"You've got to be kidding me."
The past few months at Eden had been fairly peaceful. In fact, it was the longest period of peace that Zenith had enjoyed ever since he could remember. There had been a small handful of raids where the resistance had taken food and other basic supplies, but since they had nothing to do with Sector 0, Zenith and the other Eden Guards hadn't been involved.
At first, Zenith didn't know what to do with the extra time on his hands. Apart from the occasional training he did with the other Eden Guards, he had nothing much to do. He didn't need to sleep or eat either (apart from charging once every week or so). Initially, he had spent his time wandering around Eden. He took care to visit as many sectors as he could, and he especially took his time seeing the sectors where people lived. When he did, he couldn't help but imagine what his life would have been like if he and Reina and been born and raised in Eden instead of on the outside.
When he wasn't wandering around Eden by himself, he found himself being dragged along to accompany Aya and Seris on their usual excursions. He had rather enjoyed their frequent outings, as it gave him something to do. Once in a while, Alice would also tag along with them, and the three ladies would often tease him mercilessly.
One day, Alice had once again summoned him to the Operation Room. Zenith was mildly surprised to see that Aya had been summoned as well, but given the nature of the mission that Alice gave them, Aya's presence had made perfect sense.
"You can't honestly expect me to agree to this." Zenith demanded.
Alice had wanted Zenith and Aya, the two Eden Guards who grew up on the outside and remembered their lives there, to go on a reconnaissance mission of the largest resistance groups there. Of course, FLIGHT was included in that number as well.
"Oh, but I do expect you to agree to this, Zenith." Alice exclaimed while peering at Zenith though the top of her glasses.
"You want me to spy on FLIGHT! That's the resistance group that I grew up in, you know." Zenith exclaimed. "You're telling me to spy on the people that I grew up with!"
"She never said anything about spying, you know." Aya pitched in. "We just need to give her an approximation on their current numbers and such."
"It's basically the same thing." Zenith muttered, frustrated. "Anyway, I really can't agree to this. Why can't you send someone else instead?"
"Well," Alice explained, "Elliot doesn't know very much about life on the outside. He wouldn't know what to expect as well as you two do. As for Seris… She doesn't remember about the time that she spent on the outside, so she wouldn't know either."
"Even still," Zenith pressed on, "why do I…"
"Zenith," Alice interrupted him with a tone that demanded obedience, "I have your word, remember?"
Zenith grimaced. He had already known that he had promised Alice that he would comply with his orders in exchange for Reina's safety.
"Alight." He said at last, albeit begrudgingly. "I'll do it."
"Very good." Alice exclaimed pleasantly with a sly smile on her face. "Departure will be at exactly oh-one-hundred tonight. I want the two of you to charge for now. I'll send you a more detailed explanation of your mission while you're charging. I expect a full report from the two of you later, okay?"
"It's almost seven in the morning. Should we go back to Eden for now and come back later?" Zenith asked.
He and Aya had traveled on their Cherubims to various other Districts and scouted out information from a few of the major resistance groups. It had taken between two to three hours to collect a satisfactory amount of information for each individual resistance group.
"Hmm…" Aya said while thinking. "I think we can fit at least one more group in today, and we can come back and do the rest tomorrow. The closest resistance group from here would be…"
"FLIGHT." Zenith finished Aya's sentence for her. "It's the group that I used to be in."
"Oh." Aya responded, sounding unsure of what to say. "If you'd like, I could go alone for this one. I'm fairly sure I can handle this by myself."
"Thanks for your offer I really appreciate it. But," Zenith smiled sadly. "I still think I should go. Actually, I kind of want to go. I want to know how everyone's doing. I'm pretty sure that a lot has changed since I've last been there. I mean, FLIGHT is one of the biggest resistances out here now!"
He really couldn't believe it at first. When he was still a part of it, FLIGHT hadn't been very large. Zenith figured that it was Leo Titor's excellent leadership that brought FLIGHT to where it was now.
"Well, if you say so." Aya replied kindly while smiling back. "I'm sure it'll be nice to be back. I mean, you still consider it to be your home, right?"
"What do you mean?" Zenith asked. "I live at Eden now. I'm not a member of FLIGHT anymore. I don't belong there anymore."
"Don't be silly." Aya chastised him, much to Zenith's surprise. "It's still where your fondest memories are, am I right? Even if you live in Eden now, you still don't think of it as your home. Of course," Aya added with a much more mischievous tone, "Seris and I will make sure Eden becomes your real home eventually."
It was very strange.
The buildings in District 34 had become older since he had last seen them. There were more cracks in the walls and the roads than Zenith remembered. Some of the older buildings he had known had collapsed to ruin and rubble. There was graffiti that he had never seen before on the walls as well. It saddened him to see how much District 34 had aged without him.
But what felt strangest of all was that he was hiding in the shadows. There weren't too many people out on the streets, but the two Eden Guards took caution nevertheless. Having sharper hearing and clearer vision than any normal human would have being helped, of course.
"-If we cut through this way, we'll find a shortcut to the FLIGHT headquarters-" Zenith informed Aya.
"-Well that's pretty handy.-"
"-Yeah. I used to use this shortcut a lot when I was younger. I had to stop when Reina started catching on, though. It's handy, but it can be a little dangerous because some of the pathway is unstable.-"
The two Eden Guards nimbly stepped across the worn-down wall that Zenith had uncovered. Walking across the top of the wall, he knew, would lead almost straight to the headquarters. The wall had aged more than he had originally expected. He and Aya had to leap over many of the areas that had broken off over time. Zenith doubted that he would still have been able to use his old shortcut had he not been an Eden Guard.
After they had gotten across, the two Eden Guards hid within the shadows to make sure that no one else was in sight. It was still rather early in the morning, but there was bound to be at least a few people awake.
"-Zenith, look.-" Aya pointed out. Zenith followed her gaze to find a little girl, no older than four or five, running through the empty path with a huge smile planted on her face.
"-What's that girl doing out here all alone?-" Zenith wondered.
"-I don't know.-" Aya replied. "-Where are her parents, or guardians? A girl that young should be with someone, right? I mean, it's pretty dangerous.-"
"-I bet they're not too far behind. Let's just wait here for a little while in case someone comes along.-" Zenith suggested. Although he didn't tell Aya, he had a hunch that the young girl's parent might take longer than a little while to come and pick her up. It was entirely possible, if the girl's parent was in a meeting with Leo and the girl was waiting for her parent to finish. Reina, he knew, had probably waited for him by wandering the streets as well. No matter how many times he had told her to stay still, she would always come running from the streets when he had finished his business with Leo.
"-Things might get bad if that girl doesn't leave soon.-" Aya said all of a sudden.
"-What do you mean?-" Zenith asked. Aya only ever became serious like this if something really big was going on.
"-That building over there, the one with the broken door. It's going to collapse soon.-"
"-How can you be so sure?-" Zenith asked. But he soon found out that he didn't have to. As he zoomed in on the building, his sensors gave him a visual on all of the weak points of the building. It was so damaged that it was a wonder that it had even been standing until then.
"Daddy, you're done!" The girl exclaimed with glee as Zenith heard someone approaching them from the other side of the area. He couldn't see who it was because of his position within the shadows, but he prayed that the two residents of District 34 would leave before the building gave away.
"Hey…" The girl's father called. He was still pretty far off. "I thought I told you to stay ho… Karen!"
But Zenith had seen it as well. Without a second thought, he rushed to the little girl as the building fell apart and debris started to fall down upon her.
"Over here!" Aya called from somewhere off to his side. Zenith blindly followed her voice and somehow managed to evade the falling debris with the little girl safely in his arms.
"Karen, are you alright?" The girl's worried father called out after things had begun to calm down. The little girl begun to cry as she pried herself out of Zenith's arms and ran to where her father was.
"Who are you?" The girl's father asked as he approached the two Eden Guards with his sobbing child in his arms. A look of shock entered his face as he recognized them. "Silver hair, golden eyes, and black uniforms. You're Eden Guards, aren't you?"
"Well, so much for secrecy." Aya muttered.
"What are you doing here?" the man demanded.
Zenith stood up. Something had been bothering him for a while. But a part of him didn't want to find out exactly what that was. Finally, he turned around to face the little girl's father.
The first things he registered were the man's blonde hair and the signature red ribbon of FLIGHT tied around his left arm. This, Zenith figured, was to be expected. There were a lot of people in FLIGHT who would probably fit under this profile.
And then he recognized the all too familiar scar above the man's right eye. There was only one person that he knew with such a scar. It was probably the familiarity in the man's voice that had thrown him off as well.