From Harvest to the Ark

I Chapter Ten: Full Honors

February 17, 2525 (Military Calendar) \
Harvest, Epsilon Indi System

An old man wearing an ornate kilt played a large set of bagpipes, filling the Utgard Military Cemetery with its grating tones.

I stood at attention with the rest of Bravo, watching Byrne and Johnson solemnly retrieve the UNSC flag draped over Scotty Lowell's coffin.

Johnson held one end of the flag while Byrne folded it into perfect triangles.

When finished, Byrne gave the flag to Lowell’s mother, along with his dog tags.

He said something to her, but I couldn’t hear.

She took the flag without a word, ashen-faced.

Johnson and Byrne marched to Osmo’s coffin, next in line, retrieving the flag and folding it.

Osmo was in First Platoon, so Johnson took the flag to his family. He saluted Osmo’s grandfather, who wore a dusty old UNSC Marine Corps dress uniform.

Werner’s flag was next. Byrne gave it to a younger sister.

I didn’t know the names of the remaining five deceased. Trained with them for nearly two months, and I didn’t know their names.

I didn’t really socialize with anyone outside my squad.

The families of the remaining deceased had mixed reactions to the flags. Some wept, some hardened with rage, others gave no outward expression.

After handing off the ninth and final flag, Johnson and marched off to the side and stood at attention behind Captain Ponder.

The Captain still didn't look well. He’d been discharged from the hospital only yesterday, after surgeons patched him up and stabilized him.

Ponder gave a single nod, signaling for the bagpipes to stop playing.

As the caskets began to descend, Captain Ponder called for attention.

We stood ramrod straight, our heels snapping together.

The Captain stepped back and nodded to Byrne.

"Present arms!" the Staff Sergeant bellowed to the honor guard.

Critchley and the squad leaders held their rifles vertically in front of them.

The rest of us planted our own rifles butt-first onto the ground, holding them steady with our left hands while our right hands snapped to our foreheads in a salute.

Captain Ponder, Byrne, Johnson, and Osmo's grandfather saluted as well.

Everyone else removed their hats.

"Fire!" Byrne commanded.

The honor guard fired three rounds into the sky at steady intervals.

"Stand at rest," Byrne ordered, stepping back to his place behind Captain Ponder.

The honor guard lowered their rifles. We ended our salute.

The rest of the funeral lasted only another few minutes, and then it was over.

The crowd dispersed. Some left to go home, others remained at the graves.

Captain Ponder and the Staff Sergeants herded us onto a bus. Within minutes, we were speeding down the Gladsheim Highway towards home.

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