January 26, 1996
the sky above Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the ‘Fasten Seat Belts’ sign, indicating our approach into the Albuquerque area. At this time we ask that you please discontinue use of all electronic devices and bring your seat backs and tray tables into their full and upright positions. We should be landing in approximately ten to fifteen minutes.”
With a sigh, Mulder folded up the files he had been reviewing, re-deposited them in his briefcase, closed it, and returned it to its proper place under the seat. He glanced across the aisle to see how the two reporters were doing. Lois was asleep with her head on her fiancé’s shoulder, and Clark looked, well, bored.
The agent grinned. Well, yeah, for a man who could make the trip in less time and more comfortably under his own power, the six-or-so hour plane ride probably was boring, to say the least. He watched Clark gently wake his partner/fiancee, then turned and shook Scully, who had fallen asleep against the window.
“Scully, we’re going to be landing soon. You need to put your seat up.”
With a reluctant grumble, she managed to work her way back to a sitting position and hold down the button on the arm long enough for the seat back to catch up to her. One hand went automatically to her hair, smoothing it down where her sleep had mussed it.
“What are we doing here, Mulder?” she asked, sounding genuinely puzzled and a bit irritated as well. “We don’t even know where in New Mexico this place is.”
Mulder smiled in response. That seemed to be her chosen question of the week, since this was the third time in three days that she’d asked it. Not in exactly the same way, of course, but the same general idea.
“Well, I have an idea how to find out,” he replied lightly. “I’ll tell everyone about it when we get on the ground.”
Avis Car Rentals
“So, when are you going to tell us about this brilliant plan of yours?” Scully asked from the back seat as Mulder pulled the new rental car out of the parking garage. She wondered irritably for a moment why they couldn’t have gotten two cars, but brushed the thought aside. It wasn’t as though Lois and Clark were unpleasant company, she just didn’t like not being able to see Mulder’s face when he was talking. Of course, she could have asked to switch seats with Clark, but it had seemed only logical that the two shortest people, she and Lois, would sit in the back.
“When we get where we’re going,” Mulder replied calmly. “Possibly sooner.”
“And where are we going?” Lois interjected. “What did you talk so long about with the agent at the rental car desk?”
“I was asking her about nearby airfields.”
“Somewhere that might offer an aerial tour of the state. Hey, Scully, while we’re here, could we stop at Roswell?” He flashed her a wide grin.
“Apparently you don’t remember the last time you were here very well, do you?” his partner replied dryly.
Mulder sobered immediately, much to Clark’s surprise. He wondered what had happened.
You mean the fact that I almost didn’t survive it? the agent thought to himself with a frustrated grimace. “I remember,” he replied quietly.
“Good. I don’t want a repeat performance,” was the firm response. “I can only cover your butt so many times a year, Mulder. And as far as I’m concerned, I’ve filled my quota.”
“But it’s January, Scully. You’ve got to start a new quota for the new year,” he quipped.
“I’m not counting from January. I’m counting from the date we became partners. You’ve still got a few months to go.”
Las Rosas Airfield
“That’s gonna cost you a pretty penny, G-Man, I’ll let you know right now.” The pilot leaned lazily against his plane, his jaw working a piece of gum, and his eyes casually regarding his potential clients. “Gas for these babies is pretty expensive, you know.”
Mulder bristled at being called ‘G-man,’ but resisted the temptation to sock the other man. After all, if he did that, they wouldn’t get off the ground. “How much will it cost for the four of us?” he asked, trying not to sound impatient.
“Three of you,” the pilot corrected him.
“I can only take three of you up. Regulations.”
“Oh.” The agent frowned. Maybe they should try to hire a larger plane…
“Well, that’s fine. I’ll just go check in at the hotel for us, and do a little unpacking.” Clark suggested. He gave Lois a very significant look, and she nodded almost imperceptibly. “You can let me know what you’ve found when you get back, all right?”
Mulder opened his mouth to protest that they needed the reporter’s ‘special talents’ but shut it again almost immediately. First of all, it would not be good to blow Clark’s cover, and also, if his suspicions were correct, they could make better use of those talents this way.
The agent nodded. “I guess that’ll work. Okay, so how much for the three of us?”
The New Mexico sky
“Do you see anything?” Mulder asked from the front seat, pulling down his headphones, speaking loudly so as to be heard over the rumble of the engine.
Scully was peering out her window at the ground, an intent look in her eyes and a why-am-I-doing-this frown on her face. Beside her, Lois was searching the sky for her fiancé.
The agent shook her head. “Nothing but desert.”
Suddenly, the plane dropped sharply as the pilot swore in surprise. The three passengers grabbed instinctively at the sides of the small aircraft, their breath and their stomachs catching in their throats. For a few startled seconds, they literally lost gravity, and Mulder’s head struck the ceiling with a resounding thunk. The descent was stopped abruptly though, and the plane was brought back up to its original altitude, which ironically seemed to terrify the pilot even more.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed as he struggled to regain control of the plane. Once he had, a familiar blue-and-red-clad form appeared at the window, waving to the passengers. Lois recovered first and burst out laughing, while Mulder merely rubbed his skull, grimacing painfully.
“Well, look who else is in New Mexico!” the reporter commented playfully. “It’s a good thing, too.” This caustic remark was directed to the man in front of her.
Outside the plane, Superman smiled at her, then shot a disapproving glance in the direction of the pilot, who instantly began to defend himself.
“He scared the hell out of me, popping in like that! What did you expect me to do?”
“Not let go, that’s for sure,” was the reporter’s icy reply.
“Yeah, well you try flying a plane with a guy in blue tights showing off in front of you sometime!” he shot back, with a nasty glare.
Lois bristled angrily, and opened her mouth to shoot back a biting response, but Scully laid a restraining hand on her arm.
“You know, I’m considering cutting back on our agreed price,” Mulder said calmly but effectively. With one final glare at the colorfully caped extraterrestrial outside his window and another at Lois, he shut up.
For a while, they flew on in silence, Superman easily keeping pace and seeming undisturbed by the loud whir of the propeller. Lois had somehow managed to resist the temptation to stare at her fiancé long enough to get a pretty good look at the ground below them on her side.
Suddenly, the pilot banked unexpectedly into a sharp turn, catching his passengers as much by surprise as he had earlier. Lois swallowed the bile that threatened to swim into her mouth at the sight of her window becoming abruptly parallel to the ground below.
“What are you doing?” she asked sharply. “Have we reached the state line?”
The pilot shook his head. “No. There’s a no-fly zone here. We have to go around it.”
Mulder turned to look at the two women in the back seat, exchanging glances with both of them. A no-fly zone on American soil… he thought, seeing his thoughts, for once, reflected in the eyes of his partner.
“Can’t you just go above it?” he asked. “What altitude does it extend to?”
“Didn’t you hear me, buddy? I said it’s a no-fly zone. That means no flying without express permission of the government, capice? And government doesn’t mean you guys.”
So it was not only a no-fly zone, but an unlimited one. Only a black project would require security that tight. And a black project is what they were looking for.
“What’s that near, anyway?” Mulder asked, curiously.
The pilot briefly checked his instruments. “We’re almost fifty miles south of Albuquerque. Alamagordo, most likely.”
“Alamagordo? That’s still restricted? I thought it was a tourist trap now.” Mulder was genuinely curious, and a tad bit disappointed as well. If that was the area where the atomic bomb was first test-detonated, it might not be Project Quantum Leap requiring the high security after all.
“Some of it is, apparently some of it ain’t.”
Outside the plane, Clark had been listening to this conversation, and now turned back. They watched as the lone figure streaked through the sky towards the restricted airspace.
“Hey, that’s a no-fly zone, pal!” the pilot yelled at the rapidly disappearing figure.
Lois smiled wryly. “So, what are they going to do about it?” she asked the man sarcastically. “Shoot him down?”