Fifteen Pictures Of Duo
by D.C. Logan
I came across pictures of Duo today as I was searching through my desk for an old letter. I knew they were there, but I pretend that I don't on most days. Fifteen pictures and two inches of text in the regional newsfeed to sum up an entire short life. It doesn't seem real or right to me, even after all this time.
The pictures are in no particular order or sequence, and I shuffle through them, spending a moment or more gazing at each one.
1. A glossy four by six-inch photograph with a white border and the date printed in small letters on the reverse. Taken a few short days before the Eve War of AC 196 by a Preventer, it shows a laughing Duo standing next to me; his hand on my shoulder. If I think about it hard enough, I can still feel the warmth under his palm on my skin. I'm wearing a green tank top and jeans. He's wearing his favorite shirt—a red high-necked one with a zipper and a pull ring. His coat has more zippers than functions; and he loses things in the pockets on a regular basis. He looks at home in his clothes, and at peace with himself as I rarely see him. He had just sent his alter ego into the sun, and with it, as many memories of his troubled past as would fit in the confines of the carrier. A few hours later, our world changed, and he had to absorb his past into his bones and body again. It looked painful to do, and likely was.
2. A newspaper clipping from AC195. Duo is shown being half carried, half dragged by two soldiers more than twice his size. His head is slumped forward, his eyes are closed, and his wrists are handcuffed behind him. The OZ soldiers supporting him have indifferent expressions on their faces. Duo appears to be semiconscious. I was on C102 when I first saw that image. And I felt the bottom drop out of my world. How could he have been so careless? What had he been thinking? Even though I remembered the telecast word for word, I went out and bought a copy of the morning printout as well. The paper is a little torn, but synthetic paper doesn't yellow or fade the way old-Earth paper did. I sometimes wonder why I still keep this, but I can't seem to bring myself to discard it.
3. And here's the first of the two that Quatre gave me. They also date from year AC195, when Duo stayed with him between missions that time. Duo is lying on a pool lounge beside a cerulean fountain, completely relaxed and probably asleep. He must be roasting in that black outfit he favored back then, and the dark sunglasses he was wearing have slipped down on his face. A growing sunburn can be seen on his cheekbones and his nose.
4. The second picture is of Duo listening to a recording of classical music. Quatre told me which one, but it's one of the few things I've forgotten, or that my mind doesn't care to recollect. His head is tilted and his eyes are closed in pleasure. Quatre told me how music drew Duo to it like moth to flame. And when he'd sat down to play one afternoon on Earth, how Duo had quietly crept into the room and listened with rapt attention to Quatre's playing. And how later, when he'd played a liturgical tune Duo had recognized, he'd sung along, in Latin, with perfect pitch. Though he'd never confessed it to Duo, Quatre had mentioned in passing to me that it was one of his favorite memories of the times during the war.
5. Duo, about eight years old, trying to escape the clutches and the narrow lap of a seated nun. One arm has reached out of the frame, as if trying to grab the edge of the photograph to pull himself out of the image. His eyes are wide open with an statement I can't identify—panic? anger? the simple frustration of a child forced into a situation he finds distasteful? Duo hid this one deep in the folds of a book. I found it when I sorted through his things. It's a telling portrait, more so because he chose to hide it away for so many years.
6. A square printout of a video image captured on Wing's main camera. Duo has Deathscythe in a rare still pose. The sun is setting in the background, and the corpses of the destroyed and burning mobile suits are in the foreground. The smoke adds atmosphere and a sense of etherealness to an otherwise grim picture. I keep it because it reminds me of what he has been capable of in the past, and that the potential for more of the same lies dormant, but close to the surface. A wise thing to remember. Or at least it had been.
7. A digitized photo of Duo on a horse. It was taken by a student photographer for use in a yearbook for a school he never intended to graduate from. Instead of destroying it as we transferred out of that school (as was usual), this one I kept. The student caught Duo in a rare moment of true, absolute, and real panic. Duo is hanging off the horse's side, halfway to his painful destination—captured midway on his flight to a hard crash on the ground below. The horse has a nonplused statement in its wide brown eyes. Duo's in comparison are that vivid color that lies between blue and violet, and are very visible, seeming to take up the entire photo. His statement is priceless, and I smile as I come across it.
8. Duo at a New Year's Party. I don't know which year exactly, and the back of the photo gives no additional hints. He looks young and excited and tired all at once. Someone has persuaded him to unbraid his hair. They must have used considerable tact and skill, for he did that only rarely. The background looks like a bar or a club instead of a private home. The glint of neon lights is visible, and iridescent glitter is dusted through his hair and across his cheekbones. He stands out, even among more decorated partygoers. He seems incredibly vibrant and alive.
My hands still as I think about him, and I briefly consider shoving the all-too-small collection back into the drawer where they belong; close, but not painfully in view. Instead I turn to the next image.
9. A black and white photo I took myself in AC 195 for a photography class at whichever school followed St. Gabriel's Institute. Duo and I shared a dormitory room for the few short weeks we were there. I was adjusting all of the settings on an old manual camera the school had loaned me for the assignment, and I took an experimental picture of Duo sleeping. At some time during the course of his usual nightmares he rucked up all the covers about his torso, leaving his lower legs and feet bare at one end, and a spray of long dark hair peeking out from the tangled sheets at the other. He had his rare moments of still sleep only in the early morning hours. There's something about the mottled gray twist of textured blankets and the silver-white perfection of his skin in the morning light that I find intriguing, even after all this time. I never told Duo about this picture. Yet it's one of my favorites.
10. An ordinary landscape of Earth. Or it would be if he hadn't stolen a moment from the war to capture it. Duo took this picture from the main camera in Deathscythe and printed it. He told me that it was the first sunrise he'd ever seen from the surface of Earth, and that he wanted to bring it back to space with him when he left. The orange glow backlights the landscape and throws the crooked trees and cragged hills into contrast against the blue-black sky. You can almost feel the light breeze that moves from the hills into the valley as the sun touches and warms the currents. I asked him once if he had titled it, and he answered in the negative. Yet the copy he printed for me has two words scrawled in his usual loose script across the back of the image: "Dawn's Promise."
11. This photo was given to Duo by one of Howard's mechanics. Howard is wearing a short-sleeved shirt that's probably visible from space. Duo is sitting on Deathscythe's massive hulk. He's in his usual black, and his cap is pulled low over his eyes to combat the bright sun bouncing off the Pacific current. The sky is a brilliant artificial-looking blue and the arc of the horizon is perfection. The unknown photographer has grasped a moment in time, and I am in it. You can see Wing in the background of the image, and I am walking around the suit with a long wrench strapped to my right thigh as an impromptu splint. In an ironic twist, Duo and Howard are slightly blurred in the foreground, while I remain in crisp focus.
12. Duo standing proudly in Maxwell's Salvage yard about three years after the war. He is perched on the peak of a loose stack of scrap metal, and he is grinning broadly in that devilish matter he sometimes wore like a shield. He is staring directly into the lens of a camera held by an unknown photographer. Hilde? Quatre? I believe that I would have remembered taking such a photo. And while the opportunity presented itself many times over. I rarely took advantage of it. It's one of the many things I now regret.
13. Hn. Another photo I took during that photography class. This one is in color and showcases Duo yet again. He was an ideal subject. It captures him in a rare reflective moment. He is sitting in an overstuffed high-backed chair positioned in a band of filtered sunlight. His legs are curled under him, his chin rests in the bowl of his palm, and he is reading a tattered book of Old Earth poetry. He is framed in soft amber afternoon light. Dust motes, glittering like fireflies, surround him in a halo. The picture exudes warmth. This is the picture I remember most often when he comes to mind.
14. Without this photo, I think I would have forgotten this moment entirely. It's so easy to forget the little things. They leave first, and are harder to recapture, but this picture brings me back to that day in a heartflash. Duo and I had arranged to meet at an outdoor cafe. I was doing surveillance and needed to finish off a roll of the old-style film (the newer digital film wasn't as reliable back then), and took an impulsive picture of Duo. The photo captures him just as he was reaching into his water glass for an ice cube to cool his coffee. He is caught; unaware of any audience, staring onto middle distance with two of his fingers immersed in the glass. Even without a subject to pin his focus on, his statement is intense. I never did find out what he was thinking about in that moment. He never confessed it to me.
15. This is the last picture I have of Duo. I thought we'd have more time for the smaller things in life. But it turns out that life had other plans for both of us. The small bronze plaque is nearly indistinguishable among the rough texture of the bark and the long sweeping branches of the willow tree. I think he would have appreciated the humor inherent in hiding his memorial in such a way. And it seems as if the tree is sad... and it weeps for me.
And I turn the last photo over. And I close my heavy eyes.