Title: Personal Effects
Summary: Tying up the loose ends.
Spoilers: God, I hope not...
Categories/Warnings: Angst-o-rama. Character death.
Disclaim: Rich Americans own this, not me. Litigation me would be kind of pointless as I have no money. Hah! Dictionary definitions from the ikkle tiny Collins Gem.
Feedback/Archive: ...would be ever so lovely.
Etc: From the LD Challenge in a Can words: British - Tragic - Sheets. Beta'd by the fabtastic Taryn Eve, random bits of spelling by the lovely/scary kbk.
The Captain made her go over the letter before he sent it. The first of its kind he had had to dispatch from this ship, and he'd panicked about getting something wrong, a word that would sound insensitive to someone British. He'd worried about cultural misunderstandings. He didn't want to make things any worse, he'd said.
So Hoshi had been the first to see it. She had taken it to read on her own, to check the intonation with solitude and a mug of steaming coffee. She'd always hated other people seeing her get upset about things. She didn't want them to think that she was weak.
The wording was fine, she'd said the next day and he had taken the letter from her hands and nodded, stared at it for a few moments. She'd turned to go, to give him some time alone. Silently, she had turned on her heel and headed to the door.
"I was supposed to keep him safe, Hoshi," he said, and she didn't turn round.
She'd kept going, stepped through the doorway, out into the empty corridor. Because what could she have said that he didn't already know?
Dear Mr and Mrs Reed...
The room is already half-empty (not half-full, never half-full) when she arrives. The reminders are gone from the walls and the desk has been cleared of what last week was "his stuff" but is now labelled "personal effects".
Personal effects. Hoshi rubs a finger over the red sticker on the box by the chair. It feels cool, and clinical. 'Personal Effects' it says, and the container it marrs is sealed and stamped and dated. Personal: adjective; individual or private. Effect: noun; change or result caused by someone or something.
Someone will come in the morning to finish the cleaning up, but not before Hoshi has done her share, made her gesture.
Dear Mr and Mrs Reed, I regret that it is my duty to inform you...
Hoshi pulls the dark blue sheets from the bed, carelessly, letting them drag the pillow along till it drops to the floor. She tugs at the edges of the bed, where the sheets resist her - hospital corners, how very Malcolm.
The starched cotton is stripped from the bed, leaving it bare. It makes her think of laundry day, the mattress exposed to the elements until new linen arrives. Waiting for him to come home.
...inform you that your son, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed...
She could just scrunch the sheets up into a bundle, she knows, but she wants to fold them. Malcolm would have folded them.
She takes a corner in each hand and stretches the first sheet out. The air grazes the fabric and the smell of detergent drifts towards her. She tries to hold her breath, in case she breathes him in and kills him again. She folds the sheet once, twice. She has never taken so much care over neatness in her life.
...your son, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was killed...
The letter will go with the personal effects, but these sheets will be taken and incinerated and then this room will be as if no one has ever lived within it. In time, someone else will be assigned these quarters. A gradual, unacknowledged, healing process.
Some day, she thinks, it will seem as though he always existed in the past tense and she will have friends that never met him and stories about places he never saw. Some day it will hurt less to think about him. In time, she knows, a wound will heal and be replaced by a line of paler skin that says "This happened once, do you remember it?"
...killed two days ago in an engineering accident...
As she folds the second sheet she thinks about dust mites and allergies. She thinks about clean sheets and warm beds, of things that might have been but never were. She remembers sunshine.
The sheet is folded far too quickly, her task nearly over so soon after she began. She tries to slow down her movements. She spends a full minute fussing over the exact arrangement of one folded sheet on top of another.
...accident. Arrangements have been made...
She picks up the fallen pillow, ready to prise the linen from the padding. As I lay me down to sleep... The task is half-completed when she drops the pillow, startled by a strand of hair.
She thinks about DNA and the things that make people unique; a gene here, a chromosome there. She thinks about all the cells that fall from her body every day, of all the traces that prove where she has been and what she has touched.
...arrangements have been made to return his body to Earth...
She thinks about the letter. The standard, composed from a template. The solemn explanation of procedure. This is what has happened, this is what will happen. Here is the way things are now.
She dwells on the personal elements, the parts about emotions. The almost-comfort.
...We, his friends and crewmates, are deeply sorry...
She picks up the pillow once again, and almost tears the cotton cover from it. She folds the cover in half and places it on top of the carefully arranged sheets. She takes the pile of linen into her arms.
...sorry for your tragic loss. Our thoughts...
Hoshi crosses her arms over the folded sheets, holding them to her chest. She stands in the doorway, glances around the bare cabin one last time. She blinks once, and switches off the lights.
Our thoughts are with you in this time of sorrow.