Experiment in Solitude

Chapter 2

Mulder sat quietly in his prison contemplating his predicament. He wondered if the consortium meant this to be a permanent solution to ending his involvement with the X-Files. Just lock him up somewhere and throw away the key. Simple and effective. Killing him would have raised too many eyebrows, but Mulder had been known to disappear from time to time, chasing after the ever-elusive truth. No one would miss him right away, and no one would assume foul play. No one except Scully. She knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't have let anything but the extraordinary keep him from returning to her bedside or at least calling to check on her. She'd eventually alert Skinner and the search would be on to find him.

He knew he couldn't continue to expect Scully to come running to his rescue whenever he got himself into trouble. Though to be honest, he didn't do anything to endanger himself this time. He was merely taking a shower in the privacy of his own home. Still, that fact didn't change things. He knew he couldn't depend on Scully alone. He'd have to do what he could to get himself out of this.

Mulder glared up at the ceiling. One defused light fixture and a small air vent was all that he saw. He concentrated on the air duct, thinking how nice it would be if he possessed Eugene Tooms' gift for contortion. No, the only way out for him was through the door. Someone would have to open it from the outside. He thought then of feigning illness. When one of his captors came to check on him, he could take him by surprise, overpower him... and then what? He was being monitored. The whole place was probably monitored. They would know his every move, perhaps even predict it.

He crossed his arms on top of bent knees and buried his head in the crook of them. His plan needed more work. Mainly, he just needed to wait until his captors made contact. He needed to find out exactly what he was up against. He needed to know if he was in a full-scale prison, a warehouse, or perhaps even somebody's basement. How many captors were there, and most importantly, what were their plans for him. He gave a casual thought of being on an alien spaceship, but quickly ruled that out. There was no feeling of motion, no sounds of engines humming, nothing that didn't appear to be man-made.

He was so deep within his own speculations, that Mulder didn't even register the sound of someone at the door. He jerked alert when the oblong panel in the center of the door suddenly popped open. The panel created a narrow tabletop where a tray of food took up residence. Mulder raced over to the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person who left the food. However, all he could see through the open slot was the white of the wall directly across from his cell. He heard the clicking of footsteps that were quickly fading off into the distance.

"Hey!" Mulder screamed after the retreating individual. "Talk to me! Who *are* you? Why am I *here*?"

He waited for a response, but got nothing for his trouble. He nearly drove his fist into the solid metal door out of frustration, but realized it would impede his chances of escape if he injured himself. He looked down at the tray which had been left for him. It held a club sandwich and corn chips appetizingly arranged on a paper plate. Beside the plate was a microwave fruit pie and a grape flavored juice box. Lunch, he thought. It must have been about noon. Perhaps still too soon for Scully to question his whereabouts.

He chose to ignore the food. The idea that it might be poisoned or drugged worked on his mind. He went back to the bed and sat on the edge of it. Soon, the aroma of hot cherry pie caused his natural senses to betray him. His mouth watered and his stomach growled to be fed. When was the last time he had eaten anyway? He seemed to remember a candy bar and a soft drink sometime during the all- nighter at the hospital, perhaps as much as thirty-six hours ago if his calculations were right.

He got up and walked back towards the door, his sheet secured to his body with his left hand. He stared at the food as though it might come to life at any moment. Then he rationalized, if they had wanted him dead, he *would* be. It was obvious that they wanted him alive and well, at least for the time being. He gingerly picked up a chip and popped it into his mouth. That's all it took. He attempted to pick up the tray to take it back to the bed with him, but discovered it had a chain attached. They no doubt figured that if he held on to the metal tray, he might find a use for it as an escape aid. He created a basket out of the folds of his sheet and placed all the items from the tray into it. He padded back to the bed, made himself comfortable, then proceeded to chow down. With his mouth full, he raised his juice box to the camera.

"My compliments to the chef."

April 18 - Mulder's Apartment - 1:17 p.m.

Assistant Director Skinner rapped his knuckles for a second time loudly on Mulder's door. He called out the agent's name and awaited a response. When none was forthcoming, he tried the door to see if it was locked. It wasn't. His chest tightened with an uneasy feeling. He pulled out his revolver and readied it for action. Pushing the door open carefully, he slid like a shadow into the room. Holding his weapon securely in his right hand, his other hand reached for the light switch. Even in daylight hours, Mulder's apartment somehow managed to retain an unnatural dimness.

Skinner made a quick sweep of the living room and kitchen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was no overturned furniture or sign of a struggle. He made his way into the bedroom where Mulder's holstered gun, his badge, watch and wallet lay waiting on the bed that had not been slept in. The light in the bathroom was on and the door had been left ajar. The assistant director feared what he might find in that room. If Mulder was in there, it was very likely he was not still breathing. Skinner closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, preparing himself for the worst.

When he finally forced himself to step into the bathroom, he found the shower curtain pulled from its rod and lying carelessly on the tile floor. He allowed himself to breathe again when the body he had expected to find wasn't present. No blood, which was also a good sign. He'd have to get a forensic team out to go over the place for clues. As he started out, his foot kicked something small and plastic under the edge of the shower curtain. He used a sheet of bath tissue to pick it up.

"Mulder," he spoke while staring at the cap to a hypodermic needle. "What have you gotten yourself into this time?"

April 18 - Location Unknown - 4:50 p.m.

It had been several hours since feeding time and Mulder was getting bored. Actually he had already surpassed boredom. He had secured the sheet about his body, toga style and now had taken to pacing back and forth in his tiny cell. He had managed to stretch the four steps it took him to cross the length of the room to eight, by taking what he considered little Scully steps. He attempted to keep his mind occupied by recalling the details to an X-File he and Scully had been working on before they were pulled off it and asked to take over the serial girlfriend killer. The other file concerned several disappearances on a certain lake in South Carolina. What classified it as an X-File was the curious blue fog that blew up from nowhere, engulfed the victim, then vanished just as mysteriously.

Going over the remembered details in his mind wasn't the same as having reports, photographs and evidence to look at and hold in his hands. He found his thoughts easily drifting to the simple geometric design of the floor, the toenails that needed trimming and wondering when the panel in the door would open again and send forth food. He wasn't hungry yet, but so far, it was the only thing to which he could look forward.

There had been no other contact other than his lunch being brought around and later, the tray taken away. He was beginning to think that that was all there would ever be. Perhaps he was doomed to a life of solitary confinement. No one to share ideas with, nothing to read, no radio or TV, only bitter loneliness. He glanced up at the camera, the red light still gleaming. Someone was watching him, waiting for him to start babbling to himself, banging his head against the wall, pulling his hair out in clumps. It wouldn't happen right away. He didn't really mind being alone. He savored his privacy. But to be completely cut off from all forms of stimulus wasn't natural. Without companionship or diversion, a man could go mad in a relatively short time. Perhaps that was their plan. Drive him crazy and they'd have nothing to fear from him and his X-Files.

Well, he wasn't going to make it that easy for them. He picked up a roll of thoughtfully provided toilet paper and wet a big wad of it, which he then hurled at the video camera. He smiled proudly when he hit his target and the wet paper clung to the camera lens. He threw up his arms triumphantly and made a couple of leaps off the floor.

"Yea-a-a, and the crowd goes wild!" he yelled enthusiastically. He felt better now, a little more in control. He'd know soon enough if anyone was paying attention. He plopped down on the bed, crossed his legs and his arms and waited for the consequences.

Hours passed and nothing happened. No reprimand, no retaliation, no food. Either what he had done hadn't been noticed yet, or he was being completely ignored. If a child misbehaves in order to get attention, then to correct the behavior, the attention he craves should be withheld. One of his professors told him that back at Oxford. Perhaps he would have been ignored anyway. The feeling of utter loneliness began to wash over him. Only one day, to the best of his knowledge, and already those white walls were closing in on him. The overhead light remained on, giving him no clue as to day or night or if he should be awake or sleeping. He stretched out on the bed and covered his head with his arms to block out the light. He filled his brain with images of his partner. He heard her voice asking him all the questions he had grown accustomed to hearing over the past few years.

"So what do you think, Mulder? Where are you going, Mulder? You don't honestly believe that, do you? Mulder, are you okay?"

That last phrase; there were times he hated when she asked that, times when her fussing over his well-being was not appreciated. He'd turn away from her concern, knowing such actions only served to hurt her and drive an emotional wedge between them. Then again, there were those times when her sweet voice would ask, "Are you okay, Mulder?" and he'd thank the stars above that he had such a wonderful person in his life. He knew how lucky he was to have her for a partner and friend. If nothing else ever went right in his life, it wouldn't matter as long as he had his Scully; knowing that she was always there for him. Although, he knew not to expect to hear her voice and those words within the next few minutes, he couldn't stop himself from wishing it would happen.

He was tired now. The task of keeping his mind occupied for however many hours he had been there, had physically drained him. He closed his eyes and handed himself over to Morpheus.

In his dream, Mulder was standing at Scully's bedside in the hospital, holding her hand. She awoke and smiled at him at first, then her smile turned into a grimace. "Scully, what's wrong?" he asked with mounting apprehension.

"I'm so hot, Mulder. I must be running a fever. It's so hot in here. I can barely breathe."

"No, I don't think it's you, Scully. I'm starting to get pretty warm too. There's a lot of heat coming from somewhere. I'll go check it out."

"Mulder, be careful."

He didn't understand the reason for the warning. Why should he be careful just walking outside of her hospital room? He shrugged off the warning as he crossed over to the door and opened it. A current of hot air and a wall of flames gushed into the room, knocking him off his feet and throwing him against the far wall. Scully screamed his name incessantly as the flames quickly surrounded her bed. Mulder heard her cries for help but couldn't move. Besides being terrified of the flames, the heat had already overpowered him. He kept his back turned away from the flames and his partner, whose pleas for help began to lessen. Mulder huddled against the wall, sweating profusely and unable to get in a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, Scully," he whimpered. "I'm sorry."

It was the sound of his own voice and choking tears that woke him from his nightmare. Perspiration poured from his skin as he sat up and leaned his head against the wall. It was still hard for him to catch his breath and it wasn't merely the residual effects of his dream. He realized that the air conditioning system was no longer operating. The temperature which had been comfortably in the lower seventies had zoomed somewhere into the nineties. The room had become stifling due to a complete lack of air circulation.

Mulder untangled himself from his toga and headed over to the sink to splash some water on his face and take a sip. When he cupped his hands and placed them beneath the faucet, nothing happened. He passed his hands in front of the sensor several times with no results. Then he looked over at the toilet and saw that the water level had not replenished itself after its last use. It dawned on him then that the water service had been disrupted as well.

Mulder looked at the camera still plastered by the giant spitball. He guessed at what was happening. He was being punished for his earlier offense against the video camera. First, they withheld his expected meal, now the water and air. He could easily die of dehydration and heat exhaustion. They probably wouldn't care. Whatever reason they had for taking him prisoner in the first place, he was sure didn't exclude his untimely death. He could think of only one thing to do. He wasn't even sure it would work, but he knew that he had to try something.

Mulder walked over to where the video camera was attached above the door. Standing on the balls of his bare feet, he was able to reach the barrel of the lens with his fingertips and flip the dried paper off the lens. The flaring red light was back. Mulder returned to his bed and sat down, pulling a small corner of permanent press percale over his naked lap. He kept his eyes on the red light of the camera and began a silent countdown to himself.

By the time he had reached sixty, he heard the windy roar of the air conditioner as it pumped a surge of cooler air into the room. That sound was soon followed by the rush of water through pipes as the toilet worked to fill its bowl. Mulder went over to the now working faucet, sipped several handfuls of water, then doused his face and head to wash away the sticky sweat and aid in the cooling process. Apparently, all he had to do was learn and follow the rules. Rule number one: don't screw around with the camera.

He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, running his fingers through short, wet hair, slicking it back away from his face. As he felt the cooling water began to trickle down the taunt muscles of his naked chest and back, then drip onto one lean thigh, he thought about how he might look to his voyeur. He suddenly felt like a model for a Playgirl centerfold. With one hand on the rim of the sink and the other on one slim, nude hip, he glanced up at the camera and snickered lightly.

"I hope I can get a copy of this tape later. I never know what to get Scully for Christmas."

He reached for his discarded sheet which was now damp and smelly from his sweat and lack of deodorant. Draping it loosely about his body, he spoke to his supposed viewer.

"Is it against the rules to have some fresh linen, a bar of soap, a toothbrush... some clothes? I mean, once you've seen me all naked, hot and sweaty, there's little else to look forward to. I'm assuming that there *is* someone there listening to me, otherwise it might appear that I'm talking to myself. If you could at least give me a sign..."

Mulder stood and waited for a sign of human contact. Simply because none came, it didn't make him think that his every move and word spoken wasn't being carefully monitored. He stretched himself out on the bed again, his arms wrapped solidly across his chest. Staring at the ceiling, he thought again of Scully. He wondered how she was doing, how she was handling his disappearance. He hated to be the one to cause her grief, especially in her weakened conditioned, but it wasn't his fault this time. It wasn't his fault.


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