Gideon was not a suspicious man by nature; he knew that sometimes things were exactly as they appeared.
In fact, in his experience, more often than not, things were exactly as they appeared. It was just a matter of looking at them the right way.
"Mr. Eilerson, would you perhaps like to tell me what this is?" Gideon's gesture encompassed the whole of his cabin. The whole of his rose-bedecked and thoroughly redecorated cabin.
As pranks went, this one ranked pretty high on the weird-and-inventive scale, but what Gideon'd really like to know was where Eilerson'd gotten the roses - or kept them, rather, given they were at least three days away from any inhabited planet where they might have been purchased.
Eilerson looked at him like he was the one whose leg was being pulled. "Your cabin?"
Dureena (because of course he couldn't get pranked without half the ship popping up to take a look) didn't bother to hide her grin. Eilerson noticed, joined in.
"I meant the flowers," Gideon said.
"Oh." Eilerson walked inside - a bit warily, Gideon noted. "Well, they look like roses?"
Eilerson looked peeved. Dureena was grinning again. Gideon allowed himself to feel slightly smug.
"I don't know what you want me to say," Eilerson said. "Do I think they go with your furniture? Interior decoration's not my area of expertise. Still, if you ask me, it looks kind of - well, where I come from, when you're a guy and you put up a lot of flowers, you're a - well."
Dureena frowned slightly. Eilerson at least had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. Gideon considered not pushing the issue, then decided against it. "A what, Mr. Eilerson?"
"I do know a bit about the language of flowers, if that's what you were getting at," Eilerson said, clearly sensing the thin ice he'd found himself on and eager to scramble back to more solid ground.
Gideon decided to let him get away with it. "The language of flowers?"
"Earth tradition," Eilerson said, looking around the cabin like it was one of his excavations. "Pops up again every century or so. Let's see - red roses for passion, white ones for innocence, or possibly virginity. I'm not sure what those blue ones over there are, but I might be able to look it up at my work station."
"They're lovely," Dureena murmured, while Gideon processed Eilerson's statement.
"You mean they're like a love letter?"
Eilerson grinned. "I guess you've got yourself an admirer, Captain."
"An admirer who is able to bypass my security code, not to mention dump a small garden into my cabin without anyone noticing a thing? Forgive me if I don't see the humor in this situation, Mr. Eilerson."
Dureena looked up sharply. "You think Galen did this?"
It wasn't the leap in logic Gideon'd made himself, actually. Could Galen do something like this? Yes, probably. That wasn't the question. "Why? What could possibly move him to do this?"
Eilerson smirked. Gideon reminded himself he could't go around hitting civilians whenever they annoyed him.
"Perhaps you should ask him," Dureena said, smiling in a way that made no sense at all to Gideon.
"Flowers?" Galen repeated, looking his usual inscrutable self. "Well, that's certainly novel. Did you like them?" Which might be a confession of guilt or simply an expression of interest.
"No," Gideon said curtly.
"No?" Galen repeated. "Whyever not?"
"They smell." Sweetly, yes, and if he'd been back home, sitting in his own garden or a park, Gideon'd have enjoyed it. The 'Excalibur' was not a place for roses, though. "I couldn't sleep."
"Well, I assure you I had absolutely nothing to do with them," Galen said.
"Can you find out who did?" Gideon asked, more bluntly than he'd have liked.
"Sorry, I've made it a policy to never get involved in matters of the heart," Galen said airily.
Matheson was a good sounding board, a solid man. Not afraid to tell Gideon when he was talking absolute nonsense, or so Gideon'd like to believe.
"He does seem quite keen on saving your life, sir."
"You'd save my life, if you could." And vice versa went without saying. "That doesn't mean you've got some sort of - that doesn't mean anything," Gideon amended, even if he knew that saving someone's life was hardly meaningless. It incurred a debt, for one, if not usually the one Galen occasionally refered to.
Matheson looked at him like there was a question he didn't quite dare to ask.
"What?" Gideon'd like to think people trust him to know when not to lose his temper.
Matheson looked uneasy. "Well, sir, I was just thinking - perhaps the important thing to do isn't to find out who put the flowers in your cabin." Gideon arched one eyebrow. "Perhaps the important thing to do is to decide who you'd like for it to have been. If there is, in fact, anyone."
Gideon considered. There was a certain sense to it, yes, assuming they hadn't been on a ship and on a vitally important mission. If they'd been, say, at college, or on holiday. "Take another look at the sensor logs, see if you can pick up anything," he said.
Matheson nodded crisply.
It seemed ridiculous to use the Apocalypse Box for something like this.
He was a grown man, Gideon reasoned. Whoever put the flowers in his cabin clearly hadn't been after harming him. He, she or it was not a threat to either the 'Excalibur', her crew or their mission.
And then he stared at the empty hiding place and realized that on second thought, this might be as serious as he'd feared it might be after all.
"An artifact," Eilerson repeated, clearly savoring the moment.
Gideon'd decided to come clean halfway - he'd admitted to having kept 'a certain artifact' in his cabin, which now was missing. Of all the people at the meeting, only Matheson looked anything near content with not having been told any more details.
"Is it possible it's the artifact that's responsible for ... whatever happened?" Chambers asked. "It wouldn't be the first time we've encountered a lifeform that didn't look like a sentient being at first."
"An alien race that transforms itself into flowers." Eilerson looked amused. "Now, why didn't I think of that? Freshly cut flowers, even. Better not tell the florists back home about that."
Gideon cleared his throat. "If we could stick to the matter at hand, please."
"Sensor logs show nothing," Matheson said.
"What does Galen say?" Dureena asked.
Gideon waited for a few seconds, half-expecting Galen to pick this particular moment for a dramatic entrance. "Nothing," he said eventually.
"So either he doesn't know, or he's behind it," Eilerson concluded.
"Hypothetically speaking," Galen said, "I suppose I could."
"You, or another technomage?" Gideon asked. The smell of roses still lingered in his cabin. He'd probably have gotten used to it by the time it faded for good.
"Me," Galen said firmly.
Gideon looked at him. Galen was smiling faintly, either slightly embarrassed or slightly amused. Both, perhaps. Galen and his moods. "Did you?"
Galen held Gideon's gaze. "Did I what?"
"Did you enter my cabin and decorate it with flowers?"
Galen frowned. "Didn't we already have this conversation?"
"I'm asking again," Gideon said. "In light of the new evidence."
"Oh. I see. Well, you already know my answer," Galen said, then paused. "Was it very useful to you?"
Gideon weighed his options. "It told me not to trust you," he said at last.
"Not that useful, then," Galen said. "Good."
The thing about Galen was: Gideon did trust him. He'd have liked to qualify the sentiment, to claim that he trusted Galen up to a point, but that wasn't really the way Gideon's mind worked. He trusted someone, or he didn't. Simple.
"Two things," he told Galen. "One, you never, ever take anything of mine again without asking me first. Unless it's an emergency," he amended, given that Galen did have a tendency to show up in the nick of time and also given that Gideon would prefer not to die because the technomage who could have saved his life was waiting for his permission to do so. "And two: as of right now, we're dating."
Galen's eyes widened slightly. "We are?"
"Hey, you want to get a piece of this, you're going to have to do a lot better than flowers," Gideon said, spreading his hands. "Better hope you're up to the challenge."
"Oh, I have no doubt on that account," Galen said, but he still didn't sound quite as sure of himself as usual. It was not a bad look on him, Gideon decided. Not a bad look on him at all.