by Mistress Sarah

"Ready to go back?" Mike was being cheerful, though I think he was rather disappointed that my inopportune arrival had scared off a redheaded IPX crewmember.

"Ready when you are, Michael." I had a duffel bag in one hand, in which I had put a change of clothes. Nothing fancy, just a tattered jacket that I used when I wanted to remain incognito.

We were en route back the airfield, when one of the idiot alarms went off. Since I had planted the problem, I wasn't that concerned, but I ran back to look at it. I rummaged around for a bit, trying to 'correct' the problem while Mike kept asking if he should come back to look at it.

"Mike! We've got problems. Put the ship on autopilot, and get back here." I was practically oozing sincerity, which Mike fell for. He ran back, and asked me what the problem was.

"This." I said softly, as I hit him hard. Poor Michael whenever we met up, one of us usually ended up hurt and unconscious, and I felt guilt-ridden that it was his turn again. "I have to do this. You'd understand this if it were Makam, I know you would." I began undressing him, and I tried on his glasses. "Damn it, Mike, you're almost legally blind, aren't you?"

It's rather difficult undressing an unconscious man, and I had no experience in doing it rapidly and quickly. It took me a while, but at last, Mike was down to his briefs and I was putting on his uniform. Too bad the damn pants' stripes were different colors or else I would have worn my own.

For a moment, I had wondered how much that three headed dragon tattoo must have hurt, but I quickly snapped back to reality. John Matheson's life was depending on me so I needed to look as much like St. John as I could. When I got off the shuttle, St. John could walk freely away, while Matthew Gideon would immediately be escorted under full guard to my cell in Max's house. Unfortunately, I couldn't really wear his glasses, as he was rather myopic, so instead I put on my sunglasses. To cover his salt and pepper hair, I put on a baseball cap. John had mentioned that sometimes Mike wore a goatee, so I was glad that he had decided to shave it off before today. It might be hard to explain why I was missing all that facial hair.

"You know, Mike. You have a tendency of ending up being tied up and half-naked whenever John Matheson is involved. Do you actually manage to get anything done between these escapades? I certainly hope so or else Gabe Matrando must be eating antacids by the handful." Dryly I lectured him, as though I was giving an errant crewmember an evaluation. By now, Mike would be squirming in the hot seat while inwardly I'd be gloating.

I roped him like a steer, with his legs and his arms tied up behind him, and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. After all that I have had done to me, now I was the one restraining an EF officer. I stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth, trying to ignore the unease in my soul. Of all the people I was dealing with, probably Michael would have understood why I had to do this. O'Neill would certainly agree with what I was doing if Makam were the one being held hostage. Though anyone stupid enough to take her hostage, would probably turn themselves in willingly after a few hours.

I couldn't let him get free too easily, as he'd report what was going on, possibly killing John in the process. I guesstimated that he'd probably be free an hour or so after Makam got the message, if he was nearly as good as John claimed he was. Then I searched him carefully, and wasn't surprised to find three knives. They were wicked looking street knives and I slipped them carefully into my boots. Like Hell, I was going back into that pit unarmed.

"I've got to do this for John, Mike. I AM sorry."

I landed at the airfield, and I walked off like St. John. He had an arrogant saunter, which annoyed most of his higher ups, so I mimicked that. It spoke of extreme confidence in one's self and a lack of anything resembling respect for anyone who hadn't earned it. He never hurried anywhere, instead he strolled. The moment of truth arrived as I had changed my id pattern to match St. John's while I was on the Excalibur. Sometimes gambling with your senior officers had unexpected benefits, such as getting your command codes upgraded. Insolently, I flashed my comlink at the Sergeant manning the gates, and I was relieved when St. John, Michael X., Lieutenant Commander was positively identified.

"Where's Gideon?" She asked. "I thought he went up with you."

"He's onboard the Excalibur, and he'll be arranging his own transport down. But, he's insisting that I leave the bike for him so he doesn't have to wait to get a ride back. Just like a Captain, isn't it? Doesn't care how the hell I'm going to get back, as long as he's got a ride. Really, I'm a little bit too old to walk five kilometers. But what does a senior officer care as long as he doesn't have to walk it?"

"Have to agree with you... Lt. St. John," said the blonde that was reading my nametag. "So what are you going to do?"

"I'm off duty right now, and I've been trapped on that tin can of a ship for the last six months, so I'm going on shore leave. Can you recommend anything good for a poor officer who's been abused and misused by his uncaring higher ups?" It was far too easy to slip into the St. John mode, I noticed, as he was a bit too much like me in my pre-Captain days. Mike, just wait 'til they pin those Captain's bars on you, and your responsibilities increase tenfold. I see them landing on those broad shoulders of yours in a few years, if you don't watch out. It'll age you like you won't believe and this carefree whimsy of yours will be destroyed forever.

I spent a few minutes, mindlessly flirting with her, and managed to charm her into promising that she wouldn't tell Gideon where I was if he asked.

"He's been through a lot, but... really... anyone can pilot a shuttle. I don't know why he's decided that I'm his personal pilot. There are billions upon billions of qualified pilots in EF, and the Captain's latched onto me like a kid with a new toy. I really need shore leave!"

"How about the Cabana? Have you heard about that one?"

"Yes, I have! Directions, please."

I made her promise that she'd stop by the Cabana when she was off duty, and I'd buy her a drink. Maybe, we'd even dance I leered at her. She blushed, and I was suddenly amused by the effectiveness of my impersonation of St. John. Damn it, man, even a portrayal of you had the women oozing.

"Sure!" The sergeant gave me directions to the Cabana, which was a hot spot that catered to the EF crowd. I had heard of it, and I figured Eilerson would really like it there as its reputation was for drinking, gambling and sex. I felt a mental kick from my much-ignored conscience. That silent voice had gotten disgusted with me, so it had taken to screaming and it had just yelled that I was probably still being unduly harsh with Eilerson. But I pretended to be interested in the bar and I inquired about the public transport system, and soon I found myself standing in front of "Carter's Cabana."

I began walking rapidly, as I had exactly twenty minutes to get to my rendezvous spot. My nerves were uptight, and I was feeling queasy from the poison I had ingested. But I continued to focus on my one goal, getting John Matheson the hell out of their clutches.

Pain. I was in a great deal of pain, which temporarily masked a bigger concern. Silence. I was in a silence so absolute that I suddenly grew nervous. No voices, no thoughts... no emotions. I was alone, in utter mental silence and I felt fuzzy. Resting my face on the cold metal of the floor, I realized that I felt feverish but my mind was startling clear on one thing, Suki had betrayed EF and me.

Suki was a cultist?

Calm down. Don't panic. Focus. Shit... I realized that I was missing my insignia off my uniform. They had roughly cut it off of me, and I could see the blood that was still oozing in spots.

"Can't use your ability, Freak. Drugged you up, so you can't call for help." He kicked me hard in my ribs, and I suddenly gasped from the pain. "But don't you worry, your Captain should be here, shortly. We wouldn't have had to get you involved except for the fact Captain Courageous is busy hiding in Eilerson's house."

Shit. They had gotten to Matthew by using me. Mentally, I screamed, hoping that somehow Matthew would realize that he was walking into a deathtrap. I continued to try to mentally warn anyone... but I got no response.

I managed to arrive at my appointment slightly early, so I cased the joint. It was a sleazy bar and I was glad that I had ditched St. John's jacket and the comlink quite a few blocks back as no self respecting career military officer would ever be caught dead in the "Harlot Haven." My pants still had a military cut to them, but at least I was wearing my faded and patched jacket that made it easier for me to fade into the background.

"What do you want?" The bartender was a tired woman who tried to flaunt her cleavage at me, as though to entice me. It might have worked if I was seventeen years out of spaceport with only my hand for company, if she weren't quite a few years older than I was, and if she weren't also smoking a cigar. Oh yeah, the facial hair... HAD to go. I mumbled a drink, and I threw the money at her when she served it with a snarl. "By the way, your friends that were looking for you are in the back room. No charge, but I hope you don't owe them money, pretty boy, they look pretty annoyed."

I threw her another credit. "No. Not at all. Just a meeting between old friends."

"Don't get blood on my floor and don't let the cops get called. That's all I want, lover boy. Besides you." She managed to swipe the tip I had given her before the credit had landed on the counter and it disappeared somewhere deep within her cleavage.

I hoped I didn't look like I stepped in something soft and squishy.

No wonder Max was from Mars, it was the Mecca of free enterprise, as everybody had a little action going on the side.

"Took your time getting here."

My nerves were screaming, and I was pretending for all that I was worth, that I was the one in control here. JOHN was depending on me, and after all we had been through, I couldn't fail him. "It's not that easy getting away. Not so fast." I snarled that at the tall one who suddenly moved closer to me. "I want proof that you actually have him. A computer message means nothing to me, except for the fact that there's a breech in our security somehow."

"Valid point, there." That was the taller one, who obviously wasn't the brains of the operation. No, that was the mousy looking one, who most people would have ignored, as he wasn't physically threatening. I would have made that mistake except for the fact that the big guy was obviously all brawn and empty between the ears.

"Reasonable, my good Captain. Here. As a token of our sincerity, I brought you this." The small man threw something at me, and it landed on the floor.

Carefully, not wanting to let my guard down, I picked up a small ball of cloth. It was sticky and wet, and I unfolded it to find two EF badges. One was an EF Telepath badge, the second had Matheson emblazoned on it and they were both gooey and gummy with blood. My hands were starting to shake, and I suddenly felt cold. John. Matheson. They had hurt him. Cramming them into my pocket, I smiled at the two men. "So, I go with you two willingly, and he goes free?"

John. They had hurt John. Concentrate on that thought and focus on that anger you're feeling. You'll feel less afraid then... Damm it, my knees are shaking, I can't let them give out on me now. My worse recurring nightmare was that I was back in the hands of the cultists. Reality had presented me with a bigger dilemma, as John Matheson was being used as bait.

"That's the agreement. Now, my good Captain, if you'll come with me." The mouse spoke urbanely, and motioned for the large man to lead me out. "You'll get to see him, and then we'll release him."

The tall man moved quickly, and I suddenly felt a PPG against my back. "Come along now. Don't want to keep Freak boy waiting."

"Where's St. John?" Kritika Makam was looking annoyed. "Matrando's looking for him, and he can't seem to find him."

"I don't know. He stopped by to run an errand, and I haven't seen him since." I wasn't in the best of moods, as apparently there wasn't anybody who wanted to hire a linguist who had a multi-trillion-credit company blacklisting him. Why would I care where the hell St. John was? I was unemployed, and I couldn't live off my savings forever! Especially the way these EF people ate. I certainly hoped that Makam would make sure I got reimbursed for all of this.

"That's odd. You can set your clock by Mike. Speaking of missing XOs where's John? He had to swear a deposition, and that was hours ago."

"Maybe he and Mike are out drinking." I spoke dryly, watching Makam pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. "You know what? I haven't seen Gideon either lately. He's usually moping around right about now. So maybe Mike, John and Matthew are all out together. It's not unlikely."

"The idea of those three men out together, bonding on the streets of Mars makes me want to call for martial law to be imposed on the planet. Maximilian, that trio is a natural disaster looking for a place to happen."

"Well, maybe Matthew and John have decided to run off and elope, with Michael as a witness. Or maybe the three of them are looking into a group marriage." Smirking, I waited for her reaction to that bit of news, watching her over the top of the book I was reading.

"No, I was hoping I'd get to see that ceremony." She growled that at me. "What can I say, I just adore weddings. Though St. John should never get married, as he's not the marrying type." That was spoken in an acid tone.

Then the computer screen flared up. It was the missing St. John with a wicked bruise on his face.


"Go ahead, Mike. I'm here. Max! Get the others down here, as some thing is obviously wrong if Mike's calling for every goddamn Captain in the fleet. Hurry! MICHAEL! What the hell are you doing wearing Gideon's jacket?"

I heard the rest of the EF personnel logging on, and I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden sound of fury. Pierre met me in the hallway, and the scream of impending violence echoed through the corridor. If Gideon wasn't dead, Makam was going to murder him. If he were dead, she'd wait for his soul's reincarnation, so she could kill that form. Maybe Matt would come back as a bug, and Makam would squash him. Repeatedly. It was an irrelevant thought that thankfully Kritika would never hear. Damn it, Matt, you must have done something spectacularly stupid as she sounded really pissed.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT MAN DOING?" Kali Makam was in full force, and I suddenly thought that maybe we better contact Galen. And maybe I'd better sent Pierre in to make sure she didn't throw the Ming vase at the wall.

"What happened?" Dureena asked.

"For reasons unknown to us all right now, Gideon decided he had to go back to the Excalibur and caught a ride from St. John. From what we can tell he apparently changed his id to match St. John's which means Gideon has security clearance he shouldn't have. Not being content with that, on the way back to Mars, he decides to knock out Michael St. John, strip him and then tie him up."

"Then having done that, he skips off the ship, carefree, and asks for directions to a good EF hangout, which the former Sergeant McHale gave as seemingly Gideon's looking for a good time. Apparently, she thought she had a date with him after work!" Her tone was scathing, but I could tell that she was worried about our errant Captain. What the hell was he doing?

"Now, he's not at the bar she gave directions to, and we've managed to find his comlink and St. John's jacket approximately ten city blocks in the opposite direction. Other than that, we have no idea where Gideon is. We also can't locate John Matheson, as the last time anyone saw him was when he was leaving the lawyers. General Suki's not returning our calls as apparently she's already left for the day."

"Max. If those boys decided to elope, they better have had one hell of a honeymoon, as I'm going to kill them myself. Of all the blatant, rampant stupidity, Gideon better have a good reason for doing this. Damn it, the trial's set to start tomorrow, and it's going to look pretty damn bad if the star witness is gone.

The computer screen lit up again, and it was a pre-taped message for Kritika Makam.

"Makam here."

It was a somber Matthew Gideon, and Kritika swore at him in Bengali.

"Stop cursing at me, Kritika. I have one question for you. Answer correctly or this message will be wiped from the system. What is moksha?" Gideon was looking earnest, which from personal experience meant that we were all in serious trouble.

"Freedom from the never-ending cycle of Samsara, rebirth after rebirth until your Karma is met." Growling that answer to the screen, Makam had apparently answered the challenge successfully. My, my, Captain Courageous, when the hell did you take the brush up course in the Hindu religion?

"Kritika. We've got problems. My old friends, the Sacred Black Omega, have John Matheson. They're threatening to kill him unless I meet them at 20:00 hours. Here's the information I have, that it looks like they're trying for a hostage exchange, and what I'm going to do. You better get the damn troops in, as I have no doubt that they're going to pull a fast one somehow in this. Whatever you do, you are to get John Matheson the hell out of there. That's an order, Kritika. Be it alive or dead, get John Matheson out of there. Don't worry about me, as I've got a few tricks up my sleeve that they don't know. Besides, it's time that I finally settled my karma."

"Kritika, I'm warning you, we've got a damn leak somewhere, so plug it and do it quickly. Be careful who you trust."

"Don't scream at the view screen, because you know that if Tom were in John's spot, you'd be doing the same thing I am. Apologize to St. John for me as I hope I didn't hurt him too badly. Gideon out."

Makam turned away from the view screen, and she was furious.

"Damn it, that was taped several hours ago. Copies are to be sent to Lee, Lochley, and Matrando. Come on, boys and girls, we got a score to settle. Get changed into something that doesn't scream EF, as we're doing a little scouting." Makam then sat down heavily, and she began planning ... yet ... another rescue mission for Matthew Gideon.

"Makam. Watch out for that group. Each of them might do something rash as they all think they've failed Matthew." Sheila was sitting in her chair, obviously annoyed that her body's frailties weren't going to allow her the chance to join the fun.

Tom, damn it, of all the times you have to be in orbit! I'd feel more comfortable if you were here, my silent partner.

"I know, Sheila, I feel like I'm saddled with a bunch of raw cadets, and I don't have a Sergeant Major by the name of O'Neill around to calm them down. I wish I had someone in that group who didn't have something to prove. But it's all I've got to work with, and so I'll have to beat them into shape." I would hammer them, and forge them in fire, if it got Matheson and Gideon out safely. I guess it was a good thing I was retired, as I was getting sentimental in my old age. Really, I should be letting those two boys stew in the mess they made, but Vishnu help preserve me, I actually liked the two men. They remind me of a mixture of St. John, Matrando, Zbignewski and dash of O'Neill.

But those guys were my weak spot, especially Tommy.

What can I say but that I'm getting old?

"Wish I could be there. You're going after him, aren't you?"

"That obvious?" Damn it, you can't fool Sheila. She was always bright, and with reading those inkblots for all these years, she picks up on the small things to get the big picture.

"Yes." It was out in the open, and there was no use trying to hide what was blindingly obvious. No, at times like this, O'Neill would warn me to pretend that the obvious was actually a carefully laid trap, and that our agenda was still a secret.

"Why?" Sheila asked.

"I am a Kshatriya, a warrior. Among my people's traditions, Krishna is the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Once, there was a war, and someone by the name of Arjuna didn't want to fight in it as it fought relative against relative. He was tired of conflict, of the futility of war, and he didn't want to continue to fight. Krishna came to him, in the guise of his charioteer and explained to Arjuna why he needed to return to the battle. Arjuna was a Kshatriya, also. I feel like my soul is giving me that same argument right now. While I am tired and weary of battle, my soul is screaming at me that I must not turn away from this."

"That's that epic, you were reading when we first met, the Bhagavad Gita? Kritika, you're retired. Let the kids go out and fight this one." My old friend sounded concerned, as well as she should be, I was far too old to be rescuing people, and I just knew that someone was going to get hurt.

"No. I can't. The soul is eternal and can't be destroyed. That is my peoples' belief, and what most of the universal religions agree on. Therefore, how I act now, will affect my soul for all of eternity. Krishna explained the role of a Kshatriya rather clearly to Arjuna, when he was wrestling with self-doubts. The lord says that a Kshatriya welcomes righteous war because it opens the doors to heaven. He says that there cannot be any loss in war for a Kshatriya because if the warrior wins and lives, the warrior gets all earthly joys. By fighting, even to one's death, the warrior gets the pleasures of heaven."

"Makam.... You're doing this for a religious reason?" Her tone of voice plainly said that she thought I was crazy.

"No. For my own morality, for if I didn't act I would be no better than the ones who helped kidnap Matheson. I can't sit by and idly watch as those two boys go through hell again."

"Stubborn old fool, that's what you are. You know perfectly damn well, that if I could, I'd be there right next to you, while you kick in the gates of hell."

"He's planning on dying, did you notice? Settling his karma indeed, and he thinks it'll free him from the never-ending circle of life and rebirth if he saves Matheson? Damnable fool. It would serve him right if the next few cycles have him reborn as my XO, then I'll beat that idea out of his head." With a two by four, every hour, Gideon, on the hour. I was planning on spending my years of retirement with a certain soul mate, and it wasn't going to happen if you managed to get me killed. Vowing to haunt Matthew's soul forever if he succeeded in getting me butchered, I hoped that thought wasn't too loaded with bad karma.

"I noticed the veiled references. Now, who else?"

"Lee. That idiot never should have retired, as he's been getting himself into trouble ever since." Lee was a good choice, as my old friend was about as devious as I was. Matrando had to be involved, as he was the only currently active Captain in Earth Force that I trusted and I knew he'd be itching to get his hands on Gideon for a little friendly talking to. Liz was all right, but she might do something stupid trying to rescue her ex-lover from this nightmare. I didn't need stupidity; instead what those damn boys needed was calm, rational thinking right now.

"Sounds like a certain short female I know."

"Sheila. I'm not short, everyone else is just too damn tall." I snapped that at her, remembering that in her past life, as a young EF officer, she had been taller than I was. But then again, everyone was taller than I was, with the exception of Dureena. Sheila gave me a smile when she noticed that she had gotten my 'Irish' up. What can I say? O'Neill was rubbing off on me, as I was always the sweetest of people until I met up with him on the "Hermes" all those years ago.

Yeah. Believe that, Sheila, and I have a planet to sell you.

"Be careful, damn it. You're a civilian right now, and EF isn't going to be happy if you and Lee get involved in this. They especially aren't going to be happy if you get the three boys involved."

Thanks for reminding me of the obvious, Sheila.

"I'm not getting them involved in this. They're doing this all on their own. Matrando is going to be rather pissed that Gideon knocked out his XO, so the dear boy is setting out to do an unauthorized scouting mission. He should be landing on Mars right now, mad enough to kill Gideon. Matrando will have brought O'Neill, and probably they'll spring St. John out of whatever hospital bed he's lying in. Then they'll be searching for Gideon to do a little payback."

You hurt one of Gabe's crew and that normally mild-mannered man went psychopathic. No doubt he was eagerly awaiting the chance to ... talk... with Matthew Gideon. But I had seniority over Gabe, so I was going to be the first person in line to talk with Gideon. Then Matrando, and if there was anything left of Matt, we'd wrap it in a bow and give it to Michael. Or maybe I'd give the remnants of Gideon to Tom, as I owed him a present to let him know that I missed him these past few months.

Yes, by all means, Tom first.

Then Gabe, then Michael... and then... Max. I had heard of the stunt that Matt had pulled with Max's resignation, so I figured the linguist would willingly stand in line for his piece of flesh. OK, that was arranged to my satisfaction. Now, what did I have to do next?

"You're really sure about Matrando, aren't you?"

"Damn straight. After all, I trained Gabe myself." As did Tom, and his rule was to never forget who helped you out along the way. Loyalty was important, as some ties should remain unbroken, such as those between mentor and student. No doubt my Sergeant Major had beaten that into Matrando's head. He had done a lot of training of personnel over the years, and he had even managed to get St. John moderately presentable.

But if he ever saw these raw recruits, he'd throw up his hands in disgust and complain bitterly that he wasn't a miracle worker. He was right, but they were all I had to work with. Devi forgive me for saying this, but I could certainly use that insufferable Galen right now, if he could manage to behave himself.

That damn Technomage had caused enough problems the last time he had shown up, raging like a wild man on the Dyavaphrtivi. I understood it was mainly guilt that was causing him to act that erratic, but still... he shouldn't think that he had the right to order ME about. He was only Gideon's pet Technomage, not my superior officer. Galen had just appeared one day in the Dyavaphrtivi's Medbay, with a face full of fury and thunder. Zbignewski had recognized him from Matheson's stories, and had immediately gotten Tom and me down to Medbay.

Then Galen and I had a mild disagreement, which I won. I always win any argument that I'm in except for when I argue with Tom. Burns my soul to admit this, but sometimes my smug Head of Security is right, and I'm wrong. But Galen had learned a rather important lesson, you don't ever piss off a Starship captain when you're on HER ship else she gets cranky.

And you never get Mother Makam mad, as she'll send you to bed without any supper for a decade. Galen's tummy must be growling by now.

"Kritika." My old friend was speaking quietly, which meant she was debating on whether or not to say something.

"Speak freely, Sheila. The two of us have never had a problem speaking honestly with one another."

"You've got to let John run this mission. Not you. Not Matrando. Certainly NOT Lee. Matheson and the Excalibur crew has got to run this mission and save their Captain. It's a matter of pride, 'Tika. The Excalibur group still has this gaping hole in their souls because you and your people rescued Gideon the first time."

"I noticed, Sheila. I tried my best to make them not think that."

"I know. But trust me, when I say this, those people..."

"Say no, more. Sheila. I'll do what I can, but if I have to run the mission, I'll run it. Nature abhors a vacuum."

"Warn the boys. Don't let Ivo and Gabriel run it."

"Already done."

They walked me to a small van, and I was pushed into it. The tall man proceeded to force me onto the floor, smashing my face against the carpet, and they began searching me roughly. Mentally, I cringed at the feel of their hands on my body. Hate. I hated these bastards for hurting John Matheson. Continue to focus on that thought so you don't give into the fear that's threatening to overwhelm and panic you.

"Nice knives, I think I'll keep them. What's this?"

That was the taller one, who I was calling Frack, and I wasn't sure if I rued the loss of Mike's knives more or the poison. Both of them would piss these guys off, and I think Mike was emotionally attached to those knives. Warlock was probably conscious right now, and planning on killing me, so the loss of his knives would probably cause him to get really pissed off.

"Don't touch it. It's probably a poison of some sort. Don't let him near it, as we don't want him missing all the fun." The brain's voice was dry.

"Yeah, there's plenty of fun left." Frack apparently agreed with everything that Frick said, as Frack was afraid of him.

"What's going on?" I asked. The taller guy kicked me in the ribs for talking out of turn, but the smaller guy laughed.

"It's ok. He should know after all. They're trying for a hostage exchange. You for the gang in jail, but I don't think that's going to work. But I don't care, I'm just getting paid for delivering you and then I'm off this God forsaken hell-planet."

Speak of the devil, and Galen shall appear. The tall mage in his black coat had suddenly arrived on the doorstep. The doorbell had rung, Madeleine had answered the door, and suddenly she was calling for Maximilian.

"Mr. Eilerson. There's... someone at the door... He wants to see you.... He says... that... he is a...."

"Technomage, Madam." That was Galen's voice. While Madeleine had scurried to see Eilerson on how to handle this, Galen had just decided to let himself into the house, and was now sitting down in a chair in our war council.

"Galen. I see you decided to honor us with your presence. Are you going to behave this time? If not, I'm suggesting that you just pick up your black coat and get the hell out of here." I was warning him that if he was planning on playing tricks, I wasn't in the mood.

"Madam. As per our discussion... last time, I will... behave."

That was admitted softly, as though Galen was ashamed that he had come out second best in an argument with our short acidic commander. What the HELL happened between them? Kritika had plainly flipped Galen over her knee and swatted his ass just now as a friendly reminder of what she was capable of doing. GOD! She amused me, as she had already decided that we were going out to rescue Matheson and Gideon. Her concern was mainly getting John Matheson safely out of trouble, and then she was going to kill Gideon.

No doubt it was going to be a slow, lingering, painful death, and I wondered if I could help her along, just a way of saying, "Thanks for screwing up my once in a lifetime chance to do the right thing." I was still annoyed that he had made the highhanded decision to put my resignation from IPX on a permanent hold status.

I had argued with IPX, telling them to ignore Gideon's request but apparently the damn idiot had gotten Earth Force involved, and there WAS precedent for what he was trying to do to me. So three sets of lawyers were busy fighting it out among themselves, no doubt raking in the credits hand over fist. The Earth Force lawyers, the IPX lawyers and my lawyers of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe were no doubt delaying the final decision just to increase their paychecks. Lucky them as they were collecting a paycheck, meanwhile I wasn't getting paid by either IPX or EF right now, as my employee status was in flux.

Flux. Fuck them. Damn it Gideon! My resignation had been for your sanity's sake, and you decided to mess it up.

See what happens when you try to do the RIGHT thing for once? Never fucking again, Max! Never! Ever! No one ever appreciates it! And no one, NO ONE, would ever believe it anyway!

"Gideon's got himself in a bit of trouble. We're going to need your help, to get him and Matheson out of it. Are you willing to do so, Galen?"

"Yes, Madam. I am." Galen's voice radiated sincerity, which got my hackles up. I never trusted him when he spoke like that, but then again, I never trusted him. It must be the ramifications of the day he tried to set me on fire.

"Are you going to listen to me, do exactly what I tell you, and not give me any lip? Or do I have to get O'Neill down here? You didn't come out so well when you tangled with that old dog, last time." Makam was amused, and she was planning on making Galen pay for whatever mischief he had done the last time they had met.

"Madam. I swear to you... that I will behave."

"You break your word, I'll make you wish you hadn't." Her voice fairly dripped with implied threats, and suddenly she turned cheerful. "Ok, boys and girls. Here's what we're going to do, now that Galen's arrived. Sheila... you're going to have to...."

We had finalized our plans, quickly and we were about to leave my summer home when there was another knock on the door. Madeleine had almost resigned after meeting Galen, and Pierre had taken her upstairs for a bit of a drink. I had thrown the keys to the liquor cabinet at him in the hopes that it might help.

"Don't worry! I'll get it." I called that out, knowing that no one else would get the damn door. I opened it to find a PPG rifle pointing in my face. In the back of my mind, I heard a voice commenting on the fact that I really HATED working for EF and that quitting was perhaps the best thing I had done in a while.

"I've been sent to talk to Ivo Lee and Kritika Makam." It was a young punk trying to act tough.

"Son, I suggest you phrase that better, as I find it lacking in all sorts of common courtesy. Say it again, and with the respect that I, having served over thirty years in the EF deserve." That was Lee, who wasn't impressed with having a PPG rifle in his face. He pushed the rifles barrel out of my face, and he gave a winning smile to the young boy.

"Sir? Do you have the honor of being Ivo Lee?"

"Depending on whether or not you're going to use that rifle on me."

"Captain Lochley is a little concerned about ... the possibilities that might occur if you get involved with the current situation."

"Yes. If I was Elizabeth, I'd be overwhelmed in fear over the possibility that we two old retires might get involved also, as it might be done correctly. Let me guess, we're in protective custody right now?" That was Makam, who wasn't that surprised.

"Sir?" The kid was obviously confused as these two retirees weren't playing by the book.

I flinched, as I knew what her reaction to that was going to be. I wasn't fast enough to cover my ears, so I was momentarily deafened by her response.

"DO I LOOK MALE TO YOU?" Kritika roared that at the young man, and I was surprised to see that pee wasn't dribbling down his leg. Young boys get scared easily by authority figures.

"Sir? I mean...madam... I mean...No." He was babbling.

"Where's the court order? Where's the writ authorizing this?" The two retirees began yelling loudly at the young man, who obviously rued the day that he ever thought of joining Earth Force.

I decided to be helpful and chime in. "Get that goddamn thing the hell off my fucking yard!" I was furious, as there was an EF shuttle landing on my lawn. I could just imagine the ruts that the damn thing would leave.

We managed to confuse the young man into the point where he gave up in terror, but I could tell that Lochley was being rather cautious with the dangerous duo. Three shuttles, and a few armed guards. We slammed the door in his face, and suddenly our group looked annoyed.

"She's doing what I'd do." Lee admitted.

"Same here. Doesn't mean we have to like it."

"Or that we're willing going to sit here with our thumbs up our butts."

I really wasn't happy riding in the bottom of the van. The larger guy had decided that I was 'safe' and he had decided to plant one of his feet right on top of my kidneys. "Lie down." He had growled that at me, gradually increasing the pressure, until I agreed that it was in my best interests to do exactly what the Cro-Magnon Man wanted.

The driver drove for a while, while the two men conversed, uncaring of the fact that I could see bits and pieces of where I was being taken. That spoke to me, loudly and clearly, that they weren't expecting me to be in any shape to make an escape attempt. I had thought that more than likely when I had first planned this out, but still, I was surprised that I wasn't as fear stricken as I thought I was going to be.

Yes, I was afraid, but I wasn't gibbering in terror. No, instead, I had somehow made the connection that Masterson had been trying to have me believe. The light had dawned FINALLY.

Sheila had kept asking me... who are you? I'd given her a glib reply, until finally I had answered her truthfully, that I had no idea who I was, nor what I had been. She advised me to focus on that question to find myself.

Who am I, really? I was more than what my captors had tried to make me into. I was a starship captain, first and foremost. No, that was still wrong. Sheila had urged me to use this incident as a chance to define myself as a person, not by my career choice. Leave Earth Force out of it; refuse to mention anyone else in my self-definition of whom Matthew Gideon truly was. Lying on the floor of the van, I suddenly had an epiphany.

I am Matthew Gideon. I am a human being who had the misfortune of the universe deciding to take a dump on me. Or maybe the universe hadn't chosen me; instead it had just happened. It was the old argument that John and I had discussed many a time, and one that Sheila had tried to get my viewpoint on. Was there a God? Was there a Supreme Being that was directing everything? Or was life random? Perhaps it was a mixture of both, as Ben Franklin has described God as the person who had wound up the clock of the universe, and having done so, had decided to let the participants in its noble experiment run amuck. Regardless of the answer, terrible things had happened to me, which I didn't deserve, nor did any other sentient being.

The question was... now that I had finally accepted the fact that I hadn't some how earned my fate, how to define this new Matthew Gideon.

I am Matthew Gideon. I am a man who is terribly reckless at times, but one who is fiercely loyal once my trust has been earned. I'd go through hell for one of my crew, including that damnable Eilerson. No doubt he's furious at me, as I had spoiled his one chance to be noble, but hey, Max, life is full of these little disappointments. I gamble too much, and I cheat like the dickens as Maximilian just found out.

Max was doing the right thing, but for entirely the wrong reason.

The problem had been mine, and I should have dealt with it better. Instead, I had let it eat away at me, until Max had decided that for my sake, he had to quit his position. There, that's another definition of Matthew Gideon. I hold onto things, allowing these obsessions of mine to take over my life including the search for the Cure and the search for the killers of the Cerberus crew. For better or for worse, I hold onto things until it affects those around me.

I lie, I cheat, and I gamble which is what I'm doing right now, lying face down in a run down van. I am a decent human being who has been scarred by loss and pain, and who somehow, managed to find his way out of the jungle of self-hate and self-despair.

I am the new, improved Matthew Gideon, which on close reflection, really isn't all that dissimilar from the old Matthew Gideon, except...perhaps a little older, a little bit more scarred and a bit more gray in my hair. Finally, I truly believed that I hadn't deserved what had happened to me, as some sort of retribution, a psychic payback, for what had occurred between John and myself.

If it was divine retribution or just shit happens, it had happened. Now the question was I could let what I had experienced take over my life and warp my psyche, or I could fight.

Like there was any question of what I'd choose to do.

I was a fighter. Have been for years, ever since I was born. I was strong, also, as I had fought my way back from the nightmare that I had found myself in. Physically and emotionally, I had regained my strength, and I was now focused on my one remaining goal. To get John out of there, before they harmed him like they had done to me.

Matthew Gideon was a goddamn fighter, and these cultists would rue the day that they decided to tangle with me. I was a cheat, an incorrigible liar, not above to bending a few rules and I always had hung out with the troublemakers. I had tricks up my sleeve that were older than their grandmothers' great grandparents, and I was going to fight like hell to get John out of their clutches. For all of my many faults, I was still a decent human being.

Somehow I had forgotten that idea during my trials and tribulations.

Now, the question was... what did Matthew Gideon, a generally decent human being, really want? Sheila had told me that I couldn't answer this question fairly without first deciding who I was. That people who had decided what they wanted, before they knew whom the hell they truly were had made the greatest mistakes in the galaxy.

What did I want?

Three hots and a cot.

That was a flippant answer, and I decided that since I apparently had the time, that I'd focus on that one. All I needed was a place to sleep, and meals to eat. But that was a lonely existence. I wanted my starship; but then again, I was in the danger of finding my self-definition in the terms of my career.

I wanted... someone to talk to, a person who could understand me, and dare I say it? I wanted someone to love me. Through this experience, I had grown as a person. I had found a support structure that I had never allowed myself to have before, as for all those previous years, I had been a lone wolf. Now, I finally believed that simple thing, that I had friends with whom that I could talk freely and not fear their rejection. Sarah, Dureena, Sheila... even John, were people I could unburden myself with, as each of them carried their own hurts and regrets in their souls.

Was that what my problem with John truly was? That I was striving for perfection in a relationship with a man who wasn't perfect or even comfortable with the pedestal that I kept placing him on? I should stop trying for flawlessness, and simply accept the fact that for some reason, John Matheson cared deeply for me; even with my warts, scars and all my emotional baggage.

I wasn't sure how long this relationship with John was going to last. Perhaps, a few months, or perhaps a lifetime, but I was surely suffocating it under my need for perfection. When we made love, it was on John's complete enjoyment on which I focused. Instead of concentrating on the giving and receiving aspects of sex, I was directing everything I had toward giving John the whole shebang. He was having incredible sex, but John hadn't wanted that. Instead, he craved more emotional intimacy than physical. I guess for John, being a Telepath, having to keep his shields tightly secured all the time, caused him to want the emotional closeness that he had been denying himself all these years.

So the two of us being men had pretty much neglected the emotional aspect of our relationship. No surprise there, as it was something genetic on the Y chromosome. John, due to his extensive training by the PSI corps, wasn't that comfortable with conveying his emotions. Poor Matheson. I had been so overwhelmed by my own pain, that I hadn't wanted to share with him, and I had been neglecting the other facets of our relationship.

Matheson didn't want to be the top in our relationship, nor did he want to be the 'wife.' Instead, he had wanted a partnership between the two of us, and I had dismissed his desire for that. I was older than he was, far more experienced, and I had focused on making his happiness the only goal of our relationship.

Hiding in the dark, or underneath the blankets when we made love, I had tried to protect John from seeing how badly I was still scarred ... and... scared... from everything that happened to me. Instead of admitting that I was uncertain about who and what I was, I focused my attention toward making John... happy.

That was wrong! Unhealthy even.

My God! Sheila would be dancing right now; as this was what she had been pounding into my thick head all this time. Sorry, Sheila, I'm a little dense sometimes.

My one way focus on John was unhealthy, and I realized that I had been making John more and more uncomfortable with the fact that I was deferring my happiness in our relationship to his. He had struggled even harder to make sure that I was enjoying our time together, but I had taken those actions as a silent criticism, of how I should be working more intently on making him happy.

No doubt, John, my perceptive, insightful and entirely too empathic lover had taken my actions to heart. Overanalyzing to the point where his only thought would be that I wasn't happy with him. So he would endeavor ever more fiercely, and I'd pick that up... and so on and so on.

What I wanted... was a partnership between equals. It was damn hard, juggling personalities and temperament, EF regulations, our personal luggage, and keeping both players identities intact, but somehow Makam and O'Neill had managed that. Makam was a starship captain, and she had acted accordingly, such as smacking her husband down whenever he brawled regardless of the fact it was done because of her. Meanwhile, O'Neill had taken his job as her head of Security personally, and hadn't been afraid to let the Dragon know when she was being too reckless. They were two strong souls who had apparently had a relationship of long standing, and they had managed to keep their careers the hell out of their personal lives.

But the question was now, how to juggle? The first step was going to have to be the toughest, I thought. Our relationship would need to be redefined, and the focal point would no longer be allowed to be either John Matheson or Matthew Gideon. Instead... it would have to be US.

For a moment, I had the delightful thought of lying in bed, with the lights on, with my eyes closed, while John Matheson concentrated completely on me. Then reality hit, my revelation was a little too late for that.

Sorry, John.

The van stopped, and I suddenly felt the weight being removed from my back.

"Time to get up and meet the rest of the gang." The mousy guy was being cheerful, but I suddenly realized that he wasn't that bright. The Sacred Black Omega was going to kill him and his buddy, just so they wouldn't have any witnesses. Stupid fool, didn't your mom ever tell you not to play with Doomsday Cultists? They're too likely to knock your game over, claiming that God had promised them the victory and then go home pissed off.

We entered the warehouse, and I wasn't surprised when I heard the shots being fired. Frick and Frack were rather verbal, and their deaths weren't as clean as they deserved.

"Hello, Matthew. It's good to see you again. But pardon me, if I don't call you Captain."

Shit. I knew that voice. She was fucking dead! They had shot her in front of me, for the love of God.

"Hello... Jenn. I had hoped you were burning in the lowest depth of hell right now."

Jenn O'Keefe, my personal Judas, smiled at me. It was a hateful, bitter smile that didn't hide the fact that she was absolutely nuts. Any moment now, I was expecting her to start foaming at the mouth and biting people. She was absolutely rabid, and thankfully, she wasn't the one in charge.

"Pardon me if I interrupt this touching reunion right now, but we need to get the plan in motion. Guards. Keep your guns on him, and be prepared to shoot him if he gives you any problems." That voice belonged to an older man, who had the look of a religious evangelist in his eyes. They were dark, but they blazed with an unearthly fire. "To kill, of course. Now, come along now, my good Captain. I'm sure you want to see if Matheson's alive."

We were staring at each other while the guards positioned themselves in front of my house. They were on my rose bushes, so I had yelled at them to move their feet or else I was going to sue EF for damages. Then I threatened to send the dogs after them, which made them move. Maybe I should tell Pierre to get some dogs? Hmmm... While the others were planning our escape, I was concentrating on giving those assholes a ration of shit. Keep them flustered, and they couldn't think coherently, and the thought of us escaping would never cross their minds.

"Do you think that paltry number of guards is going to stop us?" Dureena asked that, her eyes blazing in anger. "I can take them all down."

"It is a rather small force. Ivo, I think they think that since we've retired, that we've gotten... soft. I'm insulted."

"Let's show them the error of that thinking, eh, Kritika?"

"Don't worry." Galen suddenly grinned. "They'll never know that we've left. I'll need a few minutes, and they'll never know."

They weren't very gentle about showing me where they wanted me to go. I had a PPG rifle in my back, and I knew her finger was just slightly off the trigger. One false move and I'd be dead.

We moved into another part of the building, which was a large cavernous room, but I focused on the man who was lying on the floor. He was lying in the fetal position, and my heart suddenly froze. For a brief moment, the fear that I had managed to keep in the back of my mind was threatening to overwhelm me.

No. I had to remain calm, so I did, holding onto that calm façade. "So, the deal is, I'm here, and he's freed. I'm assuming that he's the messenger to EF regarding the trade?"

"You are perceptive, Captain. It's a pity that the devil has its hold on your soul, and you can not see the truth."

"I want to speak with him." There was a sudden pressure in my back, and I suddenly realized that one couldn't speak to the Zealot that way. "May I please speak with him? I'd like to give him ... a small token... so EF knows that you really have me. I'd like to make a suggestion as to who to speak with at HQ who would be more...willing to negotiate. That way there can be no doubts." I tried to use my most soothing and fawning voice, and I think it worked.

"Go ahead." The zealot smiled benevolently at me, and he began talking to God softly.

Let me know if someone answers you, as I have a few spiritual questions, I'd like answered, ok? Like... why the hell was this happening to me, AGAIN?

"No tricks, damn you. Or I'll shoot you." That was Jenn, who was beginning to foam at the mouth.

"Jenn. You always thought the worst of me."

Then I moved quickly, as I knew she was going to try and hit me in the ribs. My smile faded, and I walked quickly to where John Matheson was lying. He saw my arrival, and I suddenly realized that he was hoping that I wouldn't have tried to save him. Silly, lonely Telepath, did you really think that I'd leave you alone? With them? I just wished that I had my little last resorts with me; the knives and that little vial. For I still didn't trust them to release you.

John was drugged to the gills, and he was trying to say something to me. There were assorted bruises on his face, and I vowed that I'd find the ones that had done that to him. I'd make them pay for each and every blow that had fallen.

"Hey... Shhh... Shhh... Don't talk. I want to give you something. It's my ring from the Academy." I slipped it on his ring finger, and smiled gently, as I had to move it to his middle finger. "Too big for you to wear on your ring finger, but keep it, as a remembrance of me. Can you hear me mentally?"

"No. Drugged up."

"Don't blame yourself if anything happens to me."


"Shhh... Don't worry. I've got a way out, that they don't know about." I spoke that very carefully, hoping to console him, and not to tip off my plan to them. They were growing annoyed at our lover's farewell, and I knew I had only a few minutes left. "You've been a great XO, and a far better friend that I ever deserved to have. Don't blame yourself if anything happens, because I have done this willingly. Tell Sheila, I finally understood what she was trying to explain to me. I'm sorry that it took so long for it to sink in. Tell her next time she deals with a stubborn EF Captain, to crack his head open so it'll sink in faster."

"Matt?" John's voice was slurred, and I didn't think he was fully aware of what was going. Was it drugs? Or had they given him a concussion?

They pulled me away from him, and I tried to give him a quick gesture that they couldn't see. My fingers were extended, except for the 3rd and 4th, which were folded against my palm, and I hoped that he knew enough sign language to know what I was trying to say.

Love you.

{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}

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