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Chapter Two

She took one last look around her dorm room.

It was an absolute given that she'd forgotten something. She always did. The only question was how inconvenient/embarrassing it was going to be when she discovered what she'd forgotten this time.

She snorted at the thought, grinning as she imagined how Berry would have teased her about it. Berry insisted that Helen was the only person in the galaxy who carried her own pocket universe around with her. That was the only way she could possibly lose some of the things she managed to misplace. Of course, Berry was almost compulsively neat in her own life, although no one ever would have guessed it from how sloppily she usually dressed. But that was only the current teenage style, Helen supposed. And, her expression sobered, it wasn't one Berry was going to be following any longer.

She shrugged, shoulders hunching as if she could somehow shake away her worry over her adopted sister. More like an adopted daughter, really, in many ways. It was silly, and she knew it. Yet somehow she'd thought she would always be the protector of the brutalized waif she'd rescued from the warrens of Old Chicago, and now she wouldn't.

But there were always things that wouldn't happen, she told herself. Like her mother, who should have been at her graduation and wouldn't be. She felt a familiar stab of pain and loss, and dashed away a tear. Silly that. She hadn't wept over her mother's death in years. Not because she no longer cared, but because even the most bitter wounds healed, if you lived. They left scars, but they healed and you went on. It was just the Last View, she thought fiercely. Just watching, as so many classes had, as Edward Saganami and his entire crew died to save the merchantships under their protection and remembering how Captain Helen Zilwicki had done the same.

But that had been years ago, when Helen herself was only a child. And despite the deep, never to entirely fade anguish of it, her life truly had gone on, with other losses and other joys. If she'd lost her mother, she still had the bedrock love of her father, and now she had Berry, and Lars, and Catherine Montaigne. In a universe where it was the people you loved that really mattered, that was saying a lot. One hell of a lot , she thought fiercely.

She drew a deep breath, shook her head, and decided there was no point standing here trying to guess what she'd forgotten, or lost, or misplaced. If she'd been able to figure it out, it wouldn't have been forgotten-or lost, or misplaced-in the first place.

She snapped down her locker's lid, set the combination, and brought the built-in counter-grav on-line. The locker rose smoothly, floating at the end of its tether, and she settled her beret perfectly on her head, turned, and marched out of her dormitory room forever.

Chapter One | The Shadow of Saganami | * * *