by Mistress Sarah

Summary: Both Gideon and Matheson regret that question that should have remained unasked, causing Matheson to make an unexpected career decision.
Disclaimer:  These are not my characters. They are owned, copyrighted and created by far wiser people than me. I have attempted to bring them back to life for a short time, attempting to ease that gaping hole in my heart where B5/Crusade once was.
Note:  John Matheson; Matthew Gideon. Series is NC-17. m/m. Angst.
Archiving: SW and the WWOMB archive
Rating: PG this section.

Captain Kritika Pushpa Makam was only slightly taller than Dureena, but the way she carried herself spoke volumes. Her graying hair was neatly buzzed in a crew cut, and she had penetrating brown eyes that made me feel as though she was looking at my soul. She was in her mid fifties, and she looked as tough as rawhide.

Makam had arrived promptly at 10:00 hours on the Excalibur to take me to my new ship.  Beside her, was a mountain of a man, who wore the uniform of a military doctor. I estimated that he was easily a head or two taller than I was. Black hair in a crew cut, a hawkish nose, with startling green eyes, he was a few years younger than I was. He was probably only a few years out of medical school on his first deep space assignment. What an odd contradiction the two of them made as he easily made two of her.The young doctor had an easy grin that made me feel somewhat, ok, significantly, better after facing old Granite Face.

"Captain Makam. It is an honor, Sir." I saluted her, while Gideon stood next to me.

"Madam. I am most assuredly not male. Captain Gideon, is there a problem with Lt. Matheson's eyes?" Her voice was harsh, and Gideon quickly answered her.

"No, Madam.  I can assure you that his eyesight is fine." For a moment, I thought he was trying to protect me, but then I realized exactly what he was doing. He probably thought that she'd refuse the transfer if she thought I had a medical problem such as poor eyesight. Matt was just trying his damnest to get rid of me and quickly. I was amazed by how much that thought hurt me, and I damned myself for being a hopeless fool.

"That's good. Lt. Matheson, this is Doctor Zhivago. He will help you finish transferring your belongings to your new ship." For a moment, I thought Makam had given her doctor a fond look, but I must have been mistaken. Not HER, as her face looked like it never smiled.

Looking closer at the doctor, I gave Dr. Zhivago a stunned look. His nametag plainly said "Zbignewski, V." and he gave me a slight smile.

"Dr. Zhivago, are you smirking?" That was Captain Makam, and her voice was fierce.

"No, Madam! I am most assuredly, not smirking, Captain!" He answered her promptly, and she gave him a rather intense look. For a moment, I thought I heard his boots click together as though he was pulling himself to attention.

"Excellent. Doctor. I simply abhor smugness, especially in junior officers. When you've made Captain, you can be as smug as you want to be, Zhivago. But not before then, Zhivago, for being smug is one of the few rare rewards of Captaincy. Don't you agree, Captain Gideon?" She looked at Gideon, judging his response to her query.

"I've always suspected that it's the only joy of Captaincy." Matthew admitted that dryly.

"Now, Captain Gideon, I wish to discuss something with you. Dr. Zhivago, I want you to give Lt. Matheson a complete checkup when he's officially signed in on the Dyavaprthivi. I especially want you to check his eyes. In spite of Captain Gideon's assurances to the contrary, I feel that there might be an optical deficiency." Then she proceeded to motion to Gideon to show her to his office. When she left the room, I gave a quick sigh as I felt as though she had gone easy on me, and that I had barely escaped with my life.

"She's rather intimidating when you first meet her. Then the next few times you deal with her, you realize that she's your worse nightmare come to life. Vladimir Andrei Mikhail Josef Zbignewski, Doctor, at your service, Sir." He gave me a nod of his head, and I found myself smiling at him. "It's a long name, but my parents wanted to honor a few male relatives. As Dagmar Andersen, who you will meet later, constantly tells me, it's a large name for a large man." He laughed easily at that comment and I forced a smile.

"Zbignewski? Or Zhivago?" I questioned him.

"It's a joke. Apparently. She's never explained to me why I remind her of a literary character. I don't like poetry, certainly haven't ever written any, and I usually fall asleep when any is read in my vicinity. I don't even know anyone by the name of Lara. She's a bit odd, even for a Captain. Have you noticed?"

"No." I answered him, far too quickly, as he gave me that grin of his again. In spite of myself, I found myself liking the younger man. I trusted so rarely, but there was something about Vladimir Andrei Mikhail Josef Zbignewski, which made it impossible for me to dislike him.

"Liar. She's an absolute terror. You'll wake up for the first few weeks having nightmares thinking that you've screwed something up. Then she'll get you on something else. Just a suggestion?" His green eyes twinkled, and I suddenly wondered if staying with a man who hated me was better than this obviously bad situation with a moderately psychotic Captain who breathed fire.

"Yes, Dr. Zhivago... I mean Dr. Zbigweski." Great! Now she had me doing it, and I just couldn't pronounce his damn name correctly. This six-month temporary assignment was starting off as badly as I had feared.

"Don't worry, it's close enough. I prefer Vladi anyway. My suggestion is that you don't get Madame Kali mad at you, as it won't be pretty. Now let's get you transferred, shall we?"

"You... call... your Captain... KALI?" I had studied the Hindu gods, and goddesses, and I knew Kali was a rather fearsome figure. Kali had three heads, multiple arms, and a fiery blood lust that made her a rather dangerous deity and my new crew... had nicknamed their Captain... THAT?

"Lt. Matheson. Please say that term QUIETLY. She has ears in the back of her head, and she doesn't like being called that.  Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to get the Dragon Lady annoyed with you. I have seen her angry, and it isn't a pretty sight. It's been documented on EF reports that she breathes fire."

"She... breathes fire?" I looked at him, and I wondered if he was pulling my leg.

"It might have been the curry. Trust me. You don't EVER want to go to lunch with her. The stuff she eats will find you in Medbay needing your stomach pumped. I had one Admiral in Medbay twice in the same day, as she had sent him some soup for dinner since he was feeling under the weather after eating lunch with her."

"Captain Gideon." Her voice was cool and composed, and for a moment, I thought that bluster and show in the hallway had been an act. Foolishly, I had jumped to assure her that John's eyesight was fine, and I had seen a slight smile on her face when I had answered that comment quickly. Makam had been testing me AND him, damn her. I hoped for John's sake, her demonstration in the hallway was an act. My GOD! Working with that attitude for six months would destroy John. Even though he was no longer my crewmember, I had felt obligated to protect him from Makam.

I motioned for her to take a chair, and she did.  We sat in my office, and I offered her tea, knowing that she had a preference for that particular beverage and that particular type of tea. She gave me a brief, amused smile noting that I had checked up on her, and she took a sip.

I let her savor the taste for a moment, and then I pounced. "Captain Makam."

"Let's cut to the chase shall we? Do you mind if I call you, Matthew?" she asked.  "We can both assure everyone later that we were exceedingly formal and polite with one another, and used our  titles."

"Absolutely, may I call you Kritika?"  I had to smile at her dry wit. Maybe it wasn't going to be that bad for John, after all.

"Of course." She gave me a penetrating look. "Now, Matthew, I want to know what the hell is really going on here.  He's apparently an exceptional first officer most Captains would kill for. Even with that "problem" of being a Telepath and you're letting him go? Without protesting? After you two have worked together in one form or another for all of his career?"

"He needs to more experience that he can get on the Excalibur, Kritika."

She rolled her eyes at me, and I found myself explaining myself to her.

"He's wants to be a Captain. But if he stays here, he'll probably hit that glass ceiling that they've arranged for him.  We both know that the first Telepath in EF can only go so far.  But if he's in the right place, with the right people, he might be able to further his career. I'm hoping that you're that right person, Kritika. If EF keeps him as an XO for the remainder of his career, they'll be losing a potentially fine Captain."

"So why don't you think you're the Captain to help him get promoted?" Her brown eyes peered at me, and she was obviously expecting an acceptable answer. "Why don't you work on it? It seems odd to me that you're losing a fine officer just because you're being stubborn and unwilling to change YOUR personality to meet current, acceptable military standards."

I wasn't expecting that comment, nor was I expecting a question that landed as firmly as a right cross on my jaw, and for a moment, I had to think quickly to answer her. Damn it, I let my guard down for a minute, and she had nailed me with that question. THINK MATT, JOHN'S CAREER IS RESTING ON YOUR ANSWER! "Let's be honest, in EF, I'm known as a loose cannon. I'm not pretty, I'm not very politically correct, and I appear to have a God given ability to piss off the wrong people."

"I've heard that said about you." Makam admitted that dryly, with a slight smile.

"But I'm loyal, and I will do anything for my crew." Including face you down.

Makam smiled. "I've heard that said, too. Unlike some people, I don't find that necessarily a bad thing."

"John wants to be Captain Matheson, more than anything.  I don't want him to hit the glass ceiling because of being a Telepath and having a loose cannon as a superior officer.  He's not at all like me, Kritika. John's the finest first officer that I ever had the privilege of serving with, and you have no idea how much I regret seeing him transfer off the Excalibur." I was silent for a moment, and then added. "You have absolutely no idea how much I regret him transferring. But I can't keep his wings clipped just for me. John needs to fly. Will you help him fly, Kritika?"

Makam sipped her tea carefully for a few minutes, and thought deeply about what I was asking her. I wasn't asking her to merely be John's new CO, instead I was asking her to be his mentor. She nodded her head in agreement. For a moment, I breathed a quick sigh of relief that she would support John. After all I had done to harm John, I didn't want him to have another CO like me.

"I can buy that explanation for his transfer. I appreciate you sending me his personnel records as quickly as you did. He's a Telepath, which I don't have a problem with, as the young man's apparently passed every damn loyalty test they've made him endure. As a colonist, I've experienced enough discrimination in EF to know it when I see it happening to others. The question is how did him being a Telepath affect the rest of the crew? Where there any problems that have happened? Is there anything you might suggest that I should look for?"

She and I chatted for a few hours about her new First Officer, and I felt much better with Makam's obvious concern for making John's transition as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, as I had enjoyed the chance to talk to a fellow Captain, she decided that she had talked enough and it was time to get back to her crew.  "I better get back soon. Vladi's probably telling John all sorts of horror stories about the Old Lady. Doctor Zbignewski is probably calling me Kali and mentioning to Matheson that I breathe fire and never get his name correct. I encourage that in my junior officers as much as possible." Makam laughed quietly at that comment.

"Do you?" I asked curiously.

"Yes, as a short female, I have to use everything to my advantage. Emotional intimidation works wonders when you're dealing with people as big as Vladi. He's a good boy, but a little too massive for his own good. But in answer to your previous question, by all means, I will contact you weekly with reports on how John is faring." Makam stood up, and we shook hands.

"Thank you. I appreciate it. Take good care of him, he's an excellent first officer. It's been an absolute honor being his Captain."

"Sir," she said, nodding her head.

"Madam." I grinned at her.

My new Captain made me pilot the shuttle to my new ship. Captain Makam was an absolute terror as she commented on my piloting abilities and made acerbic comments about whether she should be waiting to do this until after I had Zhivago look at my eyes. Harpy! Shrew! When we landed, she had already ordered Dr. Zhivago to show me about the ship, as she had to catch up on her paperwork.

I was expecting something when I got off the shuttle even though Makam assured me that my "official" welcome to the Dya would be taking place several days in the near future.  From personal experience, I know that the arrival of a new person on a vessel is often a highlight of another dull day in space.  Many a newbie had been treated cruelly on their first day, and I... I was expecting...something...but I wasn't expecting the entire damn ship's complement (except for the duty crew apparently as somebody had to be piloting the ship) to be standing in perfect military formation, complete with dress uniform in the large unoccupied area near the shuttle bays.

Even the damn Marines were wearing their swords, I noticed.

Someone's voice rang out and then the entire group saluted Makam in a awesome display of military coordination. There was close to four hundred people on the Dya, and if you had asked me, they were all there standing silently, weighing me with their eyes.

Especially the senior staff who were all dressed in full dress uniform complete with every damn ribbon, piece of piping, good conduct medal and every single goddamn piece of metal they could find. There was a Marine Sargent Major with grizzled red hair standing in the back of the senior staff who was wearing... He couldn't be... how the hell did he get Three Medals of Honor? He wasn't the only one wearing a Medal of Honor among the senior staff, but he was by far the most decorated person in the damn room. I began counting quickly the numbers of citations on his chest, and I soon realized that not the heavily decorated Makam had as many as he did.

They were fucking trying to intimidate me, and for a moment, it would have worked except for the fact that Makam was pissed off at their shenanigans. There was a musky smell of smoke in the air, and I took that to be my new captain's short fuse.

"Cute. Really cute, people." Makam snarled. "Alright. Whose brilliant idea was this? MICHAEL?! No. Far too orderly for that troublemaker. That leaves… O'NEILL! REPORT - MY OFFICE IMMEDIATELY!•

Who ever O'Neill was, I almost pitied him as I think Makam was going to shoot first, ask questions later. But, at least O’Neill was apparently wearing the dress uniform so O’Neill wouldn’t be needed to be changed for the funeral.

"I should leave the entire lot of you standing here in formation for the next three hours. DISMISSED!" Makam barked, and my new crew quickly faded from sight. Reminding me to be at the staff meeting at 20:00 to meet the rest of the senior staff, she strode off to her quarters, while I gave Vladi a weak grin.

"That was... impressive."  This was what I said in the safety of the Medbay. Vladi was examining me, including my eyes, rather thoroughly, I noted.

"I should have known that they would do something like that. O'Neill's probably being raked over the coals right now even as we speak." Zbignewski laughingly commented. "But let me show you about after I get you settled. Trick question, do you know what Dyavaprthivi means? Captain Makam will no doubt be quizzing you on this later today.  She loves the Dya as if it was her own child, and she'll expect you to be the same way."

"It is part of the Hindu religion and it stands for the embodiment of the whole cosmos, the sky above and earth below who set the universe in order." I earned a surprised smile from him.

"Very, very good. Now just pronounce it correctly, and you'll be off to a good start with the Old Lady!"

I suddenly found myself exhausted.  Trying not to yawn, I failed, and Vladi smiled at me again.

"Yes, the Old Lady has that affect on newcomers.  Combined with your going away party on the Excalibur, it's no surprise that you're wiped. You're got six hours before the meeting, so set your alarm for five hours from now, and I'll be at your quarters thirty minutes later."

"Vladi... Thank you."

He had been extremely friendly to me, which had surprised me. I was... a Telepath after all and most Mundane... PEOPLE, I mean, didn't like Telepaths. They usually feared Telepaths, but after being the Ship's Doctor to Makam, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that he didn't fear me. I wasn't his Dragon Captain, after all.  The tall doctor waved off my thanks with a gesture, and said it was nothing.

Nothing to him, maybe, but it was everything to me.

"By the way I should warn you about another one of Makam's pet quirks."

"She's got more?" I asked quickly, which earned a laugh from Vladi.

"The majority of the personnel on this ship are colonist, so Standard isn't the first language for most of us. If Makam catches one of her officers slipping into Dyavababble, she fines them."


"A mixture of Standard and whatever lanuage comes to mind. You've never seen an argument until one party is screaming in Chinese, and the other person is answering in a completely different language.   Understand, tovarisch? After every few months we use the credits from the fines for an officer party. So watch it!"

He walked me to my quarters, and I was suddenly struck with how different the two ships were. Perhaps because the Excalibur had a large complement of civilian employees, but the atmosphere was completely different. Most of the crew wore their hair extremely short, shaved or crew cuts, including the females. They walked quietly from post to post.  I had several people salute me and I acknowledged it with a nod of my head.  Vladi whispered their names to me, and I promptly forgot them. Tomorrow was another day.

"Here we go. Here are your quarters. I'll see you in several hours."  Vladi gave me an encouraging smile and then walked away.

Home. I was home for the next six months.  Entering my quarters, I was delighted to see that I had voice mail from several of my Excalibur crewmates.  They included Sarah, Dureena and a few other people. But not one from Matthew.

"Galen. Put the fire ball down." I sighed. Jason and Galen had apparently gotten off on the wrong foot. It wasn't surprising, and yet it was. I would have bet money on the fact that Jason and Max would come to blows first. Jason's personality was rubbing everyone the wrong way, including Sarah Chambers. Sarah, our resident angel of compassion had stopped me in the hallway and told me to SPACE him, and quickly!

Galen had disappeared shortly after rescuing John and myself, and he wasn't aware of the switch in personnel.  They had just met, and now I was trying to prevent him from incinerating my new XO. They had gotten into a fight... over a parking space. Galen had decided to park his space ship in violation of all the known regulations of EF and then some, and Jason had told him to move it. Or Else.  I wasn't sure what Jason was planning on doing, but I had half a mind  to let him go ahead and try. Might be the first amusement that I had in the last few weeks?

"MATTHEW!" The tall Technomage growled that at me, plainly warning me that Jason was pushing him too far, and he was in danger of immediate combustion.

"GALEN." I warned. My headache was apparently a permanent problem since that damn cave in, and I wasn't happy with either of them yelling. Made my head pound.

"Very well then." He gave a magical gesture and the fireball disappeared. "Where's John?"

"He's been transferred." I admitted.

That answer had shocked the allegedly unflappable Technomage, and then Jason got snippy. It must have been the comment when Galen compared him to tree mold. After a few hours of listening to them bicker like school children, I told Jason to let Galen park his ship wherever the hell he wanted to park.  If he wanted to land his ship in the middle of the conference room, I didn't have a problem with it, and therefore Lt. Comdr. Kanonvich wouldn't have a problem either.

Things got worse after that, which was why it wasn't such a surprise when Jason requested a transfer the hell off the Excalibur. Looking at the clock in my office, I realized that John had only been "officially" gone for slightly more than fifteen hours, and I already needed a new Executive Officer.

2000 hours.
Staff meeting room.

First of all, she had apparently started the staff meeting before Vladi and I had arrived.  I immediately tensed up, as I knew what she had done. Makam probably expected a rough time convincing these people to work with me, and so she had allotted several hours to hash out any potential problems before the TELEPATH arrived. I walked into the meeting room to find myself in a room of strangers, and judging by the empty cups of coffee, tea and other beverages in front of me, they had been there for some time. Even Vladi had been there for some time, judging from the mess in front of his seat, and just as obviously he had been the designated one sent off to escort me to the meeting. Makam snapped off introductions to me, each people greeting me as I tried to place their names and faces together.

I was grateful that the senior staff had decided not to wear their dress uniforms and that I had brought a small computer notepad with me, so I could keep track of all the new faces. The redheaded Marine was the head of security, and he looked dangerous. Sergeant Major Thomas O'Neill had survived his confrontation with Makam apparently with all his limbs still intact and no obvious bruising. He didn't trust me as whenever he looked at me, I noticed that he first glanced at the Psi Badge on my uniform with a unmistakable dislike in his green eyes.

Michael St. John was the Operations Officer who was apparently the only senior officer happy that I was now a member of the crew. He smiled a delighted smile when the Old Lady specifically mentioned that I was the new XO, and that he could return to Operations. Seeing that smile, she pounced on him, and acidly told him that the paperwork that he had let slide while he was acting XO, was still his responsibility.  The others at the table laughed delightedly, and St. John just gave a long suffering sigh.

I kept an eye on him for most of the meeting. Was he really unhappy that he hadn't been promoted to the position of XO? Was the crew annoyed that there was an upstart Telepath from another ship who was coming in to take the position? He was older than I was, close to Matthew's age, if not older.  I believed that Michael had worked with Makam for years. Why then, had they promoted from outside the ship? Would he be a stumbling block for me?

Jackie Tamberlin. Science Officer. Tall brunette.  She wasn't happy either to find herself working with a 'Path. So it continued around the table, Dags Andersen, Lu Chen, and so on and so on, with only Vladi and the Iron Maiden willing to freely talk to me and demand my input. St. John's apparent relief over being returned to Operations apparently extended so far, and he didn't talk to me during the meeting except for one or two things.  None of the rest of the senior staff apparently was willing to converse with me, and I told myself to prepare for a baptism in fire.

The staff had an easy banter among themselves that reminded me of the Excalibur staff, especially when Chen had slipped into Dyavababble and had been fined by the courts.  Though, I don’t think that Gideon would ever allowed his Head of Security to get out presenting his report by having the Operations Officer read it.  Apparently it was a common enough event, that people had started smiling in anticipation before Makam had asked for the security report.

But truly, I had no home to return to for I would always be considered the outsider. Would I ever have a place that I truly belonged? First, I was an outcast in the Psi Corps for wanting to be EF, and then a pariah in EF for being a Telepath. Yes, Yes, Yes, for a hundred thousand times, the answer would always be that I would be an outcast.

I noticed that St. John was constantly looking at me, and I was trying vainly to ignore his obvious wicked smile, to dismiss the wide grins on his fellow officer's faces, and instead I concentrated completely on the meeting at hand. We discussed numerous problems facing the ship and crew for some time, and I made mental notes about each officer's personality.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that St. John was fumbling for his notepad.  Taking a sharpened pencil from Dags, he began to draw something. Whatever St. John was sketching in his notepad, appeared to be a big hit with both Andersen and Chen, as they were both trying not to laugh.  I peered at it closely, trying to look at it unnoticed. Yes, he was drawing me, a rather biting caricature of me, complete with a dragon breathing fire in the background.  There were a few scattered figures running away from the dragon in the picture, and I think they were wearing the insignia of the Dya.

"Any more comments?"  The Dragon Lady gave a brief smile, which amazingly enough didn't break her face into a few zillion or so pieces. "Good. Dismissed. Matheson.  St. John. I need to speak with both of you."

The rest of the group filed out, happy as children given a reprieve, and I saw Vladi give me a secretive wink. St. John reminded strongly me of Matthew. I don't know why, as they were not physically similar. Michael had salt and pepper hair, in the apparently unofficially mandatory crew cut. He wore a neat goatee, and he wore glasses, which he fiddled with like Max did when Michael was intensively discussing something.  Perhaps it was St. John's eyes, as they were hazel like Matthew's, and they were tempered with a sorrow that seemed at odds with his rather puckish personality. He nodded an acknowledgment to me, his poker face hiding everything, and I returned his greeting.

"Yes, Captain Makam?" he asked.

"St. John's been acting XO since Matrando got promoted." Makam snapped. "It's been rather traumatic for both of us.  St. John's got a mechanical bent, and he's absolutely lousy with the paperwork. No doubt, he's left the last three-months worth of it waiting for you."

"It's not quite that bad, Madam." He agreed dryly.  I noticed that he didn't appear flustered by Makam's comments, as her officers had developed thick skin to deal with her comments over the years. "Captain Matrando has only been gone for six weeks, Madam."

"Lt. St. John. Who is the Captain here? If I say you've left three months of paperwork for him, it's because I know you've left three months of paperwork on the desk. I check up on my senior officers, Michael. Now St. John will help you adjust to your new position here. If you have any questions, please talk to him as I've assigned him to be your assistant for now. He, along with Chen and Engineer Andersen, will show you about the ship tomorrow and Thursday. Friday, O’Neill will run you through your paces, and if you need medical treatment after he’s done with you, well, I’m sure you know where Vladi’s office is."

"If you don't mind my suggestions, Lt. Matheson, wear something old. Chen, Andersen and I are all engineers at heart, so we will be showing you the ship from the bowels up.  May I be excused, Captain? I have to check out... " St. John couldn't finish his statement as the Dragon was finishing his statement for him.

"An anomaly in one of the computers that you'd like to readjust?" Makam said quietly, apparently use to St. John's particular quirks. He nodded, and she dismissed him. "You can go, but I want the picture you were drawing."

"Picture?" he asked innocently. "I was sketching a component that we've been having problems with, as I was wondering if we could modify it."  He began giving Kali a rather intense conversation about adapting some piece of equipment, and he showed her the picture in his notepad.  It was rather neatly drawn, with several comments scrawled in three different handwritings that I took to be his, Chen's and Andersen's. He was bright and articulate, I had to give him that, dizzily discussing concepts that would possibly improve engine efficiency by fifteen percent.

"No. Not that one. I want the one that had Dags and Lu in near hysterics at my meeting. Hand it over, and I'll decide if I'll put you on the rack for disrupting my meeting. Don't try my patience, St. John. You, of all people, should know that by now."

St. John handed over the picture, and Kali looked at it. I could view it backwards, and I had to admit that he was a talented artist. While he would never be a VanGogh or Picasso, he had a decent eye for detail. That scared figure was me, looking terrified, but trying to stand my ground bravely, while the Dragon looked suspiciously like Captain Makam. "Dismissed. But St. John?"

"Yes, Madam?" he asked quietly.

"It's one of your better ones. I'm going to keep this one. Perhaps I'll hang it up in my quarters with the rest of them, but you need to autograph it."

"Thank you, Madam!" He smiled, signed his artwork with a flourish, and then left the office. They were all crazy on this ship! Every single one of them!

"He's a fine Operations officer, even though he started as a grunt in security, but I field promoted him a while back. On my old ship, the Ramses, we had a bit of a problem in the Operations department due to the Nightwatch group, and when we finally got that mess cleared up, I found out that Sgt. St. John from security was now busy running the department. He ended up going to Officers' Training School with the senior officers and me tutoring him through the rough patches. He's a colonist brat like me, but his colony had a few political struggles during his early years. St. John's an absolute wizard with anything mechanical, but paperwork is not his forte as his schooling was hit and miss until he joined EF.  You're to assist him with learning the proper way of filling out those damnable forms and reports. Don't let him try to weasel out of it. He'll give you a smile and a joke, and then later on, you'll find out that you've done all his paperwork for him."

Great, I had to work with someone who reminded me of Matthew. It was just what I feared, that there was to be no clear break for me.

"Mike likes to draw, in case you haven't noticed. He's pretty good at it, and one of these days, I'll have to show you my gallery of his pictures." Makam stopped talking to me, and I remained where I was, waiting for her to give me permission to leave.

"Madam?" I asked politely when the silence in the room grew deafening. She appeared a thousand light years away, and she gave her head a brief shake to return from wherever she had been.

"You noticed?" She was questioning me softly.

"Nothing." I assured her.

"Don't lie to me. You're my first officer, and I expect you to tell me the complete and utterly painful truth at all times.  What did you notice?" My Captain probed me.

"A distinct chill in the air. Yes. I did." I admitted to her quietly. "I... didn't scan."

"Of course you didn't" she snorted. "It was obvious to a blind man. Give them time, they'll come around. Gabe, my old first officer, was pretty and personable. Everything I'm not, so they liked working with him as he ran interference between the Old Bitch and them. Right now they're pouting because he got promoted and they feel hurt and abandoned by him. They'll come around willingly, or else I will MAKE them. You will inform me if you have any problems with any of them."

"Yes, Madam" I assured her. HELL NO!

"That is a direct order. If I find that you are withholding anything from me, I will be quite vexed with you. You will not like that." She warned me. "Now that the pleasantries are finished, I want to discuss a few things with you.  This is a temporary assignment for you, as the Dyavaprthivi will be decommissioned in six months.  She's been a good ship these last ten years, but she's growing tired and wants to rest.  I'll be retiring then also, so what that means for you, I don't know."

"Understood." I assured her.

"Now, I understand that since you've been transferred, the people in HQ have decided that they need you to be scanned by...  this Jones character tomorrow. Jones will be arriving tomorrow morning, and I understand that you are to cooperate willingly with him."

I swallowed. It had been four months since my last mind rape, and I wasn't looking forward to it.

"Obviously, you find this rather traumatic as you've turned paler than the proverbial ghost. I do not approve of this... scan. I do not need a scan to tell me if you are trustworthy. Trust is built over a period of time, and it cannot be forced into maturity before then. You will use my office for this scan, and then I'll personally kick him off the ship myself, until the next time I have to deal with... this character."

"Thank you, Madam." I whispered.

"I also understand that Gideon likes to run his own away missions, meaning that you lack experience commanding away teams. We will correct that and a few other deficiencies I have noted in your record.  We will discuss those shortcomings at our meeting this Saturday at 10:00.  It will consist of St. John, you and me, and I expect you to bring an analysis of each department's strengths and weaknesses with you. This will include the department heads. Do not even try to copy St. John's crew evaluations, as I will know. We will go over each one in detail. Dismissed!"

I turned to leave, and then she appeared amused by something.

"Lt." She was amused, I could hear the laughter in her voice.

"Yes, Madam?" I queried my new Captain.

"Apparently, Gideon needs a new 1st Officer. Apparently his new first officer threw in the towel after a problem... with a Technomage... over where he parks his ship? That's not the official reason, of course, but... it's what I've heard. I've already informed HQ that he is not getting his old 1st Officer back. You're mine, and you're not leaving the Dyavaprthivi. Dismissed."

Escaping from her office, I went to "mine." I found St. John sitting in a chair, morosely looking at the stack of papers on his,  no correction, my... desk.  Kali was wrong, I think there was actually six-months worth of paperwork on the desk, not three months, and he sighed again. I couldn't even find a place to sit as the three chairs were covered with papers.

"Crew evaluations on that chair over there. They're all filled out and signed off on, and you'll just to need to look over them before I submit them to her. Crew Rosters for the next six months are over there.  I'm suggesting you read them, then rubber stamp them and submit them to her tomorrow. You can modify them as you get more comfortable with each person's quirks and abilities."

"What happened?" I asked. "Matrando's been gone for only six weeks."

"I don't know. It just multiplied one day, faster than a bunch of fornicating rabbits. I have my suspicions that the Old Lady comes in here, nightly, and drops off a few forms to add to the pile. I don't remember Gabe ever filling out a B-154-AZ form before."

"That's forty pages long, and it's the captain's responsibility to fill that one out. Gideon always tried to push it off on me, but I would return it." I noticed a sheet covered with drawings, and I grabbed it. He had drawn quite a few 'important' people to know on it, with a brief note of who they were, and their major personality quirks. "O'Neill, Thomas. Cheats at Cards. Dangerous when angry."

I read that off at him, and he gave a brief smile.

"Might be useful?" He shrugged. "Might not? Use it if you like. Toss it if you don't. I'm suggesting that you burn it if you don't want it, some of the comments the others won't find that flattering."

"Where's your picture with your personality quirks listed neatly next to it?" I asked, after searching through the faces.

"You need some mystery in your life, Lt. Matheson. Besides, I have no personality quirks what so ever."

I had to laugh, and he gave me the look I had always deemed the "Matthew Gideon" look. Where he's just been rather dry and whimsical, and he's happy that the joke has not gone completely over someone's head. St. John and I spent the rest of the night trying to get my desk cleaned, and when we gave up at 4 a.m., I was surprised to find out that we had made quite a dent in the pile.

"You really don't like paperwork, do you?" I asked him.

"Loathe and abhor it. That's why the Dragon Lady temporary promoted me to XO. She thought it would be funny to watch me drown in this stuff. I had the majority of the senior officers in here during their spare time trying to help me until she found out and put the fear of Makam into them. Now, I'm back to merely Operations Officer, and I'm rather happy about it. I'm not a command officer type."

"Ms. Jones, welcome to the Dyavaprthivi." Captain Makam gave her a rather evil look, which Ms. Jones ignored. "Lt. Matheson will direct you to my office, where you will 'scan' him. Your mission accomplished, I want you off my ship immediately afterwards. Thank you."  The Dragon Lady then stormed off to scare some other poor soul.

"Refreshing. She doesn't even pretend to tolerate me." Ms. Jones was a short female with short black hair. "One does get tired of their false faces they present. Where is the office?"


It was the first time I was in Makam's office. It was smaller than Gideon's but cozier and comfortable. I sniffed the air, and realized that there was a slight smell of incense hanging in the air. It was... homey. If homey was even a word, I could think of in the same sentence as my lady Dragon. There was a glorious antique statue of Nataraj; Shiva, the Lord of the Dance on a small table in the corner of her office, dancing the world into creation, and I longed to look at it. Thanks to Eilerson, I knew enough to know that the intricate detailing on each symbol on the statue represented an important idea in the Hindu religion, and each hand gesture meant something. Eilerson would have been able to give a complete thesis on the statue, but I wasn't at his level.

There were assorted pictures of past crews on the walls, including a new picture of the infamous Gabriel Matrando, my predecessor, smiling in his new Captain's uniform. I was amused to find out that over her chair in her office, which she had framed a picture who was autographed by someone by the name of "Warlock." The picture detailed her as a dragon with three long sinuous necks that each ended in her face, and they all were wearing Captain's bars. Each Makam face detailed a different emotion, one was soothing and mothering, the second displayed inner peace and... the third was madness and fury. I looked closer, and realized that the third neck had a necklace of skulls? It looked similar to the one St. John had done of me, so I assumed that he had done this one also. Obviously, St. John had nicknamed her Kali also. Mike was a brave man to call her Kali so openly, I thought.

On one wall, she had a saber above the display case housing her awards, so I concentrated on counting each and every medal Makam had been awarded as she had them neatly lined up in a display frame. Fascinating. She had earned a Distinguished Service Cross, and there were quite a few medals from alien governments. For a moment, I felt bad for my new captain, as she only had TWO  Medals of Honor which meant that O’Neill had one more than her.  I grew dizzy counting her medals and citations over and over again, trying to self tranquilize myself, before Ms. Jones entered my mind. "Ready? You know the drill." She sounded bored, as though this was nothing new. But I knew better, one only became one of the "watchers" by having a streak of cruelty a light year wide. "Lower your shields. Now."

I felt her hit my mind with the gentleness of a sledgehammer, "Careful. Lower your shields. Now. You know, this is moderately painful, and usually embarrassing to both of us." I felt her rummaging through my mind, and we stood there for 15 minutes while she poked and prodded.

"What's this?" she whispered. "You touched a Mundane's mind?"

She had leeched onto my most private memory of Matthew and me. A brief moment of wishing that he was there, protecting me from this... violation. If I had only been on the Excalibur, I wouldn't have felt so alone.

That was a lie.  I would have been more alone, since he had rejected me, for my saying those four words. That brief thought, she focused on, and she suddenly grew interested.

"Who was he?" she asked.

I firmly kept my mind blank. I was *not* letting her know who he was.

"How sweet. You gave him both your virginities. Your physical one and your mental one. But he didn't love you, now did he?" She was cruel, twisting the knife into my heart. "Poor. Poor. Matheson. Who was he?"

I started singing a song, mentally, a child's song about a silly little Teep who had lost his sheep. Baa baa baa.

Whose lover turned out to be a creep she harmonized in my mind. "You know, there's not really a problem with that. Apparently, he willingly let you share everything with him. You didn't scan him, you just shared everything with him. Your body and your mind. But he didn't love you. Who was he? Why do you still defend him after he rejected you? After being cast aside and abandoned just for being what you are? Who is he?"

He hadn't rejected me for being what I was, a Telepath, but because I told him that I loved him. He had not cast me aside. Instead, I had left to prevent myself from seeing him daily. For each of her questions, maligning my lover, I refuted it, turning it back on her again. So we fought for what seemed like an hour, while I refused to let on who it was. I was surprised that  I was able to keep it from her for so long, and I could feel her fury at my unwillingness to tell her who my lover was. I was a p6! I shouldn't be able to hide it from her, and she renewed her attack. I was slipping, over the edge and she was pulling it from me.

"M.." She was dragging it from my lips.

"Come on, let it go" she thought/whispered at me.

"Maaa... "

"Who is it? You should stay with your own kind. We wouldn't hurt you like he had."

"MMMMMMMAAAAAAAXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!" I shouted his name like a curse, and she... smiled like a viper. She began pulling information from my mind on Max, and I couldn't stop her.

"That wasn't so bad. Eilerson? Isn't he the ship's linguist? How... amazing."

Forgive me, Max, I thought sadly. Suddenly, I tasted salt and I realized that I was weeping from shame. For years, I had never cried, and now I was apparently going to be crying on a semi-regular basis. I had sent her a rather tawdry thought with Max Eilerson as the man who seduced me. Collapsing to my knees, I fully expected her to denounce it as a lie. I relived what I had experienced during that cave in, "admitting" to her that it had been Eilerson who had seduced me. The feel of his hands, and the feel of his body in mine.

"Fascinating." That was a dry voice from the doorway. "I don't seem to remember that these loyalty tests included scanning him for his sexual partners. Perhaps I should reread my instructions on this. Hmm..." Kali picked up a sheet of paper on her desk, sat neatly on her desk, and started to read out loud. "Captain Makam. You are expected to cooperate in every way, shape or form with the watchers, while Jones scans Matheson for any violations of our current Teep protocols. Seems pretty self-explanatory, even to a stupid Starship Captain."

"Now, let me look over the list of infractions. Hmm, it's just what I thought. A Telepath having consensual, sexual relation with a Mundane isn't on the list. The only thing that is even close to that is if he raped a Mundane. Funny, isn't it?"  She gave Jones an innocent smile that reminded me of Maximilian, when he's about to verbally skewer one of his team members. "What I just saw, was a mental rape if I ever saw one. But that's not mentioned on my orders. Hmm...   I need instructions about what to do if Jones decides to mentally rape my crewmember? I wonder whom I should talk to about that." She put the piece of paper back on her desk, and she gently smiled at Jones. "Perhaps it's time that you leave? If you're finished rummaging through his mind like you're going through a pile of dirty clothes look for a clean pair of underwear?  I'm assuming that he passed."

"Absolutely." Jones was tart, but I realized that she was... suddenly afraid of Makam. Even Matthew hadn't handle Jones like that, so openly and directly.  Instead, Matthew had plotted carefully, and secretly to disarm Jones, but Makam obviously had no desire for that.  She had slapped Jones down, firmly, yet politely with a few simple comments that had made Jones fearful.

"I'm suggesting that you leave right now, as you completely disgust me. Goodbye. Hope never to see you again!" The Dragon lady escorted Jones to the door, where St. John was standing guard. His face was unreadable as he glanced at me, and I realized that I was still kneeling on the floor, with tears in my eyes. I was humiliated as both officers had witnessed my scan and it was unbelievably embarrassing to me to have these perfect strangers see me weeping like a child. Bad enough Makam saw me like this, but for the man that reminded me so strongly of Gideon to see me like this horrified me. I looked at his hazel eyes for a moment, and then I had to look elsewhere.  Oh God, he was still looking at me, measuring me, deciding about me, and I suddenly worried that he was going to pull out a notepad and start to draw.

"Madam? If you will follow me? I will escort you back to your vessel." He spoke carefully, his voice not saying anything, but his dislike of Jones was evident in the way he wouldn't look at her directly.  Michael carefully closed the door, and I wiped the tears from my eyes.

I rubbed my head, trying to prevent the headache looming on my mental horizon. It was going to be a blinding headache to end all headaches. Why had I fought so hard to protect HIM? Silly, love struck fool that I was, it had been automatic to defend Matthew.

Makam lit some incense in a burner, which I remembered Vladi saying meant that the Dragon was "coming" off duty. It meant that whatever we were going to discuss was to remain between the two of us. I rubbed my head again, wondering if I was up to verbally sparring with Kali, and I realized that I really didn't have a choice. "You shouldn't have done that," I said wearily.

"Why? I'm retiring. They can't do too much to me." Makam sank to the floor in a graceful motion, and I envied her limberness while she contorted her limbs in an impossible pattern. For a moment, I doubted that she had suffered from muscle spasms during an awkward moment. "You look like hell. You're now off duty for the remainder of today. Mike already knows that your tour of the ship will be delayed for at least one day and I’ll advise O’Neill that you’ll be in no condition to play with him for a bit. Stay and have some tea, which might help your headache, or go. The choice is yours." She pretended indifference to whether or not I stayed or not, but I think it was another one of her tests. I was always jumping hurdles, and I was wary of this one. But I just couldn't go back to face my empty quarters.

"I'll have the tea." I got off the floor, and sat down in a chair that faced her desk. She nodded her head in acceptance of my decision, and she stood up.

"Good choice. I'm afraid that I can't offer you Chaji as we're distinctly out of teahouses on this ship. Perhaps another time or place, Lt."

"Hopefully." I agreed, just to have something to say.

She carefully prepared the tea, following some sort of ritual that I didn't see, then formally she poured it to me. Delicately, she offered me a cup. "Careful, it's hot."

I sipped the small cup carefully and waited for her to say something. My lady Dragon didn't. Instead, she appeared to be waiting for me to speak.

"It's really not that bad," I told Makam. "Being scanned every six months. It's a fair price to pay for being in Earth Forces. To help make the others feel safe about people with my ability."

Her brown eyes looked at me, and she refilled her cup. Silently, deliberately, the Old Lady just looked at me and she knew I was lying. I found myself spilling out my soul to her, telling her how I truly felt.

"I always feel so defiled and dirty when they're done with me... They're always looking for something, and I always try so hard to follow the damn rules." Instead of Kali commenting, like I had expected her to, she let me talk. I ended up talking to her for hours that afternoon, telling her about myself, about my career and what it meant to me to be in EF as the first commissioned officer who was a Telepath. The cup of tea grew cold in my hands, and finally, I was completely talked out.

Makam sighed, and it appeared that she was whispering a brief prayer as though beseeching some deity for guidance. "There's a reason why I asked Dr. Zbignewski to befriend you. He's young enough not to have served during the midst of the damn Telepath crisis and he's honest enough to give you a fair shot. Vladi's younger than you are, by a few years."

"The others might come around, and they might not. But they're good people, just with biases and prejudices that we are all burdened with. Remember that, especially when you deal with O'Neill. An excellent security chief, but he's been around for years and we had a few close friends killed during the crisis for being Mundanes.  He's not happy with you being here. He's honest though, he won't try to pull you down just because you're a Telepath. If you screw something up though, he'll be at your throat."

Makam paused. "Don't be afraid to use St. John. Don't let him fool you into thinking that he's a rather eccentric technogeek. It's only fair to warn you that St. John's not what he appears to be. He's pretty damn savvy as he watches and notes everything, but he rarely comments on what he sees. Mike’s almost as bad as Tom that way, as there are times I need to pull teeth to get answers from the two of them.  St. John won't say a damn thing about what he saw here ever, to you or to me. That man has secrets that he's never told anyone, especially about his past."

"Mike was a colonist, I've told you that. What we never EVER mention in front of him, is that for a few years as a teenager, he was making a living as a thief on the streets. Occasionally, he sold a few drawings to tourists, but he mainly pickpocketed, gambled or stole anything that wasn't nailed down, always looking for an easy mark.  The only mistake he ever made was trying to steal EF supplies when EF was sent into restore control of the damn planet."

"Maybe it wasn't a mistake, maybe he was just desperate to get the hell off that hell hole, be it in the brig or in a pine box. Anyway, he got caught, and some kind soul recognizing his potential, made sure that he was given a choice, either jail or join EF. EF scrubbed him up, got him presentable and he "enlisted" where he then ended on the Ramses. He managed to fool us all until O'Neill realized this kid in Security, who had an absolute gift for electronics, couldn't really read or write. Michael managed to fool us all by watching and observing everything that went on, memorizing it, and then repeating it by rote."

"So we tested Michael, found out his IQ was sky high, and the senior officers of the Ramses drilled the basics of schooling into his head until he passed the general equivalency degree exam. Then I kept pushing him in the direction that I wanted him to go in, by increasing his job responsibilities until one day, he found himself the acting head of Operations, and the next day he was in the Officer Training program.  He absolutely hates paperwork, but he can take anything apart and put it back together working better than before.  Be it mechanical or personnel. His crews' evaluations and his crews' rosters are always extremely insightful, which is no doubt why he waited to submit them until after you read through them. That's why I always grab his drawings when he's done with them, as he's usually right on the money with them."

I nodded, waiting for the comment that I knew would follow.

"Mike's also noticed that the senior staff is rather uncomfortable with you being here." She spoke that softly, as though trying to ease the pain of that comment, and I suddenly realized that behind her gruff exterior lurked compassion and caring.

That hurt, but I knew she was being honest with me, and I appreciated that. "Nor are the others on the ship very happy," I whispered.

"You're correct. Vladi's ok with you being here, but the others are... concerned." Makam admitted. "Ok, deeply troubled that you're our new First Officer.  If you have any problems, you are to advise me immediately. I will not tolerate bigotry on my ship. If I have to crack some skulls to pour some sense into them, I will do so willingly and do it myself."

"If I find out that you've not reported anything to me that I think should have been reported, I will handle it anyway, while being extremely annoyed with you. So don't think you can sweep everything under the carpet, so the Old Lady doesn't see it. I know everything that goes on my ship, plus half the fleet.  The rest I hear rumors about. Dismissed."

"Captain?" I asked, and she gave me a brief nod to continue. "Why? Why did you accept me as your first officer when you knew your crew would despise me?"

"Because." My Captain answered firmly.

God. It was like someone had given Galen's Captain bars. "Because?" I asked again.

"Santana Dharma." Makam said that softly, as though expecting me not to understand.  My religious background was a mishmash of different beliefs and concepts, and I found myself believing in no set religion. Makam knew that about me, and she believed that I probably wouldn't have made the effort to understand her own religious and cultural background.

“Ahmisa?" That was the absence of a desire to injure, and I didn't find it hard to understand how an EF Captain could strongly believe in that philosophical concept.

"Lt. Matheson." For a moment, the Dragon sounded delighted and approving. "You've obviously been studying. I appreciate you making the effort."

I nodded and left. Santana Dharma. Makam had agreed to me because she felt it fulfilled her personal, absolute codes of ethics and that it would violate them if she had refused my transfer based on her crews' concerns. Makam knew herself to be a Kshatriya, a warrior, and she followed that moral code strongly, including the concept of ahmisa. For while she desired to follow the concept of ahmisa, I understood that she was a warrior and that she comprehended the unfortunate harsh reality of the universe. But that didn't mean she had to like it, and I suddenly realized that her personal penances were probably as extreme as Matthew's own mental floggings were. Each of my captains were the hardest on themselves, constantly expecting perfection from themselves, and unforgiving of their own failures.

Through the years, I had tried to help Matthew through his periods of self-punishment, and now I realized that I would have to try to do the same with Kritika.  It was exhausting work, and I knew that I would have to be a strong a second to her, as I had been to Gideon.

I returned to my quarters, saw that I had messages from Vladi and some from my family on the Excalibur. But there was nothing from Matthew.  Nor was there ever to be anything from him.

{Characters} {Introduction} {1 None So Blind} {2 Kshatriya} {3 Bingo, the Invisible Fish, and Starship Captain} {4 Because Warlocks Can't FLY} {5 Prayaschitta} {6 Let the Captain Have Some Dignity} {7 Epiphany} {8 Biases} {9 Moksha} {10 The Three Graces}

Witches Familiars

{Mistress Sarah}

{The Main Gate} {HomePage} {Wytches World} {We are Family} {A Little Artistic Licence} {No, we don't mean "A"riadne} {Our Home Is Our Castle} {The Witches' Diary} {Witches Familiars} {The Gateway} {Webrings}