Chapter 8: Quietude
The bunker was quiet. There was a certain calmness that filled Carolina's heart with a sense of security and ease. In her newly assigned room, she sat in front of a dimly lit monitor with a blanket wrapped around her frame. Thanks to the efforts of her newly found comrades, she was able to move some of her things into the bunker as this was to be her new home now. Although much to her annoyance, she was unable to bring any of the beer she had stored in her fridge. Church on the other hand saw this as an opportunity to finally help Carolina's drinking addiction. She rubbed her chest to create friction and heat between her skin and clothes. The damp coldness of the bunker was a surprising touch she had not anticipated, especially more so during the winter time.
She eyed the loading circle on the monitor and exhaled a slightly cold breath. She applied pressure to her recently fixed arm. It seemed though that the body will require more time to heal other than just simple medical procedures. The loading bar finished, the picture of her family cleared up on a new window. Wash stood with everyone gathered together in blue base. Behind them was Muffins, this caused Carolina an immediate sense of bawdiness. I hope he doesn't start going on about Papa Muffins nonsense again. She waved her hand to the gang and they all greeted her in classic style just as she expected. But this was not so bad, a little bit of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment always proved to be helpful in coping with the things life threw her way. "Hey guys, how are you holding up?"
Ken lied in his bad with his arms behind his head. He eyed the ceiling with intense concentration. A treasured family photo rested beside him. But after a few minutes, his stare was broken upon hearing the sounds of his metal door echo in the room. Someone stood at his doorway. "Yes?"
"It's me," Chloe spoke from the other side. He slowly stood up getting the door for her. "What's with the visit at this hour?"
"I just felt like talking," she entered behind him and walked over to the bed. "I see you still have the bad habit of not making your bed."
She sat down patting the spot beside her. Chloe took the photo in her hands and looked up at Ken. "It's the memories again?"
He quickly took the photo from her hand and put it inside of a small metal box. He locked it away inside of a drawer in his desk. "Maybe…"
"Come on," she leaned in close behind him and dragged him slowly towards the bed. "In all the years I have known you, did you think you can hide your troubles that easily from me?"
"Am I that transparent?"
"You were thinking about her, weren't you?"
"Yeah," he rested his forehead in his hands and rubbed it clean of any built up stress. "What can I say? All I have in my mind lately is her. I can't let it go."
"Is it because of Carolina?"
"What has she got to do with this?"
"Um, how about the fact that you brought in a stranger into our group," Chloe explained with a matter-of-fact tone. "This was a first for you."
He looked away from Chloe who had to turn his head back towards her. She leaned in closer and whispered in his ear. "Ken, don't run away from your past."
He rocked backwards away from her with a displeased look on his face. "Didn't I tell you not to get so close without warning before?"
"You did," she bumped shoulder with him with a playful smirk. "But when has that stopped me?"
"Never," he mused. "It's hard to imagine you any different since you have always been like this since we were kids."
"But my impulsiveness has helped us out in the past," she stretched her arms and lied down. "So, mind sharing what made you take such an interest in Carolina? It was clearly not for the mission."
"Very funny, but initially it was."
"Well it's not like I got a look at her features on our first few encounters. It was only after I planted that tracker on her armor and got a good look at her," he paused for a moment. He gripped his hands together as her face flashed before his mind. "She started to remind me of her. She is so similar in terms of facial features that such an uncanny likeness is honestly sometimes scary. It makes me hope again."
"But you know that Carolina is not her right?"
He hesitantly bowed his head in understanding. "If only life were that simple, I wouldn't have to be here then."
In the main control room, Siris sat surrounded by the blue emissions of the computer monitors. He looked at the one decrypting the data. Progress was slow, but it was still happening. He reached inside one of his pockets and took out a ring to pass the time with. Funny how bonds can be broken so easily. He rotated the ring in between his fingers and studied the engravings. It kick started old memories in his head, memories he wished he would be able to suppress and not suffer as often. All the years we spent together, all of that time gone down the drain. He gripped the ring tightly in his left hand and gritted his teeth. If only one could turn back the time, I would do so until my ledger is clean again.
Carolina silently walked into the room as she watched Siris deep in thought. The progress on the decryption bar didn't seem to fare any better than a few minutes ago. She accidently bumped into the hologram table that nearly caused Siris to jump. He looked back and quickly stored the ring away. "Can I help you?"
"Sorry to surprise you," she held up her hands in defense. "I just wanted to know the progress on the decryption."
He motioned towards the loading bar and shook his head. "They have one heck of an encryption on here. It will take quite a bit of time before the data is ready for viewing."
"You aren't going to go sleep?"
"Someone needs to be here to monitor the progress," he answered indifferently. He turned back a little shaken from jumping at Carolina's sudden presence. She walked closer and witnessed the sweat on Siris' forehead. "Are you alright? You seem a little strange."
"I'm fine. I just have a few things on my mind right now."
She nodded her head and turned to leave as his voice clearly implied his desire to be alone. Siris shook his head and recomposed himself. I was being strange. Maybe I'm getting rusty. Who knows, someday Ken maybe the one teaching me what I have taught him. That would be some day where our positions would be reversed.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
The good General opened his left eye upon hearing a set of footsteps enter the room filled with the very equipment keeping him stabilized. The hospital smell of the disinfectant stung his nose strongly. How much longer must I remain here? He pondered as the medical personnel took a few readings and marked them on their tablet. "It's good that you are conscious again General Creed. Although I must admit, I was rather surprised to see our very own Creed be brought into the emergency room."
Creed looked at the IV tube attached to his arm and scoffed. "When can I get out of here?"
"Judging by your readings, I would say that it probably won't be happening for another two days. But after that you should be good to go."
Creed turned his head to his right side to glare at the good doctor. The man in the white coat simply gave an empathetic look. "Are you sure you don't want a cybernetic eye?"
Creed lifted his right hand up to the black eye patch that covered the blind eye. He nodded his head and gritted his teeth. "This is a mark of shame. Replacing this mark would mean nothing more than running away from what I have lost, and the things I need to do now to lessen the burden of this shame."
"And what would that be if you don't mind my asking?"
"Kill that soldier girl who gave me this scar for starters," he tightened his hands into fists imagining her limp body lying before is feet. "Then I will crush that group that dared to steal the data from us until there is nothing left of them to bury."
Creed rose up against the doctor's orders and ripped out the IV tube from his arm. He walked towards the bathroom and studied the eye patch. A long vertical scar extended from his forehead to the bottom of his cheek on the right eye. He leaned in closer to account for his weakened vision and in a sudden burst of anger he punched the glass. Creed removed the robe and threw it onto the ground. The doctor studied the man's burn marks and looked away to give him his privacy. "How are the pain suppressants holding up?"
"They are fine," Creed put on his uniform and tied the belt around his waist. "The pain doesn't resurface from my burn marks."
"That's good," the doctor brought up their previous reports regarding this matter on Creed. "But you know, my recommendation for skin regeneration therapy still stands. I can't in good conscience let you put yourself in more pain if it can be avoided."
"Covering these wounds with a new skin won't change the past," the General stood up straight, towering over the doctor who took a step back at the authoritarian pressure Creed emitted. "I don't run away. I would much rather learn to live with them."
In the bunker, Ken and Carolina occupied a small gym. Both of them quietly did their daily dose of exercise. Chloe walked in to notice the awkward atmosphere and started her own stretches. It had been a few days since their return from the mission. The data decryption was coming along, and nearly complete. Carolina's after injury effects were lessened as well thanks to her careful tending and Church's constant monitoring. But that didn't stop Carolina from being reckless from time to time as she was now. She lifted up a dumb bell with her healing arm only to let out an irritated sigh at how useless that part of her body has become. Chloe looked over her shoulder worriedly. "Are you sure you should even be here?"
"Sitting around all day long is not exactly appealing to me."
"Neither is hurting your arm I'm sure," Ken voiced with very subtle hints of sarcasm. Carolina's arm suddenly gave away, her grip loosened and the dumb bell fell to the floor causing a loud clang of an echo. Her two comrades looked her way and shook their heads. Chloe crossed her arms as she neared. "See, you are not in any condition to be here right now."
Ken stood up and took off his shirt. He wiped off some sweat with his nearby towel. Carolina's eyes immediately browsed over his well toned body riddled with scars. Her mouth nearly parted in shock. "H-…How long have you been doing this for Ken?"
He noticed her intense stare on his body and smirked. "Most of these are from training with Siris actually. He is one tough mentor. He really likes to beat his points home. But thanks to his training, I have become quite an efficient um…killer alongside a great many other things."
"What about the ones not from the training, did they hurt?"
"Of course they would hurt, I'm still human Carolina," Ken held out his arms pointing to the scar on his abdomen. "See this one? This was from an assassination gone wrong, one of my earlier ones in fact. The target was one tough son of a bitch, and a gutsy one to. He got a good swipe on me before I could kill him."
He tied back his dirty blonde hair into a pony tail and pointed to his back. "See that one there?"
"Yeah, it looks like the injury would have been quite nasty."
"You bet," he put on his shirt and dowsed himself in some water. "The target was using a heat weapon, and she ended up stabbing me with it. It cauterized the surrounding nerves and nearly put me in danger of paralysis. I guess I was lucky enough to avoid such a fate. Of course I got the target in the end, after all no one gets away from me."
"Of course," the orange headed woman mused with grin. "And you don't like playing second fiddle when it comes to competitions."
"So you noticed eh? Good. That should also tell you how much I hate being weighed down out on the field then," he noted while gathering his things. Carolina leaned against the wall growing tired of standing upright. "So how long have you been involved with the ATSG?"
"Long enough to know the ins and outs of this organization."
"But what about your family, do they know that you are doing this? Surely they must be worried."
He suddenly glared at her at the word 'family'. She took a step back with a confused gaze. He threw the towel over his head and walked for the exit. "I didn't realize we were playing twenty questions here. A word of advice, don't be so open and trust others so easily. In this line of work, anyone who is a friend today can be an enemy tomorrow. So mind your own business."
He was then quickly gone from sight leaving a very disgruntled Carolina. "His parents must have taught him some manners all right."
Chloe stopped her weight lifting for a moment at the remark and breathed out tiresomely. "It can't be helped. He has a lot to come to terms with after all."
"That doesn't give someone the right to be rude. I wonder what his parents would think if they saw him like this."
Chloe let out a strange laughter alarming Carolina. Did I say something funny? Chloe walked closer and jabbed at Carolina's chest. "Everyone has their reasons for what they do Carolina. He has his. It would be wise to remember that. And don't bring up his parents in front of him again."
"Why, do they have a bad relationship?"
"His parents are dead," she shot back immediately quietening the green eyed woman. "They were killed when he was only nine years old. His sister was the one to raise him until her disappearance eight years ago."
The awkward silence that had once disappeared had again settled down onto the gym. Carolina rubbed her arms together now feeling a heavy sense of guilt and regret for asking all those invasive questions about his parents. "Ahem, h- has the police found her yet?"
"No clue," Chloe answered as she fell onto the ground with her arms supporting her up. She began to pull herself down and then push back up in sets of ten. "After the initial report to the police, we heard some things about it but then the case just died down. I'm sure they stopped searching. No point in chasing ghosts as they would probably say."
No point…, Carolina looked out of the gym and gave a piteous look. For the rest of the hour, the two silently did their workouts leaving each to wander and contemplate their own thoughts.
A/N: A little relaxing chapter with focus on learning about the characters, namely Ken, Creed and Siris. Look forward to the next chapter as I go into the back story of the ever evolving organization known as "Cradle of Hope"!
Thanks for taking the time to read. I appreciate the support!
Constructive feedback is always appreciated.