Title: Things Undone 4: Alchemy of the Word, part 2b
Authors: Erynn & Sally
Email: inisglas@seanet.com, sallyh@flashcom.net
Archive: Ephemeral, Gossamer, LGM, FLO, all others ask first so we know where we're being kept.
Rated: R for grownup stuff
Spoilers: We assume you've seen the series
Category: Gunmen -- angst, humor, a little romance
Summary: Sometimes words are more important in our lives than we think.

Stories in the Things Undone series:

Things Undone, by Erynn; a 5-part story wherein the Gunmen deal with some unfinished business.
TU 2: Mending the Tears, by Sally; a 6-part story wherein Fro and Langly go to the ER.
TU 3: To Carry On, by Erynn; wherein the Gunmen begin to deal with the repercussions of their adventure.

Disclaimers: We don't own the boys, but we sure wish we did. They and the other characters from the series are owned instead by The Powers That Be at Fox and 1013, the boys were created by Morgan & Wong, and they're all controlled by the folks at The X Files and The Lone Gunmen series. Other characters are ours, some of whom are blatantly based on people we know, frequently at their request. Don't blame us, we're being coerced. Quotes from Rimbaud are used without permission. Deepest thanks to Mel, our Tech Consultant Queen and resident cartoonist.

Things Undone 4: Alchemy of the Word, part 2b

The rest of the reading passes in a similar vein, and Ms. Thomas holds her own amid the group of other poets. I check out her inscription. Her handwriting is almost calligraphic, although her signature is worthy of a surgeon. 'To John, may your dreams be kind and comforting, Sari Thomas.' I only wish that were true. I haven't had kind or comforting dreams in years.  Not since Baltimore. I listen to her read with appreciation, and then read some of her work while the other poets continue with theirs. I was right about the younger man. He's been very shrill in a naive hard-core leftist way the entire time he's been on stage. But the applause at the end is enthusiastic; mostly, I suspect, for Ms. Thomas. She sells more books and chapbooks, then packs her small remaining stock in her backpack while talking to her admirers, and a few minutes later she approaches my table.

"So, about that latte?" she says.

"What would you like?"

"Double tall mocha breve with hazelnut." Actually, aside from the double shot, the combination doesn't sound bad at all.

"Anything on it?"

"Just some nutmeg."

"As you wish." She takes a seat and I procure her hazel mocha, along with a single tall latte of my own. I seat myself and get down to business. "What kind of work do you need done?"

"It's not at the office, if that's what you're hoping," she says. "I had a hacker in my personal system yesterday. Thrashed my hard drive, and I haven't been able to recover much on my own. It's not that I'm particularly incompetent, it's just that the asshole made a big mess of things and it's beyond my current skills to fix, even with the help of Saint Norton. So I need data recovery, a few big steps up on my system security, and a damn good firewall. I lost at least 30 pages of my latest white paper, along with most of my research files for it. That, and about half the poems in the book I'm working on. It'll be a major pain to recreate all the work and research I've lost, assuming I could do it at all. And the white paper's due on Thursday. There's no way I'll finish in time without some professional assistance." 

She looks more than a little upset about the situation. I can't say I blame her. I've screamed a few times when Langly's been in my system messing around with things to play with my head, and he doesn't do nearly the amount of damage she's talking about. "That's got to hurt. I should warn you though, that my rates are a little steep for most individuals," I tell her, somewhat disappointed.

"The Club pays pretty well for my persuasive talents. If you're not totally out of line for a small firm, I can probably afford you."

We discuss prices for the sort of work she wants, and I mention that I can't really set a firm hourly rate until I actually see the system and the extent of the damage, but she seems satisfied. "I'd like a couple of references, though," she says. "You never know who you're dealing with out there. Can't be too careful," she says with a smile.

I give her a small smile in return, but it fades when I remember Susanne's voice -- 'no matter how paranoid you are, you're not paranoid enough...' 

She must have noted my expression, as she asks "You ok? You look a little pale."

I wave the statement away. "I'm fine. You just... reminded me of someone for a second." She nods, seeming satisfied with the explanation. I give her three of my recent references, including a gaming startup that all three of us are working on at the moment. They're all good. And she seems like the type to actually check them.

"You've worked for some impressive people. I know one of the techies at FPS.  Cool people. I'll ring her up this afternoon and call you this evening to let you know."

"That sounds good," I say, but I'm enjoying her company and would really like to talk about other things for a while before I'm left to my own resources for the rest of the day. "You... um... don't have to rush off, if you don't want to. We can talk about things other than work if you like."

"Well, we could talk about Chomsky, but that's way too work-related for me at the moment. What other things are you interested in?"

Truthfully, I haven't been interested in anything lately, but if I tell her that, there won't be much to talk about, and I'll have to wander aimlessly around town for hours before Frohike would let me back into the office. "Well, music. Books, generally. Classic and silent movies. Computers, of course, but that's work for me so it's out as a topic."

She chuckles. "Books, movies, and music. That's pretty broad. Are you entirely eclectic, or do you have specific tastes in those things?"

"Musically, I'm pretty eclectic. Mostly I like classical and jazz, but my roommates listen to all kinds of stuff, so I'm exposed to a lot more than you'd think. Movies, like I said, mostly silents and classics. Sometimes I like a mindless action flick or some decent SF. For books, I read a lot of literary fiction, some poetry and philosophy, the classics. I tend to keep up on the sciences online and in the journals. By the time most of it hits print in the books, it's old news." This seems to interest her.

"Isn't it just." She gives me a wry, but understanding grin. "Me, I generally like early music myself, all that lovely pre-Baroque European stuff, and traditional world music. The Sephardic and Arabic traditions fascinate me, but I also enjoy African drumming, a little gamelan and some of the Japanese koto and shakuhachi repertoire." She sips her breve, looking thoughtful. "But I also like things a little more modern. I'm actually rather interested in tribal-trance and ambient . I've even been out to quite a few raves in my day, before things started getting commercial."

"Now that does sound eclectic," I reply.

"Not as much as you'd think. An awful lot of that sort of thing finds its roots in African and Mediterranean music. Tempo, beat, and vocals in those genres can be very influenced by Middle Eastern and Balkan stylings as well."

We sink into a comfortable and very enjoyable conversation about music and music theory, sharing opinions of composers and various ensembles. Her knowledge is quite impressive for someone who isn't a musician, and her opinions and tastes are innovative and occasionally even challenging. She orders lunch at one point, although I'm not hungry enough to join her while she eats her soup and sandwich; I'm content simply to chat for a while with a friendly and knowledgeable stranger about completely non-threatening subjects. 

Ms. Thomas is fairly tall, but not overly so. She's very slender without being 'fashionably' anorexic, with short, dark hair, grey eyes behind oval lenses, and very fine bones, like a bird's. I don't think most people would describe her as beautiful, but she's quite attractive. Unassuming, I think, would be a better word. For all that, she does have a kind, cheerful presence and a good bit of charisma, but she is a lobbyist and apparently a fairly successful poet. You need a certain force of personality and a stiff spine to work with the sort of people she does -- to convince legislators, however conniving, to introduce or support your issues, particularly if they're environmental or human rights based. Beyond empty rhetoric, neither are actually popular in the current political atmosphere.

Eventually she looks at her watch. "Oh dear. It's almost five, and I have to get home and fix some dinner. I've got company coming, or I'd blow it off in favor of continuing the conversation. I've been having a delightful time talking with you, John. I'll call you this evening after I talk to my friend at FPS to let you know if you've got the job."

I hadn't realized it had gotten so late either. Maybe I can make both the Atwood signing and Joan of Arc. The signing's only a few blocks from the theatre, and the movie doesn't start until 7:30. "I've really enjoyed the afternoon myself. Thank you, Sari. I'll be in after nine tonight and up for a while after that, otherwise you're likely to get the answering machine.  I'll look forward to your call. I hope you'll have me in to do your job."

"It's quite likely, if your references are as sterling as your conversation." She reaches out and shakes my hand with a warm, firm grip, wraps her scarf and coat around herself, puts on her gloves and hat, then picks up her backpack to go. I watch her as she leaves, chatting briefly with Harry and giving him a short, friendly hug before she hurries out the door into the early March dusk.

I wander up to the counter and ask Harry, "Is she always that friendly?"

"Sari? Yeah, pretty much. She's a great kid. Real talent. I'm proud of what she does, on all counts. She's doing some pretty influential work with the congresscritters, and making a pretty good name for herself as a poet, too. You need anything special today, Johnny? I found a real obscure one on the Kennedy assassination if you're interested. Lots of stuff on Kerry Thornley in it."

Thornley's a very obscure figure, peripherally involved in the issue. He also wrote the 'Principia Discordia' as Malaclypse the Younger. Langly has a copy and thinks it's hilarious. Thornley's a colorful member of the underground, and not often mentioned in the literature, so I find myself intrigued by the offer. Harry and I talk for a couple of minutes about the book, but it turns out to be one I already have, so I wish him a good evening and head out. I'm actually feeling almost human when I get to the van. Then it hits me.

I haven't thought about Susanne in hours.

end part 2b