Title: Things Undone 5: Snipe Hunt (8/24)

Authors: Erynn and Sally

Archive: Ephemeral, Gossamer, LGM, FLO, all others ask first. 

Rated: R for grownup stuff

Spoilers: We assume you've seen the series. There are some slight spoilers
for the LGM Pilot. This little Gunmenverse takes off from the main line of
the X Files canon universe after 3oaK but before FPS (which happens in this
timeline in early May).

Disclaimers: You know who really owns these guys and the other XF
characters. It ain't us, much as we'd like to. Some characters are blatantly
based on our friends. They made us. (BTW, you guys, you can put down the
red-hot pokers now) Others, we just made up for our amusement. Chapter
opening quotes used without permission. Remember, love not money is the
motivator here -- like anybody would ever pay us for this stuff.

Category: Gunmen action/adventure, humor, angst, a little Langly romance,
and a budding friendship.

Keywords: Lone Gunmen

Summary: It's hacker season. Do you know where your computer is?

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; a vignette wherein the Gunmen begin to deal 
with the repercussions of their adventure. 
TU 4: Alchemy of the Word, by Erynn and Sally; a 17 chapter novella wherein 
words are more important than they seem, and Byers starts to get a life. 
If you haven't read them, you may be confused here. 

Author notes: 
Sally say: Special thanks to pigs in slop. We only want you to be happy. 
Erynn say: I never thought Things Undone would turn into its own little 
universe, but it's been a hell of a lot of fun writing with Sally. Thanks to 
all of you folks who have been enjoying the story and encouraging us to 
write more. You're the greatest. 
______ 

"But listen to me: for one moment,/ quit being sad. Hear blessings/ dropping 
their blossoms/ around you." 

~~Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks -- The Essential Rumi~~ 
______ 

THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 2000 
GEORGETOWN, SARI'S APARTMENT 
8:10 P.M. 

BYERS: 

I'm looking forward to this night out with the kind of anticipation I used 
to have on Christmas morning as a child. My only ventures outside the office 
since the night of our encounter with Barry Guertzen have been to my 
doctor's office. I've been penned up so long I've even started looking 
forward to going to my appointments. It's a pitiful statement about how 
little I've been doing, for what seems like forever. Frohike felt sorry for 
me last time and offered to treat me to lunch, and it was very kind of him 
to take me to Denny's, but I haven't been out for a real meal in months. 
We're headed for Yamato this evening, an elegant Japanese restaurant in 
Arlington. Since the price of a meal there generally exceeds our entire 
monthly intake, we don't go often, but I've never left feeling that it was 
anything but worth every cent we spent. It's the first time I've put on a 
suit since the night Sari and I were injured as well. For a long time, I was 
wondering if I'd ever feel like even getting out of my pajamas again. I 
worked up to my jeans, but still wasn't ready to be myself again, most 
comfortable in a suit. That's not the case tonight. But what amazes me more 
than anything is that these days, I look forward to waking up in whatever 
passes for morning in our world. I haven't had that sensation in years. For 
me, it's a deep, significant change. The feeling is unfamiliar, but quite 
welcome. 

We pull up in front of Sari's building, where we're to meet her and her 
sister, Devi. I met Devi at the hospital, very briefly, but I was too blind, 
exhausted, and drugged to take much notice. About all I can remember is a 
swath of bright color and a bell-like laugh, but I can't say if my memory is 
accurate. I leave Langly and Frohike to wait outside; there are no legal 
parking spaces for blocks in any direction, and the meter readers are like 
vultures here, waiting to swoop down on anyone who's even considering 
leaving their vehicle illegally parked. I once hypothesized that parking 
violations were a major source of revenue for DC, and when I hacked the 
system, I discovered it was true. This was back when I thought that local 
governments might not be entirely corrupt, only the state and federal ones. 
My disillusionment was complete. I knock on Sari's door. Apparently I wasn't 
as out of it as I thought that day; I'm greeted by a woman whose family 
resemblance to Sari is unmistakable. She's a bit shorter, with longer hair 
and no glasses, but there's no question that these two are sisters. I wonder 
if she's as open as Sari is about touch. 

"Hello, I'm John Byers," I say to her, and any questions I had about her 
being as physically open as Sari are immediately put to rest. She hugs me 
and plants a kiss on each cheek. Not a phony Hollywood-style air kiss, 
either. Her affection feels utterly genuine, and warmth radiates from her 
like the bright colors of the Indian calf length tunic and scarf she's 
wearing; brilliant shades of red, yellow and turquoise. She's wearing 
matching silk pants, with bright copper earrings and bracelets, and her 
hands are hennaed in an exquisite, complex pattern. 

"Hi John, I'm Devi Thomas-Padmabandhu. We met a few weeks ago, though you 
probably don't remember me very well. I must say, you're much less the 
fashion victim tonight." She smiles so warmly, it feels like the sun shining 
down. I can't help but smile back. "Sari's just about ready." 

"Sari is ready!" I hear her come up behind her younger sister. She tickles 
Devi's side, and they both giggle. "You look quite elegant this evening, 
John." She's clad all in black, in silk pants, an oversized silk shirt, and 
a silk tank touched with lace. I'm beginning to suspect that Sari has a silk 
fetish. She has, of course, chosen the black sling for her cast. Her outfit 
is set off by a black velvet and fire opal choker, and an oval fire opal 
bindi, offering a dramatic red-orange contrast to her flowing black outfit. 
In its own way, it's as elegant as the green dress she wore a few days ago. 
Sari greets me with an enthusiastic hug and a peck on the cheek. I offer an 
arm to each lady, and we set off down the stairs. I like the Thomas sisters. 
They're secure enough in themselves that they don't take affront at my 
attempt at chivalry, however lame it might be. I don't think I've ever had a 
chance to have two such charming and delightful women by my side. 

While they may be appropriately attired for the restaurant, they're vastly 
overdressed for Frohike's ancient flat black gunboat. Still, Devi doesn't 
bat a lash as she climbs in, with great ease, seating herself to the left of 
me. "Devi, this is Melvin Frohike and Ringo Langly. Mel, Ringo, my sister 
Devi," Sari takes care of the introductions as she slides in to my right. 

Frohike flashes his widest smile. "A pleasure, ma'am." 

Langly waves, a prim, Rose Parade princess wave, but he smiles shyly as 
well. "Hi." 

There are no awkward silences with Devi; she simply fills them with her 
laughter and delight. She seems to be the sort of person who's never met a 
stranger, as much at ease with people as I am paranoid about them. "Sari, 
why do you always wear black?" she chides her older sister. I have a feeling 
that this conversation has taken place many times before. 

"I like black. It goes with everything. It's dramatic and elegant and 
slimming ..." We all laugh out loud at that one. Slimming is not something 
Sari needs to be concerned about. 

"It's boring!" Devi laughs. She turns to me. "Can you believe this girl was 
going to buy another black evening gown? You wouldn't believe the 
arm-twisting I had to perform to get her to be daring and buy something in 
-- gasp -- emerald green!" 

"Hey, I only have one black evening gown," Sari points out. "And black is 
always appropriate." 

"For funerals. And didn't you get a record number of compliments on that 
dress?" Devi keeps it up. We're all laughing. Something about Devi makes 
that very easy. 

"That was one hot dress," Langly says. Frohike pokes him. "Hey," Langly 
hisses, "easy on the ribs!" 

"Sorry, dude." 

"Okay, yes," Sari is about to put in a qualifier, but Devi cuts her off. 

"I rest my case." Devi grins an evil grin. Sari objects, and the debate is 
on. The trip to Yamato is taken up with a hilarious back and forth on the 
merits of basic 'boring' black versus what Sari refers to as 
'eyeball-burning clash.' 

"I think she was secretly raised by a flock of color-blind magpies. She 
can't resist anything bright and shiny," Sari explains. "Doesn't matter if 
it's glass and tinfoil or sapphires and platinum. She just got lucky enough 
to marry a guy who could afford nice baubles instead of cheap imitation 
baubles." Apparently, Devi is married to a Sri Lankan diplomat, and works as 
a translator for the State Department. 

We arrive at the restaurant and allow the somewhat disconcerted valet to 
park Frohike's ancient gas guzzler. I'm almost overwhelmed by the exquisite 
scent of the food as we walk through the door. This feels wonderful, even if 
it's a bit blurry. After a short wait, made light by Sari and Devi's company 
and the guys' elation at the day's success, we're escorted to our dining 
room. Frohike made sure to reserve one with a good deal of privacy. I think 
he and Langly plan to get loud and extremely drunk tonight. It's a good 
thing they've provided for this possibility in the building's layout. Much 
of the DC elite end up dining here at one point or another, and privacy and 
the staff's discretion are usually of great concern. Not surprising, 
considering the kinds of things they plot over their expensive dinners. I'll 
have to talk to the guys about bugging this place one of these days -- I bet 
we'd find some very useful information for our publication. Actually, maybe 
we should consider checking for bugs ourselves. I wonder if either of the 
guys brought along a pocket bug detector? 

A short, whispered conversation with Mel assures me that he has, in fact, 
brought one along and plans to use it once we have a few moments of privacy 
from the staff. I'm not sure what Sari or Devi will make of it, but at least 
the guys and I will feel safer once it's been employed. As Susanne said, 'no 
matter how paranoid you are, it's not paranoid enough.' We learned early 
this year that we haven't been paranoid enough, and we're determined not to 
make the same mistakes again. 

We leave our shoes at the entry to the private room, and when we seat 
ourselves on the cushions around the low table, the sisters sit next to one 
another, still teasing each other about things I can't quite follow, and 
giggling. I'm seated at an end next to Sari, with Langly next to me on the 
long side, and Frohike sits at the other end near Devi. The first thing up 
after we settle in, before the menus are even presented, is the tea ceremony 
that Sari requested. I learned it in college while I was studying Asian art, 
so I have at least some familiarity with the ritual, but the sisters seem 
quite at ease with the entire procedure. Where I stumble slightly here and 
there, and Mel and Ringo simply follow along blindly, they are confident and 
precise, every movement and gesture performed to perfection. It's obvious 
that they treat it as the meditation it is, and both express great 
satisfaction with the skill of the woman who performed it. Frohike said that 
their parents were Asian studies and linguistics scholars. It seems that 
they exposed their daughters to all the finer points of the Asian cultures 
as they grew up. 

After the ceremony, as we sip ocha and wait for the menus to arrive, Frohike 
pulls out the bug detector and quickly sweeps the room. Sari watches 
curiously, but Devi seems entirely unruffled by the activity. This surprises 
me, but perhaps it shouldn't. She is, after all, married to a diplomat. This 
may even be fairly commonplace to her. "We're clear," Mel announces, 
pocketing the detector and seating himself once again, moments before a 
waitress dressed in geisha finery arrives with our menus. There are no 
prices on them, of course. There never are at places like this. She sets 
down a tray of hot sake and the traditional tiny ceramic cups. 

Devi asks in Japanese about the brand and origin of the sake, and the answer 
she receives is met with a nod of approval and the joined palms and slight 
bow of thanks. As the woman leaves to give us time to examine the menu, Devi 
speaks. "An excellent sake, rarely found outside Japan," she informs us. "If 
you've never had good sake before, you're in for a real treat. Bad sake, 
well, it's barely worth using as lighter fluid." She turns to her sister and 
says, almost too quietly for me to hear, "I see your friends understand the 
value of privacy." 

"Yes," Sari nods, replying in the same tone, "they certainly do." She then 
speaks to the rest of us. "Now, how about that ritual first cup of sake?" 
Langly pours for everyone. We all raise a cup and shout "banzai!" then down 
the tiny thimble cup of hot liquid. Devi and Sari smack their cups down on 
the table. "Oooh, that's great," Sari says appreciatively. Langly offers 
refills, which are eagerly accepted by everyone but me and Sari. I'm on 
medications that are not recommended as mixers with alcohol, but the one 
tiny cup I've had won't hurt me. 

"Toldja," Devi says, grinning back at her. "Too bad you don't indulge much." 

"You know how prone I am to horrific hangovers," Sari says. "Besides, I've 
got the feeling we'll need a designated driver, and I don't think I've ever 
seen you fill that function, Magpie." She grins broadly. I suspect she's 
right, and that it won't be long before Langly and Frohike are barely able 
to sit upright. We all browse the menu, with Devi and Sari reading 
suggestions to me, as I'm unable to peruse them myself. The selection is 
broad, including such strange delicacies as fugu. I know that sushi chefs 
must be specially certified to handle fugu, as the blowfish's liver is a 
fatal poison, but I have no intention of tempting the fates. Life is 
dangerous enough as it is without adding this particularly Japanese gamble 
to it. 

"Sari," Mel says softly as he scans his menu, "Langly figured out who hit 
your office, your home computer, and the WickedWeb offices." 

"Yeah," Langly jumps in. This is something that I haven't heard yet either. 

"Well, who was it?" I ask. "Anybody we know?" 

"Black Widow." Langly looks tense. 

I shudder a little. That's a hacker with a nasty reputation. Nobody we know 
is certain of his identity, or whether he's even a he. We have the skills to 
handle him, but it'll be a touchy job, and we'll have to be extra careful to 
cover our own tracks when we do it. I don't want to spend the next five 
years trying to rebuilt our equipment from slagged chips and boards. 

Sari's looking at me. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" she says. 

"You should, my dear," Frohike says to her. "Black Widow is really bad news. 
He doesn't care who he hits. Has a bad rep for taking out other hackers, and 
that's just not part of the way. I mean, sure, people do it, but it's not 
kosher. There are dozens of guys gunning for him though, guys whose systems 
he's sent into total meltdown." 

"Yeah, he like totally fried the Thinker's rig once," Langly says. The three 
of us look at one another, silent for a moment in memory of our fallen 
brother. He was one of our closest friends and associates, until his 
execution over the MJ-12 tape a few years back. It was a fate that we 
ourselves had only narrowly avoided. Sari's eyes widen slightly. I told her 
about Kenneth when I told her about Susanne. 

"God rest him," Frohike whispers. 

I'm slightly uneasy about discussing this in front of Devi, but just looking 
at these two together would tell you that they tell each other everything. 
It isn't that Sari's not discreet, simply that their trust in one another is 
so deep that there is no question they will keep each other's secrets to the 
grave. "We should decide what we want soon," I remind everyone. I'm sure our 
server will be back shortly to take our order. All around me, heads nod. The 
meat of the conversation can wait until dinner has arrived. 

FROHIKE: 

We have a hard time making decisions about what we'd like to eat, and in the 
end, we have what seems to be a ridiculous amount of food in front of us. 
It's hard to decide even where to start. I finally take my chopsticks in 
hand and begin with a lovely shrimp. Poor Sari seems to have forgotten that 
her dominant hand is not at her disposal, and when she attempts to grasp a 
shrimp with her chopsticks, she ends up slinging it like a projectile. It 
flies into the air, bounces off Langly's chest and ends up in his lap. 
Langly isn't fussy; he's been known to eat pizza that's been dropped on our 
floor. Sari looks somewhat embarrassed, but the rest of us are laughing with 
her. Now, we're laughing *at* Langly as he pops the errant crustacean into 
his mouth. 

"Bad shrimp! No biscuit!" he says happily as he downs it. 

"I didn't realize I'd be so clumsy with my left hand," Sari groans. "I'm 
going to have to go barbarian on all of you and eat with my fingers, or 
even..." she pauses dramatically, "a fork!" 

"God forbid!" Devi flashes her hand over her mouth in mock horror. The image 
is enough to renew our explosive laughter. 

Byers, ever the gentleman, offers to help Sari out. He takes a shrimp in his 
own chopsticks and feeds it to Sari. Between him and the assistance of her 
sister, she barely has to dirty her fingers through the course of the entire 
meal -- noodles, sushi, sunimono, vegetables, the works. Soup, of course, is 
sipped straight from the bowl in Japan, and she has no difficulty with this 
operation. I shake my head. At one point, she's leaning her head back 
against Devi and demanding that her sister peel her a grape. There are, of 
course, no grapes on a Japanese table, so Devi peels the nori off a bit of 
grilled freshwater eel and feeds that to her instead, to the accompaniment 
of much giggling on their part. Sari and Byers seem so well-suited to one 
another, if only they realized it. Tonight though, the last thing I want is 
to worry about Byers' love life or lack thereof; there's a lot of damn good 
sake here, and I plan to relish every last drop. I'm glad I invited Devi. 
She's a delight, and thoroughly appreciates good sake. I feel as if I've 
known her for years. I suspect a lot of people feel that way about her. 
She's not exactly what I expected in a diplomat's wife, especially an Asian 
diplomat's, but that's to her credit. I tell her this, immediately wanting 
to kick myself, but she simply laughs happily. 

"Devi's parties are infamous," Sari assures us. "People wrestle for 
invitations." 

"Well, no boring 'pass the sweet and sour shrimp,' if that's what you mean," 
she counters. "I hate dull parties." 

"Dear, I can hardly imagine you hosting a dull party," I assure her. There's 
*nothing* dull about this woman. "And I imagine any party you grace is no 
longer any old boring affair." 

Langly's been very quiet tonight. He's shy with strangers, and while I think 
he likes Devi and feels all right, small talk is not his forte. Not to 
mention that in less than 24 hours, his ladylove will be here. That has to 
be at the front of his mind. "Kinda like to take Deb here," he comments. 

"And how are you planning on affording that?" I tease him. 

"Hey, we're working," he reminds me. As if I could forget. This day has been 
such a rush. "And, like, what time do we gotta be in tomorrow?" He's 
starting to slur his words. He hasn't let up on the refills. 

"Eight a.m.," I tell him, wincing at the thought. We're going to be a mess. 
And we have a video conference, too. Right now, I'm not thinking about work 
-- not much -- but I know Langly well enough to realize that his brain is 
still jacked into the SCI machines. 

"You realize nobody knows who Black Widow is. Be cool if we could be the 
ones to nail his ass." Langly is salivating over this prospect nearly as 
much as he is over the fine repast in front of him. "Betcha Pinck's paying 
him big bucks to do this hit. Like, it's one thing to nail one system, like 
the bastard did with Sari. Something else to do a nationwide slam." 

"Might even be global. Pinck has extensive overseas interests," I remind 
him. They are a multinational. 

"They've got a big presence in Sri Lanka," Devi says as she nibbles from a 
bowl of donburi. "They like setting up shop in Third World nations; lax 
environmental regs and a lot of hungry people willing to work for next to 
nothing attracts them. It's scandalous. They're worse than roaches." It's 
the first time I've seen her without a smile. I have a feeling that anything 
that can kill Devi's smile is very bad news. " Pinck's got a plant just 
outside Columbo. They claim anything that goes into the ground water is 
absolutely nontoxic, but I don't believe it. Not that anyone cares about 
birth defects in children in an overpopulated, developing Asian nation." Her 
tone turns bitter. I'm shocked, but I suppose that all Devi's emotions are 
strong ones. I didn't expect her to be inclined in an environmental 
direction, but then again, she is Sari's sister. 

Langly's interest in this overtakes his shyness and he wants to know more. 
Devi's knowledge is limited, but she says she can find out what we might 
need to know. Langly shakes his head. "Tried that. Nothing official 
anywhere." 

She laughs again, that bell-like, melodious laugh that permeates your bones 
and makes you glad you're alive. "Who said anything about finding something 
in print? I know the players." Her broad smile returns. 

"It could be very dangerous," I warn her. 

"Cocktail parties are the most dangerous institution known to man," she 
winks at me. "It's amazing what you can find out from highly placed people 
with a few drinks in them." She giggles at the thought. I'll bet she's 
superb at wangling whatever she wants to know. "And it just so happens, I'm 
hosting one Saturday night." My first thought is, maybe we can bug the 
place, but I'm sure bug sweeps are done regularly in her home; no doubt they 
only want their own bugs in place. Perhaps the best tactic would be to allow 
her to use her obviously well-honed social skills. I'm not sure if what she 
could find out would be useful to our operation, but at this point, I don't 
think anything is irrelevant. Her face darkens again. "I spend half my life 
in Sri Lanka, and the last thing I want is having the environment even more 
damaged than it already is." She takes the sake pitcher from the warm edge 
of the grill and pours for us again. "I think I can help you." 

"Just be very, very careful," her sister warns her. "You've seen what 
they're capable of." 

"What people are capable of isn't especially mysterious to me," she 
responds, and as the wife of a diplomat, I'm sure that's true. "But right 
now, what I'm most capable of is another drink." I'll second that. 

In spite of the seriousness of the problem at hand and the implications it 
carries beyond the immediate, the rest of the evening is an unmitigated 
delight. We linger for hours, enjoying the wonderful dinner, basking in the 
warmth of friends, and enjoying the banter between Sari and Devi. Sari 
claims the three of us are a comedy troupe; we have nothing on the sisters, 
especially now that Devi has more than a fair bit of sake in her. She isn't 
the only one; when I go to stand up, I discover that all my bones have 
melted. Byers and Sari have to help me to my feet. Langly's sloshed and 
requires assistance as well. I offer my arm to Devi, and she gratefully 
accepts as we stagger out behind Byers and Sari, who are still quite sober. 
Langly's wobbly and ends up leaning on Sari for support. I'd wager a twenty 
that he'll pass out cold in the back seat. Sari is the only one both sober 
and sighted enough to drive; she tells the valet to find 'the old black 
beater.' Not exactly a challenge. 

I should have offered the bet about Langly, but I doubt anyone would have 
taken it; no sooner is he stuffed into the back seat than he promptly passes 
out. "Boy's not used to good sake, I see," Sari laughs, and Devi joins her. 
Sari is still one-armed, and the Chrysler is huge, but it does have power 
steering, so she should be fine. Somehow I don't see her being the Speed 
Racer of her family. I suspect that honor belongs to Devi, who graces the 
streets of DC in a red Miata convertible. "Mel, have you considered driving 
something with a little better gas mileage?" 

"I like this car." I do. It's big and comfy and it has bench seats. I think 
that's argument enough right there to keep it. "And I've still got one 
station that sells leaded premium for it." 

"Well, we're probably trying to get the EPA to shut him down," Sari says, 
laughing. "How do you ever get it registered? There's no way it can pass... 
no, don't tell me, I don't want to know." 

"You could at least clean out the old coffee cups," Byers nags me. 

"Listen, it holds three drunks in the back seat very comfortably. What more 
can you ask for?" Really. Look at the practical aspects of it. 

"A forklift to haul Langly out of the back?" Byers says. Langly is snoring 
loudly. I'm not looking forward to dragging him back inside, but it's a 
small price to pay for such a wonderful evening. Right now, I feel on top of 
the world. I'll wait 'til for tomorrow for a reality check. 

End part 8

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