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05 November 2009 @ 04:08 pm
Machines of Freedom: Chapter 7  


December 13, 2012
7:35 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana

Scully had been in the control center once a day since they arrived, but it still stunned her. It was just so...fake looking. Seriously, a big, beeping console of flashing buttons at the center? Desks ringing the sides in matte-painted grey metal, with small inset control screens, and more glowing buttons? She half-expected to hear Majel Roddenberry's voice over the intercom, or see a big glowing table at the front of the room with little model Vipers on it. I'm going to make a sign tomorrow, she thought darkly. A big sign, that I am going to hang in the labs: This is not the Enterprise. Any of them. This is not the Galactica. None of you are Toshiko Sato, Luke Skywalker, or Rodney McKay. This is Montana. Act like it.

She tried to bring her focus back to the room, and to the call, Skinner outlining the security information he'd gotten from his contacts at the Pentagon, and talking about the latest data feeds he had managed to tap into out of NASA. But her whole brain wasn't in it, wasn't even close. She'd done her intro at the beginning, and let Isabel and Matt handle the details for their departments; really, no one else had anything constructive to add to what they were doing, so it was more of a progress report than anything else. She was exhausted, and her mind kept wandering away to puzzle over why they were having such problems with the syncing of the computers--was it a transfer-over-distance problem like Isabel thought, or was it about the signals themselves being hard to interpret between different machine codes?--and then, just as she started to focus on that, she wandered over to Will. Over dinner the other night, he and Mulder had spent half an hour talking about baseball team prospects. Will was a fan of some team called the Rockies, and Mulder had been derisive. Will had, in turn, amply described the moral deficits of the entire Yankees franchise, and they had bonded over the problems of New Yankee Stadium. Mostly she had listened, though she had had to agree with several of Will's comments about that Rodriguez guy, which had produced a series of amused evil looks from Mulder.

She hadn't seen them all day yesterday, but had made it home before Will's bedtime, at least. When she walked in, they were jumping around the living room, waving white objects in the air, in front of that giant TV she had ignored the existence of the night before. Mulder looked vaguely sheepish. "I thought it would be good if we didn't get bored."

She examined the television, the DVD player, and a white box to match the objects they were holding, which was apparently some sort of gaming system. It was all cross-wired really poorly; she hated it when Mulder tried to set up electronics, it just meant she had to rewire it all later. "I don't suppose you will."

"There are peanut butter M&Ms," Will said, as if trying to placate her. And she couldn't help but smile, and sit down on the couch and watch them play--dear Lord, why were they still remaking Mario Brothers? She'd played that in college--and eat M&Ms until she discovered the gaming system came with pool. She beat Mulder handily, but Will gave her a run for her money.

He was fascinating to her; as he warmed to them, she could see a generosity and openness in him that seemed entirely foreign, and yet somehow Mulderish. He didn't like letting people know he could be funny, but he was, sly and sneakily funny, making jokes at the corners of conversations. He seemed wary when she and Mulder argued, as if it weren't something he was used to seeing people do with each other. When Mulder had wandered off to the bathroom after the system was shut down, she had said quietly, "We aren't actually fighting, you know." He had been very still on the couch next to her, turning the pages of his book, and not saying anything, but she could tell he was listening. "We used to work together, and we never agreed on anything. We still don't, a lot of the time. But it doesn't make us upset, and it shouldn't worry you."

Will hadn't said anything for a moment. Then, shyly, he had asked, "What do you do when you're actually fighting?"

She thought of her kitchen counter, of the silent miles of South Dakota, of the fact that they hadn't spoken about anything but strategy since they'd stepped off the helicopter. "We stop talking." And Mulder had emerged from the bathroom, and she had changed the subject.

At lunch today, they had talked about books, since he was eating his way through Mulder's collection of classic sci-fi. (Was being a geek really genetic? He was providing convincing evidence.) This lead to a conversation about school, which got awkward fairly quickly; Mulder was still hair-trigger tense about any reference to the Van de Kamps, though he was catching himself more quickly, and monitoring how he communicated that tension to Will. But she got the impression the Van de Kamps were impressed with their son's intelligence, and encouraged it, even with the limited resources of a small town. He was well-read for his age, played piano, played baseball, went to Boy Scout camp for two weeks every summer, and last summer spent a week at computer camp in Cheyenne and had liked it. He was just so normal it hurt.

She refocused on the conversation when Mulder started talking. "Skinner, I know you haven't seen this, but we have data that one of ours brought out of the Consortium. The most important takeaways for us strategically are that our security's heavily compromised in Andorra, and less than firm in Canberra. Canberra doesn't look like a problem, since they don't even know our location, but we need to figure out what to do about Andorra. I think we have a chance to use the fact that they have our internal communications there monitored to our advantage. Scully and I were talking about it last night." He glanced over at her, and she nodded. "We think we should start giving them seriously false information. Scully and Matt came up with a list of possible technical directives we could send only to them which would make it look like we're unprotected in a few critical ranges; however, since we'll be running our whole system collectively when the time comes, and they've got a pretty strong infrastructure already, they should be able to come back into modulation with us. Similarly, we can have them start communicating with false outposts we set up in Europe. Scully's got some contacts in Geneva we can use, I've got a few friends still in London. Anyone else have a few scattered folks we could pass things through?"

"It's not in Europe, but I've got a few people in Tokyo, working with us on translation," Monica said. "We didn't need a whole installation there, but they'd be happy to run some diversionary servers for us, make it look like a major center."

"Definitely. Just make sure they aren't processing anything that's actually critical." Mulder leaned forward. "There's another thing. We should think about making it look like Scully and I are getting out of the country. If they have any data about what happened in Kaycee, they know we've got Will, and they're invested in finding him. If we can make it look like we drove to the Canadian border, are trying to get through Europe, that might keep them pretty busy for the next week and a half."

"What about Sadie?" Skinner said. "Are you worried they'll go after her?"

Mulder sighed, and glanced back at her again. They had talked about it, over and over, last night in bed. If only they could get her here earlier than the first wave of pick-ups--but no, that wasn't possible, and she was frankly worried it might tip their hand. "Yeah, we are, but I think she's of interest to them only as a hostage. We'll talk about getting her out in our cover emails, maybe even manufacture her and Maggie an itinerary to Europe, leaving the day they're going to be picked up. If we can get some eyes on them, figure out if they're under any sort of surveillance?"

"Not a problem. I'll get some things together." There was a shuffling noise on Skinner's end. Scully wondered idly what he was doing while they took the call. Probably didn't bear analysis.

John started going over the security overview. He and Matt had had a terse meeting today, where they had finally agreed on a maximum number for the shelter. Scully had seen Matt afterward, sitting in his corner of the lab, staring at the background photo on his laptop, a picture of him with his younger brother, who was a multiple abductee living in Sedona. There was a finite number of people they could protect absolutely, and it was terrifying confronting that fact. But even though this conversation was crucial--and even though she should be paying attention, should care--she just couldn't muster the energy. Because dinner tonight is still on her mind.

She had actually left the lab to go eat with Mulder and Will before the meeting. Mulder had been talking to Bill, the young security officer who had checked them in, and who was apparently in charge of the supply runs; Mulder was being sent to Missoula tomorrow. She sat down next to Will and started eating. Mulder's tuna casserole was a thing of beauty. Amazingly, it predated his position as father-and-housewife; he'd made it for her once when she was sick, when she hadn't wanted to eat at all, but it had smelled convincing, and she'd ended up managing nearly half a portion. She smiled at the memory of him wandering around her kitchen in Georgetown, making a bigger mess every five minutes and swearing he was going to clean it up. Which he did. Just not very well.

"Here's Sam Anderson's card again," Bill said, handing it over. "And I emailed the list to you."

"Do I owe you anything for the extraneous purchases?" Mulder said.

"Depends on whether you're willing to loan out the Wii for skeeball tournament purposes," Bill said, and smiled.

"That can be arranged."

Will had examined the card while they talked through her phone call to Sadie in the afternoon and the day's successes in the lab. There had been a brief lull, and then Will had asked, "Who's Samuel Anderson?"

"Me," Mulder said. "It's my cover name at the moment. We use them whenever we're passing information between the outside world and here."

"What's yours?" he had asked her.

The list of false identities she had presented her son with over the years often astounded her. "Kara Anderson."

He nodded. "I want a cover name."

Mulder shrugged. "OK. Who do you want to be?"

Will rolled his eyes. "Isn't it obvious?" He glanced back and forth at them. "Paul Anderson."

William Paul, Scully thought, and swallowed. "That's fine."

"No, really, don't you get it?" Will said, obviously annoyed. He cleared his throat, and lowered his voice, speaking in a stilted robotic cadence. "You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson."

Mulder cracked up. Will grinned like an idiot. "I know, right?"

Mulder did his own version of the voice. "You have a problem with authority, Mr. Anderson." Will chimed in, and they kept going in unison. "You believe you are special, that somehow the rules do not apply to you. Obviously, you are mistaken." Mulder held up a hand for a high-five, which Will returned with a sense of self-satisfaction written all over his face.

Will looked over at her to see her opinion. "Well?"

"I don't get it," she said honestly.

"The Matrix?" Will said. "Neo? His name's Paul Anderson?"

"Oh," she said, and speared another bite of casserole. "I never saw it."

Will's jaw dropped. "You've never seen The Matrix?"

She shrugged.

"How is that possible?"

"Yeah, Scully," Mulder said, folding his arms across his chest. "That's pretty bad, even for you."

"I don't like Keanu Reeves," she said, and kept working her way through her casserole. "Anyway, why have you seen it? Don't tell me it's still popular."

"It's a classic, that's why. And The Matrix is not about Keanu Reeves," Will said, sounding like the exasperated adolescent he was. "It's about Morpheus. And ducking bullets. And the nature of reality."

"And Carrie-Anne Moss in leather pants," Mulder said. "Seriously, how did I not take you to see The Matrix? It came out in, what, 1999?"

She arched an eyebrow at him. "I think we had better things to be doing in 1999, Mulder."

He cleared his throat. "Well, probably."

"OK, we have to fix this," Will said, and immediately climbed up on his chair. "Excuse me," he said loudly, to the assembled diners, who all turned around to face him. "Does anyone have a copy of The Matrix with them? Because my mother is apparently a loser."

Her heart stopped for a moment. His mother. She glanced over at Mulder, who had caught it as well, and the edge of his mouth just barely turned up.

"I've got it downloaded," said one of the lab techs at a table on the other side of the room, raising his hand. "I'll put it on your server space tonight, Dr. Scully, OK?"

"Sounds good," she said.

Will sat down, a little huffy. "OK, you can't work late tonight."

"Got it," she said, and made herself keep eating.

She snapped back to reality as Mulder kicked her lightly under the table. It was one of their old tells, from back in the day--someone's going to ask you a question. Terribly helpful for budget meetings, thought she had tended to be the one to deploy it. Foot stomping meant to agree with whatever he said. He used that one a lot back then, though these days she tended to deploy it at dinner with her mother. It had most certainly taken the fun out of recreational footsie, though.

"So, if Dana agrees, I'd like to go forward with the distribution of the hardware," Doggett was saying. "The more people who have weapons that can actually stop something serious, the better prepared we are to fight back."

"Absolutely," Scully said. "We have the materials here to keep manufacturing ammunition and weaponry until the day of, if necessary. Frankly, though I'm not the military strategist here, I think we could send out almost everything we've got short of heavy artillery. We could probably recoup most, if not all of it, in the time we have left."

"Then that's settled." Shuffling noises from Skinner's end. "Oh, and Scully. I cleared your assistant; she's clean. I've got someone picking her up tonight. She should be in Stark by tomorrow afternoon."

"Thank you for that," she said. "She'll be a big help in the labs."

"And there will be someone new who hasn't heard all of Matt's jokes. It's a service to all of us," Isabel said, taking a last bite off the apple core she had been toying with since she had finished her presentation.

"You know, there are people who find me funny."

"Yes, people who report directly to you. I wonder why that is." She balanced the core on her napkin. "Is that it, y'all? Because I'm about at the limits of my ability not to be welding."

"Yeah, I think we can break," Monica said, checking her watch. "Walter, give us a call tomorrow and let us know what comes of the interagency meeting tomorrow, OK? Anything at all."

"Will do. Have a good night out there." The phone disconnected.

Monica stood and twisted her back until it cracked. "So, are we all doing breakfast? 7:45 at John's new quarters on 3? I'll make muffins tonight."

"You know, all this clean living you're trying to force on us is really bullshit," Mulder said.

"You're the one who's stopped us from eating canned spaghetti for two more weeks," Isabel said.

"Hey, Monica?" John said quietly. He was standing at the printer, sorting through stacks of papers that had printed during their call.

"What?" She was bent at a strange angle, trying to reach for her knees. Honestly, yoga just did not look healthy.

"Something here marked priority for Casey."

Monica paused. "Are you--"

"I'm in here for the next couple hours. Plus I gotta finish that tactical update." John seemed as if he regretted the file in his hands. Monica, on the other hand, looked like she was steeling herself for battle.

"I can take it," Mulder said suddenly. "I don't have anywhere else to be for a while."

The look Monica gave him was pure relief. "Thanks. I'd just rather not. She's confined to her quarters right now. 2G."

"I think I can find that," Mulder said, taking the folder. "Come on, Scully. I've got mailroom duty. Don't you have petri dishes to do unspeakable things to?"

She followed him to the elevator, registering Isabel following her. "Only briefly. Apparently I have years of cultural deprivation to correct."

Mulder chuckled. "He managed to find microwave popcorn, too."

"Be still my beating heart." She let Isabel scan for the elevator rather than digging around in her pocket to find her ID, while Mulder flipped through the file, which was written in some incomprehensible swirling script. "You seem a little eager there, Mulder. Got a crush on the new girl?"

He kept turning the pages, despite the fact that there was no way he was reading any of it. "You know me. I've always had a thing for little spies." The door opened on 2, and he stepped out. "Don't be late, or we might have to start without you."

"Now there's a threat," she said, as the door closed.

Behind her, Isabel snorted. "You two are a piece of work."

Scully chose to ignore her. "I've been thinking about wavelengths," Scully said.

"Me too," Isabel said. "I'll watch you torture petri dishes and we can talk about it." And the doors opened on the lab. Scully took a deep, centering breath and stepped in.

***

Mulder tapped the file folder against his hand. Mostly, delivering the file had been an act of mercy toward Monica, who had clearly not been relishing the prospect of seeing Casey. It was nice, too, to have something new to do; being the dilettante of the counter-insugency was fun, he had decided after much thought. Supply runs? Kitchen duty? Control shifts? Father/son video game championships? Sure, why not?

He walked by the door once, and had to double back to find it. When he got there, he could see why. The girl with the cigarette and the helicopter was cool, calm, dressed in an impeccable suit and looking like Marita Covarrubias's dark-haired little sister. But here she was sitting at her desk with her back to the door, wearing a tank top and flannel pajama pants, hair in a sloppy ponytail rather than perfectly brushed over her shoulders, an elaborate black geometric tattoo on her arm. Only the cigarette burning in an ash tray to her left suggested that this was the right room.

He stepped across the threshold and moved to tap her on the shoulder. The gesture startled her and she reached out with her right hand and grabbed at the gun she had laying on her desk. She spun to point it at him, but she must not have had it loaded right, because the clip slid out and skittered across the floor to land at his feet.

He glanced at the clip, then back up at her. The expression in her eyes suggested that even an unloaded weapon could do some damage. He bent, picked up the clip, and held it out to her. "You got your gun back fast," he said politely.

She took the clip back, slid into the gun, checked it, and set it down next to her. She turned back to her desk. "Can I help you with something, Mr. Mulder?"

"A file for you." He held it up.

She gestured to a pile on her desk.

"It's urgent," he said.

She sighed and turned back towards him, holding out her hand. "Of course it is." She opened it and wrinkled her nose. "More Devanagari, perfect."

"That's the language?" The room was small, really small, desk-closet-twin bed small. She hadn't decorated much, no family photos, no posters, just two shelves of books above the desk and a leather jacket hanging next to her trenchcoat visible through the open door of her closet. The quilt on her bed was bright, though, and painted with some sort of black and purple design.

She sighed and leaned back in her chair, holding up the print out. "Devanagari is one of the most prominently used scripts on the Indian subcontinent, used for Hindi, Sanskrit, and Marathi, in addition to Nepali. Although...." She adjusted her glasses on her nose. "This isn't Devanagari. It's Bengali. Looks similar, both are Brahmic scripts, both use the top ligature. God, I'm going blind. It's West Bengali, actually, heavily influenced by English on the part of one speaker. Implies education, but I knew that, since he's a Strughold engineer whose conversations I've been monitoring for months now". She kept reading, reaching for a pencil to make marginal notes.

On her desk was the gun, the ashtray, an open pack of Morelys, and three thick stacks of papers; he guessed to-do, useful, useless, or something similar. Also an iPod with speakers, playing something rhythmic turned to background volume. "So you're a translator? As your day job, too?"

She nodded, made another marginal note.

"Like, for State?"

She snorted. "Poetry, actually. Prose, too, since it's not like there's a glut of work for specialists in literary translation from Sinhala." She eyed him warily, then looked back at her work. "My PhD's in linguistics, specifically the Indo-European and Dravidian languages of the central and southern Subcontinent. A lot of morphology, historical linguistics, corpus work. Actually I did the subfield exam in computational, but that was just to get it out of the way. My dissertation focused on the historical fusion of Sinhala, Tamil, and English at independence, right after the language laws, and at the height of the Tigers' strength, using various literary, bureaucratic and popular texts, and I'm pretty sure I lost you when I named language families, so I'll stop now." She picked up her cigarette and kept reading.

Mulder smiled, put his hands in his pockets, and examined her bookshelf. Some Rushdie, but not the major works; slim poetry collections by people he's never heard of, except for a battered copy of Eliot's collected works at the end of the shelf. He looked at her again, and had a near-sense memory of crouching over the desk in his old apartment, two empty packs of cigarettes in the trash can and a third on the desk, The Wall on infinite repeat and a blotter full of crime scene photos, a profile beating somewhere in back of his eyes.

She snorted while he wasn't looking. "Goddamn," she said, and smiled.

"What?" he said, stepping over as if reading over her shoulder would get him anywhere.

"That algorithm is such bullshit," she said, and the smile became a grin. She looked over at him, and shook the file. "It got flagged because of the word test. Three guesses, and the first two don't count."

He shrugged.

She shook her head. "Come on, Oxford boy. Test. They're talking about cricket." She grinned again. "I'll read it through, but I'm not thinking this one's a keeper."

Mulder resumed leaning against the wall. "How did you know about Oxford?"

She snorted. "You underestimate the popularity of the Mulder and Scully legend around these parts. I doubt there's a person in this building who couldn't recite your CV. if you're going to hover, could you at least get me the ice cream out of the freezer?" She gestured towards the closet.

The small black fridge was partially obscured with a pile of junk food: potato chips, animal crackers, and something called Veggie Booty, which sounded suspiciously good for you. He cracked the fridge and found a six pack of Red Bull, two cartons of chocolate almond milk, a box of donuts, a bottle of lemon vodka, and three cartons of something called Soy Delicious that he assumed was pretending to be ice cream. He pulled one out and handed it to her.

"Spoon," she said. "Top of fridge. There's two there, if you don't mind the lack of bowl."

"Yeah, I'll pass." He dug around in the bags, found the spoon, and passed it over. She nodded and started eating.

Mulder was a nosy person. He was comfortable with this, since his job had been to be nosy for a very long time. He watched her read for another minute before deciding to try his luck. "Nice ink."

She glanced down at the elaborate arcs of black ink between elbow and shoulder. "Thanks."

"What does it mean?"

She smirked at the paper. "That I'll go to great lengths to get laid. I was trying to seduce the girl with the tattoo gun. I thought something big would give me more time to work."

He thought of the pale scar on Scully's lower back. He'd never even really gotten to see her tattoo. "I know someone who tried something like that."

"Did it work?" She turned a page.

"Funny, we've never properly talked about it." He picked up the nearest dictionary and started thumbing through it.

Casey made a hmm noise.

"Something interesting?"

Yeah. The Delhi Daredevils just recruited Monty Panesar." She shook her head. "They're going to regret that in a few years."

"You play?" The copy of Eliot is heavily marked. She had underlined something from Gerontion: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now/History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors/And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,/Guides us by vanities." Well, that was depressing.

"Recreationally, but I'm no good. Too much training for the wrong thing."

"Really?"

Every time she looked at him, there was something considered in it, as if she were trying to measure his reactions. "Come on," she said. "Tell me I don't read as two-time captain of the Bryn Mawr rugby team."

There was something he was supposed to get out of that, but he didn't, so he just shrugged. She studied him for another moment and went back to reading.

Young. This was what he kept noticing about the people working here. The median age couldn't be much over twenty-seven; all very smart, very accomplished, but all such kids, so earnest and dedicated in that way kids are. This was why Scully wanted to throttle her staff all the time, why Doggett was walking around acting like a general. Because it was kids who could afford to drop out and move to a bunker in Montana for a cause.

He'd looked at the refugee request list. Each name had the callsign of who had submitted them, and a relationship. Only four children coming, five if you included Will. Not more than six spouses or partners. It was siblings, parents, friends who were getting saved, that was it.

And he realized that none of them had been referred by CSM-2521. He looked around the featureless room again. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"Because I'm under house arrest. I tried to go get dinner earlier and found out they lojacked my phone. Pretty funny commotion, though. Wanna see?"

He could recognize a defense mechanism pretty well after living with himself for so long. "Why are you in Montana? Not New York, or Boston, or Delhi?"

She lifted her pencil off the paper and stared at it too intently. "Same reason as everyone else. I'm saving the world."

"How do you know it needs saving?" It was possible she was a friend-of-a-friend recruitment, but it was a rare staff member who didn't have ties to the study of the extraterrestrial before joining.

She put her pencil down, but didn't look up at him. "Both my parents are abductees."

He saw the stiffness in her spine. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well." She turned the page.

"Are they all right?"

"Not really." She picked up the pencil, made a note, crossed it out with a quick slash. "Some things are worth fighting over." She closed the folder and picked up her phone. "CSM-2521 to MGR-1807."

There was a pause, a long one, before Monica picked up. "Yes, Casey?"

"I finished the thing you sent with Mulder. Nothing useful in it. Thought I should let you know."

"Thanks." There was a brief crackle while Monica left the line open, and Casey smiled as she watched the phone. "Do you still have work to do?"

Casey's smile broadened. "Oh yeah, I'm set. Of course, I may starve to death before I finish. I can only live on ice cream and Red Bull for so long."

Another wait. "Well, I have more files for you. Why don't I bring them with some dinner?"

"I'm not going anywhere." Casey set the phone down.

"Not this time," Monica said.

Casey snorted. She glanced over at Mulder. "Are you out of questions, Mr. Mulder? Because in about ten minutes, you are going to be seriously cramping my style."

Mulder checked his watch. 8:45. Will was going to start getting antsy soon. "I suppose it'll do for now." He decided to go for old-boys' camaraderie and see where it got him. "What's the plan?"

She smirked as she pulled another document off the leftmost pile. "Same as the tattoo. Sit very still and get poked with sharp objects for a couple hours, and be witty while it happens."

He couldn't help but smile. "Good luck with that." She ignored him. He slipped his hands into his pocket and headed towards the elevator, noticing Monica Reyes emerging from the dining room with a paper plate of spaghetti in one hand and a stack of file holders tucked under her arm.



Click here for Chapter 8
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All the letters I can writewendelah1 on September 16th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
"Why are you here?" he asked.

"Because I'm under house arrest. I tried to go get dinner earlier and found out they lojacked my phone. Pretty funny commotion, though. Wanna see?"

He could recognize a defense mechanism pretty well after living with himself for so long. "Why are you in Montana? Not New York, or Boston, or Delhi?"

She lifted her pencil off the paper and stared at it too intently. "Same reason as everyone else. I'm saving the world."

"How do you know it needs saving?" It was possible she was a friend-of-a-friend recruitment, but it was a rare staff member who didn't have ties to the study of the extraterrestrial before joining.

She put her pencil down, but didn't look up at him. "Both my parents are abductees."

He saw the stiffness in her spine. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well." She turned the page.

"Are they all right?"

"Not really." She picked up the pencil, made a note, crossed it out with a quick slash. "Some things are worth fighting over."


"Not really." That's an understatement. Nice little exchange. You would think if anyone was going to get it, it would be Spooky Mulder, but nope.

Casey is such a contradiction: so funny and at the same time so--angry and driven. But methodical and geeky, too.