A/N: I know I don't usually do author's notes in the middle of a story, but since the upload schedule may change (even though its not set in stone anyways), I wanted to inform you the readers. My work schedule will change soon (don't know exactly when), so that means that the usual timing of uploading at 5:00 PM will change to something else once I actually get my schedule. The uploading may also become more erratic depending on the time I get for writing out the chapters.

With that out of the way, thank you for your understanding and hope you continue to enjoy the story :).

~ Monty

Chapter 7: Stuff my Face

How did I get here like this? Carolina pondered as she found herself sitting in front of a table with several ingredients laid out on it. Epsilon suddenly appeared beside her and crossed his arm in an annoyed tone. "Then you shouldn't have opened your mouth about wanting to taste more of those cookies. Just when I thought we were free of confinement. Now we are in a new hell, cooking hell!"

"Stop being so melodramatic Epsilon," said Carolina as she reached out for the various ingredients and mixed them together. She stirred rigorously and saw the mixture settle down. The fragment walked all around her with his arms up in the air and his tone frustrated as ever. "Stop being melodramatic you say, but you are just as irritated as I'm Carolina."

"Maybe," she mumbled observing Elsie enter the kitchen. The elderly woman laid out more ingredients on the table alongside some instruments and got to work on creating the dough. "You have to give it a good bashing to make sure the dough rises up splendidly when in the baking process."

She really loves cooking huh, Carolina pondered letting out a carefree smile unbeknownst to her. Elsie noticed and smiled back causing Carolina to fluster a little. Epsilon couldn't help but laugh at the comedy sketch taking place. "What are you getting all embarrassed over?"

"Shut up," she replied logging Epsilon off. He did so reluctantly, but before he went away, he took one last bit of pleasure in her childish behavior. Finally some peace of mind, she thought as she brought over the mix to Elsie. The head chef studied it carefully and deemed it to be a pass. "Great job!"

"It's nothing much," Carolina replied rubbing the back of her head with bright red cheeks. Why do I get so flustered like this around Elsie? Almost like I used to around her, thought Carolina setting the mix aside and helping with the dough. Elsie studied Carolina's armor and asked. "Does it not get uncomfortable being in that all the time dear?"

"It did at first, but sooner or later you just feel like it has become a part of you. If I were to take off my armor now unless I needed to, then I would feel something is amiss with my own body."

"You must have been in the military for a long time then."

"Yes, longer than even I could keep count of," replied the soldier as she set out the dough on the baking tray. She made sure to cut them up evenly and create adequate space between each cookie. Elsie studied the full tray and clapped her hands delighted. "Now we can get to the exciting bit, the cooking of the cookies. The oven is ready, so go ahead and place the tray on the second level."

"Yes, Elsie."

As soon as Carolina opened the oven door, she was hit by a hot gust to the face. She could feel her face warm up under the immense heat pressure. It became slightly harder to breath, but she quickly put the tray inside and gently closed the door behind her. Her nose was once again clear and no longer overwhelmed. She wiped the gloves of her armor clean and looked outside. This planet really is too much of a tragedy.

Elsie approached the soldier from her right and put down the oven mittens. She looked up with a happy smile and said. "I'm sure your friends will be delighted to see your handmade cookies."

"Delighted…," Carolina thought pondering their reactions. "Maybe, I hope so."

"Don't worry, they will be. After all you have put in so much effort into them," Elsie replied cheering Carolina on. "And even more effort than I have seen of any person who hasn't really cooked before."

"Thank you," Carolina replied with her head down deep into a blush. Elsie helped raise Carolina's face and suggested she go outside for a bit. "I will call you once the cookies are done. You have the communicator right?"

"Yes, right here," Carolina held up a small communication device lent to them all on behalf of the village. Carolina stood up and took her helmet. She fastened it around her neck and walked to the main door. She turned back one last time to see Elsie waving to her. She could not help but grin like a child under her helmet. This feeling, so familiar and desired but at the same time quite elusive as to what it is. Perhaps it is simple happiness, or something more. But I guess for now I will just enjoy it for what it is.

Everywhere he looked it was the same dull colors on the buildings. Through some of the windows, he could tell that the people here lived in no luxury. The stares he would get from others around him accumulated to hate, but a controlled sense of hatred. But whenever he would bring up the New Order, then that hate seemed to test the chains of their control ever so viciously. The once stoic and neutral looks would turn to despise. He would wonder what he did wrong, but he would also just as quickly realize his mistake, and that mistake was to bring up the New Order in their conversations.

As he limped along on the street with the aid of his crutch, he looked inside some of the buildings and saw that people here hardly owned anything. If anything, it seemed more like they were the beings that were owned by the New Order. The collars to instill fear of death and silence any rebellion, the drones that would hover overhead the village at specific times to remind them that the New Order is still alive and very much strong. All of this, it was all a game of fear.

Washington stopped to look at a street full of children playing with a ball. He felt a sense of happiness for them. At least it's not all doom and gloomy. Wash looked to his left and saw the good captain approaching. "Captain Muffins, how is your crew?"

"Thanks to the thunder clouds of spite, only our shuttle managed to make it down here where as the rest blew up like fireworks in the sky. Quite pretty to ja, but not so pretty when you see an arm here, and an arm there, all getting fried like an overcooked fish over a campfire."

Okay, glad to see his raging insanity hasn't changed, thought Wash as he turned back to look at the kids. "So simply put, our situation is kind of bad right now."

"We are fucked."

"Thanks for the words of encouragement. Always the optimist," said Wash sarcastically as he found Muffins staring up at the clouds. Washington studied the lightening inside the clouds and asked. "How bad was it getting down here, you know aside from the crew slaughter?"

"Since we are the only ones who made it down safe and sound, I would say very bad. Our lifeboat is also heavily damaged thanks to the hair grazing escapes we made from direct lightning strikes. But even then, the crew didn't escape without injuries. Too bad about Dave biting the dust, he had a fine ass to."

"I'm afraid to ask but how did he die?"

"He got a pole shoved up his ass."

Wash stared blankly at the deranged captain who shook his shoulders. "I'm serious, it was a big, long, girth-"

"Okay I don't need to hear anymore!"

"Metal pole that dislodged from side of the ship when we got struck by one of the lightning bolts," finished Muffins asking what Wash was actually thinking about. Washington turned to walk away in the direction of the lifeboat with Muffins and asked. "So how many of your crew are remaining?"

"Barely half, thank god Private Boyscout and Buttmunch made it out alright. I don't know who else I would have to bicker with then about onboard ship gossip ja."

"How far off till we get to the ship?"

"It's about ten minutes walk, although with your leg it would be about twenty. We made sure to hide it well from plain sight with some help from the villagers here."

"They actually helped? I was under the impression they let us stay reluctantly and would want us out of here asap."

"They do want that, but thanks to that nice old lady, they decided to help us. The young man known as Edwards has been quite useful in repairing some of the onboard ship systems alongside Walters. I think I shall recruit them into the new Reich order once I take over the universe!"

"Yeah, you do that," mumbled Wash as they walked the rest of the way in silence. As soon as they reached the run down garage used to keep the lifeboat into, Wash was left to stare in shock. He slowly walked closer to the ship and reached out.

"Don't touch," said a man's voice easily in his late forties. He walked out from the shadows towards Washington as he removed his grease stained gloves. His black hair was neatly cut short and combed. His black eyes stared into Washington's visor with a smirk. "Not a bad job I did if I do say so myself."

Wash turned around to see the man walk past him slowly. He looked all over the surface and stated. "We just finished applying a coating of a chemical compound that will make it easier for us to change the shape of the lifeboat. I would rather not be that all our work goes to waste."

"Ah yes Walters, here is Agent Washington."

"I gathered that from the helmet, after all I did fix it for him."

"Thank you for that," said Wash offering a hand of gratitude. Walters took the hand into a firm handshake and nodded his head in understanding. "It would suck to be a soldier without the whole set wouldn't it? Plus I had free time. It's not like the New Order has a whole lot of use for me now days anyways."

"Aren't you an architect and an engineer? I figure there would be a lot of use for someone like that," said Wash racking his brain against all the reasons why Walters maybe sitting at home without work. Walters walked back around of the ship and close to Wash. "Now where would you have heard that?"

"I picked up a few things here and there after my discharge."

Walters let out a smirk and nodded his head. "Yes, I am an architect and an engineer. But there is not much use for one whose tasks that he was given have all been completed. All he can do is wait until the next project comes along, which will no doubt be during war time."

"What makes you say that?" asked Wash. Walters turned to look at Muffins who shrugged his shoulders at him. "Don't look at me, I didn't tell him anything about that."

"Looks like the knowledge you picked up on the streets then is incomparable to what is really happening Agent Washington," said Walters as he led the soldier to a seating area. "Currently the New Order has several battleships in production. All of which I was in-charge of as far as the engineering and architectural work goes. You could say I was the team lead in those aspects, so once the plans were completed, naturally I was shoved aside to let the factory workers do the rest."

"I heard about these factories before, something about them being used to refine raw minerals used for various things both on the space colony and in the villages. But most of it was used for the space colony, whereas the villages hardly got anything out of it."

"That bit of knowledge is not wrong," Walters confirmed pouring himself a glass of green tea. "We get the leftover scraps to make use of where as the fuckers up in the space station get to live it large. Ever heard the phrase 'the world isn't fair'? Well this is literally that world."

Walters stirred the tea around a bit and offered a cup to Washington. The soldier politely declined. Walters blew some cool air over his cup and felt the aroma spread around the room. That smells good, just how like she used to make. Walters took a sip and was taken aback by the taste. All those hours of practice were well worth it. He cleared his throat and looked up towards the lifeboat. "So that factory we spoke of. While we are doing this on the down low, as long as everyone cooperates, we should be able to get all the parts we need for that baby right there."

"What happens if you get caught by the New Order?"

"Nothing good," Walters abruptly replied as he took another sip. Wash let out a small sigh from his fatigue and pointed to the ship. "What type of modifications are you making to it?"

"Plan is to help make it stronger, more dynamic and be more protective of its crew to help you fly past the lightning clouds," the older man replied taking another sip from his tea. He looked to his left at the soldier and asked. "What do you think?"

"I think, why are you helping us even if you can get into some serious trouble?"

"Let's just say that the New Order and I don't have a compelling history together. I don't like them, so anyway I can be a pain in their ass subtly is a good thing for me. All of us here considered the possibility that you will just up and leave us here," replied Walters now halfway through the tea. He motioned towards the lifeboat and said. "Whether you help us or not isn't much of a concern to us. We have all learned to live this life of slavery as best we can. I'm just glad to be doing some work again, and work that is not for some slave drivers for a change."

Wash bowed his head surprising Walters. "Thank you for your help. I mean that for all the villagers. Had it not been for any of you, we would have been twenty feet under by now."

Washington left the garage alone only to see Ben waiting outside for him. "I saw you inside chatting with Walters. I didn't think you would be up and walking about like this so soon."

"I couldn't stay inside all day long."

"Heh, Agent Carolina was like that as well. She was just itching to get out no matter what," said Ben recalling all the times she would nearly throw a fit at her predicament. Wash looked at the preoccupied doctor and asked. "How did things get so bad here?"

Ben looked to his side where he saw a disease ridden man curled up on the road. Ben covered his nose and mouth while walking past. He could definitely relate to these individuals, people suffering for no good reason at all. In fact, most of it can be avoided if only the New Order cared. "We let a group of individuals have too much power. I suppose we are partially responsible for letting things get as bad as they have. But that's not to say we aren't exactly unaware of this and completely helpless."


"Let's just say we have a little rebellion of our own growing slowly. Sooner or later we will have a sizeable force to stand up against the New Order."

"What makes you think they can't just activate the collars on their necks and kill them in an instant?"

"We are looking into that. Walters has been particularly helpful, even with all of his alcoholic habits and issues."

"He didn't come off as an alcoholic to me," said Wash looking back towards the garage. Ben shook his head. "Don't let appearances fool you. The poor man has been drowning his sorrows in the bottle practically every night ever since the incident with the New Order. In one of their so called population control methods, he ended up losing his wife who happened to also be pregnant with their child."

Wash stopped for a moment realizing the enormous emotional weight that could have on a man's mind. So it's more than just being a pain in the ass for him. "How does he manage to cope with something like that throughout the day?"

"Who knows for sure? I just know that he cooks things the way his wife used to cook them. I suppose it's a way for him to keep her memory alive. But back to your original question," said Ben looking up at the clouds. "Those clouds I suppose were the beginning of everything that indicated the downfall of our civilization on this planet. To make such a decision as to split us on where we stand against the UNSC, then use that as a point to manipulate the thoughts of others and create a divide that spans between a planet and a space colony is something magnificent on this large scale, but sad to see it be used for this destructive purpose."

"Didn't anyone try to stand up against Equal in the time he was given power?"

"Not really," Ben cleared his throat remembering back to the very first slaughter. "When there was a group at one time, they were easily mowed down by the New Order that had amassed greater numbers and strength through various methods. That was also a time when we didn't have these collars."

"I presume those rebellious actions only played a role in further strengthening the concept of these collars?"

"I wouldn't say that's wrong, but even I don't know for sure," admitted the good doctor as they arrived at the hospital building. He turned to look at Wash's leg and smiled. "Don't overdo it now you hear? I have to get back to work. After all, when is there a shortage of pain and sickness in the villages all across the planet? Hopefully we get to chat again soon Agent Washington."

"Sure doc, thanks for the info," Wash replied seeing Ben walk back into the building. He let out a heavy sigh and pondered. Just what kind of a mind would be so obsessed with revenge that they would be willing to create such a distorted society like this one? To ruin the lives of millions in the process of said revenge.

Simmons hit the ground hard grunting. He could feel his whole body shaken just from the few sets of punches he received. Carolina stretched her arms thinking, that was a good stretch. "Get up Simmons, we are just getting started. We are going to get serious now."

"Get serious? Weren't you already serious when you were beating the crap out of me?"

"That was only me at a novice level," she answered jumping back and forth her spots. She could feel the energy building in her body with each jump she made. "Now it's time for the real training to begin. If you really want to be that badass Edwards sees you as then get serious about this."

Even though I already am, he pondered slowly picking himself up. He stretched his neck and heard a few cracks echo through his ears. Just how am I supposed to get serious against a tank like her?

She stared at him and he stared back. The two kept at it with the staring contest for a good three minutes. "Come on Simmons, just staring at me won't make me lose you know. Try throwing a punch why don't you?"

Agitated by her words he went in for a hit from her right. He swung wide and was quickly countered. She stopped his punch mid-swing, held him by the right arm and chest. She swung him overhead and caused him to land hard on his back. She smirked under her helmet walking around the maroon soldier. "This isn't good enough you know."

Oh you are totally enjoying this aren't you? Epsilon asked with a smug tone. She couldn't help but admit that she was taking some pleasure in this. Simmons slowly picked himself up rubbing his back. I don't think I have been this sore since basic boot camp training. "Okay, so you are pretty good I will admit."

"Oh-hoh don't try to smooth talk your way out of this mister," Carolina replied quickly manoeuvring behind him. "You are the one that asked for this."

She locked his ankle with hers and twisted it under the pressure of her foot. She moved fast to exploit this opportunity to its fullest. She held Simmons' back with one hand and elbowed his chest with the other arm. This is still not good enough, she pondered as she stared at her own hands. Epsilon suddenly appeared besides her suggesting that they should take a break. "No, we can still go on. Isn't that right Simmons?"

He suddenly froze up with her direct attention onto him. He fidgeted in his spot unable to speak clear words. Epsilon again interfered. "Come on Carolina, cut the guy some slack. He has already had enough knuckle sandwiches for one day as it is, taking a small break won't hurt."

With a heavy sigh she caved into the request. "Fine, but you only get five minutes to rest Simmons. After that we are going back at it again, understood?"

"Yes," he replied with his shoulders slumped and muscles aching all over. He slowly limped away to a quiet corner under the pitiful gaze of Epsilon. "Man, I didn't know you were capable of beating your own trainees to a pulp like this on their very first day."

"If I'm too soft on him now, it won't help him see the reality of how weak he is and how much he needs to improve," said Carolina stretching her legs. Epsilon slid in besides her. "Speaking of limitations, shouldn't you be calling it quits for today? I mean I can only keep running your healing unit only for so long before you are on your own."

"I will be fine."

"Says you, why don't think about the guy doing the hard work running the healing unit?"

Carolina let out an irritated sigh as she looked in Simmons' direction who was busy trying to relax his aching muscles. "To think that he managed to survive this long even if they all worked together so well. But he definitely does have potential, no doubt about that."

"Hey Carolina," called Epsilon as she looked at him from the sides of her eyes. "The real reason you are being so hard on Simmons is because you want to become stronger isn't it?"

"What makes you say that?"

"Uh how about the fact that you keep on thinking about that nightmare you had when you were in the hospital? How about the fact that you keep on thinking about how weak you are?" Epsilon asked in an investigative tone as he folded his arms. "Just because I'm not the Church you knew, doesn't mean that I can't peer into your thoughts just like he could. Any fragment or AI would be able to look into your mind and tell the same thing."

"I…," Carolina wanted to refuse such allegations. But the problem was that he was right. "Yes, I have been thinking about how weak I am. If I weren't so weak then maybe we wouldn't be in this situation. If I was stronger than I am, Wash wouldn't have gotten hurt. So for the sake of protecting others, I have to get stronger."

"Is strength all that goes through your head?'

"I have to be the best regardless of your opinions Epsilon. I have to in order to keep my promise to my family. What good does my existence serve if I can't even keep one simple promise to those I care about the most?"

Epsilon thought about it for a moment but had no response. Instead he simply put himself into sleep mode. That's what I thought. Carolina looked at Simmons and approached him. "Alright, your five minutes are up."

Yay…, thought Simmons as he slowly stood up. His legs ached to the point where they felt like they would just fall apart with one push from the wind. Carolina again raised her fist only to be quickly interrupted by her communicator. She looked at the small device and received the call. "Hello?"

"Carolina, it's me Elsie. I wanted to let you know that the cookies are done so if you would like to come and see them."

"I will be there, thank you Elsie."

Oh thank god, thought Simmons falling down to the ground. Carolina looked at the maroon soldier with the shake over head. "You need to strengthen that resolve of yours Simmons. I would hate to see Edwards' disappointed face just as much as you would."

"Yes mam," he mumbled just feeling relieved to end training for the day and she helped him up. With the support of the buildings, he walked back to Elsie's place. Carolina looked all around and everyone was already gathered up. Elsie walked out of the kitchen and called for Carolina who quickly followed. Why does my heart feel like its beating faster for a bunch of cookies I made with the help of Elsie?

"They turned out well wouldn't you say?" Elsie commented pointing to the cookies. Carolina leaned in close to smell the odor and was quite satisfied. "Yes, I wonder what the others would think."

I wonder indeed, but what I wonder more about is how I have become like this in such a short time. I want to do more things together with everyone else, and to value our time together. Is this because of the experiences that have shaped me or me wishing to do this of my own volition? Carolina wondered fetching the icing for the cookies and began pouring them over. She skillfully moved her hands over the cookies creating her desired pattern.

Elsie took the empty containers and utensils for cleaning. As the elder cleaned away merrily Carolina found herself staring at her. But what's more curious is how being around Elsie makes my chest feel so heavy. It is a familiar feeling that I got around her whenever she would come home and spend a few days with us. It's just like how I felt with mother.

"Here we are, all ready," said Elsie placing the last cookie on the tray. She went out of the kitchen leaving Carolina alone to wonder about these feelings. Just why do I feel like this? We are in the middle of fighting for our survival, worrying about half of our group stuck on the space station and here I am feeling like this. Why does the human mind work like this?

"So Carolina made these?" Wash asked and picked one up studying it closely. It looks normal. Maybe trying it wouldn't be so bad, he thought as so did the others. Donut was ecstatic to finally eat something sweet after such a long time since he left Blood Gulch. Grif was happy to simply stuff his face in anything that could be classified as junk food. Sister was a little jealous to see Carolina make cookies like this thinking, you will not take Simmons away with this from me! I shall reign supreme with the hot guy!

Simmons looked at the others with his head down in the dumps. How can they think about eating? Ugh, body please recover quickly. Muffins took one into his mouth and felt the dough melt with each bite. The chocolate dressing wasn't as bad as he had anticipated either. "Hmm, not bad. This is quite delicious, but I would say that it is quite heavy on the suga- blargh!"

"What happened? I just heard some noise!" Carolina said rushing out of the kitchen. Sister looked over at Muffins who fell down while foaming at the mouth. "Nazi dude! Hang in there!"

"Um…so should we call a doctor?" asked Grif hiding the fact he was putting down the cookie he picked up. Wash mused at the foaming look Muffins had on about him and said. "Nah, I'm pretty sure there will be no permanent damage done to him regardless."

"Help! Someone give me mouth to mouth CPR, preferably the very attractive scary hot freelancer lady...blergh!"

"Yup, no damage done in the long run at all," said Wash with a wide grin. That day everyone came to an agreement on something very important to their survival. That was to never let Carolina near a kitchen ever again, she was a terrible cook.