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The Test of Time

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<MILLENIA>

‘Alerts 34M, Alerts 34M.’ The speaker blasted off, ‘An auction by GENE Corp is launching for the first time since 2162 in 43rd Avenue. Everyone is kindly welcomed to participate. Thank you.’

Jinki absent-mindlessly grazed a button of his watch on his left wrist. Details were displayed as the small timepiece lit up.

[ ]

Date: 15th September – 2nd October

Time: 0900 – 2300 (everyday)

Info: GENE Corp is the one responsible for the Sigma Vista Academy, and has been the most trusted foundation for the space navigation to date.

[ ]

Slowing the car to a light hum, he pulled out the key. He started to rummage through his backseat before realizing the car was quiet. “Read it for me, ACE.”

“It’s basically every day, starting Tuesday next week.” ACE’s voice was nonchalant.

Humming in acknowledgement, Jinki seized his briefcase before stepping out from the car. “Anyhow, thanks. Tell me if you are interested on anything at the auction.”

There was no response and he just shrugged – typical moody ACE was nothing unexpected. However, ACE was signaling an incoming call from Inspire right then and there. He sighed out in annoyance.

“You should just block him you know,” Touching his watch screen softly, Jinki fumbled with an earpiece in the right pocket of his pants and put it in his ear.

“You wouldn’t want to block Donghae, sir.”

Jinki refused to acknowledge the status-address-sarcasm dripping from the intelligent machine when all of a sudden, a cheery male voice (almost) assaulted his eardrums.

“Hey, Jinks!”

“…”

“Jinki,”

Jinki bit his lower lip, opting to hum in reluctance instead of saying anything. It had been almost twelve months now, since his older brother stayed back at the Inspire space station and while it wasn’t hard to get along with his younger brother in their new home, the new community left him exhausted. Sure, they had been communicating on a daily basis, but that was three months prior. He wasn’t being bitter about it (if that was what you were thinking), wasn’t supposed to make his brother felt bitter about it either – there was nothing to be sorry about.

They fell into silence as Jinki continued to pace on the corridor hall heading to the elevator where he un-coincidentally saw Chanyeol from the corner of his eyes. Ignoring the tall man as he passed by, Jinki started.

“Ask Chanyeol to keep his business out from my bloody office.”

“Jinki – “

“Do that or else.”

“Or else…?“

“… I hang up. Or else I hang up.” Jinki tried to be as assertive as he could. And the man on the other side of the atmosphere sighed.

“You won’t do that.”

Exasperated, Jinki huffed. “Just get him out of my sight. I can’t deal with that giant freak.” He continued to babble, “Whatever you did say about me, you should ask about my perspective first. You know I can’t leave Taemin alone. We are all he’s ever got. And now he depends on me entirely this time around.”

His chest was heaving with so much irritation he never knew he had hidden inside him and he looked almost remorseful for lashing out at his older brother. But Jinki just knew this: apologies didn’t always cut it.

“I’m sorry,”

“I don’t ask for that,” Jinki snapped. Taking a moment to settle, he muttered, “I’m sorry.”

Perhaps there were too many things accumulating over the months, as he was trying to remember everything that had happened during Donghae’s absence. Jinki wanted to tell him, how in the duration of three months, Taemin had passed the dance competition with various appraisals, everyone attempting to scout his younger brother, wanted to tell him that he has been accepted to be an engineer in the company he desired so much and how they had proposed him his own room due to his experiences but he had politely declined.

He wanted to talk about the new neighbors, who were so kind and generous as they had given both Taemin and him fresh home-made meals every single day after realizing the engineer was a terrible cook and the dancer had zero knowledge in any domestic-related thing.

Jinki wanted to ask whether Donghae ever felt awkward while getting adjusted to life on the space station, if all his colleagues were treating him well once they had discovered the male often had nightmares every once in a while. Had any female up there show any interest in him somehow, despite how obvious it was that the older male wasn’t into that kind of potential lover unless it led straight to the marriage arrangement? Was his older brother still missing their parents like how he and Taemin always did every single time they looked at the stars that reminded them so much of their daddy and mommy.

“I’m sorry for not contacting you or Taemin.”

The engineer was quick, “This is pure business, isn’t it?” Another sigh came from Donghae.

“Inspire needs you.”

“No, Inspire needs my expertise. They’re going to abandon me once I’m done with whatever they want me to do.”

“You make it sounds like Inspire implanted a bug-chip into ACE.”

“I’d kill them if they dare to. Hae, I don’t want to do this. I want to have a normal life.” Jinki was pleading, hoping for his brother to understand him.

“It isn’t as bad as you think it is.”

“I don’t know, Hae. I can’t just leave Taemin here.”

“Talk to him about it. He’s a grown man now, isn’t he? Jinks, this isn’t just something trivial, you know that. I know I’m such a big bad monster for forcing you to accept the offer, but this is a nice change.”

Closing his eyes, Jinki rubbed his eyebrows tiredly. “Should we change the topic? I’m feeling dizzy.” Then he continued, “By the way Hae, you are a big bad geeky nerd. Monsters don’t even exist.”

In response, Donghae just laughed at the remark. “That is so lame, Jinki-ah.”

 

Several days later Xiumin came knocking at his residence in the middle of the night, looking so innocent with his light pink hair that contrasted with the dark eyeliner he had on.

The older man greeted Taemin as the boy opened the door with so much enthusiasm, only to be greatly confused by the mere stranger smiling like this was a normal occurrence.

“Can I stay overnight?”

“We don’t accept visitors this late,” was all Jinki said, not moving from his position on the sofa.

Taemin pointedly looked over at Jinki, “You know each other?”

The strange guy, however, beat the engineer, “We do.” And Jinki just shrugged nonchalantly.

“Just close the door, Taem.”

As the younger brother blinked in confusion between Jinki and the stranger, Taemin decided to voice his concern, “I don’t know. It’s cold outside.”

Millenia was fewer degrees colder than Earth as night approached, and it chilled anyone straight to the bone. It wasn’t right at all to leave an announced stranger to die in their neighborhood. People might kick them out from their tight closely-knit circle.

“Whatever,” Jinki blurted out. “Just close the door. And I’m not entertaining him.” Standing up, the engineer walked away from the scene, not caring if he came off as rude to his guest. “I’ll be in my room.”

Taemin glanced briefly at the stranger. “You’re really pissing him off.” Sighing, the young boy led the man inside. “Come. I’ll show you the guest room.”

Curiosity was a thing Taemin was proud of, because that eagerness could make him so courageous and adventurous without him having any second thoughts - it was like he owned the world and no one would ever think of stopping him. But he needed to play the right cards in order to have the best output, as to fuel even more curiousness within him. His brother's current profession wasn't something he’d love to ponder on as the strings of alphabet got strewn together with big numbers and made his head hurt. Yet the intriguing technology dislodged the dull impact of mundane life.

Hence he knew Jinki enjoyed the intricate life with equations all over his head and still, the younger pestered the elder about it - the varying pleasant faces of Jinki all he ever needed to keep him fascinated of the new discoveries. The unfamiliar man behind him wasn't really an issue, thus the real question being whether Jinki would need to follow the stranger guy; it drove him mad because the dancer was acutely aware that it was just that that was going to happen.

Opening the guest room, Taemin scrutinized the guy. "What are you going to do with him?"

To be frank, he wasn't all opposing to Jinki leaving, especially if Jinki was leaving him for Inspire. Donghae had done it before and he grown accustomed to it - hopefully. There was still this tiny alarm inside his head ringing so loudly he couldn't seem to shut it off though. He learnt back then in SigVis during History&Moral lesson, 'Compassion is the basis of morality' - if he applied that principle in his situation, he wanted people to understand that he wouldn’t want Jinki to travel to Inspire.

Xiumin was surely taken aback, but recovered fast enough to not miss the slight panic in the boy's tone, "No sort of peril."

Taemin snorted, leaning against the doorframe as he remained silent.

"We need him on a mission."

If the young boy had the audacity, he would’ve actually laughed right then and there. "What? Are all the pilots on Inspire dead?" Taemin, however, didn't let the other man finish, "You need a family consent, don't you? Well guess what … You’re not getting it." Turning around as fast as he could, he met ACE on the hallways.

"Jinki wants you in your bedroom." The intelligent said.

"Bid him goodnight then," Taemin left, not after shooting an icy glance at Xiumin.

ACE stood there for several minutes after the younger boy had left before politely taking its leave, "Goodnight, Lieutenant Xiumin."


--------->
Daesung proposed to their mutual friends to register for Sigma Vista together once Junhyung, the youngest of the group, would turn seventeen. This was technically ideal, considering that winter made people agitated.

Sunggyu shrugged in response, looking so disinterested with the new policy the world seemed to agree upon."Is there a better way other than to travel into space?"

“No,” Yonghwa countered. "Unless you want to die here alone, that is."

The policy of 75!6 generally stated governments and space navigation, in the collaboration of providing new homes for human advancement, were achieving the ultimate goal of life, which Jinki mentally noted was sort of nonsense because life prolongation – as they aged less once they went to SigVis - would only do one so much good.

(The plan of action was actually backed up with the insight of succeeding oneself to the fullest rather than the materialistic-intent).

The boys debated for a while, arguing from every nook and cranny that the world needed to start from zero once reaching Millenia, so it could like the healthy competitive environment was recreated and it would be great, though some reasoned out that it was going to be tough due to the many lessons in SigVis. It was beyond relevant as to why the astrology was the required point to pass SigVis despite that it could be philosophy. Then Sunggyu knocked some sense into Junhyung commenting that the philosophical system was much worse to memorize.

Until Doojoon peered at Jinki, who was not yet said anything. Probably because there wasn't anything to speak of, really, "Donghae wants to wait for Taemin," he finally confessed.

“Oh,”

Jinki looked over at Junhyung, who had replied unintelligently at his remark before brushing it off completely. “Guess I’ll be seeing you guys later.” He smiled a little but it died down upon the faces his friends were making, “What?”

Yonghwa was actually glancing between Junhyung and the look Daesung was throwing him was making him nervous for a reason he couldn’t identify. A sigh escaped Jinki’s lips, “What does that stare means?”

Honestly his quirky friends were always strange, but there was no doubt that there was something behind that furtive glance, since it only meant another topic he adamantly wanted to avoid was waiting to jump at his throat. It was impending since the matter of SigVis had been a much talked about issue several months back and Jinki had learnt that decision making at this early young age was the hardest skill to adopt.

For such noisy chatter-boxes, his friends were such an amazement, as everyone fell into an unusual silence. Jinki had been wanting them to just stop minding his business since forever. Called him naïve or whatever, he chose not to fathom what meaning it held.

“Are Hyoyeon and her friends coming along?” Doojoon started.

So naturally Jinki answered in passing, because really, how would he know despite the girls being accustomed to him far longer than any of the boys. “She didn’t say anything.”

“I thought Sooyeon talked to you.”

Something uncomfortable twitched inside him, “She did.”

“Then-?”

“Jinks-”

Both Junhyung and Daesung reacted simultaneously.

Jinki would’ve laughed his face off if they weren’t both sporting earnest, genuine looks. He couldn’t tell whether they actually caught what might have happened the past month or simply because it wasn’t the answer they expected from him.

He was nervous yet remained still, as if waiting for an inevitable death sentence. He ignored the lump in his throat. “It would be fun if we decide to travel together with them.”

“You think?”

“It’s what she said.” No, the keyword ‘wanted’ was more fitting.

“Who?” Yonghwa actually had a feline grin across his features that was threatening to break his face in two.

Jinki made a noise at the back of his throat, “Does it matter?”

Then Sunggyu slapped Yonghwa on his shoulder, “Sooyeon, of course. Are you really listening?”

“It’s double checking, Kim Sunggyu.” Yonghwa shrugged, reaching for the latter’s hand and patting the expanse of skin lightly and exaggeratingly, making Sunggyu yelled as he retracted his hand.

“Ewww, that’s gross!”

--------->

 

The first sight that greeted Jinki in the morning was Xiumin lounging on the sofa of the living room, doing nothing and staring at everything within range like the lunatic he was. He could have just ignored the younger man but his conscience was eating him inside out. It took him several minutes to prepare himself, though. For what he couldn’t exactly pinpoint, because right then Xiumin tilted his head and asked about his night.

“Did you rest well?”

What actually dumbfounded Jinki was that he actually had the nerve in him to blush faint pink while pondering over his answer. What the hell had happened to his big bruised ego last night? Nevertheless his reflexes came a bit faster than his intelligent brain would have admitted because it might have formulated some kind of sarcastic word. Instead he quietly answered.

“I’m good.”

Jinki watched as a shy smile bloomed on the other’s features. Xiumin stood to his feet. “I made breakfast,” he gestured towards the kitchen, unsurely bringing his hand to his nape.

Now that the engineer had calmed down from whatever had happened yesterday, he could properly see that the young lieutenant was wearing a well-fitted denim blue uniform, the same color he had at the back of his wardrobe. Jinki had received the same badge, too; a gold insignia adorning his shoulder instead of the white and bronze Xiumin was proudly wearing.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Huh?” Xiumin was startled, flushing under Jinki’s gaze.  “Yes, of course.”

The engineer thought about waiting for his younger sibling but the prospect of stalling the higher rank officer further inside his house unnerved him. That being said, he didn’t feel the need to mind manners with Xiumin now they were not in Inspire, but it still defeated the purpose of having a social class order in SigVis. Apologizing wasn’t one of Jinki’s plans, though.

Maybe that was why both men were silent throughout the breakfast, at least until Xiumin asked few questions here and there regarding the new place Jinki had settled in. Gondland was much like New Zealand of Earth with a famous glacier built in that geographical area of two different plateaus. People across Millenia solely visited the area to experience the spectacular views of high-definition technology up close through heli-hike.

“They fly with a helicopter to the peak then walk down the mountain.”

“Have you been there?” Xiumin was curious.

Sipping the tea slowly, Jinki answered after putting the cup down, “Hadn’t had the chance yet.” Meeting the lieutenant’s gaze, Jinki inquired, “Where did you find these ingredients?”As far as the engineer knew, they never stock anything inside the fridge because cooking wasn’t in their routine.

“You have enough supplies to last a month.”The lieutenant replied, shrugging nonchalantly, before faltered. “I’m sorry if I’m kind of invading your privacy.”

“No, that’s fine. It’s just that I don’t remember the exact date of me buying this stuff. I don’t cook and neither does Taemin.”

“Kibum insisted on buying them. I used your card, remember?” Taemin walked towards the dining table before unceremoniously plopping down beside Jinki. “Perhaps you could tell us what the mission is?”

Jinki made a noise at the back of his throat at the direct approach Taemin used, though Xiumin wasn’t perturbed because he was wolfing down a scrambled egg pitifully. The young dancer grimaced at the poor sight, “So much for a good day.”

Jinki shot an indignant look, “What are you doing?”

Taemin ignored his brother entirely as he really felt the need to comprehend what the mission entailed before agreeing on sending Jinki off for that. “Spill it out or I’m declining.”

 

<INSPIRE>

“Do you have a copy of the Koohoo report, Allen?”

“The one we needed to evac before he had the chance to explore?”

Donghae nodded with a small grin, “Yup, that one.”

“Sure,” the British man responded as he touched the flat screen boldly. “Hey, my source said count our team in a big mission.” The much experienced data-analyst simply nodded in acknowledgement as Allen continued where he left off. “A list of potential recruits is supposed to be announced by this week.”

“I don’t know why you’d tell me this because we obviously aren’t on it. Who is your source this time? A chick in HR?”

“Nah, I wasn’t lucky enough to spend the amazing night with that chick because she refuses to have me in my uniform. Can you imagine that?” An exasperated Allen blew in irritation.

Donghae spluttered loudly. “Dude, you smell like greasy oil in that uniform.”

“Yeah, that’s what she said.” Allen grimaced at the last night’s endeavor. “It’s not that bad. Every other chick would have been happy if I had come knocking at their door.” Kicking at the other’s shin, he remarked. “Stop laughing, I’ve sent the file.”

“Admit it buddy, you’re rusty.” Yuri chirped, laughing out loud with Donghae in the background. Then she glanced over at the older guy, who was typing furiously on the keyboard, before switching off the blue light on the small disk gadget on the front pocket of her uniform. She did the same to Donghae’s before starting. “NAV is kind of expecting someone today. Is it someone you know?”

Allen swirled around on his chair at the unfamiliar language. “Hey what’s with the Korean? What are you plotting on?”

Donghae, though trying his best to focus on the task at hand, sighed. “I wish I knew.” Fumbling over his front pocket, he attempted to switch the gadget on. “You should go back to work.”

“Guys,” Allen cried.

Yuri heaved under her breath as she flicked a button on Donghae’s gadget, turning the blue light on. “Either way we’re going to wait and see.” Once the gadget fully functioning, Yuri continued, her words were translated to English. “There’s nothing interesting about how that one-sided crush of mine had me frustrated, Al.”

Though the British man hesitated for a while, he read the situation well enough to know Yuri wasn’t lying to him. “Who’s that unlucky guy?” After all, sex-correlated gossip was worth living for.

“The unlucky guy is someone kind.” Then she burst out laughing.

Allen widened his eyes, “You don’t trick me like that, woman. No one is kind,” Yet, everything contrasted to the spoken words when he chased her out through the door.

Peeking his head slightly over the doorframe, Yoochun then called the attention of the data-analyst. “Ensign Donghae, do you have time for me?”

 

“Do I smell Jongwoon, here?” Donghae asked curiously.

“That’s creepy if you ask me, buddy.” The auburn-haired male retorted.

“Shoot, mate. You don’t smell my perfume?” A male, who moved aside for the incoming man at the entrance, said.

Yoochun barked out a laugh but the ridiculous look from the commissioned officers in the room stopped him from further humiliating himself. “Right, sorry. It’s funny, Ensign Donghae.”

The data-analyst grinned, “My pleasure.”

“Dude, this is why you are my favorite lieutenant.” Eunhyuk clasped Yoochun’s arm rather tightly.

“I don’t need flattery, thank you.” Pulling back from the hold, the lieutenant then straightened his posture. “I need you three for a task-force.”

“It’s not supposed to be a mission?”

Jongwoon responded. “Technically, a task-force means some kind of unit. What’d you want us to do?”

Eunhyuk, still confused, muttered softly, “Aren’t they the same?”

“This unit serves a greater purpose for a later mission that I’ve not given the approval to yet. It also means, whatever you think of it, that it needs to be kept under the radar. One rumor about it and your license goes down the drain.”

“That’s a rather effective threat.”

The lieutenant ignored the remark. “I’m expecting you three to come tomorrow to Bay219 no less than a minute after 1125. Thank you for you cooperation. You’re dismissed.”

Simultaneously, Donghae and Eunhyuk stood on their feet while Jongwoon, who was leaning against a wall close to the big monitor screen, flexed his sore muscles before blurting. “Let’s go grab lunch, guys.”

 

The cafeteria was always the loudest during lunch break, though it was definitely one of the best moments for every officer in Inspire, as rumors of travelling at the high speed of nano-light were deserved to be known firsthand. Plus, meals on Wednesdays were always exceptional. The French chef celebrated the day with a high-class cuisine Donghae never imagined he would ever experience - if not for staying in Inspire.

“You wish Fish & Chips were your staple food.”

Eunhyuk snorted. “Yeah, I know rice isn’t your favorite, but please remember your origins. You speak Korean still.”

The oldest among the three officers continued walking, holding the tray closer to his chest as his eyes wandered everywhere around the mass of bodies, before stopping on a certain group of girls.

“Oh, hey, professor,” Jongwoon took a seat beside Sooyoung. “And hey to you, too, doctor.”

Sunny, who was sitting across from Sooyoung, made a face, “I’m not that old. Stop calling me that.”

“Professor’ isn’t supposed to make you old though,” Donghae grinned, seating himself at the table along with Eunhyuk.

“Shut up.” Sooyeon giggled at Sunny’s threat, “Stop laughing, Jess or I’ll blow your sickbay at midnight while you’re sleeping.”

“Oh-ho, nasty.” Everyone at the table laughed loudly.

She refused to speak further as they were still joking about the given title she had been offered to be substitute instructor in SigVis. Bora had begged for her assistance and it lasted for six months. By the end of the contract, everyone in Inspire had started calling her by that ugly title. She hated it but her friends weren’t exactly the best kind of comfort she should have sought upon.

Distracting herself, the audio engineer took in her surrounding, absentmindedly analyzing the soft chiming somewhere indicating an incoming call. Her attention focused on clattering of tray colliding harshly onto a table, it was two tables away from hers. She concluded the man was probably cheating on the noisy woman as the handprint of her hand had left an ugly red mark onto his cheeks. He ended up running after her before tripping himself on a lieutenant, sputtering apologies in his haste.

Her eyes shone with delight at the sight of lieutenant and she waved her hands in the air, missing out the bewildered look her friends especially Jongwoon, were throwing her. “Really, Sunny there’s no need to get revenge on me. At least wait until 2400.”

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant. Wanna join us?” She turned a blind at Jongwoon’s weak protest.

“Good afternoon to you all.” Xiumin crinkled his eyes in surprise at Jongwoon, who seemed uncomfortable meeting him at the cafeteria out of all places. “I’m sorry I have to decline the offer.” He smiled sheepishly.

“Apparently the lieutenant wants to have a date with me.” Daesung chirped in. “Hi girls!” He came into view as soon as the lieutenant moved himself to the side.

“Daesung,” Sooyoung shrieked before lowering her voice to a whisper due to the embarrassment. “What are you doing here?”

Sunny was faster, “You recruited him?”

At the end, Xiumin had to fetch two trays for lunch as the girls insisted to have Daesung entertain their billion questions even though he’d left the whole flying business a year ago with Jinki. At the mention of the latter pilot (‘No Jinki?’ Jongwoon asked) Sooyoung softly nudged her on the elbow. She then realized she was tensed all over, barely registering Xiumin’s “he needs time.” only relaxing slightly once Daesung decided to fill his stomach while catching up with everyone’s life since the last time he’s been here.

 

<BAY219>

Hearsay said Xiumin had to be a lieutenant of NAV (pronounced as ‘nev’) because someone in the same department who had the superior qualification simply didn’t want the higher position with desk-job tasks. According to the same uncertain source, people chose to believe that Jongwoon could have easily scored higher on the ranking test, but yet didn’t find it surprising when Xiumin had gotten the highest mark instead. The same source stated both Jongwoon and Xiumin were like the best-buds despite the age gap between them.

Standing outside of the room ten minutes earlier than expected, Jongwoon tensely leaned his back against the wall as Xiumin approached him. “You’re early,”

Jongwoon breathed, “Yeah.”

Xiumin proceeded to flash the timepiece on his wrist in front of the scanner before stepping himself into the room once the door opened. “Relax, Jongwoon. I hate it when you tense around me.”

“Sorry, it has become a habit.” Jongwoon chuckled. “I feel like I’m walking on a thread when I try to talk casually with you.”

Heaving a sigh, Xiumin said, “How about this, you address me by my real name when we’re alone? Would that help?”

Jongwoon contemplated, “You could call me hyung then.” He confirmed seconds later, “Only when we’re alone.”

Xiumin was brimming with happiness but Jongwoon wasn’t in the need of celebration.

Jongwoon, always the direct one, blatantly questioned him. “Minseok, did – “

“Yes, hyung?”

Flooding with a relief, Jongwoon continued, “Did Jinki refuse to come back?”

The lieutenant however, couldn’t answer, various voices suddenly filling the large room before Eunhyuk smothered Jongwoon him with a hug, “You’re the best pilot ever.”

“Enough, Ensign Eunhyuk, we need to focus on the task.” Yoochun reprimanded when five minutes later Eunhyuk was still caught smothering the poor pilot. “I hope everyone in the room knows not to speak a word outside this enclosed room. If anyone feels discouraged at the prospect of being in the team, feel free to walk out.”

It turned out there was a total of ten officers in the room, minus the three higher ranks and as no one made a move, Zhoumi carried on, “A blue haze appeared in this area recently,” he pointed on a slide. “We are trying to monitor the closest star body around it to check for life forms. As the matter of fact, this morning, around six hundred we received a ping.”

“A human?” Lee Joon guessed.

Yoochun pondered over the question but then shook his head, “It’s almost impossible that a human could survive the area as it’s surrounded by the blue haze. It’s toxic.”

“Do you want us to rescue the remnant life forms that aren’t human? It sounds crazy.” Changmin cried.

Yet, the three lieutenants stayed silent. Donghae found this task-force crap was rubbish. “Tell us more,” he simply inquired.

“The only life forms that could have survived through the blue haze must be some kind of evolved creature. It sounds crazy, I know.” Xiumin supplied, “The ping we received comes with a code: D5-U2-D8-U9. It was spoken in a combination of an ancient Greek and Spanish. Thanks to NEON for decoding it for us, as the D-U letters refer to the first three-tier hierarchy.”

Sooyoung spoke for the first time, as confusion flooded her senses, “What does it say exactly?”

“Help,” Donghae fumbled a bit before continuing with his eyes straight on the slide, his face blank though. “The life forms there sent help?”

Minho was dumbfounded at the revelation as Zhoumi further approved the point of the data analyst. “That’s what we believe the message is saying.”

“Help makes sense, according to the numbering of each row of alphabets. Whatever that creature is, it seemed to be bloody smart for starting with 0.” Changmin commented, “What, are we going to search him blindly like a madman?”

“I’m afraid that is the job description of the task force.” Zhoumi smiled.

“Is there anything you’re not telling us other than this, lieutenants?” Ryeowook, a licensed physician in sickbay wondered, “Surely you are aiming at something with us as a team.”

Yoochun tried to counter the matter, but he sealed his mouth shut as he didn’t have any words to throw back. Xiumin subtly exchanged a glance between his two colleagues before deliberately explaining, “To be frank, we’re putting you at risk that we yet need to see - whether you think the intelligent creature out there that’s trapped in the haze is worth saving or not.”

“You’re leaving the decisions to us?” Eunhyuk spluttered.

Xiumin simply nodded before adding. “And you, Ensign Eunhyuk, are going to be the captain of the team.” Zhoumi flung a badge towards the younger and Eunhyuk almost got his face bruised, barely managing to catch it in time.

“I’m sure everyone is puzzled with the new formation. Therefore, feel free to ask questions until you guys totally understand the task. Until then, dismissed.”

 

--------->

“I heard you’re taking the aviation test, is it true?”

Jinki, though surprised at the presence of the girl in the bleachers, kept a straight face when Junhyung faced him, waving. He waved back before pulling back his hand and finally responded. “I guess I am.”

Sunny was a friend he met through Sooyeon – or Jess as she liked to be called. The latter was the first girl he ever got close to, which by default, made Sunny his second. Then he met Sooyoung, Hyoyeon and Yuri. Taeyeon and Tiffany were both had a fair share of contact with him during the party of Halloween Night weeks before.

That being said he wasn’t close at all with both of them and the rest of the girls - except the first four.

He knew from the first time he met her - in a study hall where Sooyeon clung onto Sunny’s arm - that the petite girl was going to be some kind of death trap to him. They were still on Earth at that time and teenager’s feelings were so annoyingly stupid that he ignored everything about her: the way her eyes crinkled when laughing, the way she beamed so bright he went blind or the way she was so happy he thought he could kiss her.

Secret #1: Sooyeon was his girlfriend.

During the four years Jinki stayed back on Earth with just Daesung and Junhyung - while his other friends, including the girls, had signed up for SigVis while he focused on his studies - he had forgotten the details of her distinct features, had been unable to recall how her perfume that once residing at the back of his mind smelled. He thought then that he could perfectly function without having to think about her excessively, because it was so wrong on so many levels.

And apparently fate wasn’t kind towards Jinki and his fragile heart because the feeling of wanting someone so much crashed into him in a massive wave that knocked his breath out of him when he saw her again at SigVis. He remembered the peculiar stare he received from both Daesung and Junhyung as he ran away in a different direction that the one she and their friends strode in.

Secret #2: Sooyeon was still his girlfriend.

He lived in denial for months, trying his best to not to entertain the other part of his heart that was urging him to do all the things he didn’t think he could ever inflict upon Sooyeon, his girlfriend. Yet, for each step back that he took, he found that the subject of his affection leaping three steps forwards until he couldn’t find any excuses to keep running away from her.

Question #0.1: Does affection for Sunny mean that he isn’t attracted to Sooyeon like how he thought he was?

The day when he chose to work on Inspire unconsciously brought him to the realization that he shouldn’t have caged in his feelings forever, which made him look utterly silly as he tried to justify himself. If he felt so different from what he had thought he felt for her surely that meant something; and that’s why he asked her if she was also feeling something towards him the day before she approached him on the bleachers.

“I might underestimate the fast thumping of my heart but I think I do,” She whispered, rosy blush flaming her cheeks.

The world suddenly brightened and he felt his heart exploding in different beautiful colors. He was grinning like an idiot until he came to a conclusion. “I wouldn’t want to associate you as the third wheel.”

“Glad to hear that, because I won’t be one.” Sunny said firmly.

--------->

 

Twelve months ago, Sunny understood why he suddenly drew a line and distanced himself around her before the news of Sooyeon breaking up with Jinki spread like wildfire. Nobody knew who made the call and both didn’t exactly clarify the issue – they were over, it didn’t matter.

Twelve months ago, she had her own suspicions that her friend knew she had feelings for Jinki, yet Sooyeon still talked casually with her, laughing and hanging out in their free time like they always did.

Twelve months ago, she thought that maybe in another lifetime, her love wouldn’t be so complicated. She was bordering on insanity trying to keep her life straight, and she hoped, perhaps in another lifetime, that fate would make her fall for the same person again.

Walking along the hallways Sunny stopped short at the sight of jars on a shelf. She wondered which one of those was hers, before deciding her jar wouldn’t have a place in that huge shelf with radiant colors everywhere. Hers might be filled with uncharacteristically dull colors for all she knew.

“Are you daydreaming?”

Sunny’s eyes widened and a warm smile graced her sight. “So you did come, huh?”

“Wouldn’t miss the fun,” Jinki said, then continued, “Taemin threw a fit though, despite him encouraging me to accept Xiumin’s offer. These days, I can’t understand what that kid’s been thinking.”

One of the things Jinki found able to do in the mere presence of her was this – the comfortable conversation with overflowing hidden energy within him. She had this unknown quantity of joules around her, yet he could feel the energy was being transferred to him in an instant.

“I’m sure he feels reluctant somehow. This is your dream after all.”

“Being an engineer in Millenia is a dream, too. I’ve put it in a jar.” Jinki pointed at the shelf.

“Dreams come true,” She wistfully thought.

Jinki looked over her for a brief moment. She still the same Sunny he fell in love at the first sight, still had the same bliss whenever she thought about things too deep. Her face indicated nothing but words spoken behind that façade left an impression on him.

“Do you know if your dream in a jar can confine you? That maybe the colors of the jar are distracting you from realizing that the dream you’re pursuing isn’t the right one?”

There was one time when he thought he had known what made dreams blossom beautifully in different shades of hue in just a jar – he even wrote something idealistic on a paper regarding the world’s conceptions (‘world should be in peace so humanity wins’). That was why his bottled jar was producing the vibrant blue with coral shades at the bottom.

Ten months later he found that his jar wasn’t any less magnificent, but the blue was fading.

“Might be, if you aren’t consistent with what you want. Distraction is a devilish temptation. It’s supposed to entice you.”

They were interrupted as Daesung caught up with Jinki, shouting unintelligent strings of words throughout the hallways before noticing Sunny was standing close to Jinki.

He, for the sake of his long-life, didn’t inquire a further explanation from either of them.

“We’re moving to RA9 for the simulation.” Daesung just said, waiting for Jinki to finish his conversation before they could both leave.

He tried to hold himself back but the stillness suffocated him and he let out a relieved sigh as Jinki finally took his leave and started walking towards RA9.

“The girls are still the same though.” Daesung started, “I can’t believe I’d be able to live without the vitamin laughter of Sooyoung. Man, how did I manage to survive?” He laughed.

Yet, Jinki remained silent.

“You know, since we’re coming down to Millenia, I’ve done lots of thinking.” Daesung promptly paused, “By myself,” he added.

The younger man raised an eyebrow, joking, “You’re into philosophy now?” But the look on Daesung’s features had him gulping in apprehension.

“The day before the farewell party, I kind of overheard your conversation.”

“Sooyeon’s? Don’t worry about it, Junhyung walked in on it too. Talk about the wrong timing,” Jinki chuckled, slipping casually into the familiarity.

Daesung actually took several seconds before responding. “You weren’t into her then? After all?”

“I don’t know what you’re implying with ‘after all’. People change, man.”

 

<SHIPYARD >

Hyoyeon, Minho and Kim Ian were the first ones to arrive at the departure lounge. If it wasn’t the jitters, then maybe this was a new discovery that scientists like Xian Hua should be investigating. Speaking about the breakthrough, no one in the task force had came out with an idea of why higher ups had deemed theirs as confidential.

“Isn’t it odd that this is literally the first time in history of Inspire that they’re holding such secrecy regarding a field job?”

Changmin the genius engineer joined. “No, but I doubt it would put us in jeopardy.”

Hyoyeon high-fived with the taller man once Changmin stood within the range. “That’s why they think that placing Donghae on the job is safe?”

Ian prompted then, “I wonder what Jinki would do if he knew.”

“He’d be pissed off for sure. Wasn’t my idea of spending my time digging into it, really.”

“They should be coming any minute now.” Looking at the watch, Kim Ian realized that two days from now, there would be a tournament between all the departments in the space station. By then, a few of them noticed several familiar faces were absent. Hopefully Jinki wouldn’t resent him for not greeting him this morning when he reported back at the station.

Probably Donghae didn’t too. What the older brother could have said if he knew the younger would try to talk senses into the higher ups? As much as Ian could possibly understand that the administrative loved the talent possessed by the data analyst, he for a fact knew that the ploy every higher rank intended to use didn’t include Donghae, their most precious gem.

Of course nothing was true if Donghae didn’t say anything, but that was the closest he could come out with. Inspire wasn’t born yesterday – everything that circulated inside the space station was bound to be true somehow.

“Maybe we should wait inside?” Minho suggested.

Changmin waved at them, “You guys go ahead. I’ll be standing out here, just checking.”

Hyoyeon gathered the other two before opening the nearest vessel with a chip. Soon, Jongwoon barged in with his own artificial intelligent. The pilot joked, “I’m sorry for crowding the space but ECO didn’t want to leave me alone with you guys.”

ECO sarcastically replied. “He indeed was afraid he couldn’t travel you guys back to Inspire safely.”

Minho gleefully laughed, “High five, ECO.”

ECO transmitted molecules in itself to mimic a palm and offered it to Minho, the co-pilot of Falcon vessel the task-force team was instructed to use. The intelligent then said, “I hope everyone in this bird knows not to ask me to sing a lullaby.”

 

<SPORTS DAY>

The administration decided to hold tournaments in SigVis due to the fact that Inspire never had a mass green area to wrestle with the other opponent in the first place. Combat skills weren’t allowed, only judo, wushu and other civilized game.

Still reeling, as too many things had happened in a matter of short period (it was only two days for bloody sake) since Jinki reported to duty. He thought that, maybe he could be exempted from playing all these ridiculous games, but as a Japanese colleague of his was having none of it and was babbling non-stop at him, he doubted he would be this lucky.

Renzo pleaded, “You’re the new guy. You need to prove to everyone you’ve got what it takes!”

Jinki sighed heavily. “I served Inspire three weeks earlier than you, bud.”

“I know Jinks, trust me. And still you wear that ‘new guy’ title only because you’ve just came back here like two days ago.”

“I don’t need to prove anything. Did you ever ask Daesung to join? He’s the new guy, too.”

When stars shone into Renzo’s eyes Jinki groaned loudly in frustration. He guessed Daesung couldn’t have gotten mad at him. “You are a genius, Jinki. Please ask him to compete too,”

The resigned look on Jinki wasn’t doing much as Renzo continued to blabbering. “You would be against Junhyung from engineering and other two guys for 50m of freestyle swimming, and then Daesung would take part in the relay. I wonder why Ian isn’t competing.”

 

Perhaps it was fortunate he got to compete in one event only, because swimming had drained his last drop of energy, and he had totally forgotten about his brother. Jinki knew someone might accompany his brother just fine – the older brother had been living in the station for thirty-six months.

“As now, the NAV, the navigation department, is a couple of gold medals short to match up with SEC. Surprisingly, HEALS is in the top four with SCN.” The sportscaster announced.

Another host continued, “Apparently DAMA isn’t going strong, though this time around each department is relatively doing well with the scores. NGENE isn’t that bad, considering that they won 5 more medals in comparison to the last two tournaments.”

Plopping down next to Daesung, the young pilot confirmed the identity of one of the announcers. “It’s Changmin isn’t it? Who’s the other one though?”

“No, don’t lean on me. Your hair is all wet!” Daesung shrieked, ignoring Jinki’s question.

Jinki paid no heed to that as he slumped heavily on his side, head touching the other’s shoulder. “I won us a medal. Be thankful.”

Almost rolling his eyes, Daesung tried to move every so often, but Jinki clutching onto his arm so tight he gave up. “No, it’s Jaejoong,” he finally answered. “Changmin’s nowhere to be seen to be honest.”

“Really? It sounded like Changmin though. The other guy?”

“No clue, maybe some senior or SigVis’ staff. Couldn’t catch his name,”

They were now waiting for the overall score of the tournament while entertaining the audiences with some technology the administration had put their effort onto. “Bet Yunho used an expertise from engineering. Look at the sharp edge of that blade.”

“I’ve got a note from Sooyoung.” Daesung suddenly confessed.

Jinki pulled away instantly, eyes so wide they would have burst if Daesung wasn’t so nervous. The younger pilot calmed himself down a notch. “What does it says?”

“It’s more like a jar. Actually it is a jar, the dream jar.”

“Okay, it’s a dream jar. What does the note says?”

“Well the note is in the jar.” Daesung laughed dryly.

“So?”

Daesung went quiet, so Jinki thought that maybe his friend was so stupid for telling him that he got a note from his long-time crush, but didn’t find the courage to actually man up enough to pull the note out from the jar.

“I can help you pull out the note,” that was so corny but Jinki needed this to work so maybe Daesung would stop being such a dense fool all the time. “Daesung?”

“Later, look! We win! You’re a freaking savior, dude.”

Jinki blinked in utter confusion before the stadium was hollering intangible chants all over his head. He tried to stand straight as Daesung pulled him up, clapping with so much enthusiasm when someone whispered something right by his ear.

“Congrats, Jinki.”

 

<FALCON>

“ECO, take over for a while.” Jongwoon said as he pulled away from his position and Minho looked confused as ever. “Let’s go kid. ECO can take care of this bird just fine.”

Eunhyuk, who had been waiting in a corner of the aircraft silently acknowledged the subtle cue from Jongwoon. “Guys, we need to discuss.”

It didn’t come as surprising to the rest of the crew as they were all kind of expecting further discussion without a camera surveillance. It could only happen here, while they are floating around the outer space, worrying about stupid task-force they need to finish.

“Did you come out with something, cap?”

“No, I don’t but I think Changmin has.”

Swirling on the axis to face everyone, the engineer projected a blue screen but nothing was displayed on it. “We didn’t reach over why the importance of the advanced life form would benefit us, and if it wouldn’t, what harm it could bring. I’ve been thinking maybe this ‘advanced form’ doesn’t exist.”

Now this surprised everyone. “If the higher-ups knew it doesn’t exist, what are they expecting us to accomplish?”

“This isn’t suicide right?”

“It could be a huge blow if we are declared as dead, isn’t it?”

“Inspire tracking this ship surely meant something.” Ryeowook murmured in realization. “They still want us to step through blue haze.”

“To be more specific this is where we’re heading.”

Falcon flew through the blue haze in high speed, almost toppling Donghae over the edge but Hyoyeon held onto him just in time before his head reached the floor.

“Whoa calm down, buddy.”

Jongwoon claimed. “We can’t. It’s more efficient to get through the thick haze with maximum speed before it damages this huge bird.”

“How frequent we could have travelled through?” Eunhyuk asked in alarm.

“Four to five times, though five barely passed, with maximum fuel and speed that is.”

Changmin continued. “The planet isn’t polluted yet so we’re kind of safe there.”

“Kind of?”

“Who knows what danger awaits us there.” Changmin shrugged.

“So back to the question, if there isn’t any evolved advanced creature … Do we still need to track whatever that is?” Sooyoung questioned.

“How about this, we have the heat radar, do we? Just for the sake of doing our job we turn it on and if we hit something then we check on it.”

“The safest plan of them all,” Ian concluded suddenly, teeth clenched painfully though no one saw his hand shaking behind his back.

 

“Guys look at that shining flower,” Hyoyeon cooed.

Falcon was currently hovering on the air, only several feet from touching the ground and the Blue dubbed from the blue haze wasn’t just blue. In fact, the planet was far from blue as various shades of purple dominated the area, though the little amount of light wasn’t allowing them to actually fawn over it.

Still, they were sort of annoyed at the restriction Eunhyuk had placed on them, which hold them back from exploring the all kind of beauty down there.

“We haven’t hit anything in the past fifteen minutes. Should we just come down already?”

No one said anything about the task-force’s objective anymore as they all knew by now they were going to make it back to Inspire just fine – the task-force job wasn’t exactly thrilling but nothing was more precious than life itself.

“We should?” Honestly, Eunhyuk wasn’t really the best decision-maker and the higher-ups entitled the captain to him just because he had been the only one who had taken the command-rank. His score had been only above average but it was better than nothing.

All of them beamed themselves down from the vessel and Eunhyuk reminded them to not lose their badge. The gadget was supposed to beam them up inside the vessel as in individual.

ECO warned the crew members to not trust anything they heard or saw and to touch whatever they’re seeing to make sure it was real. Jongwoon, the oldest of all, also advised them to walk in small groups and to not wander alone.

“Be back in thirty,” Eunhyuk ordered.

 

“Found anything interesting?” Donghae propped himself on his knee, sitting on a huge rock near the ship.

Jongwoon settled down on the white-covering ground, “Here,” the pilot said, dropping a diamond stone onto Donghae’s palm.

“Is it really diamond? It feels heavy somehow?”

Jongwoon laughed. “It’s a diamond-shaped stone. The glitters got stolen by the flowers, I guess.” Thousands of diamond-stone were scattering in front of them but none of them had the sparkling quality of a diamond.

“Bet it’s pretty,” Donghae said innocently.

Choosing to not respond, the pilot asked something personal instead. “Why did you agree on this? You could have walked away while you could.”

“It’s a job.”

“I don’t believe you think this crappy task is a job. This is the shittiest mission I’ve ever experienced.”

Perhaps the analyst simply couldn’t go against the lieutenants because getting fired over his opinion was far more terrifying.

Ryeowook then bounced to both of them, trailing behind the doctor were the high-euphoric Ian and irritating Eunhyuk. He showed Jongwoon what he found.

“It’s a Persian cat-stone.” Jongwoon supplied to Donghae. It was large but light enough to carry around.

“I swear this planet is a zoo. We might find Therosaurus somewhere around here.”

A giggle was heard in a distance as Lee Joon scampered towards the group, the girls laughing behind him. “I hate this snake, get it off me.”

Eunhyuk was horrified at the real snake moving around the younger neck and the pure horror stricken on the other’s face forced the captain to catch the reptile and drop it down on the ground full of snow. Lee Joon waited no more as he hid behind Donghae’s back.

“The snake is dead.”

 

<INSPIRE>

Jinki planned on visiting his brother during the tea break but he had forgotten he was scheduled for a medical check-up today with other candidates he wasn’t able to get familiarized with yet.

They must have started serving Inspire the time while he was settling down on Millenia. They were all a bunch of dorks but there was this guarded feeling he had every time he tried chatting with them. It was like they were being extra careful around him and he couldn’t understand why.

Reporting to the sickbay, he greeted the artificial intelligent behind the desk. “You’re doing fine, ANNE?”

“I’m doing fine, lieutenant.”

The pilot flinched at the status, “Sir would be fine enough, ANNE.”

“Duly noted. Please make yourself comfortable in here.”

He almost laughed at the kind proposition but Sooyeon caught him in the act. “Start moving, Jinki. I don’t have all day.”

“Sassy as always,” Jinki rolled his eyes. “Are you alone?”

“I have three interns working in here.” Sooyeon gestured Jinki into a room. “Do a scan in there. I’ll come after I finish revising the charts.”

Stepping inside the room, he called out. “What do I do?”

“There’s a yellow button at the right side. Push it and stand straight, please, because if you mess up the scanner might skin you alive.”

Jinki remembered the first time he went to a scanning. The machine had beeping loud for thirty minutes straight because he had bent his knee a bit for proper balance. Ryeowook had scolded him in panic for trying to kill him and the machine.

“Where’s Ryeowook?”

“He took a few days leave.” Sooyeon’s voice a pitch lower as she came closer to the room and monitored from the outside. “Though, I find it odd. That why I needed to recruit those interns for this hassle.”

“I’m sorry for the disturbance, doctor.”

“Yeah, tell that to your superior.”

“How long should I stand straight? I’m bored.”

Sooyeon didn’t reply him as she analyzed something on the screen with her crinkled face – did she find something peculiar? Maybe living in Millenia for awhile had caused that.

“What is it?”

Sooyeon just waved dismissively at him. “Nothing, guess people in Millenia all have the same pattern. Daesung has one too. Don’t worry, you’re still human.”

“That reassures me,” Jinki sarcastically said.

The scanner had stopped moving. “You can step out now,” Sooyeon called.

He was somehow expecting Sooyeon to address anything on the screen to him like she did with some officers earlier, but she ignored him totally. “That’s it?”

“You don’t need a consultation.” She shrugged then suddenly turned around, her smiling face scaring the hell out of him. “On a second thought, maybe you could help me?”

Jinki wasn’t in the position to deny her as he knew, based on the glint in her eyes, that challenging her wasn’t the best idea. Thus he felt nothing but resignation as she pushed the old-fashioned documentations towards him.

“I don’t do this dispatch thing.”

“Neither do I,” she remarked.

Somehow, he still stuck at the current job for ninety minute and they both had halfway to go before a voice interrupted them, calling for Sooyeon. Jinki, who had been thinking about his bed for the past last thirty minutes, didn’t bothered lifting his head, instead distracting himself from the endless job Sooyeon had forced on him.

“Oh, I thought of having a lunch with you. Never mind – just don’t mind me,” the new voice said.

“Nonsense, I’ll walk you to the cafeteria. I’ll make sure you eat.” Sooyeon said cheerfully before Jinki felt eyes on him.

Consciously, he tilted his face side, wanting to whine at the doctor for making him worked with no payment and leaving him alone with mountains of files instead but the words were stuck in his throat.

“I’ll be back in five with lunch,” Sooyeon miraculously proposed, almost as if she was apologizing for forcing him to stay and work for her.

Jinki blinked in dazed before ducking his head and continued doing his work. “Buy the most expensive one.” He caught a small smile on Sunny’s face before Sooyeon and her disappeared into the hallways. He hoped there wasn’t awkward tension since he realized it was her that had been calling Sooyeon for a lunch.

 

L. Jinki: What to hang-out at SigVis court?

Sunkyu Sunny: Sure

L. Jinki: Great, c you there at 8 :)

 

Perhaps seeing Sunny during the day earlier had triggered him to catch up with her, despite not having anything sorted out or planned for the night. It was a spurt of the moment thing as his mind hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her the entire time he had struggled to finish the unpaid job. He was sure that for a moment there, Sooyeon had looked at him like he had gone mad after he moved faster and efficiently than before.

He was sitting on the grass field, entertaining his inner thoughts before Sunny broke him out of them.

“Is this a date?”

“Depends on the definition,” Jinki answered, noticing her short hair bouncing slightly in the night air as she was running towards him in her casual dress shirt and jeans. She looked different somehow, probably because she was wearing a casual outfit rather than the heavily-insignia uniform she usually had on.

Taking a seat beside him, she said, “It’s not remotely close to a romantic candle-light dinner, so nope.” Folding his knee close to her chest, she continued, “So what’s up?”

He shrugged in response, “Just needed fresh air, with you.” He added the last part a few seconds later. Then he reached for his bag and pulled a jar out. “This is my first.”

Jinki thought stars were shining at their brightest as Sunny’s eyes twinkled with excitement, “No way! You remember your first?”

His first had been during a lesson. The instructor had told them about dreams in a jar. Initially, it served had as a fun tradition but then twenty months later, everyone in SigVis had found themselves writing anything on a piece of paper before enclosing it in a jar. “Did it come true?” Junhyung innocently asked, and the instructor had given a vague answer and Jinki couldn’t have agreed more on the matter.

The jar isn’t a genie that grants your every wish. Efforts still counted in.

Despite the slim probability of his wishes not coming of true, Jinki did write one or two, maybe even five messages of things he would like to materialize into reality before leaving every single of them in different jars.

Seven days later, those jars were arranged neatly on a shelf in a dream cellar. Daesung had skeptically stated “Do you want to trace these jars ten years later?” Jinki found himself holding back from marking a pattern at the bottom of the jars.

“I have been trying to locate which one is mine for months now,” Sunny interrupted, her hands clasped around the jar. “But then again, I think it probably won’t hurt not seeing my jars again.”

The pilot looked at her briefly before focusing on the horizon. “It won’t, I guess.”

There wasn’t much to talk about, partly because Jinki couldn’t think of any topic to keep the conversation going and he was trying to enjoy the rarity of a moment alone with Sunny, memorizing the feeling of the comfortable silence and the sweet lingering scent of familiar summer.

For the most part he wasn’t sure what was holding him back from telling his best friends about her – he was sure it wasn’t a secret, but did hiding it meant that he was kind of scared to come out?

A beeping alert summoned Jinki back to reality as he realized Sunny was being called upon. Work probably. “Did something happen?” He asked in confusion.

“Seunghyun has it covered, I think,” she mumbled, utterly perplexed by the alert and entirely missing out that Jinki’s badge started to beep a few seconds later. “Zhoumi is calling me in.”

“He is?” Scrambling onto his feet, he offered his hand for her to take, “Let’s find out then.”

Sunny ran along, following the man in front of her. She didn’t exactly remember the path – the recreation room – Jinki had led to, too busy thinking of excuses she would need to defend herself if perhaps Zhoumi started questioning something she hadn’t a clue about.

“Sorry for the delay,” she heard the pilot pant once they both barge into the room. The engineer, though, noticed an odd stare directed on her by her lieutenant. She consciously averted her eyes until she registered her hands were entangled with Jinki’s.

Removing her hands from the hold gently, she smiled apologetically at the commissioned officers present in the room before seating herself on a chair. Jinki, who might have a fair share of surprise coloring his face, let the matter slide as the professional that he was. “Emergency calls, huh?”

“Indeed, it is,” Xiumin smiled.

Rounding the table as to drop the nerve-tension on his shoulder, the pilot spotted Daesung and Junhyung at the back of the room. Both of his friends looked like they were waiting to say something but he simply ignored them with a tiny smile on his face.

That was before his eyes caught Sooyeon was seated across from him, right beside Sunny’s.

Had he prepared this instead of barging in like a raging bull seeing red, Jinki wouldn’t be feeling apprehension, wouldn’t be feeling like his life was going to get tougher from now on. If he had prepared his thrilling emotions before facing his co-pilot which was his own best friend and the other officers in that room for a mission, Jinki would probably have a better grasp on his upsurge intuitive feelings now.

“We need you guys to prepare for the rescue mission.” Yoochun started. “Falcon had faced an issue.”

“Who’s in the Falcon?” Sooyeon asked out of anxiousness.

“Everyone you’ve been noticing absent these couple of days.” Zhoumi declared.

“What do you mean rescuing?” Jinki was bewildered, his mind clicked in the information. “Did you send my brother on a suicide mission?”

“It isn’t exactly dangerous if you’re wondering,” Zhoumi countered. “And it isn’t suicide; you and everyone in this room won’t let that happen.”

“Bullshit, every crappy task we had to deal with was a proven risk of losing ourselves forever in near vacuum space. Quit being so diplomatic!” Junhyung inquired. “You should start from the beginning. Why had this happened and why do they need us rescuing them?”

Seunghyun started. “We know sending a team to Blue is a risk. There isn’t any life form existing there, they all disintegrated months on decades ago. The S.O.S clue that had appeared on the radar, it was real from back then.”

Daniel Lee, now retired-commander faced the pilot, “Whoever did send that code asked for you.”

“What?” Jinki found himself laughing at the absurdness as the meeting went on. “Someone dead wants to see me? Is that it?” Ranting still, he slowly stood, “To think you’re baiting me with my brother’s life, you’ve gotta be kidding me.”

“Jinki,”

“He’s blind for heaven’s sake!” The pilot hollered. Did they were all lose their freaking sane brain?

“Where are you going?” Yoochun shouted at the sight Jinki slipping out from the room.

Huffing in irritation, the said pilot didn’t respond. Why he chose to travel back to Inspire was beyond his reasoning, might as well live in Millenia till he died peacefully with Taemin beside him. He wouldn’t feel any remorse if Donghae decided to live in Inspire for as long as the older brother wanted to, because he had made sure Taemin wasn’t miss the older and led a happy life for once.

As per usual, thirty minutes of calming himself down didn’t benefit him much and he walked back into the room fifteen minutes later, face was blank as ever. “They need rescuing, fine, we’ll do that.”

 

<BLUE>

“Beam yourself up!” Eunhyuk yelled.

A hoard of living dead was groaning sickeningly, the piercing sound chilling straight them to the bone and immobilizing Minho on the spot. Beads of cold sweat trickled down his temple as his eyes widened to the size of saucers at the sudden zombies reappearance.

“Minho, get your ass moving!” Jongwoon cried, “ECO! Get inside Falcon and beam us all up,” the pilot was running and steering away Donghae towards Falcon, noticing the ice and fire could momentarily freeze the zombies as he saw Sooyoung aiming a fire laser at an approaching soulless body.

Hyoyeon actually managed to press a button on Minho’s badge to beam the scaredy-cat pilot up, failing to counter-attack a living dead that seized her arm so tight she thought her bone shattered. Kicking as hard as she could, she sent the dead toppling on the ground before she blasted frozen ice towards it.

Little did everyone know the living dead grew another hand after momentarily paralyzed – Hyoyeon scampered closer to Falcon vessel before beaming herself up.

“It’s useless,” Changmin screamed at Ian, who tried to fire the dead. “Here, try to puncture the jugular vein.” Changmin threw him a sharp stick.

“What?” Ian asked back, baffled.

“The neck vein!”

Jongwoon watched the exchange between Changmin and Ian and tried to do the same with the one of the dead that was dashing towards Donghae and him. The pilot almost got surprised by the ashes rising towards the sky before realizing that was the sole reason why the haze was toxic. “Beam up, Donghae.” He ordered hastily to his friend.

“Changmin, Ian!” Ryeowook called out.

Jongwoon loudly yelled at the sight of the dead hovering close unto the fallen doctor. “Beam Ryeowook up,” and the dead was halted in its step at the doctor’s disappearance before moving its aim to its next target.

The pilot tried to warn the other two but a sudden whoosh brought him back inside Falcon, Changmin and Ian both panting hard beside him.

Ian’s eyes was totally blown with fear but excited nevertheless. “That was close! Any idea why zombies chasing our tails off?”

Lee Joon started. “I think I triggered the snake earlier. Perhaps that’s why?”

“It was your fear then,” Changmin concluded as he was trying to catch his breath, “Someone, please press the distress button,” the engineer exasperatedly requested, palming his temple.

“Couldn’t we just fly off this bird though?”

ECO reasoned. “The engine won’t function.”

“So we’re stuck,” Sooyoung stated, almost sounding like she knew this was bound to happen. It didn’t come as a surprise to her. In fact, the rest of the crew wasn’t less startled at the revelation.

“Are we waiting for death then?” Jongwoon was fussing over the failure of engaging Falcon into flying despite ECO inwardly screaming at him not to touch Changmin’s precious engine.

“No, we’re going to wait for someone to end this.”

 

<0600 before RESCUE>

“I’m sorry for leaving. I promise I’ll come down and stay with you till you get sick of me. Wait for me, bro.”

The video-screen shut off on itself with a soft click as Jinki’s trembling hands hovered over the various buttons underside the gadget. He dropped his head on the table with a soft bang and watched his miserable self eating himself from the inside out. He closed his eyes shut.

Acutely aware on why Inspire always had a hold of his brother, the pilot never once knew they had been keeping tabs on Donghae because they had wanted him all along.

Honestly, he had never foreseen this tragedy – which he coming in and out of Inspire had preceded into something he hadn’t had control over. All his life, he had thought gaining power to determine what was supposed to be made out of him and being able to freely choose which option suited him best was a true blessing. The downfall of this was he hadn’t accustomed himself with his lack of ability to exert control over something.

The pilot was wallowing in self-pity because the desperate attempt to save his brother was starting to choke him to death, he couldn’t even form the effective route to salvage the other crew in Falcon. Hence why he probably didn’t register the door of his compartment was sliding open. Hell, he didn’t even question why Inspire did what they did – throwing a decoy for him to take on. Sure Inspire didn’t mean any harm but what was up with the unnecessary effort?

If he could read minds, he would have read Xiumin’s the day the lieutenant had visited his residence unannounced.

A gentle caress against his back stopped the incessant thoughts inside his head and he reveled in the warmness radiating from the palm. He subconsciously lifted his head and leaned closer to the warm body. Her scent was easily recognized like the soothing lavender that reminded him of a candle being lit. He was glad she came, even though she invaded his personal space during this critical time. He realized her hands went up to his soft brown locks, massaging his scalp.

“How did you come in?” Jinki croaked. His hand rested on her waist as he guided her to the table before lowering his head against hers legs once she sat down.

“She’s my child. She should recognize me.”

“Maybe NEON should tell me whether her mother ever abuses the privilege,” Jinki joked.

“I’m no mother.” Sunny grinned as her fingers absently played with the strands of hair on his nape. “You could ask her directly.”

“Nah, I know she abuses the privilege only to be alone with me.”

He leaned away from her, trying to look at her properly for the first time since the unexpected rescue mission. The sight of her and her smile almost knocked the breath out of him. He genuinely wasn’t prepared for the affection in her eyes, it was so real he couldn’t seem to intake oxygen into his lungs any longer.

Whether it was the deprived longing within his heart or the urgency lodged inside the brain, he didn’t have time to think about it as he looked at her and claimed her lips, softly nibbling on the flesh. Sunny kept her hand against his nape, suddenly whining. Jinki took the opportunity to slip his tongue inside her mouth, licking every inch of her mouth.

She tasted like fresh green apples, his mind demanding him to explore her scent all over her again, the overwhelming essence of her unknowingly awakening his pent-up desire. Jinki couldn’t seem to get enough of her as he skimmed his hand down on the pale skin of her stomach. He thought of dragging his hand up but the consciousness started kicking in he stayed put, still completely ravishing her.

“Do you think we should stop?” His lips ghosted over hers.

Sunny quivered when Jinki claimed her lips with such intensity. Yet, she fought against herself to not slip that she would gladly continue the steamy make-out session on his bed. “We should…” she whispered but the hard tugging at the back of his head said something else.

The steady heat pooled around her belly and dizzied her with so much passion as she heard Jinki muttered, “Yeah … we should.”

To prove a point - that they indeed need to stay civilized - Sunny gently moved her other hand onto Jinki’s biceps, stroking in a slowly. It was harder than she originally thought since he diligently pressed his palm on her skin, trying to maintain a close contact with her as much as he could. She wasn’t one to object but it wasn’t appropriate to be doing exactly what she always had fantasized herself about.

Luckily he read her mind just fine - she would love to know how he did that – and at the soft caress against the small back of her back, Jinki inched away from her lips, smiling wantonly. He was satisfied, though his ravenous eyes held a degree of reluctance. She was still in bliss but she could tell Jinki was adorably gazing at her.

“What?” Her cheeks were so red that she decided to hide them against his shoulder.

The deep rumble of his voice warmed her as Jinki chuckled. “Nothing, you’re adorable.” Lifting her from the table, he hoisted her onto his laps. “Do you think it’s serious, the task-force team?”

Glad that Jinki didn’t delve deeper on the sappy lovey-dovey moment, Sunny tried to even out her rapid heartbeat. “Honestly I don’t know.” Lifting her head, she looked at him, calm and content. “We could try to contact them,”

 

<FALCON>

Thousands of zombies were crowding around the ship in a matter of minutes. The crew had encounter far grosser creatures a lot of times but nothing could have saved them from the disaster of the much-loaded fuel of an engine refusing to combust alive.

Changmin struggled to analyze which factor that damaged the engine operation, despite having literally no idea why it happened in the first place. Fortunately, Falcon was still able to suspend itself several feet above ground, thus avoid ruckus that was the brainless zombies. ECO wasn’t faring better as the intelligent being was forever repeating the same procedure except, no deduction was supportable.

“Remember how Hydra regenerates itself unless we kill off the mother plant? It could be the same with the dead down there?”

Minho huddled together with Joon near the small circle window pane, face stricken. “Could we put the ship on invisibility?”

“Unless we know which one was the ‘mother body’ then we are still stuck. And dear scaredy pilot, the dead is attracted to something within this huge ship. I don’t think non-visibility could keep the dead at bay.” Hyoyeon huffed in frustration.

An idea struck a pleasant note inside Ryeowook’s mind. “It could have been the heat running?” Though of course it was impossible to conceal the warmth sensation, but seeing fire could help the dead produce another hand. That wasn’t far-fetched.

It was a dead-end all over again. “Should we try to find the mother body then? Does it not always stay at the back like the chess king?”

“Nice quotation there, Ian. Those dead soldiers are the front-liner - what, do the mother body feel the need to turn us into one of them?” As the odd implication of Eunhyuk said sent shudders to the rest of the crew, the captain claimed dismissively. “Forget what I said,”

“We can’t possibly kill each one of them to know which one.” Sooyoung argued.

There was a faint buzz before ECO stated. “Someone on the line,”

“Really? I thought communication couldn’t get through.” In fact everything they tried so far has been futile. It seemed that whatever signal they tried to send out to Inspire was blocked as it came out interrupted transmitted wave. They figured out that was why signals distress was unable to alert them, much less people of Inspire.

“Turn the speaker on, ECO.” Changmin said.

“This is Daniel Lee speaking from Inspire. Would someone kind enough to fill us in?”

“Us?” Eunhyuk was wary, “Who’s us?”

“It’s me and couple of my crews whose name I have decided not to disclose. Tell us details so we can bring you and your crew back to Inspire.”

“Fine enough. I’m Captain Eunhyuk and I’ll let Changmin fills you in,” Despite the engineer being taken aback by the appointed task, he did his very best reporting their mishap, with occasional helps from others.

“It seems if you have succeeded in penetrating the haze you’ll be stranded here like us.” Changmin contemplated. “Perhaps you could help us from the station.”

“The toxicant haze is mainly decomposition of waste from this planet. While we are still breathing fine in here, there’s no guarantee how much longer we could hang on.” Jongwoon added.

“None injuries I guess?”

Ryeowook spoke then. “Fortunately, none.”

“If nothing was effective from the inside perhaps we can try from the outside?”

Puzzled, Eunhyuk questioned. “What do you mean, sir?”

“Nothing, just stay unharmed. Occasionally my crew would contact you again. We need to head out.”

The line went dead.

And all at once everyone threw questions.

“Who’s Daniel Lee?”

“Are we going to be rescued?”

“Where’d they going to head out?”

“They won’t leave us here to die, don’t they?”

 

<MILLENIA>

“I’m leaving a voice-mail. Please just ... listen. I’m gonna save Donghae and maybe then I’ll persuade him to stay with us, just three of us. And that’s all we need, right?”

 

“Kibum!” The front gate was unsettlingly swayed with vehement rapping at the crack of dawn. “Kibum, please open the gate.”

An unruly pink-blonde-mopped framing said boy’s flawless face appeared at the door.

“Shut up for once.” He said, his eyes bleary, “Just scan your hand on the screen.” Kibum disappeared into the house, muttering nonsense under his breath.

Taemin, however wasn’t in need of being cocooned by the soft couch which held a laying Kibum. “I need Jonghyun to fly me to Inspire.”

“He isn’t here. Wait for another half an hour.”

“I want him now, Kibum.” Taemin said firmly.

“Yeah? Ask him yourself then.” Kibum replied lazily, though the rising tension in the air straightened Kibum’s back, unable to sleep peacefully with the unknown pressure around the house. The older man then studied the boy, voice softening. “Did something happen?”

“Nothing happened,”

“And you’re pacing in my living room looking so much like your boyfriend has been dying that you think it’s nothing sort of important.” Kibum snapped before going silent, dragging the tension further. “Alright then, what’s the deal with Jonghyun and Inspire?” Kibum enquired. “Is your boyfriend in Inspire?”

But the boy still refused to say anything and Kibum wasn’t one born with patience. “Answer me, silly! You don’t expect me to follow you while I’m trying to have my beauty sleep here and you are standing there like an idiot.”

As luck would have it, the soft humming of an engine in front of the house totally saved Kibum from tearing the boy’s hair (and his overall dignity). Jonghyun’s confusion as he marched through the entrance and found Taemin first instead of him twisted his gut, Kibum refused to say anything.

It was evident that Jonghyun was completely dumbfounded at the ridiculous play in front of him but he opted to have some answers for such scene in the early morning. “Why are you here, kid?”

“Fly me up to Inspire.”

“What makes you think I could do that?”

“You’re a higher rank before retiring; I think you can definitely fly me up there.” Taemin replied sharply.

Jonghyun was appalled at the snarky remark. The older just stared at the boy, almost daring Taemin to say anything further about his now demolished rank.

“Is it Jinki?” Kibum whispered, totally forgetting the silent treatment.

Instead the boy adamantly added. “Please,”

At that magic moment Jonghyun steel heart turned gooey at the boy’s soft pleading.

Hence Jonghyun navigated the aircraft - that was hiding at the basement, much to Kibum’s chagrin - with those two in tow. The eldest out of three for the most part didn’t fully acquaint with Jinki due to their different work schedule, nor did he ever know Jinki back then when he was serving Inspire.

Jonghyun though, was there during a mission involving Taemin’s oldest brother – in fact it was the one getting his license suspended due to the lack of discernment or care in checking whether the ship wreckage was safe enough to enter before it exploded into shards, leaving him a long scar behind his back.

“I’ll tell you something, Taemin.” Jonghyun started after sometime, releasing the handle swiftly. Skylark, his treasured vessel’s name had touched down safely on the shipyard. “I’m held accountable for your brother’s accident.”

Yet Taemin’s face was devoid of anything – no resentment, no anger, no nothing – but boy did Taemin’s swung of his fisted hand colliding with Jonghyun’s cheek send him tumbling to the floor, “Thanks for the save then.”

Kibum was fazed by the brutal exchange, wide-eyed. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Jonghyun struggled to find his footing. “Keep track of him; don’t wanna lose the kid here.” And Kibum stared at Jonghyun as if the older grew another head.

 

To say Xiumin wasn’t expecting the youngest Lee brothers launching at him with rage unrivaled by the roaring fierceness of Kris the dragon hybrid and punching him straight in his stomach was an understatement. The lieutenant hissed in pain despite the deadly glint of Taemin suggesting him to remain silent.

The lieutenant tried his uttermost to match the relentless glare because damned he was if he cowered at the sight of civilian that never understood surviving in Inspire was harder than adapting to Millenia. “What a surprise visit,” Xiumin was all collected.

“Certainly it isn’t lovely but yeah surprised nevertheless, seeing you leisurely chatting on the damned radio,”

“It isn’t leisure, it’s decent.” Xiumin pressed the button as he stood up and dusted off his uniform irritatingly. Abruptly a panicked voice resurfaced coursing out through the speaker.

“- hear me, Xiumin? Lieutenant? Hey, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here Daesung. I’m sorry for the interruption –”

“You don’t get to cut me off like that!” Taemin was furious because the freaking bloody officer ignored him and turned him into a complete idiot, and he wasn’t about to deal with it prettily. He was in this rustic unattractive giant space station to give the impression that no one ever in Inspire could threaten him and his brothers all they wanted.

The fiery in his eyes reeled, the seat near him sailing fast to the other side of Xiumin before it went crashing into a desk breaking the fine screen of electronic device on top of it, crashing it with a loud burst and several sparks. “And you don’t get to kill my brothers,” Taemin menacingly added.

As if the lieutenant wasn’t patience enough he balled up his fist, struggling to speak. “You’d better behave or your brothers won’t get help when I’ve smashed this mic to pieces and all you’ve got is yourself to blame.”

Taemin challenged the higher officer with another glare but remained statue several minutes later.

“We’ve been circling the haze several rounds now, nothing was out of place.”

It was Jinki’s and the young boy knew his brother knew he was here, fighting violently with his brother’s superior yet acting sort of unnerving to all the commotion he had caused.

“Try another around, with slower pace.”

“Shit, it’s the twentieth!”

“Move the ship now, Daesung. Please don’t use harsh words on your superior.” Xiumin exhaled exasperatedly. “Did Falcon report anything at all, Sunny?”

“They run out of fuel, enough to sustain for another fifteen minutes.”

“Copy that, roger out.”

 

<STARLING>

Slumping his body forward against the vessel’s wall, Simon D tried discerning something (anything) to the best of his ability to save him the pure torture of being unable to contribute anything since they boarded Starling. A very indistinct green flash blinked. Fascinated and in awe, he nudged the doctor, Sooyeon, asking for clarification.

“Did you see that?”

“I didn’t see whatever you saw,” Sooyeon simply answered as she scrutinized the odd amongst the thick haze.

“Hey, Daesung. Could you turn on two?”

Daesung did as Simon D told in annoyance. “What?”

The older let out a throaty laugh when he saw the co-pilot bending his body at an awkward angle. “Not you, silly. The huge bird, turn it to two o’clock.”

“Speak clearly bastard,” Daesung muttered.

Giggling still, Simon D stated. “Guys, there’s a blink somewhere, it’s green. If we time it correctly maybe we could bring the haze down.”

“I don’t see anything,” Junhyung pointed out.

“No, it’s there. Look closely with your heart.”

Jinki threw a soft ball towards Simon D, precisely hitting the latter’s backside, “Stop joking.”

Rubbing to soothe the pain, Simon D started. “Believe m – Look, there!”

The green flash stayed for a short three seconds before fading out, leaving everyone gasping as they waited patiently for the next blink. It took them fifteen excruciating seconds to see it again.

“Let’s fire at the next one,” Daniel Lee recommended. “ACE, anything peculiar you find yet?”

The intelligent was at ninety-percent processing the haze-decomposition, almost damaging Starling severely in the process of taking samples of it.

“It composes of the usual waste materials for decay to take place. Similar to the decomposition, it’s all natural process but it isn’t simply because there aren’t fungi or decomposer to break down these organic any further. The planet has a reversed cycle of decaying for every crumble of living things turned ashes thus ascending everything to the horizon. As to why it’s blue, I believe it was because the expanse of space isn’t red or orange.”

“The lack of decomposer results in contaminant, true?”

“That’s why it almost damaged this precious bird.” Junhyung nodded. In fact he almost burned his skin if not for Simon D pulling him back in time.

“Ready for the missiles, cap.” Jinki said, face determined.

Daniel Lee took a place beside the pilot, readying himself to push the button, “On my count – three, two, one.”

The explosive projectiles propelled towards the flash, one after another. But the impact pushed the ship backwards, everyone fumbling for a support.

“Jinki grab the handle!” Daniel Lee’s voice rose, yelling. “Grab for something, someone I don’t care, makes sure there are no injuries.”

Scrambling to balance himself, Jinki offered a hand to Daesung before steering the ship properly to avoid the fire and any particles heading towards them. The debris surge collided with the ship occasionally, making the pilot unable to avoid the hit. He was lucky ACE steadied him when his head almost knocked on the hard metal of the vessel.

Automatically ACE executed a procedure of ignition and launched the ship further away from the explosion. The ship was in darkness due to the electrical short-circuiting in the unexpected aftermath. Junhyung repaired the damage shortly after the ship was stable enough to stand while everyone was still trying to catch their breath.

 

The vibration pulsated throughout the whole planet, delivering shudders to the crews of Falcon and shaking the ship violently over the air before it landed harshly on the ground. It was equal to the earthquake with greater magnitude where the ground movement shook with pressure, almost cracking the white surface into two. The living dead which still wandered below the ship submerged into the bottomless pit with sickening groan that pierced straight to the core.

None was safe as the ship flipped upside down and the siren blared. “Danger, evacuate! Danger, evacuate!”

Jongwoon screamed, “Move out fast!”

The ship was set to detonate itself when restitution wasn’t an option and everyone had exactly sixty seconds to run for their lives. Donghae bumped his head at the dull edge of the bed on the ship, groping for the solid footing to help himself stand up. The data-analyst almost tripped, limbs shaking when Minho grabbed his torso and led them out.

Blood trickled down his temple but the adrenaline prevented him from feeling any pain as he caught the haggard breath of the young pilot, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah ... just a little dizzy,” Minho squinted at the bright light contrasting with the dim-lit ambience earlier when Falcon was coming through the haze.

Ryeowook and Sooyoung both panted hard, shivering in an effort to walk out the injured Eunhyuk. ECO was the last one clearing out the vessel before it went up in raging flames and black smokes.

“W-W-What is that?” Joon gasped for air, taking in the appearance of cracks on the white ground.

Hyoyeon ignored the lump in her throat as she spoke. “The sun is up.”

“Donghae!”

A loud cry reached over them as Ryeowook busily bandaged Eunhyuk’s shoulder with shreds of the captain’s garment, which the doctor tearing it apart to stop the gushing bleeding. Ryeowook heard a relief coming from Changmin.

Minho yelled back, “Over here.” He was suddenly glad they weren’t going to die in an unknown planet.

At a distance, Sooyeon and Junhyung ran towards the battered group before sending the others their location through the badge. Immediately, Sooyeon attended to Ian who could barely open his eyes, treating a wound on his arm. Ian seemed to be walking on air though, Sooyeon noted before moving on to Eunhyuk.

Ryeowook willingly stepped aside for Sooyeon so she could treat Eunhyuk better though there wasn’t really a need for her to fuss as her fellow doctor had done a good job covering the wound. Though Ryeowook helped Sooyeon as they both tended Donghae’s head wound, making sure there was no concussion.

Jinki reached when the doctors had finished bandaging his brother with a patch securely around the head. The pilot was absolutely terrified at the sight of blood covering a good amount of the latter’s uniform. “Is he okay, Ryeowook?”

“The wound isn’t too deep to kill him though he needs to be watched in case he vomits or feels some sort of dizziness. I’d say he’s fine.”

“Thanks, Ryeowook.”

Sooyeon raised her eyebrow slightly, “I helped you know.”

It was supposed to be some kind of joke but Jinki wasn’t in the mood for the humor. “Thanks again, Sooyeon.”

That trapped both doctors in uneasiness, “Call us if you need anything.” Ryeowook said, leaving the pilot and his brother alone. Sooyeon followed behind.

“Are you feeling okay?” Jinki asked in a tiny voice.

“I am,” Donghae smiled fumbling for the pilot’s hand.

Jinki grimaced despite offering his hand for Donghae to take. “You aren’t lying to me with your smile.” Helping his brother to stand he ordered. “Let’s get you inside.”

“Starling?”

Jinki hummed in approval. “The other birds aren’t compatible.”

“Glad to have you with me, Jinks.” The pilot wasn’t speechless at the sentence but the sincerity of Donghae’s hand against his washed over him, rendering him tongue-tied.

 

Albeit the safe landing by Starling was fortunate, the ship was not reckless enough to travel back to Inspire, what’s with the addition of ten persons. It wasn’t secure. They needed to wait for a while so all the engineers - luckily Changmin wasn’t wounded - and the intelligents could work everything back to normal.

Daniel Lee was reporting to Inspire at the back, accompanied by Jongwoon instead of Eunhyuk who was too drained to speak. Jinki was all too restless to remain seated, walking over to the engineers, sneaking in to their conversation but the trio abruptly ended the talk.

“Why is the sudden tension?” Jinki questioned, eyebrow quirked. He wanted to know the secret.

Sunny contemplated telling the pilot but Junhyung grabbed the data screen in front of her in an attempt to stop her from saying anything. The intelligent, ECO however had a different idea.

“You need to kill him, here.”

Jinki thought perhaps ECO was installed to be a jokester and damned the intelligent was even funnier than ACE. “You should try to learn a joke or two from ECO, ACE.”

“My joke is fine, Jinki.” ACE defended. “ECO isn’t joking, sir.”

The pilot was baffled, momentarily forgetting the status rank – those intelligents got the serious case of humor apparently. “W-What? Why?” He thought the mission was rescuing the other crews, not abandoning them or worse killing someone. He was trained to be a pilot for heaven’s sake!

Sunny watched Jinki’s face drained as white as the snow that dominated Blue as the words sank through. “Let me explain.” She said softly trying, to grab his attention. And she was fast, still soft. “No, I didn’t conspire with them. I’ve just come to know.”

The pilot let her manhandle him throughout the vessel’s entrance, passing through everyone in the range. Did the conspiracy mean everything was planned then? By whom - Inspire? What the hell was happening?

“Babe, tell me this isn’t true.”

Sunny would have flown up to cloud nine at the endearment Jinki called her but the distraught look on her love broke her heart into two. She attempted to soothe him, subconsciously slipping out the nickname, “Love, I’m afraid it is.”

Jinki had this crazy look on his eyes but her mixed determined-alarmed expression reflecting in the beautiful brown eyes grounded the anger rising in him. He felt a sob building inside his throat. “Why then?”

“Because he asks you to,”

“... W-Who?” He was dreading because it felt like this was a test – a test to measure whether he still had the credibility to serve Inspire. He would produce cold sweat but there was none. Why the need to kill someone who had been serving Inspire as him?

It was difficult to breathe suddenly. Why did he need to be tested this brutally?

“I’ve got no option, mate.”

A voice approached before someone moving away from him. “Ian?” His voice was rough, and he wasn’t aware he had his eyes closed in an effort to block Sunny’s tingling tone telling who he needed to put a knife into. She hadn’t had the chance though.

Ian’s face had this satisfaction that he was pleased Jinki finally discovered the truth. As long as he was still breathing he had never once thought of betraying someone he dearly loved (anyone for that matter) so he was very confused why his best partner of swimming classes together in SigVis, told him he got no option left.

“What option? I’ll help you, just tell me.” He demanded an answer on why Ian with a bandaged arm was looking so forlorn at him. “Tell me! Dammit, Ian!”

“I am not Ian. Don’t call me Ian!” Sudden energy swiftly hurled the pilot and he crumbled to the ground.

Soft groaning at his side had him realized Sunny was with him still, along with the others who stayed at the back, probably for all the privacy he and Ian needed. Jinki made eye-contact with her to see whether she was fine with the attack. She smiled hesitantly as he helped her stand.

There was no telling where the pilot regained his voice – one that was unperturbed and certain – but the thought of him stabbing his mate without knowing why killed him inside. “I don’t know why you dislike me calling you Ian but you’d better tell me why you insist on me killing you.”

“I told you I’m no Ian!” The bandage got torn apart and the fresh red wound was gaped open.

The scream was deafening but Jinki stood there rigid, hand tightly held over Sunny’s small ones. “Then what is it?” He was trembling in furiousness. He was inwardly begging for Ian, his mate, to just answer the damn question.

Ian was breathing hard, rougher, struggling to remain collected as if he’d been battling to regain consciousness over something. “I am no longer normal. I can’t fight him back.” He pitifully whimpered.

“Why can’t you?” It was a stupid question to ask but hell Jinki was confounded he needed irrelevant blank filled.

“Him …,” the pilot guessed as the inner demon of Ian. “… I’ve been dying to let you know, mate. I’ve been trying to tell you that I wasn’t the one you had always seen me as. I wanted you to end my misery.”

“It’s your own demon. I won’t need to end your misery, but I’ll help.”

“Nyde – he isn’t my demon.” Ian glowered at Sunny making she whimpered silently with such intensity. “You’re going to make him listen to you, woman.”

“Don’t call her that!” Jinki hollered. “What are y – Ian, stop!” The back of her denim blue uniform seeped with red. She arched painfully as Jinki took her by the shoulder. Was that magic? “Please, don’t hurt her.”

As swiftly as it came Sunny slumped into Jinki as the pain subsided. She felt her legs turning jelly, almost stumbling to the ground but he caught her just in time before gently lowering her to the ground.

“That’s what I can do to her, to you and everyone else. I couldn’t let anyone else kill me because Nyde wants you!” Ian spoke with resentment settled inti his orbs. “Nyde always wanted you.”

“I want to speak with him.”

Nyde smirked as he gleefully transitioned into Ian’s body. “Whoops, my bad. Couldn’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Closing the distance, Nyde snickered. “See Jinki, you have always been my favorite. And this Ian boy, he is the perfect mind to control because he has this big green envy occupying the majority of his emotions. Guess where the green is directed?”

Jinki swallowed a hard lump on his throat.

“That’s right, smart boy. It’s you.” Nyde laughed hysterically. “Ian said you could have killed me easily but I know you won’t. You wouldn’t dare let your dear friends be hurt or worse dead. That’s why you will always be my favorite.”

“What’s the deal then?”

Nyde halted a few feet in front of them. “You want a deal? Hmm,” Nyde bored a hole into the pilot’s eyes. “I give you two choices – I’ll let Ian live, eventually taking over the body and then yours then her then everyone else or I’ll simply let you trade yourself for your dear mate.”

“You aren’t civilized, are you?” Sunny bravely challenged the inhumane soul.

“I haven’t learned the word civilized, so nope.” Nyde studied her interestingly before laughing at that whimpering sound of her, who fisted hard on the pilot’s fabric.

Sunny was suffocated with excruciating pain over her back and trying her best to bite her cries because she won’t let that creature won. The pilot wasn’t in the right mind to play seeing her taking all the brunt. Thus he instilled his impassive tone, face expressionless. “Stop torturing her.”

He should question why Nyde wasn’t inflicting anything on him but he decided he was tired of running in circles. “Switch Ian back, do it now!” If he was the favorite he should play it right.

Jinki watched closely over the man in front of him, before standing on his feet trying to reach over the distance. Sunny caught him off guard with her hand on his. “It’ll be fine. Just stay here.” He said gently.

“Be safe,” she reminded.

“I will,” Jinki paced over to Ian, staring levelly at the man’s eyes.“Listen to me, mate.” Jinki dryly started. “If I need to kill him, promise me you won’t disappear. Where is it?”

Ian was trembling vigorously as he tried to take Jinki’s hand with his bloody arm and bring it over his left chest. “Here,” He smiled weakly at his friend before releasing their hands, blood trickled down. “Kill me while I’m still talking to you.”

Jinki was silent because honestly, he didn’t have the heart in him to do such a crime to his friend. Yet Ian was pleading with tears gathering on his lower lids, “Want to hear a story, mate?” Jinki couldn’t find strength to nod at him.

“I always envy you every single time I see you. Whether it’s on the Earth, or SigVis, during the swimming session and I still am when I meet you again in Inspire. I can’t find myself a chance because you will always have her on your mind, too frequently I feel devastated. I’m not saying I love you romantically, mate.” Ian chuckled slightly before coughing up blood. He thrust a sharp edge of five pointed-blades towards the pilot. Jinki was pallid as he reached for the weapon.

“I wish you could watch me as interestingly as you did her, or I would be fine if you treated me in a special like you do with Daesung. But I’m nobody. Everyone speaks highly of you, everyone is charmed by your talent, your gentle charisma. It makes sense why you don’t notice me.”

“I do,” Jinki argued. “I spent winter holiday with you the last time I was in Inspire, didn’t I?”

“Sorry, my memory failed me.” Ian smiled, still weak like a withered plant. “Hey mate, you’re going to abandon me here after you stab me with that, alright. Then you’re going to run to the ship and fly back to Inspire.”

“STOP telling me what to do!” Jinki screamed, so frustrated that his friend wanted him to abandon the other after the dirty deed. “I am your friend. When I asked you to be one; you could have just asked if you want more!”

Ian laughed. “I’m pretending you don’t know what you’re saying, Jinki.” He grasped Jinki’s hand along with the dagger tightly and gestured it right at his chest. “Go on,”

The pilot was shaking. He couldn’t properly hold the murderous weapon and surprisingly his voice didn’t betray his frenzied emotions. “Why won’t Nyde hurt me? Why can’t someone kill him?”

“Nyde,” Ian lifted the corner of his mouth, slightly enthralled to be talking about the demon. “He’s more fond of you than me. I can’t even match him. He wouldn’t want you hurt because then he’ll die. He, no - we need you to be the one. It’s Nyde’s request, not me.”

Ian gasped in shudder soon after, “Quick, Jinki. Sink it in! Nyde won’t let you – KILL me already!”

“You left me a note!” Jinki shouted, still trying to make sense of everything.

“I did, yeah. Jinki please, sink it in. STAB the dagger!”

It was hideous, gruesome even – Ian’s screaming was terrifying. Jinki dropped to the ground, his heart in his mouth as he watched with wide eyes - Ian grumbling nonsense, blood oozing over the snow, covering it so red it haunted his nerves. He was mumbling in Sunny’s warm embrace, almost choking at the sight of bloodstained weapon across from him. She didn’t say anything but remained there with him as he gripped her petite frame so tight he knew she couldn’t breathe.

 

<SICKBAY>

Words had travelled throughout the kitchen, the science department and all the way to security and it wasn’t long before Taemin was alarmed that the new-born had finally awakened. The young boy wasn’t too concerned about the baby because he was very much anxious about his brother’s recovery, more than anything.

Only when he decided he must feed his curiosity before it drove him to insanity that he realized it wasn’t the new-born after all.

“He’s been in comatose state for several weeks after Jonghyun brought him back in one piece, unscratched after the explosion.” Xiumin explained.

Taemin piped in, excited. “He’s divine then - Ouch!”

Kibum, for all his worth, resolved to not entertain the kid’s humor as he rapped his knuckle hard on the latter ‘shead. And he ignored when Taemin whined.

“What’s that for?”

The analyst squealed as he sat on the bed. “Aww, baby brother you’re so cute.”

“I pass the age of being cute. Stop calling me that,” Taemin grumbled under his breath.

Donghae ignored the younger entirely as he continued, “Is Jongwoon coming yet?”

Ryeowook snapped from Eunhyuk’s bed, checking over the injury. “I’ll kill him if he ever showed up in my place, or Changmin’s.”

“Then you might as well not treat Donghae so mighty. He keeps a secret, too.” The former captain pouted. “We are all dolls for them to use.”

“I won’t tolerate if someone die on my watch.” Sooyeon retorted, though she was very annoyed that she’s been tricked. “Ian has been responding well to the nutrient intakes. Should be awake any moment now,” she reported to Ryeowook. Honestly she didn’t know at all Ian was in the sickbay this whole time.

“Is Nyde is alien then?” Taemin inquired nudging the lieutenant for answers.

Xiumin pondered for a moment, “Maybe, or maybe not.”

It was all lucky guesses when the lieutenant found Ian many months ago, balling his fist and vomiting blood at midnight in one of the bathroom stalls while he had nothing better to do because sleep refused to indulge him. Due to the fact that he was very much inexperienced in being authoritative he ended up paging the other lieutenants at three in the morning before they came to a decision to induced unconsciousness to the said traumatized boy.

The NAV lieutenant then learnt Ian was the survivor of the explosion that had left no blemishes whatsoever over the skin. Shortly after he had returned, the boy had little control over his own body. No one could easily make him open up on why such occurrences happened. Ian was acting as if another person was inhibiting his body – he was so different and strange. The higher officers settled into letting certain other people brainstorm for the solution.

Donghae discovered that the S.O.S code was sent during the explosive accident, it was directed to his brother’s pager and Jinki misplaced the pager somewhere during a simulation with Daesung. It made sense then when the analyst who found Ian could speak Spanish fluently and had a Greece Royal blood running through his system. Jonghyun offered to help Jinki and Taemin settle down on Millenia with the help of Kibum, who was present during the same mission and earned a scar from fourth degree burn on his thigh.

The officers entrusted Daniel Lee, Jongwoon and Changmin to interrogate poor Ian under the supervision of Zhoumi. The trio came up with cloning Ian’s body for Nyde to fit in (the creature hadn’t had any idea he was being fooled) though Ian could sometimes consciously slip into Nyde’s mind. Thus they were all aware of how possessive the creature was when it came to Jinki. Despite that they couldn’t come to conclusion as to why Nyde was so interested with the pilot – everything that has been said on Blue, was what they had known for months, nothing more.

 

Taemin, Jonghyun and Kibum had extended their stay in Inspire for over a week then, still patiently waiting for Jinki to wake. It wasn’t tiring. Instead it felt like hope was hanging on a very thin thread – it was what Taemin’s felt – he could have gone soulless but Inspire was all united in time of crisis. He didn’t feel left out at all when they were all throwing party for Ian’s recovery from the induced-coma. How he wished Jinki was present with them then so he could see how Sunny pretend to laugh and smile so bright it hurt to see.

It was exactly a minute after the digital watch turned 2400, when the party was about to end, that both Ryeowook and Sooyeon’s badge started beeping, alerting. Everyone scrambled to Jinki’s compartment with various expressions painted their face – worried, anxious, grief, named it all. It was very much happy news once the doctors exited the room.

“Welcome back, lieutenant.” Zhoumi patted the lying man’s shoulder.

Jinki dismissed, “He’s higher rank than me.” The pilot gestured at Xiumin.

To be honest, he was glad to see all six lieutenants beside his bed, visiting him but he didn’t recall for what occasion they decided to honor him with a visit. His mind was so muddled with series of blurry images.

“You fainted after the rescue mission, remember?” Seunghyun asked.

“I did?” He questioned back.

Yoochun assured him to not overthink it. “It will makes sense sometimes later.” He smiled in relief, “Glad to have you back.” The other two lieutenants at the edge of his feet followed suit.

Next Jongwoon along his intelligent, Changmin and the previous captain of rescue team stepped in. He vaguely remembered the retired man saying something to him in the conference room – what was it?

“I thought you would take an entire month to wake up,” Jongwoon stated.

“Did you remember at all what we did?” Daniel Lee was smirking, the corner of his mouth lifted.

Jinki paused for seconds. “We fired missiles … someone’s got injured … my brother!” He was frantic at the image of bloody uniform, “Donghae, is he okay?”

“Safe and sound,” ECO sounded.

“You should worry over her,”

“Huh?” Confusion bubbled in his eyes.

Changmin elbowed the older pilot, which had Jongwoon groaning at the attack. “Nothing, you should rest. Sorry for disturbing.”

As soon as they exited Jinki passed out, unable to fight the lethargy.

 

The digital watch on the bedside table hit precisely 0600. The man on the bed groaned softly as he fluttered his eyes open, slowly focusing on a silhouette that had its back facing him, standing over the bookshelf.

“Jinki,” a chirping voice assaulted his eardrum.

He cringed at the cheeriness of the tone. At the same time, the silhouette swirled around, frown disappearing and smile etched over the features. There was a jar - that wasn’t his - on the other’s hand but he then rested it on the bedside table behind the watch, shortening the distance before fussing over him.

“How are you feeling?”

“Do you want water?”

The stunned pilot casted glances over the two men currently in the room before chuckling. He grinned slightly, “I feel fine, thanks. And water might fresh me up a bit.”

Taemin cheered happily as he ran for the pitcher over the pantry and returned shortly after. “Here,” the young brother helped Jinki up with Donghae supporting the pilot’s backside.

The analyst opted to lay his brother back but Jinki refused not to. “Help me sit up.”

Over the night bits of memories had returned to him, though there were missing pieces somewhere – at least he wasn’t as clueless as the previous night.

“Remember my promise, Taem?” Jinki asked looking at the younger brother. “If somehow I … I don’t think I can make it.”

“Why? Because of Donghae?” Taemin squinted at the eldest brother. “Nah I know you won’t be able to coax him. He’s as stubborn as a bull.”

“Yah!” Donghae hit his youngest brother by the shoulder, surprisingly well-aimed.

The pilot felt bad, “I’m sor- “

“It’s her, isn’t it?” Taemin wasn’t looking at his brother as he rubbed the sore spot. “I’m wasting my time travelling up here.”

Donghae warned. “Taemin,” and Jinki could see there isn’t anything to the warning because the tiny grin spoke for itself.

“Yeah,” he admitted shamelessly. “Thanks.”

 

Later in the afternoon Daesung and Junhyung strode in with variety of meals, and a basket of fruits. “You guys do realizeI ‘m not about to die, right?” Jinki grimaced.

“Very much aware buddy,” Junhyung shrugged, “Just thought maybe you would want to be healthy as soon as possible.”

“Healthy from gluttony,” Jinki huffed while the engineer slyly snickered. What a great friend!

They were soon engaging in different topics, from the small moment of meeting other friends while on Earth, to the competitiveness while studying in SigVis to the very much unnerving issue of courting or dating someone (because Daesung slipped his tongue and let Jinki know about Sooyoung’s note). Junhyung was very much laughing his face off at the wide-eyed Daesung (‘Dude, you are slow!’).

“I can’t believe you’re that lame.”

“I’m just scared.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that you are lame and slow.” Junhyung snorted. “You took nearly a week to empty the jar and read the note.”

“What did it say?” Jinki asked.

Daesung looked very much insulted, “You don’t get to see it.” He moved closer to the pilot in attempt to show the note but Junhyung, the sneaky bastard, snatched it away, much to the other’s chagrin.

Junhyung scanned the note before passing it back to Jinki. “She has guts, I admit. Have you asked her on a date yet?”

“I’m planning on one tonight,” Daesung mumbled.

“Good because you’ve wasted nine days to man up. You could have kissed her after the rescue.” Junhyung laughed sardonically.

 

The bed-ridden man had too many people coming in and out of his room. He wondered who gave them permission to visit him in his own compartment without alerting the system. A little nap after his two best buddies visited gave him time to rest, but Falcon crew members woke him up with endless chatter before his mates from the rescue team barged in, joining the crowd. He never thought his compartment could fit so many people all at once. At some point between his sleeping and waking up he thought he saw Jonghyun and Kibum talking in hushed tone over his bed.

Jinki slept through the noise. As weird as it sounded their loud energy did help him fall quicker. He awakened to the sight of his swimming partner casually reading a book under the dim light of the room. He thought he was dreaming, so he ignored the shadow-person averting his attention to everywhere. Didn’t he kill Ian back then in Blue?

As much as the image of battered Ian haunted every nerve of him he wasn’t sure why he didn’t grief for that friend. He probably had gone mad, a punishment for daring to kill an innocent human.

“Whatever you have been thinking, you’d better stop.”

Jinki turned over the person. Damn! Ian’s voice was so real! “You aren’t an illusion?”

“Touch me then,”

The pilot blanched. WHAT? “I might believe you because I’m not touching you.”

Ian laughed, pulling down the book onto his laps. “I’m suggesting you grab my hands or something. Clearly your definition of touching is different with mine.”

He wasn’t thrilled at the thought of him as a laughing stock. “I remember stabbing you with a dagger, so why are you here?”

Ian replied nonchalantly. “It takes so much to kill me you know. The dagger didn’t fully hit my heart. I think Nyde disintegrated the moment you’re determined to stab me.”

Blinking in confusion he spoke again. “We brought your bloody body to Inspire?” If that was true he was glad that he was spared the gory sight and offending appalling smell of alcohol sterilization.

However, Ian was silent, studying him with so much apprehension he thought of voicing his concern on did-you-want-to-admit-you’re-a-ghost-now but then his friend smiled. He was baffled because what the hell? A ghost was smiling at him now!

“I will always be in here, over at the sickbay. See you around.”

Ian disappeared like a bolt of lightning – so sudden he couldn’t blinked before the door of his compartment closed, leaving nothing except a book on his bed. ACE came in shortly with metallic silver body, square and gangling.

“Did you scare him, Jinki?”

The pilot looked alarmed. “Am I scary?” Shit, he must be. Why didn’t anybody show him a mirror?

He made a bee-line for the bathroom, almost stumbling if not for his reflex. He grabbed the sink to stop himself from falling down face first – that would surely be something ACE would try to blackmail him for every once in a while. Checking his reflection on the mirror, his shoulder sank in defeat.

“Do you have something to tell me, ACE?” Trudging back to the bed, he enquired. Well done you bloody intelligent. “Is the recruitment over?”

“It’s all an act. Inspire wanted you to believe that.”

Great! Groaning with whatever left within his frayed nerve, he gave up. The entire staffs of Inspire deserved the best actor of the century awards and he would be clapping at the stupid achievements everyone but him got to received.

“You have known since we’re in Millenia?” No, scratch that. “You have known it before we came down.” Shutting his eyes, Jinki ordered the intelligent, his lips thinning into a straight line. “Tell me everything, from the very beginning.”

 

He refused to fall back to sleep, so he wandered every inch of his compartment distracting himself with nothing interesting. But he unconsciously kept thinking back to ACE’s conversation, which left him breathless and numb. He thought maybe slitting someone’s throat could return his sanity again. Then again Nyde was aware at the deal it agreed to, and with Inspire’s intention of turning Ian back to normal – was there ever a need to …

“DAMNIT, stop thinking!” Jinki screamed in an effort to shut his brain. He banged his head on the wall – once, twice, thrice, another and another till he grew tired, till he saw black and white spots dancing in front of his eyes. Buckling under his own weight, he dropped to the floor with a thud, lungs burning.

The pilot wouldn’t said he was aware of the soft opening of the compartment entrance but clearly the familiar scent of sea, wood and forest (she was every scent he could name of) infiltrated his nerve, leaving him tottering over the cliff. He was secretly relieved that she didn’t run towards him panicking at the miserable sight of blood trickled down his temple. She didn’t need to be in his room after all.

Struggling to move his torso so he could have lean against the wall, he managed himself just fine, though he tripped twice what’s with his very little strength left. And she was all patient and kind, standing over the entrance unmoving. Despite her calm attitude, he thought, any moment she could burst into tears at his pathetic attempt trying to survive. He was very tired, maybe he should have just slept right there.

But he refused to sleep with blood on his face – he won’t be able to sleep peacefully, his nose flaring at the offending iron smell. Thus, he made an effort to stand and paced unsteadily towards the bathroom. He seized the band-aid in the small cabinet beside the mirror before washing the blood. His hands were trembling as he reached over the white dressing, tearing them, applying pressure to his head and failing.

“I can help … can’t I?” There was uncertainty in her voice.

Jinki nodded slightly, too fuzzy to mind her presence, limbs flailing as he chose to lean against the shower wall, eyes unblinking. She worked in silent but he was aware of her warm hands behind his head gently holding him in place and trying to clean more blood around the cut. He groaned softly when she applied antiseptic over it – he didn’t think the cut was large but damn it stung.

“I’m upset because I think you lied to me.”

She put everything back into the kit and threw the bloody-stained dressing into the bin before looking at him, but Jinki wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“I didn’t.”

There were a thousand questions around them, he was sure. “Are you done?”

“I am,” Sunny stood to place the kit in the cabinet as she heard Jinki’s rough breathing trying to leave the bathroom. She remained in there for several minutes until she was sure the pilot was calm enough to see her again.

It never came to her mind that if somehow Jinki would refuse to meet her, wouldn’t be entertained at the thought of her bouncing over to his compartment but she guessed a temperamental Jinki wasn’t too hard to deal with if he could still talk with her. As much as she was confused at the sight of Jinki’s bloodshot eyes when she stepped in she was certain the pilot was reeled, floored by the nightmare he’d been through.

Walking out from the bathroom, she slowly paced over to the bed. Jinki was sitting exhaustedly on a chair, drained after the blood loss. She halted once she reached the edge of the bed, hyper-aware the man could bolt if she came closer.

For a moment there was nothing. Everything was still, even noise around them faded - the watch stopped functioning, the soft padding outside the door ceased. She could only hear the dub sound of her fast heartbeats, deafening inside the empty room. That was until Jinki broke the spell.

“Come here,” he said, voice devoid of affection.

So she walked over and stopped once she thought she’d invade his space.

“Come closer,” His voice was icy cold. She shivered.

He scrutinized her up and down, much like a predator eyeing its prey, eyes narrowing before grabbing her wrist, dragging her closer to the bed. Once he climbed onto the bed with difficulty, she was instructed to do the same.

“Straddle me.”

That sounded appealing but she didn’t think that was what he tried to imply. Nonetheless she made no move because she thought maybe he mispronounced the word or something, considering the cut on his head was fresh and he shouldn’t be recuperate that fast.

“Straddle me now,” his deep low voice vibrated in a challenge.

She tensed at the tone, too distant to her liking, slowly climbing onto the mattress before awkwardly placing her legs on both sides of him, widening them a little just to make herself comfortable. But Jinki had a different plan - he gripped her hips too tight, forming a bruise and pulled her closer onto his laps.

Her breath became uneven and her heart pounded in her ears when Jinki fleetingly grazed over her chest, over the thick uniform before unbuttoning the first three, revealing her cleavage and the smooth pale skin.

“Are you scared?”

“No,” she was surprised her voice wasn’t wavering.

“Nervous then,” Jinki grabbed her by the waist as some sort of support before crashing over her, his other hand over her shoulder embracing.

Her voice quivered then, “A little.” She couldn’t guess what was the pilot was doing against her back but she could imagine this was what caused the sudden mood-swing of the other.

She hypnotized herself to remain quiet and calmed her racing heartbeat. Now she sensed the root of the problem but he surprised her once again when he released her, eyes boring into her own, unnerving.

“Unbutton the rest and turn around.”

Blinking her dry eyes, she simply stared back (and she wished she could pepper him with kisses all over or she could just caress the soft strands of his hair, kissing his head again and again) before she found his gaze was too intense for her to hold on. She bowed her head as her hands fumbled over the button. She couldn’t work them fast enough because her hands shook so much. By the time she was finished she lifted her face slightly just so she could see the rise and fall of his chest. That soothed her somehow and it was probably the reason why she swiftly turned herself around, unrestrained.

And she waited and waited – half of her heart was threatening to leap out of her chest but she still patiently waited for something, anything. The tension was building, she couldn’t properly fill her lungs with enough oxygen.

Then she felt his finger trailing over her uniform-shoulder before the heavy uniform fell down, completely baring her backside. A soft gasp left her because she wasn’t prepared for that – at some point though she did think maybe that’s what was going to happen but still. Weirdly enough that was the first time she ever showed her skin to him. She felt so bared and vulnerable, as if he was cutting her open, reading her.

“Did it hurt?” He said later, grazing painfully slow over the many scars behind her back.

“It did,”

“Does it still hurt?”

“Not anymore.” She breathed when Jinki pressed on the scar slightly and licked over them soon after. And she precisely knew he was thinking of the times when he wasn’t there to hold her, soothing the intense pain.

And when he pulled her close to his chest – when he wound both his strong arms around her shoulder – when he breathed over her nape – when she caught the hitch in his throat, she simply brought her hands over his, intertwining them. One should stay strong if the other wasn’t and she was trying to maintain that dynamic – their dynamic. It was really hard for both of them but she wanted them (him) to understand she would hold onto him as long as he could do the same for her.

It was simple but the simplicity was too overwhelming when he cried over her shoulder. And she cried too because really there wasn’t anything that could have changed what happened. She cried over everything that was there to be crying for: the unbearable pain, the terrifying feelings Jinki get over the blood on his hand, the comatose state of him and the miraculous recovery – they were all pouring down her cheeks, drenching her skin with salty tears.

“I’m sorry, love. I really am.”

She shook her head, denying his apology. Turning herself around in his embrace, still in tears, Sunny kissed him gently. So gentle she could hear Jinki’s heartbeat pulsating over her. They stayed like that for a while until the pilot leaned away slightly, panting before hanging the uniform back onto her petite frame and drawing them both to the mattress, lying comfortably.

 

A little over dawn, Sunny woke due to the sudden chilliness. She grabbed for the blanket, though it was difficult, with Jinki’s arms wrapping around her frame, that once she managed just that she noticed his eyes were on her. Suddenly aware of how conscious the other was, Sunny fell back to the mattress, hiding her flushed face on his chest.

They were surrounded by the soft sound of each other’s breath as Jinki chose to play with her hair – patting, caressing and then kissing them. They stayed like that for a moment.

“Are you still upset?”

“No, I’m not.” Jinki added after several pauses. “I’m sorry if I’m scaring you. I just - it was disheartening to hear everything then digesting it. It took so much of me to process the thought of everyone being safe, that it is all that matters.” He kissed her hair fondly. “Did you find me scary last night?”

She lifted her head, a grin appearing on her features. “Not that bad.”

Seeing that, Jinki teased her. “What if I go further than that? What if I … ” The pilot quirked his eyebrow knowingly.

Her cheeks blushed scarlet red. “You won’t force anything on me.”

“Hmm, true.” Jinki propped his hand over the mattress supporting his side. “What if it happens again?”

Shrugging, she lied on her back now that Jinki had shifted, simply saying. “I’ll go through everything with you.”

He was beaming at her answer. That made him so giddy at ungodly hours of the day he sprang to his shelf, grabbing an empty jar and a small velvety box inside a drawer. Passing the items to her he went to sit on a chair.

“Open the jars first.” He started when she looked so severely confused between him and the things on the bed.

She sat up slowly, grasping the uniform tighter around herself before buttoning them fully. “You are aware that you are now blushing, right?” But she ignored him as she held the jar in her hand, swirling it open in an effort to lessen the flaming heat on her face.

She reached for a note: She is the happiness, Sunny is. I wish she stays happy.

“That is my last jar. I wrote the note on the day I left.”

“After Sooyeon’s?”

Jinki looked at her, “Yeah after the break-up.” He hastily added. “I hadn’t had the chance to fill the jar with water though. I bet it must be pretty, full of yellow and orange – like a rainbow.”

She blushed again as she moved her hand for the velvet box, flipping it open.

“Will you include me in your happiness?” Staring at the wonderfully polished diamond on the ring she filtered his question over her mind again and again. Another pair of ring was simple in gold-lining.

Jinki brought his hand over his nape rubbing it nervously. “Yeah it is far from romantic and it is far from the candle-light dinner but it’s impossible for that after last night.”

“You could have done it some other time,” she mumbled under her breath, still in awe.

“You want to wait?” Jinki caught her in surprise because she thought her words too soft to hear.

She obviously wanted it to be romantic but she wouldn’t have it another way if the pilot wanted to do it now at dawn. “Put it on me,”

He walked over the bed and reached for the small ring. “I need an answer.”

“I will,” she said determined.

“You will what?” He was standing looking down at her, who was offering her finger.

She remained quiet before whispering. “I’ll try to make you happy, too.”

“I’m pretending that I heard you saying you love me dearly and that you said ‘I do’,” She glared at him, annoyed. “It’s for my satisfaction.” Jinki said, grinning as he slipped the silver ring onto her delicate finger. “Now put the other me one,”

And she did, slipping the band on his finger, marveling at the thought of them getting somewhere and she was glowing with happiness as she directed her smile towards him.

“You want a celebration – a wine, a date?”

Sunny pondered for a moment. “Let’s just sleep. And thanks, Jinki.”

He dived onto the bed before wrapping his arms around her, kissing her forehead, “Anything for you, love.”

Jinki realized then despite how different they both were like how the stars and the sun couldn’t coexist at the same time, they fit themselves over one another just fine. She was all bubbly and bright, but she was reserved whenever it came to affection, especially with him. Thus he showered her with his own endless endearments the same way she would complement him over his too-serious and nerdy moment. He knew she was all about space because she had this ‘condition’, where she couldn’t really express her emotions if it was concerning her or them generally. Yet he could read her like she was a book – worth understanding her, not underestimating.

 

“Hey, hyung! You shoul – “ Taemin stopped himself in his track.

“Buddy, do not hear any – Ouch!” Daesung rubbed his shoulder at the bumping he experienced. “Yah!”

Jinki blearily opened his eyes. “What?” He pulled the blanket higher. People should stop barging into his compartment one of these days. He closed his eyes in irritation but the stifling silence suffocated him. He opened his eyes to the sight of his brother and his best friend with their jaws dropping to the ground.

The pilot then realized he had a girl on his bed in his compartment. Damn! He panicked, but he forced himself to relax because really he hadn’t done anything to her – minus last night stunt which wasn’t that big of a deal. Hopping down from the bed he caught the relief coloring their faces.

“What?” Did they think he slept with her in here? She deserved a fluffy bed at least.

Dragging them both out of his compartment Jinki, spoke to the system. “NEON, deny all access to my room.”

“Instruction fails to load. I’m sorry, sir.”

Right, Sunny was the one responsible for the system. “No, that’s fine. Thanks NEON.” Turning to face the intruders, he glared. “What’s so important for you to barge into my compartment without actually knocking?”

Daesung responded, “We didn’t need to do that yesterday though.”

“Well I’ve woken up now so mind my personal space.” He snapped, uncaring over his brother’s presence.

“Sorry, Jinki. I want to tell you that I’m leaving this evening.”

Oh! “I-I … I’ll meet you … uhm, later?” He was flailing all over.

“We’re meeting everyone during lunch,” Taemin said, smiling.

Jinki responded too fast. “Sure, I – we’ll meet you there.” The pilot wryly smiled. “Thanks for informing … I guess?”

“Sure, hyung.” Taemin dragged the dear friend who tagged along with him, ready to leave Jinki. “ACE wasn’t happy when you did what you did last night.”

Paling at the mention, he struggled. “I-I’ll keep that in mind.”

Returning to the safety of his compartment after bidding goodbye to his brother, he watched the lump on his bed. She was very much awake, curling like a baby under the blanket as she lied on her side, observing him under the beautiful eyelashes.

“Slept well?”

“I did. Did you?”

“Hasn’t had that good sleep for a while, always someone’s interrupting it.” He elaborated later when she was silent but obviously curious, “My brother and Daesung.” When she widened her eyes at the fellow pilot’s name Jinki smiled apologetically. “Sorry.” Heading for the shower he spoke again before disappearing. “I think they’re gonna talk about us during lunch.”

He was sort of expecting her not to say anything about it once he came out with fresh garments because she wasn’t good at handling with overwhelming emotions, but she proved him wrong with what she said next.

“You wanna come to my compartment?” She clutched the blanket a little harder. “Then we can head to lunch.” She didn’t say it out loud, but Jinki knew she virtually placed the word together at the end of her sentence.

He smiled at her, “Sure.”

 

If Jinki had a chance to talk about her to any of his friend or family twelve months ago he would say she was unique in her own beautiful skin – caring, bubbly yet understanding. She would want personal space to herself thus the line. And he would say the same thing now: that she was stubborn when she felt the need to and considerate not to cross any blurry line, acknowledging that there would be a reason behind the act. And she was beautiful when she laughed, so carefree when everyone around her was happy.

Leaving Inspire in favor of nursing his disheartening issue that was his brother’s accident wasn’t something he had came up with overnight. He had thought of leaving when he realized from the get-go, that his feelings for her had always bugged his mind, demanding him to confront her (he did once on the night before the bleachers conversation) yet he knew she would feel guilty if that had happened (if Jinki ever broke up just to be with her). That he came down to Millenia was part of the plan in giving space yet again to her.

It was certainly worth the wait for him as he saw how she tried her best to catch up with him the moment he needed her, the moment where he felt world had crumbled onto him, crashing and weighing. She was there every step of the way, holding him in her warm embrace, smiling for him when he couldn’t. She was the precious dream he valued till eternity and that the dream jar was a reminder that she didn’t need to be put on a display, in order to show the vibrant colors she had within her – it was simply for the genuine appreciation to whom who of noticing the colors which was her.