Updated: Jul 29, 2021
This is a short from the universe I'm busy building. Let me know what you think.
Master Sergeant Johanes Grieves Keplar carried the letter for nearly twenty years, on forty three drops into seven different worlds. Each time he told the Hoplites fighting alongside him of its presence in the front right pocket of his jumpsuit. Though he secretly figured any injury that killed him would destroy the letter to his wife, he hoped that maybe it would survive and relay his feelings in those final moments of his life to his beloved, his chosen, his reason for dropping over and over again.
And when his time came- amidst a vicious counter attack by a Moorde division- the letter managed to survive. His best friend, First Sergeant Andreas Falkner, remembering the request, made a point to ensure that he was there when Master Sergeant Keplar was removed from his suit. A Moorde plasma round had grazed the helmet. The helmet was more or less intact, but the enormous energy generated by the weapon had cooked Keplar’s head in less than a second, and caused third degree burns into his left shoulder and breast. Had the letter been in the left breast pocket of the jumpsuit, it would have been destroyed. The chance afforded by a glancing blow had preserved the letter with simple browning of the envelope that carried it. The body would be interred on the world in which Keplar had died, as was Hoplite custom and standing order. Shipping bodies back to their loved ones was not only cost prohibitive, but depending on the number of casualties, impractical.
On the world where Keplar died, the latter was more the reason than the former.
Falkner carried the letter with him for six more months of fighting, nearly dying himself three times in much the same manner as his friend. Once the world was secured, and he was able, Falkner- himself single with no family left- took a leave of absence to deliver the letter to Keplar’s wife.
As he walked toward the house that Keplar and his wife had called home together- had built a family and a life together in- a sense of forboding overcame him. A simple set of play equipment, and old fashioned sand box, and a two story Eco-Hab living space were nestled amongst fields of gene-altered wheat that Keplar’s wife and son farmed to supplement a Master Sergeant’s income. Faulkner knew that the bulk tax free payment for death expenses and the annuities built up from twenty seven years of honorable service would cover any and all expenses that the family would ever incur. Keplar had seen to that. But the hole that would be left by the loss of the father on some far away world, his remains never to be visted by those he had loved ever again, turned the peacefulness of the simple farm into a chasm from which Faulkner felt he might never return. He made his mind to deliver the letter, and leave as soon as was practical.
The door opened when he was still fifty feet from it, and the strong, proud, and very pretty wife of Keplar strode out to meet him. The few times they had met in between campaigns, Everest Mayden Keplar had made her dislike of the Corps known. She resented the time it stole from her husband’s life, but respected and admired him for the choice he made, and the sacrifices that came with it. She understood- better than most- why he kept at it.
“It’s never been about the pension, or the benefits,” she had said once while gazing at her husband, “but about the people he can protect by being a Hoplite. I hate it every time he leaves, but I know that if he left he’d never be able to forgive himself. It’s who he is, and it’s made him the man that I love. I could no more wish him to leave what I hate, for I’d lose the man of my dreams.”
The look on her face said everything. She didn’t blame Faulkner for her husbands death any more than she blamed the Corps, but his presence was a painful reminder of what had been lost to her for the rest of her life. Her sons appeared in the door, scrunched together peering through the opening at the Hoplite in full dress walking toward their mother. The pain evident in their faces even from so far away through a simple screened door.
“Everest,” he said once they were close enough to talk. “I wish I could have come under better circumstances.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m glad you came, but I hate that you did alone.”
Faulkner nodded, and produced the envelope. Wrinkled and worn from spending too much time in too many firefights, and still tinged brown from the near brush with oblivion. He held it out to her.
“Johanes wanted this delivered to you in the event of his death.”
She studied the envelope, as if it were a weapon of massed destruction, and then tentatively reached out and plucked it from his hand. He nodded, and went to leave when she reached out to stop him.
“Please stay a moment,” she said, “while I read the letter. I don’t know how I’ll react, and I may need help getting inside.”
He nodded. It was the least he could do for the wife of his friend of nearly three decades.
A stiff wind blew as she opened the letter and removed its contents. She unfolded the page, and read. Her eyebrows curled, and smile crossed her face, and a laugh echoed from her lips. She clutched the letter to her chest, and her eyes went far away to a happier time and place. She closed her eyes and took adeep breath.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “You can go now. Take care of yourself.”
“I will Everest,” he replied.
Then he turned and walked away.
As Faulker walked away, Everest looked again at the letter with but a single word, “Whoops.” She closed her eyes again, and let her memories take her back to the memory invoked by that single word, and the magnitude it had on her life.
It had been a simple day- raining as all good days seemed to be- and she had been out and about getting groceries. Her arms full, she had been walking down street over a small foot bridge when one of the bags had come loose in a strong wind, and fallen over the side. She had tried to grab the bag, and in so doing had dropped the other over the edge as well. She leaned over the edge- the foot bridge being nearly forty feet over the ground below- and watched helplessly as the bags headed toward the ground. She didn’t have a chance to utter a warning to the two men walking out from under the bridge at that moment, and watched in horror as the bags seemed to fall- with their canned goods and fresh produce- toward their heads.
The bags missed the men by inches, shattering themselves onto the pavement below directly at their feet. The two men looked up, saw her looking down, and surprise and anger contorted their faces.
“What’s with it, lady,” one asked.
“You could have killed us,” said the other.
“Whoops,” came a strong voice from beside her. “Sorry about that. I mistakenly bumped her trying to get by. Are you alright?”
“Retard,” said the one.
“Asshole,” said the other.
And they continued on their way.
She looked at the man- and in less than the time it took her to fully take him in- fell headlong into his bright green eyes. They stood out against his dark complexion, and seemed to say “I’ve got your back” and “I like you” in one glance. The rest became a family, and a frustrating life married to a man with a desire to protect everything and who was seldom home- but when he was home, he was perfectly present.