Chapter 12: Gift Hunting

Madison walked briskly in this chilly morning. He entered the mall while puffing some warm air onto his hands. Give me a break. First it's hot during the day and then its super cold in the nights and early mornings. What do you want from me all mighty weather? He walked past the various shops just beginning to open and to a designated meet-up spot. The red headed woman was already there standing like an elegant being by the water fountain. Madison smiled and waved her way. "Sorry for calling you out this early for this favor."

"It's alright," Carolina smiled with the tilt of her head. "After all, it is a gift for someone in your family right?"

"How did you know? I don't remember telling you it was ever for my family."

"Call it a woman's intuition," she teased leaving Madison to scratch the back of his head. Why do women always say that? But all the same he laughed it off and pointed to his right. "How about we begin our search there?"

"Sure, so who is the gift exactly for?"

"For my daughter," Madison entered a jewelry shop ahead of Carolina and began to browse a few selections within his budget. He suddenly eyed a small jeweled ring. That looks good, but she might not like a ring. She isn't much into rings after all. Carolina perused the necklaces after getting a general idea for Madison's budget. This shop sure is high end, Carolina thought resting her chin in her hand. She looked out towards a clothes store and suggested a quick visit to Madison. The elder man agreed and the two entered a whole new world. Even for Carolina, it was her first time going into such a specialized woman's clothing store. "Wow…"

"So, what type of clothes would you suggest?" Madison waited patiently for her input as she took the time to become acclimated.

"You are asking me?"

"Yup, it's not like I would have any need to visit these stores ha ha ha!"

"Hmm, let's see…what type of person is she?"

"I would say she is like you. She is strong, practical, realistic and level headed about things in her life."

"Like me huh? I don't know if I am all of those things, but let's see what we can find for such a level headed woman then," Carolina blinked back with a thankful smile for all the compliments she was indirectly showered with. She picked out a few clothes based on her own personal tastes and ran them by Madison. Just as quickly she showed them to him, they were rejected.

In the end, all of the gift ideas were rejected. Agh this sure is harder than I thought it would be, Carolina pondered hanging back all the clothes. She approached the family man with a question she felt silly for not asking at the very beginning. "What does your daughter like, what is she into?"

"She likes most things, but if I had to say what she liked the most, it would be electronics I guess. She is really into holographic technology."

That's it! Epsilon shouted in Carolina's head causing her a slight migraine. Sorry sis, but I just had an idea. Why not go visit all the electronic shops with the holographic projectors in inventory? Carolina pondered the suggestion and ran it by Madison. "Sounds good to me, let's go. If I remember right, the electronics shops are on the second floor."

Entering one such appealing electronic shop, Madison and Carolina took a look around at the various holographic projectors. She studied the different variations and their price tags. Do they sell everything at a surplus here?! Carolina was bewildered that people would be willing to buy products in this mall at the price tag they are sold at. Madison rubbed his chin in deep contemplation and tapped her shoulder. "So, what do these exactly do?"

"Come on Madison, surely you can't be serious."

"No really, what do they do?"

"Really?" Carolina was even further bewildered at Madison's question. "You use these at work all the time. They can take anything from a computer and basically project it in our physical space as a digital interactive image. So let's say if you had a picture of an apple on your computer screen right now, the projector will project the apple in 3D without the need for any special glasses or anything. It's more or less making the digital space feel more organic with our physical space."

"Oh wow, technology sure has come a long way," he began to talk like an old man feeling his age. "When I was your age, we didn't have such fancy projectors. Ours were more reliant on glasses to make the image seem 'real'."

He leaned down to look at the one Carolina was studying. "So this little box is that high tech eh?"

Carolina let out a small giggle as she waved her hand back and forth. "If you think this one is high tech, then you should see the more advanced variations out there. But they will be more costly for your budget."

"I am sure she will be happy even with the basic one though. She has always had a keen mind to make improvements to electronics all on her own," Madison stated with a proud smile, but a sense of longing shined in his eyes. "She has always been a bit of a tinkerer since birth."

"Your family sounds fun."

"They are, they mean the world to me. How about you?"

"What about me?"

"What was your childhood like?" the elder man inquired deeply interested in this mysterious woman's past. Even though they have been working together for a while and have become quite good friends, he still had yet to know anything about her past. Carolina remained quiet gripping her one arm with the other hand. Madison suddenly felt as though he stepped over a line he shouldn't have. Carolina's face became sullen recalling what little she could. "I don't remember much about my childhood. My mother, she was in the army so she was away most of the time. My father was always wrapped up in his work, so much so that he barely had any time for me."

"But, what about now? Surely they must be proud to see the person you have grown into."

"Perhaps they might have been," Carolina responded and lowered her head in regret as she stared at her hands. Madison felt a stronger sting travel through his heart. I really did step onto a minefield didn't I? He leaned down to match her eyes. "W- What do you mean?"

"Both my parents are dead. My mother died when I was just a child. My father passed away recently I suppose. I can't exactly say I have had an ideal childhood, unlike your daughter. I am sure she is happy to have had such a caring family."

Madison stood back up feeling sullen himself, and he quickly apologized. "Sorry for bringing up such a bad topic."

"No, it's quite alright. I have learned to make my peace with it. It is what it is."

At the very end, the two decided on a decent holographic projector still within his budget. The two exited the store and Carolina asked. "It's for your daughter, but what is the occasion?"

Madison stopped on the first floor by the fountain they met up at. He looked down at the bag with a slightly sullen look and answered. "It's for her upcoming birthday."

"Oh, then wish her the best on my behalf," Carolina did her best to remain perky to keep the mood from falling any more. "Be sure to sneak out some cake for me!"

"No promises," Madison smiled back, although the smile itself seemed distant and sad. He turned around with one final wave and exited the mall. Carolina sat at the edge of the fountain and stretched her back. Shopping really can be tiring, man. But his daughter is lucky to have a caring father.

Carolina leaned back balancing herself on the fountain's concrete bowl. She closed her eyes and recalled the moments of the morning. The many events that transpired filling the morning with joy and at the same time some sadness. Now that I think about it, Madison sounded a little sad whenever he talked about his family. I wonder why that is. He always seems happy to be talking about his family, but I wonder what gave today?

Carolina took out her cellphone and looked up Madison's number. Bringing up her messaging app, she quickly typed a considerate and meaningful offer to him. 'Hey Madison, it seemed like you were a little down. Should you find that something is bothering you, then don't hesitate to talk about it with me!'

She quickly received a reply of thanks, and that he was alright. But in a quick act she replied saying that the offer will always remain open should he ever feel like talking. Madison smiled and again thanked her. She really is considerate, just like my little girl…like my little girl.

Carolina unlocked the door to her apartment and stepped inside with a relieved sigh. "Time for a drink."

"You will ruin your lunch if you do that," Epsilon commented as he pixilated into plain view on the holographic display. Carolina brushed of his comment. "Once in a while is fine. Plus it will make my lunch feel even more fulfilling."

"Jeez, you really are spoiled."

"Spoiled Carolina, that's me!" she took out a can and shook it vigorously. The fizzling bubbles are the best part of opening a beer can! Carolina then stopped upon hearing the intrusive noises from her military radio communicator. She walked into her room and turned on the communication line. "This is Agent Carolina, go ahead."

"Agent," the stern yet annoying voice of her C.O. caused her to become irritable. Great, him again. She rested the can beside the radio and patiently heard her C.O. explain the situation. "This is about the investigation report we opened up from your last mission. The person you were sent to target in your last mission was apparently a member of a very dangerous organization. This organization seems to be operating subtly through the various cities on Earth. Based on the little information regarding their activities, we could also make some educated guesses that they were operational in various human space colonies as well."


"Yes," the C.O. replied in agitation. He did not appreciate being interrupted one bit. "Those are just mere speculation. But since the UNSC has dominion over the space colonies, based on the documentation, we were able to suppress and eliminate their threat. But Earth is a different story. The individual governments don't like the idea of relying on the UNSC and so most have taken action already. But there are some who have remained stuck in a limbo, and United States is one of them."

Carolina remained quiet as she set the can aside. The information had grabbed her complete interest. It was a puzzle just begging to be solved. It was a new conflict subtly growing under the veil of 'normal' in their everyday life. "So then whenever I hear about trucks and buildings being targeted, this same organization could be involved."

"That is a possibility, and a strong one we believe. I don't know if you have noticed or not, but their targets have all been related to buildings or trucks concerning space travel and agencies. Man, what a weird bunch they are," the C.O. slammed his fist on the other end in anger. "If only the government wouldn't be so damn childish about this, we could step in and resolve this quickly with our resources. But enough of that, we have your next target picked out."

"Why not let me handle this investigation for now?"

"This target is related to your investigation. We think that this individual is a part of the organization I spoke of," the C.O. sent an image her way. "If you can detain him for questioning, I am sure our investigation will go much smoothly."

"Understood, I will commence this mission tonight under the cover of darkness. Anything else sir?"

"No, that is all. Dismissed Agent," the C.O. announced leaving Carolina to quickly shut off the radio and let out a tense sigh. "So much for drinking. Church, can you hear me?"

"Sure can sis."

"Be ready by 2100, we will be commencing our mission at that time. I am also transferring all the data we received about the target to your memory storage."

"Got it, let's make this a hunt to remember."

Carolina looked out towards the living room where Epsilon resided with a smile and nodded her head. Yes, let us go on a hunt.

A/N: Brace yourselves, for there is plot to come ;).

Hope you all enjoyed that chapter and look forward to the next one.

~ Monty