"Are you trying to seduce me, Matthew?"
After nearly an hour of silent play, the question sounded overloud even to Galen's ears. Gideon chuffed with surprise, and his hand, which had been hovering uncertainly over a black pawn, suddenly withdrew. Barely containing a smile at his partner's bewilderment, Galen nevertheless managed a small sighing sound, meant to impart his growing impatience with the other man's slow rate of play.
"Where the hell did that come from, Galen?"
Not as outraged as it might have been, that voice. More like exasperated. He would have preferred outrage. His question was meant to shock, after all.
Finally, Galen looked up to meet the other man's eyes, whilst keeping his own features as wide-eyed and innocent as he was capable of making them. He was pleased to see that Gideon's expression indicated more uncertainty than did his voice. There was puzzlement and perhaps even some small consternation written across the normally composed features. No doubt Matthew was mentally reviewing all their time together, trying to figure out what he'd missed.
"Oh... not as a lover, Matthew," he drawled. "Although," and Galen's mask of innocence slipped, "I would consider it... should you ask." His gaze hardened, cold gray-blue eyes holding Gideon's gentler hazel ones, daring, challenging.
Gideon's eyes narrowed, and he held steady under Galen's intimidating stare, wondering if the man was bluffing. And if so, if he'd have the nerve to call him out. After what seemed like several minutes, but was probably only a fraction of one, he decided he wasn't in the mood to gamble this evening. Calmly redirecting his attention to the chess board, he said, "Sorry to disappoint you, Galen, but I prefer the female of the species."
Galen started an impatient tapping of fingers on the table. "Yes, the formidable Captain Lochley, for instance."
"Do you get off on spying on me or something?" Gideon immediately regretted the outburst; not the sentiment, but that he'd finally let Galen get to him.
"Then it is true," Galen said, as if satisfying some longstanding curiosity. "Believe me when I tell you that I required no surveillance beyond that of my own ears," he continued, unperturbed by Gideon's accusation. "It was impossible not to overhear the comments and speculations of some of your crew. I imagine everyone on this ship knows by now."
Wanting to change the subject as quickly as possible, Gideon made a show of dispatching Galen's rook.
Galen leaned forward and frowned in seeming concentration, studying the board anew. "Ahhh..." he said, taking only a moment to move his knight into position. "Check". A satisfied smile gentled the usual harshness of his features.
Gideon ran both hands down hard over his face, and shoved his chair back. Shaking his head, he stood slowly, arms akimbo, and studied the board for a few moments before finally acknowledging to himself that Galen would finish him off in a few turns. "Shit."
Galen actually laughed, and some of the tension dissipated.
Shoulders slumping slightly in defeat, Gideon tried to remain gracious. "So, Galen, do you want something to drink?" Earlier in the evening, the mage had declined any offer of refreshment. "Brandy, wine, water...?"
"Actually, would you happen to have a beer?"
"Yeah, sure." Gideon returned from the small refrigerator, handing Galen a can and a glass. "It's not great, but I guess it's better than nothing."
"Thank you, this will be fine." Galen opened and poured the beer, while Gideon carried the board to its usual resting place for later study.
Galen drained nearly half the glass in a single draft, then sighed contentedly, placing the glass on the table before him.
Gideon smiled at his guest's small pleasure, and resumed his seat across from Galen. "So, what is this about me seducing you?" he asked. He took a sip of water, and wondered fleetingly if bringing this up again was a truly bad idea. He was too tired to effectively keep up with Galen tonight.
Galen smiled lazily. Brave man, he thought, Matthew certainly was that. Then again, perhaps it was just a case of curiosity killing the cat. Either way, it worked to his advantage. "Seduction, yes." He took another swallow of beer, grimacing slightly at the aftertaste. It really was better when one drank it quickly. "The act of leading one aside or astray."
"Am I leading you astray?"
Galen took his time answering. "Dureena Nafeel. She trusts you."
Gideon nodded slowly, understanding what a remarkable thing that was. "What about you?" he countered. "She's known you longer."
"She respects me, wants to know my secrets, yes. Trusts me, no." Galen paused. "After all, those of my order can be trusted to look after their own best interests. And that's all." Galen drained the rest of the beer from his glass, licking the remnants of foam from his upper lip. "We're like most people in that regard." He propped the empty glass on his thigh, his thumb idly stroking patterns in the condensation.
"But not you."
"No. And look where it's got me."
The remark could easily be interpreted as insulting, but Gideon didn't feel any sting from it. Galen was cracking open his admittedly prickly shell, and he got the feeling more was to come. He rose silently after Galen fell silent, only to return with another beer. Wordlessly, he handed the can to Galen. Anything to encourage this rare openness, even a ploy as transparent loosening the man's tongue with alcohol, was worth the risk. It wasn't as if he was forcing it down Galen's throat, after all.
"Thank you, Matthew." A sly smile played on Galen's lips, letting Gideon know that he knew. With steady hands, Galen refilled his glass. "Your first officer, Lt. Matheson. You command his absolute loyalty and respect. If you weren't 'the real thing', so to speak, he'd know it better than anyone."
"John would never...", Gideon began.
"No, I'm sure he wouldn't. But telepaths can't be fooled, as a rule, except by more powerful telepaths. They don't need to perform an illegal scan to spot insincerity and dishonesty." Galen sunk back in his seat, chin resting on his chest. His overcoat fell open, exposing a black button-up shirt beneath. "And isn't that why we mundanes hate them so? Humans were never meant to be telepaths."
The fact that Gideon found himself agreeing with Galen when he'd normally take the opposite position almost out of habit, only spoke of his own weariness. Galen finished off the second beer, then looked up at him expectantly. Gideon's eyes widened a bit. "Another one?" At Galen's affirmative, and determined to maintain his role as proper host, Gideon snagged the two empty cans on his way back to the kitchenette, wondering if he shouldn't just bring the remains of the entire six-pack back with him. Deciding that would be overkill, he plucked a single beer from the carton and returned, handing it over to Galen before resuming his seat.
"Thank you, Matthew."
Gideon started at the loud pop of pressurized gas escaping its container.
"Then there's Max."
"Max?!" Gideon laughed.
"Yes. He's already conflicted, discovering he just might have a conscience after all. Give Maximilian another year or so, and he'll tell IPX to... well, something suitably colorful, no doubt."
"No way," Gideon scoffed.
"You'll convince EarthGov to offer him a job. They'll agree to your terms, since they have nothing to lose. Any potentially profitable discoveries, naturally, go to EarthGov, not to IPX and not to Max. But it won't matter, because in Max's mind, he'll be working for you."
Gideon ducked his head, becoming a little uncomfortable. "What, you're not just a technomage, but a seer too?"
"Beware of anyone or anything claiming to know the future, Matthew."
Gideon kept his features bland, suddenly suspicious that Galen suspected something. "Does that include you, Galen?"
"I was merely speculating." Galen tipped his head back and finished off the beer. "All right then, give Max two years."
"This isn't about me. They're all good people. They all know what's at stake."
Galen stood up, calmly rebuttoning his overcoat one-handed. Other than the heightened color on the man's pale cheeks, there wasn't any evidence that the mage had just consumed three beers in rapid succession. In three steps he was at Gideon's doorstep, his movements sharp and precise as ever. It appeared that this time he wasn't going to perform one of his patently spectacular exits. Stopping just shy of triggering the door open, Galen turned back.
Gideon, who'd been following his guest at a small distance, stopped in his tracks as Galen took a step towards him, invading his personal space.
And then for an electrifying moment, it was as if the mage had opened a window into himself, baring himself as surely as if he'd stripped naked. Appearing ridiculously young, eyes large and liquid, he said, "Led astray from the path of self-interest and selfishness, cynicism and hopelessness. Darkness and loneliness."
It was a few minutes before Gideon realized he was still standing and staring at the closed door, Galen's words reverberating in his head. Breaking the spell, he moved sluggishly, awkwardly stripping off his clothes, not caring where they fell. He collapsed on the bunk, arms flung wide, too overcome by inertia to bother with sheets and blanket. He groaned softly in relief as tense back and shoulder muscles relaxed. "Gee, Galen," he muttered. "'S'all I needed-- more responsibilities."
* * *
He waited until his ship was well away from the Excalibur before plugging the small crystal into a receptacle on the console. "Ship, show me." Within a few minutes, Galen knew everything he needed to know about Gideon's mysterious "source".
"Damn you, Matthew," he sighed. "Always have to have an ace up your sleeve, don't you? It seems you can trust everyone except yourself."