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Interlude Thirty-seven, Funeral for a Friend

It was eerily quiet in the main banquet hall of St. Christopher's Cathedral in d owntown Port Alexander, the largest church in the city. In about three hours it would be filled to capacity with friends, loved ones, and other dignitaries to honor the life...and tragic death...of Alexander Nicholas known to the world as the super-hero known as Sting.

That was one of the harder parts of dealing with all this, Lorelei thought to he rself...handling the business aspects of her father's death. The will her fathe r left was clear cut - the majority of his fortune was left to her, with a sizab le donation written in for the Jones Street Mission, but the most interesting as pect was the 90% ownership stake in the Dutchmen left to her (in a codicil only weeks before, 10% had been bequeathed to his fiance, Marie following their engag ement). She had a time convincing the board of directors of the team that she h ad absolutely no intentions of selling the franchise, but she also knew that she 'd have to get some help in order to keep the business running.

There was also team business that kept her busy - she was training Karen and the rest of Team Defender on the basics of how the Fortress computers ran so that t hey would be able to fill in capably during her leave of absence. She thought f or a moment back to the night Defender had called the meeting at his private hea dquarters, when he told the team about her dad's death. As everyone left, only she, Defender, and his wife Mara were left when she told him. "I have to leave the team for awhile." she said. And that was all that needed to be said.

She stared at the casket, currently closed. IPAC assured everyone that Sting's body had been stripped of the ambient radiation suffered when the miniturized Kr ai generator exploded, saving the city at the expense of his life. Exactly the way a hero should go, if they go.

Lorelei always had a feeling that someday this would happen. She understood wh y her father did what he did, especially after her mother...his wife...died beca use of his "other career". She had done everything she could to support him, le arning more about computers and how to navigate over, under, around and through them to help him in his work. Joining the Protectors as their major domo was a continuation of that, and it has helped her grow immeasurably.

Ultimately, however, she knew she'd trade it all for one more minute with her fa ther. Or at the least, to have been there when he died.

The weeks were a whirlwind after that team meeting - balancing what little resea rch on Saruva she could cobble together with trying to coordinate the funeral. Mayor Adams insisted on a ceremony befitting a hero, and in truth many dignitari es - from government, from the sports world, the aristocrats he had met while da ting Marie, even the Round Table - would be there today. She also knew that peo ple from the Beggar Nation might come, and made it clear to Max they would be we lcome. All who would be attending were given a special coded security om Mayor Adams to the delegation from Max's people...and were told to honor that pass, regardless of their personal appearance.

She had also, the night of his death, sent an encoded subspace message to M'Krel l's people to inform her and Ka-Sador of what had happened. She knew they would never be able to return to Earth for the funeral, but wanted them to know not o nly of Sting's passing, but that the Krai presence on earth was defeated due to his sacrifice.

She opened the casket. Most of the body was a charred husk, but enough of Sting 's face and torso remained that they had placed it in a clean costume, allowing, at least on the surface, an open viewing. Tears streamed...for the first time since the night she had found she touched the emblem on his chest. "To o soon." she thought..."Too damn..."

The thought stopped as she felt a surge of energy pulse through her body. Her e yes glazed over and she slumped down to the ground, unconscious.

Defender had been seeing to the final arrangements outside the viewing hall. He squirmed in his suit and straightened his mask one time too many.

"Boss, stop it," Karen chided him. "You are going to tear it and upset Jill. Then I'll have to kick your ass."

Defender forced a smile. "I think that would be the worst thing that could happen to me today. Where's Lorelei? She said she only needed a few minutes. I'd like to do a quick walk through just to make sure everything it okay."

"I'm sure all the flowers are in order. Oh, you mean safety issues. Those IPAC guys already did a bomb sweep and are currently checking all the people coming in. You aren't going to see anything they didn't."

"It makes me feel useful, Karen. Like I ... It would have been me, Karen. It would have been me dealing with the reactor if Sting had followed procedures. It would be my body in that sealed coffin instead of his." Defender sat down on the bench by the door. "I've always known there was a risk something could happen to me. It is hard to deal with when it is your friends paying the price. I've lost Ka-Sador, Wanderer, and now Sting. Max is as good as lost. I can't imagine what Lorelei's going through."

"Which is exactly why you need to pull yourself together for the next two hours," Karen said as she sat down next to Defender. "You are the strong one now. You have to be strong for her. You have to be strong for Port Alexander. You have to be strong for the Protectors." She turned his face so he was looking her in the eye. "You have to be strong for us too. For Jill and Ichi and Hunter. For me. For Mara."

Defender gave Karen a hug. "Thank you."

"Glad to know I can still kick you in the ass when you need it." Karen said. "Okay ... need to ... breathe now."

"Lets go check on Lorelei," Defender said.

They walked into the viewing hall. Defender saw the casket lid up and no sign of Lorelei. He looked around quickly. By the door sat a small bag left by the IPAC security detail. It contained a few items they felt would be necessary to have on hand during the funeral. Defender, Alden Bryce, knew the clicking sound coming from within all too well.

"The Geiger counter is registering radiation. Karen, get out of the room. Signal Wilkins and the Team."

The two separated. Defender raced toward the coffin and gasped. He slammed it shut as he bent to check on the prone form of Lorelei.

With a couple of quick checks, Defender ascertained that there was still a pulse and Lorelei was still breathing. After a minute, Lorelei began to gain conscio usness. "Oooooh...that smarts." She looked at Defender. "Ald...Defender?" she said. "What happened? I"

"What happened? You tell me. We, er I, found you passed out," Defender said.

"Oh." Lorelei's mind began to defog. "I had touched Dad's chest...and then I w as hit with something...hard. I think I'm OK now, but I feel...different."

"It was probably static electricity generated by the movement of the casket and contents. You touched him and it discharged into you. But you should be careful because of the radiation danger," Defender said.

"No, it wasn't the Krai radiation." Lorelei said matter of factly. "IPAC certi fied Dad as having only light traces that would be harmless to be around. Other wise the body wouldn't be here. No, it was something else. In any event, thing s are going to be starting soon. I'll let you labrat me to your hearts content - after the funeral."

"I'll run a med scan on you, but I'm no medical doctor. You'd be better off seeing your family doctor for this sort of thing." The two walked around toward the front door. "And don't believe IPAC. There is no such thing as a harmless level of radiation."

As start time approached and people began to arrive, the order of events were pr esented. The church choir would lead everyone in a couple of hymns before Archb ishop MacDougale would give the opening remarks. From there there would only be three speakers - Mayor Adams, who in addition to knowing Sting professionally h ad known Alexander Crosby personally as a friend and supporter; Defender and fin ally Lorelei. From there, those that wished to pay last respects could do so be fore those taking part in the motorcade (only a certain number of friends or fam ily plus necessary security) to the airport. Final remarks would be given there before Lorelei escorted her father to the family gravesite in West Virginia for interrment.

Soon various people began to arrive at the church. Among the first was Merlynne , who embraced Lorelei upon seeing her. She had only known Sting for a short ti me, but she felt for Lorelei, who had to see another parent die before their tim e. After what she had gone through with Arthur, she could relate to, if not ful ly understand, the sense of loss.

Flex looked about the packed Church with the many people who had come to pay their last respects. It felt all wrong to be here, Sting and heroes like him just aren't supposed to die. Its bad guys, guys that should end up being wept over by doting mothers. Ahead he saw Lorelei, he knew she needed the strength of her friends now and so he pushed back his own awkwardness and moved ahead to let her know he had come.

When it came right down to it, he had no words. He and Sting had not hit it off in the best possible manner, but ended up becoming friends. Mentor and mentee. Flex enjoyed the short time they had, had to train on new routines but now that was all gone. It was as final and finished as could be and only a cold and empty space remained where once Sting occupied a welcome place in the Protectors lives as a team together.

Moving over to Lorelei Flex attempted a few words, but decided against it. He simply moved to offer her a hug. A guilty pleasure, as much to stop her seeing how uncomfortable he was as well as to offer some measure of support.

Then he went a took his place.

Star Lad swept in and reached to his belt to double check on his tape recorder stored there. He hated missing out on covering the funeral as part of the Press, but felt his access as a superhero would afford him greater coverage. Was he wrong to think of the event as news and not for the sad occasion it was? He shook the deep thoughts off and walked up the aisle with MidKnight to pay his respects. Sting was their first big client, trusting in their fledging business and giving it immediate legitimacy. For that he would always be remembered and revered, not to mention the respect that came with the trust shown. Star Lad learned much from the veteran, never to learn any more. Wiping a tear from under his mask the cosmic-powered hero paid his deep respects to Lorelei.

There was a hubbub at the door from the press as a handfull of players for the Dutchmen arrived: Quarterback Barry Franklin, Runnning Back Ric Leaf, Wide Receiver Jerry Omaha and Free Safety Cigna Jackson. Behind them, and drawing less attention came Hayden Janks the C-Dome's security manager and Coach Dylan Dermot.

Dermot came to the front and spoke quietly to Lorelei for a moment, indicating with a gesture that he spoke for all the guys. The sports icons lined up and made mumbled comments to Lorelei, except for Jackson who both had more to say about what a good man Crosby had been and said it better - the acting classes he was taking for his new endorsement commercials had given him more self-assurance.

Janks was last, shaking Lorelei's hand before pulling her into a hug. "We knew he was a great man," he whispered, "we just didn't know how great."

Outside the cathedral, Siberian Star stood atop a nearby building. He stood stoically watching both limousine and taxi pull up, many of the people of Port Alexander walked up carrying flowers crying. With a heavy sigh the Russian, scanned the streets astounded by the traffic, then entire city seemed to be in mourning. "Somewhere there is joy," he said aloud with a bitter taste in his mouth, "and that is why I am here and not there." Evil does not take a day off to remember the dead, they plot and plan. He floated upward as his bootjets whirred, "Today I protect the city alone, tomorrow we begin again...together."

	*		*		*		*
The organist finished the Bach fugue and the hall fell silent. Kent Friedrich, the choirmaster rose and directed everyone to their programs which listed the hymns to be sung.

The choir led the way, and the guests joined in as their talents and inclinations moved them. After two hymns in that fashion, the choir performed a more complicated piece alone, and then Archbishop MacDougale stepped forward.

"There are few words of comfort one can provide at a time like this," he began. "A man has been taken from us; too soon, too soon we say. But this man, Alexander Crosby, is not gone so long as we remember him. And he lives on, in perfect hope of resurrection. On that day, all shall rise and we shall meet again. But that is a matter of faith and future," the Archbishop smiled kindly. "Let us speak now of the present. For Alexander is at peace, for him all trial is done. Those who remain have the harder task of carrying on without him. Let us therefore celebrate his life rather than mourn his death! Heed now the words of those who knew him."

The Archbishop yielded to Mayor Rick Adams.

dams adjusted his notes, displaying the calm assurance that had led him to victory in the mayoral race, then started to speak. "I knew Alexander Crosby, and I knew Sting. Looking back, I wonder that I didn't know they were the same man. Crosby was a fighter. He came to town with a plan to make the Dutchmen into a top flight NFL team. He was ready to do whatever it took to make that happen. Sting was the same way. Sting made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this city, this country and - who knows? - this planet safe. The book of John, Chapter 15, verse 13, reads, ''Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'' Sting laid down his life for all of us. Alexander Crosby died fighting for you, for me, for all of us. The city will never forget."

Adams concluded with an anecdote from Crosby's early days in the city that had everyone chuckling, and then he stepped down. The Archbishop again took the podium. He led a short prayer, and then said, "Our final speaker is Alexander Crosby's daughter, Lorelei." He gestured her to the podium and stepped aside.

Lorelei, still a little shaken by the earlier event but in a way that could easi ly be construed as grief, walked to the podium. She took a deep breath before s peaking.

"I don't think anyone in this room can call the experience of the death of a lov ed one particularly pleasant. Imagine having to deal with the death of the sam e loved one twice.

"I was 15 years old when I watched a news report on Christmas Day that told me m y father was presumed dead, crushed in the fall of Peacekeeper Headquarters. Th e pain, the grief, the anger, it nearly overwhelmed me at the time. When my fat her - known at that time as Aftershock - returned home alive, I was grateful. However, I never forgot those feelings, and in part they returned every time I h ave seen my father enter battle since that time.

"He retired from the hero business, but it never left him. When we moved to Por t Alexander, you should have seen the gleam in his eye. Football was his focus, how the world saw him. Saving lives was his passion.

"When my mom died, for a while I was all he had. That also changed in Port Alex ander. He found other heroes to save lives with. It was different than with th e Peacekeepers. My father was very proud of his time there, but they were his c o-workers. The Protectors - they were his family, and by extension, mine.

"No one has ever accused my father of being a Mensa candidate, and he would be t he first to say that. He was geared for battle, and he left the other intangibl es that were a part of what we do to Defender." She nodded at Defender and smil ed warmly. "But the biggest strength one can have as a leader is to know exactl y how all parts of a team fit within the team so that they can maximize their po tential. Defender knew my father perfectly, and helped him to grow as a man and a hero more in the last several months than in his 10 year career as a paranorm al champion. I'm not sure if he ever thanked you privately for that, but I than k you publicly.

"My father, I'm sure, is standing proud in the afterlife knowing that the work h e started here will be finished. The Dutchmen will continue, and thrive, and be strong. The Protectors will continue, and thrive, and be strong. Sting may ha ve taken the bullet, but it was the team that saved this city, and he wouldn't h ear otherwise.

"We miss him. *I*.." she paused, choking for a moment on the emotion, "miss him . Terribly. My life, and our lives, will go on with a sense of emptiness for n ot having him with us anymore. But our lives will continue...and thrive...and b e strong, so long as we continue to face the challenges, the joys and the fears that we face every day as members of our families, of this city, and of this wor ld, as my father always did...smiling, with eternal confidence that in the end, justice and honor will be truly served.

"Thank you for being here to honor his life and memory today. The best way for all of you to do that, however, is to honor him with your lives, in what you do every day. Do whatever it is you do with honor, for all of us, in our own patch of the world, is a hero to someone. Be that hero. My father was, is, and alwa ys will be...mine.

Lorelei stepped down from the podium and took her seat in the front row, next to Defender.

For a short while, the only sound was soft swish of the Archbishop's robe as he made his way up to the podium. "Let us pray."

	*		*		*		*
The recieving line was long and Lorelei was haggard by the time it was done. Defender was the last one to go, he stopped near her.

"I think your father would have been proud of the strength I see in you now," Defender said. "He will be missed by so many. Take as much time away from the team as you need. I'll see that Team Defender treats the system kindly while you are away. And if you need anything at all, don't hesitate."

Lorelei could only nod. "Keep things safe. I will be back."

Last Updated 5 January 2005