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2086-12-05 – 2309 [two days after "Initiation #1"]
Apt. 219 

..."I didn't know your gift was like this."... 
..."It's not my powers I feel sorry about."... 
The lines wandered restlessly through her mind. Again and again. Growing louder now that she tried to gain sleep. Niko threw herself around, her legs intertwined with the cotton sheets, now soaked in sweat. Sweat-soaked green cotton sheets, feeling damp on her bare skin that was no longer covered by bandages after the wound in her shoulder had been healed. The other... 
     ..."Niko, we shouldn't..." ... 
     The soreness was gone after two days. The memories were not. 
     And the same went for the knowledge... 
     ...and the tingling adulterating whisper like susurrant breathing resonating in her mind. 
     Resonating. Resonance. 
     She pushed herself up into a sitting position. 
     ..."Give me time to adjust to it."... 
     I'm sorry, Shane, she thought sadly. I can't do that. I'm not allowed... 

Dolphin Tank 

She looked around, scanned the huge hall a second time. No, he wasn't here. And, concentrating on the vague direction provided in the whisper, she'd been so sure about that. She started when something splashed beside her, sprinkling her in a rain of salty water droplets.
     =He's in the backward tanks. No lights.= The dolphin chittered into the translator. 
     Niko nodded earnestly. "Thank you." 

     (((.Winter.))) Icarus surfaced beside her. (((.Goose begged us not to tell where to find him. You said yourself he looked as if he needed the silence.))) 
     Winter had a pitying look for her partner. (((.Sometimes, silence's just not enough.))) 

Niko slid slowly into the huge tank that connected with the other tanks deeper inside the rocks and suppressed a shiver regarding the gaping dark opening of the wide tube with the gentle current in front of her. She knew that not all of the tanks were visible from within the LSL rooms. Some of them could only be reached through the water. Through the tubes. They were the dolphins' home. 
     She was a guest here. Not invited but allowed. 
     What was he? 
     She grabbed the tiny, pen-like oxygen device with her teeth, took a first careful breath to test it, and ignored the tiny prickle caused by her memories of being trapped under water. Together with him. And he had belonged where she could never be a part of. Did he belong here, too? 
     She pushed herself off the tank's wall and dove for the tube. She was going to find out. 

..."These desires and feelings aren't logical, Gooseman."... 
..."You've got to wait, Shane. These are things that just can't be explained at the moment."...
Seemed the time for waiting was over.
     He floated in the dark water – dark enough even for his eyes to rest – and held his position and depth of about two meters sub only with minor movements of the webbing between his fingers and toes.
     ..."What am I supposed to do when it comes to these things?"... 
     ..."You are not supposed to do anything in that direction, Gooseman."... 
     'not supposed to' – translation: 'do it anyway and you get really big trouble.' 
     In addition to that, they just bluntly had broken the rules. 
     Which was the reason they'd spent the ten hours flight home with creating a report bypassing the night in question entirely... 
     Some quick flaps of his gills chased the tiny cleaner wrasse away from his face. His mouth twitched when his eyes followed the harmless colorful fish scurrying scared out of sight. Good. It wouldn't find any ectoparasites on him anyway. long as Zozo kept silent. 
     She'd assured him that she'd taken care of it. He just hoped it worked. If not... but there was nothing he could do about it. 
     ..."And never mention a word to anyone about this!"... 
     ..."I don't like people talking about my private life. Understand?"... 
     She was better with words than he, better in finding the reasons that made people wish to do what she needed them doing. Sometimes he wished he could... 
     ..."Goose, we've got to talk."... 
     ..."Let me finish this first."... 
     Coward. He hit the word at himself and ground his teeth on it. 
     ..."Gooseman. What happened last night?"... 
     ..."I don't know."... 
     –had been the truth at that moment. 
     He'd smelled blood in the morning, too fresh and not mixed with antiseptic as to come from the wound in her shoulder. But it hadn't been his. 
     The scents of two persons' sweat had mixed with something else. Something more salty, more... animal. Not all his. 
     It was the blood that disquieted him. 
     He'd received her memories about it. And there'd been nothing to explain it. 
     Still, he had smelled it. Clearly. As clearly as he'd always smelled the scent that was only hers. As clearly as he smelled it... 
     His gills flapped hastily in the water. His eyes, adapted in reflex, penetrated the darkness with ease. Hers could not. She nearly bumped her head at one of the vertical tubes and afterwards got tangled in the long strands of seaweed. 
     The scents reaching him through the streaming water changed slightly during her struggling, carried a stitch of fear, but she came straight towards him, as if following an invisible line. He felt his muscles tighten. Not a comforting thought. 
     The first bubbles from her oxygen device carried ahead by the current touched his gills, causing the unwelcome sensation of having to sneeze under water. She had nearly reached him. Too late he remembered her poor eyesight in the dark and reached for her to prevent her from swimming into him. 

She surfaced with a splash. "Shane," she gasped. "You gave me the shock of my life." 
     "I noticed," he said dryly. "You should have brought a cold light. You're not me." 
     And in the golden glow of his bio defenses' activation she spotted the bloody tear her scared strike had accidentally torn into his gills. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Gods, were they destined to hurt each other? He was done. The darkness returned. "You sought darkness. Light seemed impolite." 
     "It's stupid to risk one's head for politeness." 

...says someone who doesn't dare to ask her about something she'd obviously survived, his mind commented ironically. "How about some light of yours now?" he asked instead. 

She expanded a forcefield, glowing slightly in the purple-violet of her gifts. Just enough for her to recognize contours. And fell silent. 
     Still gills. Still webbing. 
     He didn't make it easy for her this time. 
     "I came for silence," he corrected her assumption. "There aren't many places silent to my senses within allowed areas." 
     "There are none for mine." She breathed in return. "Not any more." 
     That stopped him. Wary eyes, of a lighter green than usual here in their aquatic adaption, searched her face. "What's wrong?" 
     "I feel you." His eyes narrowed at that. "I–" 
     "Did I wound you?" he asked suddenly. 
     "I ruptured your gills, you didn't even touch–" 
     "On Granna." 
     "No!" She knew it was nearly an outcry, was aware it shouldn't have been one, certainly not carrying the hints of fury and despair he'd surely noticed. No, her thoughts added with the appropriate carefulness. No, you didn't wound me. Scarecrow wounded me. In the widest range of definition I wounded me. You didn't... And in a painful moment of realization: You'd never touched me if I hadn't... 
     But she didn't say that. What she said was a repetition: "I feel you." Her fingertips touched her temple. "In my mind. A whisper. A... foreign breath. A presence." She avoided his eyes, groped for the words. "You begged for time. I'm sorry. I can't... I– I think it's a lasting resonance between us after what we did with each other." 
     Wariness. Caution. The whisper in her mind changed its tone, grew cold, then was suddenly almost gone. Her eyes widened, she hadn't expected him capable of controlling his thoughts that much. Silence. Loneliness. She drew a deep breath. That was how it was going to be... 
     "Do you read my mind?" 
     "No," she hurried to explain. "No. It's just... a feeling that you exist." A feeling of truly not being alone, that one became aware of only if it was lost. 
     "Cut it off." 
     "You'll have to help me. Otherwise I will hurt you." 
     "I'm no telepath, Niko." 
     "But–" she stopped. Right. Gods, what should she do? 
     "I've been hurt before. Do it." 
     She thought of the loneliness. Not like that. But she couldn't beg him to keep it. 'One's mind belongs to oneself...' The predominant law of her world. A violation was never tolerated. If she, being the taught one among them, asked for it... 
     "It will hurt you, too, right?" he asked faintly. 
     She nodded. That was true, she'd be mentally wounded, too. She could shield herself from the pain till it mended. She wouldn't suffer. But... she bit her lip on the search for words to express that. 
     "I don't want to hurt you again," he said into her lasting silence. 
     Her eyes widened. Was that what it sounded alike? Did– Did he really...? 
     He seemed to recognize her expression of disbelief. "Keep it." After a moment, seemingly at the end of his tether: "Just never tell anyone." 

(((.As I said,))) Winter told Icarus, watching through the glass as the two rangers left. (((.Sometimes, silence's just not enough.))) 

A faint smile played around Niko's lips. 
Sometimes, silence was everything.

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