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Invasion of the "X'-philes

Greg Ryan usually spends his weekends waiting in deserted fields for aliens to abduct him. With a kit of spare clothes, notebook and hair gel, he lies on his back, hopefully scanning the summer skies for spaceships.

But on Sunday, Ryan's fascination with aliens brought him to the Hyatt Regency ballroom in downtown Tampa. The reason: The X-Files.

"It's the only show on television that really speaks to me," said Ryan, 22, of Tampa.

At Florida's first official X-Files convention, Ryan got to share abduction hopes and conspiracy theories with a crowd of at least 1,500 other X-Files devotees, members of a fast-growing cult following. The daylong event began with trivia contests and music videos and ended with actor appearances and an auction. One fan paid $365 for the script of the program's pilot episode.

Vendors from throughout the country said the crowd in Tampa was much bigger than expected.

"I can't believe how quick the baby aliens are going," said Cassey Caimens of Marion, Ind., as he unloaded a pair of small glass jars with plastic alien fetuses suspended in green fluid. Caimens said he grossed more than $5,000 from the sales of X-Files collector cards and baby aliens.

Aliens are a big part of The X-Files, a weekly mix of science fiction, mysticism and deadpan cop dialogue. The one-hour Fox TV show, entering its fourth season, chronicles the exploits of a pair of FBI agents who investigate paranormal activity and experiments performed on aliens. These acts are documented in "X-files," ultrasecret government files.

Moody lighting, special effects and on-location sets blend to give what fans say is a cinematic feel to each episode.

"It's like going to the movies each week for free," said Tim Ford, 13, who awoke Sunday at 5 a.m. in Gainesville to drive to Tampa with his mother. "You never know what's going to happen in the next episode."

Mitch Pileggi, the actor who plays Skinner, an FBI agent, agreed. "No other show in Hollywood is as mysterious and well-crafted as The X-Files," he said.

Pileggi, William Davis, another actor on the show, and Mark Snow, the creator of The X-Files' haunting musical score, spent the afternoon making speeches and signing hundreds of autographs.

Other attractions included in the $18 entrance fee were a merchandise room packed with posters saying, "We are not alone," and a room filled with X-Files props.

"Mom, you remember this?" Ryan Sawyer, 14, asked as he pointed to a plastic pig's leg used in an early episode about a government conspiracy to biologically contaminate a prison.

"The X-Files is the only show our family watches together," said his mother, Beth Sawyer, a Tampa schoolteacher, as she steered her son away from the pig's leg.

Noah Howland, the winner of one of the convention's fan contests, isn't scared he'll be abducted. "I live in a populated area, so the chances are slim," said Howland, 12, of Lakeland.

And though ratings indicate The X-Files is particularly strong among 18- to 49-year-olds, it was the adolescents at Sunday's convention who seemed most enamored.

"What you don't know can hurt you," said Adam Richardson, 13, of West Palm Beach, dressed in a T-shirt that read, "Trust no one."

"The government can erase your life before you know it," he added.

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