Chapter 6: Unity Paves the Future

"It is good to be back on home soil," announced Kai and the others promptly agreed. Aria to felt the most at home in this city, the very place she grew up in. The group of generals and Aria found themselves embroiled in various training routines in the small gym located in the headquarters. All worked hard to build themselves both physically and mentally to be better ready for their revolution. Kabira lifted a weight from the side while resting the weight of her body on the other hand. She lifted it up with a heavy breath, and slowly released letting the arm fall down. She let go of the weight and puffed out some fatigue. She picked up her bottle and chugged the water down with much desperation for hydration. "Say, I don't think any of us have asked this. What happened to Creed, where is he?"

Aria stopped midway her routine to notice the curious gazes. She wiped her face of the sweat and looked at the ground. The time did have to come for this type of talk. Aria sat down on a bench gathering the others around her. She looked at them one by one, identifying a sign of deep rooted trust and honesty. "He was sent out on a mission or rather he undertook one to eliminate our biggest threat right now, the ATSG. Things didn't go as expected. He ended up dying in combat against a cyan soldier. From what I have heard, they are from the UNSC and the now debunked Freelancer Program."

"Son of a bitch," Kai mumbled looking at the others with anger in his eyes. They all felt the same. Dallas most of all let his anger be known through his violent punch against the bench. "What do we know about this soldier?"

"Not much," Aria lowered her gaze in failure. "The ATSG has been very good about covering up their tracks."

"Then how the fuck are we supposed to catch them?!" Kai stood up marching towards her. He nearly grabbed Aria by the shoulders before being forced back by Kabira. "Just cool it!"

Irene sat silently in shock. Her eyes met Aria's and both women knew the impact left behind by their mentor's death. Irena looked away as her lips quivered from the shock. She gripped the sides of her chair and breathed heavily. "W…Were they spotted ever again?"

"Maybe," Aria again lowered her head. "But we don't know for sure. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Dallas spoke standing up. He tightened his hands into fists and gritted his teeth. "Whoever it was that killed Creed, they are the ones who have to be sorry."

"You are right," Kai walked around in a circle in the group while aggressively punching the air. "If I ever get the chance, I will pummel them to death with my bare fists."

They all went back to training. Everyone but Irene excelled now fueled by a new goal of revenge alongside their revolution. For Irene however, sleep seemed to be a more enticing activity. Kabira passed by the passive general several times walking around the gym with weights hanging of various parts from her body. She let the heavy weights fall with a large echo and flicked Irene's forehead. "Wake up."

"Hmm," Irene agitated awake as she rubbed her eyes. "Why do you always wake me up when I'm getting to a good part in my dreams?"

"Dream when everyone else is asleep," Kabira commented as she handed Irene two weights. "Take these, and do five laps around the gym at least."

"What? But I don't want to."

"No complaining," Kabira crossed her arms and gave an assertive look. "Would you rather that I take your snacks away from you?"

"That's not fair."

"Yes it is," Kabira corrected sticking up a finger in a matter-of-fact manner. "If you don't exercise and only eat all that junk you call snack, then you will end up putting on weight and be a liability to us."

"Fine," pouted Irene as she stood up and did her wobbly walks around the gym. Aria looked at the two women and smirked. She certainly has her ways. The two are as close as ever. Dallas approached Aria and made a small request. "Can you be my sparring partner?"

"Sure, but don't expect me to go easy."

"I don't expect any less," he grinned leading her to the ring. The two stepped inside becoming the center of attention for the other generals. They all gathered around watching them take their battle stances. Dallas threw a punch which Aria easily avoided. She in return aimed for his stomach but was blocked. The two felt their punches and kicks lacking in impact. Their strength felt sapped. So this is what such a long time in hyper sleep can do to you, thought everyone in the room. The two struggled against one another on such fair but weak standing. However as the passage of time continued, their training began to claw its way back up to the surface.

Aria found her punches to pack much more of a punishment than before. Dallas was also beginning to gain some ground on her as he landed a perfect blow on her face. She stumbled back, but not before quickly recovering and knocking him off balance. She took the opportunity to prance on him and punched his gut. He grunted in pain, every punch could be heard landing with a hard echo. Dallas gritted his teeth and sucked up the pain. He gripped her arms and loosened the hold. Aria felt her strength quickly wavering to his. Dallas loosened Aria's arms and stopped the next punch midway. He stood up twisting her arm and stomped on her joint connecting the arm to the shoulder. She nearly cried in pain but quickly reacted with a kick to his knee. Dallas was brought to the floor kneeling in pain. The two stood back up. They stared into one another's eyes and wore a most insane smile on their face. The thrill of battle was beginning to awaken their inner violent nature.

Aria ducked under Dallas' wide arm swing. She falcon punched him and pushed him on his chest. He held onto the ropes on the sides of the ring and stared back in contempt. I will not lose out so easily. He rushed back towards her and fell to the ground. She had jumped to her side and punched the back of his head. He felt the agonizing pain from his skull. Damn it. Dallas felt his vision blur from the impact. He was kicked to the side lying on his back as Aria stared at him quietly. Aria studied his determined face and smiled. "I'm so glad to know that such an enthusiastic general exists in the group."

"Hey, we are enthusiastic to you know," Kai added motioned to everyone in the group. Irene slowly walked up to them and dropped the weights. She slouched back into her chair and closed her eyes. "Speak for yourselves."

Dallas recovered and was quick on the uptake again. But this time Aria found herself pinned down on the ground. She managed to slither her way out of the grip with sheer strength and head butted his nose. Dallas and Aria found themselves fighting on equal footing. The effects of their labor soon started to show in the form of fatigue. Both were breathing heavily, and they relied on the ropes of the ring for support. With one final punch to one another, they both collapsed unconscious to the voice around them.

Everything is blurry…where am I? Aria's eyes felt the sharp pierce of the white lights. She groaned alerting the others around her. Kai motioned the two women over. "They are waking up!"

"Keep it down will you, we are in the sick bay after all," Kabira smacked the back of his head for his idiocy. Dallas gritted his teeth as he felt his stiff body move once more. "Ow, pain…lots and lots of pain."

The door slid open and the aged advisor, Adrian stood with a discontent look on his face. He motioned for the other generals to leave and without a second thought they followed. Dallas closed shut his eyes realizing the trouble both he and Aria were in. The advisor dragged a chair in between the beds and sat down with force. "Do you two realize just how much risk you could have put our entire operation at with this little training scuffle of yours?!"

Kai retreated his ear from the door and cringed at the words. "Looks like they are really getting their asses handed to them."

"Knowing him, I wouldn't doubt it," Kabira noted and Irene agreed with a solemn nod. Adrian slapped the arm rest of his chair and scolded. "You two need to learn your own self-worth and how much you mean to the people of this organization. You are both an important pillar holding up the rest. If one collapses, then so will the rest. Not only will that mean demoralization for the organization, but pure chaos from an organizational standpoint. Think about these things before you do something stupid!"

The two looked down at their hands in guilt. Adrian satisfied with what he wanted to say, he stood up to leave. The two looked at him as he turned around to say one last thing. "Think about this in the future before you exert such stress on yourselves, you are the pioneers of our future as a species."

As Adrian passed the others, they all rushed into the room to see the sullen mood. Kai looked back and flicked Adrian off with a middle finger as the man was at a distance with his back turned to them. "I don't understand why he has to go around lecturing everyone like he has a stick stuck up his ass or something."

Irene stumbled into the room, walking all over the place. Kabira caught her just barely before things went haywire. She guided the sleepy general over to a nearby seat and tucked her in. Kai grinned smugly at the two. "Ain't that cute?"

"The only thing cute here is Irene," Kabira corrected cracking her knuckles. "And when I hear you open your mouth for comments like those, all I hear is 'Please Kabira beat me like the brash idiot I am'."

"Beatings later…," Irene slowly closed her eyes and spoke in a whisper. "Sleeping first."

Kabira flicked Irene's forehead waking her up. Kabira instantly regretted the decision hearing the annoyed moan. "You need to be more self-disciplined Irene. What would you do if none of us were here to help you?"

Dallas smiled and chuckled. "This reminds me of our training days. You two were always like this even back then, always so close."

"That is true," Aria smirked back to the two with nostalgia clawing its way out. "Even back then, Kabira would fall behind intentionally from the group just to help Irene."

"And to make sure that Irene isn't taking the harsh discipline from Creed all by her lonesome self," Kai added. "Man, Creed sure did have his ways of engraving the pain into our bodies."

"Yes…he did," Aria agreed looking back up at the ceiling. She fought to keep the sadness at bay as did the others. "Our time spent together during training, and with Creed was for nothing. We became strong thanks to him, when at first we were all so weak."

"Let's not forget these handy nano-enhanced armors," Kabira pointed out to the various bits of armor on her under suit. "Without these, we probably would never have our enhanced strength and speed."

"That's true, technology helps us in a lot of ways," Dallas noted. "But it was the training with Creed that gave us the foundation we needed to be great leaders and fighters."

"That's correct," Aria looked from general to general. "It was all so we can become the strongest and lead the world into a new era. We can finally push humanity to grow out of their childhood and take the next step in our evolution as a collective species."

The other generals left to allow for the two patients to rest. Dallas looked to his left at Aria who gave him a curious look in response. "Do you remember how I became a part of Cradle of Hope?"

"Of course," she responded. "I was the one to recruit you after all."

He smiled and nodded his head. "Yes you were. That was a terrible time in my life. Just thinking about it brings back the feelings I felt in that time of my life, so powerless and stuck in my dead end job of a truck driver."

Aria listened quietly and attentively. He closed his eyes and straightened his head. "I was on the brink of suicide having fallen into a deep depression. This depression that I knew stemmed from my inability to do anything about our decaying societies. I felt such a heavy weight on my shoulders to try and do something about it, to change the world but at the same time I was faced with the unkind truth that if you don't have power, you can't do shit in this world."

"Power is important," Aria added. "And so is being able to control said power."

Dallas gave an acknowledging look. "I wanted to have an active part in shaping the world, but I could only passively watch the degradation seep through every crevice and hole in the system. Then it would grow from within bringing the ugliness to the surface like a parasite sucking its host dry. The day I went to commit the act of suicide, on the very meticulously sought out bridge-"

"We met," Aria finished and he agreed. She recalled the exact moment and their conversation. "It was a fated meeting."

"Yes, you who acted as my beacon to light," Dallas recalled the vivid imagery of the memory. He looked at Aria with deep gratitude painted on his face. "Your little pep talk back then was what got me to understand that suicide is not a solution and will put an end to my dreams. Taking action and doing my damned best is what will help change the world, even if it is only by very little."

"I'm still surprised to this day that you took my hand when I offered you power," Aria laughed. "You seemed so skeptical back then."

Dallas laughed in response as well. "I don't regret the choice. I'm in fact extremely grateful. Because of you, my mind is at ease knowing that I'm at least doing something to shape a better world."

"I'm happy to hear that," Aria smiled with gratitude. "I'm glad to know your loyalty runs deep and that you will no doubt stay with the organization even through all of its ups and downs. Thank you."

The BGC stared at the green planet before them as their ships parked in orbit. They mobilized by the Pelicans and broke up into their respective teams. Washington hailed the reds. "Remember, reds go to blue base, and blues go to red base this time."

Four Pelicans departed the safe confines of the UNSC space ships. The BGC looked out as they enter the fiery red friction of the atmospheric entry. Quickly breaking through the clouds, they honed in on the familiar location that was once visited by Sarge and Caboose in the past. The Pelicans circled around a creek and landed nearby. The BGC found that a short trek later, they had entered the creek through side paths leading into the battle grounds from the outer canyons. The greenery, and flowing water sent a wave of freshness in their bodies. They all appreciated the natural beauty of nature after being stuck in space for so long.

Washington separated from the group and motioned for the reds to move to the blue base. Tucker followed closely getting real time data fed to him about the location with Sigma's help. Caboose was ecstatic and speechless as he pointed in various locations recounting his last visit. Sarge looked around expecting a horn or some other music to play. But all was silent. Sarge grunted as he eyed the blue base. "Looks like this place hasn't changed much."

Suddenly, a blue soldier jumped out from a rock proclaiming. "Alert! Alert! The infidels are here, they are here for our flag! We must protect it with our very lives for the prophecy is so near completion, we must protect our flag!"

Sarge quickly felt déjà vu hit him hard. He stopped in his tracks and looked down with a tired sigh. "And here I was starting to enjoy the peace and silence."

He reloaded his shotgun. "State your name and rank son."

"Hey wait," Simmons suddenly felt an uneasy sensation in the back of his mind. "Isn't this one of those religious nuts from Battle Creek?"

"Didn't Tex kill them all?" Grif asked getting confirmation from Donut and Simmons. "So, what gives?"

"The flag is almighty! The flag is all knowing! We must protect the flag!" again shouted the blue soldier before another approached him from the back and agreed. By red base, Wash's group didn't fare any better having encountered several of the religious zealots now. Caboose raised his arms. "Hello people, how are you? I love meeting new people!"

"Watch out, the anti-flag is here to usher in an era of darkness! The glorious light of the flag must win!" one red soldier backed off raising their gun and stood in the door way to the base. "We will protect the almighty red flag!"

"I thought this place was abandoned," Tucker commented just as Wash replied. "I guess they repopulated."

Unexpectedly other reds and blues popped out from their hiding spots and began singing their religious song of worshiping the glorious flag. The BGC looked around with mouths dropped wide open. Each of them could only think one thing. Oh no, the religion is spreading! But the two singing groups quickly found themselves at odds with one another upon disagreeing on which flag is superior. One blue zealot walked up to the red zealot and put his foot down. "Bitch please, blue flag all the way!"

"Nah uh," said the red zealot as he pointed to red base. "The red flag can kick the blue flag's ass any day, any time. The power of the red flag is magnificent, so much so that it will blind you with its shininess."

"Well so is blue flag," the blue zealot stepped up to the red and stared him hard in the visor. "It is simply, purely awesomeness of the highest caliber!"

"Uh…," Grif suddenly found all guns pointed his way. God damn, why do I open my mouth at the worst of times? He and the rest of the red team huddled together to fend off the growing numbers all around. Wash's team was under a similar situation. A fresh group of reds and blues walked up behind their respective zealots questioning their actions. One spoke in a strong Scottish accent. "Jaysis man, what are you doing now, Is this another one of your religious nonsensical plays?"

"It's not nonsense!" the red zealot shouted. He looked back to the Scottish man and said. "You have never been a believer. But one of these days we will make you into one…one of these days."

"Just lower your gun man," said the man as he looked to the rest and said the same. They all followed suite after one of the red zealots decided to listen to the Scottish man. Sarge looked at the diffusing situation as the normal blue soldier ordered the same of their zealots. Sarge shouted towards the red side. "Just so you guys know, if there is any blues being killed over there, I thoroughly approve! I mean, it's not like I should be doing so, but be sure to send me a video of it after you are done with em'!"

"Sorry about that mates," said the Scottish man who led the way to red base. "Ever since we got these guys transferred in, we haven't had a day of peace and silence. They are all fucking crazy I tell you."

"Can't you just tell them to dial down the religiousness?" Tucker asked looking around at the uncomfortable stares they gathered. The Scottish soldier shook his head. "We tried, but they will just try harder then. Honestly things were going good before. Both our sides were at peace and working together to survive in this crummy canyon. But then one day a ship comes to drop these religious nuts on us and flies away flicking us off like a twat."

"So tensions arose from after that," Washington guessed earning himself a nod. The Scottish man turned a corner to go into the underground level of the base. "Ever since they showed up, all they have talked about how great their flag is like those religious nuts trying to talk about how great Christ is and force you into their beliefs or some other shit. They created tensions with the other team's zealots, on the other hand us laid back group are still at peace with the other laid back group."

"Stuck in the middle of a Creek with two sides talking about whose flag is better, sucks to be you bro," Tucker conjectured earning a look of contempt and sarcasm. "Oh goody, your words are like sweet honey of compliments to my ears."


"No, fuck off."

"Religion has never ended well in a workplace," Wash mumbled recalling the various strange stages some people from the Freelancer program once went through. "It always made for some awkward conversations."

"To make things worse," the Scottish soldier stopped by the flag and motioned towards it. "Our nutters plan on warring for as long as they need to with the others all just so they can tear down their flag. I mean they don't even want to capture it like 'Capture the Flag'."

"What are their combat abilities like?" Wash inquired and the rest of the sane soldiers now in plain view laughed. One even took off his helmet and wiped his eye clean. "Oh man, that was the best laugh I have had in a long while. If you mean who I think you mean, they are like fourteen years old jacked up on ADD fighting like they are playing a video game as complete newbs."

Suddenly, the blue zealots lost interest in the talks and pointed their weapon at the red team. Wash found himself and his comrades in a similar situation. The Scottish soldier tried to diffuse the situation but he was quickly quietened with a gentle smoother of his mouth piece. "Shh, have faith in the glory of the red flag for we shall now punish these infidels, and then all dance the gangnam style in victory."

"Just so the red team knows," Sarge shouted from other side of the creek. "I approve of this senseless murder of filthy blue soldiers. Go team red!"

"Ah, they are with the red heretics," shouted one blue zealot as the rest surrounded them quickly. Grif gave an annoyed look to Sarge. "Thanks a lot, now we can look forward to a slow and painful death."

"But at least we all die together gang," Donut pointed out in his optimistic voice. Simmons shook his head noting. "I always dreamed of dying with a hot A.I. chick by my side, not with you idiots."

Simmons looked at Sarge who stared blankly at the maroon soldier. "Sorry sir, no offense intended. Plus, we are here to unite the two sides, not divide them."

"Says the nerd," Grif laughed just mere minutes before gun fire was about to open. Sarge grunted and looked from the maroon soldier to the orange, and then back again. "Grif was right when he always said that you are no fun Simmons."

"Okay, that's it!" Donut stepped forward in all his pink glory. "Time for Double-O Donut to rise once again and take center stage, Donut always gets what he wants no matter how deep or tight he must go. Now listen up blue zealots!"

The zealots all looked at one another, quite frightened by the change in character for Donut. His easy going demeanor turned into an authoritative figure. Through his in-built helmet speaker, he spoke for all to hear. "We are here because we need you to work with the reds to help defeat a big threat. So get your priorities together!"

Both sides are skeptical about what they heard. One of the red zealots activated the speakers in his helmet and asked. "What could be more important than protecting the magnificent flag from the enemy?"

"Well how about that if this threat should win, you guys can kiss your flags goodbye among a lot of other things," Tucker pointed out how the enemy will come and set fire to everything. This sent a shiver up their bodies as they quickly adjusted their attitude. They reluctantly shook hands with the other team and stood in formation. Their attitude changed much to accommodate what was required of them now. Both sides began reciting the importance of protecting this flag, for without the flag the world would be no more. The sane reds and blues looked at the zealots and to the BGC. They agreed to tag along seeing it as an opportunity to escape this dump of a Creek and go on an adventure.

Chloe stretched her arms and walked into the cafeteria after a long workout. She found the young assassin sitting on a nearby bench eating his breakfast. She waved over to him. He smiled and motioned her over. "How was the workout?"

"Pretty good," Chloe noted. "I gotta admit, it feels good to work up a sweat again."

She pointed to the tray and then to the time with a chuckle. "Finally awake and it's almost dinner time. It is hardly the time for breakfast I imagine."

Ken nearly choked on the scrambled eggs as he saw the time. "I was asleep for that long?!"

"Unless this is an elaborate prank by someone else in the base, yes you were," she sat down beside him and nicked a bite out of one of the sausages. He playfully flicked her forehead and asked. "Why didn't anyone wake me up?"

"Siris probably felt like letting you sleep in for once," she reasoned pointing out just how stressed he has been, and how hard he has been working in the recent weeks. Ken looked away in surprise. "You let it pass as well, that's unusual. Normally you are the first one to come wake me up in the morning like a nagging wife would to her husband."

Chloe lightly slapped Ken on his head and this time took a whole sausage to spite him. "That will teach you to make such tasteless jokes."

"But it's true," he mumbled. She approached the water dispenser and filled her cup to the brim. Without hesitation she chugged it all down in one go. "Just take it easy for a while Ken, you never know when you may not get another chance to do so."

"Take it easy? I don't exactly have the luxury to relax," Ken then turned the focus of the conversation on his mentor. "Where is Siris right now?"

"Oh him, he is out on patrol," Chloe opened a small snack bar and started munching. "Carolina accompanied him. Everyone else is out on patrol as well."

"Why everyone else?" Ken's eyes widened in surprise. You don't need these many numbers for patrol, that's just ridiculous. "Why aren't there any missions taking place right now?"

"Well, let's just say that we can blame that on the budget cuts," she explained causing for Ken to lower his gaze. Chloe was just as guilty as Ken in this matter. "We barely have anything left after investing so much in that mission to apprehend Aria, paying out the salaries and the bills to keep the base running. We are not flying pretty right now."

"Yeah…," he pointed for Chloe to lessen her distance. He brought his mouth close to her ears and whispered. "I'm going to let you in on a little secret Chloe. My sister, she is back in the city. Siris doesn't know about it right now."

Chloe jumped back in panic and begged for him not to do anything brash. "Don't be hasty about this. You know how it went down the last time we tried to go at this with just the three of us. Don't do anything you might regret."

"And what should I do until then, twiddle my thumbs?"

"We should tell Siris about this, discuss it with the others."

"By then it may be too late," Ken argued becoming more convinced that now was the time to act. Chloe set herself down beside him and gently held his hands in hers. "If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for me and your sister. We don't want to see you getting hurt."

Ken finished the last piece of bacon and slid the tray to the side. "I can't make any promises. Especially not when how the ATSG been ruled by outside political influence recently. This is no longer the same ATSG we knew of before."

"Please, try to understand," her eyes softened, and her grip tightened on his hands. "Please be patient. Things are always at their worst before they ever get better. Things will get better with everyone working together. I don't want to lose you, no one who cares for you does."

Ken tried to retrieve his hands but felt her grip tighten. The conversation was beginning to make him suddenly regret mentioning his thoughts to Chloe. But her feelings for him were becoming clearer by every word she spoke. "I don't want to see you hurt. If it were ever possible, I would have much rather wanted that we stay on the back lines and out of the battles…together."

Ken sat there, taken aback by her words, and her tone. He studied her quickly reddening cheeks. "I- Is this a confession Chloe?"

She looked away with an even redder face. She quickly stood up to exit the cafeteria before the young warrior even had a chance to stop her. Ken sat down with a fixated stare towards the table. His mind felt blank with only one question repeating on a loop. What just happened?

Carolina stared at the man in front of her deviating from their usual path. "Siris, where are you going?"

"I was wondering if we could take a little break over there?" he pointed to a small park by a rather secluded street. Carolina agreed to the suggestion, the two landed and Carolina took a seat breathing out a sigh of relief. Am I seriously starting to feel my age now? She looked at her partner by the vending machine. He retrieved two cans of coffee. Siris handed one to the orange haired woman who took off her helmet and felt the warmth against her cheek. That feels better, this is bliss. She cracked open the can and gently sipped the caffeinated drops. She should be here soon, thought the ex-mercenary.

Siris stared in the distance as the coffee cooled in his hands. Carolina took notice. She followed his gaze that seemed so distant, but focused on a group of young girls. Carolina observed the longing look in his eyes towards the girl in the center of her friends. When he noticed the group walking towards the park, he got up and hid behind nearby bushes. Carolina followed upon his insistence. "Sorry, but I can't let them see us."

"Because of the rules?"

"Sort off…," he mumbled. Carolina looked at his locked gaze as the young girl approached the vending machine and ordered a few drinks. Carolina tugged him at his arm. "If you want to go up to her, you should just do it."

"It's not that simple."

"Sure it is," Carolina was bent on proving that anything is possible with some effort, and smart thinking. "She is your daughter after all isn't she?"

Siris' eyes widened as he jerked away from her. "How did you know?"

"You just told me now," Carolina grinned in a most devious manner. "I didn't get a good look before when I accompanied you near her home, but she is pretty. Siris, it is a simple matter of going up to her. It will be a father talking to his own daughter, his own flesh and blood."

Siris shook his head and again repeated. "It's not that simple, especially when I have never spoken to her ever since my wife Megan and I separated. Just imagine the type of shock I would put her under when she suddenly finds out that a man claiming to be her father shows up in her life. What would she feel against me knowing that I was never there for her as she was growing up?"

"Yes, there will be shock. But at least she can slowly get used to it," Carolina clenched her fist as Leonard Church's face surfaced from her memories. "She deserves a father Siris, no child should be forced to live without a parent."

"She still has her mother."

"A mother can never truly fill the gap left by a missing father," Carolina explained recalling on her own experiences. "The two parents are always going to be different from one another. A father can teach things that a mother can't sometimes, and the true is opposite as well."

Siris nodded his head in absolute defeat. There really is no hiding these things from her. He sat down on the ground and sighed. "You are right. But I don't have the courage."

Carolina inched closer with a gentle smile that helped put his defenses at ease and make his mind more open. "If you don't have the courage, then ask your friends for it. True friends will be there through thick and thin, and they can always give you the courage you need."

Siris looked down towards the ground. His hand trembled ever so slightly, but was barely noticeable. He gritted his teeth. I hate feeling like this. He looked up at his daughter who smiled with no worries. Her carefree smile sent his parental longings into overdrive mode. He bit his lower lip and nearly punched the ground in frustration. "I'm afraid Carolina, just like I was with Ken. I know my daughter won't forgive me for staying out of her life all this time and Megan won't forgive me for coming back in. No matter what I do, there will never be a happy ending. No matter how hard I try, things will always seem bleak."

"You can either choose to wallow in self pity all day long," Carolina's voice became very serious. She was through with having to show kindness on someone who knew of their own faults but was unwilling to change. "Or you can actually take a risk worth taking. Only you can make the change you want to see happen."

Siris' daughter stood up with her friends, slowly strolling out of the park. He reached out his hand, but let it fall with gravity, helpless and demoralized. He stood up to give chase, but stopped by the vending machine where he noticed some change in the dispenser. She forgets change in the machine, just like I used to when I was her age. He smiled to himself opting to keep it.

Carolina followed behind Siris. She crossed her arms and asked. "What do you intend to do?"

He looked at the cans on the ground. Kids can still be so irresponsible with garbage now days. I guess some things don't change. Carolina tapped her foot waiting for a response. "Siris!"

He looked back with lost eyes. Siris threw the cans in the bins and sighed. He shook his head and threw out his arms baffled by the question. With a few simple words, he turned to go back to the base. "I don't know anymore."

A/N: More progress was made, more revelations are discovered and more trials are set up for the characters! What happens now? Wait and find out next time lol.

So was the return of the religious zealots a surprise to anyone? I mean we can't let the flag religion die out that easily now can we?

Constructive feedback is always appreciated!

Thanks for your support and readership, always appreciated! :)

~ Monty