Chapter 5: A New Life

The sky was clear and blue like the wide beautiful ocean. The sun scorched the city with its brutal heat. Everyone on the streets walked with precaution, wiping every strand of sweat with one hand and a cool drink in the other. Several civilians felt great irritation at the nearby construction site's noises. The intrusive noises of heavy machinery ached the ears of many. The workers onsite did not fare any better in this hot and dry day.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

A female worker led one of the heavy machinery slowly out of the working area. Her mid-length orange hair that was neatly tied back glistened with sweat. Her green eyes scanned the treads of the machine. "Bring it back slowly!"

She waved her handheld light cones shining a bright green towards the direction of the objective. "That's it! Slowly!"

After several trials and tribulations along the way, she managed to guide the machine to its destination. She wiped her forehead clean of her sweat and let out a heavy sigh. Her shoulders felt stiff, her muscles ached and her body just wished for the work day to end quickly.

"Not bad Greenhorn," a man in his late sixties spoke with a deep and commanding voice. "Looks like you have picked up the job very fast."

"Supervisor, sir," Carolina tensed up prompting him to warmly smile her way. "No need for such formalities, just call me Madison."

He took off his construction glasses and wiped his dark grey moustache clean. "I think this heat is going to be the death of this city. Thankfully, there are only a few more hours to go until we are off work. Then it is nice cool AC Land here I come!"

Carolina snickered a little. "How is your family?"

"They are doing well," he looked at their progress so far. "Hard to believe that we just began this project two months ago. We have already come so far in this new Space Center construction project."

The bell for lunch suddenly rang throughout the site. At the last ring of the bell, all of the machines stopped and the construction site was almost silent. Carolina was always amazed to see this sight. But just like her, everyone was looking forward to these moments. She entered the female's locker room and unlocked her locker. It is hard to believe that I have already gotten so used to all of this. She took out her lunch box and exited into the eating area.

"Oh, a sandwich again?" Madison approached her from the back and peeked over her shoulders. Carolina nearly jumped out of her boots. I must be getting rusty, to think that I jumped at something like that. "I'm not a very good cook."

"Modest as always," Madison joked as he stirred his heated pasta. Carolina felt her mouth water at the captivating gourmet food before her eyes. Madison was not one to miss such a gaze. "Want a bite Greenhorn?"

"Eh, oh sorry," Carolina quickly faced her sandwich feeling slightly flushed. "I didn't mean to stare. Did your wife make that?"

"Sure did!" Madison proudly proclaimed as he bit into the pasta. "She makes the best meals a man can ever have!"

Carolina bit into her sandwich and the mustard sprayed into her mouth creating a rush of flavors. The meat mixed in with the vegetables always felt like a rush even after so many days of eating it. Madison put down his fork and stared at the pasta seriously. Carolina was astounded to see this side of him. In all her time with him so far, while he was strict when working, he always seemed like the easy going type of man who didn't let anything burden him. She leaned in closer and met his eyes. "Is something wrong?"

"Hmm," Madison rubbed his chin and felt a few strands of hair were already growing again. "I was just thinking how lucky we all are to have a job in this terrible economy. How lucky I am to have a job, I don't know what would have happened if I wasn't able to provide for my family."

"I'm sure you would have figured something out together with your family," Carolina replied doing her best to smile. Madison took her words as a kind gesture of encouragement and thanked her for it. The two had then quickly finished their lunch and managed to wrap up just as the site bell rang again. Madison stood outside of the employee area cheering everyone on. "Alright, back to work guys! Few more hours and we are out of here!"

"There she is man," one of the construction workers nudged another on the arm. "Go on, go talk to her."

A young man in his late twenties blushed at the thought of speaking with Carolina. He felt his heart racing. He almost turned back in hesitation when he was suddenly stopped by his friends, and then pushed forward towards her. His friends watched from afar with wide grins on their faces. "There goes yet another brave soul, ready to confess his undying love to her."

"And we all know how that will turn out," said the second friend locking his hands behind his head. The first one began to struggle in holding his laughter. "Yeah, too bad he has some strict competition. She is the most sought after woman here."

"Um, Excuse me, Carolina?"

She turned back to see a nervous, fidgeting and to a certain extent weak form of the young man behind her. He did his best to smile in her presence, but to the amusement of others he was failing royally. "So, you are in charge of the beams to ropes. I mean attaching the beams to the ropes…hehehe."

"Yeah, he stands no chance," the first friend judged from the way young construction worker carried himself around her. The second one was inclined to agree. The young worker held his hands behind his back secretly fidgeting with his fingers. "So, I was wondering if you, me, out sometime? Ah- I mean if we could go out sometime that is."

He is trying to flirt with me? Carolina could not help but giggle at the pathetic yet sweet attempt. "I appreciate you working up the courage to talk to me like this, but I don't want to be anything more than friends if possible."

"Oh," his shoulders suddenly dropped in despair. She felt a distressed aura exert from him suddenly. He fell into depression that quickly?! She backed away with a weak smile. "I- If you will excuse me."

The young worker walked back to his friends with his head low in the dump. The two friends patted him on his shoulders. "Cheer up man. If it makes you feel any better, you are not the first to be turned down by her."

"What do you mean by first?"

"You haven't heard? Most of the single guys here have already tried to date her but everytime she turns them down," the second friend informed the young one. The inexperienced worker's mouth dropped wide open. "She is that popular?"

"Apparently so," the first friend answered as he looked towards Carolina. "Makes you wonder if she already is in a relationship or not. I mean, there are plenty of good guys here after all."

"Talking about yourself now are we?" the second friend rubbed his chin with a sly look. The first one gave a weak laugh in return. Suddenly a new voice pierced their ears with laughter. They turned to their right to find Madison taking some good entertainment out of this. The young worker felt that his world was getting smaller by the second. "Come on boss, I just got my teeny tiny heart walked over. How about showing some sympathy?"

"Oh please, you boys don't know rejection like I do. Bwhahaha!"

All three of them fell in the dumps, and each remembered their courage going down the crapper. She really is a hard nut to crack. Madison was quick to however reprimand them using company time for such personal pursuits. "Now listen here, if you want to flirt then do it in your own time!"

"Y- Yes sir!"

"Good, if I find you doing that again, I will make you stay and work overtime."

"Um, I don't think you can do that…can you do that?" the young worker questioned as he scratched the back of his neck in contemplation. Madison simply gave a wide grin. "I have connections to make it happen, so back to work boys, chop-chop!"

"Yes sir!"

The final bell for the day rang. It was the bell everyone looked forward to amidst this killer heat. They were finally off of work. Carolina packed away the tools safely and went to her locker to quickly get changed. As she removed her overalls, she saw the sweat glisten under the room light. The very thing that warmed her beyond bearable measures now seemed to cool down as if ice touched her bare skin. It was still unbearable. Hmm, I can't wait to get home and get in a nice cool bath. She put on her final piece of apparel and closed her locker. Being the last one to leave, she shut off the lights in the room and noticed a large group by the exit.

Madison waved in her direction. "Greenhorn, some of us are going out for drinks. How about joining us?"

She rushed towards him with her hands together in an apology. "Sorry, but I can't. I am no good with alcohol in public."

"Is that so? That's a shame," Madison looked towards the younger men in the group who all looked away in disappointment and embarrassment. "Well, there is always a next time if you change your mind."

She wished them the best and began heading home. You just don't want to step inside of a bar again, isn't that the real reason? Epsilon communicated directly to her brain via their neural implants. Carolina looked down at the concrete she walked on in silence. The walk home was quiet and just how she wanted it to be. Thankfully she lived close to work, so all that stress she built up during the day was still manageable for the way back home.

Unlocking the door to her apartment by confirming her identity, she undid her boots and threw her bag on the sofa and fell down into the soft leathery cushion feeling. Ahhh, that feels so good after a hard day's worth of work. Epsilon transferred himself over to a portable digital display unit. Here he could construct his body for others to see and interact with without the need of Carolina's armor.

Carolina stretched her limbs with a satisfied grin and stood up. "Okay, time to get to my afternoon routine!"

"Hey Sis," the fragment called out getting her attention. "How long are you going to run from it? You know York isn't here anymore."

Carolina quietly unzipped her jacket, unbuttoned her top and removed her jeans. She removed her socks and threw them into the wash. The cool wooden floor sent chills up her spine. She trudged into the bathroom and turned on the faucet. The cool water crashed in the cup of her hands creating a small pool. She longingly splashed it onto her face. That feels so good!

Outside Epsilon grew impatient. "How long are you going to be in there?"

He got no response. With a long drawn out sigh he crossed his arms and spoke. "If you tried going out with them to their drinking parties, it will help you in the long run. Try doing it at least once in a while. It will help you build better relationships."

Carolina stepped out of the bathroom and fetched her workout clothes. "There are other ways of doing the same thing. Not going to a bar is my choice. Right now, I am more concerned with getting something out of my journey."

She set up her training equipment and began with a few push-ups as warm up. Epsilon watched her in contemplation as he recalled their time together so far. He saw her get up on a lift bar upside down. Her knees were fastened tightly onto it and her hands rested on the back of her head. With great strength she flexed the muscles in her abdomen and lifted herself up till she nearly touched her knees with her head.

He observed her determined expression wearing itself on her face. She has changed, he pondered recalling his first impression of her initially. When he first met her, he thought of her to be the hard headed, brash and impatient type of soldier. But over time she proved him wrong, even if there were moments where he was proved right. She showed that she cares for others so much so that she is willing to put her own life on the line for it. Like a caring older sister, she had the heart of a champion even if she didn't feel like one always.

But even after all that you still feel incomplete. Epsilon recalled their fight with the New Order and the things that happened to her. The same organization caused her some realizations that had forced her to leave her family behind to go on this journey of change. Hatred in her eyes was a poison she needed to cure herself of. Even if it gave her strength in battle, it clouded her mind in darkness afterwards. The hate of losing her loved ones still cursed her so. The guilt spawned from the hate that haunted her daily in the darkest recesses of her mind. How do you expect to tackle this? Epsilon pondered as he saw her land back down onto the floor.

"What's up?" Carolina asked noticing Epsilon's intense gaze on her figure. He turned away from her with the shake of his head. She began to pack away her workout equipment and stored it in a small closet. She rushed into the bathroom and turned on the cold water tap. She felt the water streaming down into the tub and felt a soothing feeling trail up from her hand to her body. That feels so good. It will probably be even better when the tub is filled.

She stripped herself of her clothes and poked her head out towards Epsilon. "If any calls come in from the UNSC, reroute them to the messaging system. Only contact me if it's important."

"I know, just go take your bath already."

Carolina was quick to act on that as she dipped her feet into the water and felt a nice shiver travel through her body. Slowly she descended the rest of her body into the water with a wide smile. That hits the spot. A nice cool soothing bath on a hot day like this after some hard work really is the ticket to relaxation. "This is heaven…"

Epsilon looked at Carolina in surprise as she stepped out of the bathroom with a towel on her head. "How many times have I told you not to walk around in your underwear after a bath? You will catch a cold that way!"

She took out a can of beer from the small fridge in her kitchen and held it up against her cheek. "But drinking a beer like this feels so good."

"Hmm…what am I going to do with you?"

"Nothing," she cracked open the can of beer with an innocent smile and waved it around with joy. "A beer is the best thing on a hot day like this, right after a nice cool bath."

Carolina slid open the door to her balcony and sat down with a hair dryer outside. Turning on the machine, she began to comb her hair in silence. The gentle breeze caused a chill through her shoulders and nose. She took a drink of her beer and let out a satisfied sigh. "That hits the spot!"

Having dried her hair, she leaned forward against the railing on the balcony and rested her head by its side. This is pure bliss. To live a carefree life such as this without having to constantly worry about daily military duties, and to be able to live in peace with just these minute things to worry about. I wonder if this is the solution to hatred. Is it to leave the fighting behind, to not think about it or to suppress thoughts of combat as much as possible? Maybe this lifestyle can help harden me against hatred. She took another chilling gulp of her beer. She stared at her can with an aloof smile. Either way, I am glad that I can take it easy like this.

A/N: So, how was the surprise?

With this chapter, make no mistake that Carolina and her journey will now be the primary focus of the story. This is where it really begins so I hope you look forward to her adventures. The reds and the blues will remain relevant in this trilogy, but Carolina is the main protagonist of Season 17.

Hope you all enjoyed this chapter. Catch you all in the next one.

~ Monty