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A Fragile Truce

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"There's always hope, because it's the one thing nobody's figured out how to kill yet." -- Galen.

 

He had many names among the Excalibur's crew. They whispered them behind his back or spoke them more unguardedly when they trusted in their privacy and thought he wasn't around - he of course had heard them all, be it 'herald of death', 'the spectre at the banquet' or the 'the black crow' to name just three.

He wasn't sure how he felt about these names. He knew that to some extent it was his own fault. His order had always cultivated an air of the obscure, had shrouded itself in a cloak of mystery.

Combine that with his regular appearances whenever the ship and its crew were about to stumble across a possible threat or - as likely - had already stumbled across it, had fallen, and were now holding their bruised shins: the result was that many of Excalibur's crew had come to regard him as a harbinger of doom.

Children. The term sprang unbidden to his mind. No, don't be unfair. They were not children. It was nothing more but human nature that let them make the connection. The human brain is a pattern searching machine. It recognizes a danger and then there's someone with not fully understood powers who comes and goes as he likes, and he tends to wear black leather and a black hooded and billowing cloak. Come on, be serious Galen - way into villain territory here.

He turned another corner having reached one of the Excalibur's cross-sections. He was on his way from the hangar deck to the captain's quarters. He could've taken a bullet car, he often did, but today he felt like walking. There was much he had to think about.

Thinking and walking - there was a very immediate correlation between these two. As a way of transportation walking might be seen as old-fashioned by most, something that was considered as inferior in an age where everything had to happen in the speediest fashion possible.

His order though had always been at its best when it had managed to blend the very old and primal - magic - and the very new and sophisticated - advanced technology - together, hence their chosen name: Technomages.

For a long time being a Technomage had been something he had treasured. It had been a privilege: belonging to an elite that could look back on such a long history and whose members consisted of such a large diversity of species'; an elite that was brought together under one code that united its individuals in striving for their goals.

The Shadow war had changed his perception drastically. First his order had decided to withdraw from the known universe. He had fought against that decision, so they had accused him of being divided in his loyalties.

After the withdrawal his attention had remained focused on that war, on the events that happened outside. Even if he had done so with the circle's consent they still had accused him of dabbling in affairs that weren't his concern. They had threatened him that should he endanger their secrecy he would be the first to die.

Nonetheless he had become their agent, the one they would send out to kill for them, to protect their order, to protect their interests.

Galen had done as he was told. He had went out and he had played his role in the war. It hadn't been the one he had wanted to play, but at least he'd been able to do something apart from sitting in the hiding place and waiting till the tides of war would've passed.

When the circle decided that even with the war being over they would still remain in hiding - just to be on the safe side, you understand - he had been ready to scream.

In fact he had - at the circle - regularly and loudly - until they had banned him from their sight. In turn they had only asked him to attend when they needed his input or they called him when he - again - had violated their rules of isolation and non-interference. His life had consisted of two constants at this point: misery and boredom.

Then the Drakh had entered the stage and again everything had changed.

The attack on Earth and the release of the plague had sent the circle and the order as a whole into an uproar. After all, most of them could trace their own lineage back to Earth - sometimes it took quite a couple of generations but nonetheless those roots ran deep. Their concern didn't go as far as wanting to actively help of course, but they were troubled by the idea of further attacks on other planets. Even an attack on their hiding place seemed possible to them. That was their greatest fear, that a new power might arise that could threaten their order's very existence.

They had all known that a lot of shadow technology had been left behind, much of it in the hands of their erstwhile servants. The rest was strewn here and there, lying dormant and forgotten on now desolated planets, hidden away in secret facilities and searched for by many who hoped for money or power or both by laying claim to it.

With the Shadows and the Vorlorns gone the known universe felt a little like a huge sandbox occupied by curious toddlers who played around and sifted through the sand only to discover a lot of dangerous toys that their careless owners had thoughtlessly forgotten to take with them when they left for the rim.

The circle had tried to ignore that fact by firmly looking the other way and the problem had whacked them over the back of their collective heads - hard. In response they had called for Galen and they sent him out again.

"You're the most qualified to go. You'll be our eyes and ears out there and you will contain the problem," they had told him.

"How do you propose I manage that, all on my own? Without the order's resources, cut off from this place that's been our home for the last years my chances of succeeding in the task you've set up for me are slim," he had protested.

They had looked at him with stony faces. "This place has never been your home. It's never been enough for you just like our order has never been enough for you. Don't try to return without a solution. You won't be welcome."

He had looked at the faces of the circle members, far too young faces, inexperienced faces and he had tried to discern what lay behind their masks. What he saw made his heart grow cold. They were scared of this new threat but there was even more. It was resentment - resentment and fear towards him.

He had seen it before but never in such force. He couldn't tell when it had happened, but in that moment he realized that at some point during the order's years of isolation he had become the personification of the outside world to them. In their eyes he stood for all the chaos and the dangers that waited out there. It was wrong and unfair but it also showed how deep the rift between him and his erstwhile peers had become.

He had left without another word.

***

Associating himself with the Excalibur and its crew had been the logical choice. They were looking for the same thing albeit for slightly different reasons. The Excalibur was looking for a cure to the Drakh plague, he was looking for technology left behind by the Shadows.

Of course reducing his own motivations just to the search for shadow technology would have been over-simplistic. Yes, essentially that was what the circle had told him to do and he would follow that order. It rang true in following the code regardless what he might think of the circle's reasoning for issuing it. Apart from it he saw no reason why he shouldn't follow his own path and pursue his own goals.

Being accepted as someone loosely affiliated to the Excalibur had been laughingly easy. He had sent out a signal and they had come to him like a moth to a flame. The manipulation hadn't been worth being called that. Matthew wanted him and had said so plainly and without reserve. There was the fact that he had saved Matthew's life almost ten years earlier, there was the fact that his order had both superior knowledge and technology at its disposal: not accepting him would have been a fool's choice and Matthew wasn't a fool.

***

Galen had been fascinated by Matthew and his crew: A gambler, a telepath, a thief and a grave robber - now pull the other one, really? It was such a diverse group of misfits, he had actually laughed when he had done his first appraisal of the group. That Earth had consented to Sheridan's wish to pick Matthew as captain in the first place and then allowed the latter to assign those others to the mission was nothing but a miracle - or a colossal joke depending on your point of view.

During the last year there had been frequent clashes amongst all of them. All too soon it had become clear that their motives for coming along on this mission were far from altruistic in many cases. They all wanted to find the cure for the Drakh plague but there were stronger and more personal and compelling reasons that motivated them.

Dureena with her burning hatred and need for revenge, Eilerson who above all wanted to become famous and rich, not necessarily in that order. Matheson with his eagerness to please, to be accepted for who and what he was, and Doctor Chambers who seemed to be such a nice and normal and brilliant woman and who had instantly made him suspicious.

Aside from the conflicts there had also been a more subtle drawing together, connections formed, relationships were tested and explored. For him it had been intriguing and also highly entertaining to watch those interactions. He had always enjoyed to observe others, to analyze and understand what drove people to do what they did. The perspective of the voyeur had been one he had become quite accustomed to. That well versed role he could slip into as unconsciously as he slipped into his cloak.

What was new for him was the depth of his own involvement. If one asked his order's circle he always had far too much dealings with outsiders but those lives he had only touched in passing. He'd never gotten too close to them. On the Excalibur that had changed. He had spent so much time with these people, worked with them, talked to them. He had formed emotional ties to them, especially to Dureena and Matthew.

***

His thoughts turned to the most recent events. Matthew had found a lead concerning the destruction of the Cerberus all those years ago. They had followed it and Galen had felt compelled to warn Matthew that he might gain insights on the way he might later wish never to have known. Matthew had scoffed at the warning and they had went in.

Discovering that Earth was still secretly trying to create Shadow Hybrids had been a terrible shock for Matthew. Learning that it had been one of those experiments that was responsible for the destruction of the Cerberus had been worse. Of course Matthew had known that Earth had experimented in fusing their own technology with that of the Shadows before and during the Shadow war. They all had known. Earth had thrown the first results of those experiments at Sheridan's fleet as they headed for Earth.

After Earth's 'liberation' however the new administration had guaranteed that they'd put a stop to those experiments. Many had believed in these guarantees and obviously Matthew had been amongst those. Galen naturally hadn't. However the true extent of the ongoing experiments had been a surprise even to him.

As Galen had feared Matthew had also learned of the connection between Shadows and Technomages. Lee had told him some of it and later he had seen it prominently displayed by Galen himself as he had killed the Shadow Hybrids present on the base.

***

Now he was walking through the endless corridors on board of the Excalibur in the hopes that the straight line of his path would lead him to an equally straightforward solution. He had to find an approach to the sensitive matter of explaining at least parts of that difficult connection between Technomages and Shadows. He also needed to keep many of the exact details of that connection a secret. Above all he needed, no he craved for reconciliation. The question would be if he could find an acceptable balance - acceptable for him and Matthew alike.

After they had escaped from the base he had been told to 'go away' and he had done so. He had endured his exile only long enough to realize that should anything happen to Matthew while Galen was away he'd never be able to forgive himself. He had secretly returned and watched from a distance and waited and all too soon he had to step in to prevent a killing.

He had been successful but only to a hairsbreadth.

After the sniper attack on Mars it had taken Matthew a long time to recuperate. One of the first things he did when he regained consciousness in the Excalibur's sickbay was to repeat his order to Galen to 'go away'. Matthew had looked at him, his expression so openly displaying his mistrust and his feelings of betrayal. The intensity had hit Galen like a physical blow, making him want to duck, to crawl under a rock and hide.

Again he had left the Excalibur. Enclosing himself in his ship he had allowed the almost symbiotic connection between them to blossom and while they had travelled aimlessly for a while he had licked his wounds. Being rejected by his order had hurt. He had felt deeply misunderstood and unappreciated back then; being sent away by Matthew Gideon - and not once but twice and the second time so shortly after saving the captain's life again - had hurt more.

***

He stopped in front of Matthew's quarters and for a couple of seconds he seriously considered to turn around and run. Maybe this is hopeless, he thought. Maybe I only make matters worse?

Before his restless mind could latch onto that idea he pushed the door chime. Then he stood frozen to the spot while he waited for an answer from the inside. It didn't come for a long time. Of course Matthew knew that he was on the Excalibur. At first he had adamantly refused to let Galen come aboard. It had taken him a lot of persuasion to gain Matthew's albeit grudging permission. No, be honest, you grovelled, Galen thought, and you did so quite shamelessly and on an open frequency no less. You can't sink much lower.

It had rankled but it had worked and that was all that should matter in the end. Now as he stood in front of Matthew's quarters he began to wonder if Matthew really planned to let him wait here until he finally gave up and went away again. Maybe Matthew had gotten tired of waiting for him to show up. His walk through the Excalibur's corridors had taken quite a while. Maybe he believed that Galen - after having gained access to his ship - now didn't care or took him serious enough and dawdled intentionally. Or even worse: maybe he thought that Galen was playing a game with him. It wouldn't be the first time.

His thoughts were getting more and more frantic when suddenly the door in front of him slid open. Matthew was standing in the doorframe giving him a hard look. He stepped aside and pointing with his thumb to the quarter's interiors uttered a sharp "In!"

Just as Galen had desperately wanted to be allowed inside he now suddenly feared stepping through the door. It wasn't the feeling of a hidden trap, more of walking into unknown and dangerous territory. He went in, slowly and cautiously. He heard the door hiss shut and had only taken a couple of steps when Matthew spoke up behind him, "They asked me to hand you over to them, you know? I'm talking about Lee and Earth Forces. After they'd caught me on the base they described to me the options I had. They told me to hand you over to them as a show of my sincerity. Maybe I should have done that."

The words cut deep and Galen's temper flared instantly. He whirled around to face Matthew. "Really? he replied, his tone as sharp as mocking, "please don't let me keep you from it then. There's still time. It might even bring you a step closer to getting back in Earth's favour." He crossed his wrists in front of himself as if waiting for the shackles to be slapped on. He knew that he wasn't helping his cause by getting angry but he simply couldn't stop himself.

"Come on Matthew, don't be shy," he continued. "I won't resist. Imagine when my jailers have extracted all the information from me that they want. I won't be of much use then but they could always opt for a good old-fashioned vivisection to get rid of me. Waste not, want not, right? Wouldn't it be fascinating to see what makes up a Technomage inside? Maybe they'll let you watch. Wouldn't that be interesting?"

"And afterwards you could rest assured in the knowledge of having brought one more abomination down." He paused to let his words sink in, then continued, "Admit it! That's all you see when you look at me now, an abomination tainted by shadow technology." He hadn't meant to, but he was almost shouting as he spit out the final words. Hurling accusations, how very smooth, he thought ruefully once the words were out. Just one provocation and all the hurt he felt, all his frustrations had broken free. Most likely this would end with him being thrown out again. He wanted to scream. Instead he pressed his lips together and went absolutely still.

Matthew stood in front of him wordlessly, his face bare of any discernible expression. As silence fell between them after Galen's tirade he asked coldly, "Are you finished?" and without waiting for an answer he continued, "Good. No, I won't hand you over to Earth Forces. No, I don't think you're an abomination. I do believe however that you are a lying bastard!"

"Would it have been so much to ask to warn me at least? To give me a hint? Dropping hints has always been one of your favourite pastimes. Why not with this?" Matthew carried on and his voice that had been bare of any emotion at first turned very bitter at the last question, clearly showing his disappointment.

Was he really that naive? Galen couldn't believe it. His resolve to stay calm forgotten, he snorted and replied in the mocking sing-song tone such an idiotic question deserved, "And how well would that have gone, hmm? Oh, Matthew. By the way. That technology that was essential in the destruction of the Cerberus and its crew ten years ago, that was essential in creating that plague that is threatening Earth, my people are using it for ages now. In fact we are the only ones in the known universe who have reached quite a high mastery in adapting it to our own needs. Oh yes, that would have gone so well, and..." he couldn't finish the sentence.

One step and Matthew had grabbed him by the lapels of his cloak. He shoved him backwards and Galen took two, three awkward steps until his back hit the wall. It knocked the breath out of him. He barely suppressed a wince as the implants of his back bit into his flesh. With two long strides Matthew stepped up to him again and putting a flat hand against his chest Matthew pushed again, keeping him pinned.

Galen was stunned. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had used plain physical force against him - had dared to do so and survived to be exact. It took him a lot of effort not to react as his instincts told him to simply blast his attacker out of existence. Matthew seemed completely oblivious to the danger he was in. Or he simply doesn't care, Galen thought. Then another idea struck. It's also possible that this is some bizarre test, but a test of what? My patience? My self-control? What does he expect of me? A shadow scream?

He closed his eyes in confusion. This was all his own fault. Suddenly he felt terribly exhausted. The whole situation seemed too much to bear. "Please, let me go, Matthew," he said quietly as he opened his eyes again.

"No," one syllable hard and cold.

Matthew stared at him for what felt like an eternity and Galen simply stared back. He didn't know what to do now. He had tried pleading and failed. Controlling his temper didn't mean he had lost all of his pride. He'd rather flee than grovel again. Or would he? He had no illusions how desperate he was to return into Matthews good graces. The physical proximity did its own to make him waver.

It was such a sharp reminder of other times they'd spent in these quarters. While their friendship had never been easy, they had nonetheless been comfortable in each others company. They had shared a couple of evenings here, discussing a broad variety of subjects from ship's business to things more personal. Just once Matthew had even managed to talk Galen into a game of cards. Of course Galen had cheated - who after all could resist card-magic - and Matthew had caught him at it. After a moment of exasperation Matthew had grinned and said it was really his own fault. He should have expected a magician's tricks.

Maybe Matthew had seen some of his conflict in Galen's eyes or maybe he had been ambushed by memories of his own because he suddenly heightened the pressure against Galen's chest. Then, as abruptly, he let go of him completely.

Matthew turned and ruffling his hair with both of his hands he said, "God, Galen, I can't remember the last time I've been so angry."

Galen stood silent and motionless. There was nothing he could say to that.

Matthew walked to the small side table. He sat down heavily and motioned for Galen to take the free chair opposite him. Galen would've preferred to keep standing but when he hesitated a sharp, "Sit!" by Matthew told him better to comply than to risk another angry outburst.

Cautiously he moved over and slowly sat down. For a while Matthew remained silent. He studied Galen. It was a look that didn't betray much of what was going on in the captain's mind. Obviously he had his anger under control again.

Galen couldn't say how long they sat like that. He felt uncomfortable to be observed so closely. Normally it was him who watched others, often without them being aware of the fact. This reversal of roles left him feeling like an insect under a microscope. He shuddered faintly. No, that analogy reminded him far too much of the Shadows. It reminded him of the fact that to some extent the technology that made him what and who he was, was insectoid.

"Talk!" the sharp command jerked him out of his thoughts.

For a moment he feverishly searched for a way to begin. He decided to start with the heart of the matter: the seduction, the pact and the breaking of that pact. Keep it simple, keep it safe, he told himself and took a deep breath.

"It started almost a millennium ago. In the beginning there was a bargain. A question was asked: 'What do you want?' Later, an answer was given: 'To bring back magic to the universe.' In response an offer was made and accepted - a deal was struck. Much, much later we managed to pull free, though the price we had to pay was high. In the end we broke the bargain," Galen said tentatively. He tried to gauge the effect his words had but Matthew remained silent and impassive, looking at him, waiting for him to continue.

"To a certain extent we - the Technomages - are creations of the Shadows. We were meant to become their agents of chaos, instead we became rogues. I think we weren't important enough for them to hunt us systematically or to destroy us for our 'betrayal'.

"We used their technology, the blend of technology they had created specifically for us, for our own purposes. Above all we hid until the Shadows were defeated in the first Shadow war. We gave ourselves a code, ideals to strive for and we only came out after the war was over."

"Your order seems to have a favourite pastime there: cowardly hiding," Matthew remarked dryly.

"And do you blame us? In the last war you saw what the Shadows were capable of," Galen answered and he hated the defensiveness that crept into his voice as he did.

"And it weren't just the Shadows. They were after us because we accepted their gifts and then turned our backs on them, but there were also the Vorlons. They called us Fabulists. They called us teller of tales or more simply liars. They saw us as irrevocably tainted by the Shadows - corrupted by the ideal of evolution through conflict and their technology. Our declarations of our independence were swept aside by them.

"While the Vorlons never decided on an orchestrated effort against us, they made it very clear that should we cross them sufficiently enough they would end our miserable existence without batting one of their incorporeal eyes," he said.

"So you were not only cowardly hiding, but feeling deeply misunderstood while you did it." Matthew summarized still in that dry voice that made it perfectly clear how unimpressed he was by his story so far.

Galen sighed. In a way he felt disappointed, but what had he expected? Of course Matthew couldn't grasp the shock and trauma it had caused him and others to discover the true origin of their order. And since he had no intention whatsoever of explaining all the details about the shadow tech and its horrible way of production, Matthew had no chance of fully understanding the depth of the inherent corruption his order as a whole and every Technomage as an individual had to deal with.

He sighed. "It seems I'm not very good at this," he said.

Matthew once again stared at him silently. He opened his mouth twice and broke off again as if he couldn't decide how to phrase what he wanted to say.

Finally he replied, "I'm really not interested to hear what your order did or didn't do in the last millennia. Don't misunderstand me, you will explain that later. What I want to know and understand first is why you," he pointed an accusing finger at Galen, "why you thought it would be ok to hide your knowledge from me. I want specifics not some big picture talk here.

"You knew about the destruction of the Cerberus, I suspect you even had a very good idea who was responsible for its destruction, yet you stayed silent. I understand why you didn't say anything all those years ago, but you stayed silent the whole last year. Why?"

"Secrecy is one of the fundamentals of our code."

"Bullshit," Matthew said it very softly. He leaned forward though, leaned over the table towards Galen, his body language betraying the tension his calm voice hadn't.

"The truth," he said as softly as before.

"It would have made things complicated," Galen answered.

"Why?"

"I wanted you to trust me. I wanted you to follow my advice," Galen answered again.

"Why?"

"I wanted...I don't know. I had orders," Galen said sounding clearly irritated now. Matthew was cornering him quite effectively. He barely suppressed the impulse to get up and start pacing. Instead he kept himself very still, tried to pull all his nervous energy inside.

"I'm sure you had. You're also prevaricating," Matthew answered.

He leaned back again giving Galen another long stare.

"Once again, Galen. Why?"

"I wanted you to understand...I wanted you," Galen broke off mid-sentence. He hated this stammering. Then it dawned on him. The truth, he could actually do that. He took a calming breath. He knew at least one specific answer and the thought of saying it out loud frightened him to death.

"I wanted you," he said slowly, laying himself bare with just three words.

Matthew's face remained perfectly unreadable.

"So your silence was a gamble?" he finally asked.

Despite his own fear Galen almost smiled at the question. It was so like Matthew to translate Galen's actions into a vocabulary he felt comfortable with, that he could relate to. It was also very much like Matthew to simply accept his words content and ignore it afterwards - at least outwardly and for the time being.

"A gamble I lost obviously," he replied. "The question is, will you give me a second chance?"

Silence fell. Matthew took his time to answer. He cocked his head to the side and gave Galen an appraising look out of narrowed eyes.

At last he said casually, "Maybe. Depends really. I don't like being betrayed." He raised his hand to forestall any protests just as Galen started to say, "I didn't..."

Matthew interrupted him, "Be quit, will you? And yes, you did, at least in my book and for now that's all that matters. We're playing according to my rules here."

He gave Galen another scrutinizing look, waited until Galen answered with a reluctant nod.

He continued, "Good. I might be persuaded to give you that other chance. You can be sure of one thing though. I'm going to make you work for it - hard." Suddenly he grinned. It wasn't the most humorous of grins Galen had ever seen on Matthews face, but at least it was more than the impassivity and anger that had been there before.

Abruptly Matthew got up. He went over to a sideboard and poured himself a glass of water from a carafe that stood there. Turning slightly he gave Galen a questioning look over his shoulder who shook his head. Matthew returned to his chair, placing the glass on the table in front of him he sat down again.

Galen watched him closely. He wasn't sure what to expect next, only that they weren't finished. He waited silently.

Matthew picked up his glass again and took a sip of water. He kept it in hand and started to turn it round slowly. He seemed fascinated by the shifting surface of water.

Just as Galen was about to prompt him to continue he looked up and said, "Good, with that out of the way you can start to explain."

Galen felt almost exasperated. What was Matthew expecting of him? Hadn't he told him enough already? Why wasn't Matthew commenting on Galen's confession? "I thought, I just did that," he answered. "What do you want to hear now?"

Matthew looked at him like he was either exceptionally dumb or just playing the idiot and not doing a very good job at it. "Now? Now I want to hear the complete story," he said. "And I mean the complete story. You think you can do that?"

Once again silence fell between them, then Galen nodded slowly. He answered, "Yes. Yes I think I can."

This would take time, he thought. But it seemed that he had at least been successful in negotiating a truce - not a reconciliation, not by far - but a truce. And maybe, just maybe this truce could be a beginning. Whatever might come, there was room for hope once again.

 

END