Mulder burst in the door without bothering to knock. It was unlocked, anyway. The children were nowhere in sight. With guns extended in front of them, Mulder and Scully combed the downstairs. They stepped over the previously happily occupied hopscotch area, and the foursquare court in the large space between the family room and kitchen. They searched the kitchen, bathroom, and family rooms, before units began moving upstairs and to the basement and garage.

Mulder took the upstairs, with Scully right behind him. He started swinging doors open, only to find scared children huddled inside. Using the radio in his ear, he called for units to cover those children. Scully moved ahead of him slightly, and he kicked a locked door in. He didn't have time to swing his gun in front of him before someone grabbed his arm and pulled him in, slamming the door behind him. He tried to scream, but whoever had grabbed him had covered his mouth.

"Thought you could outsmart me, huh? Yeah, that's right. Failed a damn test 'cause I wasn't smart enough, but a stupid Fed can't even beat me. That's right." His captor took his gun, and gave him just enough time to glance over at Ms. McGregory, secured to a rocking chair. He didn't have time to assess her condition, because Polk yanked his radio out of his ear and threw it away, shoving him into a corner and kicking him hard in the stomach. Mulder doubled over, and coughed when he caught his breath.

By that time, Polk had gotten duct tape and was securing Mulder's arms and legs to various furniture nearby. Limbs all separated, Mulder knew what was coming. He was going to start this horrific, meticulous process. He had probably already slowed time for them…how many seconds had passed for Scully? How many milliseconds? Had it even been a millisecond yet? And how long would it take her to burst through the door with a contingent of men behind her, to kill this man who stood before him?

Polk smiled sickly and gave Ms. McGregory a good kick. The older woman groaned in pain, and Mulder grimaced. "You want to kick someone, kick me! Not an old woman, you coward!"

Polk turned to Mulder. "Oh, I'm going to get to you. Ms. McGregory, you were the one who let that bitch Patterson speak. You're the root of the problem. But you…" he turned on Mulder. "You, G-man, are just a pain in the ass. Bomb didn't work for ya, huh? Let's see what does."

"How old are you, Polk? Twenty? Twenty-one?"

Polk glared at him.

"You look at least thirty years old, and how much is this going to age you? You can't go on like this. You'll be dead before you're forty. You'll probably be dead before the end of this year."

"Well, good! This horrible existence never did nothin' good for no one, Fed," he said. He pulled a sort of C-clamp out of the backpack that was on his back. "Invented this myself. Since I'm such an idiot. Right? That's what you think of me, isn't it?"

Mulder shook his head. One leg was secured to a dresser leg, while the other was tied to a desk not far from where he was. His arms were secured to the other leg of the desk, and a pipe on the wall, respectively. Polk approached with the C-clamp. "I never said you were an idiot. No one ever said you were an idiot. Just because you didn't pass a test doesn't make you an idiot. You realize hundreds of people fail those things every day?"

"Bet you didn't fail that test they made you take," the man snarled.

Mulder didn't say anything. In truth, he had been recruited. They didn't make him take a test.

The man surveyed Mulder's body. "Where to start…" he approached his left arm, and stuck the C-clamp near his shoulder, but low enough to make a good crack. "Here's good," he said. "Nice and…quick for ya," he told Mulder with a smile.

"You were in an accident. Something happened to you. It was no one's fault, and you shouldn't—AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHH!" Mulder screamed in pain as his humerus snapped.

"Now isn't that funny, the humerus," Polk said with a grin. "Haha."

Mulder's felt sweat stream into his eyes. He breathed deeply against the pain, but every nerve in his arm was screaming for help.

"Now for the radius…don't worry, we'll come full circle," he said, and then laughed hysterically at his own joke.

In the back of his head, Mulder thought that this was good. At least this was giving Scully time to get here, to rescue Ms. McGregory so those poor children weren't alone…at least his death will have meant something.

The C-clamp tightened around Mulder's radius, and he screamed a primal, panicked scream. It ripped through the room and reverberated off the walls.

It tightened again around his ulna, and Mulder felt himself passing out, his scream mixed with a whimper. Natural tears were now streaming down his cheeks, mixed with the abundant perspiration.

"Now look at this. It has a setting for little bones…can't get this big thing around little bones, you know," Polk said happily, as he extended a smaller version of the C-clamp out of the bases of the larger clamp. He switched the lever to the smaller one, and placed the clamp on Mulder's palm.

"What did that accident do to you?" Mulder asked through clenched teeth. "And do you really think…this…is a good use…of—AAAAAAGGGHHHH, oh, God—"

"Shut the hell up!" Polk yelled at him, and then cracked another bone in Mulder's hand.

"At least…be a man…and face what…happened…" Mulder tried to say, but another bone was cracked before he got through with his sentence. Right before the next one was broken, he managed to continue, "Don't take it out on…people that had nothing to do…with it!"

Polk stopped, and looked at Mulder. "Now see, you're one of the rare souls that believe in what you're doing. I believed in what I was doing. I just wanted to help people. But they wouldn't let me. Ruined my life. Ruined my whole god-damned life."

"No…" Mulder said, seeing dark spots in front of his eyes. He refused to let unconsciousness take him. "No…you…ruined…your…" he screamed again, his body jolting when the next bone snapped. He could feel a hot, tingling feeling seeping through his bloodstream. Then everything started to get cold. He was going into shock. "Where's the…baby?" Mulder asked suddenly.

Polk stopped, and stared at him.

"Cynthia," Mulder insisted, holding eye contact. "Her baby."

Polk smiled sickly. "Safe," he said. "Don't you worry about that." He stuck the device on Mulder's palm again.

Another bone, and then Polk started on the fingers.

But just as he was about to crack the lower digit of the pinky, the door burst open and Mulder heard an enormous bang. Blood splattered out of Polk's head, and he dropped to the floor. Scully ran over to where Mulder was, half-passed out, on the floor.

"Scully…" Mulder said letting his head fall back gently on the carpeting.

"Just lie still, Mulder. Just lie still, help is coming," she said as she began untying his limbs. She left his arm where it was, realizing that the paramedics could put it in a splint before they untied it. It was important that it stayed still.

Mulder began shivering, and heard Scully yell, "Get me the paramedics! I need a two shock blankets, I have an officer down and an injured woman. Get here right now!" But her voice dimmed, and Mulder saw his vision getting darker and darker. It was only a few moments later that he let the darkness take him.






Scully sat beside Mulder's bed, holding his good hand and watching his vitals. Just making sure the shock didn't return, that his system was quieting down. And it did. Just down the hall, Ms. McGregory and her many foster children were in a temporary ward. She would be able to go home tonight. She had suffered nothing more than one cracked rib and a badly bruised shin. For a woman of her age, it had concerned Scully. But she insisted she was fine, and that her children needed her tonight.

She got word that Greg Wilkovski had been moved from the safe house back to his dormitory, now that it was safe. But the news she had heard a few minutes ago was the news that disturbed her. She would wait until Mulder awoke to tell him.

When she saw his eyes flutter open, she couldn't help but smile. The final reassurance she needed that he was going to be okay. "Hey," she said softly to him.

"Hey," he said, and glanced at the large cast on his arm. It was secured in a sling around his neck. He could see at least two pins, and he groaned.

"Are you in pain, Mulder? Do you need more pain meds?"

In truth, his arm did hurt like a bitch. But that, of course, wasn't why he was groaning. Desk duty for four to six weeks; he knew the drill. And it was going to suck. "No, I'm fine," he said. "Ms. McGregory?"

"She's okay," Scully said with a smile. "She's going home tonight. No major injuries."

Mulder smiled. "That's good." He tried to sit up, and Scully grabbed the remote for the bed. She moved it up slightly, but didn't give Mulder too much leeway. She didn't want him to push himself so soon after surgery. "How long was I in there, Scully? How long by your watch?"

"The minute the door slammed shut I burst it open," Scully said. "You were in there probably thirty seconds, not even a minute."

"Jesus. And he did all this…"

"It's puzzling, you're right. And another thing—when they started the autopsy, they noticed Polk's hair was turning gray. They aged him at about forty. Maybe forty-five."

"His excursions were getting to him," Mulder said. "Where's the body? Are we taking it back to Washington?"

Now for the hard part. "Mulder…" Scully said, looking down and then back at his eyes. "I've got some bad news. I was told a few minutes ago that someone stole the body. No one appears on the security cameras. No one signed in or out, and no one noticed any suspicious activity. But they did notice one thing out of the ordinary."

"What's that?" Mulder asked, annoyance creeping into his voice.

"A single cigarette was found in the morgue. It's a no smoking zone down there, Mulder. No one was seen smoking on the security cameras, and the only ones known to have gone into that area have been questioned. They don't smoke. They're testing for DNA."

"They won't find anything," Mulder said, staring at the ceiling. "It was him, Scully. They want Polk for some reason. They want his body, at least…"

"It doesn't matter, Mulder. After you're released, we're going home. We caught the killer. We can leave now."

Mulder didn't argue because he knew they wouldn't find anything else. They were cleaning up. For whatever reason, this was probably some experiment. It had cost innocent twenty-year-olds their lives, it had killed a sheriff who liked to give back to the community by speaking at her former foster home, and it had used an angry twenty-year-old man's grudge against him, and so many others. But it was done. For now, at least.

Mulder couldn't help but wonder if the Smoking Man would track down the baby, and experiment on it. Or if the baby turned out to be a lost cause, what town would be next? Whose lives would be ruined in the name of whatever the hell the Smoking Man believed in? But it didn't matter. Wherever it was, Mulder would be there. Because the truth was out there.