Noah sets a point to be the single most high-maintenance prisoner the group had ever seen. He also tries, inactively, to steer the conversation so dull and awkward that they’d all leave him alone. He knows they’d already eaten beforehand and were only here to observe him, interrogate him, and if worse comes to worse, torture information out of him. Noah likes to take risks, and his gamble this time is how far he can go before they lose their minds and finally lunge for his head – he’d seen the knives strapped onto their belts.
It’s not that he’s not cooperating, but it is a bit dubious when he has one hand propped on his chin, the other extended on the dinner table, playing absentmindedly with his fork. Noah sure has ways to be an utter nuisance.
“I prefer steak,” he says.
A low cough sounds from the side. One of the soldiers looks like a deer in the headlights. He scooches his chair, unsuspectingly, a few inches away from Noah. Another soldier, the only female, blinks her eyes rapidly. She scratches her red-brown hair. The only one not paying attention is a tall man in full-noir attire. He’s seated in the corner, next to Hannes who has an amused twinkle in his eyes.
Yang Rong, seated directly in front of him, raises a neat brow. The table seating is similar to that of the time Noah was being interrogated – just the colonel and him in the middle of the room, with the addition of a candle placed in the center.
“What else, princess?” Yang Rong asks. “Do you want it medium rare, gluten-free and low fat too?”
“That wouldn’t be bad,” Noah answers. “I’m sensitive to what I eat. I have low blood sugar.”
“Is this a hotel?”
“If it were, I give a hospitality rating of one.”
“We don’t have steak,” Yang Rong responds. “Reindeer meat is very nutritious, though, and would help you grow taller.”
“I apologize for not being as needlessly tall and muscular as you, Colonel.” He rolls the appellative off his tongue, making sure it drips of sarcasm. “I am merely a law-abiding civilian who has spent his day to day life unminding of anyone, only to be captured and detained due to your baseless accusations.”
Yang Rong tells him, “It is not legal to take a trip to the Nordak Mountains.”
Noah pokes a hole into the meat with his fork. It doesn’t look very appetizing. “I don’t know where that is.”
“I think you do.”
“Where were you trying to go?”
“I am patient,” the man murmurs, “but I’m not opposed to using… more forceful measures.”
His head hurts again. He needs to eat something, too, but he feels nauseous looking at his plate. It’s caribou meat with nothing else, a fine meal, except he physically can’t force himself to ingest it. He feels weak all over. His tongue is still as sharp as it can be, however.
“Go ahead.” He raises his head. “I will kill at least one of you.”
His words grasp the attention of every soldier in the room. They hadn’t dropped their guards even once. Hannes, too, is ready to do some dirty work, his black knife unsheathed and sharpened. A threat. Yang Rong studies his expression with interest.
“You are aware you’re threatening a colonel?”
“—You are testing your limits, flower boy,” says Hannes from the corner. The man smiles – leers – at him and continues, “It would be enjoyable to cut you a little. I’d like to hear your pretty screams.”
“Then,” replies Noah, locking eyes with him, “I will kill you first.”
He isn’t lying. The killing intent is strong.
It’s Noah who starts it first but Hannes follows immediately. Two chairs are flipped and kicked away simultaneously, crashing into the walls and knocking into an opened cabinet. The steel plates rattle inside before toppling down and the glasses, too, are knocked in collateral. Rough cracks and splinter noises fill the dining room as Hannes engages with his fists, not holding back in the slightest as he delivers blow after blow. Noah parries despite his injuries and remains equally as vicious through it all – agile kicks to the extremities, jabs to the solar plexus, the sternum, everywhere he can find openings.
It’s clear who has more combat experience – Hannes. The man is big and burly, but he utilizes his body to his advantage. He’s aggressive when he pulls out the knife a minute later and goes straight for Noah’s neck. He dodges but not easily, his body backed more and more to the wall behind. The knife flies by so quickly it almost scrapes the side of his cheek. It’s a narrow fight and a dangerous one too.
Though the battle is becoming increasingly hostile, the soldiers around them do not make a move. The young male soldier, the one Noah recognizes to be the most green of the bunch, had tried to jump forward to stop them at first, but the man next to him held him back. The latter is calm, just like Yang Rong who is still seated at the table, watching them like a hawk.
“Pretty boy,” Hanne’s smile is provoking, “you should learn some manners.”
“You should fuck off,” replies Noah with a similarly mocking smile.
When Hannes gets heated, his alpha scent is released in full, engulfing the room in a rancid, musky odor so strong Noah can almost taste. His eyes darken considerably. Before he loses his senses, he becomes even more fierce, hurling himself up from the floor and violently pulling the man by the collar with all his strength. He slides his hand inside his pocket mid-fight and pulls out a switchblade, one he’d pilfered from the storage shack, and shoots it upward, aiming to pierce through the man’s jaw. The blade is small, not for heavy-duty use and especially not for combat purposes, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be lethal in his hands.
His eyes reflect luminescence, murderous and predatory, the colors of them glowing an eerie light. The steel blade flashes onto them and then, for a millisecond, his pupils constrict into vertical lines. Even Hannes can’t keep with the way he moves, dynamic and nimble, piercingly accurate.
Noah is pulled away before the knife can make contact – more like he’s hauled away, very roughly, his wrist grabbed so firmly it may leave marks for days. There’s also pressure on his upper abdomen, and there’s only one person who’d use such underhanded methods knowing fully well how painful his ribs feel.
“I allowed for a fight, not for a murder,” says Yang Rong, the timbre of his voice dropping into a dangerous territory. He squeezes his body so hard another rib might break. “Do you want to be locked up?”
Noah chokes from the pain and doesn’t respond, gritting his teeth to bear it.
“Hannes Miller,” the colonel turns to his partner and gives him a look that screams volumes, “you have overdone it.”
“It’s my bad,” the man replies. “I was joking around, but it went out of hand, eh?”
Nobody confirms the validity of his statement. His eyes are still bloodthirsty from the thrill of battle and his alpha too takes a while to suppress. Hannes is the only one who sustained a bloody nose and he seems to be sadistically enjoying it too. He wipes against it with the back of his hand and grins so chillingly at the sight of red.
Noah thinks that alphas really are so stereotypical – battle-hungry, aggressive and arrogant. It makes him all the more willing to murder. He struggles against Yang Rong’s hold and spits out, “There’s no need to joke around, we can—"
“You are reckless, impulsive and incorrigibly stubborn.” Yang Rong pulls him center and forces him to sit on the chair, now upright courtesy of the meek-looking, black-haired soldier. “With your injuries, it’d be easy to strap you down, stuff you in a box and ship you to the Nexus. Do you want to continue the fight, or will you kindly accept my invitation for dinner?”
The colonel hands him a fork. It’s the same one he was holding earlier; the man must’ve taken it during the scuffle. Yang Rong also pushes the plate toward him. The meat is cold now. “Here. Grow big and strong, then you can pick another fight.”
He raises his head. “Are you mocking me?”
“…No,” Yang Rong sighs, “you look pasty white and half-dead. We don’t have steak here, but reindeer is just as nutritious and hard to come by, alright?”
Noah really does look half-dead, at best. The hot shower might’ve cleared his mind but it does little to help his physical state – groggy, weak and still feverish. He absentmindedly stabs at the meat, holds it up with his fork and frowns. It’s not appetizing at all. He opens his mouth and says, “…I don’t like steak either.”
Yang Rong rubs his temples in exasperation. “What do you like?”
“I really do have low blood sugar.” He gives an offhanded reply.
“What does that mean?”
Noah sighs and puts his head down on the table, pushing the plate away in the process. The fatigue is coming in at full force. It’s the headache and dizziness, coupled with his pounding heartbeat that tell him he’d really overexerted himself. He rests against his forearm and mutters, inaudibly, “Means I’ll faint now…”
Yang Rong hears him. “Do you have to be this delicate?”
Noah doesn’t bother to give the slightest acknowledgement that he hears him, merely burying himself deeper into his own arms and closing his eyes to conserve energy. He’s slumped on the table, uncaring of the whispers of those around him.
“Pretty boy,” a voice snaps him out of lull, “consider this an apology, a’ight? You put up a nice fight and I do like you.”
Soft thumps and crinkles are heard by the table. Noah raises his head and stares with deadpan eyes. In front of him are pieces of candy wrapped in foil, looking way too suspicious and out of place. The lethargy makes him more unimpressed than usual. “Drugs?”
“They’re not drugged,” Hannes says as he wipes his bloody nose with a handkerchief. He tosses it out randomly on the floor, to Noah’s utter chagrin. “I can eat one to show you if you want.”
He takes a few pieces, unwraps them and plops them all in at once. “I don’t want you less than five meters away from me.”
The sugar takes longer than expected to kick in, which meant the whole squad assembles for a summit meeting while the prisoner in question is face-planted on the table. Li Jiayun is the first to raise questions, finally able to speak after huddling in the corner for a whole hour. Her hair is disheveled, and her bangs are tied in a short updo, revealing the harsh bags under her eyes.
“Are we keeping him with us, Colonel Yang?”
“We’re not keeping him,” the man replies, sighing as he undoes his shirt cuff. “We’re sending him to the city for genetic testing. Any objections?”
“Colonel…” This time, it is Jae who speaks up. He places a juice box along with a can of raisins on the table, close to Noah just in case the latter needs them – and Noah certainly seems to, because he’s still pale and slightly shivering, his eyebrows furrowed in distress. “He doesn’t want to go.”
Jae slides in between Yoo Seok and Hannes, integrating back into the circle. “Do you still suspect he’s an anomaly?”
Yang Rong asks, “What is your opinion?”
“What if he just looks different? What if it’s nothing else?”
“That is unlikely. His appearance aside, he is uncannily informed, sharp-witted and well-educated. How can he absorb this much knowledge with the limited resources outside?” Yang Rong has a habit of folding his arms when he’s in thought. It’s why he looks patronizing to everyone who isn’t familiar with him. Even when dressed in simple black and gray, he looks overly eye-catching, polished and intimidating. His most bloodcurdling features are his green, deep-set eyes.
He continues. “Rare. Not to mention, his mannerisms are too different from those who reside in the slums. He’s a picky eater, aggressive yet pampered in nature. He’s demanding, unruly, and if there’s anything else… it’d be the way he looks at us.”
Even Yoo Seok quirks an eyebrow at that. “How so?”
“Especially to Hannes and me. He looks at us like we’re trash not worth seeing.” Yang Rong curves his lips a little. “That’s if I put it mildly. He has many reasons to be hostile, but my point is that he shows a large range of emotions – we don’t see that from anomalies.”
They’re suspecting him but they’re also going in circles. Each sentence they say contradicts another and then it becomes a fifty-fifty of what exactly Noah is – human or not? – and who he is and where he’s from. They have no certain answers to any, but they can deduce.
Li Jiayun muses aloud, “An intelligent hybrid? He would be a dangerous species.”
“Potentially. I’m hesitant because he is too intelligent. We are familiar with anomalies and know how to tell them apart. His personality, actions, and physique are just…human.” Yang Rong directs a question to the younger soldier. “Jae, what do you think is his upbringing?”
“I feel that… you are observing him from an off-angle,” Jae says. “His perspective is that he’s a civilian from the outside – the slums – and while it’s true he was aggressive, he hadn’t actively tried to kill…ah, I mean, infect us. Anyone would be scared if they were suddenly shoved into a car and taken somewhere else. If he were one of those creatures, he’d try to eat us instead of sticking a knife into our throats.”
Li Jiayun nods. “Jae has a point. If he really is infected, his movements would also be stiff, like a creature struggling to adapt to human muscles and joints. We saw from his fight with Hannes that he has no problems moving.”
“When I first saw him and when I dressed his wounds, I-I don’t know, I just felt he wasn’t dangerous. I can’t know for certain, but I’ll say it’s intuition, just like you have your intuition, Colonel.” Jae rubs his temple and continues, “I also think he’s… Well, nevermind. I may be projecting myself, so please don’t take my words into heart.”
“He may not be infected,” Yang Rong says, his eyes piercingly dark, “but he had been bitten. Have you forgotten?”
Jae hums quietly. “I know.”
Yoo Seok asks in his stead, “What do you want to do?”
“If he has certain immunity to the radiation, or if the radiation is inert inside him, it’s even more valuable for us to take him to the Nexus.” The colonel looks at every person and says, “It is our mission, isn’t it? We recover samples and ship our findings to the lab. Every risk is worth humanity’s prolonged survival.”
Hannes finally makes a noise. He’d been oddly silent through it all. “Yang Rong, none of us care about that shit and you know it.”