The pallbearers carried out the coffin to the center of the grassy area. Dr. Louef assisted them, as the members of Site 118’s Gamma Wing slowly filed into the audience, dressed in respectful mourning black. Father Richards walked up to John, and gave another tired, but reassuring smile. He walked out, and led the audience in a prayer for Schenck’s soul. Louef noted that most stood respectfully during the process, but few actually joined in. This was as far as the Foundation usually went in the religious side.
After the prayer was finished, Father Richards took his place off to the side, while Louef walked up to the available and familiar podium. He wondered how many times he had been up there already. He shook his head to clear himself of such thoughts, and began his speech.
”We are gathered here today to honor the memory of one of our dear friends and colleagues, Containment Team Gamma-502's leader, Max Schenck.”
“Alright. I’ll…I’ll record it immediately. Thank you for the news.” Dr. John Louef hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. He felt tired. So very, very tired.
It had been a long time coming. Everyone knew that Containment Team survival rates were abysmally low in certain theaters, but no one really acknowledged the fact, as if recognizing death would hasten it.
John wearily opened the filing cabinet by his desk, and searched for the file he wanted. Max Schenck, Senior Containment Specialist. As he opened the file, he looked at the first page. A long list of awards and qualifications adorned the list, along with a series of promotions and major events. But John already knew of these things. What his eyes were drawn to was the photo of a smiling, confident man in his 30s, a man whose demeanor showed the experience of his years without the sag of old age and fatigue.
Louef crossed out the photo, and stamped the file with a marker saying “DECEASED.” He submitted a short form to the Logistics Department, and then he put away the file of his best friend for the last time.
“Hello, John. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
“I get the feeling that you say that to a lot of people.”
Father Richards had a taut smile on his face as Dr. Louef walked into the small on-site chapel. As usual, the chapel was empty of personnel. Most people who worked at the Foundation had lost their faiths years ago.
“Few come in here. Some of the younger personnel, and occasionally someone who needs a confessional. Have you decided to return to the church?” Richards smiled inquiringly, and perhaps a little hopefully.
Louef grimaced. “Not quite. Max passed away. Mission.”
Father Richards sighed, and turned away for a moment. “It seems that funerary services are all I do nowadays. Max…oh Max.” Father Richards went into his personal quarters, leaving Louef alone.
John sat down and looked around the chapel. It featured the same austere and practical design found in any Foundation facility, though Father Anthony Richards had taken the time to place crosses and icons around the small area. Most of the time, Father Richards was here alone, keeping the small chapel clean and tidy by himself as a few personnel trickled in.
In all of John's 15 years at the Foundation, he had never seen more than 5 people in the chapel at once. Yet Father Richards seemed to tirelessly work and give a smile or prayer when needed. Dr. Louef looked up as Father Richards emerged.
“Father Richards…why do you still work here?” Louef asked.
Richards seemed to be surprised by the question at first, but he smiled. “Because God put me here to do His work.”
“How do you still believe in God, even after all that you’ve seen, and all that you know of our work?”
“I believe that God is inherently unknowable. He works in mysterious ways, and why He has chosen to challenge us with the monsters and horrors that we deal with is unknown. It is merely our duty to defend others and defeat them.” Richards said simply.
John paused to consider that for a moment, and then stood up. “Let’s be on our way then.”
Dr. Louef looked across at the entire audience. The various personnel of Gamma Wing listened as Dr. Loeuf gave his eulogy. All told, 87 personnel divided across 5 research teams, several guards, and assorted containment team members listened to the departmental director’s speech.
”Max was a great man and soldier. In the field, he was always calm, and led his team through success after success. A true professional, he never lost sight of the mission or his duty as an operative of the Foundation.”
Louef glanced at the audience in between his careful reading. The members of Schenck’s team were seated in the front row. One of them had her head in her hands. Another stared at the casket, seemingly numbed by the whole event. A third had crossed her arms, and kept her head down as Louef spoke.
”Containment Team Gamma-502 had been sent on a mission to Laurel Ridge State Park to capture an anomaly that had caused large amounts of property damage through its action. The anomaly in question was capable of self-detonation. Unfortunately, none of us knew that.”
This part was the easiest to get through. Across the audience, friends of Max Schenck quietly mourned, while others stayed respectfully silent. By this point, the woman with her head in her hands had looked up. Some tears were on her face as Louef continued.
”When the anomaly began to show signs of potential detonation, Max demonstrated the utmost professionalism and regard for safety that all of us admired in him. Pushing aside a teammate, he shielded his team from harm by covering the anomaly with his own body.”
At this point, the woman in the front had her head in her hands again, as she convulsed slightly. The man sitting next to her grabbed her shoulder reassuringly, whispering, “Quiet now, Maddy. It wasn’t your fault.”
”Out of the field, everyone who had the privilege of knowing Schenck experienced his genuine warmth and kindness. Always caring to the new personnel, always the cool head in any situation, and always a friend to all. Including me.”
Louef’s research assistants in the left section who had gotten to know Schenck from his numerous returns of captured anomalies were quietly emotional in the atmosphere of the funeral. The senior researchers in the back corner who had known Schenck for years from his long experience with the Foundation were stony-faced.
Louef stopped, and swallowed the ball that had suddenly formed in his throat. This was always one of the hardest parts to get through. He closed his eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. He gripped the corners of his podium tightly.
”I had the honor of meeting Max when we both came to work here within days of each other. I remember his tenacity in the face of odds, and the creative attitude that got him promoted to team leader. We knew each other for almost 20 years, and I called him a friend for all of them.”
John swallowed again, despite himself. He was more emotional than he thought he would be. He thought that he would’ve lost the ability to care by now. ”I am proud to say that the request for a Foundation Star to be awarded to Max has been granted by the site director. His meritorious service to the Foundation during his long and decorated career is one that we have known quite well. Yet, I think that Max would not be concerned with his award. He would be more proud of his team, and the numerous accomplishments that he made with them.”
This was another easier part to get through. The woman in the front had finally calmed down, and merely sat quietly, her eyes puffy and red. Her teammate had uncrossed her arms, but had closed her eyes, and leaned her head back.
”We lay him to rest today, because he had no family. His life was the Foundation, and he was one of our finest. He was the best team leader, the greatest friend, and a titan of a man. We will miss him dearly.”
The members of his team now stood up and walked past the coffin. They gave it a touch, and laid flowers across the casket. Other close friends filed past and paid their respects. Finally, when the line of people had passed, Dr. Louef himself walked to the casket, across the now standing audience, and laid one final wreath across the lid of the closed casket. Gamma-502 gave their team leader one final salute as Dr. Louef lowered his head and murmured quietly.
“God my Father, protect this lost son of yours and brother of mine. Let him rejoice in Your kingdom, so that he may finally be at peace. Amen.”
Father Richards nodded approvingly at Louef, before reciting a prayer of his own.
Then the assorted members of Gamma Wing sat down, once again in respectful silence. Dr. Louef sighed, and set his shoulders tightly. He walked back to his podium, in front of rows and rows of caskets, some adorned with wreaths, and most without.
This was the hardest part.
”We are gathered here today to honor the memory of one of our dear friends and colleagues, Emily Hartford…”