In this week’s issues of Topps’ The X-Files, we begin a new two-part story in which Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of four scientists who were researching ball lightning at Brown Mountain. Read after the jump for our recap of "Night Lights" Part One.
Our story opens on a weather balloon that is floating near Brown Mountain, NC late one summer evening. If Brown Mountain is familiar to you, that’s because it’s where Mulder & Scully would later find themselves victim to a giant, underground mushroom in "Field Trip". Nearby, a group of men are checking the balloon’s telemetry when their electricity goes out. Complaining about the power company, they are suddenly faced with a large, glowing red orb which floats through the window and into the centre of the room, causing enormous quantities of static. The men back away but the orb continues to move, incinerating the first man and eventually killing them all. A few hours later, on a highway north of Hartford, TN, a woman is shocked by the sudden appearance of blood rain. Stepping out of her car, she witnesses a red glow in the sky similar to the orb, which suddenly vanishes.
The next day Scully arrives at the Brown Mountain lab at the request of the men’s supervisor, Dr. Meagher, who is concerned that the scientists have gone missing. Scully discovers that the men, who were all great friends, were researching ball lightning and that Dr. Meagher wonders if the phenomena might be behind their disappearance as the air in the room smells of ozone. However the lack of bodies, or of any evidence to suggest an explosion or burning means she has ruled out the possibility, and she asks Scully to please “find out what happened to my scientists”.
Mulder shows up & Scully mocks him for being late, but it turns out he was off investigating the blood rain incident. No sample of the “blood” could be collected, but he did discover a lightning bolt shaped pin, which Scully instantly recognises as belonging to one of the missing scientists - she spotted it on a photograph. The two agents discuss the case over food and coffee at a nearby diner. Mulder is convinced the pin is the same one from the missing scientist, but Scully is unconvinced, demanding to know how it could have appeared in Tennessee. Mulder reminds Scully of the phenomena of “anomalous rains”, pointing out that they themselves experienced a rain of toads (back in "Die Hand Die Verletzt") but Scully argues back that in North Carolina the skies were clear. Clearly developing a headache, she wonders if the men simply took off after being cooped up at the research station so long, or if perhaps the lightning was to blame after all, reaching a temperature so high it could “incinerate a human body”. Mulder rebuffs both her ideas. Their waiter overhears the conversation and talks to them about the “red lights up on Brown Mountain” which gets Mulder’s attention - this is apparently the first time he has heard of them. That afternoon, Mulder and Scully speak to Dr Meagher about the lights. Mulder proposes the theory of Earth Lights, which suggests “strain fields within the Earth’s crust where fault lines occur, produce electromagnetic charges which create bodies of light”. Dr. Meagher thinks the theory is “far-fetched” but considers it irrelevant as a non-corporal light could not have abducted her scientists.
That night, two more scientists - students this time - are checking the balloon’s data from the night of the disappearance at Dr. Meagher’s request, looking for “any indications of ball lightning”. The lights go out and they see a red glow outside the window. The female student moves to the window and is incinerated just as the other men were, but her male friend - Kurt - runs for his life and makes it outside. The following afternoon Mulder and Scully interview him in his bed at the nearby hospital. He remembers nothing but is suffering from “minor electrical burns and some temporary retina damage from staring at a bright light”. Dr. Meagher, who discovered Kurt & brought him to the hospital, is skeptical of his story considering how rare ball lightning is but accepts that his symptoms validate his being exposed to the phenomena. Mulder posits that perhaps the scientists had found a way to generate ball lightning and that the two students accidentally did the same thing after turning on the equipment in the lab. Dr Meagher replies that “there’s only one way to find out”.
That evening Mulder, Scully, & Dr. Meagher, return to the lab and begin booting up the scientists’ equipment. Mulder wonders if the ball lightning could be generating “an intense, localized heat” similar to a nuclear blast, but Scully points out that if that were the case then surely the window would have melted when the ball floated through it. Dr. Meagher gets the equipment running and begins downloading the same data. Everything looks normal and the equipment is all working. As Dr. Meagher begins to give up on finding anything to back up their theory, Scully notices a strange hissing noise. The equipment is still reading normally, but Mulder spots one of the giant red orbs outside the window. Scully and Dr. Meagher evacuate, but Mulder stays inside trying to read something on a computer screen. He attempts to print it off as Scully shouts from outside. The ball comes up behind Mulder, then stops and retreats through the window where it floats up into space and vanishes. “Unbelievable,” Scully says as the tree of them watch it go, “it moved almost as if it were alive”.
End of part one.