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 Half an hour later, we are done. Blayne has learned several sparring counter-moves, and I have learned that standing immobile while holding in place a hovering object is hard work, especially when two opponents rain blows at each other inches away from me.

The hoverboard is “springy” when activated, and keeping it still and upright is not too different from trying to keep a highly buoyant object angled oddly while submerged underwater—it fights you every second and requires force and effort to keep it under.

“Good work, both of you,” Aeson says, stepping back, and I see the finest sheen of sweat on his forehead. So, I think, Command Pilot Kass is human after all.

For some reason, my gaze unconsciously slides to the side of his head that I remember being hurt during the shuttle incident, the place where so much blood covered his golden hair. I glance away quickly, but not before he notices me looking there. Or, at least, I think he does?

Oh crap. . . . No one is supposed to know the exact location of his injury. No one would know unless they witnessed it. What if he now suspects me?

I try not to think in that direction. Instead I pretend to look around at the computer center consoles while I wait for what comes next.

Blayne is pouring sweat and his arms are trembling from the effort of alternately gripping the board and using his arms for sparring. He makes it to his wheelchair with the help of the hoverboard and sits down, hard.

There’s a brief pause.

Then I ruin things and open my big mouth. “Why don’t you let Blayne borrow the hoverboard all the time? He could get around so much easier if he had it—”

My words fade into silence.

Aeson is using a small towel to wipe his forehead, and now he turns to me with a hard look. “Your suggestion is noted. Unfortunately it is out of the question.”

“But why? It would be such a good thing!”

“Candidate Lark, are you questioning me?”

I gulp. And then, yeah, lord help me, I say it. “Yes . . . because there’s just no good reason why you should say no! I mean, it makes no sense why it shouldn’t be allowed, just a single hoverboard—”

Aeson stares at me, drops the towel on the nearest surface, then takes a step toward me. “Are you always like this?”

“Oh yeah, she is,” Blayne says, shaking his head in mild disgust. He pushes hair from his face and looks down wearily.

I whirl around, to stare at him with a sudden rise of anger. “Oh yeah? Well, considering I’m doing this for you, the least thing you could do is shut up!”

“Oh, jeez . . .” Blayne puts his head down and passes his hand through his hair. “Please don’t do me any favors!”

“I am sorry,” I say. I take a deep breath and let the sudden “stupid” deflate out of me. I don’t know what it is about this whole Blayne situation that makes me crazy-stupid impulsive and makes me want to meddle and fix things that are not my business and that are beyond my control anyway.

“Look,” I add, “I really am sorry, and I know it is not my business to press, but it seems to me the logical thing to do, a perfect solution to a logistics problem, and maybe that’s why it drives me nuts to see a perfectly good tool not being used in a capacity where it can truly help—”

As I speak, Aeson looks at me in what can only be mild amazement. It occurs to me, he is not used to anyone contradicting him often, if ever.

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