The Education of John Matheson:

by Mistress Sarah

Summary: John Matheson discovers that even the PSI Corps & EF didn't give him enough education for some of the more enjoyable experiences in Life.
Series: This is the fifth portion of The Education of John Matheson series in which John Matheson is taught about life and love by:
Sarah Chambers (Elementary), Dureena (Preparatory), Galen (Bachelors), Max Eilerson (Masters), Matthew Gideon (Doctorate), Matthew Gideon (Post Doctorate)
Disclaimer: They aren't my characters, they belong to other people, but I dusted them off and borrowed them :D.
Rating: R
Notes: thoughts. I hope you like this series. If you don't...don't flame me, blame John Matheson. He's the one that's living it.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
-- Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude

Time: Ten years after the Cure was found.

I was dying, and he was taking his own Goddamn sweet time to get to see me. One would have hoped that after all our years together he would have felt some urgency to see me before I exited; stage left. Ok, I was being maudlin, but I've noticed that when you're terminally ill, you have this overwhelming urge to get all these little odds and ends tied up neatly before the black camel kneels. A sort of psychic house keeping, I guess.

No. I was actually hoping that he'd get here before I died, so I could save his life. If he arrived after I died, then "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft a-gley."

"Is he here... yet?" My speech was slurred and I had to repeat myself a few times before Sarah understood what I was saying. My growing frustration with my failing body didn't surprise her, but she was used to tending to the dying. She was a doctor, after all.

"No. Not yet. But soon, Matthew. Get some rest. You need it." Then Sarah gently touched my face, and covered me with another blanket. Lovely woman, how did she realize that I was still cold? I hadn't said anything to her, and I knew that she was sweltering in my room. The thermostat was set permanently at a temperature that most found unbearably warm. On the positive side, it kept visits short and sweet.

I shouldn't really be that angry at the fact he wasn't here yet, at my bedside. You see I kind of forgot to mention to him that I probably didn't have much more time to live when we last spoke. Thought it might put a damper on his day, after all. The man I was waiting for already knew I was terminal, and he didn't need to know more than that, now did he?

My illness had started off simply enough, a random trembling of my hands especially when I was tired, a growing sense of fatigue, and then a full-blown seizure on the bridge. I had woken up in Medbay to see my ship's doctor next to me, concern etched on his face, and he was repeatedly asking me, "MATTHEW? CAN YOU HEAR ME?"

I wanted to scream at him, and inform him that his repeated questioning was giving me a Goddamn headache, but I couldn't talk. Aphasia. Good lord, I had an uncle who had a stroke and for the first few days, you could see he could speak, but he just couldn't use certain words. You could prompt him with words, and he'd nod his head when you used the word that he couldn't say.

Oh good God. I wasn't even in my sixties. How the hell could this be happening to me? I couldn't speak. Not only couldn't I speak but also I knew exactly what I wanted to say. For example, HELP! And then I really got scared, as I couldn't seem to move my hands. Nor my legs. NOTHING. I couldn't move anything.

"Matthew. We think that it's a temporary thing. We're running a few tests to find out what's happening. We expect that you should be back to normal within a few hours."

What if you're WRONG? That was my last thought as I suddenly realized that I was falling asleep. Damn it, Dr. Shikari had drugged me to high heavens. A good doctor, but he was a little bit too fond of having non-verbal patients, as they're less likely to bitch and moan especially if the patient is a Starship Captain. There's no one else in the universe that I would trust to handle this situation more...except for Sarah Chambers. But she's on Terra, married, and raising a few kids by now. Who the hell ever thought Eilerson was the domestic type? I never would have guessed.

Later on, I would find out that I had another seizure after I had collapsed on the bridge, scaring everyone senseless. Fortunately, my XO had managed to take control of things, calling for a med team STAT, and trying to keep me from hitting my head repeatedly on the floor. I had pretty much been in a non-stop seizure for over thirty minutes. That's why Shikari had drugged me, to try and prevent my brain from shorting out. Sure, that's the layman terms for what was later explained to me, but the idea was to prevent me from seizing again. I didn't seize again, while I was on my ship, instead I was comatose.

I had a rather vivid dream during my stay in Medbay that repeated over and over again. I was back at the card game where I had gotten my little friend, the Apocalypse Box, and I was dealing cards to my old friend, Captain John Matheson. While I had gotten old and gray, OK, white haired, John still looked youthful. It was rather disgusting how good he looked, in fact. John was grinning his old smile at me, as he was having a winning streak. What the hell was John doing playing cards with me? John never played cards with me as he had the upper hand. Nobody could really bluff a Telepath, except for another Telepath. It wasn't that John would have scanned me to check my cards out, but still he was too moral a person to even THINK of playing cards.

But here we were, playing poker, fast and furious, and he was winning. Suddenly, he pulled from somewhere, perhaps from his left sleeve, an absolutely incredible hand, and I found myself broke.

"Beat ya." He smiled at me, and he began shuffling the cards again, energetically. For someone who apparently had never played cards in real life, the dream version of John Matheson was intricately shuffling the cards like he worked at a Centauri Casino. For those ladies among us, who don't understand, most Centauri card Dealers use their attributes to cheat, but I doubted that even my dream John Matheson would have suddenly developed a few more attributes.

"This time. How about playing another round? I can't have you win. I've got a reputation to maintain." I always won at cards, but in this dream, John had apparently won each and every hand. His pile of chips was large, and I suddenly realized that I was dirt poor.

"Ok, I'll spot you a few chips. For old time's sake." He laughed and he tossed me a few chips.

We were quiet for a bit, and I suddenly had a killer hand. There was no way John Matheson ever could beat this hand as I had four ACES! But John was throwing more money into the pot.

"This is getting too rich for me." I admitted it, softly.

"How 'bout, I'll let you put that duffel bag of yours into the pot. Sight unseen. Collateral." John gave me a wicked smile and I found myself putting it on the table. Duffel bag? I didn't have a duffel bag. But this was a dream, so I guess I had one; I nodded my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the duffel bag being pushed to the center of the table by eager hands.

Then I laid down my cards, and John beat me. My unbeatable hand of 4 aces suddenly turned into a deuce, two more of the low cards... and the joker? What the hell was I doing with the Joker in a poker game? I revealed my last card to show... the Ace of Spades. The Death Card. The Joker and the Death Card? I really didn't like this dream.

John had beaten me again. "I beat you, Matthew! We should have played cards on the Excalibur at this rate. I probably would have ended up owning the ship!" John suddenly grabbed the duffel bag, and he laughed softly. "So what's in this? A Box?"

It was the Apocalypse Box, and IT was now in John's hands. I felt a shudder run down my spine when I heard someone talking to me. Looking up, I saw the previous owner of the Box staring at me.

"IT wants to move on. IT always makes the decision when it's time for IT to move on. John Matheson has been selected as the next host." The gambler was speaking to me in my voice, and I got more chills down my spine. Nobody else could hear him, as John Matheson was busy commenting on IT. Marveling at ITS obvious antiquity, John had no idea that he had the devil in his hands.

"No! I'm not allowing it." I growled that at the former owner, ok, HOST, and he suddenly frowned in disapproval.

"You don't have a choice. I didn't. Nor did the others."

"Yes. I do. No. No. NO. NO! I kept screaming that over and over again while I experienced a searing pain in my skull.

I was back at the card game where I had gotten my little friend, the Apocalypse Box, and I was dealing cards to my old friend, Captain John Matheson. While I had gotten old and gray, OK, white haired, John still looked youthful. It was rather disgusting how good he looked, in fact. He was grinning his old smile at me, as he was having a winning streak. What the hell was John doing playing cards with me...

I was back at the card game where I had gotten my little friend, the Apocalypse Box, and I was dealing cards to my old friend, Captain John Matheson. While I had gotten old and gray, OK, white haired, John still looked youthful. It was rather disgusting how good he looked, in fact. He was grinning his old smile at me, as he was having a winning streak. What the hell was John doing playing cards with me...

Each time, I would fight to say "NO" whenever the duffel bag was offered as collateral, but each time it was accepted. Time after time, John won the Box and I argued with the former "host."

Apparently, I had been unconscious for days; even after I was weaned off the drugs, which scared the hell out of everyone. When I finally woke up, I knew I wasn't on my ship, as no spaceship had a view that offered a blue sky like that. Instead, I was in a hospital bed. There was a familiar face near mine, of an old friend of mine that I knew was in Geneva right now.

Geneva, located on Earth Prime.

I was home again.

"Sarah?" I whispered.

"Matthew. Matthew. Matthew. What am I going to do with you? You've scared the hell out of everyone with this." Her voice was as warm and compassionate as always, but I knew she was scared.

"Sarah? Am I dying?" My voice was shaky, and I hoped I was wrong. Dear God, I wasn't even fifty-seven yet. I was too young.

She gave me a gentle smile, and I knew that my dream had been prophetic.

"How long?" I asked her that softly.

"Not really sure. Probably a year or so. Maybe more?"

"What's happening?"

"Neurological failure. Anemia. Muscle Atrophy. You name it, it's going on. And it's recent, as nothing was seen in your last three physicals."

"Need to get back to my ship." I had to get my hands on that damn Apocalypse Box and soon, as John's soul was depending on it. I had long accepted the fact that my soul would be the price for dealing with that Thing. While that sentiment sounded poetic, now at the end of my life, I found myself wishing that I had never seen the Apocalypse Box. Sarah began to protest, and I found myself arguing with her.

"No, Matthew. You can't. We're still running all sorts of tests on you, and it's just not possible."

"I'll sign out Against Medical Advice." I growled at her, and Sarah shook her head.

"Do it, and your favorite godson will be renamed to Horatio."

"Poor Mateo." There was no way I could sign out AMA as I don't think I would have made it to the door before collapsing. I was unbelievably exhausted right now, and I tried to think of a possible option. I was a gambling man, and I had two people on who that I could possibly use in this situation. Sarah... or her husband, Max. "How about sending Max out to get my stuff for me? There are a few things that he'll need to take care of for me, but since I spent all that time picking up after him, I think it's time he returned the favor. I'll need to speak to him. Get him here, quickly. Ok? And turn those vid cameras off. I don't want my private moments fodder to be for the tabloids."

She left, and I wept hard. Dying. I was fading away, but I had to protect John Matheson. I prayed to any God that might be listening that I would be able to fulfill this last assignment.

A few hours later.

I had composed myself, and Eilerson was waiting to talk to me. In the back of my mind, I had formulated a plan, and I hoped that Max would be the one to help me see any flaws in it. You see, as Max had often reminded me in the past, he was far smarter than I was.

"Max. I need you to do something for me."

"Mon Capitan, why do I get the feeling that you are going to ask me to do something risky and stupid right now? I'm not helping you escape from Sarah. If after twelve years, I can't escape from her, then you're never going to be allowed to escape." The older man gave me a smirk, and I wanted to wipe it off his face.

"No. I need you to help me save John. I can't do it from this hospital bed. Quit your smart ass comments for once, and listen to me, damn it."

"OK. What's going on?" Max smiled at me, and I began to speak to him. As the hours went by, Max's face lost that silly smirk of his when he realized that I was serious about what I was telling him. I told him everything, about the Apocalypse Box, what I knew about it, what it had done to me, and more importantly, what it was going to do to John. "IT'S a parasite and IT wants John to be ITS host. That damn Thing will destroy him. Like IT did to me."

"So why me? Why do you want me to pick this Box up, rather than Galen? I think he could handle it better than I could. I'm not a Technomage."

Max was being serious, rather than trying to get out of doing this, and I struggled to find the energy to answer him. "Box hates Galen. Might be dangerous if the two met. Extremely dangerous. Never could find out why. You have to do it. No one else can."

"So I pick this Pandora's Box up, being careful not to touch it directly, or open it, and then I bring it here to you. What's next then?"

"Here's my plan. And you, with your superhuman intelligence, need to tell me if there's anything that might not work with it. Tell me quickly if you see anything, because once that damn box is here, I don't think we can talk this freely."

Actually, I had been surprised that I had been able to mention this much to Max, and I was grateful. Perhaps this might work after all, so I began outlining my plan to Max quickly.

When I was done, Max stared into space for a while, and he then nodded his head. "Might work."

"Might?" I asked. Might wasn't good enough with John Matheson's life on the line. Might. Possibly. Could. I wanted definitive answers, damn it!

"Might!" He said that reassuringly, but... that really wasn't enough for me.

Max had returned, and the Apocalypse Box was stuffed in a duffel bag. Max noticed my distaste and he whispered, "What?"

"That's how it was in the dream. Maybe... I'm not going to be helping him with this... Maybe..." I'm just helping that damn Box out.

For the past several months, I had been in and out of the hospital, and now I was back out again. The disease had episodes where it would flare up, and I would be in agony, and then it would go somnolent. Those rare, peaceful moments when I was free from the hospital found me staying at the Eilerson-Chambers' household. They had graciously given me a suite of rooms to call "home". One of the rooms opened out onto a porch, which had a few chairs, and a day bed for me to sleep on. I usually wrapped myself up in a few blankets, and lay outside in the sun, enjoying how beautiful the land around their house was. It was also a rather noisy place, full of running children, and I rapidly lost count of how many they claimed they actually had.

"Three? Four? Or Eleven? I'm confused."

"Just the three, Mateo, and the two girls, Aphrael and Jaia. Unless Sarah's planning on surprising me with another one." That was Max, who gave his much younger wife a leer.

"No. No more. Jaia was a surprise for both of us."

"Darn." Max gave her a gentle smile, full of mock disappointment.

Sarah ruffled Max's hair affectionately, and I was again surprised at how easily Eilerson had apparently adapted to domestic life. The children seemed to love me, especially the youngest, Jaia, who was four years old, and destined to be a starship Captain. I could just predict it, as she had the temperament for it. Wouldn't Eilerson be surprised when that happened? And I wished that I'd be around to see the look in his eyes when Jaia Eilerson-Chambers was full-grown. She'd be a force to reckon with as she had gotten both of her parent's stubbornness in full measure. On second thought, maybe I should be glad that I wasn't going to be around for that particular parental-child conflict that I saw looming in their futures.

I'd often hear her laughing outside my rooms, so I'd sometimes make the effort to watch her. Max occasionally came home at odd times to play with her, and I couldn't help but marvel on how Max's marriage to Sarah had changed him. Max Eilerson was having a serious discussion with his daughter about butterflies! I wouldn't have believed it, except for the fact that I was eavesdropping on the two of them. Max liked talking with his daughter, as that was apparently the only time she'd slow down to sub-warp speed. He was older than I was, and he wasn't up to racing after a four year old with her own inexhaustible power source, so after a while he'd foist her off on me.

"Here! I'm palming off this terror to you. She's lonely since her siblings have school right now, so pay for your room and board and watch her! I've got to get back to work."

Jaia took pity on me, so she didn't make me race after her. Usually, we'd sit and talk; and I taught her how to play poker, which managed to really piss off Eilerson. Her hands were far more nimble than mine were, so I usually let her deal the cards. Like I thought, the kid was a natural, so I taught her other games of chance, and most importantly, how to cheat at them.

"You're teaching a four year old how to play poker? Are you mad, man?" Eilerson was incredibly pissed, and secretly, I laughed. Just like old times on the Excalibur, I always managed to piss Eilerson off.

Sarah had smoothly interrupted that potential argument by dryly commenting on how poker taught reasoning, and statistics. Max had growled in disgust, knowing that he had lost the argument when Sarah had gotten involved, while I was urging Jaia to shuffle the cards for another hand. Sometimes when I was feeling up to it, I'd walk around the grounds with her. I found her to be bright, articulate and too damn cute for her own good.

"You're gonna break hearts when you grow up, kid." I'd warn her, while she giggled.

"Don't wanna break hearts! I wanna be a starship Captain!"

"I have absolute faith in you that you'll be able to do both quite successfully." I assured her. But those conversations were on my infrequent good days, and mainly, I'd fall asleep outside on the terrace, and when I woke up, she'd be sleeping innocently next to me.

These were the times that I was at my bleakest. I'd had the chance for a life like this, a long time ago but I had recklessly, foolishly sold my soul to a devil in a wooden box. Wanting vengeance for the crew of the Cerebus, I had squandered my future to avenge them. But now, facing the end, I wondered if my personal price had been too high. What would it have been like to actually have had a relationship with someone that progressed to the point of marriage and children? God, how I envied Eilerson and Sarah their family life.

One night, there was a raging thunderstorm, and I had kept my windows open so I could enjoy the wind. I had always enjoyed feeling wind in my face, and I wished that I were strong enough to walk outside in the rain. But, instead I stayed awake, and enjoyed nature's versions of fireworks. Incredible. I was moderately surprised when I realized that Jaia was in my room.

"Jay? Are you scared?" I whispered that at her conspiratorially.

"No. She is." Jaia pointed to a ragged Technomage doll that Sarah had made for her. Galen had been rather put out by the fact that Jaia had a Technomage doll to play with, and that she had named it 'Walyn', but Dureena and I had been amused. It was especially comical when she dragged it around by one arm or a leg. I had laughed really hard the one-day she had thrown it over the railing of the steps, in the hopes that it might learn to fly because Jaia had reasoned that Uncle Galen could fly. Dureena and Galen had come to an understanding of sorts, and their relationship had blossomed into one of Teacher and Student, but I don't think it was actually going the way Galen had expected. Oftentimes, he'd look at Dureena with a startled look in his eyes, so I thought that she was teaching my sheltered Technomage a few things about life. Like perhaps that there were better things to do with his time besides wage a one Technomage war against the Universe, fighting against what he perceived as injustice.

I wish someone had taught me that a few years ago, but now there was a crew member that needed reassurances.

"Oh. I understand. Starship Captains have to keep an eye on their crew. So, Jay, how about crawling into bed for a bit, that way we both can keep an eye on Walyn?"


She fell asleep there, and I again realized what I regretted most about my illness. Sarah had the irascible Max, Galen was involved with the irrepressible Dureena, and even 'Poor' John had his vodka-drinking 'Crew of Crazy Cossacks' while I had... no one. No family. No ship. No crew. And most importantly, no time. After Elizabeth and I had gone our separate ways, I had a few brief affairs, usually because the other person involved had wanted the honor of bedding the "Hero and Savior of the Human Race." Talk about performance anxiety! Try sleeping with someone and realizing that the next day, they'll probably be gossiping about having slept with the "SAVIOR of the EARTH!" At least Sheridan had been involved with Delenn at the time when he was the current "Savior", so he hadn't that worry. But I had, and it had been rather daunting after a while. I mean, did you really want to hear later on that the "Savior of Terra" was a lousy lay? I think not!

There wasn't a chance that a long-term relationship would ever develop out of one of these flings, but I had still hoped. It would have been nice to have someone lying next to me during these long nights, while I couldn't sleep. To have someone consoling me and cheering me when I grew despondent. But for now, a sleeping four-year old and her ragged Technomage doll would do nicely.

I kissed her gently on her head. "Nighty, night, Capt'n."

She'd be a hell of a Starship Captain, especially if Uncle John would mentor her. I made a mental note to tell... OK... suggest, him to do so, and I fell asleep.

I hadn't told John that I didn't have that much time left, but I think he knew, as I could never lie to John. Whenever I tried, he would know I was lying, and he would shake his head in disapproval. Instead, I had phrased my medical discharge from EF as a retirement, instead of what it truly was. We talked regularly, and I had finally told Sarah to get him here after a particularly fierce seizure. But he was being delayed by EF, and I was growing nervous that time was growing short. For now it was time for our desperate plan to save John Matheson to truly begin. But I think the box had other plans, as it now wanted to speak with... Eilerson? I had refused that, until the last episode of pain grew so severe that I had agreed with IT; just to make the pain stop. OK! Goddamn it, you'll get to speak to Eilerson. Fucking lot of good that will do you. Trust me O' Great Box.

I hated being in the hospital. All these people were running in and out of my room, constantly, so I had finally demanded that only Sarah be allowed in to treat me. I think the "Hero of the Earth" was getting to have a reputation as a difficult patient and I just didn't care. Resting for a moment, I concentrated on the heart monitor. Beep. Beep. Beep. Focusing inward, I tried to give myself the strength to stay alive until John got here. Damn it, I shouldn't have fought so hard to keep the Box away from Eilerson, as the resulting flare up had nearly killed me. No... correction, the flare up would just kill me faster. I had only months left, maybe a year, Sarah told me. But we both knew she was lying.

I knew I had a handful of months left, maybe six... maybe less.

Hurry, John, HURRY.

"Sarah. Drug me. Need to speak with Max. No cameras. Ok?" I always insisted on no cameras, and Sarah never bothered to insist that they had long been turned off.

"Sure, Matt."

She left, and then Max entered the room.

"Max. There's something that wants to speak with you." I was hedging, in the hopes of making it sound like Max wasn't aware of the Apocalypse Box. Come on, Max, play the game. Come on.

"What?" He caught the look in my eyes, and he knew that I was serious.

"It's something called an Apocalypse Box."

Max was startled, but he managed to cover it well. He began talking like the academic he was, and gave me speech about the meaning of the word Apocalypse. It was Greek - meaning revelations of the end of time and the last judgment. Apocalyptic literature deals with such subjects as heaven, the future of the world, the activities of angels and the soul's future existence. "So you have an Angel in a box that wants to speak to me? Really. Where is it?"

"Under the bed. In a duffel bag."

Max crawled under the bed, and pulled it out from the bag. "Beautiful. Do you want to open it, or shall I?"

"I will." And I fumbled for a bit, hoping that the Box wasn't actually going to decide to have Max as its next host. I opened the lid, and I heard my voice speak. Eilerson gave me a concerned look when he realized that it was coming from the box.

[No. He is too old.]

"Geez. Thanks. A talking box that can hurl insults at people. I certainly hope you're not an Angel as you've managed to disappoint me. Maybe you're a fallen Angel... hmmm... Dr. Maximilian Eilerson, at your service. And who are you?"

[An Apocalypse Box.]

"What do you want?" Eilerson began questioning it, and the box started a conversation with him. Obviously, even wooden Boxes get chatty. This was too damn weird.

[To fulfill my mission.]

"Who do you serve?"

[The ones that have gone before.]

In the back of my head, I realized that Eilerson was asking questions that Galen had asked me a long, long time ago when he had agreed to join the Excalibur team.

"Are you sentient?" Max deviated off onto a new question.


"Do you have a soul?"

Come on, Max. The Thing's a Goddamn wooden box. I don't think wooden boxes have souls, do you?

[Only those that have souls can be concerned about them.]

"You give answers. But probably they're not always truthful, eh?" Eilerson laughed in disgust.


I was trying not to fall asleep during this odd conversation, and I think I succeeded. But I was so tired.... maybe if I closed my eyes, I could still listen.

Matthew was out cold, and I began to seriously question this gaudy box in front of me. I asked question after question for many hours, and IT had answered all of them for me. I began writing down everything that IT was telling me, figuring that I would work out later what were lies and what weren't, and I finally asked IT one last question.

"What the hell do you really WANT?"

And IT told me. For a moment, I wasn't sure if IT was telling me the truth or not, but then I decided that maybe... IT was. But I couldn't trust the damn thing, as IT was dealing cards coated Matthew's pain and John's possible future, and I knew that the Box was playing ITS own game with ITS own murky rules. Matthew then woke up after my last question and I had my suspicions confirmed that the Box was regulating Matt's health to further its own goals.

"I didn't doze off, did I?" He asked that sleepily.

[No.] The Box and I answered that question together.

"I think IT is tired of show and tell, and wants to say goodbye. I'll... put IT away." My voice was level, not showing how shaken I was, that the Box and I had BOTH decided to lie to Gideon.

"Thanks." Matthew was dozing again, and I suddenly saw that there was a message for me on the view screen.


I put the Box away, and I suddenly had the feeling that IT knew I had taken IT off Gideon's ship and that we hadn't managed to fool IT at all with our elaborate charade. Or maybe, we had managed to fool IT for the most important part, which we had never discussed in ITS presence. That we were going to send the damn Thing directly to Hell, C.O.D., Courtesy of Galen the Technomage Delivery Service. Or maybe, ItT knew... and IT didn't care as IT was playing another game.

"Matt. John's here. Shall I send him in?" I tried to keep my voice quiet so not to wake the dying man if he was dozing off again, but Matthew gave me a slight grin.

"Please. Just warn him. That I don't look good. Don't want to shock him with my appearance."

For a moment, he opened his eyes, and I showed him something that I had scribbled down prior to my arrival in his room.

[I'LL TELL THE OTHERS THE STORY WE MADE UP ABOUT YOU WANTING TO SUICIDE. THEY'LL UNDERSTAND & WE'LL HAVE YOU OFFPLANET BY TOMORROW AT THE LATEST.] I was lying to him, as I had already told Galen, Dureena and my dear Sarah what was really going on and we had finalized... another plan of which Gideon wasn't aware. Now that John had arrived, the remaining members of the Excalibur staff would meet at my office, where I would "tell" them about the Apocalypse Box. I just hoped that Galen had become a better actor over the years, as I found him to be a hopeless ham at times. The last thing we wanted was John... and then possibly that damnable Box, thinking that we might have evened out the playing field. I had an ace or two up my sleeve that I hoped I wouldn't have to use.

"Thank you."

Then I turned to leave the room, and I realized that I was about to cry. So I left his room before I started bawling in front of him. They were all there, including John, the man we were trying to save from Gideon's fate, and I was suddenly emotionally overwhelmed. I broke down and cried in the middle of the Center for Disease Control Hospital- St. Luke's of Geneva's hallway while my friends looked upon me with concern.

John Matheson.

I quickly kissed Sarah and Dureena, nodded an acknowledgement to Galen and waited my turn to see the dying man. He had sent for me, and I had responded as quickly as ever. Even though I was now the Captain, and he, a civilian, some things would never change.

"He's in with Max." Sarah whispered. It had been a few years since I last saw her face to face, but she was still as beautiful as ever. Married life had obviously agreed with her.

"Eilerson came?" I was astounded.

"Gideon told him to be here, and Max came running. When I asked him why he had to see Max, he just stated Max owed him that much. You know how Max and Matthew are, each does things for his own reasons, never telling anyone the real reason why he does anything." She laughed while I nodded. "Even to his wife. But I've gotten use to Max's quirks over the years. John, I better warn you that I had to dose Matt pretty heavily. He wanted to have a conversation with Max about something. They've been in there for hours."

"I came as quickly as I could" I whispered, and she hugged me hard. "I had to arrange for a leave of absence from EF."

"I know...I know." When Sarah released me from my hug, Dureena grabbed me and hugged me tightly.

"John... he doesn't look good. I wanted to warn you." Her voice was soft and I sighed.

When I released her from our hug, I sat down with my friends and caught up with their lives. Sarah was now the head of the ISA Center for Disease Control (CDC), while Dureena and Galen just smirked when I asked what they were doing. We talked about everything, and anything, but nothing about the terminally ill man in the room down the hallway, who was still talking to Eilerson.

We sat in the hallway, overlooking a garden and I waited my turn to see him. Eilerson came out, and he ignored us. Instead, he turned to face a wall, and I saw him wipe unshed tears from his eyes. Composure restored, he motioned for me to come to him. "He and I had a long conversation, and I need to research something. He's pretty much exhausted now, but he gave me the details of what he wants to do. After you see him, I'll talk to you about what he needs to have you do. Come to my office, they'll be expecting you and the rest of them. Try to have Galen behave himself, we're still laying down new carpet from his last appearance."

He left without saying goodbye to the rest of the group. His quick steps echoed down the stairs, and I heard him calling for his driver. Max was in typical Eilerson form, yelling at his driver for not being ready. "What do you think IPX pays you that obscene amount of money for? To be at my beck and call. Well, I'm beckoning and I'm calling. Now hurry, damn it!"

I tried to compose myself, shaken anew by Eilerson's reaction to Matthew's condition. Whatever he had wanted, Eilerson was now racing to get it done. No arguments, no quibbling, no ranting and no raving. And that's what scared me most. Eilerson would bitch and moan when there was time to waste, and when time was of the essence, he was like a man possessed. And after seeing Max, I knew... that Matthew had only a very short time left.

I knocked on the door, and spoke softly, "Sir, I'm here. May I come in?"

Matthew was exhausted; I could see it in his features. There was that ever-present darkness, that had grown and festered over the years, and now, it was plainly obvious to all in his physical deterioration. Dureena had been wrong. Matthew just didn't just look "not good". He looked like hell. Wasted, sunken features and his hair wasn't just salt and pepper anymore. He was gray, and his complexion was gray. He looked horrible. He was barely past his mid fifties, and he appeared significantly older.

"Sir?" I asked again softly, not wanting to wake him. Matthew appeared asleep in his bed, and I was loath to wake him. He had been talking with Eilerson for hours, and I knew, first hand, how exhausting that was when you were healthy.

"Damn it, John. It's been ten years, don't you think you can use my first name, yet?" He gave me his usual smile, and he choked out a laugh. But his eyes remained closed, as though he was trying to reserve his strength for that final battle against the darkness.

"M-matthew, I'm here... I came as soon as I could." My voice was soft, and I reached for his hands. For years I had never dared touch him for fear of what Jones might say, but now, Matthew was dying. To hell with regulations, to hell with rules, I grasped his hands securely in my own, and I tried to send as much emotional support as I could to him. And I marveled again at how the roles had reversed.

"So, how do I look? I couldn't ask Dureena and Sarah. And Eilerson just flat out refused to answer that question." His eyes were still closed, and I could see he wanted to know.

"You look better than I expected." It WAS true. Sarah's request for me to return to Earth, damn the consequences, had me expecting the worse. I had fully expected to receive notification that he died during my delayed return. Damn EF and their mounds and mounds of paperwork!

"LIAR" he said. "I look like hell. And Eilerson didn't argue with me, even once, while we talked. So I know I look like...." He paused for a moment, opened his eyes and spoke softly. "I need you to do something for me. And... The rest of them, I need... It's my last request, Captain's prerogative." I was startled, while his body looked almost dead; his eyes were shockingly alive, as though all his strength was focused inward. Matthew had waited for me to come see him, before he died. I knew it, in the depths of my soul. He gave me another gentle smile, and my composure broke. I wept like a child at the bedside of the man who had been my mentor, and my only friend, until I had joined the Excalibur. And he stroked my hair, whispering to me "It'll be alright, John. It will be. I promise you, if it's the last thing I ever do."

IPX headquarters.

"Eilerson's expecting us." I told the secretary, who was plainly not happy seeing the riff-raff in front of her. You couldn't really blame her; we were a rather motley looking crew. I was travel-stained and tired, Dureena was sneering, Sarah looked somber and Galen was wearing his cape over his face, looking like death incarnate.

"Dr. Eilerson is a very busy man, and you can't see him without an appointment." She had the dry tones of a self-important fool, and I saw Galen's temper flare.

I looked at Sarah, who gave me a dry look. "They forget that he's married, so I have to go through this every time he gets a new secretary."

But Galen couldn't wait for Sarah to straighten things out. Instead, the Technomage struck his staff on the floor, and announced in a voice like that of the Creator. "Mr. Eilerson will speak to us, Madame." He was polite, but I think the fiery staff in his hand, and the sudden appearance of a dagger in Dureena's hands caused her to hit the panic button.

"Shit! She's called Security!" I told them, as I could hear the alarm being rung. We never could do anything quietly, that was apparent once again. Hopefully, Max would decide to come out of his office, and investigate what was the fuss was. Ideally, before the cops were called.

"Don't worry, John. I think I can handle a few security guards!" announced Galen, as he swung his staff dangerously. With a sudden roar, a golden dragonette suddenly appeared in front of Galen, and began to grow. I groaned; things had gotten really out of hand again. A dragon... No, dragonette! Galen would be annoyed if I didn't use the proper term for his creation. A dragonette? Couldn't Galen do something quiet and less ostentatious?

"It's a hologram! Ignore it," cried one of the security guards, who then charged the dragon. It was his final mistake working for IPX as the dragonette suddenly roared an earth-shattering bellow and picked the guard up in its mouth then dropped him down two flights of steps. I winced as I heard him bounce repeatedly.

"Too bad, he didn't learn how to fly in time," whispered Galen. "Certainly had the motivation."

I suddenly heard Eilerson's voice behind me. "Call the damn guards off, Sylvia. Damn it, Sylvia, I told you I had cleared my appointments this afternoon because... Ah- shit. She's passed out cold. Galen, call the dragon off please, before your little pet ruins that Picasso over there? Damn it, Galen, you're a Technomage, do you think you could HOUSEBREAK the damn thing?"

Galen looked annoyed and commanded his dragonette to stop its rampage. He gave a magical gesture and the dragonette began to shrink in size until Galen walked over and picked it up in his hand. "Good, good Dragonette. Daddy's so proud of you," he cooed at the little dragonette. "Glinda's such a love, isn't she?" He showed her off to Dureena and Sarah, both of whom didn't look that happy with either Galen OR Glinda. His mobile face frowned and he walked over to Sylvia, who had been roused by one of her co-workers. "Madame, may I present you Glinda?" If I didn't know better, I would have sworn that Glinda the Golden Dragonette, preened a bit during the introduction.

Sylvia then passed out again.

"Galen, put the dragonette away, ok?" Eilerson was not happy, especially when he noted the dragon. NO, dragonette damage to the new carpet.

Eilerson's office.

"Don't worry, Max. Sylvia will live to be frightened by Galen another day," mocked Sarah.

"If she comes back," Max shook his head, "I swear, I lose more secretaries."

"Nice office, Max," cooed Dureena as she began looking around at the priceless artifacts.

"A few odds and ends that I picked up over the years. By the way, Dureena everything's counted." He gave her a mocking grin as he motioned for us to sit down at a large table that had a model of a wooden box sitting in a stasis field in the middle of it. There were numerous open books strewn about the table, and I saw that Eilerson had his stash of salty popcorn balls on the table. Eilerson always claimed he worked better on a diet heavy on salt. "Since I'm the Executive Director in charge of whatever I'm in charge of this week, I don't want anything from my office, ending up in the hands of others. Not that I'm saying anything, of course, but I know how thieves like to stay in practice. Their fingers start itching and then... something ends up missing."

"Oh darn," she grinned in mock disappointment.

Galen suddenly grew interested. He was peering at the model on the table, and his face was full of disgust. "Maximilian where did you get that abomination?"

"I didn't. It's Gideon's. And that's what's sucking the life out of him. It's like a psychic leech that's attached to his soul, draining it dry over the years, bit by bit. It's an Apocalypse Box, and..."

"Shadow-spawn," whispered Galen.

"Rather interesting perspective coming from the Technomage in the corner. Why don't you all reflect on that bit of morality, so you can let me continue without interruption? It uses its hosts over the years, until it decides to move on to a new host. And it abandons its old host and then attaches itself to another soul, draining it dry and so on and so on. I think it's older than the Shadows and the Vorlon. It's probably even older than the creation of the universe."

"And it's evil" whispered Sarah.

"No, it just has a complete lack of understanding of morality." Eilerson admitted.

"How do you know this much, did you open it?" hissed Galen, who suddenly made a shielding gesture ... Against Eilerson?

"Yes... You see, IT and I had a long conversation at the hospital. And IT lied to me, of course, Amazing, A lying-truth-saying box, but you see, I know I was safe. IT doesn't want me as a new host. I'm older than Gideon, after all." He ran a hand through his mostly white hair, and he gave me an intense look. "At most, IT would get a few months out of me. IT wants a new host... and..."

"IT wants me." I said. The silence that descended on the conference room was complete. I could hear the ticking of the clock on Eilerson's desk, and I wondered inanely why a man of his wealth and power would want a clock that he would have to manually wind daily. Probably has someone that's paid to do that. Like Sylvia, when she was upright and walking.

"Yes" nodded Eilerson. "So, I made up this mock box if you will, and I've done some researching. There's strong possibility that we might be able to save John from it. If we can destroy it in the fires of a new star being born. But... You don't seem surprised John, how much do you know about IT?"

"Gideon always kept IT from me, but I knew that there was something that was giving him his answers. And what about... Matthew?" I asked, my voice shaking.

"IT's had ITS hold on him for a very long time. Matthew doesn't think he can be saved. But he wants to save you. So, he's going to try to escape from the hospital, and... " Eilerson sighed and paused.

"Suicide?" Sarah spoke softly. "And take that damn box with him?"

Max nodded.

Dureena slammed her hand on the table, and said, "I'm game." One by one, each of my friends agreed to try and save my life. But no one mentioned the man dying in the hospital, as my friends had accepted the fact that Matt was moribund.

But I hadn't.

"Here's the plan." Max spoke quietly, "And each of you will have a very important role in it...."

The next day, Dureena, Sarah and I were in Gideon's hospital room to say our final good-byes. A plan, somewhat different from the one that we had agreed upon in Max's office, had formed in the back of my mind, and I had decided to keep it to myself. Apparently, Galen and Max had already said their good-byes, as they were not in the room. The room was almost unbearably hot, as lately, Matthew was often complaining about being chilly. I was breaking out in a sweat, while he was nestled under three blankets. I was pleased to see that Gideon's color had improved significantly, and Sarah was fussing over him in his hospital bed. "Make sure you take these hypos every three hours, OK?" She had whispered at him.

"I hate being drugged up, you should know that." His voice was slurred and he appeared dazed from the heavy medication Sarah had given him. Matt must be feeling better, because he was cranky.

"Tough" she said. She gave him a crooked smile, while I recognized that she was "Out-Gideoning Gideon." It was a phrase she had coined years ago, when Gideon was being his most stubborn. The only way to win when Gideon was being stubborn was to "Out-Gideon Gideon." Perhaps that's how she and Max had an apparently ideal marriage, as she just "Out-Eilerson" Max. Except for his quirks about requiring salty popcorn, as Max refused to give that up for anyone.

"Sarah, has anyone ever told you that your bed side manner is lacking?" Matthew's voice was soft, but droll, as he gave Sarah's hand a slight squeeze. "And it's gotten worse over the years."

"All the time, mostly from you, I seem to recall." She leaned over, kissed him on his cheek and hugged him hard. Dureena followed suit and then the two women left his room, leaving me and him and the Box in his hospital room alone.

"John." Matthew was trying to get out of the bed. "I can't die in here. I can't. I want to die in space. You will help me? I don't want to die like a groundling. Need to get off Earth...."

"Yes." Eilerson had told me that Gideon had vowed him to secrecy about the Box, but he had decided to break that promise in the hopes of saving... ME. Instead, Gideon was hoping that he could fool the cursed thing by having me pilot the ship to where Gideon would suicide.

'An eternity stuck in that Box, God help me, that sounds like Hell,' Max had told me quietly.

I steadied him as he tried to get out of the bed. His condition had left him physically weak, and I was stunned by how he trembled, trying to stand upright.

"Let me get you a wheelchair, sir." Knowing that would sting his pride, I offered anyway. Damn it, Matt, instead of dying in peace, you were determined to dying fighting, to save me, so I wanted to help you shoulder this burden.

"MATTHEW... my damn name is MATTHEW. I seem to remember having this... conversation EARLIER with you." He growled at me, and proceeded to change into street clothes. Gideon was being stubborn and I pretended to ignore the fact that he was nearly took a header putting on his shoes. He sat down for a moment, panting from the exertion, and then proceeded to pull a duffel bag from underneath his bed.

"What's that?" I asked, innocently. I knew full well what it was, but I wanted to see if Matthew would confide in me.

"Personal stuff. Don't want to leave it. A few relics of days' long past."

He was lying, and I knew it. "Do you want me to carry it?" I wanted to help him carry the weight of that ... Thing, but I was loath to touch it.

"NO!" Matt growled again. He gave a long sigh, and spoke to me quietly. "I'm sorry, I'm ... just ... rather short tempered lately."

"Didn't really notice much of a change," I told him and he laughed quietly at my sarcasm. I tried not to let Matthew see that I knew how exhausted that left him.

We managed to sneak past the nursing station rather easily. Dureena had managed to pull a few stunts and most of the staff was trying to locate a Bill Parsons who had escaped from the floor. They'd later find him safe and sound, sitting in the 3rd floor waiting room watching the football game on the video, munching on salty popcorn, of all things! But somehow during the search for Parsons, everyone missed the fact that the dying Galactic Hero, Matthew Gideon had disappeared. They would have a full-scale investigation on how he had managed to escape the hospital, and they would come to a complete dead end. None of the personnel remembered him receiving visitors that day, and... For some odd reason, perhaps due to a quirky Technomage, all the vid cams weren't working?!?

Gideon leaned against me alarmingly in the elevator, and his color was... off. I supported him carefully, and he gave me a nod of his head to acknowledge that I was probably the reason why he was still in the upright position, instead of lying on the floor. "A few more minutes, Matthew. Remember that." He gave me a tired smile to acknowledge my comment, but obviously couldn't put more effort into it. We exited the little used freight elevator, and I had to half drag,half carry him to the empty loading dock. It was a Saturday, and fortunately the dock was empty.

When we got to the loading dock, everything went like clockwork, as Max's car was waiting for us. Amazingly enough, Eilerson was sitting in the back seat, glaring at the driver. "I didn't expect a running commentary on my schedule for today. Do what I've told you to do, or else I'll find someone who can." He hit a button, and the dark divider rose to separate the driver from the rest of the car. I noticed with approval that Max had the heat blazing in the car and that Eilerson was in short sleeves, with his IPX jacket hanging neatly off a hanger.

"Sorry- He's a good driver but a little slow on some things." He helped Gideon get into the car, even going as far as to hold that duffel bag in his hands, to allow Gideon to seat himself. Gideon collapsed into the seat, his breathing rapid, and Eilerson expertly inserted a hypo into his arm. "Get in, Matheson, some of us have a space craft to launch, remember?"

It took us the better part of two hours to reach IPX's exclusive landing field. During that time, Gideon was sleeping soundly in the back seat of the limo, covered by a heavy blanket that Max had pulled out from somewhere. Eilerson had positioned that Thing... next to Gideon while he was softly talking to me. He was giving me his personal spacecraft, an expensive four-seat shuttle, with all the latest bells and whistles, for Gideon's "farewell journey".

When we got to IPX's executive launch site, my belly tensed up, as no doubt we were going to be stopped by security. Max was obviously expecting a confrontation of some sort, as he had put his IPX jacket on. Instead we were waved in, with the security department head personally overseeing our entrance into the field. "Mr. Eilerson, security is wondering about your arrival today. They weren't expecting you." The driver's voice sounded familiar... but it couldn't be. Galen? Driving a Limo?

Max sighed. "Dim the lights in back, and stop the car."

He unrolled the window, slightly, and I could see that there was a female standing next to the car. For some reason, she sounded... nervous.

"Madame Director Melachoir, I understand that my arrival here is unfortitious for you as no doubt you've had to scramble security from all over to provide me with that entourage. I stopped by to say "Hello", and after I finish inspecting my ship, I'll expect a fully detailed report of your recent security details. But maybe, I'll take my ship up for a brief spin... then look at your security logs. Might give you time to straighten some things up? I know your predecessor was... rather... lackadaisical about keeping records."

Stunned by the implied threats in his cool, calm voice, I tried to softly project. "I'm not here. There is nobody here in the back. Just Eilerson." Her voice rose in consternation, combined with a taste of fear. Then Eilerson interrupted her by closing the window on her.

"Drive," he commanded, and the car moved.

I gave Max an evil look. "How far up in IPX are you, Maximilian?"

"Me?" He asked innocently.

"Yes. You."

"Far enough to see the earth and stars in all their glory, spread below me. Do you really need to know?" His voice was soft, and I shook my head. We had all changed from our tour onboard the Excalibur, some of us obviously more than others. "Be grateful that I can do this for him." And you. He spoke softly... "Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco." Later, I would find out that it was Virgil, and it translated roughly into "Not being unfamiliar with sorrow, I learn to help the misfortunate."

I woke up Gideon carefully, just before we reached Eilerson's spacecraft, and he had to focus on me for several minutes before he could speak. "John...need... to speak to Max, alone."

I got out of the limo and stared at the clean lines of Maximilian's personal spacecraft. It was... beautiful, clean of line, and just oozing power and wealth. "Obviously, I went into the wrong profession. I should have worked for IPX, rather than EF."

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Mr. Matheson, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." It was Maximilian's driver, and while he sounded like Galen, he didn't look like him. "Shall we load the ship? Security might get a little nervous with us hanging around, gawking."

"Galen?" I whispered, unsure of how sentient that Thing was. Was Galen expecting ... trouble, so he decided to "even the playing field"? I knew Galen and Max had talked long into the night after the "Round Table" had finalized our plans, but I never found out exactly WHAT they had discussed.

"Sir?" He sounded confused, but I think I saw something in his deep blue eyes that looked familiar.

"You reminded me of someone. He used to quote Shakespeare a lot."

"'Holy, fair and wise is he'," He misquoted at me, with a slight smirk. "He must be a wise man indeed, sir." No doubt about it, there was a twinkle in his eyes.

"Not really, Maximilian always told me 'Those that quote the learned sages, shall be known far and wide as a smart ass'. Or to quote the Bard, 'The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.'" I waited to see Galen's reaction to that comment, and he didn't do anything. Perhaps, I had been mistaken?

"Mr. Eilerson is a extremely intelligent man." He then proceeded to start unpacking the limo and I helped him.

"Yeah, if he's so damn smart, why the hell did he ever agree to get promoted out of the field to his office job?" I couldn't help but add that, but his driver just ignored me.

Maximilian Eilerson

"What does he know?" Matthew's voice was soft.

I tried not to look him in the eyes, but I cursed myself for a coward. Looking firmly into his hazel eyes, I started to lie. "That you're dying and that you want to leave Terra Firma for one last time." My voice was soft. "He doesn't know about that...Thing." I tried to avoid that spot where the duffel bag was, as the feeling of malevolence was spreading a chill over my soul. "And that... more than likely, you're not coming back as you want... to suicide... out there, rather than die on Earth. Being an EF officer, he understands that wish, and I think, he approves of it." I was trying to give the dying man some sort of comfort but I never knew if I succeeded.

"I wonder why IT let me show you IT. IT never has before." His voice was pensive, and he gave it a look of smoldering hatred. "Except for that damn day IT attached ITself to me."

"If I were billions upon billions of years old, I'd probably have done quite a few things for no obvious reason. Created a few galaxies, destroyed a few races... Don't forget it's far more alien than the Vorlon and the Shadows ever were. Perhaps, it wanted to be appreciated." I was hedging, as Matthew apparently never realized that he had fallen asleep for some time during my conversation with that Box. I had suspicions that the Box was playing with each and every one of us, and I didn't want Matthew to know of my fears. What did that damn box want? Everything wanted something... Gideon, Matheson, Mother Evigline of the Church Of the Blessed Later Day Saints of Elvis, Ghandi, all of them had wanted something but that damn box.

And so I had protected Matheson... as best as Galen and I could. I hoped Gideon realized that we would not let John fall under that box's influence. Galen and I, in private, had discussed a back up plan to Gideon's original plan and had already acted on it. I prayed to whatever Gods that would listen to me, that we would not have to use it. It was amazing, as I got older, I found myself regretting some things that I knew to be necessary. Damning myself for a maudlin fool, I promised that if and when that time came, that John found himself under that THING's control, we would assure John Matheson a quick, painless death.

"Max..." he gave me a wan smile. "You know, all through out the quest, I always told you I was forced to take you on board. You know... I lied. I requested you. I never told you... because I thought you'd be... unbearable if you thought... that I requested you specifically."

"I know, Matthew. I've always known. After all, I'm the best at what I do." I gave him a crooked smile. I felt like I was a priest, listening to a dying man's confessions of sins against others, and I shivered.

We shook hands for what I knew to be the final time and I was amazed that his voice was shaky.

"Goodbye, Max."

"May whatever Gods you believe in, follow you and keep you safe in the palm of their hands, throughout all the dark places you will walk."

"Thank... Sarah for me. For everything. Tell her... some things just can't be cured...No matter how hard you try. Take good care of her. She's better .... than you deserve." Matthew grinned at me, for a brief moment, the old Matthew Gideon grin.

"I know. Believe me, I know."

He nodded, and I yelled for my driver to escort him to the spacecraft. Matthew began to protest but I told him sharply. "Now, I need to make sure Matheson knows about the quirks of my spaceship. I want it back, safe and sound, in one usable piece." He sighed again, and I was, once again, amazed how this frail man was the same man who had once threatened me with being tossed from the airlock. I helped Gideon out of the limo, trying not to be too forceful with him, but he nearly fell getting out of the damn car, and my driver and both grabbed him to prevent that fall from happening.

I was standing next to my limo, when Matheson came to talk to me. The sun was directly in my eyes, that's why they were closed. It wasn't because... I was teary-eyed and ashamed to show it. Certainly not because my driver had proceeded to carry Gideon into the spacecraft as he was too weak to walk his final 100 meters on Terra Firma. Not I, not Maximilian Eilerson, CEO of IPX. I roughly gave him a care package from Sarah. "Sarah says use it. It's not likely he's going to get addicted to the stuff, and it just might improve his quality of life." I sighed and shook my head. "John, something odd is going on. I can feel it, I can see it, and I can even taste it. But I don't know what it is. Be wary, Matheson. That damn Box is far older than even I can fathom, and it's dangerous. Don't forget that. NEVER forget that." It was the closest thing to a warning I could give, as I had felt that Box's sentience stirring to near wakefulness when Gideon had almost fallen getting out of the limo.

Matheson nodded, and he suddenly embraced me hard. "Thank you. For everything." Then he sent me images of what he meant. Tastes, remembered scents, and flashes of times long past, and the breach of Psi protocol startled me and I suddenly realized. He wasn't planning on coming back. "Thank Sarah also. I owe you both so much."

Be careful, my pet. I sent that to him, and I hoped he heard me. As his former Master, there would always be a soft spot in my heart for my former sub, John Matheson.

"Don't worry about the ship, I'm sure I can find a spare, somewhere." I said softly, and he nodded that he knew that I knew. He then turned and jogged to the spacecraft where he would be taking his final journey, with his Captain.

Matthew Gideon.

Tired. God, I was so tired. The one thing that I hated was that this "unknown" illness robbed me of my physical strength, but left my mind aware of my rapid deterioration. Oh, and I really hated the episodes of mind ripping pain that seemed to be increasing in frequency and duration. But right now, I was really fuzzy, thanks to Sarah's interesting cocktail of medications, so it had been all I could do to drag my protesting body out of Max's limo. Had almost been unsuccessful with that attempt except for the fact that both Eilerson and his driver had managed to prevent me from collapsing. Probably wouldn't have hurt anything except my damn pride. Or else I would have broken something, requiring a hospital visit for me. And after my recent escape from the CDC hospital that Sarah worked at, I knew that they'd be extremely careful about keeping an eye on my whereabouts.

Eilerson's driver, who had seemed so familiar to me, had pretty much carried me from the car to the spacecraft. I didn't even have the strength to protest his help, so I was grateful. At least it wasn't John or Eilerson carrying me. Come on, Eilerson was old, after all, and I had some pride left. The driver didn't get near the duffel bag though, which had faintly surprised me. Everyone else had wanted to carry the damn Thing, and he was studiously avoiding IT like It had the plague. When I entered the spacecraft, I was so startled that I dropped the duffel bag. I thought I heard an angry voice of protest, but I ignored IT.

I had been ignoring IT constantly lately, which had caused my "unknown neurological disease" to flare up. [For a brief moment, I wondered if Sarah would name the disease after me. "Gideon Neuropathy." Or probably, "Chambers-Gideon Neuropathy". She was the one doing all the research on it, while I was merely the man dying from an untreatable neurological disease.] Then my mind returned to the present, and I stared at the opulent settings of Eilerson's spacecraft.

"My God, trust Eilerson to have something like this." I had whispered.

"Mr. Eilerson always appreciates the finer things in life" said his driver. Again, he sounded familiar, but I just couldn't place it. I was exhausted, and needed to lie down.

"This way, sir?" he spoke carefully, as he guided me to ... a suite. A SUITE! In a spacecraft! Unbelievable. He motioned toward a king-sized bed and he quickly undressed me. "There, there, sir. Only a few more seconds, and you'll be in bed, toasty and warm." Before I knew it, he had me completely undressed, down to my briefs, and I was tucked into bed. A waterbed of all things! I thought they were illegal! But it was soothing and warm, and I was nearly asleep before he had finished covering me with a heavy blanket. Recently, I had been almost constantly "freezing", so I was amazed to find out that for once, I was... deliciously warm. I was lying prone on the bed, enjoying the feeling of being warm when the driver gave me an odd look. He carefully covered me with another heavy comforter, and gently made sure that it covered my head, leaving only my face exposed. Drifting off to sleep, I was warm and content as though I was back floating in my mother's womb. The driver gently touched my forehead, as though he was tracing sigils of benediction and farewell on me.

"Goodbye, Sir" said the driver. "If you don't need anything more, Sir, I'll be leaving now. Can't keep Mr. Eilerson waiting."

"Goodbye...Galen" I whispered as I fell asleep.

Max Eilerson

Records show that Maximilian Eilerson took his spacecraft up solo that day, but records can be forged, especially when you've got a Technomage, a Thief, a Doctor and the CEO of IPX on your side. My driver returned to me, and I gave him a look that he matched. And then, the Technomage nodded. We stood there for sometime, until the spacecraft launched and disappeared into the sky. And we never said one word to each other on the ride home.

"So, how we will we know?" I asked him when we finally got back to my house. He waited until Dureena and Sarah were present and then he reached into his pocket for a moment. Suddenly, he was no longer my "driver", but a very weary and sorrowing Technomage.

"In the fullness of time, Maximilian, all will be made apparent." He then placed two crystalline balls on the table; one shone with a white light and the other was... in flux. White overshadowed by an alien darkness, with the whiteness fading and then flaring brilliantly. "They are attuned to them, and when whatever happens, we will know. And if necessary, we will act accordingly."

John Matheson.

"Damn, leather seats, Max! Leather seats!" I carefully checked Max's... Ok my spacecraft, trying to accustom myself to everything. I was almost in heaven, as it had all the latest bells and whistles. Leather seats, lumbar support, and thank the Maker! It even had the latest in gravity technology. Apparently IPX had made a killing in what Max had discovered while on quest, and had certainly spent lavishly on its CEO.

Galen and Max had already plotted the course into the ship's navigation and I familiarized myself with everything, just in case something went wrong. I went to check on Matthew, and found him fast asleep, swaddled in so many blankets that I almost wasn't sure there was actually a man underneath them.

"Ok, time to say goodbye, and time to blast off." I tried to make a smooth launch so not to disturb Matt's slumber, and I was once again, stunned, by the responsiveness of Max's ship.

Matthew Gideon.

I woke up in incredible pain. It was the familiar, stabbing pain that usually increased in ferocity until it would finally stop. Least, it always had stopped before, but now I wasn't so sure. For a moment, I wasn't sure if I'd be glad to skip the final stage of one of these "fits". Usually the final stage found me lying unable to move, powerless to speak, helpless to do anything, except think, until my body returned back to normal. Some normal. This stage usually lasted for a few hours but lately... the length of time before my "recovery" was increasing significantly.

It was that damn Box's fault, my illness, my weakness, and my increasing self-despair. The illness had started right after I had refused... REFUSED for what probably was the first time in that damn Thing's existence, to pass IT on to the next host.

It's hard to explain, really, especially right now with my head exploding from this escalating pain, but it had wanted to move on... to Matheson. And I had refused to allow that. And then this illness started... and here I was... Wanting to scream and howl in pain, but I couldn't. I was unable to move or scream or do anything.

Except think.

Meanwhile my body "spasmed" repeatedly. God, this was something new, and I feared this as a sign that things were going to get even worse.

And so I thought, and wailed and begged for release from the increasing prison of my body. But instead here I was, lying in bed, unable to move anything purposely, on a hopeless mission to save one person and I couldn't fail him. Not after all those years together. And here I was powerless to move, unable to die, unable to do a damn thing except lie in pain and wish the pain would end. One way or the other. And I was such a damn fool thinking I could save him when I can barely do anything.

IT'll get him. IT will, oh God, and it will be my fault. Completely and totally. The pain increased and increased, and I wasn't sure what hurt more, my frail body protesting what was being done to it, or my heart shrieking in terror over John's fate.

But I had seen something in Max's eyes when I had said my good-byes. If I failed in my quest, I thought he would do something to save our mutual friend from my fate. Had he already done something with that driver of his? Death would be a mercy, I had wanted to tell him, but I think he had already come to that conclusion. If that damn Box didn't stop him.

At last the pain ended, and I fell asleep or maybe I just blacked out, I wasn't sure which it was but mercifully the blessed, unfeeling darkness came for me.

I was lying in a wooden box, flowers petals being thrown on my face and body, and I nearly choked at the smell of their fragrance. My dreams have been more and more vivid lately, sometimes scaring me with their intensity and color, especially when I wake and find out how truly bleak my present has become. I heard the sound of bagpipes playing, their long moans filling my ears with their noise, and I suddenly knew what I was seeing. Overhead, the missing man formation would soon fill the sky. Their dizzyingly intricate formations, the smell of their fuel reeking in the air, and soon, the crisp, new flag would be folded and handed over.

I heard the sound of marching feet, and realized that I was being given a full military escort. Probably a few members of the Excalibur and my other commands had formed together to provide the escort and the color guard. I was probably on the horse drawn caisson, being brought to my burial site. That would explain the slight jarring movement I was feeling. Suddenly I had a flash of vertigo, and I realized that it was probably my old friends from the Excalibur carrying their fallen comrade from the caisson to his grave. No. It wasn't. It was actually an honor guard from John's ship, the "Valery Bykovsky".

I heard John's first officer, Comdr. Sashi, quietly threaten her honor guard with a fate worse than death if they made their captain look bad. I think I would have liked Sashi, as she was intensely loyal to her captain. The woman, John had nicknamed the Valery Valkerie apparently had started a bar room brawl when a drunken Marine had made a rather snide comment about Captain Matheson the Telepath in her hearing. It had ended up with Sashi the only one standing, and six Marines down for the count. Gotta like spunk like that, even if "officially" you had to condemn her actions.

Sashi would have been proud of her honor guard as they smoothly delivered me to my final resting spot.

Someone spoke... Eilerson? For once in his damn life, he was brief and to the point. Yes, his brevity amazed me, and then someone new started to speak. Who was it? It was... Matheson, and he was unable to finish my eulogy? Dear God, it was John, and he had broken down as though his heart was shattered beyond any hopes of ever being repaired. Damn it, John! Now you're going to make me cry. But I didn't, as I couldn't move. Instead I lay there, listening to what was happening. I heard Sarah whisper at Max softly, telling him to get John the hell out of there, so John could compose himself, and then GALEN finished my eulogy. And he was barely able to finish it, either. And then my old friends each touched the box, and I tried to scream, repeatedly in the darkness. Yelling that I wasn't DEAD yet and not to bury me. But my body refused to cooperate, and the screams lay unsounded on my lips. Meanwhile, Sashi folded the flag, presented it to her captain, and then she turned and saluted my casket.

I felt myself being lowered into the ground, and felt something being thrown on top of my casket. Was it Dureena? Sprinkling dirt from her dead home world into my grave, and I felt the others follow suit. Eilerson, throwing dirt from Mars, then Sarah, then the others, while someone played "Taps".

"Present ARMS!" Sashi commanded, and I heard them give me a twenty-one gun salute.

I was choking as I felt them continue to shovel the dirt into my grave. Dark! I couldn't breath! Get me out of here! Damn it! I'm NOT dead! Then, I felt odd... like my body was shrinking. The Box is moving? And Someone's... SOMEONE is carrying it. Placing it on the table. This is wrong, this is wrong. How can they place my coffin on a table? I hear someone fumbling with the lid... and my fear increased. Stop STOP! STOP! Don't DO IT! DAMN IT DON'T DO IT!!! I'm not in my coffin, I'm trapped in that damn Apocalypse Box... and the next host is going to open the damn Box. I heard the bodiless, soulless, mad voices of previous hosts next to me, and we scream in one voice. "Don't OPEN THE DAMN BOX! DESTROY IT DESTROY IT! DeStRoY Us It SaVe YoUrSeLfSAvEUs."

But we have failed, failed like we have for all eternity, and for all eternity to follow, universe without end. The next host opened the Box, and I screamed in terror as I looked into the dark, familiar eyes of the next host of the Box.



"Galen" spoke Sarah softly. "Something's happened. Matt's..." she gestured at the strange crystalline spheres that represented our friends. His sphere was a whirlwind of color, neither black nor white, when suddenly the internal storm stopped. Leaving it a dull lifeless... GRAY?

"What's going on?" I questioned.

"I don't know." Galen admitted.

John Matheson

I was relaxing in the ship, having a cup of tea when I "heard" him SCREAM. It was the mind voice of a man in soul shredding terror, and I dropped the cup to reach him as quickly as I could. In the back of my mind, I thought Max Eilerson would be rather annoyed with me for dropping the tea on his carpet, but then reality returned. Max knew perfectly damn well that the odds were he wasn't going to see his spaceship again.


Cold. Cold. So damn cold. How long had it been since I had been warm? Somewhere in the back of my mind, something said that there had been warmth and peace recently. But now I was freezing. I was always cold after one of these spells.

Someone... John, my mind supplied, was next to me, holding me, speaking to me softly. He kept asking me over and over again if I was OK, and I could hear the fear in his voice. My trembling lips couldn't form any words, and he held me like I was a child, stroking my hair. My mind was racing, whirling and I kept trying to tell him that I was OK, but while I could think the words, my lips wouldn't work to answer him. Oh God, how I hated this, being fully aware of everything while my body failed.

"Listen to me." His voice was soft, and he was reaching for something. "Sarah gave me a few things in case this happened. I'm going to give you some medication, ok? I know that you can understand me, just realize that I'm going to have to give you some medication. Matthew, I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

I felt the needle prick of the hypodermic and I felt my tense body relax as the medication flooded my system. How I hated that feeling, of not being in control. But... how I ... loved... not feeling... anything.

"Listen to me, I know after one of these... events." His voice was dry, but I could still feel the fear in his voice. "You usually can't talk for a bit. I'm here, and I'm not leaving you."

Not for an eternity, I knew it. We would be together for an eternity in hell, and I couldn't stop it. See how the mighty are humbled and shown the error of their arrogance? Damnable fool for being in that card game. You should have refused the Box! REFUSED IT, you fool, and now you've damned him for an eternity.

I tasted the bitter taste of tears in my mouth.

"Matthew, Matthew, I'm here. I'm not leaving you. Please believe me. I know you can hear me. I'm not leaving you. I will never leave you." He carefully laid me prone on the bed, and I felt his body move. For a moment, the waterbed mattress shifted, as I felt him straddle my hips. "Your body is so damn tight and your muscles are spasming. Matthew, Sarah told me to use this when ...this happens. Supposedly it will be beneficial." He touched my back carefully, and I suddenly smelt something. John was rubbing something cool and wet on my back, and he began to massage my frail body, speaking to me all the while about things he had never mentioned to me before. How he appreciated my support and guidance over the years. John talked about his command, and I heard in his voice how much he cared for his crew. His voice was soft and compassionate, and he continued to talk to me while he massaged my body for what seemed like hours, concentrating on massaging out the tight knots. I felt long forgotten shivers running down my spine and I delighted in being held and caressed for the first time in years.

And for a moment, I foolishly wished for more. But when I saw my gnarled, twisted hands out of the corner of my eyes, I wept anew, cursing the prison of my body.


God, I could "hear" him, screaming. Matt was "in" the mute body in front of me, trying his hardest to tell me something. He couldn't and I could tell that Matt was terrified. I remembered Sarah telling me about this, how this was a symptom of his disease, and that the best thing to do during one of these attacks, was to talk to him. Acknowledge that inside, Matthew Gideon was there. Ignore the body, remember the SOUL. So I began talking to him, while I massaged his body. I talked about a lot of things, how much I appreciated him being my mentor while I was in EF, how much it had meant to me that he had been there when I was promoted. How I wore his old captain bars proudly.

I continued talking to him, trying to say so much to my mentor. I had been absolutely terrified the first time I had walked onto my new command, the "Valery Bykovsky", and had realized that I was now the new captain of a badly damaged Warlock cruiser. I had walked through the damaged corridors, saw the despair in the eyes of my crew, heard their unspoken grief for their dead captain in their hearts and felt their obvious uncertainty about their new captain. Captain Rafael Mikhail had been quite an act to follow, what with Mikhail dying during the midst of their jump engines failure. When 3/4 of the engineering staff had perished during the initial meltdown, he had gone directly into the fires, in a fatal attempt to bring his ship out of hyperspace before they went completely off the beacon. Mikhail had perished before he knew that he had succeeded but I still hoped that somehow, in the "afterlife", he knew he had been successful in saving the rest of his crew.

Talking about Rafe then made me decide to keep talking about my crew. I still couldn't believe that I had survived that first chaotic week as a Captain.  Dear God, over half the crew were dead due to the engine mishap, and the majority of the rest were injured. But still the injured crews continued to work, denying their own injuries on the off chance that their ship might be saved. I continued talking about my ship, the "Bykovsky", how I was struggling to be the type of captain he had been to me. It had been several years since I took command of the ship, and I wanted to know if things ever got any easier?

I told Matthew how nervous I had been especially when I met my first officer, Katerina Sashi. She and Doctor Sinya had been the only surviving senior staff members and I knew that the survivors had not wanted me as their captain. They had wanted Sashi, as she had held them together for the three chaotic weeks it had taken EF to locate their crippled ship. When I first met Sinya, she had told me that in no uncertain terms and then she lambasted me for taking my own sweet time getting to the ship.

I wasn't sure if Matthew knew how grateful I had been that he had been there when I met Sashi, so I decided to tell him. My old ship was going to tractor my new command into space dock to see if they could salvage the "Bykovsky" and Gideon had offered to come along to "inspect" the damage. I really knew that he was actually offering me moral support for a situation that a new captain shouldn't have to face on his first day. A demoralized crew full of shell-shocked survivors, a damaged ship and a first officer who probably wasn't going to be that happy I was showing up. Sashi came from an old military family, and by rights, the position of captain probably should have been hers.

Gideon and I had arrived on the bridge together, and the doors opened. I had taken a deep breath, and stepped out to face my new command. How comforting it had been to have an old friend with me as I stepped out into a war zone. It was the only way to describe what I saw. Apparently one of the computers had just shorted out, and there was a fire on the deck. Someone was trying to beat the thing out, using his jacket, as apparently the fire suppression system was off-line. He was mindlessly beating at it, long after it had been extinguished, as though he was on automatic pilot. Alarms were sounding like mad, the lights were flickering, the computer voice was warning of imminent failure of environmental systems in decks thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, and no one appeared to notice anymore. Good God, I didn't see any rank higher than ensign. NCOs, enlisted men and women, a few scattered ensigns, and someone whose rank I couldn't see. She was arguing with four of the walking wounded, apparently "department" heads and she hissed at them. "Do you think that the captain would like to hear that report? I think not."

I knew then that was Sashi, and that she was holding together the shell-shocked crew through sheer force of will. The group turned tail and ran from her, stopping only when they nearly barreled into Gideon and me. It would have been funny, at any other time, seeing the look in their eyes, when they realized that they had nearly tackled their new commanding officer, while trying to flee from their first officer.

"Captain on the bridge," announced an ensign who was now the apparent acting head of security. I forgave him his lapse in announcing me, as he was obviously ... dear God ... missing his right arm.

Sashi stood up from the communications section of the bridge, and proceeded to salute me. "Welcome aboard, sir!" She was obviously injured as she had burn packs plastered over her face and arm. Later on, I would find out that she had been burned pulling Mikhail's body out of the flames in engineering. It was a recklessly stupid thing to have done, but I just knew that it would have been something that I would have done if it had been Matthew. The rest of the crew quickly followed her actions, and I pretended not to notice that the crew had first eyed Sashi to see how she was handling the change over. There would be time to win them over later, after I had salvaged the ship.

"I'm sorry, Sir. We've had a few minor problems since the jump engines failed, and we haven't been able to get things ship-safe for your arrival. It's a good ship, Sir, and a strong, brave crew."

Minor problems? Minor? I had read the reports, she had contained three fires, dealt with a ship's orbit that was decaying even as we exchanged pleasantries and organized a mass burial for the dead. Let's not forget that she was also cramming the survivors into the few remaining decks that had life support, scores of "walking" wounded waiting to be treated in the cafeteria, and she thought they were minor problems? And Dr. Sinya and she had already written letters to the relatives of every crewmember who had died during this? Leave it to a Russian to feel that way.

"I've noticed that, Lt. Sashi, Captain Mikhail would have been proud of his crew." I noticed a few crewmembers straightening up, obviously grateful for any positive comments. "I look forward to hearing your reports on the current situation."

She limped over to me, and then motioned me to take the captain's chair. I walked over, was about to sit down, and I noted that every eye was on me. Sashi noted it too, and she then proceeded to hold out her hand to shake mine.

"I don't shake hands." I spoke to her softly, making sure that no one heard what I was saying, except for her. "As a Telepath, I try not to make physical contact with non-Telepaths." I was warning her that I would pick up her emotions if we shook hands, and meanwhile, everyone was staring at the two of us. Watching, waiting, deciding.

"I wish you to know that I have every confidence in your ability to command this crew, Sir." She whispered that back at me, and offered her hand again. Good God, she offering to let me scan her to prove her sincerity.

When I took her hand, I just knew that it was the start of a beautiful relationship. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Gideon nodding in approval. The torch had been passed on, and he had been proud of me. I finally told Matthew how much that look had meant to me, how I focused on it, cherishing it during the darkest moments of my first command.

I continued to massage his body, and he seemed to be relaxing, calming down; less frantic, less terrified. Less alone. I tried not to notice that Matthew was weeping, and I continued to talk to him about other things. How much strain I had been under while his XO and how much his support and encouragement had meant to such a desperately lonely Telepath. I continued to massage his back, trying to concentrate on the spots that I could feel were bone-breakingly tight. My poor, poor, Matthew, so afraid, and so scared. I massaged his back for hours, stopping to rest only when my hands began to cramp and when my voice was raw. I then decided to turn him onto his back and then continue the massage. "Hey, careful, now. I'm going to turn you over now." I carefully positioned him, and I rolled him onto his back. For a moment, he tried to move his hands, and I wondered what would cause him to make that much of a physical effort...


John was massaging me, and I wanted to tell him to STOP. Stop, stop. STOP! I didn't want his pity or his compassion for my broken body. I kept trying to get my voice to speak, and I couldn't. He noticed my agitation, and John spoke to me gently. "Don't worry, Matthew. I'm here, I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

Go, damn it. Go. Leave me. I'm begging you!

"Sarah tells me that it's been up to a couple hours after one of these attacks before you can speak again, so... don't start panicking yet. I know you can hear me, and I know you can understand me. I'm here. I'm here." His voice was warm and compassionate, and I wept harder. Bad enough to have Sarah so aware of my body's failure, but for John to know so intimately, it broke my heart. "Don't worry, I'll stay with you until you recover."

And his hands continued their massage, while I found myself responding. God, it had been so long for me, his hands were gentle, and I hated myself even more. I begged that some god might have some compassion on me- that John would never know what he was doing to me. How I hungered for it and how I feared it. How could he look at me now without pity for what I had become? But he continued talking to me, about many things, and I feared what would happen if he decided to roll me onto my back. He would know then...

But as always, my prayers were ignored, cast aside for someone far more deserving than me. He rolled me onto my back, and I made a feeble effort to move my hands to hide my erection. Funny, how my body continued to betray me.

His eyes looked into mine, and I realized he had seen what I had tried my hardest to hide. There was no scorn in his eyes, but instead, there was compassion and something more.

"It's OK, Matthew. It's OK." His voice was soft and gentle with me. I struggled slightly, but felt my strength leave for parts unknown. "Don't worry," he continued to console me, while I struggled to find my voice. "Your eyes are saying so much right now."

Fear. Self-Loathing. Lust. Desire. Exhaustion. Self-Despair. Pain. I knew what my eyes showed, as they mirrored my dark soul.

"Do you want me to?" His voice was extremely soft, and I struggled to say the word to have him leave me. Alone. Aching. Despairing. I couldn't stand to have this happen, as the only reason it would happen was that he felt pity for me. Pity for a dying man, was the only reason to ... do what he was asking if I wanted. I felt John's hand on my face, as he brushed the hair from my eyes.

Yes, I wanted what he was offering me. No, I didn't want it, because it would be charity. But just once before I die? Could I feel someone next to me, holding me, loving me? I could pretend that it wasn't pity. But I'd know what it was... PITY. No, No NO! NO! My body was broken, and I had only my PRIDE intact. Pride was lonely and cold, but charity was far, far worse for someone such as me. John, out of misguided sense of loyalty, would seduce me. I struggled to open my mouth and I fought to yell "NO" but instead I opened my mouth and heard "Pl...eee...sse." God? Was that my voice? Begging him? My pride was destroyed, my body and soul broken, and I found myself willing to take... his pity. Anything so I just wouldn't be alone. I was so tired of being alone.

John kissed my face softly, lingering on my lips for a second. "Relax. Relax. Don't cry, Matthew. I'll be so... careful. Dearest Matthew, please don't cry."

John Matheson.

Gideon. My love, my captain. Matthew.

Gideon. My heart had melted completely when I saw his fear and his pride blazing in his eyes while he struggled to speak with me. I had loved him for such a very long time. But he had been involved with Lochley, and I had been constrained by EF rules and regulations. And I had been afraid. Now the roles were reversed and I suddenly knew how truly frightened he was with his body's "betrayal". During this, our last trip together, I was trying to be careful, and NOT scan him during his final illness. But his mind-scream of terror had broached my shields like a gun being discharged on a quiet day. So I again doubled my shielding, blocked him, blocked everything except for my efforts to stop his body from spasming by massaging him.

I had felt his body relax, the muscle contractions lessening in their ferocity, and I had kept talking to him over and over... about anything that popped into my mind. HE was in there, I could "feel" it, obviously terrified and humiliated by what was happening to him, and I kept on talking and talking while massaging his body. For hours, I had talked and consoled him while Matt had responded to my massage. I hadn't even thought of that happening. No matter how long I had lusted after my captain, I never would have thought that it would ever be reciprocated. Matthew, despairing. Matthew, dying, but Matthew who was enjoying the feel of my hands on his body.

So, I had carefully asked him, if he wanted me to and he had given me permission. I would be careful with my scared love and try to make tonight an incredible experience for him. Much like my old teachers had done for me, when I was the frightened one. I traced slow kisses down his chest, trying to be gentle and slow with him. Carefully, I settled myself next to him and I held his hands in mine. "Can you move your hands?"

Slight movement - both hands.

"If you want me to stop, at any time, move your left hand."


Then I broke my years of conditioning, and gently touched his mind. I could feel his fear, despair and terror, and I wanted to be completely sure of his consent. "Matthew, Are you sure about this?" My voice was soft and gentle, and my heart raced while waiting for his response.

Slight flutter from his right hand. And I probed Matthew, carefully, and mentally heard him say "Have compassion for my frailties, I beg you..." in a voice full of sorrow and despair. I kissed him gently on his lips for a few moments and then I carefully kissed the trail of tears down his body, stopping when I reached his briefs.

I tried to tug them off of him, decided it was nearly impossible to remove them without subjecting him to a lot of movement, and then I laughed. To hell with moving Matt, I was just going to cut them off of him. It was an extremely erotic idea that I had always looked forward to acting out. Here was my chance to have some fun! He shook slightly, as though thinking I was rejecting his shattered body, and I moved up to see his face. Meanwhile, I let one hand gently trace Matt's erection. "I can't get you undressed." I gave him a big smile and then kissed his face, kissing his tears away. "After all these damn years, we finally... and I can't get you undressed. Isn't that funny?" I tried to reassure Matthew, let him know that I wasn't laughing at him. "So, I'm going to cut them off, OK?"

His eyes were bleak and I kissed Matthew again, until I felt him relax into my kiss. "Now... where did I put my knife?" I whispered in his ear. "I'll have to cut them off." And so I did.

Carefully, I touched him. I was trying to be very careful with him and so I stroked him carefully for some time, trying to make sure he was enjoying it. He sighed softly, as though in defeat... and then I gently kissed him again, and I proceeded with his seduction.


Sometimes, I disgust myself. I should have squeezed with my left hand as hard as I could. STOP. I didn't want his compassion or his pity. But, I was scared, and lonely, fearing the great dark that was looming in front on me. For some reason, I felt that John needed to be quite sure that I wanted this, so I thought loudly at him. Have compassion for my frailties, I beg you. Fearing the dark destiny I saw in front of me, I just wanted to be held, to be caressed, and to be loved, one last time.

John was oh so careful with me. He was gentle with me, and my heart broke further. All those years, secretly, I had wanted this, to feel his body next to mine, and now it was happening. And I couldn't reciprocate a damn thing. Lips nuzzling my tip, John concentrating on not missing an inch of me, licking my shaft, tracing his fingers on my cock and even mouthing my balls. Oh, he was a devil, and then he slowed down, focusing totally on me. If I could have shook, I would have. Instead, I cursed my damaged body further, wishing that I could have had this when I was whole.

I lay in Max's bed, being seduced by my closest friend, and I hated myself for allowing my weakness to bring me to this. Charity that's what it was. I didn't want his PITY. But he was slow, and deliberate with me, while I was unable to move, to protest, and assist. I knew how I much I wanted to reciprocate, and I cursed my damaged body relentlessly. John was skilled; I had to give him that, as he enjoyed the chance to taunt me to higher and higher levels. Cooling me down, then he'd raise me to a new level.

I wanted him to stop. But stop what? Teasing? Taunting? Or just leave? But I lay on the king-sized bed, barely able to move my hands, but I tried. Oh lord, I tried to stroke his hair...

"Stop that!" he growled at me. "I'm doing all the work here, and you just have to lie back, and relax. Matthew, enjoy this, please."

But I still tried to touch him, feel his face, his hair with my trembling hands. John sighed again and spoke to me softly. "This is for you. I want you to enjoy this, and I need to have you enjoy this." And then he proceeded to take my crippled hands in his, gently holding onto them while he concentrated on pleasuring me, heart and soul, while I floated on the waterbed, and wished for days long past. If I had only been able to, then but this would never have happened except that John had felt pity for me.

A pity fuck that was what it was. Feeling pity for the dying man, John had decided to give me some pleasure, as I had wanted it.

I closed my eyes, ignoring that very small voice in the back of my head that was screaming "NO!" and I hoped this night would never have to end. I almost thought it wouldn't, as John was so deliberate in what he was doing to me. He took his time, being gentle with my fragile shell of a body, and I enjoyed everything. It had been so long since someone had held me and made love with me.

Heartbreaking. That's what it was, to be on Max's waterbed and to be so aware that it was my illness that was forcing John to do everything. While I lay on my back, and wished that my shattered body were only stronger. I would have kissed him, instead of having him kiss me. If only I were stronger, I would be the one stroking him, enjoying the sounds John would be making. Instead, I was the one on the bed, the one being touched and caressed. I could only close my eyes in defeat and weakness, only able to sigh and gasp whenever he focused on a particular sensitive spot. Matheson seemed to particularly enjoy hearing me moan, as he would slow down, and focus on what he was doing, trying to tease more of a response out of me.

I never had a climax quite like this one, as it started slowly in my belly and slowly spread through-out my body, gradually receding while he cooled me down, the shivers gently returning like a wave of the ocean. Cooling down, heating up, slowly, slowly and repeatedly until I finally lost control. I came with a sudden jerk in his warm, soft mouth, and I called his name loudly, trying to put as much emotion as I could into that one, single word. John had done everything he could to delay my climax, and I realized that I was exhausted even though I had selfishly made him do all the work.

Who was I kidding? John had to have done everything.... Silently, I lay on my back while he covered me gently with the blankets.

"Wonderful. If you had any idea how long I've wanted to do that. You enjoyed that as much as I did, I hope." He was whispering in my ear, and kissing my neck. "I'm glad this ship has an auto-pilot as I'm in no condition to fly the ship right now, not after that." John's voice was light, and I felt him settle next to me, wrapping his strong arms around my weak body. His voice was soft and warm in my ears, and I felt like weeping anew.

"J-j-john?" My voice was rough, and I tried to say so much. How much I regretted that he was left unsatisfied after his hard work. How I wished I were strong enough to give him pleasure. But after one of my "spells", I was physically debilitated for days, until my strength gradually returned to me. Combining that with my post-orgasmic drowsiness, I was surprised when I realized I was still awake. The waves of exhaustion were crashing over me, and I found myself surrendering to them, drifting off to sleep. Matheson was still holding me, and telling me to go to sleep. And so I did, feeling warm for the first time in what seemed like years. But I hated myself for allowing this to happen; though Matheson had tried very hard to make it seem like he had enjoyed it. How could he have? Making love to ... a man who had death riding on his shoulder?

John Matheson.

He was still soundly sleeping when I got up the next "Day" so I tried not to disturb him. Gently, I leaned over and kissed him on his forehead. I drugged him again, liberally dosing him with Sarah's medications. I knew that lately, he was feeling the cold more than ever, so I covered him carefully, trying to keep him warm. Knowing that he was physically weak, I debated about how to treat my love. For a moment, I was going to put out clothes for him to wear, and then I decided that action would embarrass my stubborn, proud lover. Thinking for a moment, I decided to throw my robe "accidentally" on the chair next to the bed. The robe was long, and most importantly, warm, so he might decide to wear it. For a physically frail man such as Gideon, it probably would be easier than trying to put on pants and a shirt. It also allowed for easy access, I noted with delight. Quality of life, Eilerson had said to me, and I wanted to give him the highest quality of life that I could give him for what time remained to us.


God, I still couldn't believe that... finally.

After all these years.

At last I had found someone I could drop my shields with, completely and utterly. And it was the very someone who I had always secretly had hoped it would be. I couldn't wait until Matt woke up and had breakfast, as I was already eager for another round of lovemaking. This time, there would be no barriers, as I would let my shields down. I'd be able to feel everything he felt, so I could ensure that he'd have an absolutely incredible time. Focusing completely on what he enjoyed, I would ensure him that making love with a 'Path was everything it was rumored to be and more.

I hoped he didn't mind the fact that I had kept my shields up for our first time. It was a matter of my own pride, which demanded that I should be able to satisfy him without using my ability. Matthew had been quite happy with my seduction last night, I knew. He had called out my name when he climaxed, and I had heard every emotion I had ever wanted to hear from my lover in that single word.

AT LAST! I felt like rejoicing and I hoped I could get my grin under control before Matt woke up. Grinning like the Cheshire Cat could make Matt think I was being smug. No, I wasn't self-satisfied with last night's performance instead I was... giddy.

I rechecked the auto-pilot, decided that it was doing a fine job as my "second in command", and returned to the "kitchen" where I tried to salvage Max's carpet from my spill. "God, Max... White? A white carpet? Are you crazy?" Giving that up as a lost cause, I proceeded to make breakfast for the two of us.


Nice word. Very cozy, very... very... nice.


I had woken up shortly before John did, and I berated myself savagely for what just happened between John and myself.

 It was a pity fuck. That's what it was as John wanted to give you some happiness before you died.

But he said he enjoyed it. That he wanted to do it.

John's not a cruel-hearted bastard. He wouldn't tell you that he had sex with you because he felt sorry for his old Captain, now would he?

Blinking back the tears that had suddenly filled my eyes, I bitterly wished that it never had happened.  And I sure as hell couldn't let it happen again. Feeling that John was waking up, I pretended that I was fast asleep.

John was quiet while he dressed, as though fearful of waking me and I felt him gently kiss me on my forehead after he injected me with some of Sarah's wonder drugs. He left the room, and I suddenly hated myself even more.

I should NEVER have let it happen.

Afte rrealizing that I couldn't get back to sleep, I got dressed as I decided it was time to face the mess I had made.

I'm sorry, John. I really, really am.


I heard him shuffle into the kitchen, taking each step deliberately, and I tried to control the butterflies in my stomach. There seemed to be thousands of the damn things circling around in my belly. Matt WAS wearing my robe, and my heart skipped a beat. Easy access! I managed to contain my jubilation... somewhat. "You won't believe what Max has stashed in this place. Strawberries?" I asked, and I was happy that my voice sounded normal. "They're fresh. Or moderately so."

Matt shook his head, so I tried to tempt him into eating something. At last I managed to get him to eat, and tried not to jump up to feed him when his hands started to shake. When my Captain sloshed the orange juice on his hands, he finally gave up in disgust. It took all of my willpower not to offer to help him.

Gideon still wasn't speaking... and he wasn't looking at me. Just grimly concentrating on his omelet, eating each bite deliberately. He ate almost half of it, which I believed was an improvement over his recent hospital stay.

"Did you like it? I think I remembered you saying something about omelets on the Excalibur. Years and years ago." God, I was as nervous as school kid with a crush was and I suddenly remembered what my final teacher Eilerson had told me. 'We've taught you as much as we can, but once you fall in love, remember, everything we taught you goes out the window. Just ... do your best, that's all.' Trying to pretend indifference, I leaned back in the chair, and finished my cup of tea. Matt hated being coddled, so I would force myself not to be overly solicitous of him. If he wanted and asked for my help, I would, but I wouldn't insult him by giving him unasked for help.

Suddenly I was nervous. Matthew hadn't looked at me, nor  had he spoken to me yet. He wasn't having doubts after last night, was he? Maybe Matt hadn't enjoyed it as much as I had hoped. Matthew maybe thought the fact that I had kept my shields up meant that I didn't trust him enough to share everything. No, maybe, I should have dropped my shields, so I could have made sure that he had been happy.

Damn it, Matt please look at me. Say something? Anything? Please? My good mood disappeared quickly. No, Matt, please don't tell me that you regretted it today. Not after the way you called out my name last night.  You had enjoyed our lovemaking last night, I know you did. I had done everything I knew to make sure that you were completely satisified.

"Delicious." His voice was rough, but I felt like cheering.

"I'm glad. Really... I am. I wanted to make sure..."

He gave me an intense look and I suddenly stopped babbling.

"About... last night. I... I..." Gideon stopped, and he sighed. "Thank you... but I wish... it hadn't happened."


I've known John for years, through good and bad, and never have I seen that look of pain in his eyes. He covered it well, and he said softly. "I have to disagree with that. If you need me, I'll be piloting the shuttle." Then he shut me out cold. I watched Matheson get up from the table, and I sighed, my ever-present exhaustion threatening to overwhelm me. I was so damn drained. But I had that one final obligation, before I slipped into the unknown. Only a little bit longer, Matthew, that you have to keep fighting, then you can rest. It was my last card game, ever, and the cards were being shuffled. That damn Box, Matheson, myself. What would the final hand bring?

"Are you alright?" His voice was soft, and I suddenly realized that I was cradling my head in my arms. "Come on, let's get you back to bed. You had a long day yesterday." John's hands were on my shoulders, and I felt shivers down my backbone.

"John." I needed to apologize for what I had said, what we had done. My fault. I fought to speak to him, to explain, to apologize while my exhaustion made it difficult for me to talk. "No. Need to talk ... while... strong enough. Last night... Incredible. Unbelievably so.... But... I only have my... pride left. Everything else... gone. Don't want... pity."

"PITY?" He was furious with me. "PITY?" He was so upset that I could even feel it. But John was gentle with me, helping me stand, about to lead me back to my bed. Poor John, so very angry and hurt because of me, but as always, still standing next to me, supporting me, while I tried to find some reserve of strength I hadn't already drained. Pride demanded that I walk ALONE back to my bed. Bad enough that I had to use him as my pilot for my final mission, but collapsing in front of him now, after rejecting him would destroy me.

I had hurt him, and how I would continue to hurt him. That one moment of weakness had set events off in motion, which I simply didn't feel strong enough to face. "What else could it be? I'm... dying... Couldn't be anything more...than charity... for a dying man. Your pity... It would... destroy me. Have so very little left. Just my pride." My voice was so soft, and I couldn't bear to look at the hurt in his eyes. I certainly wasn't expecting him to reach over and kiss me. HARD.

Damn you Gideon. DAMN YOU and your damn PRIDE! His hands ran through my hair, and I found myself being kissed. Thoroughly.

John?!?! I mentally protested.

Does that feel like pity? I felt his anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Love? John LOVED me?

We were still kissing, and I suddenly felt dizzy. Need to sit down.

Matt. Matt. Matt. How many times do I have to tell you until you believe me? I'm here. I'll always be here for you. He grabbed me and dragged me back to my bed. I collapsed on my back, exhausted again, and he crawled next to me.

"John? What's... happening?" I was looking at him, concentrating on forcing the words out.

I'm 'pathing with you, damn it. Stop wasting your energy talking. Think, Matt. think. I'm here for you. Don't shut me out now. Damn it! His hand was stroking my face, and meanwhile he was trying to "show" me how to consciously talk to mind to mind to him. Like this... His mind voice was rich and soft, and had nuances that couldn't be revealed in his spoken thoughts. Love, compassion, anger, hurt... all because of me.

Oh...I tried to think how much I regretted hurting him. Forgive me, please? So sorry, John. He then proceeded to kiss me again, gently, ignoring my apology. I caught a flicker of something, and I tried to figure out what he was planning. John?

He ignored me, and then put both of his hands on my face. You think this is pity? Feel what I feel and you can decide later if it's pity, damn your stubborn pride. His mind voice was ... intense, and I suddenly realized what he was planning.


I pushed him back on the bed and began aggressively kissing him. I was also speaking with him, mind to mind, relishing the first chance I had to KNOW my Matthew. He thought last night was pity... and I was going to prove him wrong, even if it killed me.

Or me... I caught Gideon's faintly amused thought, and I kissed him more softly and gently than our first passionate kiss. Meanwhile I was untying his robe, enjoying the chance to touch him again. Then I deliberately seduced him, focusing on what he was feeling, concentrating on finding his sensitive spots, taunting him, cooling him, arousing him. Making love mind to mind, body to body and soul to soul, at no time did I hear him tell me to stop. Matt wanted this, desperately and fiercely but he thought I was doing this out of pity. So I used every trick I had learned from Doctor, Thief, Technomage and Linguist to convince him otherwise. Poor Gideon, he had no chance to resist, and I relished the chance to do this to him. My God, it was incredible. I concentrated completely on him, enjoying hearing his gasps and his sighs while I touched, stroked, caressed and enjoyed his body.

Pity? This feels like pity? I stopped nuzzling his nipples and waited for his response. He took a few minutes to reply to that question, so I bit him gently, to prompt an answer out of him.

No... I think I'm... starring... in one of... Eilerson's... videos.

I laughed mentally and out loud.

Always loved it when you laughed. So rare.

So, I teased Matthew for what seemed like hours, firmly keeping his pleasure as my goal. Gentle kisses on his body, slowing down when I felt him too close to climax. Cooling him down, then bringing him to a higher level, cooling down, and then repeating the cycle over and over. He was getting near... so close. My dearest Matthew, you're so close... so near... now, shall I tease you some more? Do you still think this is pity? Shall I continue to do this to you to prove you wrong? How long do you think you can hold out before you start to beg me to let you come? I promise you that I can outlast you, and I will do everything I know to get you to admit that you want this.

Matt wasn't answering me mentally; instead I was catching bits and pieces of emotions. He was so close to the brink... almost there. Closer... closer... Closer... When at last, I knew that he was on the absolute brink, I gave him an earth-shattering climax and I shared my own release with him on top of it. Earth-shattering? Gideon thought the universe had rocked on its axis when he came. Least that's what I felt from him and what I was experiencing seemed to point to that sensation. Deciding to have some compassion on him, I gave Matt a few minutes to catch his breath. Gently, I rained kissed on his face and neck while he tried to catch his breath. Then I rested my head on his chest, enjoying the fact that it was taking him a while to think coherently. Pity? Do you still think... that's pity?


I was completely sated, short of breath, and exhausted after John's rather intense seduction. He was resting with his head on my chest, and I dryly thought that he was probably trying to see if I still had a heartbeat after that orgasm. So, I gently kissed his forehead to assure him that I was still alive. When John had asked me if I still thought pity had been involved, it had taken me a few minutes to actually compose my scattered thoughts. No... I detected a rather surprising amount of lust involved. I tried to send that to him mentally, as I was just too tired for pillow talk. Shakily, I began to stroke his hair and he sighed in delight. I wished that I could do more than be on the receiving end. But even awkwardly stroking his hair was almost beyond me today. Perhaps tomorrow, or another day, I'd be stronger... or... not. Wish I could reciprocate. God, do I.

You did. I felt everything, shared everything. His mind voice was gentle in my mind.

It's not enough... I thought drowsily. I think he felt the bitter taste of my thoughts and I knew that he knew that I wasn't totally convinced that charity wasn't involved.

For me, it is. He strongly sent him me reassurances... and I gathered my fading strength and I just gave him a weak smile.

But... don't blame me for wanting more. After all these years... I was drifting off to sleep, and he held on to me, tightly.

You want more? Now?!?!?! I thought you were tired? He sent that to me, and I heard him mentally laugh softly. Sleep, Matt, Go to sleep.

Should warn... having nightmares... I didn't want him to be unaware that I might wake up thrashing and moaning due to the rather intense dreams I had been having lately.

I know... go to sleep, Matt. Go to sleep. I'll be here to keep the bad dreams away tonight.

I was snug and warm, lying next to the only person I had ever loved, completely and unconditionally, and so I quickly drifted off to sleep. Amazingly, I didn't have any nightmares for the first time in what seemed like centuries.

Instead, I had intensely pleasant dreams, of a younger, healthier Matthew Gideon, seducing his XO.


I guess I'm a dirty old man after all.

Next day- John Matheson

I was piloting the ship when I heard him enter the "cockpit". He appeared sturdier than in the recent past, and I gave him a questioning look. Matt gently kissed the top of my head, and then spoke dryly. "Took my vitamins today." He then dropped into the co-pilot seat and whistled appreciatively. "Damn Eilerson, how much did this cost?"

"She's very responsive. Want to fly her?"

"Can't. Sarah grounded me." His voice was soft. "Repeatedly," he admitted.

"Who'd know?" More importantly, who the hell is going to tell? YOU?!?!!? ME?!?!?!?

I could tell he was intrigued, and I quickly decided to force the issue. "I need a break. So, transfer all functions to co-pilot station. Have fun Matt, yell if you need me." And I got out of my chair and walked to the kitchen. I nearly got to the kitchen when I felt the ship suddenly pick up speed and veer on a course correction. Actually, I nearly fell into the kitchen when the ship turned quickly into a sharp deep dive. What was he doing? Was he all right? I gently touched his mind, and I felt his amusement.

Fooled ya! He plainly thought at me. Mentally, I caught an image of him, laughing and smiling in the pilot's seat, as he had apparently moved to that seat right after I had left the cockpit.

Just like old times, and for a moment, I felt my eyes fill with tears.

Should have known you had to sit in the 'Captain's chair'. Haven't you heard? I got promoted to captain too? I teased him quietly.

Get your own DAMN ship. You're not getting MINE. He mentally growled at me, and I remembered a time long past, of when I was a painfully, lonely soul reporting for his first day of work with his new Captain. I tasted salt in my mouth, and I realized that I was weeping for days long past.


I was at the controls of Max's "Starfire" and I was enjoying myself. Had managed to shock John when I decided to try this baby out. John's always been ever so slightly too responsible for his own good. Never put that on his evaluation over the years though but I always thought of him as entirely too strict with himself. Never letting himself go, and never letting himself truly relax. Always fearful of not surpassing those unbelievably difficult standards he had set for himself. So unlike me, who always willing to hang out with the wrong people, gamble too much and risk everything.

And look what it had cost me.

Suddenly, my mood darkened, and I found myself fighting to concentrate on piloting Max's spaceship. I returned the ship to its original course, and I cut back on its speed. After fifteen or so minutes, I found myself exhausted.

"Return controls to auto-pilot" I slurred.

"Please repeat" The computer couldn't understand me, so I gritted my teeth.

"Return controls to auto-pilot." I enunciated carefully.


I sat in the pilot chair, and realized that my brief expenditure of energy had left me exhausted. And I was freezing, again.

And so the days and nights continued, with John forcing me to do things, while I wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep. I was getting weaker and weaker, and John was trying to keep my spirits high. Only a few more weeks until we reached where I was going to... make my final curtain call. And this all-encompassing lassitude was draining me of my strength. It would so easy to go beyond. Slip from this mortal coil, I suddenly began quoting softly to myself...

"To die: to sleep:
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, death is a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there 's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there 's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life"

While my body was noticeably failing, it was still nice to know that my mind was intact. But if I went beyond...that would leave IT here with Matheson. Therefore, I would fight and drag myself through another day. Not for me... but for him. Each day, it got harder and harder because I wanted nothing more than to stay in my warm bed. But John knew that it was becoming more difficult for me, so he'd give me one of his cat-like smiles and try to get me to concentrate on living one more day. Dear God, I've always loved my lonely Telepath, but never more so than now.

The two of us talked a lot during our final weeks together. He would be sitting on the couch, and I'd be resting my head in a pillow on his lap. John would be stroking my face while we talked verbally and mentally about so many things. He was worried about his captaincy, knowing that others in his position would have been promoted earlier if not for his telepathic abilities. I wasn't surprised when he mentioned how difficult it had been for him to take over his command, the "Bykovsky". John had struggled in the first few months, filled with self-doubt, plus having an emotionally scarred XO and CMO. The two women had refused to leave the vessel, even when offered a transfer, and John had supported their decision.

His crew had been nervous with him, but they tried hard to be fair with him because Sashi and Sinya demanded it from them. John admitted dryly that he still wasn't supposed to know about Sashi, Lt. Titov, the head of security, and a few NCOs bouncing heads off the deck floors to "crack them, so that some sense can be poured into them."

But there was a young Telepath on his crew, and he wanted to be his mentor, much like I had been to him. But... some would cry favoritism. I laughed when he told me how his first officer, Sashi, got nervous whenever "that damn Technomage" would pop out of the shadows to say "Hello", as it reminded me of a certain officer from years ago. It was good to hear that Sashi had a few things that made her nervous as she had a rather strong personality. Matheson was also concerned about the fact that Sashi, Titov, and a good percentage of the younger crew apparently had a bit of hero worship directed toward him, which apparently embarrassed him. I just laughed at that, and dryly reminded him of a certain first officer I had about oh... fifteen years ago. But Sashi was loyal, and she had requested to be his first officer, apparently not at all concerned that her captain was the first Telepathic Captain in EF history. So Technomages made her nervous, but not Telepaths?

Sinya was the opposite of Sashi, what with her quicksilver personality and her acerbic wit. John assured me that she regularly skewered his ego to make sure his head could still fit in his helmet, and I laughingly reminded him of a certain XO of mine.

I know I upset him, but I told him that I had long since made my peace, and I was prepared for the end. I was afraid how John would react when I died, especially considering our new relationship, so I wanted him to know that I had no regrets. When Sarah had first diagnosed me as terminal, I had cursed and fought against my fate. But now, at the end, I had NO regrets. "We saved Earth, John. Even with a cranky Technomage, a thief who was just a little bit too good at what she does, and a somewhat arrogant Xenoarcheologist-linguist! How many people can say that?" John was usually melancholy after this type of discussion, and so I would kiss and suckle at his fingers. It was all I had the strength for some days, and he would give me a smile that had a slight taste of sadness in it.

We talked about many things, except for the damn thing in the duffel bag. IT was "dozing" as it had on and off during the years and I didn't want to wake IT. Besides, I feared that John would lose any respect for me, if he knew about my spiritual leech, and how I sold my soul for its ancient knowledge. And I just couldn't bear losing John's respect, not now, not ever.

We talked for hours and often times I would drift off to sleep, snug and warm, wrapped under heavy blankets. When I woke, I'd be annoyed that we had missed some of our remaining time together because of my ever-increasing weakness, but he'd tease me, cajole me until I had to laugh. "Am I that boring, Gideon? That I put you to sleep?" And then he'd give me that look that promised me that shortly, I'd be lying in our bed while he seduced me.

John's seductions of me were long and deliberate sessions. We'd be mentally sharing our thoughts, while his hands would wander and roam over my body. Secretly, I was amazed at how John could always get my body ready for more fun even as I was steadily weakening. My hands shook so badly anymore that I had to ask John to help feed me as I was spilling everything.

He even dressed me, which amused me.  After struggling to get me into my sweater, John noticed that I was laughing at him.

"What?"  John looked at me in disbelief.

"Don't know why you bother getting me dressed, because in thirty minutes, you're going to take advantage of me again. It might be easier just to leave the clothes off."

"But that's part of the fun! Getting you undressed." John began kissing my neck, and soon the sweater and everything else was lying on the floor.

He made an erotic game of everything, teasing me and trying to cheer me, as I was depressed at my increasing infirmity. It wasn't fair for John that he was putting his heart and soul into making sure I enjoyed it, while I couldn't even think of reciprocating.

And so I found myself in our bed, relaxing after another one of his incredible seductions. John turned over in bed, and I felt a shiver run my spine. "Going to bed so soon?" he asked.

John, I'm not a young man anymore. Again? Tonight? Again? FOUR times is usually the maximum for me. Even when I was healthy. What is Max going to say when you return home and ALL his sheets are ruined?

"He'll be heartbroken that we didn't invite him." John gave me an evil grin, and his hands began stroking me... again!

To prevent him from seducing me again, after all, I'd hate for him to think that our relationship was based purely on mind-blowing sex, I decided I had to turn the tables on my rather smug lover. So... Was he the one you gave your virginity to? I always wondered who. Or...was it Sarah and that damn shuttle craft accident you two had?


"MATTHEW!" I was pretending to be horrified. "My sexual history is none of your concern!" I sat up and pretended to debate about leaving our bed in a "huff". Matthew reached over to trace my spine, and I shivered from his touch.

"Wanted... to write... thank you notes. Polite..." He spoke softly. Matt laughed, and then began to cough softly. I climbed back into the bed, helped sit my lover up and covered him again. He gave me a crooked smile to acknowledge my help, and I kissed him softly.

"Actually I had a few teachers. Sarah,.... Dureena..." I trailed off.

"Galen, Eilerson?" he whispered. He was getting tired, I could tell, so I continued to carefully hold him next to me. Matthew's body was so frail while his soul continued to blaze.

"You knew?" I was embarrassed.

APPROVED WHOLEHEARTEDLY. EXCEPT FOR THE EILERSON BIT- THOUGHT HE'D BE THE TYPE TO PLAY MIND GAMES. I WAS ANGRY. DIDN'T WANT HIM TO HURT YOU. His mind voice was strong, and I caught... something. At the edge of his mind. Something that he didn't want me to ever find out. Regarding Eilerson.

"You threatened EILERSON? He never told me." I couldn't believe it.

Now, he was the one embarrassed, so I immediately decided to press the issue.

"Pushing him out the airlock? Without a P-SUIT?" I still couldn't believe that. "You were going to SPACE Eilerson?"

He told me that I was jealous, and to get over it. Hated him for years for that comment. Realized he was right when Liz left. She said the same thing.

"What?" I asked. "Liz left because..."

Of you. Said she wasn't going to be second runner up for anyone.

"So... I guess that means..." I was hinting at something, hoping I'd hear him say it.

Have loved you for a very long time. You were always trying so hard to be... perfect and I just... His voice was fading, and he sighed. Won't be long now... few days at most...

I love you, too. Goodnight.


We came to the end of our journey far too quickly. Eilerson had wanted a new star being born, but instead we settled for the closest, hottest star we could find. I would get into a p-suite, and with a few Technomage adaptations, I would end up engulfed in the sun's core, hopefully dragging that hell-spawn with me. What a way to go and rather dramatic, too. The Intergalactic Inquirer would love that. "Dying Galactic Hero, Suicides in White Star."

I think Matheson knew that I was hiding something. He would occasionally watch me with a pensive look in his eyes, and I would try to brighten the mood. When... I... died; he would be... devastated. All my fault, just for having that one moment of weakness which had led to those others.

Sarah, you'll keep an eye on my Telepath, wouldn't you?  You'd make sure John doesn't do anything stupid?

"STOP IT!" He said. He was glaring at me, fire in his eyes.

"What?" I asked innocently.

"Stop blaming yourself for what happened between us." John slowed down and spoke softly. "Unless you have a problem with ... our relationship."

"That was a low blow, John." It was a direct blow to my heart, and he knew it.

"You forget, I can hear you. You're upset about... what happened between us. Regrets my good and dear friend? Do you have them? Tell me." His voice was soft, but I could see the unshed tears in his eyes.

"Regrets... that we didn't do this... earlier. About fifteen years ago." I was teasing him, trying to hide the fact that I was deeply worried about him. We had grown so close in our last few weeks together. What would happen to my lonely Telepath when I was gone? Would our mutual friends help him with his grief? Or would he refuse their help? He wouldn't do anything drastic, now would he? Oh God, I hoped that he wouldn't.

"I've been trying to make up for lost time." John gave me a grin, and he kissed me. And I allowed him to seduce me ... again.


That night I tried every damn trick in the book to exhaust him. We were close to our destination, and I was going to be the one that sent that A-Box directly to hell. Not him. I was going to take his final burden from him, and perhaps we would end up together in the next plane of existence. Or perhaps not.

I made physical love with him repeatedly, while he seemed to understand what I was doing. Tasting him, hearing him, loving him, and trying to imprint him into my senses. I wanted to be able to close my eyes, and see him. The Gideon of days long past. Not the frail man who lay next to me in bed. And then I lay next to him, staring into his eyes, while I tried to calm myself enough to allow my mind touch his completely. "John...." his voice was soft.

"Shhh... You need to rest for tomorrow." And I let our minds touch.

I love you, old friend.

And I, you.

Then I concentrated on sending him very tasty erotic images, of him seducing me. Physically, he had been far too weak to be the "seducer" in our relationship, and I could sense that he had regretted that. Carefully, we made love mind to mind repeatedly, and I let him dictate my "seductions".

It was INCREDIBLE. For the next few hours, he showed me a rather tawdry side of Matthew Gideon. Scenes of us in a water shower, bullet cars, the bridge of the Excalibur...and oh my... a rather tasty one of me tied up, while he commanded me. We focused on that one for several hours...and I found myself delighting in it, relishing in his strength and command. Yet through it all, I could sense his regret over how one sided our relationship was.

Blocking him mentally, for a brief moment, I debated how I could fulfill this last desire of his. I was lying on my back, and he was resting on his side with his head lying on my shoulder. Carefully, I grabbed his left hand, and I began slowly stroking my face with it. Tilting my head slightly, our lips met. I opened my mouth slightly, letting him direct our kiss, and he seemed surprised that I wasn't more aggressive with him. No, for our last time together, I would let Matthew set the pace.

Slowly, his tongue and mine met, and I concentrated completely on our hesitant kiss. Unshielding myself, I could feel his confusion at our role reversals.

??? He sent that to me.

Ignoring his question, I continued to guide his hand along my body. It was rather awkward at first, but then Matthew and I both got the hang of it. For now, I was helping Matt seduce me, while his fingertips gently teased me. I suckled on his fingers, while he was trying to trace my lips, and he frowned in mock disapproval.

"Hey. None of that now." He whispered.

Regretfully, I stopped, and the two of us continued to explore my body. Slowly, and carefully, we traced our way downward while I sensed what he wanted to do to me. I positioned myself carefully, so Matt could kiss my neck, but he wasn't content with merely doing that. So he nibbled and sucked on my nipples without Matt having to exert too much effort on his part. He seemed to enjoy playing with my nipples, and he teased them mercilessly.

He nipped me while I gasped in delighted surprise. Somehow I should have guessed that Matthew Gideon bites.


John had been looking at me intently, when I suddenly realized that he had blocked me from his mind. That meant he was up to something, and I was surprised when he took my hand, and began stroking his face with it. Gently, erotically, my fingers traced his cheekbone. Suddenly our lips met in a gentle kiss, and I suddenly realized that he wanted me... to take the lead. I prayed for strength from whatever God I hadn't offended in my life, and I began kissing him. Please, for tonight, let me forget my crippled body, and focus on him. Don't let my hands shake too badly, so I can pretend that I'm not dying.

John and I investigated his body thoroughly, his hand gentle on mine as he helped me touch him. I fumbled at first, my illness making me awkward, but John was patient. My lover sent me what he was feeling, how my hand on his body both teased him and excited him. I wanted to kiss him on his neck, and he moved, so I could gently nuzzle him there.

Then we continued together, as I began to play with his chest, enjoying the chance to suck on his nipples. John really found that erotic, and I found him arching his back while I continued to tease him. I nipped him, and I felt his amusement when I gently kissed the pain from his injury away.

I concentrated on that spot for a moment, enjoying the chance to lie with my head on his chest while he and I gently stroked his body. He moved ours hands down to his waist, and I sensed his growing excitement while we got closer to where he wanted me to be. We rapidly moved from his belly to his erection, and I found my hand being positioned on it. He squeezed my hand carefully, and I felt his body shift. John was close to the brink... and I didn't want him to climax. Not yet, it was far too soon.

"Slow down." I whispered.


You're rushing this. I never hurried through this with any of my partners and I won't start now. Move your hand away. Let me... please.

John moved his hand away slowly, and I slowly began using my pointer finger to examine his body. I traced the sensitive tip slowly, moving on to linger on the points of his shaft in a way that I knew to be extremely pleasurable. Then I rested my hand on his balls, and I slowly moved my hand over them.

Sit up like this. I sent him, and he moved quickly to comply. Then I took John in my mouth. He began thrusting his hips, doing all the work while I tried to suck harder when he was withdrawing. John would thrust then withdraw, while I tried to tease him. So close, so close, I could feel his orgasm building.

M-matt... His fingers were running through my hair, while he shuddered underneath me. Love.... You.]John sent that when he climaxed. He collapsed in the bed with a contented sigh, and I was delighted. I had done it, with a bit of help from John.


Matt appeared pleased with himself. So? Did the Grand Finale?

Eilerson would be proud of you I sent to him.

Fuck Eilerson. He gave me an evil grin, while I mentally laughed.

Did you want too? Is that why your relationship was always so... bipolar? He probably would have been willing if you were willing to be the sub. I teased him, while he sent me a very intense image. On the Excalibur's CONFERENCE table? You wanted me, THERE? In front of the rest of the senior staff members?

That was after I realized that the entire senior staff, except for me... was ... educating you. It was a random thought, actually, one day, when I saw how... comfortable you were with them. I had always wanted to... teach you... to share this... Thought I could do better than they could... but I know... from personal... experience that they... did... quite well without... my input.... But I thought...

Any regrets, Matt?

He sent me a jumble of images, focusing on the Chambers-Eilerson family. It was full of happy moments, and lots of noise. Matt must be regretting that he had never settled down. Matt... Matt... In my heart, I've been married to you for years.

Sounds... wonderful.... Did we have a nice... honeymoon? He gave me a weary smile.

His voice was getting softer, and he was obviously fighting to stay awake, so I told my exhausted lover to go to sleep. It was an incredible honeymoon, Matt. You wore me out. You were insatiable, and we never left our bed for the entire honeymoon. Room service and housekeeping was scandalized. Kissing him gently on his forehead, I caught a quick flash of something. What?

Wedding? Tell me...

We had a small wedding, just the two of us. It was a spur of the moment idea that you had. I didn't even have a ring for you... but you wanted to get married right away, before someone else stole me away from you.

Matthew smiled. I didn't... have one... for you... either. Gave you... my ... class... ring.

I wore it proudly.

"Will... you... take it... now?" Matthew gasped that out to me.

"On one condition." I teased him gently.


"Captain Matthew Gideon, will you marry me? I have nothing to offer you but a pure heart." There. I had proposed to him, and I wondered what he'd say. Please, Matt, think with your heart, not with your mind on this. Let me have this much of you.


I slid the ring off his finger, and placed it on mine. Then I kissed him.

With this ring, I thee wed. Matt sent that to me, and I suddenly realized that we both had tears in our eyes.

I pledge you my honor, and my devotion, for as long as I shall live. Now, go to sleep, my dearest Captain, you have a long day in front of you tomorrow, and you'll need your rest.

I held him for the remainder of the night, listening to his soft breathing. Trying to memorize it, focus on it, for the long lonely days I saw stretched ahead of me.

He was still sleeping when I got out of the bed. I tried to be quiet, as not to wake the sleeping man, and I searched for Sarah's contribution to the mission. Carefully I remembered what combination of medications she had recommended for Gideon just in case... It was an ungodly mixture guaranteed to have him sleeping in spite of his pain, so I mixed it, and drugged him with it. Heavily.

It was long since time for me to pay back my debt to Gideon. A debt, that had begun when a young lonely cadet, wearing a PSI badge, had been requested by a new Starship Captain, a debt which had grown throughout the years. It was to be my wedding gift to him.

Carefully, I assembled what I needed for my "final mission". I was going to send a very small probe to the very heart of the star, and there was going to be a tagalong. A certain wooden box. It wasn't a big probe, the type that some companies used for a "Core" sample, but a certain Technomage had modified it. It was small, compact and packed enough oomph to punch its way into the star's core. But the probe had to be assembled, and I would need to launch it outside the ship.

My hands were shaking by the time I was done. Carefully I put my pressure suit on, picked up the probe and a certain duffel bag, and I entered the pressure lock. When it was safe, I exited Max's ship for what could be the last time. My lifeline to the ship was securely fastened, and I slowly began the process of launching the probe.

But IT had awoken. I could hear IT. Feel IT. IT was calling for me, luring me like a siren's call into a dark and endless vortex. I struggled to ignore IT, but IT called to me, tempting me. I nearly failed when suddenly I felt as though distant voices were shouting at me to "Fight! Fight for GIDEON, if not for yourself, damn you!" Had it been Dureena? Max? Strengthened, I fought against IT and I quickly put the final timer code into the probe. I then waited for the countdown. T minus one minute.

I heard Gideon SCREAM. Agony. Agony. Oh God, the agony. 55 seconds. "JOHN?" I could hear him, screaming. The medication WASN'T Working. He knew I wasn't there in the ship. He was trying to locate me, hoping that the Box hadn't attached ITself to me.

Trying to send assurances to him, I don't think he was capable of hearing me. His mind was a sea of pain, and he was drowning in it.

"What have you done? JOHN!!!!!! What had you done? Damn you, NOT Matheson!!!!! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" His voice was screaming in my mind. He thought the Box had taken control of me and he was terrified. I could feel Matthew's self-hate, as he thought he had failed me. Matt was cursing himself, because he believed that he had allowed me to be taken over by that damn Box. 45 seconds.

"You're not getting him, damn you. I refuse! I REFUSE! I HAVE ALWAYS REFUSED THIS!" He was screaming and weeping at the Box, while he was spasming in pain. 30 seconds.

"You don't have him. You don't. HE'S NOT YOURS! NEVER!!!!!" I saw images of Gideon seizing, continuously. 15 seconds.

He was now screaming incoherently, seizing on the bed, when the probe launched from my hands. I was knocked back from the inertia of the launch, and I hit the ship hard. It took me far too long to get back into the ship, and I ran to him, as best as I could, in a p-suit, hoping that... I was mistaken.

Matthew was screaming, still, his voice raw. I removed the p-suite as best as I could, and I tried to make mental contact with him. Madness, like a feral animal, looming, beating at me.

"When the probe is launched, you will have slightly less than fifteen minutes before it hits the sun's core. I would suggest you getting the hell OUT of there before it does, as I don't really know what's going to happen." Eilerson's voice was in my mind.

"Auto-pilot. Run Program "Home" Execute NOW!" I felt the ship pick up speed, and I was still trying to make contact with Gideon. I couldn't. His mind wasn't there. Instead... there was nothing but madness, wild and whirling. Oh God, the pain. THE PAIN! For the next fourteen minutes, he was in agony, mental, spiritual and physical agony. He couldn't hear me, and I was screaming at him.

Sarah Chambers.

Dureena woke me from a sound sleep. "It's... time. Galen says so."

I reached the living room where my fellows Crusaders were. We were all together, Eilerson, exhausted, Galen, somber and aloof in his dark Technomage clothes and Dureena. She was pacing, and I heard her mumbling under her breath. Our eyes were locked on the spheres. Matheson's shining brightly. Matt's a swirl of darkness and light, with an increase of blood red and green.

"Those colors are new. They must mean something." Eilerson was speaking softly to himself, and I suddenly felt relieved when my husband sat down next to me. I reached for his hand, was startled when he suddenly grabbed my hands hard. I realized now how terrified he had been of Matthew's illness. He was older than Matthew was, significantly older than I was, and he saw his possible future in Matthew's shattered body. I put my head on his shoulder, and hugged him tightly. He gave me a brief smile and then continued. "Darkness and light, are possibly the symbols of life and death, or good and evil, while blood and green, symbols of pain, death or rebirth?""

"For a moment, there I thought I saw that darkness in John." Dureena, stopped pacing for a moment, and shook her head, her golden eyes teary. "As though IT had reached out to touch John. To ensnare him and I thought for a moment that John darkened. I screamed at him to fight it for Gideon and the darkness faded." She shook her head again. "I'm being silly. I must have imagined it."

"You didn't. I saw it too" admitted Max softly. "Galen would have assured that the Box wouldn't have succeeded in taking over John. But, I'm happy that John doesn't need us to help, right now."


This was Galen, giving my husband an intense look. "You spoke with... that... Thing."

"Yes." His voice was slow, and I could tell he was remembering his conversation with it.

"What was ITs tone?" Galen prompted him.

"ITs affect?" Max answered softly.

"Yes, Max. What do you think the box wants?"


T Plus 15 minutes after the probe was launched.

After what seemed an eternity, he had stopped screaming. Bright red blood was draining from his nose and mouth, and I was begging him to talk to me. Ashen... His face was ashen, his lips blue. I mentally screamed at him, trying to hold onto him. His breathing was rapid and labored, and I could feel his pulse was racing erratically. I was holding his limp body next to mine, and I was weeping. I couldn't hold him as he was slipping away. AWAY! Instead of his familiar mental signature, I saw something else. Darkness, like a shadow vessel, looming just over the horizon. It was spreading...

For a brief moment, I thought I saw something else. A younger Matthew Gideon, wearing his sunglasses and his leather command jacket, walking on an alien landscape with an alien sky. The colors, dear God, the colors. Flickering wildly, changing their vibrant colors, and then he suddenly saw something. Whatever it was, Matthew recognized it, as he suddenly grinned. He was welcoming it, greeting it as an old, familiar friend. I saw that it was the only patch of black in this colorful alien landscape. Whatever it was, it was spreading, across the horizon, and then, I knew what it was. Gideon began to walk toward it, slowly, then faster, and soon he was running toward it. I tried to mentally grab onto him so that he would not take his final journey alone. I failed so I started running after him. I would be with him, as I had always wanted to be. We had been together in life, and now we would be married in death.

"No." Matthew had stopped running for a moment, and he turned to face me. His voice was the voice of a lion, roaring in my ears. "This isn't your time. Turn back now."

"NO!" I screamed at him, not wanting to face my life alone, without him. I had been alone all of my life, and I couldn't bear to be that desolate again. Matthew, damn it, please don't send me away. I always knew that at the end, I'd be next to you, supporting you as I had done all those years.

"It's an order, damn it."

"You can't order me! I'm a Captain too, damn it! I'm not leaving, not after just finding you. I'm not leaving you!"

Matthew shook his head. "No. It's not your time."

I still refused to leave him, and he grew furious with me. The darkness was still spreading, and I realized that the landscape and sky were turning dark. "John, go! NOW! Before it's too late."

"No. I can't leave you. Not now. Not ever." I grabbed onto him mentally, and I could feel his fear. Matthew didn't want me to die, and he was afraid that it was too late. Please, don't make me leave, Matt.

Then, regretfully, Matthew hit me. HARD. The "impact" tossed me out of his death vision, and I found myself holding his body. Back alone in the physical realm. "J-j-j-ohn?" his voice was painfully soft. His eyes weren't focusing on me; instead, they were looking above and away from me, toward the steadily darkening horizon of his "vision".

"Yes, Matthew. I'm still here. I'll never leave you, I've told you that." I screamed at him, hoping he could hear me. "I destroyed that DAMN box. I destroyed it! YOU'RE FINALLY FREE, MATTHEW!"


Maximilian hadn't answered me. So I repeated my question anew. "WHAT DOES THAT DAMN BOX WANT?"

Maximilian shook his head, tried to start to speak. But there was a brilliant flare of blinding whiteness, and suddenly Matthew's sphere exploded. Thousands of pieces of glasses dissipated into smoke, and Maximilian's antique table suddenly was ablaze.

Stunned, realizing what that meant, Maximilian spoke softly and slowly in his grief. "I got the impression that it was tired. Billions upon billions of years of doing its master's bidding even after the masters have faded into dust. It was tired and lonely. Like a faithful hound it wanted to join its masters beyond the Rim."


"Need..ed... to make... sure... you... still... there..." Matt's voice was quiet. "Worried...Not your ...time." He tried to say something else...was it "Love"? And for the last time, Matthew Gideon, my love, my captain, looked at me, and tried to smile. Then I saw his eyes darken and he was finally free.

While I screamed and cursed in my grief, for my heart was shattered beyond any hopes of ever being repaired.

Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop.
- Anonymous

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