"Maybe we should write a letter to his family," said Duiker. He said it very quietly and he said it into the wall, but in the silence of their room he may as well have shouted it. The rest of the team, who had been ignoring each other generally and ignoring Duiker rather more pointedly, looked at him in surprise.
“Y’know, that ain’t actually a bad idea,” Sander admitted. "I mean, ain’t like Lord Death’s gonna do it. Did he have a family, though?"
"He had a mom, at least,” said Jens. “And a little brother.”
“How come you know so much about his family, are - were you his boyfriend? Was he plannin’ on takin’ you home to meet his parents next Emperor’s Birthday?” Sander’s interjection began as purely reflexive; he winced visibly at his own tense mistake, but dogged through the rest of it in an attempt at acting normal. The others ignored him - also normal.
"Well, I'm not writing to some kid to tell him his big brother went out the pipe," Haas said, leaning past the edge of his bunk to open his footlocker. A bit of digging beneath his dress uniform and he came up with a cardleather box which unfolded into a lap desk, with a sheaf of ice-grey paper and a pen. Sander’s rolled eyes and low mutter about
fancy-ass merch kids with their personal statuary went as unacknowledged as anything else he ever said, and the team as a whole gathered on and around Haas’ bunk to stare over his shoulder while he tried to write. Even Duiker uncoiled from his spot with his face in the corner; his approach to the group was hesitant, but Sander and Jens automatically moved out of the way to give him his natural spot against Haas’ non-writing arm, so he had little choice but to settle in their midst.
“Shit,” said Haas. He tapped the end of the pen against his lips and looked down at the blank page. “What do you say in a letter like this?” No one else had a ready answer, and eventually he took a breath and began writing.
Dear Mrs. Smidt,
It is with the greatest regret and sorr
"You sure his mom's a Smidt too?" Sander interrupted.
"He's a Smidt,” said Haas reasonably, pen paused a millimeter above the paper.
"Yeah, but my mom's a Yonge - "
"That's because you're a street bastard,” Jens snapped. “Shut up and let him write."
"Go catch cholera."
The pen went back into motion.
It is with the greatest regret and sorrow that we write to inform you of the loss of your son Brekt in action on
The pen stopped. "What's the date?"
Duiker answered, and Haas noted the numbers and kept writing.
He gave his life bravely in service to the Emperor, and we will carry his name in honor until we join him.
After a moment’s thought, Haas shrugged slightly and set the pen down. “I don’t know what else to say.”
The team read the two sentences and sat in silence.
“Well, we can’t just send that,” Sander said eventually. “I mean, that’s a waste of paper, all that blank space at the bottom. Looks like we ain’t give enough of a shit to give him a full sheet.”
There was a murmur of general agreement, but no ideas for continuing the letter were vocalized.
After another moment, Jens sighed and reached for the letter. “I’ll add something.”
It was an honor to serve with Brekt. He was a good soldier and a good man
“ - unlike the rest of the dumb hufters I work with,” Sander finished for him.
“Somebody elbow him for me, I’m busy.”
Sander jerked away automatically, but no elbow was sent his direction - that was always Brekt’s job, Haas was too nice and Duiker too lazy and Brekt usually sitting conveniently right next to Sander within easy smacking distance. No Brekt, so no elbow, so no swearing following Jens’ request. There had been a lot of long silences in their room that night, but this one seemed bigger: not just the four of them not talking, but their fifth missing, a blatant gap.
Sander settled back into the group, all of them looking pained and none of them looking at one another, Jens staring at the letter and regretting his last words, Duiker staring at the crack between two floor tiles and regretting his life, and then Haas leaned back and struck out with his elbow so that Sander was startled straight onto the floor to fill the
silence with complaints about the state of his ribcage.
The rest of them could breathe again.
He was a good soldier and a good man. He was the best shot in our fireteam. He helped save all our lives more times than we can count. It won’t be the same without him.
“I don’t think I got anything else for it,” Jens said defeatedly.
Sander pushed himself to his knees and leaned around Jens to look at the paper. “Well, you write pretty big, but that still ain’t took up much space.”
“We might as well all put a little bit in,” said Duiker. Haas took the letter and pen from Jens and handed Duiker the whole box.
He was a good friend to. He always had your back when it counted.
Haas murmured something, and Duiker carefully squeezed a tiny second “o” between the word “to” and the period.
Tell his little brother he was a hero of the imperjum.
Another murmur from Haas, but this one couldn’t be fixed - an “i” could be turned into a “j” easily enough, but not vice versa. Duiker kept the letter, pen poised just above the page as he considered adding something more, but finally he set the pen down and handed the box back to Haas, who passed it to Sander.
I aint want to repete everybody else but Brekt was a grate
“Holy shit, you can write?” Jens said in mock amazement, then leaned over and wrinkled his nose. “Well, in a way. Kinda.”
“Go catch the pox and die, you fuckin’ kuttekop!” Sander bristled like an angry cat, tensing up and wrinkling the paper. “NOW look what you made me do! The paper’s busted now!”
“You wrecked that paper as soon as you put that spelling on it, thronesake.”
Haas barely managed to grab the box before Sander launched himself at Jens; he smoothed the paper out and added a “guy” to finish Sander’s sentence, and the letter was put carefully away until everyone calmed down enough
to sign it. They’d be allowed out of billet for the weekend in a couple of hours, and he could take it to their captain to ask for it to be dispatched before they went to get their tattoos.