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The Consequences of a Sneeze and a Smile

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"Are you saying I'm not fit for duty?" Gideon asked, the words coming out distorted through his stuffed nose.

"Repeatedly," Dr. Chambers replied her hands on her hips and a glare aimed at the Captain. "I've come to terms with not being able to get you to rest until you feel better, but I refuse to let you take the common cold down to that planet."

Gideon's protests were interrupted by a hefty sneeze which, although muffled by his elbow, echoed around the bridge.

Dr. Chambers raised an imperious eyebrow and Gideon glared.

"We have no idea what your germs could do to the indigenous population of this planet. We're already dealing with one epidemic, I'm not letting you start another," she continued, her tone softening slightly as she handed him a tissue. "Besides," she said when he begrudgingly accepted her offering, "you're hardly presenting a good face for the mission in your current state."

"Fine," Gideon pronounced after blowing his nose with as much dignity as he could manage. For the good of the mission I will remain aboard Excalibur. Lieutenant?"

Matheson stepped forward from where he had been unobtrusively watching the confrontation between the Captain and Ship's Doctor. "Sir?" he said.

"I'm going to need you to take the lead for the meeting with the Kalemiri. I trust you know what to do."

"Of course, sir," Matheson contained a smile as Gideon stumped back to his chair effectively dismissing both his doctor and first officer.

Dr. Chambers smirked and fell into step with Matheson as he left the bridge to make the final preparations for the mission to Miran. He was already compiling a to-do list in his head by the time they reached the lift.

Dr. Chambers looked sideways at him as she pressed the button for medbay. Matheson tried to maintain his calm professional look, but he wasn't sure if it still worked on Dr. Chambers or not.

"If I didn't know any better," she said, the sound of the lift descending several levels acting as a counterpoint to her words, "I would think that you told me Gideon was planning to lead the mission despite his health purely for your own benefit."

Okay. So apparently she was in no way fooled.

"Are you suggesting, Dr. Chambers," Matheson asked with exaggerated innocence, "that I would put my own enjoyment before the health and safety of my Captain and an entire populated world?"

The lift slid softly to a stop at Dr. Chambers' deck and she smiled at Matheson as the doors whooshed open. "Of course not," she said her voice betraying her amusement. "But you are taking full advantage of the situation. Have fun, Lieutenant."

With a final smirk she left the lift without giving him a chance to reply. The doors closed behind her and Matheson shook his head with a smile as the lift continued downward.

XX

Dr. Chambers was right. Ultimately Matheson had gotten the doctor to override the Captain because it was the right thing to do, but he was still really looking forward to the opportunity to lead the negotiations on Miran.

The Kalemiri were a strange people by Earth Alliance standards. They had a reputation for being peaceful academics and their thirst for knowledge had once taken them far and wide across the galaxy. About a hundred years ago however the Kalemiri's search for knowledge had turned inward and their explorations ceased. What Matheson found fascinating was that despite this new inward focus they continued to maintain diplomatic relations with other races and allowed others to visit their homeworld. Their libraries were well known among xeno-anthropologists and study permits were highly prized and garnered through heavy competition.

Eilerson had started salivating when the Minbari had first mentioned a trip to Miran. Matheson was expecting more trouble from him than their hosts.

"Do you know how long I tried to get a permit from the Kalemiri Knowledge Bureau?" Max intoned gravely at their latest briefing. Matheson had already lost count of the number of times Eilerson had shared the tale of his misfortune. "Their library would have been a great asset to my thesis. But no, Janice Feldsparr got it instead of me. Can you believe it? She didn't even end up using any of their texts!"

Gideon had forwarded his personal notes to Matheson when he had turned over command of the mission. Underneath his perennial first note for diplomatic missions – "Play nice" – he had written "Keep Eilerson in line." Matheson underlined the sentence while Max continued to complain bitterly about a woman he hadn't seen in nearly fifteen years.

"She'd had a good faculty position after we graduated, but she gave it up when she got pregnant," Eilerson informed a room full of people who really didn't care at all. "Spawning is one thing – it is important to pass on certain genes after all – but I just don't understand why she felt she had to leave the field. I did hate her guts and her theories were all wrong, but she was a good archaeologist."

XX

Gideon was already there when Matheson arrived in the shuttle bay for their trip down to the surface. So was Galen. The Captain still had a red nose and was puffy around the eyes. He looked exhausted and Matheson sincerely hoped he would get some rest while his crew was down on the planet. Galen, on the other hand, looked the same as ever, smirk and all.

"Ah Lieutenant," Galen said jovially upon Matheson's approach. Gideon treated the technomage to one of his best glares. "Matthew was just informing me of the change in plans. Poor thing. Have you ever visited Miran before?"

"No, this is my first time in the system," Matheson replied. As usual he had no idea what Galen was doing there.

"Well you're in for quite a treat. The Kalemiri are a wonderful people, very – welcoming."

Matheson raised an eyebrow at Galen's tone but trusted that Gideon would make any necessary comments on the subject.

"And you would know that how?" Gideon asked sceptically, fulfilling his first officer's expectations rather nicely.

Galen smirked and looked superior, two expressions for which Matheson had noted the technomage's proficiency. "Let's just say the current Minister of Knowledge is rather fond of my order."

Gideon sneezed on him in response.

"Gesundheit," Galen said cheerfully.

Matheson offered his Captain an old-fashioned cloth handkerchief. Gideon glared at both of them but accepted the proffered handkerchief anyway, blowing his nose rather loudly into it before handing it back to its owner.

"Well," Gideon said with some satisfaction after Matheson reluctantly received his soiled hanky. "You seem to have everything under control here, Lieutenant. I'd best be getting back to the bridge."

Matheson watched as Gideon turned on his heel and left the two of them to wait for the others to arrive.

"Yes," Galen said ominously into the awkward silence Gideon had left behind. "I am quite looking forward to seeing the Minister again."

XX

Eventually the rest of the away team assembled in the shuttle bay. Eilerson was late. Dr. Chambers rolled her eyes as the archaeologist settled noisily into the seat next to her.

"Well," Galen said raising an eyebrow, "shall we?"

"Trace," Matheson ordered after the shuttle door sealed with a hiss, "take us out."

"Yes sir," Trace smiled as he engaged the thrusters and manoeuvred the small shuttle away from the Excalibur. "I've heard," he added as they continued their descent, "that this entire planet is basically one giant library."

Galen snorted in response, "Hardly," he said derisively. "The Kalemiri prize knowledge above all else, but they believe that knowledge comes from many sources. We are going to their greatest library because it will be most helpful to our quest, but their homeworld is a source of many other wonders."

"And I don't suppose you'd like to share those wonders with us?" Dr. Chambers asked without optimism.

"I'm afraid they aren't my wonders to share, doctor," Galen replied.

"You said that the Minister of Knowledge was – fond – of your order," Matheson interrupted before either Eilerson or Dr. Chambers could tell Galen what they thought of his assertion. "Have you met her before? Any personal connection you might have could help our efforts with the Kalemiri."

"Syri and I have met before," Galen admitted, "but it was a long time ago. I'm not sure what good it might do for you."

"Five minutes 'til we hit dirt," Trace announced as they were hit with a wave of turbulence.

XX

This part of Miran had a temperate climate and was neither hot nor cold. The surrounding area was green with plants which grew here and there between the enormous, but aesthetically pleasing, buildings of the city.

The Kalemiri met them on the landing pad. They were a humanoid species, slightly shorter and stockier than human normal with rich brown skin than ranged from milk-chocolate through to black coffee, if their welcoming party was in any way representative of the general population. Both the women and men wore pants and shirts in various shades of khaki with practical pockets, and wore hats with wide brims. Except for the placement of the pockets it reminded Matheson of Victorian era explorers on Earth.

They smiled in greeting when the crew members of the Excalibur exited the shuttle revealing slightly green teeth which, Matheson was assured by the file, was normal for the Kalemiri. Overall their features were close enough to human to be disconcerting in their differences, but Matheson's first impression agreed with Galen's assertion. The Kalemiri appeared to be both friendly and welcoming.

One of the women stepped forward with a smile which would have been impossibly wide on a human face. "Welcome to Miran," she said pleasantly. "I am Syri KeMar, the current Minster of Knowledge and Head Librarian of the Great Library. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," her smile sobered some back into a more human norm, "although I wish it could have been under better circumstances."

"Thank you very much," Matheson replied. "I'm Lieutenant John Matheson. We're honoured that you have granted us access to your library. As we mentioned in our previous communiqué Captain Gideon is unfortunately ill. It's nothing serious, but he was greatly disappointed that he wouldn't get the chance to meet you. I hope you don't mind that I've taken his place."

"Of course not," Minster KeMar replied with friendly ease. "I hope he feels better soon."

"Thank you, Minister," Matheson said. "I'll be sure to pass that on to him." Internally Matheson smirked at the idea. He would greatly enjoy conveying to the Captain the Minister's get well wishes. "Please allow me to introduce Dr. Sarah Chambers, our Ship's Doctor, and Dr. Maximilian Eilerson, our head Archaeologist and Linguist. Dr. Eilerson has been greatly looking forward to our visit to Miran." Both doctors smiled politely to the Minister, but Eilerson was clearly unimpressed with Matheson's introduction. Matheson allowed himself to smile, since it seemed to be the default expression for the Kalemiri, and finally turned to Galen who had been standing unobtrusively at the rear of their group. "And I understand that you have already met Galen," he added, unsure of how to properly introduce the technomage.

"Galen!" Minister KeMar exclaimed when he came into view, her smile increasing again to an improbable width. "It has been too long, my friend." She reached forward and pulled the considerably taller man into a hug, which Galen accepted more or less gracefully. Eilerson and Dr. Chambers' eyes widened in shock. Matheson filed this image away; Gideon would kill him if he didn't tell him all about it.

"Indeed, Syri," Galen smiled in return as the small woman pushed him away to take a proper look at him. "Or should I say 'Minister' now?"

The Minister made a humphing noise in the back of her throat, "Don't be ridiculous, young man," she said with amusement. "Now tell me what happened to your beautiful hair."

Eilerson snorted aloud at that comment and Galen shot his companions a warning look.

"And to think," he muttered to himself loud enough that he clearly meant his companions to hear, "I was actually looking forward to seeing an old friend. I should have known better."

Minister KeMar laughed at his face and then obviously took pity on him because she changed the subject and began to introduce the rest of her party before inviting them into the building behind them.

All of the other Kalemiri present were librarians and assistants, most of whom specialized in medicine and biology, although there was also an archaeologist whose work Eilerson had evidently read based on the way his eyes widened when he was introduced. All of them were just as smiley as the Minister, but not quite as talkative.

Matheson listened intently to the conversations going on around them as they entered the Great Library, adding details every now and then where appropriate. He couldn't understand much of what Dr. Chambers was talking about with a Kalemiri man who only came up to her shoulder, but he caught a few words here and there. He decided that he would allow Eilerson some time for hero worship before they got down to business and as such ignored the discussion about 3rd Dynasty Centauri tombs he was having with the archaeologist. Matheson paid close attention, however, to the conversation between Galen and their host. He felt it was his duty to remember every detail for future mocking. Galen watched him suspiciously the entire time, but continued the conversation anyway. Despite his grumbling Matheson could tell that Galen was enjoying the Minister's company.

The library itself was huge. The entrance opened up onto a balcony overlooking shelves upon shelves of paper books. Minister KeMar smiled indulgently at Eilerson's look of extreme covetousness and then led them to a large workroom which also overlooked the shelves on the main floor, but was filled with computer terminals and various connectors to adapt for more different types of technology than Matheson could identify. Eilerson was salivating again, and Matheson couldn't even really blame him.

The scientists from Excalibur fell into discussions with the librarians of Miran with an ease that surprised Matheson. He spent the rest of the day expecting something terrible would happen while being amused by the gentle teasing the Minister aimed fearlessly at the Excalibur's man of mystery.

"So," she said mischievously later that afternoon ignoring Eilerson's raised voice as he argued good naturedly with several Kalemiri at once. "Is there anyone special in your life these days?" she asked Galen with a twinkle in her eyes, her enormous smile still in place.

Galen rolled his eyes theatrically, and she took the opportunity to wink broadly at Matheson, a clear invitation for him to join in the fun.

Later that night, before the banquet the Kalemiri had arranged for them, Galen cornered Matheson outside of the dining room.

"Lieutenant," Galen said seriously once they had a moment of privacy, "I trust you will be discreet with what you have learned about me today."

"Of course," he replied equally seriously.

Galen stared him down for a moment. "You're going to tell Matthew everything," he said resignedly.

Matheson tried to keep a straight face, but it was a considerably harder task when they were surrounded by smiling Kalemiri. "It's a First Officer's duty to keep his Captain informed of all pertinent information with regard to the safety of his crew," he said and moved around Galen into the dining room.

Minister KeMar smiled broadly at him and motioned for him to sit next to her at the large oval table.

"Doesn't Galen make the strangest faces when he's embarrassed?" she asked once he'd taken his seat. "I'm glad you brought him along. I'd feared the subject matter of your mission would be too heavy for us to have any fun while you were visiting."

Matheson let himself smile in response, enjoying the cheerful curiosity of their hosts.

Even discounting the massive amounts of ammunition against Galen with which she was providing him, Matheson found he genuinely liked the Minister. This mission was turning out even better than he had expected.

XX

Several days later Matheson returned to the Excalibur to give a report to Gideon. Dr. Chambers and Max had both provided him with more information about nanoviruses and nanotechnology than he really needed to know. Their reports basically amounted to a request for more time in the Great Library's archives.

It looked like they were finding useful information, Max only occasionally muttered about Janice Feldsparr and his time as a grad student, and Minister KeMar was embarrassing Galen on a daily basis in full view of witnesses. All in all, Matheson considered this mission to be a resounding success.

"How're you feeling, sir?" he asked when he met Gideon in the shuttle bay.

"Forget how I'm feeling," Gideon replied quickly, he still sounded stuffed but overall he seemed much better. "What's this I hear about Galen having hair?"

Matheson smiled broadly, he was beginning to understand why the Kalemiri were so fond of the expression.