Chapter 4: Soldier Once More

On the outskirts, three figures crossed the invisible borderline that marked the entrance and exit to the city. Carolina landed behind Chloe and Ken and asked. "How much further must we go?"

"Hold your horses," Ken mused as he dug through the snow, and brushed some aside. Carolina peeked over his shoulder to find a metal gate on the ground. An underground base, I can see that helping with protection from surveillance. She noticed him entering a pass code, executing an eye scan and a hand scan. Talk about security. She heard the door click open. Chloe rose up the large metal door and held it up. Ken went first and motioned for Carolina to follow. "Welcome to home sweet home."

"This is where you guys live?" Church suddenly popped up surprising the other two. Carolina quickly diffused the situation before they took any actions against him. "This is Church, my A.I. partner."

Ken was quick on the uptake. "So that's how you knew about us. Let me guess, he got in my device to extract the information during one of our encounters before?"

"You are quite perceptive," Carolina complimented as Church shrugged his shoulders. "It's not my fault your gauntlet's computer has such shoddy security."

"I'll be sure to take up that point with our technician," Ken joked with a smirk as he led the way into the main operations room. Siris sat in the shadows watching the figures enter one by one. Ken looked around with a displeased look. He better not be playing another one of his tricks. It would really be tiresome if he were to scare her away. Ken could not help but chuckle at the thought. It's kind of like a protective parent scaring away a girlfriend that their son brought home. Chloe put on her thermal vision goggles and quickly detected an additional heat signature. She crossed her arms and grinned as she watched him slowly move in the shadows.

Siris jumped Ken from the behind, but Ken was fast enough to dodge around the man and kick him down to the ground. Ken stood over Siris with a raised fist. "Yield."

"I see that my teachings have not gone to waste."

"Everytime Siris," he helped the man up. "Everytime I come back you do that. I think it would be obvious that I have come to expect it now."

"Shall I vary it up then?"

"It would certainly add some variety," Ken signaled towards Carolina. "Here she is, in the armor, the lady of the hour."

Siris stretched out a hand and shook her hand. "Welcome to the 'Anti-Terrorist Suppression Group' Agent Carolina. We have heard quite a lot about you. We are glad to have your skill sets onboard."

"Hey, let's not forget me," Church popped out again raising an arm. He looked around expecting a grand welcome. Ken shook his shoulders. "Sorry, we don't exactly have a red carpet to roll out."

"Oh very funny," Church sarcastically conceded with the shake of his head. Siris found the exchange amusing. "We are of course happy to have you onboard as well Epsilon."

"I see you have done your research into Project Freelancer," Carolina spoke while pointing to an active tablet with the project details. Siris retrieved the electronic device. "Of course, we needed to know what and who we were getting. You can't hope to go in blind into a situation now can you? Intelligence is the most vital commodity in today's world Agent."

"So what do you guys exactly do here?" she inquired walking around the room and studying the various devices and reports on desks. Siris went towards the main computer and brought up a wall of text. "If you will direct your attention to the monitor, I believe this will explain things quite clearly."

Carolina browsed over the text and nodded her head. "So you stop terrorism, I am pretty sure that much was clear from the name. But why is it that your group is protected under the highest level of security in the government databases?"

"If people knew about us, they would expect disclosure," Chloe answered as Ken then said. "That would mean losing our element of surprise."

"And being able to operate covertly," Siris added as he showed Carolina a report. "See the details in there? That report is from when a public security agency tried to take down 'Cradle of Hope', the terrorist organization we are currently focused on. It seems the public didn't take too kindly to their methods and called for the agency to be shut down. We use very similar methods. If people knew about it, there would be proponent voices calling for our shutdown as well. We can't afford to let that happen, not when the terrorist threat grows every day and the people are unwilling to change their thinking. Even if we have to do things that violate people's privacy, we will do it for the greater good."

She acknowledged his words. "Is that the reason why you all live down here, out of the public eye?"

"Bingo dango!" Ken pointed towards her congratulating her on the correct answer. Siris cleared his throat and interjected. "But we should get a move on. We don't have enough time to be idling about."

"When do we ever?" Chloe complained as she left the group for her rifle's maintenance. Siris motioned towards the various rooms and explained their purpose. He also gave a quick tour of the facility. Ken closely observed their new soldier. Here is hoping that this bet I took on you will pay off. Maybe with you here, I may even find her.

"Any questions on the facilities?" Siris turned around stopping the two. Carolina shook her head. But before they continued, a curious question popped up into Siris' head. "I know you went to Chorus. I had heard that Felix and Locus were there as well. Would you know what happened to them?"

Carolina was stunned to hear their names coming out of Siris' mouth. "You knew them?"

He nodded noting of their partnership in the past. "We made a dysfunctional, but a good team. Ultimately we had to go our separate ways in life because of my various commitments. So, what happened to them?"

"They are both…dead."

Siris' eyes widened in minor surprise. "Even Locus?"

"Yes," she replied in a mumble. He looked to the side still in surprise. "I knew Felix would kick the bucket someday considering how he dealt with business. But I never thought that the same would happen to Locus. Did he die still helping Felix?"

"No," Carolina looked down at the ground as memories of Elsie and Edwards surged in her mind. "He died helping us against a very dangerous and powerful threat."

"I'm glad he chose the path of redemption," Siris smiled reassuringly. He was still saddened by the news though. "I wish there was more I could have done to offset them from the destructive path they took for so many years."

He shook his head and led the group towards the main operational room. I guess it will just be another regret to chalk up. Carolina followed closely behind him. "So what happens now?"

He stopped at the large circular holographic device and brought up some interesting data. "Now, we are planning a raid on a server farm. According to some very promising sources, we have received intel that this particular server farm building holds data that could help tip things into our yard."

"In other words, we get a leg up on them," Ken said as he leaned close to the hologram. "What sort of data are we talking about?"

"We will know once we retrieve it."

"Do we have a schematic of the building?" Carolina inquired eager to see where this mission goes. Siris bobbed his head and with the press of a button the building's architecture was visible. There was already a clear route marked on the hologram for the team to follow. "You will be taking a small team to hack into the servers and get the data we need. Ken, you will be leading the mission."

"I want in on this as well," Carolina bumped her fists hungry for action, and finally being able to make the change she desired.

"Of course, I had planned to make you a core member of the team."

Ken suddenly pulled his old mentor aside and asked. "Are you sure making her a core member right from the get go is a good idea?"

"You don't trust her?"

"It's not that. She hasn't exactly been a part of the action for a long time."

"According to your reports, she seemed to hold up just fine whenever you encountered her."

"'Just fine' was me being nice. I don't want her to screw this up for us," Ken insisted as he eyed her. Siris patted his younger colleague on the shoulders and beamed with reassurance. "She will be just fine, and so will this mission. Just remember, this mission is for the sake of ATSG, it's not just a matter of finding her."

"I know, you don't need to keep on reminding me."

Siris went back to the table and handed a portable USB to Carolina. He also handed her another electronic. "Take it, it's our latest model. It will be able to show you what's on the USB and act as a communication device between the main base and you. Keep it handy at all times, this is how we will communicate when you are out in the field."

Ken took one USB himself and plugged it up to his device. He studied the strategy and found it acceptable. He left to go prepare the necessary equipment as well as give the plan to the other members of the team. Carolina complimented Siris on the rather good plan that left no loop holes to be exploited as long as everyone did their jobs. Siris however displayed some concern on his part. "I know you are a part of the UNSC. What did you tell them, did you quit?"

"No, I'm still with them," she answered honestly, but gave assurance that she never told them any specifics. "They only have a general idea of what is going on. After all, we have to protect our interests."

"That we do," Siris laughed at how quick she was to adapt to their thinking and let her go to rest for the night. He looked at the computer and began to input her data into their organization's database. I'm counting on you to get this done Ken.