Merlian grinned at his drinking companion two hours later. Tal was described variously as high-strung, wound too tight, angry, grumpy and just plain mean. Others said he was closed mouthed and secretive. None of these phrases could apply to him at this moment.

He leaned back against the bar, a glass in one hand, chatting up one of the girls from the communications department. So far he’d told her about several of the missions they’d been on and his own life growing up. He’d also listened while she spoke about her duties and the people she worked with. He was well at ease and down-right friendly. He was showing the side that he usually on displayed to his close friends, a welcome sight in Merlian’s eyes.

The girl spotted a friend and waved a hand as she bounded away. “Well, well, Tal, get a few drinks in you and you really loosen up,” Merlian said, as he nudged the man gently.

Tal chuckled and shrugged. “I’m relaxing. I don’t have to be stern and in control right now,” he explained. “M’master always said, ‘Talesin, there are times to be serious and times to be friendly and with magic it’s best not to confuse the two.’ So I don’t.” He shrugged and brought his cup to his lips. Then he frowned and looked at his glass. “It’s empty,” he said, with all seriousness.

“Maybe that’s a signal,” Merlian said, with a soft chuckle.

“Means I need another,” Talesin said with a grin. “You want?”

“Sure, thanks,” Merlian said. He turned toward the door as Vivien came in. With a welcoming smile on his face, he waved her over. “Hey, Vivien,” he greeted. “Tal’s buying if you want a drink.”

“Sure, sure,” Talesin agreed. “What’s your pleasure, m’dear?”

Vivien giggled and shook her head. “I’ll have an apple martini,” she said. As the other man turned to the bartender with their orders, she looked at Merlian. “Is he usually like this when he’s drunk?”

“I’ve never seen him drunk before, so I wouldn’t know.” Merlian smiled and looked over the crowd in the mess hall. “It’s good that we can get together like this between planet falls.”

“All part of the plan to teach the normals that mages are just like them?” Vivien said. When Merlian smirked she waved a finger and said, “You’re a sly one, Merlian Jones. I still can’t tell if I like this side agenda of yours or not. It has the potential to backfire horrendously, you know.”

“Yes, human nature being what it is. We fear the unknown,” he said. He took a sip of his wine and shrugged, before he added, “But maybe we can make it become the known and therefore not so frightful, eh?”

“Maybe,” Vivien agreed as Talesin returned to them juggling three glasses in his hands. “Thanks, Tal,” she said. When the communications officer returned with her friend, she grinned at Talesin’s warm greeting for the pair of ladies. Merlian’s plan might just work out after all.

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