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  • Title: The Ender Series II: Branch to Fishkill
    Author: Max (http://members.nbci.com/themagicbullet)
    Written: April 2001
    Classification: T-Adventure
    Spoilers: Nope
    Archive: Go ahead, just tell me first Feedback: Liked it? Tell me and I'll continue the series, hated it, tell me and stop this madness before its too late!!!
    Disclaimer: Mulder, Frohike, Byers and Langly are property of Chris Carter and his writers, and they're not sharing! Ender is mine though.

    Summary: A five-year-old hiding from the government because of her father's work is placed into the care of the Lone Gunmen.

    Note: Prequel to Halting Ground

    Thanks to my Arch Nemesis, Star Tracer, who again proved that there is no greater beta than your sworn enemy:) Branch to Fishkill n. [IBM: from the location of one of the corporation's facilities] Any unexpected jump in a program that produces catastrophic or just plain weird results.


    Part I

    He pushed the door to his daughter's room open and flipped the light switch illuminating the barrenly decorated, five-year-old's bedroom. They'd only just arrived here and they had to move again, except this time it was different, he couldn't do this to her anymore. He felt an ache in the pit of his stomach even now as Annie shot up in bed, thinking about what he was about to do.

    "Come on kiddo, rise and shine," he called to her trying to conceal the urgency in his voice.

    He wasn't successful.

    "Again Dad?" She placed her feet on the floor as he began rummaging through her things, placing essentials into a knapsack. "Damn" he thought, for a five-year-old she was really perceptive.

    "Yea Annie, I'm sorry, got to go again," he purposefully left out the we in the sentence, hoping her perceptiveness would pick up on the slight error and that that would help ease the pain he was about to cause her. Unfortunately, she'd gotten herself hung up on the name he'd used instead.

    "Stop calling me that." She pouted as she got dressed, she was angry at the fact they were on the move again, and took issue with her name to vent.

    "Sorry," he exaggerated the word and smiled at her, tense, "hadn't realized you'd officially changed it."

    "Its just not safe to use my birth name is all." She slipped into the backpack he offered to her, he picked her up and head toward the door. It was a common drill for them and they had gotten it down to an art.

    "How'd you get to be so paranoid?" He kissed her softly on the forehead and paused, the doorknob in his hand. The second the door opened she'd know, this was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

    He opened the door, but Annie didn't look out, instead she found the truth about the situation in her father's eyes.

    "What's wrong, Dad?"

    He walked out of the house and toward a car parked at the curb. A man of average stature sat at the wheel. Annie noticed the car and her grip tightened around her father's neck.

    "Its really not safe anymore," he lapsed into the excuses, skipping the explanation, as it was clear his daughter already knew what was going on. God, she's too damn smart, he thought.

    "Its only for a little while sweetie, you'll be with some very good friends of mine, they'll be able to protect you."

    "You've protected me just fine."

    He hated to hear that tremble in his daughter's voice. She cried a lot for a five-year-old, but never about the things five-year-olds should have to worry about. His heart felt like it was trying to rip through his ribcage.

    "I know you understand that as long as you're with me you're in danger" His daughter hung her head, she knew all to well.

    He lifted her chin until her tear-filled eyes met his, which were seriously threatening to fill with their own tears, no he had to stay calm for her sake, make this as clean a break as possible.

    He lowered her into the passenger seat and paused as her grip slowly loosened from his neck, then buckled the seat belt across her and kissed her again on the forehead.

    He stood up and shook his head, any other five-year-old would be in a full out hysterical fit right now, she was old for her age and he hated himself for it. He closed the door and held onto the handle as a man he was trusting with something more valuable than his own life to him started the engine to take his only daughter, his only family to men he'd only talked to through e-mails.

    "I'll see you soon An..." he's daughters green eyes looked up through the car window at him, he knew it was the last time he'd ever see them, but she didn't need to know that, "Ender."


    The car rolled on for what seemed like forever, in five-year-old time, forever plus ten to twelve yrs. But Ender sat quietly in the car; she was quite the expert at sitting quietly. The green-lit numbers on the dashboard signaled it was nearly 4:30, they had been driving for almost nine hours. Around hour five it became apparent to Ender that when they weren't doubling back and covering roads they'd already been down they were taking obscure side roads.

    Her companion had made a few attempts to spark conversation, but Ender had shot him down with the occasional monosyllabic response, or, more frequently silence. However after nine hours she turned from the window and looked to him,

    "Where might we be going?"

    He smiled, "We might be going to drop you off at the address your father specified."

    "And where might that be?"

    He chuckled, but resisted the urge to continue the trend in the conversation, leaving the it might be out of his answer, "Maryland."

    "Are you going to be staying there?"

    "Nope, I've got to get back to my job. Just doing your father a favor and dropping you off with some friends."

    "You've met these people?"

    "Once, yes, in Baltimore..." his voice trailed off.

    "And?"

    "And," he sighed, "They are an odd bunch, but you might just fit in perfectly"

    Ender matched his sigh and resigned to staring out the window again.

    <


    "Last stop." He smiled as he slowed the car to a stop outside an alley in a lost section of Maryland. It was now 7:30pm. The ride should have taken them four hours tops, but he wanted to eliminate all possibility that they were being tailed. He walked around to the passenger side and opened the door for his traveling companion. She got out and he began guiding her down the alley. When she saw the direction they were taking so stopped short.

    He laughed. "You think I'm going to drive you around for more than a dozen hours just to kill you in an alley in Maryland?"

    Ender glared at him and continued on, already not to fond of her surroundings. The feeling lost its definiteness and was replaced with one of rather resounding confusion when they reached the door of what, as far as Ender had gathered, was to be her new home for some length of time. A wooden plaque, about two feet above her head read "The Lone Gunmen: Publishers of the Magic Bullet Newsletter".

    The man knocked three times on the thick metal door, the mechanical whirl of the camera made Ender jump back, she looked into the lens quickly shot her face to the floor, concealing what was for a second a rather relieved expression, a combination of the fact that she was comforted by the heavy security of her new home and the fact that the home was, so far, completely free of killer robots.

    The door swung open and Ender found her self as close to face to face that she'd been with an adult in her life, though he did have a good two feet on her.

    "Byers!" the little man called back, a grin on his face. "Girl Scout cookies!"

    Not more than a few seconds later a bearded man stood in the door, looking for a moment at her and then turning his attention to her escort.

    "Would you like to come in?"

    "No," he quickly declined. "I got to get going, it's an hour back to Baltimore and I have to be at work tomorrow morning." He nodded at Ender, gesturing for her to go inside.

    "Well I suppose you have to come in, eh?" The bearded man smiled at her and stepped aside for her to enter, simultaneously extending his hand to her driver "It was nice seeing you again detective, thank you."

    "Think nothing of it," he replied shaking the offered hand, "I owed her father a favor".

    He turned down the alley and the door was shut. Ender stood in the same spot her feet planted where they were and quickly took in her surroundings. A hacker pad... she couldn't believe her father had sent her to a hacker pad.

    "You must be Ender" the bearded man now offered her his hand, "I'm John."

    Ender shook his hand very tentatively and dropped her hand to her side immediately afterward.

    "This," he gestured to the short man who'd opened the door, "is Melvin."

    The small man smiled, offered a jovial "Hello" and waved a hand encased in a fingerless glove.

    Ender looked up at him and almost whispered "hi" as Byers led her into the main room.

    "Richard." Melvin struggled to suppress a snicker at the use of his companion's first name, "also lives here, but he is sleeping at the moment."

    Ender leaned on the back of a sofa staring at the slew of humming machines, no longer so sure about the killer robots.

    "You've been driving for awhile, huh?"

    She nodded.

    "Are you hungry?" Ender's shaking head answered Byers' second question.

    "Thirsty?" Before Ender could finish shrugging Frohike had disappeared into the kitchen and quickly returned, juice box in hand.

    Ender thanked him, and took a seat in a nearby chair. Her feet swung for a moment, she quickly stopped them, but continued to scan the room, engrossed in the sea of wires and electronics.

    "I suppose your wondering what we do here?" Byers took up his own chair near Ender and Frohike sat himself into a swiveling desk chair in front of a computer and began to respond to a recent message.

    "You're hacker..." Ender definitely regretted making that comment, immediately biting her tongue before she could apply the plural.

    Frohike chuckled from his seat at the computer chair, Byers' smiled, "Well, not exactly, we publish a newspaper," he began.

    "Most of are articles and sources, that's where the hacking comes in." Frohike laughed.

    Byers ignored Frohike's comment and continued, "We publish a newspaper with... different articles, stuff that other people are afraid to publicize."

    "I'll show you an issue tomorrow," Frohike piped in. Byers shot a glare at the back of his head.

    "Great, conspiracy theorist hackers, brilliant." Ender thought but continued to listen intently to Byers.

    He had apparently run that topic dry, or at least had for the evening, and stood up "I'll give you the grand tour."

    Ender followed him around the apartment nervously chewing on the juice box straw, until they had arrived back in the main room, their entrance, cutting Frohike's barely audible stream of profanity short, he grinned at Byers, "Technical problems."

    Ender tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

    "Tired, huh?"


    Byers stood in the doorway and looked in at the five-year-old, standing in the middle of his room fidgeting uneasily, who desperately wanted to be told what to do now.

    He opened his mouth to say something, paused and then continued,

    "Did you bring something to sleep in?"

    She nodded enthusiastically, walked over to her bag that was resting on the bed, and pulled out some pajamas. She was still eerily silent; she'd spoken very little since she'd arrived. Byers stepped outside as she dressed and waited exactly 5 minutes before he stood in the doorframe again.

    Ender sat on the bed pulling on her second sock. She stood up and faced him, again apparently awaiting further instruction. Byers stepped into the room and immediately grinned widely. Ender had put her t-shirt on backwards.

    "Pretty good." He smiled. "But you might want to straighten out your shirt."

    Ender looked down at the wayward clothing and a look of frustration shot across her face. Byers picked up on it immediately and stepped right up to Ender.

    "Here I'll show you a trick." He picked up the sleeves of Ender's shirt. "Pull your arms into your shirt."

    Ender paused for a minute, and then obeyed. When her arms had cleared the sleeves Byers twisted the shirt around until the front faced the proper way.

    "Stick your arms back through" Ender's arms appeared almost instantly. "Ta da!" Byers exclaimed.

    A smile fell on Ender's lips, the first since she'd come here, the first Byers had seen.

    The moment slowly faded into another awkward one.

    Byers looked down at Ender again, she'd begun rub her right arm nervously. "Screw this," he thought to himself, rather surprised, he rarely concluded to "screw" anything. But if this five-year-old was going to be staying with them for any length of time it was best for him to get past this awkwardness as quickly as possible, Ender really needed someone to trust right now.

    He bent over and picked Ender up to his hip without further hesitation. He imagined she was rather surprised, but didn't bother to look at her face, he kept calm expression on his, as though there was nothing out of the ordinary going on as he pulled back the covers on his bed. He didn't think he'd mind too much sleeping on the couch for a few... he paused wondering again how long they'd be responsible for this child.

    He lowered Ender onto the king sized bed, directly in the middle, afraid she'd fall off already, and pulled the covers over her.

    "Good night Ender." He walked to the light switch and flipped it off.

    "Good night Byers" the little voice was almost muffled completely out by the closing door. Byers stopped a few seconds short of closing the door completely and left it open a hair, allowing a small section of light from the hallway to flood into the room.

    When he was out in the hallway he paused and thought, he'd introduced himself as John, she'd called him Byers. Must have heard Frohike.


    Frohike had watched his companion lead the little girl down the hall. A few minutes later he stepped out of his room, wandered the hallway for five more minutes and re-entered.

    Frohike returned to his work. He still found the idea of their new roommate preposterous, though less so than he had this morning. They never agreed to house people "on the run". Langly had often begged them to let his hacker buddies spend a night when their places got "too hot" but he had been shot down with astounding speed. When Byers came to them this morning and explained he'd gotten an e-mail and agreed to look after a little girl whose father was eluding the government he had taken both Langly and Frohike by surprise.

    But he did rationalize his decision, arguing that the girl herself wasn't being looked for just her father. This had been enough to make them agree, Byers rarely made requests of them and they hadn't the heart to turn him down.

    However, Frohike was still mildly interested in what exactly motivated Byers to agree to take her in. A little creative computer work on Byers' desktop when he'd gone out this morning explained everything.

    Byers and Ender's father had been corresponding through e-mail for several months now. Apparently the man, who referred to himself as Jack, worked as a research scientist for some big hospital in New York. He was attempting to develop a stealth viral vector that could be used in gene therapy. When his research began looking up he began hearing rumors about the true motive of his project. The people that hired him to create this vector, which could enter into the human system undetected and alter DNA, didn't have gene therapy in mind. They had hoped to create the perfect biological weapon. Of course Jack refused to take part and openly objected to the project. When he threatened to go public, they killed his wife. Jack and his daughter went into hiding and have been moving around ever since.

    Reading the e-mails, Frohike couldn't help but feel that this all sounded eerily familiar. It was almost the exact same situation Suzanne had been in. It became completely clear why Byers hadn't hesitated to take Ender in; they were already in the same boat.


    Ender lay quietly in bed. She had welcomed going to bed more happily than most evenings, as she saw it as an opportunity to clear her thoughts. Right now though, she couldn't shake the thought that she was going to get lost forever in this rather big bed.

    She had so many questions that begged answering, not one of them though, she was certain, the men outside could answer for her. She wanted desperately to know where her father had taken shelter...

    Ender forced an end to that train of thought, as it already had begun to make her feel more upset than she already was. Instead she focused her mind on her new surroundings. It was without a doubt the most bizarre place she'd stayed in to date. Her father had always been rather down on hackers, and their culture; she was still in awe of the fact that he had sent her here.

    However, Ender also recognized an opportunity to learn. The men outside definitely had some impressive skills; it couldn't hurt to pick up some tricks while she was staying here, if only for defensive purposes, of course.

    She rolled over onto her side and curled into a ball. After a few minutes the events of the day caught up with her and she slept, though not so soundly.


    Ender woke up to the otherwise unnoticeable tapping of fingers on a keyboard. She jumped up out of her bed; it took her a few seconds to get oriented. The digital clock on Byers' nightstand read 3:45 am. Ender was going to have to acclimate herself to the constant humming of machinery and tapping of keyboards, if she ever hoped to get any sleep.

    Though for the moment she was quite awake, and tiptoed across the hall into the bathroom, getting a fleeting glance at the source of the disturbance. A lanky blonde man sat at a computer completely engrossed in what he was doing. Ender waited in the bathroom for a few seconds, wondering if anyone had noticed that she had gotten out of bed. When she didn't hear any footsteps, she peered her head around the corner and looked at the gentleman at the computer once more. He was completely oblivious to anything that was not contained in the 17 square inch cube in front of him. It only took a few more seconds for curiosity to get the better of Ender.

    She tiptoed down the hall, concluding to herself that this must be Richard... she paused, everyone here apparently called each other by their last names, even though they had introduced themselves by their first. It made her feel odd to be calling these people anything other than what they called each other. Though she had no idea what this man's last name was, she could tell by the short man...Frohike's, snicker that he would be none to pleased at being addressed as Richard.

    Ender walked up behind the man, and much to her surprise, he still hadn't acknowledged her. She'd thought they'd be way more paranoid, in fact she half expected this man to jump up when she started walking down the hall, but he was really involved in whatever he was doing.

    What was he doing? Ender stood behind him for almost ten minutes, quietly and motionlessly soaking in all of the events on the screen. She had a little experience with computers, but had no idea what was going on in this one. The screen up right now had some corporate logo on it, right below that the words "Log in" stood to the right of "Client name" and "Password". The client name was already filled in, however the "password" box was behaving quite peculiarly. Little stars would flash through it, and the little button below it would flash every time the box filled with stars. Then the whole screen would flash for a second and the little box would be empty again, not only was it bizarre but she could see no object to it.

    "We can hack into the Sesame Street system next, I have quite a few suspicions about Burt, no one who is that fond of pigeons could not be evil."

    Ender jumped nearly a foot backward. He hadn't even turned around; he knew she was there the whole time.

    "You," he swiveled around to face her and smiled "must be Ender. I'm Langly."

    Ah, a last name, a fitting one at that. Ender nodded but didn't pull her eyes from the screen for more than a moment, the stars continued their little dance, vanishing and reappearing in different numbers. She took a deep breath,

    "What..."she'd hoped that would be enough to get an explanation out of Langly, but he just sat patiently awaiting the rest of her question.

    "What are you doing?"

    "At the moment, I am both hacking into this companies system and testing a new password dictionary I programmed."

    Ender fidgeted for a moment, it wasn't the explanation she'd wanted and she got the feeling that Langly had known that, he was trying to get her to actually ask. Another deep breath...

    "Why, and how?"

    Langly grinned, "For that, I think, you might want to pull up a chair."

    Ender dragged a nearby folding chair next to Langly's and sat listening intently to every word he said, slowly asking more questions and making more comments.

    And that, is how, Ender received her first lesson on computer hacking. At four thirty they quieted their voices to hushed whispers, not wanting to wake Byers in the next room. At five thirty Ender was yawning nearly every two minutes.

    Langly, noticing Ender's sleepiness, wound things down and swiveled his chair to face hers.

    "I think you should get back to bed know, I'm going to get into a lot of trouble if Byers wakes up and sees me keeping you up to teach you this stuff" He smiled at her again, and this time Ender returned his smile.

    "Thanks Langly" she hopped off the chair and trotted back down the hall into bed.

    Langly watched the little girl disappear into Byers' room, he didn't know what was less believable, the fact that he had just spent an hour and a half showing a five-year-old how to hack, or the fact that she had understood him.


    Part II

    The next few days passed slowly for Ender, but rather rapidly for Frohike, Langly and Byers, who had their hands full trying to keep Ender occupied and her mind away from thoughts of her father. Langly had weaseled Byers into letting him continue Ender's "computer" lessons, so they didn't need to hold late night class (though Ender did frequently get up to watch Langly's early morning exploits).

    On the fifth day Byers stopped receiving correspondence from Ender's father. At 10:30pm on the eighth day of Ender's stay, an e- mail arrived telling them that Jack had failed to arrive at his safe house.

    Byers rested his head in his hands as Langly and Frohike read the e-mail.

    Frohike sat down, "Gee Byers, I don't think I'm ready for children, I wish we'd talked first" he smiled at his companion, who sighed and deleted the e-mail. Ender's father had been picked up.

    Byers began punching keys "I'll see what I can do about Ender, find someone with a family..."his voice trailed off.

    Langly looked around him to Frohike; the two exchanged a look that confirmed they were thinking the same thing.

    "I...uh... you know your never going to find a place where she'll be safe, enough."

    "Yea..."Frohike continued, "She needs to be with some really paranoid people" "Really, really paranoid people" Langly picked up.

    "Gentlemen, I don't think I understand, are you implying the Ender should."

    Frohike cut Byers off and continued with a gleam in his eye "People who are well known in certain circles. Circles that would not let THEM get away with anything."

    Byers glanced from Frohike to Langly in amazement. "Are you... I mean.... we...."

    He cleared his throat and started again. "Do you realize what we would be taking on?"

    "Ender's a really good kid, she hasn't been any trouble so far" Langly reasoned.

    "She's only been here a week" Byers pointed out.

    "Yea, right, I'm with Byers on this one" Frohike piped in sarcastically "Ender looks like she could be a real terror."

    Byers opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, looking remarkably like a fish, sending Frohike and Langly into peals of hushed laughter, mindful of the sleeping five-year-old on the other side of the wall.

    Finally Frohike came flat out and said it, "I want her to stay."

    Langly nodded "Me, too."

    "Then it unanimous" Byers smiled and nodded "she stays."

    Frohike grinned and pat Byers on the back "I feel like I should be passing out cigars or something."

    The three broke up and spread out around the room attending to their own business.

    "We ought to clean out the old printing room next to Byers' so she can have her own room."

    "Good idea" Frohike agreed with Langly. "Do we tell her about her father?"

    Byers thought for a moment, "I will... tomorrow."


    Ender was up the next morning and sitting at the battered kitchen table eating the last of the Count Chocula as Langly looked on grumbling and nursing a cup of coffee.

    Byers walked in, straightening his tie and Langly launched into his whining. "She ate all the cereal!"

    Byers shook his head and started for a cabinet. "There's plenty of cereal." to prove his point, he pulled out a nearly untouched box of Grape Nuts.

    Langly crossed his arms over his chest. "GOOD cereal."

    Ender chuckled and stuck her tongue out at Langly playfully.

    Byers placed the Grape Nuts on the counter and reached for a bowl, shooting Langly a meaningful look over Ender's head. "Ender, why don't you finish your cereal and maybe we can go clothes shopping later."

    Ender scrunched her nose up and shrugged. She finished the last of her cereal and walked wordlessly into the other room, sitting in the seat she had dragged in front of one of the surveillance monitors two days ago. She spent most of her mornings watching the people who walked down the block hopefully.

    Byers watched her, worriedly; sitting at the table with his bowl and a spoon. She pulled her knees up to her chest and continued staring intently at the monitor.

    "We have to tell her sometime," Langly said, sotto voce, following Byers' gaze to Ender's hunched over form.

    Byers nodded, "I will". He sighed, set his spoon down and walked over to her.

    "Hey Ennie" They all had taken to shortening her name affectionately at times, he placed a hand on her little shoulder, suddenly aware of how painfully small she was, even for a five year old. She looked up at him and smiled toothlessly.

    He picked her up out of the chair and sat down with her in his lap. They both watched the screen for a few seconds.

    "Geez" Byers smiled at Ender "I can't believe they haven't canceled this show yet, it never goes anywhere."

    Ender looked at him solemnly. "It's not the TV. It's the ants screen."

    Byers wrinkled his brow, "Ants?"

    Ender nodded, seriously. "The surveil ants screen."

    Byers barely restrained himself from laughing. "Who are you looking for, Ender?" he asked, even though he knew full well what her response would be.

    She shrugged and hesitated before turning her head up to look Byers in the face "My daddy" she said softly

    Byers frowned. "How much do you know about what your daddy did?"

    "A lot, he used to take me to work, his friends were the ones who first started calling me Ender."

    "So I don't have to tell you about the reasons why you and your father had to hide?"

    Ender shook her head and plugged a thumb in her mouth.

    Byers found himself unconsciously stroking Ender's hair as he looked into those sad, old-before-her-time green eyes.

    "And you understand that the men that your hiding from don't necessarily want to hurt your Daddy...they just want him to finish what he was working on."

    Ender nodded and removed her thumb long enough to add, "but they want to use his research for bad things."

    Byers nodded, "Yea that's right."

    Ender returned to the screen, Byers inhaled deeply, "Ender" his voice was soft and serious, Ender turned to him, thumb in her mouth and an urgent questioning look in her eyes. She could read people very well, and already knew what was coming wasn't good.

    Ender's stare returned to the screen and she sat up straight, no longer leaning back onto Byers' chest.

    "Ender, I don't know how to say this...." Byers' voice trailed off.

    "No." her voice was barely audible. "No."

    Byers ran a hand through her hair, "Ender, we stopped getting e- mail from your daddy a few days ago..."

    "NO!" Ender screamed and struggled within Byers' grasp. "Don't say it! If you don't say it, it won't be true!!"

    Langly looked up from the kitchen and winced; it was the first audible part of their conversation.

    "Ender..." Byers' held her close to him, trying to calm her. "Even if I don't say it, it will still have happened."

    "NO!" Ender pushed herself away from him and shot across the room, into the one she had been sleeping in, locking the door after her. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"

    "Ender..." Byers got up, with a sigh, and followed her to the door. Langly met him there. "Well," he said, turning to Byers. "That went as well as could be expected."

    Byers knocked softly on the door. "Ender?"

    "Leave me alone." Enders voice was distorted by her crying and the fact that her face was no doubt partially buried in a pillow.

    Byers leaned against the door. "Ender, we're not going to do that."

    "LEAVE ME ALONE!!" this time it was clear she'd lifted her head.

    "Ender," that was Langly. "It's not as bad as you think."

    "What would you know?" she snipped bitterly "go away, now, ok?"

    "Ender, he's not...." Byers paused, glancing at Langly quickly. "Ender, let us in. I don't want to hold this conversation through a door."

    Ender responded with barely audible sobs.

    Langly stood on tiptoes and pulled the skeleton key out from on top of the doorway. Byers paused and then nodded. "We're coming in, Ender."

    Ender didn't respond again and they opened the door to find her lying face down on Byers' bed clutching a pillow.

    "Ender..."Byers placed a palm on Ender's back, she jerked away violently.

    "Don't touch me."

    Byers shot a needy look at Langly, wondering if they should have told Ender about her father at all.

    Langly knelt by the other side of the bed, laying his head next to hers. "Ender, it's not what you think."

    "How do you know what I think?!"

    "Ah... that is simple" He smiled, "I can read your mind" He poked Ender playfully in the side, "Right now your thinking, 'why is he poking me in the side and why won't they go away?' correct?"

    Ender burrowed her head further into the pillow. "No," she said in a tone that implied he was correct.

    "Damn" Langly grinned, "I'm almost always right" he poked her again in the side "How about know, you wishing I would stop now?"

    "No." there was a slight giggle in Ender's voice and she rolled on her side, trapping his hand underneath her.

    "Ack!!" Langly cried dramatically and pulled at his hand "My hand, quick move or you'll cut off circulation and then we'll have to amputate!!!"

    Ender stifled a giggle. "Wait a minute here!" Byers exclaimed, "I heard that, we'll have none of that pointless giggling in here!"

    Langly wiggled his fingers underneath Ender. "My hand.... Byers.... help..." he moaned theatrically and clutched at his chest.

    The laughter Ender had been restraining came out in a burst as she tried futilely to pull away from Langly's hand. Langly had grabbed her other shoulder and was preventing her from moving.

    "Ah, my life is flashing before my eyes! Ender you'll have to go on without me!" Langly continued to tickle Ender with the hand that was "trapped" under her.

    "The insolence!!" Byers cried in his own dramatic voice "I can't believe you!! Giggling like that right after I warned you about it!"

    Ender managed to escape Langly's grip and roll away but Langly began to poke Ender's side again with his newly freed hand, fueling several new waves of giggles.

    "Langly stop it at once, your encouraging her!!" Byers smiled and tried not to laugh himself.

    Ender had gone into a full out fit of laughter from the combined forces of Langly's poking and Byers' frumpish act.

    "Ack! Great Langly! Now she's gone into a fit, see, I told you this would come to no good!" He picked the giggling five-year-old off the bed "There's only one cure for this...THE UPSIDE-DOWN TREATMENT!!" Byers spun Ender around so that her head was towards the floor, which only caused her to giggle more.

    "No, no, your doing it all wrong, your both supposed to be holding your breath and crossing your eyes" Langly barked instructions from the other side of the bed.

    Byers obeyed, which only sent Ender into more peals of laughter. "That will never work, clearly this child is possessed" The front door opened. "Oh good Frohike's home, maybe he will be able to offer some advice." Byers proceeded toward the main room, Ender still swinging upside down in his grasp, giggling hysterically.

    "Frohike, good sir, it appears this child has been possessed by a giggle demon, what course of action do you suggest?"

    Frohike laughed and bent over to look Ender in the eye, he grabbed her under the arms and lifted her away from Byers, setting her down on the top of a footstool so that she was eye to eye with him, "Quacks," he turned toward his companions, "Everyone knows the best cure for the giggles is the right-side up treatment, see its working already" Ender sighed and wiped tears of laughter from her eyes.

    "Thank goodness!" Byers walked over to Ender and picked her up, "She's well again!"

    Ender wrapped her arms around Byers' neck and rested her head on his shoulder; she sniffled, "What happens now?"

    "At this moment, we are going to see what Frohike has with him and what he's been up to all morning."

    "What about the moments after that one?" she lifted her head.

    Byers pushed a strand of hair behind Ender's ear, "Let's take one moment at a time."

    "Am I staying..."her voice trailed off, a frown marred Ender's small face and Byers tickled her lightly under the chin.

    "Smile.... or we'll have to perform an emergency upside-down intervention."

    "Either that or I can try my mind reading again" Langly added.

    Ender giggled then gave Byers a large toothy smile.

    "Much better, and yes you will be staying right here, unless of course you have an appointment to make or something." Ender shook her head and rested it back on Byers' shoulder.

    Byers smiled and patted her on the back. "Let's go see what Frohike has been up to."

    "I...uh... picked Ender up a few things, just to last her until she can go out and get more stuff."

    "Thanks 'hikey, " Ender smiled, "I was getting tired a wearing my pajamas while Byers washed my other clothes."

    "What'd you get me?"

    Frohike stared at Byers. And handed over the bag "Don't ever let me do that again."

    Byers winced inwardly and accepted the bag, wondering if they made furry vests and fingerless gloves in children's sizes. He caught a glance at Langly, who was eagerly anticipating a disaster.

    He sat on the back of the couch and rested Ender on his knee as Frohike began to relate his horror story about his morning at the department store.

    "First off, I look even odder than normal wandering confused through the children's section at the department store, I think someone might have called security cause about two minutes after I get in there this lady comes over and starts asking if she could help me."

    "So I give her this story about how my niece is staying with me and how her bag got lost in the airport and she starts dragging me through the store, holding up things and ranting, I swear I didn't know what to do, I just grabbed some of the stuff she was shoving at me and ran to pay."

    Byers opened the bag and looked in at the primarily pink contents therein.

    "So there's this punk ass kid maybe 12 years old working the register, giving me this look, So I tell him, its for my niece buddy, and he rolls his eyes. I swear everyone in the whole place was staring at me like I was buying the stuff for myself."

    "Well..." Byers couldn't help himself "It is quite a bit too big for Ender..."

    Ender nearly fell off Byers' knee laughing.

    "PINK?" she gasped.

    "Yeah pink," Frohike said, defensively. "Girls wear pink."

    "But your not a girl 'hikey!" Ender forced the words between laughter

    "Hmm, " Frohike took a few steps toward Ender, "Maybe you guys were right about the upside-down treatment, my cure appears only to be temporary."

    "No!" Ender was now shaking with laughter.

    Frohike smiled and leaned back into a wall, "Hey I tried."

    Byers recovered from his laughter, "Its ok Frohike, Ender and I were going to get some stuff for her anyway, besides the two of us will look more...in place."

    Langly grinned from the corner "Better watch out Ender, he might make a mini nark out of you."

    Ender giggled again, "Better than a crazy ballerina."

    "Yep," Frohike advanced toward Ender "definitely going to have to try that upside-down thing again."

    Ender threw her arms around Byers' neck and held on for dear life. Frohike messed her hair and continued past her, "You may have won the battle midget, but I'll win the war."


    Part III

    Byers and Ender agreed to postpone their trip until the following day. Around 10 o'clock they had piled into the old VW bus and were en route to the department store

    Byers reached for the radio, switching on an all kids pop station and inwardly wincing at the all-too-cheery singers.

    Ender grimaced at the music and looked up at him, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "This is the stuff you listen to?" she switched off the radio and looked up at Byers, "everyone on this radio station sounds like they ate too much paste."

    Byers laughed, at the next light he turned his head to look at Ender. They had done a good job of cheering her up, but he could tell that she was far from recovering from the blow she'd received earlier, there was still plenty of hurt in her eyes. He hadn't planned to tell Ender what he was about to tell her, he usually didn't like to talk about it at all, but sitting in the car with her now, he realized that it would help her cope, heck it may even help him deal with things a little better.

    He went straight into his story, "Last year when Langly, Frohike and I first met we also met this woman, in fact she was the reason we became friends and started to work together." He paused and turned to Ender, who was now listening intently to him.

    "She was...is a scientist and is... very pretty," Byers paused and noted Ender's soft giggle with his own smile. "But she was also in a lot of trouble and I wanted to help her."

    "Always there to help the damsel in distress?" Byers still had to take a few minutes to recover each time he heard Ender's voice, still marred with a soft palette lisp, say something uncharacteristically adult.

    "You could say that," Byers smiled, finding it hard to believe he was having this conversation with a five-year-old.

    "Anyway, she was doing work that she thought would help people but then found out that the people in charge wanted to use her science to hurt people, innocent people."

    Ender froze at this sentence and looked at Byers seriously, he could almost hear her think "like my daddy."

    "Like your daddy." Byers continued. "And, like your daddy, the men she was running from..." he paused, trying to figure out how to word what he had to say to her. Ender took a deep breath and Byers cringed, waiting for the onslaught of screaming, but she only let out a trembling sigh that tore at his heart. "They caught up with her."

    "Where is she now?"

    Byers shrugged sullenly "I'm not sure."

    "I don't understand, why are you telling me this?

    "The point is I... we... lost someone that we loved the same way that your daddy was taken from you, but I know that those people won't hurt Suzanne because she's too smart and they need her to help them" Ender started to protest but he interrupted "I know, its awful and I know that neither Suzanne or your daddy want to hurt people and that we'd both much rather have them here, and believe me we're going to do everything possible to find your daddy, but for now... just for the time being, you and I both have to remember that wherever they are, they're not being hurt and that someday we'll get to see them again."

    Ender's chin trembled slightly. "How can you be sure?"

    Byers took a deep breath. "We just know."

    He placed a gentle hand on her arm. "It'll be okay, Ender, you'll just have to trust us on this one."

    She swallowed and nodded, "I've gotta trust you guys a lot now, I think that one more thing isn't too bad."

    Byers gave her arm a little squeeze before placing his hand back on the steering wheel and turning into the parking lot. "Well we're here." Before Ender could unbuckle her seat belt Byers was on her side of the van with the door open. She hopped down and Byers immediately took her hand. As he led her through the parking lot she wondered if he had any baby brothers or sisters, cause he sure seemed to know all of "the rules" pretty well.

    "So you're my...."

    Byers intervened. "Uncle. I'm your uncle."

    Ender smiled up at him "Uncle Byers?"

    Byers grinned. "Uncle John."

    "Got it." She nodded firmly, "Uncle John... but who am I?" the practice of confirming titles was not foreign to Ender at all, it was a game her and her father played all the time.

    Byers paused... "Cassidy," he said grinning

    She stuck her tongue out and furrowed her brow. "Cassidy, Ick! You'll have to do better than that."

    "Its too late Cassie, we're at the door already" Ender giggled as they entered the building.

    The returns were no problem, they cashier didn't even bother to ask why when he saw what was in the bag. A few battles arose over purchases but in the end they made out pretty well, with more than enough clothing to last Ender and a new pair of sneakers.

    Byers took Ender's hand upon exiting the store and the two head toward the van. "Phew," Ender faked a sigh "S'good not to have to pretend to have such a ridiculous name, next time I pick 'em 'Uncle John'."

    Byers walked over to the passenger side and opened the door.

    "Excuse me!!" a shout came from behind them and they turned to see a man coming towards them from the store. "Sir! You left your wallet in the store!"

    Byers automatically released Ender's hand and felt for his wallet as her little voice reached his ears. "That wasn't the cashier...."

    Byers' hand connected with his wallet and he whipped around in time to see the black car screech to a halt less than a yard away from Ender. He pulled Ender out of the range of the arm that had lurched out of the recently arrived car's open door and threw her into the open van, following her in through the passenger side.

    Ender locked the door on her side as Byers started the engine. He shifted into reverse and backed out quickly nearly hitting the "clerk" from the department store.

    They had pulled onto the highway and Byers had checked the rearview mirror several dozen times before he let what just happened seep in. That had been... scary. He flashed on Suzanne being pulled into the same kind of car not more that two-dozen months ago and shook for a moment.

    "Eh, they get points for the wallet thing, but their pick up attempt was sloppy, I've seen much better."

    Ender's calm voice pulled Byers out of his flashback, he'd been expecting her to be a wreck and anticipated another evening of trying to calm her down enough for her to finally go to sleep, "That... that's happened to you before?"

    "Yea, when I was with my dad, they figured that if they grabbed me first he'd be disoriented and an easy pick up. This one time these guys actually got a hold o' me and almost had me in the trunk..."she stopped, and the enthusiasm drained from her face, "but I wasn't with him..."

    "Byers... Byers, I wasn't with my daddy, why... why'd they still try and get me?!"

    "I'm not sure Ender, we'll figure it out, don't worry you're safe now, ok?"

    Ender hadn't heard a word of what Byers just said, "This is bad, this is very bad" She flipped around to glance out the back window before she pulled her knees up to her chest and began rocking back and forth.

    "Calm down Ennie.... it's not... you'll be okay... we'll be home soon. Put your seatbelt on."

    She buckled the belt across herself, rested her head in her hands, and began drumming her fingers nervously on her forehead.

    Byers abandoned proper driving safety and removed one hand from the wheel to rest it on Ender's back. Ender jerked away and pressed her forehead to her raised knees. They arrived home in record time, and Byers jumped out of the car and ran around front to the passenger side, where Ender hadn't moved an inch. He unbuckled her seat belt, lifted her out of the car and carried her hurriedly inside.

    Once inside Frohike caught one glimpse of the pair and his heart sank into his stomach, "Uh oh...what happened?" He rushed over to them and placed his hand on Enders back, she didn't jerk away because there was no place to move to with her face buried into Byers' shoulder as it was.

    "Remember our discussion the day Ender arrived?" Byers began, attempting to be cryptic, "About potential threats to person or persons?" he nodded his head toward Enders form twice.

    "Oh, no." Frohike breathed. Byers nodded, grimly. "Is she okay?"

    He closed his eyes and nodded his head, hoping to express, either 'I hope so' or 'she will be' to his companion wordlessly.

    "Oh, Ender..." Frohike rubbed her back gently, then stepped aside to allow Byers to carry her to her room, which had been arranged rather quickly over the past day and a half.

    Langly strode into the room in time to see Byers and Ender disappear into the bedroom. "Hey, how'd the clothes run go?" was out of his mouth even as he processed the look on Ender's face. He turned to Frohike. "Is she...?"

    Frohike nodded, "I think so, from what I gathered there was a run in at the store of some sort, haven't heard the full story myself."

    Frohike and Langly entered to find Byers pacing the length of the room with Ender in his arms, patting her back and doing his best to assure her the "Everything's going to be fine".

    Byers passed Ender over to a Langly who accepted her, confused. Frohike followed Byers out of the room.

    "Close the door" Frohike shut the door gently.

    "She is five years old!!" Byers yelled as soon as the door clicked closed. "What the hell could those bastards want with a five year old?!"

    Byers' state of shock had receded and he entered into a tirade that was a combination of outrage over what just happened and preexisting unexpressed hatred for the people who tried to grab Ender, already having convinced himself they were the same guys who had dragged Suzanne away from him.

    Frohike made calming motions with his hands. "Shh... You know these walls are paper thin."

    "I cannot believe this" His hushed voice was still packed with anger, "I..." He balled his fist and shot his eyes around the room. Frohike immediately sensed he was looking for something to hit, and after a momentary internal battle over whether to duck or try to calm him down took a few steps toward Byers.

    "Byers, calm down... what happened?"

    "They tried for her, damn it!" he whispered fiercely.

    "What?!" Frohike's own voice rose noticeably.

    "We're in the parking lot and some kid calls after me, saying I lost my wallet. I drop her hand and turn around for 3 seconds and a 'government taxi' pulls up behind her, guy inside came within inches of grabbing her."

    "Ah, jeez..." Frohike's voice trailed off. "Is she okay?"

    "She didn't seem phased at all, until she realized that they were after her, not her father."

    Frohike folded his arms across his chest. "What do we do now?"

    Byers paused a moment, then his eyes got wide, "We write an article."

    "What? Have you gone mad?"

    "Hear me out, if we put out the word about Ender and her father and let it be known that we care for this little girl they won't take her, cause then they risk an all out war."

    Frohike smiled, slowly and patted Byers' arm. "Now I know why they call you the brains of this operation."

    Langly's nervous voice rose out of Ender's room, "Hey guys, you plan on coming back in here any time soon?"

    Frohike followed Byers to the door to see a sleepy Ender, thumb plugged firmly in mouth, clutching to Langly's shoulder. "She wants a lullaby," he whispered, horrified.

    Frohike and Byers waited a full second before cracking up hysterically.

    "Trust me on this one too, Ender" Byers explained as Langly transferred Ender over to him, "If anyone of us sings, it's not going to help you sleep."

    "It'll probably give you nightmares!" Frohike cackled.

    "I definitely think its time for a nap," Byers announced after noticing Ender's inability to keep her own head raised.

    "No," Ender began only to be halted by a massive yawn. "I'm not tired..."

    Frohike had already pulled the covers back and Byers lowered her into her bed and pulled the covers up without acknowledging her objections.

    "You guys are going to talk about important stuff now and I want to..." the yawn this time prevented her from continuing.

    "Don't worry Ender, we already have things worked out, it's all going to be alright, trust me."

    "More trust mes?"

    The three hackers each planted a soft kiss on her forehead and headed out the door. Byers to lower the lights, when her soft, sleepy voice pulled him back. "Byers?"

    He crossed the room in two strides. "Yes?"

    Her little hand found its way out from under the covers and he clasped it in his.

    "Stay with me until I fall asleep?"

    Byers lowered himself gently, to the bed. "Sure."

     


    Part IV

    Ender slept straight through the time she usually woke up from her nap, and no one had the heart to bother her until dinner. She ate quietly and returned to bed soon afterward. She woke up several hours later at 3 am and strained to hear the familiar tapping that meant Langly was up, she'd already begun to become used to the sounds of the lone gunmen's head quarters.

    She walked up to Langly, "What's tonight's schedule of events?"

    "Not much for miniature hackers, I'm afraid" He took her into his lap and waited for her eyes to trace the first few sentences on screen.

    "This is about me and my dad" She looked up at him and he nodded.

    "Everyone who reads this will now about what happened to you and your father."

    "How is that a good thing?"

    "Its harder to make someone disappear if a lot of people know where she is, it's even harder if those people are the kind of people who would get really angry if that ever happened."

    "Why would anyone care about me?"

    "Smart, cute lil five-year-old, be damned if I know, heck I've been trying to kick you out of here since day one." He smiled and nudged her, "Seriously though they will care because of what your father is trying to do and..." he took hold of the mouse and scrolled down the screen "because of this" he pointed out a paragraph. Ender's eyes traced the lines expertly.

    "It says I'm learning how to hack" she looked up confused.

    "Well you are."

    "So?"

    "So" he nudged her again and stood up taking her with him "hackers take care of each other." He carried her into her bedroom and set her back down in bed.

    "Why?"

    "Its kind of hard to explain, we all have stuff in common. You help out someone else and you're guaranteed that they'll be there to help you out should you ever need it. Plus, there is a common cause..."

    "Common cause?"

    "No body likes the guys that are after you, especially not the subscribers to our newsletter, any chance they get to stick it to them they will, and if they happen to keep a certain little girl safe in the process then its all the better."

    He tucked the blankets under her tightly.

    "Langly, I can't move."

    Langly nodded, "Perfect."

    "How could this be perfect?" She futilely tried to escape the covers.

    "Why I could give you five reasons why that's a fine way to be put to bed, you're warm, right?"

    Ender grumbled.

    He motioned toward the teddy bear, Sam, that Byers had brought home for her the first week that was now squished in next to her, "Sam won't fall out of the bed."

    "It keeps mini-hackers in bed, and prevents them from bothering me at 4 am in the morning."

    "Hey!" she giggled.

    "And I can do this..." He pinched her nose.

    "That was only four!"

    "Nope that third one counted as two" Ender stuck her tongue out at this.

    "There you go, five things, see hackers look out for one another. G'night Ender" He kissed her on the forehead and left the room to return to his computer.


    Ender had just finished her cereal and Byers was rinsing out the bowl she had left in the sink when her little voice called to him from the other room.

    He placed the bowl into a cabinet and made his way to the living area, where Ender was perched on a chair, with her chin to her chest, trying to fix the buttons on her shirt.

    "I think..." she announced confused "that my shirt is defective."

    Byers smiled and kneeled down in front of Ender. She had missed several buttons and started on the wrong one. He quickly straightened them, as Ender looked on, fascinated with the ease with which he handled them. She sighed and shook her head.

    "Lousy buttons."

    "Yea they can be difficult" Byers commented as he returned to the kitchen.

    "Now you're just patrosizing me."

    "PatroNizing you."

    "Yea that too." She smiled as she climbed up into a kitchen chair.

    "What are we doing today?"

    "We've got some work to do, get together everything for our next issue, and a friend is coming over tonight to pick up some stuff."

    Langly walked in at this moment, "Oh man, Mulder needs that info today? I forgot..." He swept Ender out of her seat.

    "Come on newbie, time for the serious stuff."

    Byers groaned at Langly, he still didn't approve of his "tutorials" but Ender was enjoying them and was picking it up rather quickly.

    A few seconds later Ender was sitting in Langly's lap in front of a computer. It was a hack he'd pulled a few times and after he'd done some preliminary setup and made sure that he would have more time to pull this hack than usual he took his hands off the keyboard.

    "Ok Ender you're up."

    She looked up at him with a face that asked him if he was serious.

    "I'll walk you through it, don't worry."

    He then proceeded to talk Ender through her first hack, occasionally guiding her hand on the mouse and pointing out elusive keys on the keyboard. An hour later they were staring at the information they set out to get.

    "Now what?" Ender asked eagerly.

    "Now..."he lifted his finger and pointed to the print screen button, which Ender then proceeded to hit enthusiastically.

    He talked her through the next few series of safety precautions, he didn't need to tell her how to save the information to disk and then they were finished.

    "That wasn't too bad." Ender smiled at Langly, the hack had gone unusually smoothly, it worked out perfectly for a hack to break Ender in on.

    "Nope," he smiled back "but the key to being a hacker is to never let on how easy something is, most people aren't even really sure about what hacking really is. It doesn't hurt us at all to keep them thinking that it's incredibly difficult."

    He pulled the stuff out of the printer and slipped it into a manila envelope, placing the disk on top. "When Mulder gets here, you should give it to him, makes sense, all little 5 year olds look alike, it's a security precaution."

    "Hey!" Ender tried to ram her shoulder into Langly's gut in a rather ineffective attack.

    Langly grinned and placed a hand on her forehead, effectively keeping her at bay.

    He lifted her over the back of the couch and sat her down. Then he reached for the remote and placed play on a tape of Star Trek reruns.

    The rest of the day was spent organizing the next issue of the Lone Gunmen, which included the article about Ender and her father. Ender spent a little time with Frohike, Langly and Byers, picking up bits and pieces from each of their areas of specialty.

    At 8 o'clock Byers instructed Ender to get ready for bed, but assured her she could stay up to meet Mulder and give him the information her and Langly had gotten earlier. Ender made a face, pajamas had been a source of conflict yesterday and the store, Byers had insisted that she couldn't continue sleeping in her clothes as she had been for apparently quite some time.

    Ender returned a few minutes later and followed Langly into the kitchen on a pop tart run. Byers went into his room to organize some information on Ender and her father he'd collected. He intended to ask Mulder for his advice and to check out Ender and her father's status, if any, with the FBI. They had used the FBI as a tool to help catch Suzanne.

    Inside the kitchen Langly and Ender were talking.

    "Mulder's a good guy, plus it never hurts to have an in at the FBI."

    Ender stopped dead in her tracks, "FBI? He works for the FBI?"

    "You know what, I'm getting kind of tired, why don't I head to bed and you can give Mulder the stuff... in fact don't even tell him I helped, don't mention me at all, you really did all the work..."

    "Yoah there," he grabbed Ender's shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen, "Relax Ennie, Mulder isn't going to be turning anyone in."

    "How can you be so sure?"

    "We've known Mulder for awhile now, he's not your average G-man, you think he would hang out with us, let alone ask us to hack for him?"

    Ender shrugged.

    "Trust me."

    She scrunched her face, "Are you sure? Maybe he's just pretending to like you in order to get information and infil... infa..."

    "Infiltrate?"

    "And infiltrate your organization!"

    Frohike laughed. "No, Mulder's one of the good guys."

    "But," Langly messed her hair "we appreciate your paranoia."

    The doorbell rang and Frohike went to answer it muttering about how he was going to have to go out on sick leave after seriously damaging his arm from answering the door too much.

    "Hey Mulder" He closed the door behind the FBI agent.

    "Hey Frohike," Mulder greeted the shorter man, ""Hey, I expanded my video collection this weekend. Got a real hot one, what's-her-face is in it... the red-head... the one that played that kinky cop in..."

    Frohike made violent gestures with his hands. "Shhh!"

    Mulder's resulting confusion only increased as Langly came out of the kitchen followed by a little girl.

    "What?"

    Frohike smiled and shrugged innocently at Mulder as Ender proceeded to his desk and stood on a box to pull some files down.

    Mulder stood gaping at the little girl in the middle of the gunmen HQ.

    "Heeheh, Byers' still dressing you, huh?" Frohike smiled at the pajamas Ender had reluctantly put on,

    "Yeah, I'm going to bed, I really ought to have designated cartoon-character sleep wear to identify me as a 5 yr old" She replied.

    Mulder was shocked by the little girls rather adult sounding choice of words. Most five-year-olds he knew didn't dabble to heavily in sarcasm.

    She followed Langly over to him and stood there. He noticed the file she had picked up was the one he'd dropped off last night.

    Langly looked at her expectantly and cleared his throat.

    "You're Agent Mulder right?" she asked.

    "Yeah" Mulder stumbled.

    Inside Byers was collecting everything pertinent into a folder. Thumbing through surveillance photos taken of Ender and her father and mother, he came across a mug shot-like picture of Ender that couldn't have been taken too long ago, he smiled and his eyes wandered up to the only photograph of Suzanne he had, the mug shot they pulled off the FBI had been printed and was resting in the corner of the mirror above his dresser. He walked over and slipped the photo of Ender next to it and sighed. Ender's laughter pulled his attention away and he turned and head out of his room with the file.

    Byers walked into the main room to find Mulder standing near the entrance with his mouth agape. Byers had only known Mulder for a little while, but he knew it took a lot to amaze him; he was definitely amazed after meeting Ender. He turned quickly to Ender, who was dangling in Langly's grip trying to push away from him and laughing hysterically.

    "Say it!" Langly's own voice had hints of laughter, Byers didn't have to think long about what had happened, it was clear Ender had made a comment about Langly's Kung Foo.

    "Langly!" Byers called. "Put her down."

    As soon as Langly set Ender down she scrambled into Byers' arms.

    "What's wrong with you? Trying to get a six-year-old to lie!" A wicked smile developed on his face "When Ender knows very well whose kung foo is the best."

    "Gee By, I always just thought that mine..."

    "Wow Ender, you're really growing, can't hold you anymore, why don't I just set you down, so you and Langly can play and I'll go to my room to lie down and listen to the news VERY loud" He started to lower her.

    "OK, OK!!!, your Kung Foo's the best!" She twisted in Byers' arms toward Langly and Frohike "Byers' Kung Foo's the best!!"

    "I'm glad you feel that way" "because its time for you to go to bed anyway, say good night to everyone."

    "Night Langs."

    "Night dwarf" Langly smiled at Ender

    "See you tomorrow 'hike."

    Frohike turned in his chair, "Night Ender, Byers, you really got to stop with those pajamas, just cause you're parents dressed you like that doesn't mean you should do it to her, she might turn into you and nobody wants that."

    Byers sneered.

    "Nice to meet you Agent Mulder, you give me a call if you ever catch any flies in that mouth of yours."

    Mulder gaped at the closed door where Byers and the little girl had just disappeared.

    "I... you... WHAT?" all of his years of Oxford education had not prepared him for the site of Langly and Byers chasing a five-year- old around their headquarters.

    Frohike and Langly burst out in subdued laughter, leaving Mulder to gape, amazed at the memory.

    "Relax Mulder' Langly smiled, "you look like you're going to bust a blood vessel."

    "Ok which one of you boys is going to provide the explanation?"

    "She's the daughter of a scientist who THEY picked up. She's living with us until..." Langly paused, "Until we get her father back, though right now..." he lowered his voice "right now it seems she's going to be living with us until she's old enough to live on her own."

    "She's LIVING with you guys? A five-year-old girl is living with you? Isn't that... akin to child abuse?"

    "Hey!" Frohike objected, "We make fine parental figures."

    "Oh yea I'm sure, you've already got her committing felonies" He waved the file at them.

    "It's just a minor felony..." Langly protested grinning

    Mulder shook his head, placing his hands on his hips. "I may have to report you to child services...Unless, of course, I get a certain video...."

    "You're not reporting anything g-man" Frohike said mock threateningly, "And you'll pry that video out of my cold dead hands."

    Inside Ender's room Byers was tucking Ender into bed despite her objections.

    "Every time something important is about to happen I get put to bed!"

    "It's just a coincidence, it happens to be your bedtime" Byers pointed at the clock on her wall.

    "Still, you guys are going to be out there talking about important stuff..."

    "No we're not...we're going to talk about...football."

    "Oh yea, I'm sure, you guys look like the sort to have a discussion about sports."

    "You're too smart for me Ender" Byers pulled the covers up to her chin and kissed her goodnight "I promise to fill you in on everything that goes on, ok?"

    "Ok" Ender sighed reluctantly as Byers shut the light and the door and returned to the main room.

    "Byers, thank god you're usually the voice of reason, what the hell is going on here?"

    "Its pretty simple," he sat down on the couch and plopped a thick file down on the coffee table, opening it and spreading out its contents "Ender's father is a molecular biologist who was researching new methods of gene therapy."

    Mulder sighed and took the seat next to Byers, he had hoped to avoid their ranting theories tonight and make it home in time to catch the rest of the basketball game but there was no way he was leaving without getting a better explanation.

    Frohike took the reins, "Gene therapy, simply put, involves sending retroviruses carrying fragments of DNA into defective human cells. The retroviruses take over the cell function and it begins to produce the virus' DNA, not its own. In effect, the gene that was defective, or missing, is created."

    "But this is for the most part theoretical," Byers continued, "It has yet to be proven to work, and has run into quite a few hang- ups, amongst them, issues about the control and regulation of the virus, so that they produce the right genes in the right amounts."

    "And..." Langly picked up, as was the usual when the three of them went off on a theory "bypassing the human immune system, in order for the gene to be produced the virus has to enter undisturbed."

    "This is where Ender's father was concerned, he was trying to manufacture a virus that was the perfect vector for human gene therapy, that could go undetected by the human immune system" Byers added reaching for another folder.

    "Sounds great, what's the problem?"

    "The problem is," Langly sat down, "in the wrong hands these little buggers are the perfect biological weapon."

    "That still doesn't explain why you have a five-year-old running around the apartment."

    Byers place the open folder down on the table in front of Mulder, on top of the pile of papers was a black and white photograph printed out from a computer of a man about 35 years old lowering a child into a car seat.

    Langly leaned over and checked out the picture," We pulled this off of a high level government ops system."

    "It was taken two years ago outside the Mount Sinai Institute for Gene Therapy and Molecular Medicine" Byers pointed to the man in the photo, "that's Jack Wilson, and the child is Annie Wilson, age three, Ender."

    "They had been watching him since day one" Frohike's voice was disgusted, "waiting for him to be successful, and when he was...they take the science and dump the scientist."

    "But Jack found out their plans and starting clearing shop, he printed hard copies of everything and hid them, everything else, the data, the computer records, he trashed."

    "He went about it very subtly," Langly picked up for Byers, "or at least he thought he did, he wanted to get what he needed then get his wife and kid safe. After that he'd go public."

    "But..." Byers flipped to the next photograph, a woman also about thirty five was pushing a little girl in one of those little baby swings at a park, "he goes home one afternoon, to find his wife dead. He and his daughter went into hiding with the remaining data and have since been on the run. Though it's not the data they're concerned with, what they really want is Jack to finish his work, he's a brilliant scientist, I don't think that anyone else can successfully finish the project."

    "So where do you guys come in?" "Byers had been exchanging e-mails with Jack for awhile with the intention of printing an article in the Lone Gunmen..." Frohike's voice trailed off.

    "I sympathized with his problem" Byers cut straight to what Frohike was dancing around, "He told me frequently that he hated himself for putting his daughter through this and that each day she was with him, she was in danger. I offered to look after her for a few weeks while he secured a safe house in Europe."

    "After Ender showed up, we stopped getting e-mails from him, and a few days ago, his safe house contacted us and told us he didn't show up."

    Mulder rubbed his eyes, "they got him."

    Frohike nodded sullenly, "We thought Ender would be safe when she was separate from her father..."

    "But?" Mulder looked up.

    "But, yesterday a few government goons made a grab for her in a parking lot."

    Mulder whistled, "You boys are really in it this time."

    Byers looked at Mulder seriously, "This little girl is in serious trouble, there was no way we were going to pass her on to someone else, even if someone else out there was willing to look after her. We need you to do us a favor."

    "Sure, pending you don't want me to bust in on these guys and blow holes in 'em with a shotgun."

    "No Mulder, if that was an option it'd be a pleasure I reserved for myself" Frohike balled his hands up into fists.

    "We need to clear things with the FBI, find out what, if anything they have on the Wilsons. These people have been known to take full advantage of all the government agencies when they're out on a manhunt."

    "I'll see what I can do."

    "Thanks Mulder" Byers smiled.

    "So how are you guys handling parenthood?"

    "Ender is a real good kid, smart too." Frohike nodded.

    "Well you have to be with a dad like that" Mulder stood.

    "That's not the least of it," Langly laughed, "Her mother was head of cardiac surgery at Mount Sinai."

    "And they were both card carrying members of MENSA."

    Mulder whistled appreciatively.

    "Langly, do you have those other photographs saved on your computer?"

    "Yea I'll call them up now."

    Byers and Langly left for Langly's room.

    As soon as they were gone, Mulder turned to Frohike and said under his breath, "So, Jack's Suzanne, that makes Ender Byers, huh?"

    "Bingo, except Ender isn't getting off with a warning."

    The door to Ender's room opened and she walked down the hallway in her bare feet, scratching her head and yawning.

    Frohike raised an eyebrow, "I thought you were put to bed."

    "Yea right, like that was going to happen with you guys out here jabbering away," she paused and grinned, "and I couldn't hear a word of it from my room."

    Frohike walked toward her with the intention of returning her to her room.

    "Besides, I'm thirsty." Frohike grinned at this and walked past into the kitchen.

    "Nice save Ender" Mulder grinned at the five-year-old as he casually shut the file they had been looking at with the picture of Ender's mother and father.

    Ender walked over and sat in one of the chairs around the coffee table, "whatcha looking at?"

    "Nothing" Mulder pulled the papers up into a neat pile and changed the subject, "so you enjoying staying here?"

    Ender nodded enthusiastically, and swung her legs back and forth. Then looked up into Mulder's eyes. She seemed to find the motive behind his question there, because she stopped her swinging legs and sat upright,

    "I know, that they don't have to be doing this, that they are not responsible for me at all. I also know, that they're an odd bunch and not exactly the best suited to be caring for a five-year-old, but if they hadn't taken me in I'd be..." Mulder was dumbfounded it was a moment of lucidity most adults he met weren't capable of, she'd read him perfectly but was cut off by Frohike's entrance with a glass of water.

    "Though I appreciate your concern Mulder" Ender added quietly as Frohike crossed the room and handed Ender the water.

    "Thanks 'hikey."

    Byers and Langly walked down the hall, and both grinned at the site of Ender sitting in the living room.

    "What are you doing up?" Byers looked at the little girl as she took a quick gulp of water and stood up.

    "Thirsty" Frohike explained from behind her with a suspicious eyebrow raised.

    "Nice try Ender" Byers hoisted her to his hip.

    "You think that was good, for my next act, I'll be up in thirty minutes needing to use the bathroom" Ender smiled and then plugged her mouth with her thumb.

    "That," Byers said with his head turned to the little girl looking at her thumb in her mouth, "we have to work on."

    Ender scrunched her nose but continued to suck her thumb.

    "Come on, back to bed."

    Mulder watched Byers and Ender disappear into her room again.

    "That's a real smart kid you got there." He scratched his head and turned to collect the papers on the table. "I really got to get going guys, but I'll look into this stuff first thing tomorrow, give me a call if you need anything," he laughed and then added, "but I'll tell you right now, I don't baby-sit."

     


    Part V

    The next morning Byers woke to the smell of burning wafting in from the kitchen. He was on his way to the door before he even realized he was out of bed. He dashed into the kitchen to find Ender perched on a stool in front of the stove "cooking" an egg.

    "E...Ender?"

    Ender poked at the road kill egg with a fork, "yea Byers?"

    "What happened here?"

    "Burnt egg." She prodded the ashes again.

    Byers sighed and walked over to Ender, "You really shouldn't be playing with the stove."

    Ender looked up amazed a minute and then laughed as she climbed down the stool, "I didn't do this..."

    "I can't believe Langly let you play with the stove."

    Ender pulled on his pajama sleeve. "I wasn't playing with the stove..."

    At that moment Langly came rushing in with a fire extinguisher, "Is it still on fire?!"

    "No Langs, it pretty much went out on its own after you put the pot lid over it, though it was definitely a bad idea to dump the coffee water on a frying egg."

    Byers laughed and placed a hand on Ender's head, "Gee Ender, you should know better than to let Langly play with the stove."

    Ender shook her head disapprovingly, "I can't be expected to look after him every minute."

    Langly sneered at both of them and tried unsuccessfully to dump the contents of the pan into the garbage, after three attempts he threw the whole pan away.

    Ender looked from Byers to Langly and back to Byers again, "We really ought to pick up one of those little gates to keep him out of the kitchen."

    Langly shot Ender a look and she ducked behind Byers giggling.

    "What'd Langly burn this time?" Frohike stumbled into the kitchen in his flannel pajamas with a vest on top.

    Langly answered by sitting down and pouring himself a bowl of Count Chocula.

    "Egg" Ender smiled as she walked over to the table and reached for the box of cereal. Langly pulled it away and caught Ender in a headlock, giving her a few playful noogies before lifting her into the seat next to his and pouring her a bowl of cereal.

    Byers picked up the box and read the ingredients list, "This child's going to be diabetic by the time she's twelve."

    Ender titled her head up and back at Byers smiling with a spoon in her mouth. Byers sighed, rolled his eyes and went into his room to get dressed.

    "Phone" Langly announced with a mouth full of cereal in response to the ringing.

    "Gee thanks Captain obvious" Frohike snickered as the phone rang twice and then three times, "I'll get it" Frohike muttered as he left the room.

    "Lone Gunmen" Frohike answered after flipping on the tape recorder and picking up the receiver,

    "Hey Frohike," it was Mulder "What the hell do you do with the tapes of all our phone conversations?"

    "Oh you know Mulder, catalogue and label them, set them aside for those lonely days when your out chasing bad guys."

    Mulder laughed, "Hey listen, I think I found some stuff you guys are definitely going to be interested in about your little house guest, don't want to talk about it over the phone, I'm at work, can you meet me at my place at noon?"

    "Sure Mulder, we'll be there."

    "Great see you then."

    Frohike hung up the phone, "Road trip!" he called into the kitchen.

    "Hmm?" Byers walked down the hall from his room.

    "That was Mulder, he wants us to meet him at his place at noon."

    "What's up?" Langly clanked his dishes into the sink and walked over to Byers and Frohike.

    "Just said he had some stuff to show us" Frohike nodded his head toward Ender.

    "I'm coming" Ender's sudden presence in the room made Frohike jump.

    "Where'd you come from shorty?"

    "Don't get to used to calling me that Frohike, I'll probably be taller than you in a year." Frohike chuckled and picked her up.

    "Yea, you probably will, unless maybe we can stunt that growth of yours, you like coffee don't you?"

    Ender ignored Frohike and turned to Byers, "I'm coming with you guys."

    Byers sighed, after what happened in that parking lot, he hadn't wanted Ender to leave the house at all. But that was being unreasonable, "Yea, Ok Ender you can tag along, this way we can all go."

    Frohike set Ender down, but put a hand on her shoulder and started to lead her to one of the computers.

    "What are we doing 'hikey?" Ender asked innocently.

    "You are going to put my password back to what it was" Ender giggled and tried to make a run for it but Frohike caught her around the middle and carried her over to the computer chair where they both sat down.

    "Langly dared me to do it" Ender laughed.

    "I'm sure he did" Frohike smiled at the little girl, "now fix it."

    Ender sighed and after a few keystrokes looked back at Frohike, "ok, put a new password in now."

    Frohike placed his left hand over Ender's eyes and typed in his password with his right while Ender giggled hysterically.

    "Eh, keep laughing you little monkey, I'd disable my boot keys, screw with my CMOS and assign a password to it but I get the feeling you'd be at my computer with a screwdriver, soldering iron and a boot disk."

    Ender chuckled and then started to slide off of Frohike's lap, he stopped her "Wait a minute where are you going?"

    "What now?"

    "Typing practice."

    Ender sighed, "Come on Frohike, I don't wanna..."

    "Too bad, come on I've a very important letter I need to write, if you type it for me, its too birds with one stone."

    "Fine" Ender sighed and set her hands on the keyboard.

    Frohike then proceeded to dictate a lengthy, verbose letter to his shoes. Ender managed to get it typed rather quickly with surprisingly few errors in spite of her laughter.


    Mulder wasn't in his apartment for more than ten minutes when someone pounded on the door. A quick check confirmed that it was Frohike, Langly, Byers and standing a little off to the side and almost out of eye range, Ender holding on to Byers' hand, though it seemed to Mulder, Byers was holding on to hers, she seemed more interested in watching their backs.

    "Hey guys" Mulder opened the door and stepped aside as they all entered.

    "Hey Mulder, boy this is weird, us coming to you for information." Langly smiled

    "Yea, don't make a habit of it, I almost lost my job snooping around for this stuff." He walked over to his computer desk and pulled a file. "Man did I..." Mulder stopped, looked at Ender and scratched his head.

    "Hey Ender, I've got this great sci fi movie you'll love, come on." He started toward the living room.

    "No, its ok, I want to hear what's..."

    Byers nudged her from behind "Go on."

    She followed Mulder muttering to herself "Every single time something important is about to happen..."

    "At least I didn't tell you to go to bed" Byers smiled and called after her.

    Mulder sat Ender up in the living room and put "Plan 9 from Outer Space" into the VCR, then returned to the gunmen, ushering them into the kitchen.

    "Ok guys, I ran a check on the bureau system for any and all cases that might be related and got nothing. But then I remembered hearing some other guys in my department talking about a scientist who went crazy, maybe a month ago. When I asked him about the case he said it'd been closed, he didn't even know if they caught the guy or not. But he did have a hard copy of the file to give me."

    Mulder placed the file down on the counter. Inside was a photograph of Ender's father.

    Byers picked up the paper and traced the charges, murder was first, he was suspected in the shooting death of his own wife. What followed that was a long list, including everything from assault to arson. The last two charges were the worst, child abuse and kidnapping. He passed the file on to Langly, "but his case is closed now?"

    "Far as I can tell."

    "What about Ender" Frohike read over the first file.

    "Here's where it gets really weird, Annie Wilson was on the missing persons list until last week, the same time her fathers case was closed. According to some guys in missing persons her case was closed too, but no one has any idea what happened to her, or if she's even alive."

    Byers nodded, "Ok, at least we know the FBI isn't looking for her."

    Mulder shook his head sullenly, "I wouldn't be so sure." He took the file back from Frohike and flipped back a few pages to what looked like an empty case form. The only words typed on it that weren't part of the original form were across the top. There it specified name and birth date, 4.02.85 and Wilson, Annie. A little to the right of that the name of the department was filled in, Computer Fraud.

    "On a fluke I went back into my computer and put in Annie Wilson.

    "Its blank though." Byers furrowed his brow confused.

    Langly laughed and took hold of the paper, "Wow, we've got a genuine record holder in our midst, the youngest to hold a case with computer fraud at the FBI was seven, until now."

    "Yea, but until that file gets finished, the FBI can't try to arrest her."

    "So now what do we do?"

    "This is tough, if we publish the article, it may substantiate any charges that they cook up" Frohike rubbed his forehead in deep thought.

    "Yea but if we don't then they can just snoop right down under our noses and pick her up at any time."

    "We go ahead with the article, but include this information, even if they peg arrest her for hacking she's not going to get any time. What they're going to catch us on is guardianship. They come to take her in for computer fraud and then hold her because she has no legal guardian. Then she disappears."

    "So what can we do about that?" Langly looked at Byers.

    "Not much, we should get some fake birth certificates and identification in order just in case. We can try to claim that she isn't Annie Wilson. But I think if we get the word out about all this information we should build up enough protection."

    "I don't follow your logic" Mulder leaned his head out the door to check on Ender.

    "If we publish all this stuff and then Ender disappears basically everything we claimed is substantiated. It's the reason why the three of us aren't dead yet. If we kicked the bucket mysteriously everything we ever claimed is just as good as proven. Not only that but everyone who's ever read anything we said will be outraged."

    "So what if they consider that an acceptable sacrifice?"

    Byers leaned on the counter, solemnly, "It all depends on how much they need Ender."

    Langly placed a hand on his friends shoulder, "It'll take some serious funky poaching to find out, but I will."

    Mulder nodded, handed the file back to Byers, and head into the living room where he found Ender laughing at the movie, which was so awful, that it was funny. He made he laugh some more by perfectly reciting the dialogue for a substantial part of the movie along with the actors before everyone head off.

    The three gunmen got into their apartment and immediately spread out in different directions, Ender on the other hand stood planted in the middle of the main room,

    "Wait a minute guys, aren't you going to tell me what Mulder found out?"

    The gunmen froze, but avoided looking at Ender.

    "How do you know we asked Mulder to get information about you and your father" Langly turned to Ender, who grinned,

    "You just told me."

    No one moved, "Well?!"

    Byers cleared his throat, aware that no one else was going to speak up.

    "I don't think..." he paused, struggling to find an excuse but only came up with, "not now Ender."

    Frohike winced, bad move, he could have come up with something better.

    "What?" Ender demanded, "Why not?"

    "It's...time for your nap..."

    Frohike winced again, even worse move.

    Ender shot a glance to the clock and responded outraged, "It is not time for my nap, if you guys keep this up I'm going to be bedridden every time something bad happens. Now tell me what Mulder found out!"

    "Look, Ender, we... have to... " luckily, the phone rang sparing anymore inane excuses and all three gunmen dove for it, Langly reaching first.

    Langly began talking to the person on the other end of the phone, making it clear that it was for him anyway.

    Ender finally moved from the center of the room and walked over to Byers who sighed at the little girl.

    "Ender, couldn't this wait?"

    "Please Byers, I already know it's not good, it'll be worse not knowing."

    He opened his mouth to respond in the negative, but then he caught her huge sad green eyes and couldn't refuse, even though what she wanted him to tell her would no doubt make her more upset.

    Byers closed his eyes and began to think out what he was going to tell her as he walked over to the couch. They sat down and he reluctantly told her an edited account of Mulder's findings. Ender spent the rest of the day sucking her thumb and clinging to Byers.

     


    Part VI

    The following morning Ender went for a ride with Langly to drop the issues of TLG off at several different post offices all over greater D.C. and a few in Maryland, they returned around two in the afternoon and sat down for a late lunch. Ender dozed off at the table after eating.

    Frohike bent over at Enders seat, "Yep, she's definitely out cold." He lifted her out of the chair, her lack of response proving Frohike's previous observations.

    "Good" Langly looked up "That'll give me some time to check out the databases at the CIA, DOD and NSA for information."

    Frohike left the room and returned a few minutes later having set Ender down in her bed. Langly was sitting in front of a computer and Byers was standing behind him looking intently at the monitor, Frohike joined them, pulling a chair up next to Langly.

    "You know, I'm not used to having an audience above the age of six" Langly commented sarcastically, hinting that he'd rather be left alone, apparently neither Frohike or Byers picked up on the hint and they both stood their ground wordlessly. Langly sighed and set out on his task.

     

    <


    Ender woke up about an hour later, sat up in her bed and turned the light on. It was probably still daylight out, but the only window in her room was blocked out by a curtain. She turned to the clock on her nightstand, confirming her assumption that they sun should still be shining relatively brightly outdoors.

    The light creeping out from Ender's door didn't go unnoticed; Frohike was in the room a few seconds after Ender woke.

    "Hey shorty."

    Ender scowled, stood up on the bed so that she was a full foot taller than him and smiled.

    Frohike chuckled and walked over to the bed as Ender proceeded to thoughtlessly jump up and down on the mattress. He paused and lifted an eyebrow, "You're jumping on the bed."

    "So?"

    "I don't know, you never jump on the bed it doesn't seem like something you'd do."

    Ender stopped and shrugged her shoulders, "Maybe I should do stuff like that, I think I should jump on a lot more beds."

    Frohike smiled widely, "Yea, you definitely should jump on more beds" Langly and Byers were still outside, they hadn't gotten very far in the past hour and had sent Frohike in to distract Ender when they saw she'd woken up. A thought occurred to him, "and I'm glad you feel that way," he picked Ender up off the bed "Because, you and I are going to the park."

    Ender went sheet white and her eyes grew wide, "I don't like the park Frohike."

    He set her down and went to get her coat out of the closet, "Don't be ridiculous, you were just saying how you should do more stuff like jumping on beds, and all little kids like the park." He held her jacket up for her to get into but she crossed her arms.

    "Exactly, all little kids like the park, I don't like little kids, I mean... they don't like me, whenever them and I get together it always ends poorly."

    Frohike pried her arms apart and put her coat on. "Come on, it can't be that bad, I'm sure you'll get along fine." He took her hand and led her out the door; she was dragging her feet and muttering.

    Frohike opened the door slowly and was pleased to see that that had been enough warning for Byers and Langly to push away from the computer and look disinteresting.

    "We're going to the park," Frohike announced, Ender seemed to sulk even more at the words and muttered, "I don't like the park" under her breath.

    "Ok then, you guys have fun" Ender noticed the slight bit of tension in Byers' voice, telling her that something big was going on, but before she could comment Frohike had led her out the door.


    "This is good" Langly's voice broke the silence and Byers walked in from the kitchen with two cups of coffee.

    "What?"

    "Ender's father still has a file up at the CIA."

    "What's it say?"

    "Well it's a little higher up that the FBI one, instead of murder and assault they have him wanted for espionage. They say he is giving important scientific discoveries to other countries."

    "This is really confusing, its all so sloppy and scattered around, clearly this isn't the file that holds the truth."

    "No, but I think this is closer to the truth than anything else, they want him for his science."

    "Anything on Ender?"


    Frohike sat Ender into a swing and smiled at her, "You know how to work one of these, don't you?"

    Ender shot him a dirty look, "If it obeys the same laws of physics as all other swings I think I'll be fine."

    A woman who had just set her son into a nearby swing overheard and caught Frohike's eye. "Charming child" she smiled smugly.

    "Ok I'm going to sit right over there."

    "Sure thing Frohike, try not to look too pedophilic, maybe every few minutes you can smile and wave and I'll acknowledge you, this way you won't creep out all the soccer moms."

    Several soccer moms heard this one, but Frohike didn't seek out any reactions, he walked up to Ender and whispered, "Behave" sharply before turning and sitting on the designated parent benches.

    Ender swung her legs back and forth listlessly, not getting more than an occasional movement from the swing.

    "You suck at that," The smug soccer moms son cackled from beside her.

    Ender winced and bit her tongue.


    Langly scanned the file quickly as he printed out a hard copy.

    "Here we go" Langly pointed to last paragraph and read "Jack Wilson has a five-year-old daughter, Annie Wilson, three foot two inches, black hair and green eyes. She was traveling in his company since his disappearance but it is questioned whether she is with him now. Though her apprehension is not a priority, she should be secured in the small possibility that she becomes a security risk."

    Langly turned his chair, "That's not bad at all."

    Byers shook his head in agreement, "No, it is a lot better than I thought, I think we can deal with this. It still doesn't explain the blank FBI file."

    "I think that's just a precaution, you know 'in the small possibility that she becomes a security risk' they'll want the bureau on their side. They're just getting ready in case, and didn't think anyone would find the FBI thing, heck I never would have gotten it, it's a good thing we have Mulder."


    The boisterous circular congregation of children in the park caught the almost immediate attention of the on looking adults, who were soon at their feet and at the scene of the uproar. Frohike arrived just in time to see Ender get slammed brutally to the floor by a first grader who looked like he was twelve, he pushed through the mass of cheering, sticky children and lifted her off the floor, quickly surveying the damage. Scrapes on her knees, palms and face, and what would no doubt be a bruise on her elbow. The offending son's mother rushed to his side and grabbed his arm.

    "What are you doing?!"

    "She called me a... nean...neaondera."

    "A Neanderthal, and rightly so" Ender, much to Frohike's surprise, wasn't in tears.

    "I don't think you should be bringing that little girl to the park" one of the mothers who had heard Enders tasteful advice to Frohike earlier stepped forward.

    "Listen lady, I can take her wherever I feel like it."

    "Well maybe she ought not interact with other little children, I don't want my son exposed to that." The mother of the bully who was looking rather smug himself at the moment piped in.

    "Maybe you should have worried about exposing him to radiation when he was a baby, or is that stupidity genetic, either both you and your husband are moderately stupid or one of you in extremely dumb." Frohike winced with all of the parents as the insult shot from Ender's mouth and hurriedly carried her out of the park as she continued to shout at the crowd, postulating whether or not stupidity was dominant or recessive. She was working out a Punnett square for two homozygous recessive morons about a block away from the park when Frohike finally stopped and set her down.

    "Are you ok?"

    Ender looked down at her injuries, "I'll be alright."

    Frohike nodded, lifted her up again and continued homeward.

    "I can walk Frohike."

    "I'd rather you didn't."

    "Why not?"

    Frohike ignored the question, "You really have to watch that mouth of yours, Langly, Byers and I are used to hearing that kind of stuff but when other people hear insults based primarily on Mendelian genetics coming out of a five-year-old well..."

    "Well what?"

    "Well they notice that five-year-old."

    Ender paused, his words hit hard, she felt incredibly stupid, she'd just jeopardized her own security, "I told you I didn't like the park."

    Frohike nodded, "yea, tell me about it."


    "Hey Frohike" Langly quickly shoved the evidence of the afternoon's exploits under a scanner, "hey End... oh crap, what happened now?" The scrape on her chin was the one Langly saw first, it wasn't until he rose and walked over to them that he noticed her bleeding kneecaps and scraped palms.

    Ender scowled and lowered her head as Frohike mouthed, "in a minute" and led Ender by the hand that was less injured into the kitchen where Byers was.

    Byers' reaction was wordless, and immediate. In less than twenty seconds Ender was sitting on the bathroom sink with her pants rolled up past her knees, sulking and doing her best not to wince as the hydrogen peroxide burned her skin while Byers cleaned her scrapes.

    "What happened?"

    Frohike was standing in the door and began to answer "we..."

    Byers looked up at him, "Ender can tell me I think."

    Frohike lifted his hands up, "whatever" and walked out of the doorframe into the main room.

    "Ender, what happened?"

    "Nothing" Ender was about to resign to pouting again but Byers raised an eyebrow, "I had a run in with a lummox."

    Byers snickered aloud, "Is that so?"

    "Yea, he had trouble communicating, he was just grunting and jumping up and down, I must have said something that sounded like an insult in his language and he shoved me, either that or that was his way of saying hello."

    Byers raised her chin, partially to clean the wound there and partially to force her to make eye contact.

    "Ok, ok, I may have provoked him, but he started it... either way it was stupid of me, I took a big security risk just so I could inform some seven-year-old about my opinion on his evolution, or lack there of."

    He lifted her off the counter for a minute, stood her in front of the sink, rinsed her hands under the faucet, and then lifted her back up to the counter top.

    "So?" she was waiting for a reaction.

    Byers placed band-aids on her knees.

    "So what?"

    "That's it?"

    "Just be more careful next time, you lucked out" Byers smiled, "the first time I mouthed off to a bully I wound up with stitches."

    He punctuated the task by leaning over and placing a final band-aid over the smaller scrape on her chin. Ender smiled and paused for a second before kissing him on the cheek.

    "Thanks Byers" She slid off the counter by herself and trot off into the main room.

    Byers stood and watched her leave the room, congratulating himself on having successfully handled the crisis as he threw away band-aid wrappers and packed up the first aid kit.


    "So did you guys find anything out on the CIA, DOD or NSA databases?"

    Langly looked at her shocked "How did you know..."

    Ender grinned, "For the three most paranoid guys I've ever met, you're really awful at being covert."

    "Next time we're obviously trying to hide something, tell us so we can save our energy and just lock you in a closet." Ender stuck her tongue out at Frohike as Langly walked up behind her and hoisted her into the air, catching her by surprise.

    "You almost made me bite my tongue Langly!" She giggled as he sat her down in his lap and called up the information they pulled off the CIA database. She scanned the text.

    "This is all you got?"

    Byers walked in at this moment, "You're showing her?"

    "She already knew what we were up to anyway, might as well. Yea Ender this is all we got so far."

    "So you've got a lot of work left, huh?"

    "Yep."

    She nodded, "Ok, lets get to it."

    Langly paused for a second and looked for approval from Byers, but before Byers could give it Langly had already begun.

    The next four hours passed almost uninterrupted, as Langly and Ender, who much to Langly's amazement was developing skills it had taken him years to acquire and offering occasional advice, hacked into every government agency they could think of, scanning for any mention of her father. They were interrupted once by Frohike, who passed Ender a pair of his fingerless gloves that he shrunk in the wash, after she commented that her hands were cold. Byers interrupted them to sigh and then chuckle at Frohike's gloves on Ender and make an attempt to get her to go to bed, but only succeeded in getting her to put her pajamas on, she came out of her room still wearing the gloves.

    Around ten thirty, Langly was fervently typing at the keyboard when Enders head tilted back onto his chest, revealing that she was sound asleep. He waited until he reached a safe point to pause and then whispered, "Byers!"

    His companion crept over and lifted the small form from his lap. Langly picked up the string again as he watched Byers carry Ender to her room.


    Byers, in contradiction to common practice, was the last to bed. He had barely fallen asleep when Ender's scream shattered the quiet darkness around him. He ran to her door and flipped the light switch on, to find her physically unharmed.

    She was sitting bolt upright and tears were streaming down her face. Byers rushed to her side and lifted her from the tangle of blankets.

    "What happened?" Byers voice was weak with concern but Ender could only respond by trembling and crying.

    Frohike was next in the room, followed by Langly, but Byers turned them both away quickly. "Bad dream guys, I got it."

    They nodded and each cast a concerned glance at Ender before returning to their rooms.

    When Ender's crying died down to whimpers, Byers sat down on the bed and cradled her in his arms.

    "You want to tell me about it?" he pushed a strand of hair that was matted with tears to her cheek behind her ear.

    She shook her head no emphatically.

    "Ok" Byers leaned back and sat in silence with Ender for about a half an hour, until she fell asleep. Ten minutes later, Byers was sleeping propped up against the wall, Ender in his arms.

     


    Part VII

    The news over the next few days was nothing but good, but Ender continued to have nightmares on an almost regular basis. The results of their day spent searching government databases pretty much proved that though they had caught up with Ender's father, he was still very much alive. That and, they had little interest in expending resources and manpower to apprehend a five-year-old.

    But if government stinginess wasn't enough to keep them away from Ender, the reaction to the article in the Lone Gunmen guaranteed that they wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole. For a few days they didn't hear anything, four days after the article went out, the response was overwhelming. By the end of the week websites were popping up informing everyone about Ender, a few embellished the truth a little.

    Langly burst out laughing, jolting Frohike and Ender (it was Byers' day to make the rounds to the several dozen PO boxes and pick up their mail) in the room that had been, till this moment, silent.

    "Hey Ender, you have got to see this one."

    "I don't want to Langly, I'm getting bored of them."

    Langly walked up to Ender's seat at the table where she was practicing writing her alphabet, after being instructed by Byers repeatedly to do so today. The child could type as fast as any adult, however her ability to fashion letters with her hand was lacking even for a five-year-old. Langly stood her up out of the chair, turned around and began patting her on the back.

    "What are you doing?" Ender's confused face was beginning to resemble an annoyed one.

    "Check for the off switch." Langly snickered.

    "What?!"

    He pointed over to his computer and Ender sighed and reluctantly walked over.

    After a few seconds of reading Ender lowered her head to the desk and sighed.

    Langly laughed again.

    "What, what is it?" Frohike finally gained interest in what was going on.

    "Another website about Ender... this one says she's a robot."

    "Funnier, but not smarter than the one that claimed she was genetically engineered."

    "What?! I haven't seen that one!" Ender stood upright and then pulled Langly's chair close enough to the desk so she could reach the keyboard.

    "Alright, that's it..." she began to type.

    "What are you doing?" Langly had grown suspicious immediately.

    "See how funny they think it is when I format their ftp, and upload a page that says 'hackers are lusers' in big font with their phone number, home address, IP address and... and..."

    "Oh no you don't" Langly hoisted her out of the chair before she could even call up a single of the necessary programs and threw her over his shoulder.

    "Put me down, Langly! If they didn't want their computer's fried they should have known better than to say I was a robot!"

    "Absolutely not, you leave the websites alone." Langly carried her back to the table.

    "Oh come on Langly... ok, ok, I'll leave the sites, but just let me send one virus! One lousy virus, something that won't spread, completely isolated to their computers."

    Langly laughed, "No, all I need is for you to start a hacker war on my pc. Besides remember what we said about those sites helping you, right?"

    Langly lowered her into her seat.

    "Stay there and finish what you were doing."

    Ender snatched up a crayon and began pressing it on the paper way too hard, muttering to herself as Langly returned to his seat.

    "This is so pointless, I'm never going to need to write something where I won't be able to type it."

    "What about signing something?"

    "I'll sign with an x... better yet, I'll have a stamp made up."

    Frohike walked over unnoticed and tickled her on her left side, she giggled and recoiled.

    "Oh sure, then anyone can steal the stamp and pretend to be you."

    "Fine, I'll keep my sloppy signature it'll be harder to forge."

    "You call that a signature?" Frohike leaned over some of the papers spread out on the table.

    Ender stuck her tongue out at Frohike, who stood up, messed her hair and walked over to the sink.

    "Besides, why am I signing anything anyway?"

    Frohike laughed and returned to his business.


    Byers stopped out the door and took a deep breath; he'd received a letter her wanted to discuss with Langly and Frohike before Ender found out. If she got one look at him right now, she'd know that something had happened, she was good at reading them on the first day they met, now that they had spent almost three weeks with her, sometimes she could tell them their thoughts before they even knew. He composed himself and pat the letter on his inside breast pocket, before unlocking the doors.

    "Byers is home." Langly announced as the door opened. Byers could see straight through the room to the kitchen where Ender was crouching over some computer paper and crayons. She looked up and smiled.

    "Hey Byers."

    Byers walked over to her, dropping the pile of envelopes on a desk in route.

    He got to the table and Ender looked up into his eyes and furrowed her brow. Crap, she knew, he was horrible at this. He didn't let his face show what he was thinking though,

    "What are you doing?"

    The look faded from Enders face, and she smiled for a minute. Byers was relieved to hear her tell him all about the new websites Langly had dug up today and about how horrible she was at writing instead of demanding to be told what he had found out, she hadn't noticed anything wrong. He offered a few encouraging comments when Ender showed him her pile of papers, but mostly just smiled and laughed.


    That night after Ender had been put to bed and Byers was positive she was asleep he unfolded the letter in his pocket and called Frohike and Langly over.

    He passed them the letter and the envelope, which went through so many post offices there wasn't room for another post mark on the entire thing, the earliest one though, Byers discovered after careful scrutiny was dated one day before they received the e-mail that Jack had failed to reach his safe house. Frohike read the letter first and passed it off to Langly.

    Mr. Byers, Please forgive the formality; we never were on a first name basis. It only strikes me now, as I have entrusted you with the life of my only daughter, yet I'm not quite comfortable calling you by your first name. Somehow though, I believe entirely that Annie is safe in your care.

    This letter has been sent through a series of routers and re- mailers and is completely untraceable, no one could find out where it came from or where it's going. I'm writing to inform you what you've no doubt figured out by now, I will be unable to meet Annie in Europe as planned, or ever again for that matter. They are perhaps a half a day away, and I've lost the will and the means to evade them anymore. I never wanted this life, I would have been content with my tests tubes and my quiet lab, raising a small family, but when I was forced to deal with the truth, about our science and government, I found myself resoundingly unprepared.

    You'll forgive my "preachy-ness", I feel this is the last opportunity that I will have to express myself freely. The point is, you and your companions are prepared for this life, and are living it. I don't ask that you try to expose what has happened to me, or take on my "mission"; all I ask though is that you look after Annie (perhaps a more difficult task.) She is a good child, and a far stronger person than I will ever be.

    I feel as though I should end this letter by telling you to tell Annie that I love her, I do, but I'd rather you not convey this message to her. Its best she forgets.

    Sincerely, Jack Wilson

    Frohike and Langly both nodded solemnly and Langly handed the letter back to Byers. It was nothing they didn't know already, and they had long since decided to look after Ender, but reading it in her father's own words, somehow hurt Byers. He smiled inwardly at Ender's protest that if he didn't say it, it wouldn't be true. This letter solidified things, it wouldn't change a thing for Ender, as Byers swore he would never let her hear of it (her father's forfeit would crush her) but it would allow the three of them to move on with things. It marked off a period of uncertainty.


    Ender ran through the endless open field, toward a blinding red sun. The smell of the grass, otherwise pleasant... in small amounts, surrounded and choked her. She filled with a pressing need to find him, her father, before the sunset; there would be no hope after dark, if only she could reach the hill, he had to be behind the hill. She ran on, until her small legs could carry her no further and she collapsed, gasping as the sun set over the unattainable hill.

    She woke to the sound of her own scream concluding, shaking and crying as had become customary for her. By the time she realized where she was, she was already in Byers' arms.

    Byers began to pace the room and rub Ender's back, immediately trying to convince her that she had only dreamt whatever had gotten her so upset, she still refused to share the subject of her dream... though he had a pretty good idea. He hated to see her terrified like this and still became a nervous wreck every time she would wake up with a nightmare. But somehow he was able to calm her, he'd force himself to be confident, walk into the room and raise her out of her bed. Though he rarely admitted to himself this, the tragedies surrounding the present circumstances and the ones that had brought Ender to them made him feel guilty for this thought, he liked to be able to do this. He liked having her here. Somehow, every now and then, to have someone completely rely on you and trust you, it... it made him feel like he wasn't a "tragic" hero, or a bumbling lonely geek.

    She focused on Byers, telling her that it was ok, and it was just a dream, she might calm down as soon as she got herself to believe this, but it always took her mind awhile to accept logic and rational thinking at times like this. Without fail though, when she accepted the fact that it all had been a dream, the implications and significance of the dream always supplied a solid ten to twenty more minutes of crying. She felt she'd never see him again, that it was all hopeless.

    She told herself that little kids lose parents everyday and that she should be able to cope. The thought of death brought on a sob and she forced herself to clear her mind.

    She concentrated no longer on Byers' words, only the sound of his voice and on their slow journey back and forth across the length of the room. After a few minutes of this, she had nearly fallen asleep again, allowing herself only one more thought before she dozed off, things could be much worse, she was lucky to have the gunmen.


    Byers woke up, and for a moment was terrified, he couldn't feel his right arm, and he chest felt heavy. He craned his neck and laughed at himself when he realized why. He had fallen asleep in Ender's room again, and the weight on his chest was Ender's head, her body accounted for the paralysis of his right arm.

    He gently inched his arm out from underneath her body and slid off the bed. He stood over her for a moment, wishing for all the world that her situation wasn't so grim and wondering how on earth he, Frohike and Langly were going to raise her. A smile surfaced on Byers' face as he thought of the "troubles" that lay ahead for them. He could just imagine Frohike or Langly having to make an emergency trip to an all-night drugstore for... Byers laughed softly and shook his head, that was a long way off. Now their biggest problem was that thumb sucking business, he thought as the sleeping Ender planted her right thumb in her mouth. Byers wondered what would happen later on in her life, there was no strong female influence in any of their lives and, Byers considered carefully, there was a strong chance there wouldn't be one any time soon.

    Ender's eyes blinked open and she smiled when she saw Byers looking at her. "You're sucking your thumb again."

    Ender stuck her tongue out at him "I'm five," she said in a little girl voice, widening her eyes innocently

    "I wasn't even awake, its subconscious... deep seeded, it's almost impossible to break a habit like..." she yawned and sat up.

    Byers grinned. "Like...?"

    "A habit like that" she rubbed her eyes.

    Byers laughed; "Maybe we should try hypnosis" he lifted her out of bed and headed toward the kitchen "I think Mulder knows a guy."

    Ender made a face at Byers as he lowered her into a seat around the kitchen table. Frohike walked in "Morning guys, Langly is out at the post office, got a call this morning, apparently we have a package."

    "A package?" Ender raised an eyebrow.

    "We're not expecting anything" Byers responded immediately.

    "Don't worry, Langly packed the bomb check stuff into the van, he's going to check it before he pulls out of the post office parking lot."

    Byers and Ender returned to their rooms and came out dressed just in time to see Langly enter lugging a large box.

    "What is it?" Byers walked over.

    "Sure don't offer to help."

    Byers took the box and set it down

    "Its clean... and its for Ender" Langly smiled, he had to have opened the box in order to have checked it, but he wasn't giving any details

    Ender walked into the room cautiously, "You sure its clean? Who is it from?"

    Langly was silent, there was no address, but it was clear where it had come from, and his silence told everyone else in the room, it had come from Ender's father.

    "There was a note" He passed the paper to Ender. Ender took the note, her eyes wide.

    "Merry early Christmas and happy early birthday sweetheart. I figure if all three of those geeks you hang out with try hard enough, they should be able to teach you."

    Ender laughed, and walked over to the box..."So what is it?" She carefully lifted one of the flaps that Langly had opened earlier.

    Her curiosity got the better of her and she finally stood on her tip toes and pulled open all the flaps.

    She dropped back down and laughed aloud. "What, what is it?" Frohike asked the giggling five yr old.

    "Its a bike" she smiled

    "What's so funny?" Frohike looked at her puzzled.

    "I just pictured you three maladroits trying to teach someone who has even worse motor skills to ride a bike!" Ender laughed.

    "Hey, we can all ride a bike" Frohike looked suspiciously to Byers, who paused and then nodded enthusiastically as Langly pulled the two-wheeler out of the box.

    "Yea, I'm sure" Ender continued to giggle.

    "Well there's only one way to prove it to you" Byers walked over to Ender, picked her up and turned her upside down, "To the park!"

    "The park business I get" She continued laughing "But why am I upside down?"

    "It is very difficult to learn how to ride a bike... it is even more difficult to do so, with a case of the giggles." Ender squirmed around, giggling until Byers finally held her upright.

    Langly wheeled the bike out the door and Byers followed after grabbing their coats. Frohike brought up the rear and shut the door, "Ok, but lets steer clear of other five-year-olds, Ender might start asking them to show her their lobotomy scars."

    Ender stuck out her tongue, "that reminds me Frohike, you still haven't shown me your scar."

    Frohike sneered, "Byers let me hold her for you, she must be getting heavy."

    "No!" Ender giggled, too late though, she was already passed off to Frohike and they continued toward the park.

    "Byers! You've passed me off to an enemy!"

    "Oh, have I? I didn't realize, Frohike, maybe you should give her back."

    "Give who back?" Frohike tossed Ender over her shoulder.

    "Ender."

    "Who?"

    Ender giggled and tried to escape from Frohike.

    "Ender, cute little five-year-old, about this high" Byers held his arm out to about Ender's height, "black hair, green eyes, sucks her thumb all the time and has the vocabulary of a bio grad student?"

    Frohike shook his head, feigning confusion. "Ender? Nope, never heard of her..."

    "Didn't I just pass her over to you?"

    "Nope, this is the first I'm hearing of her."

    "Langly have you seen Ender?"

    Langly shrugged, pushing the bike along... "Ender? Who's that?"

    "Ender, short five-year-old, been hanging out for the past few weeks."

    "Oh! Her... nope, I have no idea where she got off to."

    "Cut it out guys" Ender laughed "I'm right he..." Frohike covered her mouth with his hand.

    "Did you guys just hear something?"

    Byers and Langly shook their heads.

    Ender managed to pull Frohike's hand away, but only got out"Guys I'm..." before Frohike tickled her under her arm, loosening her grip and replaced his hand over her mouth.

    She finally managed to squirm free, ran in front of Byers and stopped with her hands on her hips.

    "Oh there you are" Byers lifted her off the ground, "where have you been? You shouldn't wander off like that."

    Ender scowled at him and shoved his tie into his mouth, laughing at the result.

    Byers, not bothering to remove the tie, flipped Ender upside down, making them an extremely odd looking pair as they approached the park.

    He set her upright on a bench and took the tie from his mouth. She laughed at the wrinkled mess it had become and Byers sighed and removed it.

    "You'll lose more ties this way if you keep that up." she grinned.

    Byers smiled as he unbuttoned the first button on his shirt and turned his back to Ender, "Hop on."

    He carried her piggy back over to where Langly and Frohike were waiting with the bike and set her down.

    "Ok" Langly explained, "These thingies" he pointed to the pedals, "make it go, this is where you go" he pointed to the seat, "and this controls where the bike goes" a point to the handlebars, "but for now I think you'll want to keep those straight."

    Ender giggled. Byers opted for a different attempt, and began to explain to her the concept of finding her center of balance, balancing a pen on his finger to demonstrate.

    "Geez what a bunch of geeks we are" Frohike sighed, "Just let her try."

    In few seconds Ender was on the bike, Frohike and Langly were on both sides of her, steadying the handlebars and Byers held the back of the seat...they looked ridiculous.

    They made their way back and forth a length of the park in this fashion and then Langly and Frohike let Ender control the handlebars, but trotted along side, catching her every time she toppled to one side.

    Byers let his grip loosen slightly on the back seat and when he felt that she was steadying the bike on her own pulled his hand away a little, signaling to Frohike and Langly, who smiled and slowed their pace. Ender rode on alone for a few seconds, no doubt realizing she was on her own. She placed about 6 yards distance between them until she her balanced wavered. She had the sense enough to topple onto the grass and a pile of leaves instead of the concrete.

    Byers, Langly and Frohike rushed over to her and found her laughing again.

    "For future reference, next time you teach a kid to ride a bike, teach them to stop before you let them ride on their own." She smiled as Frohike and Byers helped her up and brushed leaves from her.

    They head home, Frohike wheeling the bike along this time, walking in pace with Byers, while Langly and Ender ran ahead playing a predictable game of tag.

    "She's a damn good kid, Byers."

    Byers smiled at his short companion, "Yea she is."

    "And she'll make a damn fine adult, that is, if we don't screw her up too much." Frohike smiled.

    Byers nodded, "I think we can handle that."

    Langly finally swept Ender off her feet, and walked back to join Byers and Frohike, panting, "You've too much energy for me kiddo."

    "I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it's the count chocula" Frohike laughed.

    "What were you guys talking about?" Ender was out of breath herself.

    "Oh nothing, we were just saying what a damn good kid you were, and that we could probably get a lot of money for you on the black market, Frohike explained very plainly.

    "Frohike" Byers scolded, "don't say a thing like that."

    Ender smiled and stuck her tongue out at Frohike as Byers defended her.

    "We'd never sell her on the black market, if we're going to sell her we'll want to get retail price, even better we'll auction her off."

    Ender scrunched her nose up, paused and then extended her arms toward Byers, signaling that she wanted him to carry her. Langly passed her over. She looked him straight in the eye, pulled his tie out of his pocket and shoved it in his mouth. Frohike and Langly laughed as Byers removed the tie, Ender let out one more laugh before resting her head on Byers' shoulder and planting her thumb in her mouth, the universal symbol for a five-year-old in need of a nap.

    "There she goes with the thumb again," Langly laughed, "better be careful, it might get stuck in there."

    Byers gave a gentle tug on her wrist and she removed her thumb, "it's not my fault, I'm under bad influence."

    "Is that so?" Frohike turned his head toward her.

    "Yep, Byers here keeps sucking on his tie" Byers choose to defend his reputation by tickling Ender, preventing her from further explaining her theory.

    Ender finally gave up trying to blurt out the rest of her sentence every time Byers stopped and rested her head back on Byers' shoulder, this time without the thumb.

    They continued home as Ender slowly began to doze off in Byers' arms. For the first time in weeks she'd forgotten about everything that made her different than other five-year-olds. For the first time in months, she'd spent the day exactly like a five-year-old, and for the first time in her life; she was going to sleep the sound, and carefree sleep every five-year-old was entitled to.

    The End

     

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