So You Don't Believe in Magic?
By Jo Taylor

With his hood pulled up, eyes closed, he could lose himself in the darkness. It surrounded him, held him in its thrall, cocooning him in its velvet blackness; a cloak against the emotions threatening his control.

Listen to the chords; follow their path through the discord. Find the harmony within the chaos. The acoustic symphony echoed around him, unbending. His mind would not, could not follow his will.

Since the return of his staff, he had been functioning almost on auto pilot. Staying on board the Excalibur only long enough to aid the doctor in modifying the nano-virus, he had beaten a hasty retreat to his ship. And if his departure this time held more than a hint of flight, he was sure no one noticed. They were used to his swift passage along their corridors, moving out of his way, almost instinctively, as though aware of the danger he represented. Though, he had given them no cause to fear him.

His face was still set in its granite-like construct on boarding his own vessel not ten minutes ago. Carved features reflected back from the panels, eyes hard and unforgiving - until now. His ship exited the Excalibur, its course set, he could relax.

His staff, his most treasured possession; he had thought it lost, was numb with the thought. As numb as his shoulder where the doctor had frozen the tissue she worked on so efficiently. Answering Gideon's questions almost mechanically. Giving away as little as possible, though he owed Matthew some explanation. And then she had been there; covered in dirt from head to foot, that set determined expression he had seen so often.  Blue grey met tawny gold, and he had been bereft of speech.

He could still feel the grit on her skin where his fingers had covered hers. The warmth of them, against the cold metal; but he had not the words to thank her. She, of them all, threatened his self-control the most; embodying all of the passion and emotional freedom he had denied himself for so many years. She had been badgering him to teach her, to let her into the mysteries of technomancy, but always for the wrong reasons.  His own experiences a prime example of the harm that could be done. Soon, when this search was over, when she had matured beyond her grief and needs, then he would consider her pleas.

The Circle had been correct; his interaction with the humans had brought him to this. They had prophesied his destruction at their hands. But it was not a physical harm that threatened him; they were violating his independence, his autonomy. His need for companionship was eroding the barriers he had set around his heart, around his very soul.

His craving for company had been ingrained in him during his childhood. Brought up by loving parents, he was part of a tight-knit society. The commune was isolated, a small oasis of green and blue amid the vast desert that surrounded them. An artificial paradise created by the founder of the cult and one of the few areas on the planet that did not rely totally on technology. They farmed the soil, fished in the lake, spun cloth from the animals kept for their wool. An idyllic existence, and all that he had ever known.

Of his mother, he had the vaguest of memories, a warm, comfortable woman. Soft voiced, practical, a haven when the night terrors struck. He could smell the scent of her baking even as the memory of that early time came to the forefront of his thoughts. The imagery so strong even now. But she had died, suddenly, no one explaining to him why. He had been nearly four then.

And Father, wise, caring ever interested in his son's needs and wants. He played with all the children, taking time out from his work and studies to tutor all that required it. And Galen had a veritable thirst for knowledge, pestering his parent night and day. Why was the sky blue, the grass green? How did the clock work, why had his pet died, why, why, why…? With unfailing patience his father had answered, explaining the intricacies of life and death, of nature and technology, never turning him away. And he had soaked up that knowledge like fertile soil accepting the rains.

Occasionally, they had visitors. Dark garbed men, with solemn, careworn faces. His father always treated them as honoured guests, but Galen, even at that young age, had known something was amiss. Then, one night, very late he had heard voices raised as though in anger. He could not hear the words, but the edge in their tones jolted him out of sleep. He had crept quietly down the stairs, one ear to the door of his father's library. Quiet now, only mumbled tones, as indistinct as the louder ones had been. Then one clear sentence.  "You know he is born to this, Owen. It's time he began his training."

More inarticulate words, then his father's voice, clear, defined, controlled. "He is naught but a boy, I won't have him coerced into this. I chose to leave the order, it is not a life I would choose for him." And then silence.

He had stolen quietly back up the stairs, waiting patiently on the landing, hoping to see the visitor leave.  Soon the lights went out downstairs and his father made his way slowly up the stairs. Where had the visitor gone? He had run quickly to his room, diving under the covers, holding his breath. There was so much he wanted to know - but this he could not ask without admitting his eavesdropping.

After that visit, their time together seemed to be more precious, father spending even more time with him in play and study. Swimming in the lake, the cold scars on his back showing livid against his tanned skin.  Eyesight failing as he tried to read to Galen from the tomes piled high in the library. Though he was only a child, he knew that something was wrong, and he clung to all that was familiar. His home, his books and most importantly - his father.

On his tenth birthday, another traveller called to see them. He too dressed in dark clothing, but was more outgoing, more interesting than any of the others had been. Younger too, a contemporary of his father.

Father had introduced him as Alwyn, a magician come to entertain the children in honour of Galen's birthday.  The youngsters had gathered round in awe-struck wonder as Alwyn performed his slight of hand tricks.  Making little balls of light dance around his hand, then round young Celeste's head; leaving her screaming in delight. Bringing forth flowers from behind young Lara's ear, drawing stars and moons in the air with a fiery finger. And then the piece de resistance - a dragon! He was glorious, ten feet tall; gold with eyes the colour of rubies. At first, the children had run in terror, but seeing that Galen stood his ground, they gradually returned.  The giant head lowered itself to their level, and tiny hands stroked the warm scales.

Galen had stood aloof from the conjuror's performance, showing neither approval nor delight. Knowing that magic did not exist, but not understanding how the feat had been done. Wanting only to ask his father `how?'    

Owen stood and watched his son's reaction, and despaired.

"So, you don't believe in magic?" Alwyn's voice carried more than a hint of humour in its tone.

"Of course not. Magic is for children. I don't know how you did it, but I know it isn't real."

"Such assurance from one so young! Owen, your boy shows promise."

Galen had seen the distressed look on his father's face. But it would be five more years before he found out the cause.

Ten days after his fifteenth birthday, Galen had watched the light go out in Owen's eyes. Heard the last soft sigh, and knew his life was forever changed. A voice had called softly to him from the gloom outside his house, asking entry. He had wanted to be alone, to grieve, but he had recognised Alwyn's gruff tones and knew he would not be denied. Dignified, holding his emotions tight, tight inside him, he opened the door.

Alwyn had not been alone. A tall, angular man stood with him. Eyes deep set, almost invisible under his hood, the dark cloak hiding him from Galen's view. They had entered then, going straight to his father's side.  The older man had passed his hand over the closed eyes, across the still chest, then straightened. "He is beyond our help."

The voice, deep and resonant had sent chills down his back. There was something fearsome about this stranger.

"We must make preparations. The boy must be removed, trained. You say he is acceptable?"

"I still say I should be the one to train him, Elric. He knows me, will be more willing to learn from me."

Elric cut him off without a second thought; and Galen had watched as the two men squabbled over him as though he did not exist.

"I'm not going with either of you. I am staying here; it's my home. My friends are here, my life is here."  Anger removing the numbing grief.

Alwyn had come to him then, putting a consoling hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Galen. There are things, qualities about you that we can't leave untutored. Did your father ever talk to you about his life before the settlement?" At his negative reply he continued. "I thought not."

"Now is not the time, Alwyn."

"Yes, it is, Elric. The boy needs to know. Has a right to know. Especially if you insist he joins the order."

But his attention was now firmly focused on his father's body, lying between these two terrible old men, who could think of nothing but their own disagreements. He had screamed his rage at them then, forcing them out of the house, back to wherever they had come from. He had no concept of the danger he had been in, being governed wholly by his grief.

His neighbours had come running to the house, unaware of the men, only seeing his distress, and Owen's lifeless body. They had taken him in, comforting him as best they could.

The following day they had cremated Owen's body. Leaving Galen with only memories of a man dedicated to serving his community, to loving his child.

They allowed him a month, then Alwyn and Elric returned. Not in physical form, but holographically, surprising him at his studies. Though he had read voraciously when his father had been alive, he now buried himself in study, there were many books he had yet to read - numbing his pain with the written word.

"We need to talk, Galen." Alwyn's voice jolted him out of his musing. "There are things you need to know.  A choice you need to make."

For the next hour he had sat in stony silence, listening to the tale the two men related. Of the order they belonged to; `Technonmages' Alwyn had named them. A group of men and women dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge: physical, technical and spiritual. How his father had been one of them a quarter century ago, a member of the ruling Circle. Regarded as one of the best. Then, he had met a beautiful Human woman, fallen in love with her and, in the end had given up his place in the Circle to start a life outside the order. Here, on Earth. Using his abilities to transform this barren desert to the fertile area it now was. Then he had requested that his implants, his ship, his staff all be removed. The knowledge he possessed, the data held in his ship's computer was worth more than Alwyn could convey. "Such knowledge can be dangerous in the wrong hands.  Your father knew this, was protective of our order, always."

And though Galen's anger had remained, his insatiable curiosity was slowly winning out. He wanted to know more: the secrets these men spoke of, the wonders that must exist outside of this small community. Alwyn's words from so many years ago returned, `you know he is born to this.'

That night, Elric had come for him. The ship, black as the deepest well, had been set down far from the homes of his people. On the walk back, he had been afraid to ask any questions, afraid of the man who was to be his guide, his mentor. Over the years that they were together, some of that fear remained. Along with unbounded respect, and an affection that neither would ever acknowledge.

Elric led an isolated life, as did most of the order. Occasionally, meetings were held, when something of import needed to be told, but these were mainly remote viewings, rarely did the order meet face to face. Their communications confined to the exchange of knowledge via their sophisticated technology.

For the next ten years, he studied diligently: how to read the signs and sygils, the phrases to bring someone under his control. He read history, poetry, ancient philosophy; chemistry, physics and biology any and all subjects were his to review, learn and store away.
During that time, they had travelled most of the known, and some of the unknown Universe - hands on experience Elric had called it, though they had interacted rarely with the denizens of many planets.  Techomages were, when recognised  feared, and rightly so. The powers Galen had been learning were awesome and dangerous in the wrong hands.

When Elric had thought him ready, he had performed the delicate surgery, inserting devices into his back. Implants that, when connected to the electrical impulses of his brain, could mimic virtually anything any piece of technology were capable of. The brain was the fastest and most comprehensive computer available to the denizens of the Cosmos - though only the Technonmages had harnessed that resource successfully.

"Cease music."

He opened his eyes to the stygian gloom. This review of his early life was doing little to excise the ghosts that haunted him now. The pain killing drugs Dr Chambers had filled him with were beginning to wear off. The old, familiar ache of his implants took their rightful place. He had lived with this discomfort for nearly fifteen years, it's constant nagging at his pain centres helped him to focus - it was a part of him now.

He removed himself from his sitting place on the floor, and went to stretch out on the sleeping couch, the pressure of the implants jolting through his shoulder, into his neck and beyond. With a directed thought, he stopped the pain, controlling it, as he could have done the ache from Dureena's knife wound. But that was one piece of technomancy he did not wish to become known, even to Gideon. And certainly not to the good doctor.

He held out his hand in the darkness, directed his thoughts and brought forth Isabelle's likeness, all that he had left now that her ashes were no longer with him. She would have chided him for this wallowing, had she been here with him now. But, if she were still alive, maybe this would never have occurred. He would not have left with Elric, would not have rescued Matthew, and would not have found himself interfering yet again in the concerns of Humans - only to fail, again.

There had been a gathering of the Circle elders, a rare and worrying event. Elric and Galen had sped to the meeting place, their route circuitous, stealth like. Talk had revolved around a tremble in the Universal web. No one sure what had occurred, just that something of major significance had taken place. All mages were aware of the `first ones,' their history, their interference in the lives of lesser creatures. This sign seemed to promise a return to the time of war between them.

The order was commissioned to seek out what knowledge they could gather.

Years later, when the Shadows made their final move, Galen had done what he could to prevent his home planet being destroyed. Though he should have held himself aloof from this struggle, he could not remove the thought of his home, his old companions. He had not set foot on Earth since his father's demise, yet it held a special place in his heart that no amount of training, or travelling around the Galaxy could wholly erase.

Only one good thing had come from his searches - Isabelle. Each on their own path, they had met by accident at a crossroads within hyperspace. The ships communicating automatically. She had sent her likeness to his ship, opening a channel between them. Her first word changed his life. Every mage knows the fourteen words to make someone fall in love, she had only to say `hello,' and he was lost.

The attraction had been mutual, and for the rest of their quest, they had been inseparable. They had travelled together, rested together, delighting in one another's company. When they returned home, he moved out of Elric's abode and set up his own with her by his side. At night, they would sit in the study, deep in their respective research, sometimes not talking at all, but content knowing the other was there. Some evenings she would play the Binarian harp for him, melodies so beautiful he would find it hard to breathe. Or he would open some ancient tome and read poetry to her. A love of the written word a bond between them. He had rescued ancient volumes from many civilisations, finding crumbling written texts in the most unlikely of places. Using  technomancy to stabilise their fragile pages and to restore their print to legibility. He had left all the works his father had gathered behind him. Elric would not let him bring them on their journey, not wanting suspicion to arise over Galen's departure.

And then the rumour had reached them; an Apocalypse box had been sighted. Like the fabled `one ring' it would contrive to pass itself from person to person, ever seeking to be re-united with it's own kind. Though it was doubtful this particular race of `old ones' still existed. They were manipulative at best, dangerous at worst. Twisting perceptions, lying when it needed to, the knowledge possessed by these non-corporeal beings was enormous - and the order had long wished to possess and examine one. So far, they had eluded even the most diligent of the mages - until now.

Galen and Isabelle had been the closest of their order to the reported sighting, and had, under orders from the Circle, sped to the designated planet. Elric and others were to follow as soon as possible.

Tremaine 4 was in a lonely backwater of space, off the main trading routes. A pre-technological society, it had no resources worth exploiting and had been left to vegetate in its isolated state. All that was known about the denizens of this planet were their superstitious beliefs and primitive warlike nature.

Unknown to the order, three technomages already had the box in their possession. Had done so for some time, and it had worked on them as easily as any mortal. Greed, for whatever item be it gold, jewels or power was easily manipulated by this being. Technomages were no exception.

Galen never found out what the box had offered them, had not cared to hear their excuses for what had happened on that planet.

The renegades had thought themselves hidden from the order on such a backward world, but in case they were ever found, they had put in place a trap to neutralise any enemy. Galen and Isabelle had walked right into it. His pride, his arrogant belief in his abilities had led to his love's death.

The locals were very secular, each community extremely territorial and aggressive in its defence. Every village had its own gods and belief system. But, because of these superstitions, they were only too open to the seeming divine magic displayed by the mages. Incantations that could summon the gods, devils that answered only to them. The populace had bowed down to them, worshipping the trio as deities in their own right. And these mages had warned of their enemies had, through their technology, shown them the black ship. Explaining it as a sky chariot that would bear enemies to this place, black as the entrance to hell itself. Had described their manner of dressing and warned of their magic. They had instructed the worshippers to let them know when these creatures would arrive.

They had been enthusiastic in their devotion. The seekers had barely entered the first village when they were set upon, rocks and spears thrown at them, clubs smashing against fragile bone. Only a burst of energy from Galen's hands had stopped the onslaught. The fire he directed at them, burning five of the natives to a cinder in seconds. The rest had fled then, fearing this `gods' wrath, but by that time, Isabelle was hurt beyond his power to help. As he bent to pick her up, he felt the connections with his ship sever, the pain of it so intense, and then it was gone. His staff was thrown from his hand, landing inert in the mud; it's unique electronic life extinct. To suddenly feel … nothing, horrified him. The companionable ache from his implants vanished, being superseded by the pain supplied by the various blows to his body.

Finding an abandoned shelter, he settled Isabelle as best he could. Her implants were badly damaged, and she had no way to stop the pain. Torn between returning to salvage supplies from the ship, to communicate with the order and staying with her, he felt as though he were being torn in two.

At her insistence, he had returned to the ship; the renegades had been there before him. Only their combined power could have gained entry to his vessel, what they had done within stunned his mind. Every single system was shut down, and nothing he could do would revive even one electron. Somehow, they had engineered the backwash that had cut him off from his computers and fried the components in his staff. Thankfully, they would not have been able to access his data banks, too much knowledge already in their hands. But Isabelle and he were now effectively cut off from the outside world. Others were on their way, but how long before they were found? He had no recourse to his technomancy without this connection, this primitive community did not even possess electricity - how could he protect Isabelle should the natives return?

Galen shifted on his bed, the memories too real. He could still feel the weight of her slim body clasped in his arms.

Elric had found him some hours later, her lifeless body cradled against his, his mind wandering its own path, no conscious thought directed by his will. He had vague recollections of Elric steering him to his own ship, he not willing to put Isabelle down, arms locked around her form in an unyielding grip. His mentor must have sedated him then, for he had no recollection of the next hours. Waking to find himself returned to their home planet and in his old room within Elric's domicile. Isabelle was gone.

He had been hell to be with for the next months, clinging to Isabelle's ashes within their silver confines like a talisman. Where once he had been outgoing, willing to accept he now stood aloof from the rest of the order, cleaving only to Elric, his guide, the man who had come to take his father's place.
His staff had been damaged beyond repair, even by the master himself. Elric had made him another, waiting until the anger had died down before presenting it to his favoured pupil. And Galen had been ungrateful in his  acceptance of the staff, his behaviour something that he would regret for a very long time. Though in the end, Elric had forgiven him, understanding, as most of the Circle did not, the pain he was in. It was not until Elric was near death that he confided in Galen that the replacement staff had belonged to Owen, as did the ship he now flew. Elric had spent long hours adapting it to Galen's physiology, hoping it would be of comfort when he was gone.

Thoughts of revenge had threatened to consume him at times. But he believed that the cowards who had arranged his love's death were long gone, their knowledge, gained through the same studies as his own, would have them hidden away, out of his reach. So, when the exodus began, he had dutifully followed Elric to Babylon 5, adding his powers to those of his order.

On that journey, he discovered that not all his humanity had been driven from him. Gideon's despairing call for help had turned him around, in search of one tiny figure lost in the vastness of space. Ignoring the Circle's order to let the human find his own way he had rescued the young man, maybe even then sensing that much was in store for him. Sedating him until he could deliver the inert ensign to some safe harbour, he gleaned what he could from the recording equipment within the flight suit, before wiping the circuits. There must be no record of the Technomages flight. From the data he gathered it was confirmed that the dark servants of the shadows were on the move.
Quickly, he had joined his brethren, sharing his find. The Circle was now convinced that their flight was justified, Galen not so sure that they should abandon the galaxy to the warring First Ones. Wishing he had Isabelle at his side, her counsel sorely missed; not quite ready to trust his own decisions.

At the end of that fateful journey, he had lost the only person who had any meaning for him now. Elric, ailing for some years, had finally succumbed to the disease that ravaged him. No more could be done to stop the life-consuming virus that had circulated in his system for as long as Galen had known him.  The hiding place held no pull for him now. And his autonomous actions made him less than welcome within the order.

He waited only until they had cremated Elric in the tradition of the Technomages, reducing him to a small pile of glittering ash. Bryth, ancient now but still within the Circle, teacher to Elric, performed the rites.  Scattering the glowing remnants in the sign designated `eternity;' ancient words spoken to speed his journey.

Care no more to clothe and eat
To thee the reed is as the oak
The sceptre, physic, learning must
All follow this and come to dust.

Many years later Galen was to perform the same rite for his lost love. Adding his own postscript to the ancient text;

All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

Anger, however fiery eventually cools, even in his heart. But he had not forgotten, nor would he ever forgive, his anger sat coldly within him, waiting, anticipating. He had not thought himself capable of taking a life with cold calculation; Matthew had not believed it of him. How wrong he had been. When Gideon had called him back from destroying the parasite which fed off the deepest secrets of a mans soul, those memories so painful that you buried them, the being that claimed to forgive; he had told him he was not a killer. The captain was not to take seriously Galen's casual words that he had not one surviving enemy.  If only he knew.

As the years passed, Galen's confidence returned, with his added experiences life became more secure, his soul found a harbour. But, through all his travels, he searched still for the technomages that had taken the dearest part of his life. Eventually he tracked one of them down, only to be robbed of his vengeance by a seeming accident.

There was talk of a card game, the Apocalypse box had been part of the prize and the loser running out into the street, had fallen under the wheels of a moving vehicle. No one knew who the new owner of the box could be. A stranger to the area, close mouthed, unfriendly. This much information he gleaned the day after the event. No information on the box could be traced, but Galen was sure it would surface soon enough, when it needed to move on.

He had gained access to the body, checked for himself that it had been one of the exiled mages. The body was that of Mrwynn, leader of the cadre. No implants adorned his back, only old scars where circuitry should be. The man looked battered, uncared for. His corpse showing signs of physical misuse beyond those sustained at his death, probably drink or some other recreational drug abuse. Galen's anger had grown then, to be so close and not be able to take his revenge personally!

It had spurred him on to further searches, for, if one of the mages were still in the known universe, then he could find the others and exact his reprisal on them.

"Ship. Lights, one quarter illumination." Even this seemed brilliant and blinding after the total darkness that had been consuming him. Isabelle's likeness dimmed against the additional light. Closing his hand, she vanished from view.

He should stop this maundering; he could feel depression settling on him in soft waves, insidious in its attack on his mind.

"Full illumination." As though that could chase the shadows from his soul.

Taking up his staff, he began the slow, painstaking repairs required to bring it back to life. Holes gaped along the shaft revealing intricate circuitry within. The damage was severe, but not irreparable.

`The staff in the hand of a wizard…' Háma had not been wrong. It could be a terrible thing, and yet wonderful too. He had done terrible things with its help; acts that even now made him want to hide the memories away. His anger and pain combined with his knowledge and staff had ended in the destruction of his enemies, for so they had become in his mind.

Nano-technology had been his speciality; he delighted in the intricacies involved in the manipulation, and construct of their infinitely diverse applications. Eventually he had designed a virus that could, within seconds, destroy any link between a mage and his staff, or ship. Not as crude as the incantation used by the three who had cost him his love, and his ship, but equally effective. In turn, he had devised a counter equation that would protect him against further harm at their hands. His ship, staff and his own person could now travel safely - and in perfect secrecy. The technology cloaked his ship from prying eyes, and scans. He had hoarded this find, keeping it only in his ship's computer, hedged around by many and deadly viruses. Any probe or scan that tried to access his data would be turned around with a destructive virus attached, wiping that system of all its knowledge save life support systems. Should anyone be stupid enough to try and gain entry to his vessel the resultant shock to their nervous system would render them unconscious instantly.

The virus' delivery system was the first of the circuits to attract his attention. He removed it swiftly, it's job finished now. And yet he could not repress the memory of those executions, for that is what they were. No amount of distance could alter the fact that he had taken out his enemies with a cold calculation that horrified him.

It had been on Varius Prime, whilst researching the hiding place of The Well of Forever, that news had reached him of a mage living secluded in the seamier part of the metropolis. Vari, the capital, had like all great cities before it, possessed a down side to its apparent prosperity. Those who came in search of their fortune discovered the harsh realities of life and graduated to the dark quarters of the district. And it was here Galen had tracked down Karlin. Cloaking himself against possible detection by Karlin's technomancy, he had entered the warren of streets where his prey had taken refuge. Not an area for the faint-hearted, Galen had met with no attempt on his person, his tall imposing figure, the grim expression and sense of purpose that surrounded his passage, made all give way before him. The denizens of this place knew trouble when they saw it, and gave him a wide berth. And he was so focused on his mission that he took no care who might see and report his actions. Not that anyone in this place would be a likely informer.

A light wood door was all that stood between him and his revenge, bursting into the hovel that Karlin had made his refuge, he found himself face to face with his enemy. Only a technomage can strike though another's   defences, `sympathetic magic' he had explained to Gideon. There was nothing sympathetic about his next actions. Something within him seemed to explode; the anger he had held within him for so long, setting fire to his mind.

Fear flashed briefly on Karlin's face before he gathered his defences and launched his attack at Galen. But the shielding that surrounded him protected and bounced back the fire sent his way. Shock registered on the mages face, this same incantation had destroyed Galen's ship, should have wiped away any shield and destroyed the righteous avenger towering above him.

Galen lifted his staff, aimed with icy deliberation at the cowering man before him. "And … now ... you … will ... pay." The tightness in his chest almost stopping his breath so consumed by hatred as he was. A brief flash and the nano-virus had been delivered. It attacked Karlin with gleeful efficiency, tearing down his defensive shielding; his staff dropped from his hand as its power was wiped from it. And then the virus was within the body, attacking the implants that linked him to his ship, travelling through those links to his brain and into his nerve centres severing all messages from brain to body. He dropped to the floor, life now extinct. The virus, having no electrical impulse to latch on to became dormant, their work done.

A boot to the ribs brought forth no response; his foe was defeated. A pitiful bundle of flesh and bone - wires and gadgetry, lying in the dust. He lowered the staff to the corpse, fire flashed briefly and Karlin was reduced to ashes, the virus destroyed so that it could not attack anyone else.

With calm, deliberate moves he ground the remains into the grime that covered the floor, erasing all sign of the man who's life he had just taken.

He had returned to his studies, re-filled the staff with the virus and continued to travel, ever searching for his last remaining enemy. One year later he had unearthed the other mage. Zeth too had hidden himself within a large community, but like Karlin before him, he had not withstood Galen's anger. Now there were none for whom he needed to fuel the fires of retribution. He had destroyed the few nano virus that remained, but had kept the secret of their making.

That same, secret technology had saved the lives of Gideon and most of his crew. Making up, in part, for the terrible destruction he had wrought in his anger and pain.  That was done with now, he had to move on, he had believed the images wiped from his mind until now.

The staff sat inert before him as his fingers reconnected fine wires to tiny boards deep within its circuitry. A tiny spark within its depths gave him hope - then it died again, leaving him frustrated at his inability to repair his control mechanism. His concentration breached time and again by memories he would rather bury.

This interaction with the others must stop or he would lose himself. He must leave the humans to their search. He would keep and eye on them, when time and his studies would allow. But for his own sake, he could not get involved again. When he had tried to help in the shadow war, involving Sheridan and others in the fight, he had ended up precipitating the current crises. No matter how many times he had told himself that his interference had saved the planet from instant annihilation, and that at least they had five years more, he could not remove the guilt from his soul. His constant returns to the Excalibur, in part a way to cleanse himself, as well as feed his need for the company of caring beings.

Dureena's face flashed in his mind, he wiped it quickly. No, he would not think of them, any of them.

Bending his will to the task of repairing his staff, and his heart, he instructed the ship, "Music."

                                          **The end**