by Shan

Disclaimer: Standard Fanfic Boilerplate: Don't own 'em. Don't make a penny, peso, drachma, ruble, yen, euro or pobblebead off 'em. As far as I know, the Otis Elevator Co.(tm) does not manufacture talking elevators.

Spoilers: Thru Existence sans Garage Scene. Garage Scene? What Garage Scene?

Feedback: shanray9@hotmail.com, breath still bated

Notes: The original was inspired by Xanthe's first music vid when she pointed out that their relationship seemed to revolve a lot around elevators. I thought I would expand on that. And I'm tickled pink by Lady Midath's Caught, Captured and Trapped series. And, as always, thanks to Josan for her eagle beta eye.

By Shan

Walter Skinner was starting to wonder about the veracity of his sanity. At first, it was merely a light mental brush, like someone lightly tapping his shoulder to get his attention. Only, it wasn't his shoulder, it was like a whisper caressing his mind. He would look around for the owner of the attention-getting touch, but there was never anyone else in the elevator at the time.

The elevator...

It took a while for him to realize that this always seemed to happen in elevators. And even then, he spent a long time trying to ignore the feeling. It became so consistent, however, that he was beginning to dread stepping into any kind of elevator. Unfortunately, he needed the elevator to get to work and to get home, and climbing 17 flights of stairs was losing its inherent charm.

On the upside, he was getting a workout and his cardio-vascular system had never been healthier.

The salutary mental brush was still there the day he finally girded his loins and stepped into the elevator that would take him up to his condo. It was late one Wednesday evening, and he had descended the stairwell from the Fifth Floor of the FBI building, gotten in his car in the empty echoing parking garage, and driven home. He had been all prepared to climb the 17 floors when his mind and body simply balked at the prospect, and he turned and to jab the elevator call button in irritation.

To his surprise, the elevator doors opened before his hand made contact. Bemused, he cautiously stepped inside. The doors whisked close swiftly and soundlessly.

Good evening, Assistant Director.

The feather-light mental brush now had a vocabulary.

He looked around, seeing nothing but the familiar shiny-metal interior of the same elevator he rode day after day. Same filtered-light ceiling, same designer hand-hold bar placed conveniently at waist level, same emergency procedures instructions, same metal manufacturer's name plate.

Experimentally, he tried, "Who's there?"

Only the subdued whine of the elevator's hydraulics kick-started in the background as the elevator began its ascent. The button for floor 17 was already lit, and Skinner had no memory of punching it. He looked up, trying to spot hidden camera lenses in the recessed lighting fixtures.

Working late again, Assistant Director?

Skinner couldn't shake the sensation of the mental tickle, rather than a physical auditory vibration. But he still looked for tangible evidence *tiny camera lenses, hidden mikes.

"Is this security?" His search brought up nothing but the interior of a perfectly ordinary elevator. He heard nothing than a perfectly ordinary elevator hum. "Is this some kind of joke?"

*A joke hasn't been made, Assistant Director*

It was so odd that the sound seemed to come from inside his head. Still, he couldn't help but check the corners or microphones and speakers and tiny camera lenses. His best efforts yielded nothing, and he finally stood back, feeling a little foolish.

"Who are you?" he said, hesitantly.

*The Otis Elevonic Class Gen2 series. LAMDA Model HR1720. Serial Number 186-54935-400.*

The response was immediate and mechanical, like a child reciting the alphabet.

Skinner glanced around the tasteful interior again. More and more the 'voice' seemed to be coming from somewhere in the vicinity of his hypothalamus. The 'voice' had an almost mellifluous quality to it, although Skinner wondered how he knew that. He hadn't actually heard anything. His gaze fell on the discreet manufacturer's plate, where the name sat in squat flat letters.

"Otis," said Skinner, his voice sounding strained and disbelieving. He was interrupted by elevator doors opening on his floor. He threw his hands in the air abruptly and started down the hallway, muttering to himself. "Now I'm talking to elevators."

Have a pleasant evening, Assistant Director

He turned his head, "Thank - shit."

He thrust his key in the lock as if it were to blame, and dived into the safety of his condo.

He thought he had made it all the way to the office without another mind-ticklingly odd conversation with any other modes of transportation, until he stepped into the elevator at the J. Edgar Hoover. The doors opened - without his touching the button - to an empty cab and a sudden feeling of unease accompanied Skinner as he turned and watched the doors close on the lobby.

Good morning, Assistant Director.

That same mellifluous quality. Skinner cased the elevator's functional interior quickly, and his eyes settled on the manufacturer's nameplate.

"Otis?" he said, involuntarily.

I hope you slept well.

"What's going on? How did you get in this building?" he demanded of the air, vaguely wondering whether voices in one's head could obtain vehicular transportation.

This is the building where you work.

A perfectly reasonable answer.

"And what about where I live?"

*These are the two places where you spend most of your time, sir. * _Translation: you have no life, sir._

Skinner even heard the second part of the comment like an echo, an afterthought. And - Sir? He took a deep breath and tried to order his mind around something more concrete.

"How can you do this?" he asked, trying for reasonably.

You have microscopic mechanical elements in your hemoglobin.

"The nanocytes?" He couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice now. He automatically checked the backs of his hands, looking for the dreaded familiar venular distension. There was nothing. "How do the nanocytes do this?"

There came the distinct impression of a mental shrug, and an almost plaintive reply.

You are the only human with whom I can communicate, sir. The only one who can hear me.

"Well, I'll be damned..."

He was interrupted by a quick mental flash of Kersh standing impatiently in front of the elevator doors, and he had short seconds to compose himself. He flashed a tight smile, before the doors were fully open.

"Good morning, Deputy Director. I hope you haven't been kept waiting." He stepped out, ignoring the slightly bemused expression on Kersh's face.

He was still smiling to himself when he walked past Kim towards his office. She was taken aback at the rare smile on his face, and even more stunned when he paused in the doorway to his office.

"My appointment with the shrink is at 2 today," he said, making no mistake as to how he felt about 'recommended' therapy. "Cancel it."

"Have you always understood us?"

*I can communicate with you. I don't pretend to understand you.*

"Touch. How long have you been able to with me?"

I have only been aware of you in the last few months.

"That's how long I've had the nanocytes in my bloodstream. You haven't communicated with anyone else?"

There has been no suitable conduit.

"Lucky me."

"Sir!" a familiar voice lifted above the hallway traffic. Dana Scully had a report in her hand, and was hurrying down the corridor as fast as her petite legs could carry her. Skinner slowed enough to allow her to catch up, although he kept his stride just long enough for her to have to trot to keep up.

"Yes, Agent Scully?" He reached the elevator door, and focused a thought: Not yet.

"Sir, I need to you take a look at these forensic reports." She was already flipping open the initial coroner's report, complete with initial crime-scene and lab photos. These were particularly gruesome, and never Skinner's favorite perusals, especially not right after lunch. He decided to cut to the chase.

"What exactly do you need, Scully?"

"I need to obtain military records and DNA on this individual," she flashed another equally gruesome set of pictures in front of him, "because I think they're a match."

Skinner looked at the military ID numbers. "This man is Black Ops," he stated bluntly.

"How did you -" Scully cut herself off at his warning look, and changed tactics. "Sir, that's why I need the DNA results to prove*"

"On my desk, agent." And he thought: Now.

"But, sir-"

The elevator doors whisked open even as Skinner started to move towards them. "You'll have an answer this afternoon, Agent Scully," he said, as the doors closed on his words and her face, before she could so much as take a step.

In the elevator cab by himself, Skinner said, "Thank you, Otis."

My pleasure, Assistant Director. A troublesome request, I take it?

Skinner envisioned a long afternoon on the phone negotiating with the inner sanctum of the Pentagon and sighed. "Why'd he have to be Black Ops?"

"Do you understand everyone that steps in here?"

I can perceive mental images, sir.

"But you communicate in Standard English."

My software programming IS in Standard English.

"Makes sense. I hope the NSA doesn't have impromptu meetings in elevators."

*They don't, sir.*

"Good to know. How many of you are there? The idea of all these elevators talking to each other is too...Monty Python."

*I'm the only one.*

"But you're everywhere I go, it seems like."

*I'm the only one, sir.*

"Doesn't it get...lonely?"


Interestingly, it was only with the elevators in the Hoover and his apartment building that he could "communicate", the only ones he thought of as "Otis". And it didn't seem to matter which cabs he rode on, so he'd finally arrived at the conclusion that it was a generalized sort of entity, underscored and strengthened by the frequency of his visits. And, he'd come to realize, that he did spent an inordinate amount of time in elevators.

He was, however, beginning to discover pleasant advantages to his unique relationship with the elevator at the office. He never had to wait for an empty one, and when there were passengers, he always seemed to know who was riding. And if he were riding in one, he could always tell who was waiting on his destination floor. Evasive measures could be taken with people he did not want to meet. Once, a very clear picture of an impatient John Doggett with a stack of reports in his arms materialized in his mind. Doggett was on his way up to the Fifth Floor. It was an easy side-step into the men's room. The reports could wait, quietly and unobtrusively, for him in his in-box.

Impromptu meetings in the elevator, and sometimes even in the hallways, were severely curtailed, and he was beginning to relish some of his agents' irritation at having to make an actual appointment to see him. There was even an occasion or two where he managed to avoid the Director, who found some other unfortunate AD to mow down in his warpath.

He was even starting to leave work at a reasonable hour.

And although he could detect no familiar Otises in other buildings, he found those elevator response times vastly improved.

Cheerfully, he cancelled yet another appointment with the psychiatrist.

All in all, this new relationship was doing his disposition a world of good.

A lot seems to happen to you around elevators, Assistant Director.

"Yeah. Life changing events. Emergency surgery. Head trauma."

My apologies, sir.

"Not your fault. Uncontrollable circumstances. Inextricable relationships."

Perhaps I can be of service to you in the future.

"You're going to look out for me, Otis?"

There was that mental silence, but it was followed by an unmistakable echo; Someone has to, sir.

And Otis was true to his word.

On a brisk Friday evening, Skinner managed to arrive home before dusk had given way completely to night. He couldn't wait to strip off the starched white shirt and stifling necktie, tossing them aside with the workweek. He poured himself a double and stood shirtless on his balcony, looking out over Washington D.C. in its evening glow of darkening cobalt sky and lamplight sparkling in the streets below. He relished the smooth aged single malt going down warm against the slight chill of the evening air against his bare skin.

And then, due perhaps to physical distance, came a faint but familiar mental summons.

Assistant Director, you have a visitor.

There was an ominous tone to the announcement. Skinner put the scotch down and was out the door and down the hall as the elevator arrived at the 17th floor. A mental picture came clearly to him as he neared the steel doors.

Alex Krycek.

Leaning casually against the back wall, hands in the pockets of his customary black leather jacket, his right hand curled lightly around the palm pilot. Which was unactivated.

Skinner waited by the elevator door, just out of sight, all the time with a clear picture of the man lounging with his guard uncharacteristically down.

He timed it just right. Just as Krycek was cautiously stepping past the door, Skinner reached out and grabbed the right arm with his left hand, yanked and twisted, and brought his right fist around in quick precisely-delivered punches, one to the jaw, another to the gut, and the last again to the jaw, just to finish him off.

Krycek went down, nary a word uttered, and Skinner wasn't even breathing hard.

Nicely done, Assistant Director.

"It wouldn't have been this easy without you, Otis," there was genuine warmth in Skinner's voice. "Thanks for the assist."

*You're welcome, sir.* The distinct air of self-satisfaction was unmistakable.

It was a blustery midweek afternoon when Walter Skinner stepped into the elevator on the Fifth Floor of the Hoover Building, his tie loosened, his collar unbuttoned and his jacket slung carelessly over his shoulder. His new casualness earned him not a few stares in the hallway. As usual, the doors opened for him before he reached them, never breaking his stride.

Leaving early today, Assistant Director?

"I have an appointment, Otis."

*You haven't kept a psychiatric appointment in weeks, sir.*

Skinner grinned a grin that few mortals ever saw. Alex Krycek had been seeing that smile much of late, and it never boded well for the captive, chained naked and spreadeagled to Skinner's sprawling king-sized bed for the past two weeks.

"This will be my last one." said Skinner, with some satisfaction. "Between your invaluable help, and the deeply engaging, thoroughly satisfying therapy that Alex so fetchingly provides, my mental health has made a remarkable recovery."

Always at your service, Assistant Director.

When Skinner stepped off the elevator, he was all but whistling.

The End

It should be explained at this point that modern elevators are strange and complex entities. The ancient electric winch-and-maximum-capacity-eight-persons jobs bear as much resemblance to a Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporter as a packet of peanuts does to the entire west wing of the Sirian State Mental Hospital.

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