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Shiny Silver Sheets

Niko yawned and looked through the window at the sheets of water running down the glass, the rain glimmering silver in the blue and white lights of the spaceport. Yet another delay was announced to the waiting passengers in a burst of gibberish. It was amazing that the personnel of New Petrograd’s only civil spaceport actually seemed to understand it.
     Another gust of wind sent more rain gushing down the window next to her. Lost in thought, she watched the streaming water flickering silver in the ever changing light. 
     Sheets of rain washing down sheets of transparent steel. 
     Water sheets on metal sheets... 

Metal sheets were used on Xanadu as a learning aid for mental focusing. Tall round silver sheets - like over-sized holiday dishes - were hung in front of the silk curtains in the crystal hall. Designed to tarnish when touched with psionic powers, they separated one exercise cubicle from the next. If a silver sheet turned dark, the student had to polish it back to a shiny metal gleam – by hand, since using psionics would blacken it even more – and the time-consuming, monotonous work caused by a mistake brought the attention of the student to the problem that caused it. 
     At least, that was the intention of the mentors when they installed the silver sheets. 
     While rubbing the results of her latest mistakes off the plates, Niko had been convinced as a child that their intentions were petty-minded punishment for the few dreams she had. 
     There had been times when she'd dreamed of a White Knight in silver armor, psionically gifted like herself, who was able to brush the soot of her mistake off the sheets with a twitch of his hand and a charming wink of his honey-colored eyes. 
     When she'd grown older and more skilled, Niko had decided that she preferred her Prince Charming – a.k.a. White Knight – without silver armor, since armor had to be polished, too. And it could get in the way when... But that was a thought for a more mature Niko than she had been back then. 
     Back then, if someone had told her she would be spending her life with a golden-haired, six-foot-five soldier with no apparent psionic schooling, she'd have laughed in their face. She'd dreamed of someone safe in her life, someone who'd comfort her, protect her, steady her. Someone who would gently encourage her to do the exercises that she labored over so much. Someone who became the calmness she sought and seldom found... 
     He would have honey colored eyes, she'd decided back then, and black hair, tall but not heavy, and... 
     She remembered the day she'd dawdled while imagining her dream lover; she remembered it quite well. Fifteen-year-old Niko had spent almost all four hours of concentration exercise polishing the darn tarnish off the sheets! 
     No, she hadn't imagined Shane's face in those unforgiving silver sheets back then. But nowadays Niko would never take the pale girlish fantasies instead of him. The half-child couldn't dream about what she understood today. The knowl– 

A sudden rattle on the window next to her brought her out of her daydreaming and she saw that there was hail in the rain now. Wonderful. It seemed New Petrograd Spaceport would be closed even longer. This place needs a Weather control system. Urgently. Niko sighed inwardly. Or at least a landing field weather shield for the civil transports. As the next gush of hail drumming against the glass, she added: Best both
     Warmed waiting benches at the spaceport had seemed ridiculous to her, but now she began to understand their advantages. She leaned back into the warmth irradiating from the back of her seat and allowed her thoughts to wander off again.

Knowledge. Xanadu'an psi-masters knew two kinds of knowledge: psionic and physical knowledge. Her mentor had taught Niko that once the psionic understanding of something was complete, the physical side became unimportant, a mere projection of the greater psionic picture onto the three-plus-one dimensional physical plane. And to the student she had been back then, the explanation made total sense. 
     But the woman of today was no longer sure about that. Time and events had shaped doubts into her picture of things. 
     She was eighteen years old when she left Xanadu for Earth. And the Circle would never have approved her volunteering to go if her fundamental education of life hadn’t been finished and understood. So it shouldn't have made a difference that she hadn't had physical experience beforehand. It shouldn't have made a difference that he had had no idea about it. Surely not. 
     But it did. 
     The irony was, the dreams of the girl she had been once were better able to deal with the situation as it had turned out to be than her hard-learned psionic understanding had been. Despite the fact that she'd never dreamed anything like that. At least, not as far as she could remember. 
     She'd never thought that innocence in a man could be so beguiling. But she still remembered his tall frame collapsing beside her, not physically exhausted – that wasn't so easily done – but mentally, and in need of time for his mind to adapt, to get used to this formerly unknown side of existence. 
     It had been the first time she'd seen his face unguarded, there in the cognac-colored light of Granna's moon, and truly realized how young he was. Numbers didn't really have a feeling of time attached to them, did they? 
     She remembered waking up in the night and how the feeling of shock ran through her at what they– what she had done. How she had cleaned herself of the blood while lying beside him, how she'd pulled the blanket over him, too, shielding him from the chill, and had frozen for a moment at the sensation of him snuggling unconsciously against her side, not out of trust or desire, but simply because he had nobody else to go to for comfort, awake or not. And sometimes, it wasn't enough to twist into the sheets to– 

"Need a ride?" Shane's eager voice made her jump. 
     She whirled round in her seat, feeling the heat rushing into her cheeks. "Where did you come from?"
     "I heard New Petrograd was shut down." He shrugged, shook the icy water out of his hair like a wet dog, and stuffed his clammy hands into his pockets. "It was on my way, anyway." 
     "And where were you?" 
     "Yea, that's right round the corner," she commented dryly. And only halfway across the galaxy. 
     "So what were you thinking about, eh?" he asked with the look of innocence she’d have expected from Lucifer. "Heavens, I snuck up on you. And that‘s been pretty much impossible lately. And then there's this fabulous shade of pink on your–" 
     "Stuff it!" she snapped and succeeded in forcing the blush off her face. 
     He commented on her effort with a brow arched in silent inquiry. 
     Annoyed, she gave in. "I was thinking of the silver sheets used on Xanadu to test students' concentration." 
     "How?" he asked, curious. 
     "They blacken when touched with psionics. If you make a mistake you spend hours polishing the tarnish away." 
     "Ever thought of lacquering them?" he asked with a grin. "A fine thick layer of transparent spray lacquer should keep the oxygen away from the silver. And it isn't easily detected, either. No oxygen, no tarnish, psi or not." He tossed her heavy bag over his shoulder. "Come on. We don’t want the authorities to learn where I parked the Explorer."

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