domestic cat on steroids. It moved with the kind of burly stiffness of guys who did weights, but it had a sweet, dimwitted look on its face and a brushy tail. Its fur was mostly a smoky grey colour, fading to yellow underneath and the very fluffy tail was black. It had large ears, one sticking up, the other sticking out at the side, one droopy ear, hence the name. Droopy accepted the bread and honey and sat perched on the window sill holding it with its front paws and nibbling away.
"Is it a little kangaroo?" said Scully, rather taken with Droopy now that they had been properly introduced.
"No, he's a possum. He's kind of a pet. We raised him up when he was just little, and he thinks it's okay to make a racket when he wants to be fed. Sorry he woke you, I should have warned you, but I really thought he'd just keep out of the weather tonight, or I'd have left something out for him."
Mulder reached out and stroked the fur, it was deliciously soft. Droopy reached round and grabbed Mulder's hand, hoping for more bread and honey. It looked at Mulder. It had a pink nose and rather a stupid expression. Cute, but not as smart as a cat or dog.
"Be careful, Mulder," Scully warned, seeing the way the possum held his hand and sniffed at his fingers.
"Don't worry," said Robyn. "Droopy doesn't bite. And there's no rabies here."
"Are there koalas?" said Mulder.
"No, and be grateful there aren't. If one of them woke you up in the night you'd think there was a murder going on."
Droopy was satisfied that the bread and honey was all gone. It jumped off the window sill and back into the courtyard where it disappeared over the trellis. Robyn apologised for the interruption to their sleep, and they crawled back into their beds. Scully snuggled down and tried to rewarm herself. Mulder dragged his quilt about him and tried not to listen to the howling wind outside.
Harry laughed at them over breakfast, and then conceded that perhaps it might be scary, or at least off-putting to have a possum shouting through your window. Especially if you'd never met one before. Nobody seemed any the worse for their close encounter with Droopy. Harry had slept through the whole thing.
After breakfast Mulder and Scully were going to talk to interview Ron Bogut, owner of the late, and apparently lamented pitbulls. Mulder brooded as they drove to Bogut's house.
"Motive," he said finally.
"They were dogs, Mulder. They didn't have a motive."
"Even dogs don't kill for no reason."
"You want a course in canine psychology? They're territorial animals. They killed him because he trespassed."
Mulder didn't seem convinced. "We know so little about Cade Wilson," he said finally. "We know he worked at some government installation in Harkaway. We don't know what he did and we don't know very much at all about his personal life."
"He lived alone not far from Bogut's house. Maybe he made a habit of goading Bogut's dogs, and then one night the gate wasn't shut properly."
"You said the pitbulls didn't kill him," said Mulder. "Suppose he knew something."
"What? About U.F.O.s, Mulder? Like the ones you tracked down yesterday?"
"What's the best way to hide something like that, Scully? Add in some evidence to make it all look like a hoax."
"Face it, Mulder, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for conspiracy theories on this one. Why don't you just admit that you've dragged us down here on a wild goose chase? Now the best thing we can do for Cade Wilson is to find out as much as possible about his death so that he can rest in peace and with a little dignity."
Bogut's house was small and shabby. There was a dead car in the front yard and the fence was held together with wire strands in places. It wasn't surprising that his dogs had got out.
Bogut was a skinny, unkempt man with long, filthy looking stringy hair, and a home-made cigarette that seemed permanently attached to his lip. His reaction to Mulder and Scully was a whole lot less than friendly. When he saw their FBI. identifications, he was downright hostile.
"Whada you Americans want? Bloody seppos."
"We wanted to talk to you about the death of Cade Wilson," said Mulder.
"My dogs never done it. They never killed him. They never hurt no one." Bogut waved his hands around as he spoke, punching holes in the air with his right index finger. He turned so that it was Scully he addressed. Mulder drew back, leaning against the wall of the house. He almost looked relaxed, but he was watching Bogut's body language, keeping an eye on Scully. Not that she particularly needed a minder, but Mulder was a good deal taller than Bogut, and all he would need to do would be to step between Bogut and Scully.
"Mr Bogut, I've seen Cade Wilson's body..." began Scully.
Bogut stared at her as though she had just admitted to having a really unpleasant social disease. "You went to look at his body?"
"I'm a doctor, I specialise in..."
"You're sick," he said. "You're a sicko. You go round looking at dead bodies."
"It's my job, Mr Bogut. Now I can tell you that your dogs did a great deal of damage to Mr Wilson's body, but they didn't kill him."
Bogut picked at the filthy cigarette stub in his mouth. He picked it out and flicked a strand of tobacco off his lip, then returned it, speaking around it. "How can you tell that?" he said finally.
"We made measurements of the dogs' mouths and teeth. We can tell which dog produced which set of bite marks. There was a third dog, one we haven't tracked down, and that was the one that bit Mr Wilson's neck and throat. That was the one that killed him."
"So my dogs were innocent," said Bogut.
"Well, they didn't kill anyone," said Mulder.
"Fat lot of good that does them now," snapped Bogut. "The police had them put down." He stared a challenge at Scully. He had tried to ignore Mulder. He seemed to like the idea that he might be able to intimidate Scully, since he was taller than her. "So why are you telling me this?" he said.
"We thought you might know of another large dog in the area," said Mulder. "Maybe your dogs had a playmate."
Bogut informed them in terms that lacked neither certainty not subtlety, that his dogs did not have playmates. That his dogs ate other dogs for breakfast and had pussy cats for between meals snacks. That his dogs were the most ferocious animals this side of the black stump, and nobody in their right mind would come within a bull's roar of them. But of course they didn't kill people.
Mulder and Scully returned to their car. "Lucky I spent so much of my youth hanging around sailors," said Scully. "Otherwise he might have said some words I didn't know."
"Wish I had your background, Scully. I was embarrassed. Interesting dogs. Completely harmless except when they're killing things."
"Nevertheless, they didn't kill Wilson. I thought Bogut was justifiably upset."
"I think he had two big, mean dogs in order to compensate for other aspects of his life."
"I don't think I want to hear your Freudian analogies, Mulder." They returned to Harry's house where Robyn had just prepared lunch for them.
"Are you coming into town with me to see this zoologist?" asked Scully.
Mulder shook his head. "No, but would you mind giving me a lift to Wilson's house? I just want to look around a little."
"How will you get home?" said Robyn. "You can borrow my car if you like."
"It's okay," said Mulder. "It isn't that far. I'll walk."
Robyn looked at the wind-lashed trees outside of the window. The airport really had been closed this time, and not even the kookaburras and rosellas had turned up at lunchtime. She turned a concerned look on Mulder.
"Really," he said, "I'll be fine. I need to blow away all the cobwebs after the plane trip."
Cade Wilson had lived in a modest western red cedar place at the bottom of the valley. The garden was tidy and cared for. Outside of the front window was a bird table covered in sunflower seed husks. As Mulder let himself in a group of rosellas flew down to the table and peered at him, making hopeful sounding "ding" noises. Once inside it was obvious to him that somebody had been there before him. Nothing was badly disturbed, the house didn't look ransacked, just the opposite. There was a peculiar neatness about the house. Something made Mulder feel as if someone had been there, going through Wilson's things, and then wiped away all their fingerprints afterwards. Or worn gloves during the process.
There were pictures on one of the walls, Wilson with friends. A lot of pictures that involved people wearing backpacks and standing beside tents. Apparently one of the reasons he had come to Australia was because he liked the outdoors and spent a lot of time bushwalking. Wilson's calendar had a lot of social dates marked on it. Dinner with different sets of initials. Place names and abbreviations, written over weekends. Bushwalking trips, Mulder supposed. He found an address book by Wilson's phone and compared the names with the initials on the calendar. He slipped the book into his pocket.
Wilson's computer sat on his desk. There was no clutter of any kind, not even a notepad or whyteboard. There were no used discs. There was a box containing a few blank floppies in the top drawer of the desk, but no sign of any work that Wilson might have been doing. There was a very clean spot on top of Wilson's filing cabinet, the dust was much thinner there than around the top edge of the filing cabinet. Mulder could see faint marks on the corners of the clean patch. The impressions left by the little rubber feet at the corners of disc storage boxes. Wilson's whole box of discs had been taken.
Inside the filing cabinet Mulder found personal papers. Wilson's will, his gas and electricity bills. His credit card statements and accounts. His tax file number and divorce papers. The two lower drawers of the cabinet were empty. Someone had just removed all the suspended files. Mulder could only imagine who had been there before him.
He wandered outside to look at the places Wilson had walked. He dragged his overcoat around him. The sky was grey and menacing and the wind was a constant roar in his ears, sometimes rising to booming gusts. It was cold, but it wasn't raining. He decided to take himself to the place where Wilson had died.
There was a path leading down from Wilson's back yard, alongside the track of Puffing Billy, the tourist steam train, down into the valley and alongside a rather sad looking creek. The path went past the back of Bogut's yard and Mulder wondered for a moment about Scully's suggestion that he might have teased the dogs. It seemed unlikely though. There were probably enough twelve year olds who teased those dogs. There was no real reason for them to have any interest in Wilson.
He heard the "hoot" of the little steam train as it crossed the nearby trestle bridge, and stopped to watch it pass him. Despite the cold weather there were people sitting in the open sided carriages. Kids sat there with their legs dangling, grinning and waving at him. Old ladies, men with video cameras, a whole school's worth of kids, and a heap of tourists. They all waved, and he couldn't help but smile and wave back at them. Then he went back to following the path, till he arrived at the spot, still marked with police tape and gore, where Cade Wilson had died.
Tim Schroeder wasn't happy. He had been looking at the x-rays and photos that Scully had brought for a very long time. He had taken several measurements of his own, and asked twice for Scully's credentials, which he had studied intently. There were models and skeletons on his desk and he compared them painstakingly with the bite marks of whatever had killed Wilson.
Scully watched him silently. She wanted to ask him a million questions, but she did not want to add to his anxiety. He had picked up the phone and asked someone to bring him "TC five and six". A while later a young man had brought up a glass case containing the skulls of two animals.
"I can absolutely promise you," said Schroeder eventually, "that the animal that did this was not a canid."
"Not a dog," said Scully.
"Not a dog of any breed or any kind. Not a wolf or a fox or an Outer Mongolian ferret hound or any kind of hyaena."
"Since you've established what it isn't, I presume you must know what it is," said Scully.
"What it is, is a problem. Don't get me wrong, this could be very good. I think the current bounty is something like ten thousand dollars."
Schroeder opened his mouth as if he was about to enlighten Scully, and then closed it on a grin. He really wasn't sure what to make of this whole situation. "Are you really sure this isn't some kind of hoax?"
"Doctor Schroeder, a man is dead. If this is a hoax, then we have some very sick practical jokers on our hands."
"Okay," he waved placatingly at her. "Sorry. It's just ... well, say you found a body that had been mauled by something, and you figured out that the only thing that had teeth like that was say ... a sabre-tooth tiger."
Scully looked at the pictures and then back at Schroeder, a little confused by what he had just said. "Do you mean you think a sabre-toothed tiger killed this man?"
"Something like that." He indicated the skulls in the box. "Thylacinus cynocephalus, otherwise known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian tiger," he said. "The largest of the dasyurids."
Scully raised one eyebrow.
"Carnivorous marsupials. There's no question that's what killed him. The dentition's quite recognisable."
"Why is it a problem then?" asked Scully.
"Thylacines have been extinct in Tassie for over sixty years."
"What about the mainland?"
"Haven't been on the mainland for between two and five thousand years. They were wiped out when the dingoes were introduced. No one's quite sure why. It was originally thought to be, um, kind of an ecological dispossession. Current theory runs that thylacines might have been susceptible to canine distemper or some other dog disease that wiped them out. Dingoes were never introduced to Tassie, but the sudden reduction in numbers of Thylacines seemed to coincide more with animal illnesses than the hunting that was going on at the time."
"So you're saying a thylacine killed him, but it couldn't have."
Schroeder thought about this for a moment and then nodded. "Yep, that's about the strength of it. Sound like a hoax to you? I mean, if someone hadn't died because of this, I'd be taking along your photos and x-rays to the Tassie government and claiming the ten thousand dollar reward they're offering to anyone who can prove the existence of thylacines."
There wasn't a whole lot else Scully could do from there. Schroeder would write up a report about the animal that had killed Wilson, and she would have to make the best of it. There was simply no way of knowing what the animal was, and no way she could find a thylacine. People had been searching for over sixty years and had no luck.
Nevertheless, she began a web search when she returned to Harry's house, and learned a great deal about the dead animals. Dozens of them were sighted every year, both in Tasmania and on the mainland. The Tasmanian government had an official policy of not releasing any news about thylacine sightings, claiming that if there were still pockets of them, they needed to be left undisturbed. Despite claims that the animals had been extinct from the mainland for thousands of years, a femur dated at less than a hundred years old had been found in the northwest of Western Australia. Thylacines had been sighted in the area around Selby, where Wilson had been killed.
When Scully rang the Victorian government to ask for their official position on reportage of thylacine sightings, she was met with blank silence on the phone. The man on the other end could not understand why she or anyone would want to report an extinct animal. Eventually Scully managed to convince him that somebody just might see one, and he laughed at her and told her they'd be better off ringing the Truth than the government. The Truth, Robyn explained, was a particularly trashy tabloid that made little effort to live up to its name. It rated up there with the National Enquirer, though with fewer Elvis sightings and more pictures of naked women.
The schoolkids had come and gone, the wind whipping them along like tattered leaves. Meanwhile Mulder pottered around the site of Wilson's death. There was plenty of evidence of a struggle, but the dogs had wrestled with his body, and most of the crushed undergrowth had probably been caused by that. The light was starting to fail. Wind lashed the trees above his head and great clouds rolled over the sky, turning afternoon into night. Mulder had to make the most of what little time was left before those clouds opened up and rain destroyed any evidence the police might have missed.
There was an impression on the ground, and a plastic supermarket bag. It looked as if somebody had been sitting on the bag, using it to stop his clothes getting wet from the damp earth. Waiting for something? Mulder wondered what Wilson might have been waiting for at night time in the winter. Sometimes Puffing Billy ran a night train. Perhaps the lonely man sat here watching the little train full of happy people going past. Mulder made a mental note to check Puffing Billy's timetable for the night of Wilson's death. Somehow it didn't seem that likely though. Somehow Wilson didn't seem that much of a pathetic loser. He had friends and quite an active social life. There was no reason to suppose he spent his winter nights sitting in the cold pining for a ride on Puffing Billy.
Mulder spread the plastic supermarket bag back on the ground and sat down on it, dragging his coat tight against the wind and blinking hair out of his eyes. The track ran straight in front of him, aside from that, and the flattened area off to his left, he was surrounded by dense bush. Tree ferns towered above him and there was a dense cluster of prostanthera about him. The whole place felt almost prehistoric. Mulder took in the full scope of this perspective, and realised there was a kind of tunnel through the undergrowth to his right. It was curious, as if some kind of animal had pushed its way through the scrub. There was even a track.
Mulder crouched down and pushed his way through the dense bush. If he kept doubled over, he could make his way along the animal's path, though his hair kept getting tangled in branches and his coat kept snagging on blackberry brambles. He searched the side of the path for spoor that the animal might have left. Once or twice he spotted footprints of what might have been a dog. He wasn't really sure. The light was failing and he'd felt the first large drops of rain on his head. He turned to go back along the track to the path when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.
Something was standing on the path, right where Wilson had been attacked. It moved its head, looking about. At first Mulder thought it was a dog, a labrador, then, in profile, a Staffordshire bull terrier. Stripes ran across its spine from half way along its stiff, thick tail to its shoulders. He stayed very still, it didn't seem to have seen him, it was too busy sniffing the ground where Wilson's blood was thick. He saw it lick at the blood and then yawn, its jaws gaping wider than any dog's jaws he had ever seen. He must have made some small sound that the animal heard above the wind, because it suddenly looked up and saw him. Mulder could hardly believe his eyes at what it did then, rose up on its hind feet, turned tail, and jumped away into the dark, like a kangaroo. It had to be some weird carnivorous kangaroo that nobody had ever heard of, and with those jaws it could certainly have been what killed Wilson.
The rain was getting heavier now, and despite his expectations of the storm abating, the wind was gusting stronger. Mulder started to make his way along the path, fighting off prickly brambles and peering through the gloom. He lost his way along the path and somehow found himself on the train tracks. He decided to follow them, at least to the road crossing. There were no brambles to tangle him up, though the sleepers were slick with rain and he kept slipping on them, falling right over once, and bashing his elbow on one of the rails.
He pulled his flashlight out of his pocket, but it didn't help much. The rain had become so heavy, it seemed to somehow soak up all the light. All about him he could also hear the frightening sound of trees breaking and branches crashing to the ground. When he got to the level crossing he suddenly realised he had no idea which way to go. He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket but got no response from it. It wasn't dead, there just wasn't any signal for it. He shoved it back in disgust and set off in a random direction where he could see a street light in the gloom. A moment later there was a booming roar of wind and the street light died.
Mulder kept doggedly trudging through the rain. There was a terrible ripping crash of splintering branches and something whipped towards him. He cringed away, putting his hands over his head as a defence. The roar of the storm was all about him and he didn't even know which direction to cringe. A tree branch cracked against his left hand and made him yelp with pain. He surveyed the damage with the torch. Yep. It was bleeding. He was officially allowed to cry. He hadn't felt this pathetic in a long time.
A pair of headlights cut through the gloom and Mulder flagged the car down with his flashlight. The car bore the insignia of the electricity company. The driver pushed the passenger's side door open.
"Don't you look like something the cat dragged in?" the driver yelled over the wind.
"I'm lost," Mulder admitted as he got into the car.
"You're that American cop staying at Harry's place, aren't you?" said the man.
"FBI." said Mulder.
"There's a difference?"
Scully had managed to work herself up into a fair state of worry. Any other man would have availed himself of the local hospitality and found a cozy fire to sit out the storm in front of. Mulder was presumably out there doing something life-threatening. There was a loud knock at the door and before anyone had time to answer it, someone opened it and came inside, shouting out: "Hello, Harry. Does this belong to you?"
The electricity man came in with Mulder in his wake, looking bedraggled and sheepish. "Found him out there looking like a little lost lamb," bellowed the man, whose name was Steve. He didn't stay. There was a lot of cleaning up to be done in this storm.
Mulder stood by the front door and proceeded to strip off clothing until he reached a stage where any more undressing was going to result in somebody being embarrassed. He warmed up under the shower and dressed in his jeans and a fleecy pullover and thick socks, then sat by the fire. He assessed the bruise on his elbow and decided he would survive. Scully surveyed his hand, disinfected it, bandaged it, and told him he would live. Robyn took his wet coat and suit and hung them in the laundry to drip. She put his shoes by the fire. There was no ducted heating, the heating was gas, but it was powered by electricity. Everything had to be done by candle light. Power had been off for over an hour now.
"Mulder, we have a problem with food," said Robyn. "I managed to get the cooking done before the power went off, but all we have is an electric stove. I can offer you cold, congealed osso-bucco, or fresh baked bread with ... whatever you like on it."
Mulder considered the possibilities. What he really wanted, right now, after facing the storm and nursing his wounds, while he sat by the cosy fire, was nursery food. "Do you have any peanut butter?" he said.
"Bought a jar specially," said Robyn. "Peanut butter sandwiches it is."
When Mulder asked about his cellular, Harry just laughed. "Digital?"
"Yeah. Doesn't work around here. Only got analogue boosters on the hill up there." He pointed vaguely out the window where they could see nothing but solid blackness. The electricity was out everywhere.
"I'm pretty sure I found the animal that killed Wilson," said Mulder.
Scully raised an eyebrow. She hadn't yet told him what Schroeder had told her.
"Another dog?" asked Harry.
"No. Looked more like a man-eating kangaroo to me."
Harry laughed. "A carnivorous kangaroo?"
Robyn placed a plate of peanut butter sandwiches in front of Mulder. She put a glass of milk beside them, if you were going to have nursery food, you might as well do the whole thing properly. Harry brought in a bottle of red wine.
"Nearest thing we have to a carnivorous kangaroo is antechinus," said Robyn.
"Could they kill a man?" asked Mulder.
"Only if he was Tom Thumb. They're about the size of a juvenile rat."
"No." Mulder shook his head. He bit into the sandwich. The bread was soft and still warm and the peanut butter was his favourite, crunchy-style. "This thing was big and it had stripes."
Robyn frowned. "Sounds like a numbat," she said. She grabbed one of the candles and disappeared upstairs for a moment. When she returned she was carrying a large coffee-table type book called The Australian Museum Complete book of Australian Mammals. She flicked through until she found the appropriate page, and then placed the book down on Mulder's lap.
There were two pictures on the page. The top one showed two little animals that looked about as dangerous as squirrels, the bottom photo was of a slightly larger animal with its head down and tail stuck out straight. They had stripes, like the animal Mulder had seen, but he wasn't sure. There was something odd about the stripes, light on dark instead of dark on light. He flicked back over the page and looked at the animals' statistics.
"Two hundred and forty three plus a hundred and eighty one, that's ... three ... four twenty four millimetres head to tail. How big is that?"
Robyn held her hands about fifteen inches apart.
Mulder took another bite of his sandwich and washed it down with a sip of the wine. It was an interesting combination. He shook his head at Robyn, "That's no good. The thing I saw was as big as a dog."
The little dog settled itself pointedly at Mulder's feet, waiting for a crust.
"Big as a big dog," he told it. "About the size of a greyhound, only better built." He looked again at the book. "The distribution's wrong for a numbat. Anyway, it says here these things eat termites. It wouldn't have the strength in its jaws to kill anyone. It doesn't say anything about them jumping, either. This thing jumped, like a kangaroo." He flicked back one more page through the book and stopped at the picture. "That's it," he said.
"Thylacine?" said Scully, without even looking at the book.
Harry began to laugh and Robyn frowned.
"Is that was forensics came up with?" said Mulder.
Scully nodded. "There's only one small problem," she said.
"They've been extinct for sixty years," said Robyn.
They talked long into the night and consumed more red wine to keep the cold and storm out of mind. Mulder ate more peanut butter sandwiches, just for the sake of the delicious home made bread. By the time they went to bed the storm had become, if anything, even wilder. There was no electricity, but the phone was still working. They crawled into their beds, pulling their quilts tight about them against the cold. Riding the storm like a ship at sea.
When Scully woke, the wind was still blowing. The sky was grey and surly, the house was cold, and neither the electricity nor the heater had come on. She heard a noise from the adjoining bathroom. Mulder was up. She heard the sound of his feet padding on the wood floor, and then nothing.
She dragged a dressing-gown on over her night dress and went down the hall. The bathroom was empty, the toilet cistern still filling. "Mulder?" He hadn't closed his bedroom door, so she figured he was decent. He preferred to take a shower, anyway, first thing. She could see his outline, hunched under the bedclothes. "What's wrong? Too much soft city living,?" She could hear his teeth chattering. She perched herself on the end of his bed and pressed her hand over one of his feet through the bedclothes. "You've become dependant on central heating." She reached over and ruffled his hair.
Mulder uttered a low moan, then abruptly rolled out of the bed and dashed past her to the bathroom again. He didn't even look at her. After a little while she heard the toilet flushing, and when he came back his face was pasty and slick with sweat and his hands shook as he crawled back under the covers. "Cold," he muttered, dragging the quilt tight around him.
"Come on, you didn't drink that much red wine last nigh," she said. She put her hand on his forehead and slid her fingers through his damp, hot hair. "Oh, god, Mulder. You're burning up. How long have ...?"
She didn't get a chance to finish her question. Mulder pushed past her again and stumbled back into the bathroom. By the time he got back Scully had straightened out the bottom sheet of the bed and tidied up the cover so that he could just pull it over himself when he climbed back into bed.
"Is there any nausea and vomiting?" she asked, once he had crawled back under the covers.
"No. Just diarrhoea, but it's ... I'm bleeding."
Scully rolled him onto his back and probed his stomach with her fingers. Even the gentlest pressure hurt him and he pushed her off with shaking hands and dragged the covers up again. "Don't, Scully. Just take my word that it hurts, okay?"
There was a sound at Mulder's door. Robyn was standing there in her pyjamas and dressing gown, with a jar of peanut butter in her hand. "Oh, shit," she said.
"That pretty much covers it," Mulder agreed weakly.
"Oh, Mulder, I'm so sorry," said Robyn. "I had no idea. I've just heard about it on the radio." She held up the peanut butter. "There's been a recall on this brand of peanut butter. People have been going down with salmonella poisoning."
Robyn didn't have Tylenol, only Herron, a paracetamol. It would take down the fever and pain. Scully sat by Mulder's bed and mopped his face with a damp wash cloth. "Take a shower and put on clean shorts and tee shirt. I'll change your bedclothes. You'll feel more comfortable."
Mulder whined at the prospect of having to get up. The thought of washing all the sweat off in the nice warm shower was pleasant, though.
"I'll go down to the supermarket and get you some of those sports drinks after breakfast," said Robyn. "It'll help keep you hydrated and balance up your electrolytes."
Mulder shook his head, "No. We can pick some up ourselves on the way out."
"We?" said Scully. "Mulder, you're not going anywhere."
He griped against the pain in his belly for a moment before he was able to reply. "We've got to talk to somebody in the National Parks service about evidence and sighting of a so-called extinct animal. We also have to get to Wilson's work place. There's something going on, Scully." He said all this through chattering teeth, with his bedclothes drawn up about his chin, and his eyes having difficulty focusing on Scully's face.
"You're not going anywhere, Mulder. A minute ago you were complaining about taking a shower. I don't believe you could even walk to the front door by yourself, and I certainly don't want you in a car with me while you're in this condition."
"Can't you get me some antibiotics or something."
"No. I'm not licenced to practice medicine in this country. Even if I was, I wouldn't be prescribing antibiotics for salmonella poisoning. What you need is rest and fluids. If you promise to do that, I'll go and talk to Wilson's colleagues and the wildlife people."
Mulder made his grudging promise and then stumbled off to the bathroom. Scully and Robyn changed his sweat-sodden sheets and had their breakfast. By the time Scully was ready to go, Mulder had fallen into an exhausted sleep. She held her hand lightly against his forehead, it seemed a little cooler. Presumably the pain killers were having some effect.
Mulder had lost count after about the fifteenth trip to the toilet. Robyn peeped around the door of his bedroom to tell him she was going to be leaving the house. He just nodded. He didn't have the energy to really care. He had pulled the covers around him and slept fitfully, roused occasionally by great gusts of wind. He heard something that sounded like someone moving around in the house, but he wasn't sure if it was Robyn, or just the wind. At some stage the little dog came mooching into his room, looked at him, and then wandered out again, its claws clicking on the wood floor. Something landed on his bed and startled him out of his doze. It was the cat. It sniffed his face and then curled up and slept, its body pressed hard up against his back so that they could share each other's warmth.
He blinked at the sunlight. Robyn was in his room with supermarket bags in her hands. She presented him with sports drinks, bottles and bottles of it. There was pink, orange, yellow, green, and a really outrageous blue colour. She had also bought him some kind of yoghourt drink that was supposed to be full of friendly live bacteria, and a six-pack of hypo-allergenic, aloe-impregnated, extra soft toilet paper. He took the paper.
"I promise you my undying gratitude and my firstborn," he mumbled on his way through to the bathroom.
The people at the Centre for Animal Disease Research weren't obstructive. Not exactly. Nor did they lie when she asked them questions. Not directly. But there was a lot of fencing with the truth and a lot of prevarication.
Scully interviewed some of Wilson's work mates. They were friends who seemed truly dismayed at his death. One of the women spent a good part of the interview crying and the men spoke quietly with the confusion that people have over a death so utterly senseless. Wilson had led an active and happy social life, and been a productive, worthwhile member of the team. That was as far as it went. They didn't know anything about Wilson having an interest in an animal that was presumed extinct. When she tried to find out exactly what he had done as part of that team the shutters went down. No one wanted to talk to her.
It was obviously some kind of genetic research, Scully could glean that much from what she saw on whyteboards and notes about the place. Nothing was definite, though, and as she turned towards one desk with an open file on it, the man she had been talking too suddenly stopped mid sentence, lunged at the file and walked off with it, not bothering to explain her behaviour to her.
Tom Flynn, head of the research facility did not want to make himself available to her, so Scully simply pushed past the young man who had installed himself as door minder and went into the office. The young man followed her in, hovering by the door.
Flynn was in the middle of a phone call when she walked in on him. "I'll call you back," he said. "It seems I have a Situation here." He put the phone down and stared at Scully. "How may I help you, miss?"
Scully flipped her I.D. open at him. "Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI. You can help me by answering a few questions."
"If it's within my jurisdiction." He motioned for her to sit down. "I doubt very much that I can tell you anything that the others out there can't tell you. They actually knew Cade better than I did. My contact with him was strictly work related. We didn't socialise at all."
"Perhaps you'll be able to tell me about what Mr Wilson was working on," said Scully.
"I understand Cade died as a result of being mauled by dogs."
"He was killed by an animal's bite," said Scully.
"Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with his work," said Flynn.
"The more information we can get on Mr Wilson, the more thorough his profile. It might help us find out more about his death."
"Miss Scully, information about what we do here is on a need-to-know basis."
"And I don't need to know?"
He shrugged. "That's right. Now if you'll excuse me, I was in the middle of a very important call. Mr Lieber will see you out."
The young man followed Scully closely till she was out of the door and well on her way to her car. He moved with the kind of certainty of someone who spent a lot of time in martial arts. She probably would have humiliated him as well as beaten him up, if he'd put her to the test. But there was no point. She wasn't going to learn anything by hanging around. She decided to return to Harry's place and check on Mulder.
The wind had dropped, replaced now by constant drizzling rain like a balm on the sodden, beaten earth. Mulder was asleep. He didn't move when she came into his room and pressed her hand against his forehead. The cat looked at her, licked one paw, stretched and went back to sleep. Mulder was still hot, but the paracetamols were holding the fever and the pain, and he'd been drinking the vividly coloured concoctions Robyn had bought for him.
Scully spent the afternoon working on her case notes. Just as the batteries in her laptop died, the electricity came back on. Robyn was overjoyed, it meant she could cook instead of having to phone Harry to bring home pizzas. It seemed as if her life revolved around cooking. She bemoaned the fact that Mulder was going to miss out on the lamb roast she had planned for dinner that night.
Mulder woke at some time during the night, turned on his light, and reached for one of the sports drinks. Then he realised the electricity was back on. He moved with painful care to the bathroom then eased himself back into bed to finish off the drink.
"That looks tasty." Scully was standing by his bedroom door.
He held up the electric blue drink. "Don't worry, I've made a note of the additives in this stuff. I'm gonna email Frohicke and ask him what kind of experiments they're performing on people with it."
"Well you sound better, how do you feel?"
"Like I was run down by a really big peanut." He sipped the drink. "How did you go at the research place?"
"They didn't tell me anything."
"Scully I could have told you they weren't going to talk. What did you learn there?"
"That they're working o
animal genetics. I don't know any more than that. The whole setup is on a need to know basis, and I..."
"...didn't need to know," finished Mulder glumly. "Did you talk to the wildlife people?"
"Not yet. I was babysitting you all afternoon."
"All this attention."
"You should get sick more often."
"You haven't really made it worth my while, Scully."
"I'll put that comment down to delirium. I'm going to see the wildlife people in the morning."
"What time is it?"
"After eleven. I'm just turning in."
"Scully, do me a favour."
"If there's any wildlife outside your window, I don't want to know."
By next morning Mulder felt as if rogue taxidermists had been working on his body. Someone had replaced his muscles with cotton wool and his bones with pipe cleaners. He felt dizzy when he got up and exhausted after a visit to the bathroom. He wasn't sweating, though, and apparently the seething mass of salmonella in his bowel had either been forcibly ejected or overwhelmed by the nice bacteria in the yoghourt drink Robyn had given him for dinner last night.
Scully came into his room, looking far more healthy and happy than anyone had a right to on this dismal morning. "Mulder, do you have the forensic material?"
"The pictures and measurements I got from Dr Schroeder. The evidence that what killed Cade Williams wasn't a dog."
"I saw them on, ah ... the night of the storm. That was all. You took them."
"They were in my room. They're not there now."
"You ask Robyn? Maybe she went in there to dust or something and tidied them away."
"She didn't touch them."
She shook her head. "They're gone, Mulder. Someone must have come in."
He slumped back into his pillow, a look or resignation and defeat on his face. "Yesterday. Robyn had gone out to the shops. I thought I heard a noise. I wanted to get up and see who it was, but then the dog came into my room, and I figured it was just him that I'd heard. I should have got up."
"Got up and done what?"
"Well ... stopped them from taking the evidence."
"How, Mulder? Faint on them?"
"Scully they came in here. Right under my nose. It's like I'm the only person in the world who can successfully pull off a wild goose chase, and every time I get the thing cornered, someone hits me on the head. I wake up and I'm left with nothing but a handful of feathers and a "one that got away" story not even a fisherman would believe." He'd worked himself into a lather of agitation and Scully thought he almost looked as if he was about to cry.
"Calm down, Mulder."
"How can I?"
"Take it easy. It's not going to help if you make yourself ill again. Besides, Dr Schroeder will have records. I'm going to ring him this morning."
"Do it now, Scully."
But Dr Schroeder wasn't in. The woman in his office explained that he had left the day before on extended leave, and she didn't know how to get in touch with him. When asked about the evidence from Wilson's death scene, she went away, leaving Scully on hold for nearly ten minutes. Scully gave her identification over the phone, and explained that she needed the information couriered to her immediately. The woman said she would need to validate the identification, but would send the material out within the hour.
Scully waited for the best part of two hours for the material to arrive. When it did, there were no pictures of the wounds made by the thylacine, and there was no mention of the third animal causing the death of Wilson.
Scully phoned the woman back again, but she didn't know any of the details of the death. "I'm sorry, I only started in this department this morning." All the material was apparently in order.
"I really need to view and photograph Mr Wilson's body," said Scully. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"I'm really sorry. We released his body back to to American government."
"Surely he was being shipped home to his family?"
"No. I saw the form when I was down there getting that stuff for you. It was care of a Dr Flynn. He was scheduled for cremation yesterday."
"What about the dogs? I ordered the bodies of the dogs to be held for me."
"No. Sorry. They were disposed of yesterday. We had them incinerated."
Scully could hear that wild goose hissing at her.
"I'm sorry, Mulder," she said.
He shrugged, resigned. "You'd think I'd be used to it by now. It doesn't get any easier."
"I'll go and see the wildlife people this afternoon."
"What for, Scully?"
"Maybe I'm used to it."
Ranger Bob Watkins from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lent a rather more sympathetic than Scully had expected. He listened patiently to her description of the animal that Mulder had seen, the way it had behaved, the way it moved. He listened silently and with interest to the story of Wilson's death. The damage done to the body by the pitbulls. The third set of teethmarks, the ones that had killed Wilson. The ones that had been positiviely identified as thylacine teeth. He listened with concern about how the identifying material from Wilson's death had been taken, virtually from under Mulder's nose.
"What I believe," said Scully, "is that you have an animal which is listed as extinct, but isn't extinct at all. It's living in the area and it kills people."
"Let me show you something," said Ranger Bob. He spun his chair across the meagre floorspace that made Mulder's basement look palatial and pulled up beside a filing cabinet. He pulled out a file that was a handspan thick, whizzed back across to his desk and dumped the file down in front of Scully. "Thylacine sightings. We have more, these are just from the past ten years."
Scully slid her nail down the fanned edge of the file. "How many are there?"
"All together, over a thousand. About ten percent of them are what we call "credible sightings". Those are the ones made in good light by people who know what they're talking about, or occasions where there have been more than one witness to coroborrate the sighting."
"But the animal is still listed as extinct."
"A thousand sightings, uh ... Agent Scully, and not one, not one piece of hard evidence. We've got police officers, retired judges, a couple of wildlife officers and a whole troop of Boy Scouts who've all seen thylacines. Not one of them had a camera."
"They weren't very prepared."
"Not one photo, no tracks, no scats, not even a single dead one. Nothing. Just sightings. Just ... people who see things."
"How localised are the sightings?"
"Everywhere. Everywhere from far north Western Australia to pretty much the whole eastern seaboard from Buderim in Queensland down through New South, Mallacoota and Eden on the Victorian border, through the Dandenongs, like this one, and all over Tassie."
"What do you think they're seeing?"
Scully looked stricken.
"Well I don't know. Ghosts seems like as good an explanation as any. The lost spirits of deposed thylacines, haunting their ancestral hunting grounds..."
Scully put up her hands, "Oh, please. You're beginning to sound like my partner."
"I'm sorry. I just can't think of a better explanation. You tell me of any other large carnivore that you can think of that apparently lives on nothing. Tell me any animal that doesn't leave any kind of footprint. A large carnivore that is seen once and immediately changes its territory for fear of being seen again. There are guys out there in Tassie who have been setting up cameras for decades. They don't care about the bounty. They've spent more than ten thousand dollars on film an cameras. All they want to do is just find one of these things alive."
"But you don't believe this."
"A large carnivore needs a large territory. It also needs food and a mate. Its offspring needs mates. There has to be a gene pool to keep these animals alive and viable. These animals have never been seen on the mainland. The last known Tasmanian specimen died in 1936. Ironically, that was the year they were declared a protected species. Nobody even knows very much at all about how these things behaved. They were all too busy shooting and trapping them to bother learning anything useful about them. They just wasted the whole species."
"But it's not impossible that they're still extant. Only last year two new large species were discovered in New Guinea."
"Animals that the local natives knew about and were familiar with. Agent Scully, you're an officer with the American Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"So you're an experienced officer of the law."
"Tell me, Agent Scully, say you caught some kind of mass murderer or something. Say you knew he'd done all this stuff, but you didn't have any hard evidence. Nothing that proved conclusively that this guy did it. What would be your chances of obtaining a conviction."
"If I had a thousand eyewitnesses?"
"I studied psychology too. You and I both know how utterly unreliable an eyewitness is. If you took each one of these," he slapped the stack of reports with the flat of his hand, "and went through it like the defendant's lawyers would, you'd find something to discredit every single one of them. So what would your chance be of a conviction?"
"Not good," she admitted finally.
"You'd be laughed out of court."
"I don't think so."
"You wouldn't get a conviction, though. There would be too much room for reasonable doubt."
"So what are you going to do with this report?"
"Without those pictures of teeth marks you said were stolen ... " he shrugged and looked pointedly at the stack on the desk.
She nodded and prepared to leave.
"Agent Scully, if it's any consolation, I have a report of a sighting in there myself."
She gazed at him, waiting for him to continue.
"Three years ago, not far from where your partner saw this one, along Puffing Billy's track."
"No hard evidence?"
He shrugged, "Camera jammed. Bloody thing worked perfectly up till that moment, and I haven't had a single problem with it since."
The little dog came into Mulder's room, and he came mooching out after it, both of them wandered into the kitchen, looking for food. Robyn was there, cooking, as usual. Mulder plonked himself down on a chair beside the breakfast bar and watched her. She had been making some rather wholesome blueberry muffins and she set some on a plate before Mulder with more of the yoghourt drink. She hardly spoke and refused to meet his eyes.
"No." It was obvious, now, that she had been crying.
"Wanna talk about it?"
"It was something you said yesterday."
"What, that an offhand little remark like that could actually hurt someone?"
"No. That I was actually capable of coherent speech yesterday. What did I say?"
"That you would ... you would give me something."
"Well, you're second in line. I promised my virginity to Scully."
"Don't joke, Mulder."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. If I had realised the comment would hurt you so much I never would have said it in the first place. I mean that, Robyn. Did you have a child?"
"Yes. A daughter."
"How did you lose her?"
"She was taken from me."
Mulder sat himself up straight in his chair. "Who took her?"
Robyn shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and Mulder pushed out the chair beside him. She sat down and picked at one of the blueberry muffins. "It's not that easy to talk about without people thinking I'm crazy."
"Alien abductions never are," said Mulder. "It happened to my sister, though. Believe me, I do understand."
"Aliens. That's what everybody thinks they are. Little green men from Mars. I suppose in a way they are aliens. Different to us, that is."
"What do you mean?"
"It's the U.F.O.s, I guess. Everybody thinks space ships, so everybody assumes they're from another planet."
"And you don't."
"Think about it, Mulder. Why should they? It's a hell of a long way from those other planets out there. Not that I'm saying there couldn't be life, but why come here? And why the big secret? And why are they always associated with the American government? 'Cause you can bet your boots that the minute you start seeing U.F.O.s. Real ones. That the US government isn't going to be too far away. There will always be some kind of installation or army base or something."
"So you think it's my government doing some kind of weapons test?"
"Maybe that's what you'd like me to think." She looked at him appraisingly. "Nah. I trust you. You're trying to dig it up too, aren't you?"
"The truth is out there somewhere," said Mulder. "Sometimes I feel as if I'm moving in on it. People tend to get killed when that happens though."
"Did you ever think why they take people? Did you ever think what possible use it might be to them, all those tests and things they do on people? There can only be one reason."
"They're people. People working with the American government. They have advanced technology, they do experiments on people, and they're working on some kind of genetic thing. Only members of the same species can breed together, Mulder. I did my biology. Whoever it is doing this, they have to be humans. I think they're from the future. I think they're Americans from a world where something has gone badly wrong and they need our help. They need to breed humans who will suit the world that they've harmed in some way. I can't see any other explanation for it."
Mulder sat for a very long time and considered what she had said. "Interesting theory," he said eventually. "It's not one that had occurred to me." It could easily explain why the Russians and Americans were still in conflict, despite all that had happened since the Berlin wall came down.
"I spent a long time thinking about it," she said. "I had plenty of thinking time. After they took her."
"How old was she?"
"She was only tiny. So tiny. You don't have kids, do you?"
"I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't happened to me. You fall in love with them, you know. I know it doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen. It's like being hit by a brick. You have this baby, and you're in the hospital feeling like death warmed up, and you've got this squalling little brat that you don't know what to do with, and suddenly bang! You fall in love," she shrugged. "I suppose it's hormonal."
"She was eight weeks and five days old. I woke up that morning and there was blood on my pillow. It wasn't much, but I couldn't figure out how it had got there. Then I found this." She turned her head to the side and lifted her hair across so that Mulder could see a scar just below her ear. "It didn't hurt, and it healed really quickly, but I never found out what had caused it. I didn't really care much at the time, because that was the night they took away Daphne and left me with the changeling."
"I thought changelings were fairy children."
"Maybe what we called fairies a hundred years ago we call U.F.O.s now. Something was there in her cradle, but it wasn't my daughter. I suppose it was one of their experiments. A hybrid that failed. I tried to tell Harry but he didn't listen."
"Two days later she died. They called it cot death. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They said my baby was dead, Mulder, but I know she's still alive. They have her."
"What happened to the body?"
"They took her away for an autopsy. They do autopsies on all S.I.D.S. babies."
"What was the finding?"
"There was no finding. The ambulance crashed on the way to the hospital. There was a fire. The guys inside got out, but everything else was incinerated."
"So there was no telling if the baby died under suspicious circumstances."
"There was no way of telling that it was my baby, Mulder. There was no way of telling that it was even human."
"They didn't autopsy the remains?"
"They said it didn't seem worthwhile. Too much damage had been done by the fire. Not that anyone particularly wanted to listen to me. I spent the next three years in and out of institutions and having therapy. They called it grief, post natal psychosis, bipolar disorder, post natal depression, hell, I've even got schizophrenia down on my record. They wouldn't listen to the truth, though."
"They never do, do they?" Both Mulder and Robyn jumped at the sound of Harry's voice. Neither had heard him come in. "C'mon, Rob. Mulder doesn't need to hear this."
"Everyone needs to hear it. You know why we never had kids after that, Mulder? Because when they took me they damaged me. My fallopian tubes are full of scar tissue. The doctor at the clinic said it was a miracle I ever conceived in the first place. He made like it was God's will or something that she was taken from us so soon."
"Rob." Harry put his broad hand on his wife's back and steered her off her chair. She followed his gentle guidance with resignation. This scenario had happened many times before and Harry always won. She didn't even put up a token resistance. "Come on, love. We'll go get your pills."
"But it wasn't God's will," she said as he walked her out of the room. "It was my fault, Mulder," she strained her head round, looking back over her shoulder. "Her middle name was Persephone. Do you understand?"
Scully and Mulder sat on the plane. Going home. There was very little in Scully's report. She wasn't that happy with it. A man was dead, an animal had killed him. She couldn't say what that animal was. She couldn't, in her report, claim that an animal only known to be extinct had caused a death. Not without the proof of the photos and measurements. A man's pet dogs had been killed. They were unpleasant dogs, in Scully's opinion, but they had been the man's pets, and they had died for no real reason. A small injustice to add to her list. She finished off the report and snapped down the lid of her laptop.
Mulder was reading a book of Greek mythology and eating peanuts from a little foil pack.
"I thought you'd sworn off peanuts for life."
"They didn't have any sunflower seeds."
She peeped at the story he was reading. The story of Persephone and her abduction to the underworld. A beautiful child who so enchanted the dark lord of Hades that he kidnapped her from her loving mother and took her to the pits of the Earth. Persephone pined in her new home, and the Earth grew barren as her mother, Cybele, forgot to tend the crops and plants, too busy in her desperate search for her daugher.
"I could spoil it for you and tell you how it ends," she said.
"It's an abduction story, Scully. They never end."
Over the past fifty or sixty years there have been hundreds of sightings of animals that fit the description of thylacines. The amazing thing about these sightings, aside from their eerie accuracy, is that they have been on the mainland, not far from where I live now (which is the area featured in the story.)
In a recent article in The Age, these sightings were discussed, and an explanation for them was made. Though more prosaic than my cloning idea, it is also, in my opinion, more romantic and far more likely. Around the middle of last century, a group of naturalists were very keen to homogonise the world's flora and fauna. There are vast eucalypt forests in India, Africa, and parts of the United States. There are flocks of ostriches, and herds of buffalo and dromedaries all across Australia. There are also healthy populations of wallabies in parts of England and Germany. The article in the paper suggests that having seen the way thylacines were being hunted in Tasmania, these same naturalists captured some and brought them to the mainland. This would have been kept a secret, the government was mostly run by graziers who had put the bounty on the thylacines' heads. They would have been less than amused to hear that breeding pairs had been released on the mainland, even though the area they were [believed to be] released was very remote at the time.
Thylacines have always been shy and hard to find, but the sighting of strange animals on the farmlands around Leongatha (where I did once live) are compelling. Like Mulder, I want to believe.