Shelley Godwin flexed her fingers and pulled a blue pencil from the box beside her. She shifted a bit to settle the sketchpad securely against her knees, and to find a more comfortable position against the maple tree she was seated under.
It was autumn in Mitrei, though she had to come out to one of the nature reserves to really get a sense of the season. There was a stark quality to the young city, its carefully landscaped parks and thoroughfares not yet softened by the effects of time. It was difficult to see the leaves changing amid the perfect green swards and the towers of unblemished white nanocrete.
Not that there weren't any signs of autumn. People bundled themselves in thicker clothing, and there was often the scent of sweet spices coming from shops and restaurants. Garlands of dried foliage had begun appearing around gates and doorways.
But for Shelley, autumn meant trees turning all the colors of the flame. So she dressed in jeans, a sweater and a heavy jacket and came to the city's edge to be among the changing leaves.
She stared at the blank page and drew small spirals along the outer rim, feeling something inside her start to uncoil. It felt good to be outdoors, doing nothing but scribbling on a pad.
Shelley switched to a lighter orange and made zigzags among the blue spirals. They made her think of lightning in clouds. A storm. She tapped the pencil against her lips, and thought.
A storm. Disruption. Turbulence. Yes, there had been some turbulence in her life lately.
She used a bright red pencil to sketch a flower with a dozen petals, then drew a pearl at its center in shades of blue and purple. She struggled a bit with the curvature.
Too much had changed in her world, while too little had changed for her. She felt strangely disjointed. Old Miltia gone. Gnosis being used in calculated attacks. Other things, too. Like Gaignun. He was always away.
She missed him.
When he'd been around, she could talk about things she couldn't express even to Mary.
Like Jr.'s twin. She'd known for years that Gaignun and Jr. had a missing brother, someone they kept a secret from the world. She'd refrained from asking about him, assuming they'd talk about him when they were ready. They never did, up to the point where Albedo came sweeping into their lives.
She wished she'd pressed them harder for information. Albedo's appearance had been cataclysmic, bringing terror and destruction in his wake. He'd murdered a fleet of soldiers, threatened the planet she was currently sitting on and harmed people she'd been starting to love.
But Albedo was Jr.'s twin, and Jr. loved him, and that meant Shelley was forbidden from hatred.
Shelley colored in the petals, but left a blank section in each one, so that every petal had a white stripe.
She supposed she understood. If Mary were a monster, Shelley believed she would still love her. Though it was hard to imagine her sister as anything but the sweetest person.
Had Albedo been a "sweet person" to Jr. and Gaignun, once upon a time?
Then Albedo had died. He'd been killed. Jr. had killed him.
Albedo had been killed by his brother.
She had a hard time wrapping her mind around the thought.
Though maybe Jr. hadn't realized Albedo could be killed. Maybe Albedo had been as indestructible in Jr.'s mind as he'd been in the real world.
But Albedo was gone and Jr. never talked about him, except to say that he had a hole in his chest, like his heart had been removed. So Shelley had to watch something in Jr. flicker and dim, and she was powerless to do anything about it.
She thought about talking to Helmer. Her adoptive father had known Gaignun and Jr. when they were children; he'd probably known Albedo as well. But asking him now felt like going behind Jr.'s back.
Mary would tell her she was being silly, but Mary understood. Insisting on answers seemed wrong.
The tree trunk was starting to dig into her back. She leaned forward and switched to a cross-legged position. At some point she'd drawn a red line across the page, all the way to the edge. She didn't remember doing that.
She made it into a comet, widening it with more streaks of red. She threw in a bit of pink.
A breeze rustled the pages and she clutched the pad to her chest until it subsided. A leaf landed on her hair, another on her lap.
Why was she thinking like this? Wasn't she the steady one? But she didn't feel steady at all.
Her world was Mary, and Gaignun and Jr., and Helmer. The crew of the Durandal. The 100-series Realians. Sometimes chaos, and the crew of the Elsa. People on the Foundation.
Then there was MOMO, Shion Uzuki, KOS-MOS, Shion's brother Jin, Allen Ridgeley, Ziggy—not that many names, but they'd disrupted her orderly world.
Jr. had fought alongside these others, while she and Mary had been made to stay behind. That hurt. It was almost like they'd been Jr.'s old comrades-in-arms, and she and Mary had just been around to keep him company until the others showed up.
Which was a ridiculous thought. Shelley and Mary were family to Jr., they'd never had to question it. They had almost thirteen years together.
But it still hurt.
The Foundation was attacked by Gnosis, and it wasn't Shelley and Mary who went with Jr. to evacuate the citizens.
MOMO was kidnapped by Albedo and it wasn't Shelley and Mary who went with Jr. to rescue her.
They didn't go with him to shut down Proto Merkabah, or to repair MOMO's shattered mind, or to retrieve the Original Zohar, or to stop the Omega System, or—
She hated being left behind. She hated feeling left behind.
She missed Gaignun.
He'd been calm and steady, and Shelley had taken her cues from him, whenever she felt overwhelmed. But these days he was lightyears away on Fifth Jerusalem, and she only saw him when the Durandal had a reason to go there. On the rare occasions their paths actually crossed, Gaignun was always distracted. He never had more than a few words to spare.
She took the black pencil and drew a bird on top of the pearl. She decided it needed big wings, wings that drooped halfway down the sphere.
This wasn't what she wanted to be drawing, or what she wanted to be feeling. This was supposed to be peaceful. Uplifting.
"So why do I hurt?"
Her voice sounded small to her own ears.
She wasn't accustomed to that. Her voice usually projected certainty, and authority. Then again, she usually spoke on the Durandal's bridge, not a deciduous forest.
Shelley did a good job as a First Officer. That wasn't being useless. Jr. and Gaignun needed her there.
She looked at the drawing again. What had she felt when she'd drawn it? She traced the border. "I started with blue, because I thought maybe I'd draw Mary, but I couldn't decide how."
There were the lightning bolts. Hadn't she felt disjointed, strangely untouched? That had turned out to be bull. But her mind had been filled with chaos.
Just because she had to stay behind while Jr. put himself in harm's way, that didn't mean she was uninvolved. Gaignun being distracted on Fifth Jerusalem didn't mean he didn't miss them or want to come back.
It hurt to see Jr. grieving for Albedo. Sharing his grief wasn't a trespass. It wasn't a betrayal to want to know more.
Shelley traced her finger over each element of the drawing. She saw so many people represented within. It needed one more. With the brown pencil she made a sturdy branch for the red and white flower to grow on.
She could have stayed later, maybe drawn a few leaves. There'd still be light for a few more hours. Instead she dug her connection gear out of her jacket and opened her contact list.
"Helmer? Are you free for a while?"
She wanted to drink spiced tea, and ask about the past.