Ellen stood in her garden, long after twilight had faded. The stars shone bright and clear, brilliant white, blue and red against the deep black sky.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, more and more stars appeared, painting the sky with a broad sweep of light.
Fragments of the others' conversation reached her from the back porch.
"...done for a while now." That would be Marcie. Stout, energetic. Always doing.
"The young ones are finding their feet, beginning to move away."
Ellen heard the mixture of sadness and pride in Marcie's voice. She shook her head. Marcie always invested so much of herself in those she nurtured. It was hard for her to see them go.
"That's the way it should be." Harriet's voice now. Harriet, always caring, the bridge between them all.
"I know, I know." Marcie's voice was soft, unusual for her. Resigned. "They're not the first. They won't be the last."
Ellen turned and made her way to the porch. She walked slowly. Time lay heavy upon her.
"You did well Marcie," she said. "You did well."
Marcie looked away, into the dark garden. Ellen nodded to Harriet and stood, waiting.
Marcie's voice quivered. "If I close my eyes, I can still see them."
She cleared her throat and shuffled in her chair. Then, glancing heavenward, her voice strengthening, she spoke of the young ones.
Far away, the first ships rose from the planet that had sheltered the race in its infancy. Now they reached out, across their solar system, spreading their wings.
Ellen placed her hand on Marcie's shoulder.
"You did well, Marcie," she repeated. "You did well."
Marcie stood, and Ellen hugged her. She shot Harriet a wry glance as her frail form was swallowed in Marcie's embrace.
"I'll sit a while," she said. "You too, Marcie. Let me have a look at you both."
Ellen disentangled herself and grimaced as she lowered herself carefully onto a plain, wooden chair.
She looked over at Harriet and caught the look of concern that crossed the other woman's face. She waved it away with a slight movement of her hand, but could see Harriet wasn't fooled.
Ellen reached out. "What's that you have there? Come, let me look at it."
Harriet held out her work. She had been weaving a pattern. It was not yet complete. Ellen looked over it, noting the care and attention that went into it.
"Fine, very fine. I could do no better myself."
Harriet smiled at the praise, but Ellen caught the "But..." in her eyes.
Ellen pointed to one corner. "Perhaps, now just perhaps, mind you, maybe a little dark -- there. Then everything will balance."
She heard Marcie's barely-smothered laugh. They were right, of course. She always had something to say, to add. It came from being the eldest, she supposed.
Ellen watched Harriet work. The woman's fingers moved carefully, weaving in a hint of dark over in one corner. Ellen nodded her head. Yes. Such a small change, yet now the pattern fell into place.
Far away, interstellar gas swirled around a newly denser area of space, twisted back on itself, clustered and began to coalesce. As gravity pulled it together, it compressed and the core of a star came into being, bursting into a rage of fire and fury.
"See," said Ellen, "see how the dark here", she pointed with her finger, "brings up the light there?"
Harriet nodded. Ellen suspected that the other woman would have made the exact same change herself, in time. She glanced at Marcie who, from the sound of another suppressed laugh, had suspected the same thing.
Ellen steered the conversation from Harriet's work and they turned it back on her, asking her how things had been early on. Ellen leaned back, reaching far into memory.
"So long, so long ago."
She spoke of her earlier years, how much energy there had been then, how new everything was. As she talked, some of the energy returned. She could see it reflected in Marcie and Harriet's faces.
She asked of their friends.
"Rita and Eleanor? Are they still--?"
Harriet remained quiet but Marcie couldn't.
"Yes, yes they are," and she shook her head. "They've been going at one another for an age. And no sign of them ever letting up."
Ellen spoke quietly. "They will, eventually. It's youth, it's growing. It will come to peace in the end."
Marcie snorted and Ellen saw Harriet look up, deep into the sky, her face clouded.
Far away, two spiral galaxies plowed, one into the other. Tremendous energy tore at the stars, straining the very fabric of space. It had been going on for eons and would continue for eons more.
The darkness deepened and the conversation continued for a while. Finally, Ellen raised herself stiffly from her chair.
"I'm tired now. I think it's time I rested."
The other two stood and Marcie helped Ellen through the door. She patted her arm and bid them both farewell. She felt their concern, but everything was as it should be. She would rest awhile and recover some of her energy.
Far away, a once-bright sun, flared briefly before fading, later to blaze again with the fierce heat of a white dwarf.