[December 2066, present time]
When he regains consciousness, the pain is excruciating. His head is throbbing and splitting at the same time. The concussion is not the worst he’d ever experienced, but it counts as a close second. If described more viciously, it would be compared to the sensation of knives digging into his brain, electrocuting his circuits, one seismic shock at a time.
He’s so lagged he doesn’t open his eyes immediately; instead, he tries to will away the pain, tries to wait for the ache to subside. Shallow breaths escape his lips – it’s cold, so much that he could feel the warmth coming from his hoarse, dry mouth. It’s also alarmingly loud – there’s a commotion around and he’s not in a state to handle all of this.
It doesn’t help that his shoulder feels like it’s been set on fire – what had happened? – and it really doesn’t help that he’s on a moving vehicle. Every bump and turn irritates his wounds and belatedly, he realizes he’s also sporting two broken ribs. At least.
And also, he’s… kidnapped, his malfunctioning brain provides.
It checks out: moving vehicle, jumbled crashes and bangs, a ride so bumpy he’s definitely in the trunk, foreign voices he can’t quite decipher. Then there are his hands that he tries to move, only to find that they’re bound tightly behind him.
The danger alarms flare out just as quickly as the truck makes an abrupt twist, slamming against some obstacle, sending him plummeting toward an iron-like surface. His gasps lowly and opens his eyes. The scene around him is painfully blurry. Nothing is visible sans splotches of black and brown, strange shapes, double mirages, chaotic inkblots.
“Drive quicker,” says a distinctively male voice. “They’re gaining on us.”
His immediate flight-or-fight conjures ten possibilities to escape before discarding all of them. Out the door – fat chance they’d let him reach that far. Break the windshield, but that’s if he could rid the driver. Through the windows, unlikely, given that he’d almost given himself another head injury to add to his concussion when he collided against them earlier. It’s reinforced glass, bulletproof for sure.
His eyes are starting to adjust.
He’s situated inside a military vehicle from the looks of it; the interior is more spacious and the seats are facing inward unlike standard commercial trucks. He’s by the back next to several brown crates that smell absolutely rancid. The smell is also nauseatingly familiar. There’s no mistaking rotten beast blood and unfortunately, with his very sharp sense of smell (blame dysgenics), it just about makes him gag.
So he’s not in the trunk, thankfully, but he is still in the backseat of an unlit vehicle, destination unknown, forced next to loot crates of dead organisms, surrounded by clear sounds of gunfire.
In a stuffy, dark corner surrounded by corpses, the lone young man struggles infinitely with the ropes around his wrist. The kidnappers were certainly meticulous, making sure to discard his knife… or, did he lose it elsewhere? He can’t put the pieces yet with his muddled head. He remembers going uphill. The mountain path should’ve been unpopulated, so for him to be captured is simply poor luck.
His head throbs again. All miscellaneous thoughts are pushed to the back of his head and the young man concentrates on removing the binds. The overhead lights are off, but he sees blurry silhouettes of two people near him. They’re carrying light machine guns and they’re fully concentrated on the creatures outside.
The sounds of combat mute everything sans a low-sounding male voice. There’s command and firmness in his tone, the type that inexplicably catches attention. Theoretically it cannot compete with gunfire, but there’s a certain quality that’s raised to be heard.
The man empties a magazine and tosses his firearm on the seat. He retreats his head back in the vehicle just before a human-sized worm squirts out a gallon of fluids in his direction. A goo of ugly brown mashes against the window glass and the decay fizzles upon contact.
“Not bad.” The man is mysteriously intrigued. “Our vehicle is solid.”
“It’s not our vehicle,” reports the person next to him. This person is also male, though his voice is a lot softer and less mature in comparison. He even stammers a bit before saying, “B-But I can request us one in the next report, Colonel!”
The first man hums in satisfaction. He turns toward his companion in the front and yells, “Old man, get on with it!”
A dissatisfied snort then an audible click is heard before the person addressed throws a cylindrical grenade out the passenger window. He responds with a bit of humor, “Better watch out. The fatality radius is eight meters.”
“And the injury radius?”
“You fuck—” the colonel swears aloud. “Li Jiayun! Hit the accelerator!”
The grenade explodes mesmerizingly, engulfing the back trail in a sea of flames. The truck plows through an ice field, drifting across it so hard that it fissures. Steel fragments pelt the vehicle’s back and sides, sending all passengers to duck for cover.
The colonel gets the worst of it and the residue impact has him smashing against a stack of wooden crates. He hadn’t recovered before a long, black knife slides dangerously along his neck.
“Do not move.”
An ice-cold voice silences everything. Before the words were even uttered, though, the knife had already sliced through the first layer of skin. Blood trickles downward and the young man does not hesitate to etch it deeper.
The threat was overdone, really, but blame it on his impairment. He hadn’t heard much of their conversation nor did he care enough to. Each motion makes it more and more probable for him to be inebriated. The young man doesn’t know what they’d done to him – if they’d done anything – and it’s with feral instinct that he pins the taller man against the closest surface, blade bared to kill.
Pale, slender fingers grip the colonel’s right shoulder, forcing him to remain in place. It’s not the most ideal lock, but a chokehold became undoable when the taller man had instinctively shifted his elbow, digging hard on his injured ribs.
Their proximity is dangerously close. Body heat radiates from them both, but less from the younger man whose aura is that of frost. His silver hair only makes his appearance colder. Time stills for half a minute before the colonel breaks the silence.
“When did you take my knife?”
There’s an underlier to his tone, something the young man can’t quite place, a mix of amusement and curiosity, brimming closer to the latter. There is no response given. The colonel doesn’t turn his head to meet the other’s eyes either, opting to stay motionless.
“Oh,” the man hums, “it fell out.”
The subtle movement in his peripheral doesn’t go unnoticed. The young man sweeps his gaze over to front compartment, eyes narrowed in warning. The other soldier, meeker looking and soft-faced, has his brows knotted up in concern. He doesn’t drop his gun, however, and neither does the young man loosen his hold on the blade.
“Colonel Yang,” the person says, “what do we do?”
“You should’ve tied him up tighter,” the colonel responds. “Next time, his feet too.”
The jut of his Adam’s apple moves when he speaks, pressing critically against the sharp, steel edge. Upon hearing the last comment, the young man’s face turns glacial and if it weren’t for his injuries and the small bit of conscientiousness holding him back, he would’ve carved a hole into the man’s jugular.
“Pretty boy,” someone else says to him. It’s the oldest-looking man in the front seat. “Not a very nice way to greet the ones who saved your life.”
The tone carries warning and the young man matches it in kind. He responds slowly, the syllables coming off raspy but no less hostile. “Where are you taking me?”
This time, the one who responded is the man who remains with his back toward him, pinned against a two-meter crate. He’s awfully languid despite being a centimeter close to death.
The young man sneers. “No thank you.”
“That is not possible,” the other replies. “Alternatively, we can start the interrogation now – that is, if you’re willing to cooperate.”
“No thank you,” he repeats.
The colonel chuckles when he says, “That’s what I figured.”
An elbow jabs hard at his fractured ribs, the spot pinpointed right between the lower torso and the dip of his abdomen. The impact is painful enough to make his vision go black and he chokes out a gasp, staggering backward despite himself. Simultaneously, he’s forced to loosen his grip on the weapon.
The colonel uses the opening to grab his wrist and twist it backward roughly. If a tad more force was used, there’s little doubt his wrist would break.
“…!” The young man flinches in pain, but not before he’s knocked onto the floor. Their positions are flipped instantly and now the colonel’s the one pinning him, one leg pressing on his ribs and the other locking his movements.
There’s no mercy to be had here. The power play – not to mention their body size difference – renders him immobile and caged on the floorboard. While the young man is lean muscle and agile joints, the tall soldier is hard bones and harsher concaves, trained resilient and roguelike. The scuffle was so dynamic that he couldn’t keep up in his muddled state. Beads of sweat form on his forehead, dampening the tips of his bangs.
“Hm…” the man presses him down more firmly, “you should not be moving yet.”
It is only now that he takes a closer look at the black-haired man’s face. Arrogant is the first that comes to mind when he speaks, but it’s the magnetism that catches him off-guard. The colonel has the workings of a mercenary, the ruthless kind, with bloodstains all over his face, tough skin, defined brows and combat-ready eyes. His military uniform still has structure despite its tattered hems. The dog tag dangling out from his shirt, too, match him well.
It is at this moment that the stainless-steel tag reflects a glint of light against the younger man’s face.
The man looks equally as surprised to see his appearance. Forest green bores in heterochromatic eyes, one turquoise blue and the other golden-yellow, oddly bright despite the dimness. They shine back, mirrorlike, unyielding.
Heterochromia iridis is not unheard of, though the condition has gotten especially rare in an era of selective breeding. The young man’s eyes, though, are particularly haunting. Perhaps it’s his pupils that look less round and more vertical, or perhaps it’s just the shadows that make them seem so. Either way, they carry beastly allure.
“…Peculiar,” the colonel murmurs. “Are those your natural—”
“Get off of me.”
The colonel quirks a handsome brow. “You came onto me first.”
He cranes his neck as if to prove his point. The slit made by the knife has gotten deeper and darker, the blood around it drying but not yet clot. The stalemate had given the smaller man enough time to recollect himself, to blink away the haze that’s been clogging his eyes. His breathing had also steadied gradually and then he’s started to smell the scent of blood. It doesn’t come from the rotten corpses nearby, but from the man above him. It’s overpowering, nauseating, addicting.
The scent permeates his senses after a single whiff, and he jolts backward so hard it gives him whiplash. The man is still speaking, but his words hardly matter.
“You hurt such a handsome man. Are you aware that this body is worth decades of free meals at the city’s canteen? Won’t you take responsibility?”
The colonel speaks in droves, going on and on about miscellaneous this and that, none of which the young man registers. The words are completely filtered out because all he knows now is that he’s being suppressed and overstimulated by that scent that drills into his very core.
Manic anger, disgust and fear overtakes him, and he thrashes against the armlock, eyes constricted wildly. The other man is taken aback by the overreaction and it’s the one chance he takes to knee the soldier by the pelvic, trying to force a flip and high tail out of here.
The colonel releases the hold on his wrists to catch his knee. The young man tries to reach for the knife – long discarded on the floor – but it gets kicked all the way to the front compartment. At least he’s in standing position now and he’d have a higher chance to get away, however messy the escape might be.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to ponder the exit routes again before a hand deftly strikes the back of his head, blacking him out instantly. His eyes lose all luster and his breaths come shallow as he falls forward in jetlagged motion. The man catches his limp body, one arm on his waist and the other on the base of his neck.
Before he sets back into unconsciousness, he feels warmth engulfing him whole, smells a linger of vetiver cologne, overhears the sotto voce remark by his ears.
“Take a rest,” the colonel says with surprise still evident in his tone. “You are too fierce.”