Chapter 4: Rude Awakening
"Your defeat is my victory!"
With a loud echo Carolina is shot out into the dark recesses of her mind. Where am I? All around there was only darkness. How did I get here? Far off in the distance she could make out the shape of a space station. That's right, my fight with that big guy…wait a minute, Wash! She turned to look to her side and found the grey soldier floating still.
"Hey Wash, talk to me!" she shouted, but quickly her voice was silenced in this dark void. Noises which she could hear inside her own helmet seemed to take no effect on the outside. Her breathing got heavy. She looked all around at the darkness and felt its suffocating effects. No, I have to calm down. I can't get worked up like this. Her eyes just then blinked in a realization. That's right, Epsilon help me out here!
She cast out all other thoughts and awaited his response. She waited and waited, but there was no response. Epsilon, are you there? There was still no response. If you are trying to be funny here then you are failing miserably. Come on, show yourself. There was nothing but silence waiting for her. Her eyes widened in slight panic. She fought back the urgency to freak out and looked all around to get a better sense of her surroundings. But like she saw before, they were still in the dark void.
What is going on here? She pondered as she turned to face Wash and activated her jets in his direction. First things first, I have to check up on his condition. Clearly my voice isn't reaching him, so I will just have t- , Carolina froze midway in her thoughts as she came up against an invisible wall. What is this? She felt a certain pressure keeping the two apart. She was only centimeters away from him. She increased the power in her jets to push harder against the wall and it didn't budge nor break.
She felt a growing sense of impatience. I can't afford to waste my time with this crap! She punched the wall hard. There was no sense of pain in her fist and it didn't seem like the punch had any effect either. She continued to hammer away at the wall with all her might, and all that strength was wasted. She looked to her right and shifted spots. The wall was still there. She changed spots again and the wall was still there. Flying back to her original spot, she stared at Wash with great worry. Come on, at least move. Show me that you are still alive Wash.
Carolina's ears perked up at the words. She heard the familiar voice of Epsilon, no it was Church. She turned to see him behind her matching her body size. "Surprised?"
"Church, but you are supposed to be dead."
"Please, you are talking to an AI Fragment here. Death is like just another thing that happened so last week to us."
"So wait, you are actually alive?"
"I'm standing in front of you aren't I?" he asked holding out his arms for her. She could feel her eyes water. No matter how hard she tried to remain focused her emotions began to get the better of her. She flew close to him and in a barrage of questions she asked. "Where were you this whole time and why didn't you say anything?!"
"Jeez, that's the first time I have seen you get so emotional Carolina."
She stopped to look to her right at the Yellow armored soldier. Her fellow freelancer stood before her with his helmet in his hand. His eye still scarred, but his optimism intact. She could feel her lips quiver from the man standing before her. "York?"
"The one and only," he replied resting his helmet against his waist. She flew in close and landed in front of him. Even though he couldn't see it, behind her visor she struggled hard to hold back her tears. Why are they here? How could they be here? Were just some of the questions that plagued her mind. But right now she decided to focus on what was important. "York…"
"Hey now, don't go around saying my name so much. It's embarrassing you know," he replied holding her hand. She let out a gasp at the touch. This feeling was real. He really is here. He is real. York…I can't believe this. "I have so much to tell you York."
"Ugh, can the two love birds please get a room?" asked the familiar voice of South. Carolina turned to see the whole Freelancer crew together. Her family stood all together proudly wearing their armor both as soldiers and individuals who hope to help further humanity. She ran towards them all and saw Tex walk out of the group. Carolina stopped in her tracks to see the black armored soldier walk up close to her.
Carolina was even happy to see Tex still alive. In the shadows, she could make out the figure of her father and the Counselor. Even the director is here? From behind the Freelancer group came the Blood Gulch crew who stood all around them all. Everyone is here. Carolina suddenly started to feel an uplifting sense of happiness.
"Carolina, how could you?" Tex suddenly asked. Carolina turned to look at her with a questionable look. "How could I what?"
"How could you let us all die?"
"What?" and with a flash of light all was laid to rest. The Freelancers all were on the ground in a pool of their own blood. She looked at York to her side and jolted backwards. No, no I don't want to lose them again. "Stay with me York, stay with me all of you!"
"Didn't you make a promise to protect us all?" asked Tucker in his dying breath. She looked all around her with her once happy atmosphere quickly turning to horror. Her eyes began to water in her helmet causing both her vision and visor to blur. Tex walked towards Carolina and bent down by her side. She gently closed York's eyes and glared at Carolina. "You always talked about wanting to be the best and in the end you couldn't protect anyone."
"No, you have it all wrong!"
"Do I? Then what do you call that?!" Tex demanded pointing towards the body of her father. The pistol she left him with was there in his blood, and a bullet wound through the head was evident. "You gave him that pistol after all! You call that protecting?!"
"No, I hated him!"
"But you changed didn't you? And you still gave him the pistol to kill himself with instead of having him repent for his mistakes!"
"It was the right thing to do at the time! Please, no more!" Carolina shouted holding the sides of her head with her hands. Tex forced Carolina to look her way and pointed towards Church. "And you let him go with the others towards his own death."
Carolina looked at Church who was disintegrating into little pieces. Tex shook Carolina violently as she began to spill blood from every opening of the armor. "You let us all die!"
"I- I'm sorry!"
"Sorry won't bring us back! You are no hero Carolina! You aren't the best and you most certainly are not the protector you thought yourself out to be. You are just a weak helpless little child pretending to play soldier!"
"Leave me alone!" shouted the cyan armored woman. Tex suddenly froze and with the last ounce of her blood drained, she dropped dead onto the imaginary ground. Carolina opened her eyes to see all the bodies piled around her. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I couldn't protect anyone in the end. Not even you Church.
She was suddenly in front of Washington's body and saw his visor crack. More panic grew in her mind as she reached out for him and was finally able to touch him. "Wash, stay with m-"
His whole body began to grow cracks all over. Little by little pieces of him began to disintegrate and she backed away in panic. Wash? Carolina drew in closer trying to keep what was left of him from floating away. "Stay with me!"
"You are a real hero Carolina," Tex's demeaning voice echoed all around her. "Unfit to be a soldier let alone keep a promise. And unfit to be cared for and loved by others."
"You are wrong!"
"No, even you yourself believe you are weak," said Tex's disembodied voice with a sudden flash of light exploding from random points all around her.
Carolina drew in deep breaths as her blurry vision cleared. She was faced with a metallic ceiling, a comfortable linen bed sheet covering her body on top of a soft bed and the unwelcomed sharp hospital smell. She looked slowly moved her neck and felt her stiff muscles crackle under the pressure. Where am I? What I just saw, it was all just a dream?
She tried to get up, but much to her displeasure her own body forced her to stay down. A sudden bout of pain shot up from her ribs as she held onto one side. She looked around at the clean open room she shared with many other patients. The doctor in the room took notice of her and approached her with a happy smile. "You are finally up, and just like your friends had described you are already trying to move, quite the fighter you are."
"Who are you?"
"How rude of me, my apologies for the late introduction. I'm the resident doctor of this village, call me Ben," replied the good doctor taking out a pen from his chest pocket and making some notes on the papers attached to Carolina's bed. "It's a good thing your friends got you here when they did. You and a few others were at great risk."
"The others, where are they?"
"Well one is right here," said Ben pointing beside him towards Wash. Carolina could feel her heart almost drop, but rise a little with relief. "But the others are already out of here. I guess like you they couldn't wait to get out of here either. Can't blame them, who would want to stay in a hospital day in and day out?"
"How long have I been here?" she asked.
"Just a little over a week I would wager. I'm quite surprised that you managed to sleep all that time. But I suppose it did your body some good," Ben replied fixing his dark brown hair. Carolina caught streaks of grey in there. From the formation of wrinkles and deep voice, she wagered he would be in his fifties. He caught her curious stare with his dark brown eyes and asked. "Do you have another question?"
"More than I can count right now," she replied taking note of several black collars around the other patient's necks. The doctor told her to get her rest for now, and that he will come by again to answer any other questions she may have. As soon as he left, she looked to her right and picked up Wash's helmet. The large crack in his visor now indicated a scar in their bodies signifying failure. I'm sorry Wash. But at least the others managed to make it out alright.
"Well only some of us did," said Epsilon suddenly appearing beside her. She was surprised to see him take complete form. He was just like he was before, just like Church. She held onto the helmet rubbing her thumb over the crack. Epsilon stared at her deep contemplative face and asked. "What's bothering you?"
"Too much is bothering me. What did you mean by only some of us made it out of that mess?"
"Um well," Epsilon rubbed the back of his head trying to come up with the best explanation. "You see, it seems like the guys were separated. Some got blown out into space, while the others are stuck on the station."
"This is the worst possible situation we could be in right now," Carolina stated putting down the helmet. She tried to stand up but her body wasn't having any of it. She quickly tumbled back down into the bed much to her own surprise. My body feels too weak. How could that guy have been so strong? She pondered remembering back to when she exchanged fists with Pure. His punches carried both speed and weight. She slid herself back into bed and looked towards Epsilon. "How many of us are here right now?"
"Well let's see, we have Sister, Grif, Donut, Simmons and you two. So that makes six out of our group, but there is also Captain Muffins and his crew, so there are quite a lot more here. Oh and speaking of Muffins," said Epsilon quickly disappearing. The good captain approached Carolina's bed and sat down awkwardly. "The doctor told me you woke up. So I thought to grace you with my humble visit scary freelancer lady."
"Gee, I feel so special," she replied sarcastically. He squirmed a little in his seat thinking, if only the pickup guy were here, he could make this less awkward. Carolina turned her eyes up to the ceiling and asked. "Where are we?"
"We are on the planet that was close by the space station, Planet-CV588."
"What is with the black collars around the necks of the other patients here?"
Muffins stopped to looked at them for a moment and saw the same thing he saw outside. "Those aren't just for the patients ja. It seems that everyone on this planet but us and important figures wear them."
"It was a measure implemented by the New Order to ensure the people of the planet don't retaliate against them. If they do, something really bad will happen."
"Bad like what?" she asked unable to imagine anything worse than the pain she is going through right now. Muffins took both his hands and flexed open his fingers as he moved his hands away from his head. "Your head and neck will go boom-boom."
"Is that supposed to be a joke?" she asked unimpressed at his attempt. Muffins shook his head deadly serious and stated. "I and my other useful Muppets, I mean crew gathered this information by interviewing various villagers here."
"Why would this New Order, whatever that is, have to fear these people retaliating?"
"The New Order is basically like the new law around here after the UNSC ja. As for why would they have to retaliate, let's leave that for now and have you focus on getting better," said Muffins as he stood up and took Wash's helmet with him. Carolina stopped him with a firm grip on his arm. "Where are you taking that helmet?"
"To get it repaired so it can be shiny new again. I know just the magic man for the job! Now rest time for you very scary yet attractive freelancer lady."
Hearing that she suddenly let go of his arm and Muffins could feel an arrow going through his heart. Why the sudden rejection?! He pondered with river of tears streaming down his face. He left her alone to rest and think. Just what have we gotten ourselves involved in?