CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN, WYOMING
"What the... Colonel, could you take a look at this?"
"This contact, sir. . ." The young officer marked a glowing green line on his radar scope. "It seems to have. . . *dropped* into orbit about fifteen minutes ago, hung there, then done a neat little attitude adjustment-- I'd swear it looks like a de-orbit, sir, and then entered the atmosphere, trajectory takes it into the Northeastern United States. Sir?"
"Your talent for hyperbole aside, Lieutenant, it was a meteor."
"A meteor, sir?" *Oh wow, _another_ one...*
No one noticed the other craft that was just then hitting the upper atmosphere, following quietly in the course of "the meteor." Aboard the odd elephant's head vessel, an imposing figure in old, scarred battle armor kept silent vigil as he tracked the other ship down over the backwater planet filling the viewport.
Competition was a love/hate thing. While the hunter relished the challenge of a race, it took away from the construction and execution of a well-planned solo acquisition [hunt].
Knowing who the competition was not entirely encouraging. The shapechanger was more of an assassin than a true hunter, that much could be established from his track record. His government did have a penchant for having problems *permanently* dealt with, though, and this mission was just another one of those, a visit-the-backwater-world-and-execute-the-problem kind of job. The hitch was that the hunter had the same assignment, minus the "dead" part. The shapechanger was a quick and efficient enough worker that reaching the target in time would be a trick; getting the acquisition back to the hunter's employers would be a challenge.
He liked a challenge.
"Well, once in a while, there's a dud," Mulder admitted.
"Mulder, the guy was taking photos of pie trays hung on strings," Scully reminded him for the third time since they had left the man's apartment.
"Must've seen _Ed Wood_," Mulder quipped.
Scully smiled. "Now you owe me one."
"Yeah. . . What the--" Mulder did a double take and nearly skidded the car onto the sidewalk.
"What? What did you see?"
"A familiar face. Or should I say faces. . ."
The hunter managed to land his ship reasonably close to the target in an abandoned warehouse, one of many in that area of the city, like the one his prey seemed to be working out of. Time was passing.
"You saw the *bounty hunter*?"
"Pretty sure," Mulder declared as he parked the car next to a run-down corrugated steel warehouse. He looked around. Old warehouses seemed to be the building of choice on their side of the harbor. "With so many people ar- ound, he could at least *try* to look like John Doe," Mulder added under his breath.
"Then what is he doing here now?"
"I'd like to know. Let's have a look around."
A search of the area did not yield much information. After ten tense minutes, the agents met back at their car. "Happy?" Scully asked.
Without warning, the side of the warehouse collapsed. Toward them. Mulder stared as the shadow of several large metal sheets eclipsed the sun. There was no time to run, only leap into the car, which had its doors open. Scully clambered in from the opposite side, half hauled in by Mulder.
The metal avalanche cascaded around them, shattering the car windows and gashing through the roof in several spots. Bunched together under the seat, Mulder and Scully waited out the agonizingly long seconds that it lasted, then sat silent for a moment when the world stilled.
"Ten to one that means he's here," Mulder said.
The hunter paused on the roof of a warehouse adjoining his target, yet another nondescript warehouse-type building from the outside, yet substan- tially more when viewed through the sensors in the hunter's helmet. The entire area was liberally studded with hidden security systems, but he had managed to bypass or elude them fairly easily. Now all that was left was to make an entrance.
Lighting his rocket pack, the hunter sailed across the gap and landed on the roof of the warehouse. A few judiciously-placed blaster bolts opened up a hole in the roof, and he dropped down into the building.
Before he hit the ground, he knew that he was not the first one in. A large man was cracking open a door set in the floor near the middle of the warehouse. It was the shapechanger.
Both men fired on each other in the space of a heartbeat. The vambraces covering the hunter's forearms popped open and spat laser fire just as the shapechanger leveled a huge-bored pistol at the descending hunter which spat out an angry yellow streak of rocket.
The shapechanger jumped into the open shaft as the beams reached his position, only the last shot barely nicking his coat. The hunter worked his pack controls, doing a neat slip-and-dive to avoid the rocket, which blasted out a large hole in the wall behind him. Narrowing his eyes, the hunter leapt down the hatch.
With a good shove, the last piece of metal blocking the door fell away. "They don't make 'em like they used to," Mulder muttered.
"Mulder, what happened?" Scully surveyed the wreckage.
"Metal fatigue?" Mulder shook his head. "Still not sure that he's here?"
"Well, I can nominate a few people that might want us dead, but I'll take your word for it. Where do you want to start now?"
An explosion about 200 yards distant sent chunks of cinderblock and glass into the air.
"How about over there?"
With the enhanced sensor systems built into his armor, the hunter heard the shapechanger some distance before he found him. The other was demanding that his quarry cough up some information, not a good sign considering that the shapechanger usually didn't wait for a response before killing his target.
The hunter quickly headed for the sound source, stepping over a couple of dead bodies on the way in. *Not very neat.* The trail led to a large room at the very back of the complex that looked a lot like a laboratory. Coolly, he charged into the room.
"Step away," he warned the shapechanger with his cold, flat voice.
The shapechanger had his target, a scientist, backed up into a corner and was not within instantaneous reach of him, but had his rocket launcher at the ready. He spun around and fired off another shell even as the hunter opened up with stun beams.
The hunter dodged aside as the rocket missed by inches and exploded in the hallway, the concussion driving him to his knees. He watched the shapechanger stagger as a stun blast caught him, but knew that that wasn't going to be enough.
He upped the setting on his weapons.
Mulder and Scully ran into the warehouse through the convenient hole in the wall. "Where did they go?" Mulder wondered.
Scully pointed out a large hatch floor, nearly obscured by piles of debris. "That looks like a good place to start." They headed over.
"Alice in Wonderland," Mulder said, preparing to go down into the oddly well-lit space beneath. "Let's go."
They both jumped down a small ladder set into the opening. What they found was chilling.
The shoddy exterior was obviously a front, but the sterile white corridor ahead of them was strangely out of place. It also stretched on for some distance, and even from where they were standing, many other rooms could be seen.
Suddenly there was an echoing explosion further down the hallway, and entire area was abruptly bathed in blackness.
"This is getting worse all the time," Mulder said. He flicked on a flashlight. "If I don't get back in five. . ."
"Hey, I thought I was coming with you."
"That's the only way out we know. Someone needs to keep the place under control." He smiled and drew his gun.
The hunter noticed that it had suddenly become dark, but his sensors made that problem vanish at the blink of an eye. He saw that the scientist had managed to slink away and was working a control panel on the wall. Aiming, he lined up a shot.
Another blast from the shapechanger made him rethink that. This time the rocket sailed into the back of the lab and exploded several containers of flammable solvents, almost immediately starting a fire. The hunter gritted his teeth and opened up with everything.
Mulder ran towards the sound of the fighting. Stopping by the door of a large lab, he peeked inside, catching a glimpse of a blue flash. He moved in for a better look, and thought he saw, in the dark, a spacesuited man with a strange helmet. Beyond him was the shapechanger. He dove into the room.
The shapechanger crashed against the wall as he was hit by several shots, promptly followed by the scientist. A man in a dark coat jumped into the room--one shot took him down.
The hunter quickly checked his quarry's physical condition, then picked him up in a fireman's carry. He had only one thing left to do to get his pay.
The flamethrower in his suit lit up.
With nothing else to do, Scully began to edge down the dark corridor. "Mulder, Mulder, Mulder. . ." Another explosion and a sudden increase in the volume of smoke made her pick up the pace. For some reason, the sprinklers that whoever built the place had set into the ceiling were not working.
As she rounded a corner, she saw a fire burning brightly in a lab further on. A second later, the hallway was filled with rushing hot air, burning at her eyes, nose and throat. She dropped to the ground to get clear of the smoke, and in doing so saw a pair of heavy boots marching up the corridor. She looked up and saw a flash of white lab coat on someone's shoulder--but what shoulder? The man was wearing some kind of suit, head covered by a helmet with an ominous T-shaped visor. Before she could get a better look, the smoke thickened, blocking out here view, and she heard a groan over the sound of fires burning in the lab.
It was Mulder. She supported him as he tried to stand. "What happened?"
"Where is he?" Mulder asked.
"Who?" Scully looked around. There was no one there. "Mulder?"
"They were here," Mulder insisted. "A doctor, the bounty hunter, and uh. . ."
Scully looked at the fire. "Come on, we've got to get out of here."
The fire crews finished putting out the blaze about three hours later. The agents stayed to watch. Finally, once the scene had calmed down, they approached the fire chief.
"Underground lab?" the chief replied. "No, we didn't find anything like that."
"What did you find?" Scully asked.
"There's a pretty big depression in the floor--or what's left of the floor. The place looks like it burned down to the foundations. Pity for the two people who were in there at the time--if you want to discuss that, I would go to the coroner."
"Can we take a look?"
"If you want."
They approached the remains of the warehouse. Indeed, the entire ground "floor"'s charred remnants had sunk down to approximately the level of the underground facility.
Scully thought about saying something, then glanced at Mulder and thought better of the idea.
Mulder clenched a fist and slammed it into his open palm. "Damn!"
The hunter's ship sailed through hyperspace. In the back was one very befuddled human scientist, alive and capable of answering questions, just like the contract had specified. The hunter had gotten away from the planet clean, though a nagging sensor echo that had trailed him until his entry into hyper- space indicated that the shapechanger was probably following him. Oh well.
*He'll just have to try harder.*
A FEW DAYS LATER
Scully knocked on Mulder's door and hefted the video store bag she carried in her other hand. "Mulder?"
"I'm just a clone. Go away."
"Come on, Mulder, I brought you something to cheer you up."
"I'm out of fresh batteries."
Scully twisted the corner of her lip. "That won't be a problem, but I will need your VCR."
"Mmmhmm. . . Even better. Please, come in." Mulder, grinning broadly, stepped out of the way and gestured that Scully should enter.
With her head cocked towards him derisively, Scully entered Mulder's apartment, opening the bag as she did so. "The Star Wars Trilogy, Mulder. THX remastered. . . and letterboxed."
"Ever heard the list of Top Ten Sexually Tilted Lines in Star Wars?"
*I'm going to hit him. . . _there_.* "No, but if you pull anything, I won't mention what'll be tilted."
". . .There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millennium Falcon. You are free to use any methods necessary, but I want them *alive*." Vader pointed directly at Boba Fett. "No disintegrations."
Fett's face was as nonchalant as a face obscured under a helmet could look. "As you wish."
Mulder looked at Scully.
Scully looked at Mulder.
There was a pause.
"Nah. . ."
Copyright notice: Characters of Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, and Fox Broadcasting, yatta yatta yatta. Star Wars characters property of Lucasfilm Ltd. No infringement intended...