Paul Gadzikowski


Finders Keepers, Chapter Five

1:00 P.M., NOVEMBER 24

"Doctor," said Scully, with what she felt was not unreasonable exasperation, "Mulder and I have performed more than one action on your behalf that endangers our careers if not our liberty, because you convinced us that you need to take Zhessil back in time. And now you say you can't do it?"

"Not in the TARDIS," said the Doctor, pacing back and forth in the four foot expanse of hallway between where Scully and Mulder stood and where Zhessil was.

"Wait," said Mulder, "that's twice you said not 'in the TARDIS'. Is there another possibility?"

"It's dangerous, but it just might work," said the Doctor.

"What might work?" Zhessil was becoming more agitated. "I must go back to my own time, and warn my people of their fate."

The Doctor halted his pacing in front of Dr. Watterson's office door. "I could try to send you the way you came."

"Dr. Watterson's time scoop?" said Mulder. "It's in pieces." Scully wished she could read Silurian features, to know whether Zhessil had the grace to look abashed at that.

"Obviously, I'd have to repair it," the Doctor snapped; "with replacement circuits for my TARDIS, probably."

"How long would that take?" Scully asked.

"Doesn't matter," said the Doctor. "Has to be done."

"It does matter," said Mulder. "Those guys with the tranquilizer darts in the parking lot were after you."

"Ah. You figured that out, did you?"

"This is the next place they'll look for you," said Scully. "And they'll be more careful this time."

"That's why I said it was dangerous," said the Doctor. "But less dangerous than not doing it. Zhessil, you wait in here." He ushered her back into the TARDIS. "Oh, first bring me the toolbox from the first room on the left down the hall!" he called after her.

"Listen, Doctor," said Mulder, "those guys were on to you pretty quick after you got here. Someone powerful found out we were asking about you, and wants you out of the way."

"Or to know what you know," Scully added.

"Both. I've fallen afoul of this lot before," said the Doctor. "They put you in a prison disguised as a seaside resort, and assign you a number. Oh, thank you, Zhessil," he said as the Silurian brought him the toolbox he requested. "Now stay out of sight till I'm done." When Zhessil disappeared back into the TARDIS, the Doctor ducked into Dr. Watterson's lab. Scully and Mulder followed him. The Doctor was picking up pieces of the electronics scattered across the room, gathering some of it in his pockets and discarding the rest.

"You're not secure here," Scully insisted.

"I've got two F.B.I. Special Agents to protect me," said the Doctor distractedly. He dropped a component in a pocket - it was the one he'd identified earlier as a chronon filter, Scully remembered - then turned his full attention on them both. "I thought you understood what's at stake here."

Scully and Mulder looked at each other. Mulder shrugged. "Flip you for the door," he said.


Scully won the toss and elected to stay inside the lab with the Doctor. She also phoned down to the front desk to ask the guard there for warning of anyone heading their way. She was reluctant to do so, given that the Doctor had earlier left an alien corpse in the lobby, until he reminded her that their time-looping rescue of Zhessil had undone that string of events. From that point the Doctor had regaled her with improbable stories of the personal habits of various historical figures. Scully decided that some of what the Doctor said was less reliable than the rest.

Since he seemed perfectly comfortable carrying on a conversation even while engaged in what must be detailed, meticuluous work, Scully decided to ask him something that had been bothering her. "Doctor, if these Silurians -"

The Doctor looked up sharply from the guts of Watterson's console. "Why do you call them that?"

"That's what they're called in your UNIT file."

The Doctor snorted and went back to his tinkering. "Bureaucratic inertia. I told them from the start that Quinn had it wrong. They're Eocenes."

Scully nodded; that had bothered her too. "If they had such a fantastic civilization on Earth fifty million years ago, why are there no archeological traces today?"

"Because all their artifacts were organic in nature. They left behind nothing that wasn't biodegradable. They had a respect for the balance of natural forces required for their own survival that your species would do well to emulate."

"Then what gives us the right to decide that their civilization dies? Or that it doesn't? Who are we to send Zhessil back, to sabotage the cryogenic referendum with her sincere but misunderstood opposition?"

"The end of their civilization is woven into the Web of Time, as are the broad outlines of the history of this planet and its peoples. All its peoples. Break the Web and all of space and time could unravel into Chaos. Safeguarding the Web of Time is the duty of every Time Lord."

"Zhessil knew of Time Lords. You convinced her you are one."

"You're not convinced?" the Doctor smiled. "Thirty minutes ago you looped back in my TARDIS and nearly ran into yourself from thirty minutes before that. And you heard your partner observe that I have two pulses."

"You're not human, any more than Zhessil?"

"Human is as human does, ma'am," said the Doctor in a broad, affected southeastern U.S. accent. When she didn't react he shrugged to himself as if he'd expected a laugh.

"So the universe is deterministic? You know the whole history of Earth and the human race, from beginning to end? Does that mean there's no such thing as free will?"

The Doctor cut off the whirring of his tool for a moment. "The history of the universe as I know it is precious to me because it arises from the free will of the people who are living it. The problem with sloppy time-travel effects -" He pointed at Watterson's console with his tool. "- is that they can short-circuit free will by undoing causality. That's when I step in."

"Then meeting you might somehow change my history, or Mulder's."

The Doctor turned his tool back on and returned to work. "Oh, I don't think we'll have to worry about that ..."

Scully didn't like the way he wasn't looking at her when he said that. But it had just come up on half an hour since she'd spoken to the desk guard, so she took out her cellphone to check in with him again.

There wasn't any answer.

"The front desk isn't answering," she said. "Mulder," she called, standing to go to the door.

The Doctor looked up when she spoke. As Mulder opened the door from the hallway the Doctor sniffed. "Gas!" he said, waving Mulder inside the lab. "Cover your mouth and nose!"

Mulder and Scully whipped out handkerchiefs. "They're here!" said Mulder.

"Don't talk!" He tossed them the TARDIS key, and an air filter mask from his toolkit that Mulder gave to Scully. "There are more masks in a compartment under the console. Bring Zhessil, I'm almost done."

Scully and Mulder went to the door. "Cover me," Scully said, handing Mulder her gun, since they were uncertain how many he would be defending against.

Mulder opened the door a crack. "Go!" he shouted, jumping into the hall brandishing both pistols in opposite directions while Scully lept to unlock the TARDIS door and let herself in, Mulder jumping in after her.

Inside they found Zhessil watching the scene on the wall screen. "Sorry for the sudden rush," said Mulder to Zhessil, as Scully searched for and found the air filters, "but it's time for you to go."

"Leave the TARDIS door open on the way out," said Scully to Mulder. "We'll want to get back inside quickly once Zhessil's gone, and we can cover it from the lab door while the Doctor is doing that."

Mulder gave Scully her gun, and they got Zhessil into the lab still without seeing anyone. The Doctor was working feverishly in Watterson's console, but it looked like he had already started powering up. Mulder and Scully took post at the door, Mulder opening it a crack to look out.

"There were only two masks," Scully said.

"Mulder and Zhessil," said the Doctor. "I can resist it longer." Scully tossed one to Zhessil and handed one to Mulder, covering the door while they put them on.

"This device can send me back though time?" Zhessil said, eying the pieces that remained discarded on the floor. It occurred to Scully that if Zhessil wasn't sanguine about the condition of the timescoop she had no one to blame but herself.

Suddenly there was a tremendous flash of sparks and a loud sizzle inside the console. Scully thought she smelled something burning as the flash subsided, and her heart sank. But the Doctor was galvanized into action. "Quick!" he said, jumping up and guiding Zhessil hurriedly into the other chamber, "get inside!" He danced impatiently in place at the console while Zhessil entered the chamber and shut the door, and then slapped a switch on the console. Mulder was back on lookout duty, so Scully saw what happened next.

Muffled, from inside the chamber, there came a loud mechanical wheezing and grinding noise. A vortex came into being inside the chamber, sometimes blue, sometimes red, sometimes green - the primary colors of light, Scully noticed. Zhessil was caught up in the whirlpool as the noise and light came to a crescendo, spun about by it until it engulfed her from sight. Then the noise and the vortex began fading away, and when they were gone so was Zhessil.

"Now let's get out of here before it blows." The Doctor reached for the TARDIS key that Scully still had in her hand as he joined them at the door.

"Blows?" Mulder asked.

"On three," replied the Doctor. "One - two - three!"

Third time's the charm, Scully found herself thinking as the agents followed the Doctor into the TARDIS, there before she even finished the thought. This time she finally saw some gasmasked figures down the hall, but their adversaries were unprepared to see the Doctor and the agents up and about, and missed their chance. Even as the Doctor operated the door switch, on the wall screen Scully saw the door of the lab blown off its hinges by a huge explosion from inside.

"My marvelous improvisation couldn't have lasted forever anyway," said the Doctor as the center column rose, and fell. "But even I couldn't reproduce Watterson's work from what'll be left of it now."

2:00 P.M., NOVEMBER 24

When the console column came to rest again and the Doctor opened the doors, Mulder and Scully found themselves and the Doctor back in the school loading dock lot.

"Why are you letting us off here?"

"Because," said the Doctor, "this is where you will remember last seeing me. Tell me, Agent Mulder," he went on, idly unpocketing yet another example of Clarke's Law, "when you spoke earlier of the film Terminator 2, why did you assume that the protagonists are successful in their attempt to change their history? It's not shown in the film that they are." He twisted a ring on the device, and it started emitting a low hum.

"Because I know they did," said Mulder. "I have faith that justice is always served, and the truth will always come out."

Scully had expected Mulder to rebut that there had been such an ending shot, but edited from the final cut. Maybe Mulder didn't watch the same tv she did. She thought maybe she should mention it, but she felt too tired to be arguing with the Doctor. Not tired, exactly - sleepy. Come to that, Mulder sounded a little out of it too; as near as she could tell over the humming.

The Doctor nodded at Mulder's response. "I was afraid of that. You're one of those who sees no justice but the unfettered exposure of truth. Well, I hope you - both of you - will understand and forgive me, in your subconscious minds, for what I'm about to do, and trust that I know it's necessary for the preservation of the timestream."

Scully wanted to ask him what he meant. Her mind was too full of the humming and, when he was speaking, the Doctor's voice.

"You will forget everything that's happened to you since we first arrived on this spot. You will forget anything to do with time travel. You never knew what Dr. Watterson's project involved. You will remember that we arrived on this spot, discovered the fugitive we were seeking, and were assisted in her capture by UNIT commandos who rendezvoused with us here. They took the fugitive off your hands for the security of Watterson's project, and that was the last you saw of any of us. Do you understand?"

"Yes," said Scully.

"I understand," she heard Mulder say.

The Doctor twisted the ring on his device again, and the humming stopped. That is, Scully was pretty sure it had stopped, but she also thought she could still hear it. "I'm going to get into the TARDIS and leave," said the Doctor, pocketing the humming device, "and when the TARDIS is gone you will do as I have told you without remembering that I told you." He went to the TARDIS and stepped partway in before turning around and tipping his hat. Then he was gone, and then the TARDIS was gone.

Scully blinked. "Well, there goes our collar." She turned back toward Seventh Street. Mulder followed her.

"One thing you'll learn working the X-Files, Scully," said Mulder, "is sometimes you end up with more questions than you started with."

They arrived at their parking place. There was a Volkswagen bug in it. "Mulder," said Scully, "where's our car?"

"Scully," he said, "where's your jacket?"

7:00 P.M., NOVEMBER 24

The suspect was remanded into the custody of the United Nations scientific advisor and security agents on the scene. Agent Mulder and I have not been informed of her disposition.

Mulder wandered into the X-Files office with two Extra Value Meals as Scully finished typing her report. "That's the end of that," she said.

"Is it?"

"Well, it is for us," Scully said, sending her report to the printer for inclusion in the case file, and taking the proffered fast food.

"I wonder."

"Wonder what?"

Mulder didn't answer for a moment, the only sound in the office the buzz of the dot-matrix printer - Scully needed to see about getting an inkjet, or even a laserprinter - and the crinkle of burgers being unwrapped. Finally Mulder changed the subject. "Scully, are you still going to ask for a transfer?"

"Transfer?" Scully had forgotten all about that, until now.

"Yes, you said you'd gotten tired of all my loopy theories."

Scully chewed on that, as she chewed her supper. She had been feeling that way - but now she didn't. She didn't remember what the reason was, exactly, but she was still confident that her change of heart was sincere. Scully grinned in what she hoped was a friendly way. "No one can be wrong all the time, Mulder."

Almost reluctantly he grinned back.


9:30 A.M., NOVEMBER 25

The smoking man closed the folder containing Scully's report and set it on the desk next to Mulder's, already read. There was less in them than he already knew; less than he knew Mulder and Scully ought to know.

They couldn't, wouldn't be hiding anything. That would go against Mulder's crusade and Scully's honesty. Therefore, they didn't know. This could be verified, with Scully at least, next year during her scheduled procedure. He wrote the order, now, since he was thinking about it. But he knew nothing would be found. It had all been covered up.

He added to what he'd learned from the UNIT file, and to what he'd inferred from Lethbridge-Stewart's pithy comments, another significant datum: This Doctor was better at the smoking man's specialty than he was.

The smoking man did something he rarely did. He shivered.


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Author's Notes

Less-than-Total Recall, a short-short sequel to this story.

The DOCTOR WHO/THE PRISONER crossover referenced by the Doctor's dialog in this chapter


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