“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.”
Winters’ electronically amplified words echoed out over the frosty moor – over row upon row of sombre, silent figures, a regimented sea of black.
“Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.”
The morning was cold, washed with the low, grey light of a sun not yet risen. A weak fog trickled through the grass, licking at the ankles of the assembled but held back by the heat of hundreds of bodies. There was no rain today. The sky stood blue and open, completely cloudless – though whether the result of good fortune or a weather-controller, Matt couldn’t say.
“When the first light breaks the darkness, and in the twilight.”
The rows were arranged in order of importance, with relatives, dignitaries and the Ashes at the front, and then Senior Acolytes behind them. Matt’s place was in the very back. He had to crane his neck in order to catch a glimpse of proceedings.
“We will remember them.”
“WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.”
The black-clad crowd echoed Winters’ words, and from its head the man bowed his own in silence. To Winters’ left, a long-nosed woman Matt recognised as the state’s governor stood in equally sombre colours and contemplation; to his right stood Captain Dawn, golden gloves clasped in front of him, golden cape brushing lightly on the ground, the only one not wearing black. Even from this distance, seeing him for the first time Matt understood Jane’s infatuation. Stone-faced and silent, broader and taller than Winters by half, the Captain was every inch the figure of a hero – a legend given life, a god in mortal form. Even without moving or speaking, power and authority seemed to radiate from him in waves. Although Winters led the service, not a single eye ever wavered far from Dawn.
“Evil,” uttered Winters, no longer from verse, “Does not discriminate. It does not hesitate. It does not waver at the pain it causes, the life it takes. It would inflict every loss upon the world so that it would be advanced a single step.”
He was speaking from atop a small wooden platform, erected no more than a foot high in front of the Memorial so as not to obscure the monument behind. An imposing slab of black granite some twenty feet tall, the Memorial loomed over the assembled crowd, a sombre backdrop to the service, the etched names of the Legion’s lost inscribed over it in white, twisting lines, creeping vines of honoured dead. Those that were meant to be there, those connected to the Legion past or present, stood in stiffly regimented rows before the stage, silent and respectful; but around this black formation floated a swarm of media delegations, abuzz with the clicks and whirr of cameras.
“Let us never forget that loss,” proclaimed Winters, gazing out over the crowd. Down near the front, Matt could see the gigantic figure of James Conrad nodding, his head a full foot above anyone else’s. “Let us never forget those who fought; those who fell; and those hundreds of millions of innocents who needlessly, senselessly died.”
Matt turned his head discretely to his left, glancing down the row at Jane, standing in the very back-most corner. Like many others, her eyes were closed, her head bowed – the black she was wearing a perfect match with her ‘E’. Somehow, they’d become separated in the service’s assembling, but luckily the Acolytes around her seemed to be simply ignoring the empath’s presence. Thankfully too, her position in the left rear corner of the service meant her tattoo faced inwards, rather than outwards to where the media’s hungry cameras swept over everything going on.
“Ten years ago today,” spoke Winters, as the lenses flashed and the crowd stood silent, “Humanity faced its Darkest Day. Evil drove us to the brink, and only the greatest good, in all of us-” he motioned to the immobile figure of Captain Dawn, “-spared us from oblivion. What was lost that day can never be returned, can never be replaced – and must never be forgotten. It is up to all of us, every day, to remember. Humanity endures. The Legion endures. Our memories, our legacy, our good, endures.”
“Lest we forget.”
“LEST WE FORGET.”
“Lest we forget,” murmured Matt.
They stood for several more minutes as Winters respectfully stood aside and allowed the podium to be taken up by the governor, who iterated her own speech of memorial and condolences along much the same lines. Despite trying his hardest to listen, Matt found himself shooting discrete, nervous glances at Jane – checking, he supposed, that she was still alright, although God only knew what he was supposed to do if she wasn’t. Thankfully, few people seemed to even realise she was there.
The governor’s speech ended to polite silence. There was a glance, on her behalf and from Winters, at the statue-like figure of Captain Dawn. Dawn, however, remained unmoving, his hands clasped and his head bowed, a silent statue of gold and white shadowed by a black monolith bearing the names of his fallen friends. After a few seconds, Winters took the hint.
“Stand with us now, in five minutes of silence.”
The first rays of sunlight peaked over the hills.
“Well that was fairly painless,” said Matt. The second the service had ended he’d wormed his way through the dispersing crowd to her side and the two of them had started briskly back towards the mansion. Jane merely nodded, unable to reply. There was a cold around her eyes and a tightness in her chest which prevented all words from coming out, and which she wanted to keep Matt unaware of. Luckily, he seemed pretty oblivious, his head straining left and right surveying the surrounding people.
“Goddamn vultures,” he swore, glancing over his shoulder at one of the camera crews pointed at the stage. A preened blonde woman in a newsreader blouse now stood in front of it with a microphone, no doubt relaying a live update back to audiences at home. “I didn’t realise there was going to be so much press.”
“10 years,” murmured Jane, finding her voice and keeping it level, “Significant anniversary.” She agreed with his sentiment though.
“Poor Captain Dawn,” said Matt. Despite force-marching them both across the grounds, there was genuine sympathy in his voice. “Trying to mourn while there’s a hundred cameras flashing in your face.” He looked behind them at the Memorial. Unbidden, Jane followed his gaze. A herd of a dozen or so reporters had started clambering towards the front of the service, flocking towards the solitary figure of Captain Dawn, unmoved from beside the podium. Even from far away, it was obvious that they were scrambling for an interview, or at least a better shot of the grieving hero.
“No wonder he shuts himself away,” murmured Matt, and Jane nodded in silent agreement. He shook his head in disgust. “Come on, let’s get out of here before they get bored.”
He took her by the arm and started leading her away, and uncharacteristically, Jane didn’t resist. She was still preoccupied, looking over her shoulder at the Captain, all alone on the stage. After a second, Dawn slowly glanced up, and to Jane’s shock and amazement, even though they were almost back at the mansion, the hero somehow seemed to see her, staring back at him across the field. A small, sad, knowing smile crossed his face – nothing more than a greeting, a tiny token of acknowledgement, understanding and maybe thanks – and Jane’s heart leapt. The empath blinked and the moment was gone, the hero looked away – but she knew. He’d looked at her. Her specifically, not around, not just at anyone – her. Just her. She’d seen it.
But she wasn’t the only one.
Fixated on his every move, analysing the slightest change, the reporters and their television crews couldn’t help but notice, not so much following as pouncing the moment Dawn’s gaze moved. Their own eyes followed and an instant later their cameras swung, a dozen lenses twisting in to focus on her fleeting face and fleeing form.
Matt didn’t see. He was still turned, his back to the ceremony, still determined to retreat unnoticed – but Jane knew. It was too late. They’d seen her.
The world knew there was an empath at the Academy.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).