The Ceremony (Pt 3 Finale)

((Missile Control, MNS Archangel)

The bosun whistle sounded its shrill call, drawing attention forward. The assembled gave him his attention as he stared out among them.

"Duty," he began, speakers projecting his voice for those who were not nearby or were watching through the Net. "Honor. Sacrifice. These are the words by which we sworn into service with. These are the words that ring triumphant when others hear of our great Mandate. And yet, it is these words that ring hollow when presented to loved ones; these words that offer nothing except solace in meaning.

"We know of what these words mean to us, for we are the Mandate. But the human in us is not a stamped machine that performs regardless of pain. It is a treasured item, which none can testify against that it is what makes us all strong. And strong we shall be. Davies, Woodstrom, von Braghn, Cobbler, these men and women were strong with that human spirit in the face of the inhuman, the forbidden, and hunted. It was against these foes that these men and women gave their lives so we may be here today.

"We shall remember their spirits and the memories they brought us. Today, we honor them not only as the heroes they deserve to be, but as loved ones whom have made the ultimate sacrifice for those they loved. It is our solemn Duty on this day to remain steadfast, it is our Honor that we are here with them to see their final moments, and it is our Sacrifice to let them rest."

The captain looked about the assembled. The crew looked misty-eyed as they respectfully listened. He was not sure if they felt the loss in those words but he said what had to. He would not cry for he could not. He would not lament, for he could not. He was the captain, the closest to God many were able to get. It was not a comfy title but one that was a heavy burden. He was the foundation of calm.

"As we commit our fallen to space, we must remember. The dreams of yesterday are the hopes of today and the reality of tomorrow. Let us continue the hopes and dreams of those who could not finish theirs."

He bowed his head, as did the assembled. There was a single, sixty-second silence that seemed to encompass the ship before he Linked a command to the pallbearers. They began to fold the flags that covered each casket, placing it into containers that would be shipped to the homes of the fallen and laid in the tearful hands of those few who were there to receive it.

It took twenty minutes for the process to finish as the caskets were loaded into the ortillery tubes. A sob arose somewhere in the crowd, the source stifling it before it could be heard again. With one final look that was heavy with what he had done to be here, Captain Wei Peng Linked his command.

"Attention!" Came the call. A symphony of feet came together as backs straightened. "Present... ARMS!" Peng pivoted immediate left and raised his hand to his brow. The bagpipes slowly wound up as they saluted.

The thuds of the tubes emptying reverberated with a seemingly ominous sound. One by one, all thirty-three caskets left the drive envelope and became one of the many twinkles of the stars. It was not until the final notes of the song faded that the next order rang loud.

"Rest arms!"

Peng lowered his salute crisply. "Assembled, dismissed."

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