“It’s really fun, I promise,” Sehun said, plopping down at the monitor next to Jongin.
“I dunno,” Jongin shook his head. “I’m just…uncomfortable with the idea of--”
“Shut up and login,” Yifan said, shoving Jongin’s chair to the side and moving his own to sit at the neighboring monitor.
“Okay, but isn’t this whole thing supposed to be anonymous?” Jongin clicked at the login screen of the terminal, feeling hesitant. “If I log in then it’ll show my profile.”
“If you actually log in, you’d see that it asks you to set up a nickname.” Sehun muttered next to him, his eyes already glued to his own screen.
Jongin sighed. He really didn’t get it. What was the appeal of going online and lying to people you don’t even know? Why hide your identity if you’re already meeting strangers that could be from any number of planets?He begrudgingly laid his fingers on the mouse, giving it the biometric access to log him onto the application. It flashed once, scanning him and confirming his identity — and once it was done, he found himself staring at a very minimalistic welcome screen.
You are no longer Kim Jongin.
Who are you?
It seemed a bit strange to him, however Sehun seemed to be extremely interested in whoever was on the other side of his chat, so he chose to ask the greater of two evils for advice.
“Yifan, what should my username be?” He asked timidly.
Yifan raised an eyebrow at him as if it were the dumbest question he’d ever heard in his life. Jongin wasn’t surprised, though. He always reacted that way when someone asked him something.
“Mine’s Kris,” Yifan responded simply.
“Okay...” Jongin bit his lip in thought. “Why?”
“It’s cool.” Another simple response.
Cool. Okay. What’s something cool and manly?
Almost thoughtlessly he typed something in the prompting box.
Who are you?
You’re Kai now.
Not forever. Just for a little bit. Just while you are here.
Once you log off you can return to being yourself and dealing with your problems, but for now you will get to let that go.
I am going to connect you with someone else now. Enjoy your time, Kai.
Jongin watched as the words faded in, reading them all very carefully — and once they faded away, so did his trepidation about it. Perhaps it was the calming colors on the screen or the reassuring message it delivered, but at least for the time being he felt like it was going to be more fun than a hassle his annoying friends dragged him into.
After a moment, something appeared on the screen. It showed the application name at the top then a fairly simplistic chat box filled the rest of the screen.
You are now chatting with D.O.
Jongin squinted at the name, D.O. had no meaning to him. He knew lots of people that came to his settlement with odd alien names so they often adopted initials in an attempt to make it easier for people who only speak the common tongue to address them in conversations.
He also assumed he was meant to greet this person.
There was a pause to which he again made an assumption that this stranger must be typing. Then from somewhere in the universe came a reply.
Seemed to him like a fairly reasonable response. Moves conversation past the greeting without being too pushy. He wondered if there were rules in this place. Like unspoken ones that everyone on the application just seemed to agree on unprompted. Like ‘don’t sit next to someone on a transport zip if there were other seats available.’ Just … things like that.
Jongin internally kicked himself. He had almost forgotten he wasn’t supposed to talk about himself on here. He was Kai not Jongin. So he already wrote Kai into taking classes. Which is fine, lots of people take classes. It’s just a matter of what Kai takes classes for. What would make Kai seem interesting to a stranger from light years away?
For a split second he wondered if this lie was a truly stupid one. In truth, he could drive a car. Before his dad passed away, he had taught him how to drive his old hovercar. However, in the city there isn’t very much use for a car, so it all stays locked in the back of his head.
Diner? That seems odd. While there are thousands of trading outposts in the galaxy, they’re often only filled with vending machines, crave-sense microwaves, or the latest fast food chain to pop up. He’s never seen a diner in a trading outpost. This person was becoming more interesting as time went on.
That made him a bit hungry, but he had to stay in good shape for all this supposed band’s promotional photos, so it would be pretty bad for his diet.
Don’t do higher education? Even a supposed race car driver like himself was doing higher education so where would D.O. be where that’s not a thing? An underdeveloped planet? But then how would he be chatting?
There was a bit of down time before D.O. responded.
The text struck him as odd. Was it an insult or something more cryptic? Another message pinged.
D.O.’s response was quick. Intrigue was all too casual of a word to describe how Jongin felt about him.The chat then began to fade into whiteness. It made him a little bit anxious - where were his messages going? How does he make sure that D.O. popped back up again whenever he wanted to contact him?
Before he could freak out, another message began to appear through the white.
It took a fourth of a second for him to hit accept.
“Hey, Jongin.” Yifan kicked the leg of his chair just enough to startle him.
“Whoa. What?” Jongin turned around, looking dazed.
Sehun stifled a laugh and Yifan rolled his eyes before continuing, “We’re going to Atlas Center to eat. You in?”
Jongin paused, thinking briefly about the hamburger, “Can we go to an earth restaurant?”
Sehun shrugged, “Sure.”
This made Jongin pop up from his chair excitedly, “Yeah! I’ll go get my jacket!”
Kyungsoo sighed as he looked up at the metallic ceiling of his makeshift home. There was a little bit of rust in a spot just above where he slept and since the rains were only going to get worse, this was something he couldn’t ignore. Yet, here he was, ignoring it for close to the tenth day in a row and just hoping that the next 24 hours wouldn’t bring too much water on his little abode.
However, he could only stand to sulk for so long before he became irritated with his own thoughts and hoped to jump out of them. He sat up and stretched his neck from side to side, feeling the old mattress and bench creak as he shifted his weight around on it.
His house, well, home, was actually a bus. He had found it abandoned with the keys still in it. He ended up driving it to the nearest city and just converted it into a home. It doesn’t move anymore, but it’s long and spacious with all the amenities he would need to live on his own. Thankfully, he had a knack for finding things and scavenging so a lot of the stuff in his shelter were at no cost to his meager pay as a diner line cook.
There was a knock on the door then.
“Kyungsoo!” The voice called out.
It was Baekhyun and he knew it, but he hoped to god the guy would just leave.
As if in direct response to his thoughts, Baekhyun called back, “Soo, you grouchy bitch, I know you’re in there!”
“Fuck.” Kyungsoo swung his legs over the bed and dropped to the floor.
He walked all the way to the front of the bus and unlocked the door, pushing it open to reveal Baekhyun’s smiling face.
“Good morning, handsome. Miss me?” Baekhyun greeted, pushing his way into the bus and shrugging off his dusty green coat.
“No.” Kyungsoo said, barely moving to let Baekhyun past.
To be honest, he wouldn’t choose to be friends with Baekhyun, but Chanyeol seemed to like him so he let most of the man’s annoying behaviors slide.
Kyungsoo studied Baekhyun carefully once he was fully inside. He had all the usual nicks and scratches that came along with somebody coming back from a raid, in addition to a couple of larger scraps. One on his cheek and another that became evident when he rolled his arm. The ones on his arm were deeper. Kyungsoo could see where the dirt had gotten into them. That and his layers of old ragged clothes seemed a bit more torn up than usual.
“Bad raid?” Kyungsoo asked, turning to lock the door behind him.
Baekhyun let out a snort, “That’s putting it lightly; I almost lost my arm.”
Kyungsoo finished locking the door and followed Baekhyun as he moved further into the bus home.
While he wasn’t exactly interested in Baekhyun’s tales of heroism, he was very much interested in knowing how the raids went. “Get caught in a storm or a den of mutated rats?”
“Worse.” Baekhyun flopped down into Kyungsoo’s one and only chair. The one he sat in when he used his laptop. Baekhyun continued, “I’d heard stories about people that go crazy from wandering in the ruins and wastes for a long time, but I’d never seen one.”
Kyungsoo paused, his eyes widening at the prospect a bit, “You guys saw a curet?”
“I wish it was just one.” Baekhyun’s normally chipper disposition glazed over for a second when he recounted it. “There were about five of them; Truly hollow looking people. If they’re even people? Anyways, at first we thought they were unorganized scavengers or something, but nope.”
“Everyone make it back?” Kyungsoo asked, a bit of fear in the question.
Baekhyun seemed to slip back into a more usual state of personality then. “Yeah. One got a hold of my arm, but Chanyeol managed to clock it in the head before it could get anything else accomplished. After that Yixing pretty much made the call to cut the raid short.”
“Where is Chanyeol now?”
Baekhyun clicked his tongue, “Thanks for all the worry. Love you too.”
“Baekhyun.” Kyungsoo rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, save it, tough guy.” Baekhyun stood up from the chair and clapped his hands, “Chanyeol’s getting all healed up at the infirmary. I decided to stop by ye olde neighborhood first to clean myself off.”
“Cool story, why not go do that?” Kyungsoo responded.
“You can pretend you don’t love my company all you want,” Baekhyun smiled at Kyungsoo on his way out, “But there’s only so many people left on this miserable excuse for a planet so company is company, bud.”
Kyungsoo made a dismissive noise as Baekhyun went for the door. It didn’t take Baekhyun long to leave, and Kyungsoo watched as he walked along the side of the bus and into his little mobile home that sat about 200 feet from him. After a moment’s debate, Kyungsoo decided to leave the door unlocked and went over to sit in his little chair.
He sank into the comfy little stack of fabric covered cushions and wood and booted up his computer. The best way to pass time between shifts and eagerly awaiting news from recent raids was to get online. Recently he had stumbled upon the application Exodus. It took him a long time to download it using the meager satellite access he could find. He could only use the internet when a satellite was well positioned so sometimes he wouldn’t be able to get online and even then most pages and applications were made for much nicer and newer pieces of technology than anything he had access too.
Oddly enough, Exodus seemed to be almost impossible to not be able to access. It was available in common tongue and almost 200 other ones. It had a link for nearly every operating system and set-up one could imagine. Even one for an old Dell laptop running whatever the last Windows version was.
How could he have resisted?
He booted it up once again, seeing the welcome screen flash.
Welcome back, D.O.
Would you like to connect with someone new?
The question hung there, taunting him in vain. He stared at the little red string hanging from the top of the application before running his fingers across the greasy trackpad and clicking on it. There was a short tugging animation that occurred but then it just sat there for a moment. Nothing seemed to change on his screen aside from the animation. In fact, he wasn’t sure it had even gone through. The internet connection was sketchy at best, of course.
After a few more moments, he figured maybe it was best he just head out and actually interact with other people instead — but that was when the string suddenly dropped from the top of the screen, pulling another white screen across the monitor and then fading into a gentle chatbox.br />
You are now chatting with Kai.
He shrugged off the tension in his shoulders. He understood the idea of having a different identity, but Kyungsoo had never been much for creativity. He could play a role that was given to him quite well. When he was younger he would put on plays with other kids running around in the rubble and dirt. However, acting comes easiest when he’s playing a character close to himself and for that reason he’s been playing more of a white lie game on this service. It’s more fun guessing what people are outright making up and what is really them anyways. Kyungsoo theorized that this guy was interested in cars or vehicles or driving, but perhaps not in the context that he was. Definitely not racing on the weekends. Though, props for the concept at least. Well, there was something real. At least Kyungsoo thought so. Something that was honest that they both had in common. Inability to deal with risk. The chat window faded again and with it, came a strange sense of reality. Kyungsoo was always the type to get lost in whatever it was that he was doing. Cooking or reading or whatever, he likes to remain critically in the zone — but he felt different closing the laptop. Like he had lost critical sense and was just…enjoying it.
Jongin had been distracted all day to say the least. He wasn’t exactly the type of person to get distracted either, so it was glaringly obvious that something was off to others.
On the way out of class, Sehun took the issue straight on, “So are you popping fixums now or what?”
“What?” Jongin huffed at the idea that he would be taking drugs, let alone fixums. “No way.”
“Don’t sound so offended, they’re all the rage right now,” Sehun mused as they walked with Yifan through the university halls and towards the exit. “And Luhan just came back from Solutam so he’s bound to have a bottle of everything you can think of.”
“Shit, Really?” Yifan interjected.
“You got a spare 500 pecs sitting around?” Sehun threw back.
Yifan made a grumpy face and decided not to respond.
“That’s what I thought.” Sehun said, turning his attention back to Jongin, “But really.”
They pushed through the doors to the outside world. The fake light that their colony’s advanced dome put off made it feel like it was day time and to their biological clocks it really was. But when they looked up at the clear dome covering their colony, you could see the stars and moons of space. Luckily their planet had a 48 hour cycle so they just pumped in artificial light to make it seem like day or turned the dome opaque to make it seem like night on the off 24 hours. It was a system that often was regarded as “not willing to adapt” but the colony has managed to function on its own anyways.
When they stepped out into the university square that was lined with buildings of different uses and concentrations, Sehun pulled Jongin off to the side.
“You’re good, right?” Sehun asked him finally.
“Yeah.” Jongin assured him, “You can get off my back.”
“I’m just looking out for you.” Sehun shrugged, “Only one of the trinity can be emotionless and Yifan’s got that covered so.”
Jongin laughed, “You got that right.”
“Oh,” Sehun paused, tapping at his watch and pulling up his interface. He flicked through the shapes projected onto the air. For privacy reasons, they only made sense if you looked at them from a certain angle so Jongin couldn’t make heads or tails of what Sehun was flipping through.
“The GPA applications are due before finals are over. You need a physical and a psych eval for it so keep that in mind if you’re gonna do it.”
Fuck. Jongin had totally forgotten about the Galactic Police Academy deadlines. Thank god Sehun’s digital life was as organized as his wardrobe or else they would all be screwed.
“Alright, yeah, I’ll think about it,” He lied, “I’m gonna nap before dinner.”
“Cool.” Sehun waved him off, turning on his heel and chasing after Yifan who was halfway across the university square without a single worry for the other two boys he left behind.
Jongin watched the two go for a second before he headed back to his dorm.
Once there, he slung his bag down and collapsed into his desk chair. Luckily his colony wasn’t the biggest and most people moved to Atlas City to go to school so they could afford to have rooms to themselves. The glaringly white interior, however, made his little place of living far from lovable. It’s done that way so that they don’t create attachments, but in his eyes it just makes things ugly.
He started up his machine with a gesture before deciding he was too lazy to use the innovative technology and just pulling his keyboard out. The wealth of things online didn’t seem very interesting to him, though. Instead he opened up Exodus. Mentally, he held a facade that he was going to debate between a new conversation or pulling on that string, but of course there was no doubt in his mind.
The string wasn’t still for long post-tug before it dropped down, bringing him into conversation with D.O. once again.
Jongin leaned back in his chair. First of all, why would D.O. ask him if it’s possible to travel between planets. Almost any planet in the system has a port where companies will fly people in and out. Even the poorest areas have ships. The only places that you can’t leave are ones that are zoned off for various reasons or are uninhabitable and useless. Secondly, why did he feel so inclined to talk about something with this stranger that he’d barely even considered tackling within his own mind lately.
Doing what? Lying? Jongin ran a hand over his face and squinted at the screen.
Suddenly the screen faded.
D.O. has disconnected
Please check your connection and try again later.
There’s no fucking way that this guy lives on Earth.
Kyungsoo threw his laptop shut when somebody burst into his door.
“Kyungsoo!” Jongdae’s frantic voice reached him in half a second’s time.
“Yes, me.” Kyungsoo responded, his nerves on edge at how frazzled Jongdae looked once he climbed into the bus.
His dirt caked skin was sweaty and his bangs were pushed back, held up by grease alone.
“Something’s happened.” Jongdae shook his head, unable to full compute the words he was saying, “There’s a … or there was … I don’t know if it’s still like everybody was all going and--”
“Jongdae.” Kyungsoo slammed a fist on the table surface, making a resounding clang that shut Jongdae up, “What the fuck are you saying?”
“A curet,” Jongdae said.
“Here?” Kyungsoo’s eyebrows rose in disbelief.
“I … yes?” Jongdae’s chest fell as he exhaled the word.
Kyungsoo all but jumped out of his chair and pushed past Jongdae, stamping out of the best and into the dreary outside are full of tents and cobbled together homes. There were open doors and a couple of frantic looking people, but the commotion was coming from closer to the walls of the trading town. He took off in that direction with Jongdae trailing behind him.
The two boys eventually made it around the trading post itself. The building’s perimeter was bigger than he had ever noticed and by the time he saw the group of people clumped together near one of the gates, he was out of breath. The burning in his lungs didn’t deter him at all as he kept pace, jogging over to where the scavengers and other people were gathered.
He spotted him then.
“Chanyeol!” Kyungsoo called out.
Chanyeol threw a look over his shoulder, meeting eyes with Kyungsoo. The eyes were bloodshot from adrenaline and sleeplessness. His face looked tense and tired, riddled with stitched up cuts and dust, but his expression seemed stunned. Kyungsoo hadn’t seen a look like that on Chanyeol’s face in all the years that he’d lived at this place. It terrified him.
Eventually Chanyeol broke eye contact as Kyungsoo drew closer. He turned his face back to the scene that was holding everyone’s rapture so tightly. Jongdae didn’t seem to want to push through the crowd, but Kyungsoo was unable to restrain the nauseous feeling of curiosity gnawing at his veins. The people that were standing gave way easily to Kyungsoo’s gestures until he was next to Chanyeol and looking at the space in the center of the crowd that was empty except for the thing laying in the middle.
It only took a minute for Kyungsoo to register the curet laying motionless in the sand. It had blood on its fingers and a hole in its chest. It didn’t look very human despite its biological definition. Kyungsoo looked up to Yixing staring dead faced at it and still gripping his gun so tightly that his knuckles were white and his hand was trembling.
The murmurs of the crowd became apparent now as Kyungsoo realized that most of the people here were either scavengers, immune to the scene or people that had never stepped foot outside of these walls their whole life.
“Yixing,” Came Baekhyun’s cracking voice from somewhere across from Kyungsoo, “Tao’s hurt.”
That seemed to snap Yixing out of whatever state of shock he had been in. A look of certainty and confidence suddenly returned to his glassy eyes. “Okay,” he cleared his throat. “Everyone go somewhere. I don’t care where, just not here. Baekhyun and Chanyeol, deal with this. Kyungsoo and Jongdae, help me get Tao inside.”
Jongin had been thinking about D.O.’s words since yesterday. They seemed to have moved him into a place of self-confidence since he actually went to the clinic and managed to snag a walk-in appointment for both of his evaluations. He had to skip his business class, but Sehun and Yifan would be forgiving if they knew that he was actually getting his shit together in order to apply to the GPA.
The doctor finally came back into the room, his light blue uniform swaying as he shut the door behind him.
“Dr. Kim?” Jongin addressed him.
“You can call me Junmyeon,” He said with a reassuring smile, “Ready for your results, then?”
Jongin nodded, swallowing the lump in his chest that told him otherwise.
“Well, you are a fit young man. That’s for sure. Aced every part of the physical. A bit dehydrated according to the scan, but that’s about the only complaint I could send.” Junmyeon chuckled, turning the chart over and swiping around a little bit until the shapes came back together in the air before him. “Psych evaluation was passable. The meters pegged you as pretty nervous, but everything seems to point to you being healthy and sound. Drug tests came in a few minutes ago and you’re clean minus an alarming work up of your diet, but what’s the do when you’re in university, right?”
Jongin chuckled. “So I’m GPA ready?”
“Ready as ever.” Junmyeon clicked the charts away and put the table at his side, smiling wider than before, “Are you applying? I can send it directly or just give you the chip code.”
“No, uh …” Jongin paused, “Yeah just give me the chip code I still have to get some stuff together first.”
Junmyeon nodded. “Perfect. Here’s your chip code and good luck.”
Jongin nodded as well, taking the little piece of plastic machinery that Junmyeon offered him.
The doctor spoke once more before turning to leave, “I think you’d have a really good chance Jongin.”
“I hope so.” Jongin responded, his uncertainty clear in his words.
Junmyeon frowned at that, but seemingly decided against comment since he just left the room in silence.
The words stuck in Jongin’s mind as he wandered back across campus. He had a little time before his last class of the day, although he was hoping secretly that he wouldn’t have to go to it at all. The clinic wasn’t far from his dormitory and he made it there in record time, filling his mind with thoughts of talking to D.O. instead of his fears for the future.
He dropped his stuff the minute he got into his room and took no time booting up his monitor and pulling up Exodus. There was no facade when it came to his intentions since he immediately tugged on that string in the corner — then he waited. His eyes flicked up to the time clock. It was probably afternoon on Earth right now. He wasn’t sure which cycle they were on, but he assumed D.O. must be awake at least.
However the string just sat there, unmoving. It didn’t fall.
Kyungsoo and Jongdae let Tao off and onto the table. The scavenger crew wasn’t exactly large enough to afford having a separate person for each role so Yixing doubled as their leader and their medic. It was hard to give him only one since he was hands down the best equipped for both roles.
OOnce Tao was on the table, Yixing slid in. His calculative eyes looked over the gash on his side and he quickly started giving out commands to the less than prepared set of citizens in the room with him.
“I need alcohol, cloth, towels, gauze wrap over on the counter and the stitching stuff,” he pointed to various areas as he said so. “We didn’t get to raid any medical areas on our last run so there’s no anesthetic. This is going to suck, okay?”
Tao winced a bit as Yixing pulled at his already torn up shirt. “Sure, whatever.”
The towels arrived first and Yixing pressed them against his side, quickly cleaning the area up around the wound as Tao squirmed.
“Stay still,” Yixing ordered, “Neither of these guys can hold you down so you have to suck it up.”
Tao groaned, “I’m fine.”
Yixing made no comment and just pressed the alcohol soaked cloth against the wound.
It was really hard for Kyungsoo and Jongdae not to laugh when Tao started squealing. The process didn’t take very long as at all. Yixing made quick work of disinfecting the wound and then stitching and wrapping. The whole impressive process was over before Chanyeol and Baekhyun even managed to arrive again.
Yixing sighed, stepping away and wiping off his forehead with one of the cleaner looking towels. They all looked exhausted, but Yixing looked to be struggling with keeping up appearances the most.
“It’s good?” Chanyeol asked hurriedly.
“Yeah. It’s great. Perfect. No big deal,” Tao waved off the concern as he struggled to sit up.
“Really?” Baekhyun prodded, watching Tao press himself off of the table until he was sitting up and clutching his side like a wounded animal.
Yixing spared him a glance before addressing the room as a whole, “It’s not no big deal. We’ve never had a curet come within 50 meters of this place, let alone inside the gates.”
The room became a little more sullen with the weight of the truth. The room was a sore sight to begin with, but the band of less than merry scavengers and friends made it even more depressing. There was still blood dripping from the table onto the floor, meeting with previous blood stains they hadn’t had time to clean up yet. The grody tile of the floor was barely considered disinfected enough to be used as a hospital, but with their situation there were no better options. In fact, this was the cleanest room in the whole of the town.
“I’ve been hearing bizarre noises on the radios for months, but …” Jongdae sighed, leaning back against the counter next to Kyungsoo, “I didn’t even stop to think maybe it was groups of curets.”
“Anything on the news?” Yixing turned to direct his piercing gaze at Jongdae who struggled to meet it.
“Y-yeah … it’s been getting worse, but it’s always getting worse, right? There’s always more curets and collapsed civilizations. The storms get worse every month. This isn’t new.” Jongdae turned to look at his feet, “Maybe … maybe I’ve grown so used to things getting bad that the uptick didn’t even seem that unreasonable.”
Kyungsoo spoke up, “Well … one of the regulars at the diner said that the ports have been overloaded with requests to leave, but it’s so dangerous to come to earth that even for as much money as you can muster, only a few companies run ships. I just figured it was gossip, but apparently it’s getting violent.”
“Fuck!” Yixing slapped a metal tray of tools off the stand next to him. Everyone cringed as the instruments and pan clattered to the ground, sending sharp metallic sounds into the walls. “So we didn’t get anything from a raid we really needed and now we come back to an uptick in everything going to hell. Is that what I’m hearing right now?”
Neither Jongdae nor Kyungsoo responded.
Yixing didn’t skip a beat. “We can’t hold meetings anymore. We need options.”
“Fight them off. Border patrol?” Tao raised.
“Then who goes and gets more supplies? We can’t embargo ourselves.” Baekhyun responded, “Even more raids?”
Tao rebutted, “Because it went so well last time.”
Yixing sighed, “He’s right. We can’t afford either option.”
Chanyeol looked around at the room with soft eyes. Tao’s hand was clutching his side and his face was holding back pain. Baekhyun looked lost, still reeling from his own experiences. Kyungsoo was cold looking as always, feeling he had no place in the conversation and standing next to a Jongdae that seemed even more distant. Yixing’s eyebrows were so close they almost touched and his thoughts seemed clear as if they could be read out loud.
“We leave.” Chanyeol stated.
All eyes flicked up to meet his. Five people raised their questions silently to him.
Chanyeol shrugged, “We can’t stay here.”
Jongin woke up to his monitor flashing at him. He must have fallen asleep waiting for D.O. to respond. The original pull had timed out but now the string was bouncing, showing that D.O. was trying to contact him.
He quickly shook off his sleepiness and clicked on the string, letting it fly up out of his screen and bringing the whiteness with it.For a brief second, Jongin felt disconnected from reality. He wasn’t Kai. No, he absolutely was Kai. Now more than ever he was Kai. Kai was strong and funny. People loved Kai and he had the confidence to shake all of his obstacles. Kai had a friend named D.O. that lived very far away but always brightened his day. Kai was just a name, but Kai was Jongin. Even if he wasn’t a race car driver or hoping to be famous, he could embody all of the things that Kai was.
So when D.O. disconnected he felt as if Kai went with him.
Jongin stared at the monitor blankly. The Exodus logo appeared in the middle of the screen, taking his last conversation away as quickly as it had begun. Something in his chest kind of hurt. Something in him wanted to cry, but he didn’t. He knew better now.
Most scavengers waited until a town was deserted or fallen prey to any number of terrible collapses before going in to raid for supplies. Some scavengers caused those terrible collapses to try and raid them. These groups were notorious and known as raiders. Scavengers hated them. People hated them. Kyungsoo especially hated them.
Raiders burned down his town when he was a teenager. He and Chanyeol were the only ones to make it out alive. They both looked together for a settlement until they found the trading post. It was a lovely place and they soon forgot about all of their pain and troubles. Or at least they manages to force them down into a place where they wouldn’t come back up again. But something about travelling the wastes with him again brought back all those memories.
Kyungsoo glanced up from the little fire to where Chanyeol was sitting. Baekhyun was tucked up under his side soundly asleep and Chanyeol was looking into his can of food with little intent. He remembered when Chanyeol first met Baekhyun. They were both loud and funny. While they had their differences, they certainly meshed very well and Kyungsoo didn’t feel so scared when Chanyeol told him he had decided to join the scavengers. He felt safe sending him off with Baekhyun and Yixing.
The fire cast shadows along the two boys faces and for a brief moment Kyungsoo wondered if had the world not become the desolate place it was, if things might have been different. Maybe he and Chanyeol could have been friends that went to bars together. He remembered his grandfather telling him stories of love and fun. Maybe Baekhyun and Chanyeol could be allowed to admit that they were in love. Maybe they could have gone on dates and annoyed Kyungsoo with their cuteness. He thought briefly maybe he’d have been able to find somebody to confide in himself. As much as he loved Chanyeol, a friend can only do so much when they’re always gone to find the next batch of crucial supplies.
“You good?” Chanyeol asked from across the fire, his gentle voice floating out into the ruins of whatever they had found to stay the night in.
“No. You?” Kyungsoo responded.
Chanyeol chuckled, “I guess not.”
“At least we’re honest.” Kyungsoo muttered.
“Yeah …” Chanyeol glanced at Baekhyun’s peaceful expression, “Is there satelite here?”
Kyunsoo shook his head, shifting his boot on the decaying wooden floor below him and moving dirt in its wake. “I’ve tried twice.”
Chanyeol nodded. “I know there’s signal in the city.”
“Yeah …” Kyungsoo kept his eyes on the fire.
It had been six days since the last time he heard from D.O. and Jongin was starting to feel stressed out. He knew he shouldn’t worry. He can’t entirely trust that the guy is who he says he is, but something about the experience has been raking him mind like a plow for the past days.
Jongin opened exodus in class, tugging on the little string in hopes that maybe somewhere out there D.O. was able to respond, but it just bounced around endlessly, giving no signs of hope to him.
“You’re obsessed,” Sehun whispered, trying not to disrupt the lecture going on several rows ahead of them. The lecture hallway enormous so really they could pay no heed and never raise an eyebrow, but enough murmurs built up so best keep the conversation low.
“I’m worried.” Jongin almost hissed back at him.
“Do you seriously think he’s from earth? Come on.” Sehun bumped his shoulder, “He’s just adding to the storyline, don’t get all worked up about it.”
Jongin sighed, turning his attention back to the monitor and the now still string that hung before him.
Two days later and they were still making slow progress. It was steady. Nobody in the group was making too much fuss aside from Baekhyun, but he was always fussing so there’s no use in counting him among the vocalists of pain. Tao was showing obvious signs of struggle, his injury was slowing him down but he kept his head high in hopes that nobody would notice just how hurt he was. Yixing was nearly emotionless through the journey, only dishing out what needs to be done and how it should be done. He kept a tight ship and it ran well.
Kyungsoo and Chanyeol had grown tired themselves, but a pact kept them from revealing it.
“You’re not tired are you?” Chanyeol had joked a few days before.”
“He looks it,” Baekhyun had said as well.
“We all know you’re going to crack first,” Kyungsoo had said with certainty.
It was something that made the journey a little easier, at least with friends.
Now they were only a few more days out from the city. It had been a little quiet on their way in. Normally there were passersby on this route and they had seen nobody coming out of the city or passing them up in pace to go in. There were no traveling merchants or anything of the like, but they were still a considerable distance so Yixing had paid it no mind. He told them to not be bothered by anything aside from each other.
Kyungsoo was messing around on his laptop, fiddling with this or that when suddenly the satellite picked up signal.
Without hesitation, he pulled up Exodus and yanked on Kai’s string, gartering an immediate response.There wasn’t an immediate response. Considering the lag, he assumed Kai was always the one waiting for his responses, but he didn’t bat an eye when it took a bit to arrive. Although, nothing occurred. In fact, it just sat there for a while. A long while. Kyungsoo tried typing again, but his keyboard made no impressions on the program. It was entirely frozen. However, his mouse was still moving when his fingers glossed the trackpad, so his computer was fine. He had been careful to conserve the battery.
The program flickered suddenly.
The messages were gone now.
Then the screen was white.
Another message faded in.
Or are you still D.O.?
This was not okay by any of Kyungsoo’s standards. It was easy enough to get his name from the user details on the operating system, but the program had never performed like this. His eyes darted around the page, looking for some of the original interace, but it kept going without him.
Don’t worry. This is part of the program.
D.O. is the only user on Earth, you know? You are the only one from Earth on here and we’ve noticed.
Kai and D.O. have had an interesting story, but it’s time we intervene. No plot is without its conflicts.
What. The. Fuck. Kyungsoo looked around him. Chanyeol was asleep with Baekhyun wrapped around him. Tao was also giving rest a shot, occasionally having to grunt and change position to stay comfortable. Even Jongdae had manage to slip into sleep while listening into his radio. What little he could take from his huge collection at the post. Only Yixing was up still, watching the fire and watching everyone else. Including Kyungsoo whom he was staring at directly.
“Is something wrong, Kyungsoo?” Yixing called from the fire.
Kyungsoo looked back at the screen.
This story is about Kyungsoo and Jongin now. Like it was all along. Except now, the stakes are higher.
However, plots can not move characters. Characters must move plots. We need Kyungsoo and D.O. to move this plot now. You have to trust that there is something greater out there for you than this.
“Yes, Yixing. Something is wrong. I just don’t know what it--”
They both jumped from their positions, turning to look towards the direction of the noise. They had stopped in an old gas station, still barely standing after waves of storms and aging. It made noises, of course, but this was deliberate. This was the sound of something breaking just outside the doors of the convenience store. Both men stayed frozen and silent, waiting to hear more sounds.
If it were curets then there would be gargling and shuffling. They don’t have the capacity to think anymore and they don’t stay silent or still for long — but there were no sounds beyond that one. The only thing that this could mean was that there were other sentient beings outside.
Yixing looked over to Kyungsoo and placed a finger against his lips. His tan, slender hand reached for his gun, unsheathing it with precision and without a fuss. He slowly and quietly crept from his chair towards the door.
While trying his best to keep his heart rate under control, his eyes scoured the floor for some sort of weapon he could wield to back up his fearless leader. He saw that Baekhyun’s sword was resting up against an old shelf and he snatched it up as quickly as he could.
Yixing was at the door now, peeking out through the cloudy glass. He could only make out shapes through the filth that had built up on top of the window outside, but none of the shapes were in motion. Kyungsoo gently eased up behind him, gripping the sword like a vice. Yixing barely spared him a glance before opening the door.
With a shove, it broke free from the little hinges it was on and swung out, revealing the pumping stations and…
Yixing stepped outside, pointing the gun to both sides before walking out into the open. Kyungsoo followed closely behind, feeling very exposed and very, very scared. Yixing was scanning for threats, looking out into the road and the hill covered distance, but finding nothing.
Kyungsoo, however, noticed something flapping on one of the fueling pumps that had not been there when they arrived. Curiosity navigated him towards it, catching Yixing’s attentive gaze. Slow and cautious steps eventually brought him to the faded looking gas pump where a fresh piece of paper had been taped on the meter.
By now, the others had woken up from their slumber. Chanyeol was the further out of the house, his own gun in hand while Tao leaned up against the doorway, standing between Jongdae and the outside.
It took what felt like forever for Kyungsoo to lower the sword and reach out for the note. He peeled it off of the machine and brought it closer to his eyes, trying to read it in what little light the moon reflected down on them that evening.
You are now chatting with X.
Kyungsoo cleared his throat before he started to read the message from there.
“Hello. You don’t know me, but I know you. Careful Jongdae, Guarded Tao, Incorrigible Baekhyun, Sweet Chanyeol, Fearless Yixing, and of course, our main character Kyungsoo. You’re headed for more trouble than you’re prepared for, but I don’t think you can’t handle it. The city isn’t safe. It hasn’t been for a while, but it’s the only place that I can get you at, so there’s no reason to reroute. I understand this may seem insane. You are trusting a piece of paper here, but I believe you’ll find this to be the only option. Don’t go into the main gates. That’s the quickest way to lose everything. Go around through the sides and find the port. Someone there will help you.” Kyungsoo took in a breath before finishing, “Yours truly, X. P.S. Tell him you’re D.O. He’ll know.”
“Where the hell is my sword?” Baekhyun shouted, shoving past the two boys at the doorway and walking out into the middle of everyone. He then spotted Kyungsoo and stomped towards, “Did you seriously take my sword? That’s not okay. That’s not even a little bit okay. I don’t take your computer and chat with strangers online.”
Kyungsoo just looked up from the paper at Baekhyun.
Baekhyun made a face, “What?”
“No.” Luhan said firmly.
“Come on, please!” Jongin was practically begging at this point, “You’ve got all the hook ups. Just do this one thing for me and I’ll never ask for anything ever again.”
“You have never done anything for me.” Luhan rolled his eyes, leaning back in his chair and adding, “Actually you’ve never asked for anything. Unless you’re asking for something in place of Sehun who’s too chicken to ask himself.”
“Don’t I get points for that? You guys basically use me as your carrier pigeon.” Jongin sighed, crinkling his forehead in thought, “Wait, I literally took a drug test for you once. That’s basically illegal and it kept you out of trouble so, there, you owe me one.”
Luhan swiveled in his chair, acting as if he were pondering whether or not something like that was worth repayment. “Okay, fine, fine. But this conversation never happened.”
Jongin rolled his eyes, “Nothing has ever happened with you.”
“Precisely.” Luhan noted, sidling up to the huge, multi facet computer in front of him and clicking around hastily.
Luhan was almost the definition of playboy. He was a genius to say the least. He basically rewrote the entire code for where they live right now to function more efficiently. He owns the biggest bachelor pad you can probably legally own in a closely zoned colony like theirs and had the nicest stuff in it. He was always flying out to different places and bringing exotic new drugs back with him to personally fuck up every twenty-something person willing to party in the Atlas Quadrant. Everybody wanted him or wanted to be him so he was essentially untouchable. The Tony Stark of their colony. But a little less of an outright ass.
Luckily for Jongin, Sehun had a huge crush on the guy so he had plenty of interaction with him. Luhan found Sehun quite amusing and might even reciprocate some of the feelings from time to time so it kept Luhan bubbling in and out of Jongin’s life. He never thought the guy was of any use until this very second.
“Exodus has intrigued me as well,” Luhan admitted. “I didn’t really enjoy using it. I don’t have much in my life to lie about, but it just seems so odd. A program popping up from an unheard of developer that connects people from all over. Sketchy to say the least, but it doesn’t steal information. You can’t even donate to the developer if you wanted so it’s not a scam. Just...strange.”
Jongin understood 0% of what was happening on Luhan’s rotating screen. It seemed to pop between different sides of what looked like a twenty sided die — showing different sets of shapes, colors, numbers, letters, codes, and layouts to the pretty boy sitting in front of it, analyzing the readouts like a computer himself.
“I’ve tried to fuck with the program before,” Luhan continued. “But it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The only user information is keeps is your name and who you have strings with. It doesn’t log conversations. It doesn’t report anything. In fact, it’s only capable of lines and text at the end of the day. So simplistic. The magic is in however the hell it connects every single fucking computer in the galaxy, but I can’t even begin to guess at that.” His eyes lit up, “Aha. D.O. is your man?”
“Yes!” Jongin almost jumped out of his skin at the name, “Yes that’s him yeah.”
“Chill out, bud.” Luhan clicked around more, “This is a fucking IP address. Dude is running something old enough to still have that. The signal is tracing back right now …” He paused, “Huh. That doesn’t make any sense. There’s not communication there.”
“Where?” Jongin asked.
“It’s pinging at Earth,” Luhan explained.
Jongin was gripping at the edges of Luhan’s chair, leaning over his shoulder to look at the screen. Sure enough it was blinking at the little planet of Earth, barely sustaining life so very far away from him. Jongin couldn’t contain all the feelings welling up inside of him. D.O. was actually from Earth.
All of a sudden the room went dark.
“What the—” Luhan barely finished his thought before the lights came back on.
His monitors were all showing a blank white screen and nothing else. There was nothing else on the screen but that blankness. Then a message appeared.
Interesting name for an interesting person. Seems you’ve taken interest in D.O. and Kai’s story. We have too.
That set him off. Luhan started cursing, clicking around frantically and slamming on keys to try and get something to change. He was using profanities in whatever his mother tongue was and grabbing at different parts of the computer to try and regain control.
Meanwhile, Jongin just stared at the messages with his mouth hanging open.
Kai. Or is it Jongin?
You seem a bit concerned about your friend D.O., is that right?
No need to answer. We know. I think it’s time to make a pit stop, hotshot.
Now you need to really take the wheel. I need you to go to Atlas City. Soon. I think this could be the biggest race of your career.
Yours truly, X..
All at once, Luhan’s monitors returned to their usual state. After a couple seconds of erratically banging around, Luhan returned his attention to the screens. Jongin was speechless and so was Luhan.
“Where did it go?” Luhan breathed out.
He clicked at the program, but it pulled up an error. Then he navigated online, searching for Exodus but nothing came up. He kept clicking around until he pulled up the Exodus webpage. It just redirected to a page saying that the site he was looking for could not be found.
“We’re going to Atlas City.” Jongin looked at Luhan.
“The fuck we are.”
There was nobody.
They ran a pretty thorough perimeter about as far as they could without risking getting lost and still, there was nobody. Not even a trace of a person. No footsteps, no nothing. It had every single one of them on edge.
“How does he know our names?” Tao asked, leaning against a counter thoughtfully.
“How do you know it’s a he?” Chanyeol responded from the corner, “Could be a she.”
“Or a they.” Baekhyun added, pacing back and forth in front of where Chanyeol was sitting, “It talks in first person, but how can we trust that?”
Yixing wasn’t one to sit around and speculate. He cared less about the who and more about the why. Even more so what to do next. He turned to the smallest of them who was fiddling with his radio shakily. “Jongdae?”
Jongdae looked over quickly, pulling the headphones off of his ears and shaking his head. “I’m getting no signals coming from the city. Not even radio chatter. At least nothing on their usual frequencies. There’s some stuff muffled on other channels, but I don’t have the time to figure it out. Could just be from something further out anyways.”
If the words upset Yixing, which they most likely did, he showed no sign of it. He just sat on the chair in the center of the room with his fingers gripping his chin and his dark eyes turning towards Kyungsoo. “Why are you the main character?”
Kyungsoo looked up. He had been hunched over, wringing his fingers out anxiously and picking at scabs to distract himself from the growing amount of discord in his life. When Yixing addressed him, he was unsure what to say. If being on Exodus is going to bring problems onto his friends then he had to at least take fault for meddling around in his spare time.
“I’m…” He trailed off, unable to look Yixing in the eyes as he spoke. “There’s the app called Exodus. It connects anybody to anybody. In the whole universe. You pretend to be someone else and you chat with strangers. I’ve been using it for a while now. Before we heard that noise I was using it to talk to somebody named Kai, but it was cut short. The program acted in a way it hadn’t before.”
“You’ve been talking to people from across the galaxy?” Yixing raised an eyebrow, “Did you ever tell them … him about us?”
“No… never.” He sighed, sitting up a bit straighter to face the group, “I mentioned I had friends and that I was from Earth, but I never gave him my own name or the name of our post. Plus, who was going to believe I was actually from Earth?”
“Obviously whoever this Kai guy is… he did.” Tao seemed to jump into the conversation, startling Kyungsoo for a moment.
Kyungsoo shook his head with his eyes wide, “I don’t think that X is Kai. Before the program crashed it told me that they were watching our story. Mine and Kai’s that is. They said no good story is without conflicts.”
“That’s a threat.” Tao stated as if it were clean and solid fact.
“I don’t …” Kyungsoo looked away. He hated the feeling of being flustered. He tends to just shut down when he feels emotional responses well up. It wasn’t his style.
Chanyeol spoke then, “Let’s be honest, guys. Seriously. What would anybody want with us?”
Silence echoed back at him.
He laughed. Chanyeol physically let out a laugh and stood up from his position, pushing Baekhyun out of the rut he had paced and stepping forward. “We’re a bunch of refugees from a trading post. We don’t have anything valuable. And all the guy said was to use the side gates instead of the front gates,” Chanyeol made a gesture. He spoke with his hands. “Malicious or not, he, she, whatever— isn’t asking us to do anything dangerous. Cryptic instructions aside, we don’t exactly have anything to lose here.”
Yixing nodded. “He’s right. Both gates lead into the city just at different places. All we need to do is get inside. When we get to the city we scope out the front gates. If Jongdae can’t make contact with anybody by that time we’ll have no choice but to assume that this note is correct and something is amiss with the city. If that’s the case then Kyungsoo and I will approach the side gate that way if it is a trap, it’ll be easier for two of us to run and the rest of you will be safe. If not and all goes smoothly the rest of you will follow in behind us. Once we’re in the city we can decide what to do about this X guy and his friend.”
Everyone seemed to nod and murmur their agreements with YIxing’s plan. Kyungsoo was the only one who remained quiet, his heart beating faster than it ever had before.
“I fucking hate you Kim Jongin,” Luhan said for what must have been the umpteenth time this outing.
He had put on his least flashy coat and followed Jongin out the door after assuring him that he did not care at all. Driven by what could only be described as genuine curiosity and anger that somebody managed to out-hack him, Luhan pulled his hood up and snaked through the streets of their colony until getting to the AGMEN station where speeding trains picked up and deposited loads of passengers that wanted to go to Atlas City.
In fact, Atlas City was the only stop. If you wanted to go anywhere else in the Atlas Quadrant you had to catch a connecting train through Atlas Terminal. Even if you wanted to leave the quadrant, the only place to do it would be Atlas City Port.
So here they stood on the bustling little platform, watching business people from the city get off and grumble about having to go this far into a human zone. Luhan was actually really fond of humans, so he never understood the anger.
Yet here he was, grumbling among them. “You know if I didn’t really enjoy boning your—”
“Hey!” Sehun called out from nowhere, raising his hand and shifting through the crowd with the also tall Yifan in tow, “Sorry we’re late.”
“Late?” Jongin asked.
“Yeah. You told us to meet you here.” Sehun tapped his watch twice, flipping the display so Luhan and Jongin could see the text sent from his ID telling them he was going to Atlas City for dinner, “Kind of short notice, so I had to literally pound on Yifan’s door until he woke up.”
“I didn’t send that message,” Jongin said suddenly, cutting off Sehun’s thought process.
Sehun’s complexion dipped into one of concern. “What do you mean? You literally did.”
“He hasn’t touched his watch all day,” Luhan backed.
Sehun flipped the display again, quickly spinning through the messages from earlier that were absolutely sent by Jongin. There was no way this was sent from anything other than Jongin’s ID.
“Ah, great. You all made it.” Came a fifth voice, previously unheard.
They all turned to stare at Junmyeon who was wearing an entirely black outfit and smiling widely at them. The doctor looked substantially different with his hair styled back, his glasses off, and in normal clothing. His smile however, quickly turned to a more serious one in light of the four boys’ confused expressions.
Before anybody could what him, Junmyeon continued, “I’ll make this brief. X seems to think that you four are the most capable people for carrying out this little plan. I can’t exactly tell you much of what’s going on but he assured me that D.O. was in trouble and that Jongin would be willing to assist. He’s also hoping that you all will as well.”
“How do you know D.O.?” Jongin jumped in, “Is he okay?”
“I can’t tell you that.” Junmyeon exhaled, “I’m just asking you guys to trust me on this one.”
“I’m 100% sure I’m tripping right now,” Yifan noted.
“You’re not.” Luhan grumbled, glancing only briefly at Yifan before going back to Junmyeon. “Why the hell should I trust you? I’m not going with some stranger to Atlas City to help somebody I don’t even know. Does this not sound like a set-up?”
Sehun objected. “Junmyeon has been my doctor since he started at the clinic. He’s a family friend too…”
“I’m going.” Jongin said flatly.
“I guess I’ll go too.” Sehun shrugged, “I mean, we did want to do something crazy stupid for senior year, right?”
Luhan tugged at the strings of his hoodie, glancing up at the floating sign that indicated the train to Atlas was arriving in mere seconds. True to its word, the train flew in like a bullet, halting almost as quickly as it came and unloading a bunch of people onto the platform.
“Fuck,” Luhan growled, “Fine. I’ll go too.”
“Just because Sehun is,” Yifan rolled his eyes.
“We have to go.” Jongin said, back stepping a bit and looking at the open train doors as the color switched, indicating it was time to board for Atlas City.
All eyes turned to Yifan who was standing the furthest away from the train. He seemed a bit dazed and confused by the immediacy of the situation. However, Jongin and Sehun exchanged a quick glance.
“Alright.” Sehun walked forward, grabbing one of Yifan’s arms
“Time to go, big boy.” Jongin did the same.
Together they started to drag him towards the train, followed by a very conscientious Junmyeon and Luhan who was hysterically laughing at this point.
Radio signals aren’t exactly difficult to find. As long as it’s on an open frequency you can hear it using any basic set of equipment. Even if it was an encrypted signal, it would still get picked up by equipment, it just wouldn’t be decipherable without the correct knowledge. However, Jongdae was being met with basically silence.
On a channel he never used, there was the faint sound of a radio talk show program from far away but it was so muddled that there was no way it could be their city’s radio. This place had stations and communications regularly, but not a single one of the usual frequencies had anything on them.
After nearly forty-five minutes of tuning in and out and adjusting different things here and there, Jongdae eventually decided he was wasting more battery power than he would be getting back in helpful information.
“There’s nothing,” Jongdae admitted at last.
It wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Their contingencies just got more and more risky as they went down the list, so to start off by crossing off Plan A was not a morale booster in the least.
They were sitting behind a slope that had collected rubble, a few hollowed out car shells, and what looked to be half of an exterior wall. Each one of them sitting, leaning, or crouching in a position where they could see the main gates of the city, but not be seen themselves.
Baekhyun lowered the binoculars. He was the one with the best vision so he often had lookout duty in scavenging missions. He also bore bad news, “I haven’t seen anybody go in or out of the city. The guards don’t look familiar either. Not that I can tell from here that well, but even their uniforms seem altered.”
The wind kicked up again, raising dirt, dust, and sand around in its wake. Each of the men pulled their masks up over their mouths and breathed shallowly for a moment as they assessed their options.
“I think this is too abnormal to take the risk.” Tao said eventually, “The side gate is substantially smaller and less guarded. If there is a problem we’re better off going there anyways.”
Everybody looked to Yixing. It was his plan after all. The wind had swept his jet black hair to the side, making a tiny scar just above his eyebrow all the more prevalent on his pensive face. He raised two fingers and waved them twice.
With that signal, everyone began to grab their stuff and move. Jongdae and Kyungsoo fell in with the pack, unsure of what to do, but afraid to voice concerns. While Baekhyun, Chanyeol, Tao, and Yixing were used to carrying themselves into potential danger, Kyungsoo and Jongdae did their best to stay away from it. Kyungsoo’s most recent injury was accidentally knocking some hot oil onto his forearm. The wound hadn’t entirely healed yet, but he wasn’t looking to add new ones.
They walked behind the slopes, staying out of direct eyeshot of the walls. This was an entirely precautionary measure, but it felt very necessary. Eventually they came to a couple of houses that had crumbled years and years ago. This was where they stopped again, watching the side gates from afar..
There was only one guard outside and while his uniform did look altered, his face was familiar to Baekhyun. Since Baekhyun was the only one of the group to make trips to the city on any sort of regular basis, they all trusted his judgement. No pressure, of course.
“Kyungsoo,” Yixing said. “You’re coming with me. We’re going to approach the gate. No weapons, alright? They’ll be covering us just in case, but we should be fine. I’ll signal to you guys if it’s safe to join us. You know the duress signal too.”
Kyungsoo made no qualms. He figured he was the most expendable of the group being just a cook, and that it made the most sense that they only really lose one key member of the squad if something bad does happen. He had no weapons to relinquish, but Jongdae took Yixing’s gun before they left. Once they were off, however, Kyungsoo really wished Yixing hadn’t done that.
He’d never been to a big civilization in his life. Let alone one that has such an atmosphere of danger surrounding it. As they walked along silently, the gate grew bigger and bigger, bringing more and more intimidation with it as they drew closer.
“Hey, Yixing,” Kyungsoo whispered.
“Yes?” Yixing responded in a normal voice.
Yixing quirked a smile for the first time since they started out on the trip. “It means under threat. It’s a signal we use if somebody is listening to us/watching us that indicates danger without giving away that that’s what we’re signaling.”
“Oh,” Kyungsoo swallowed, “Perfect.”
Once at the gate, the guard addressed them.
“What’s your business?” He asked gruffly.
“On visit.” Yixing responded curtly, stopping a respectable distance from the man.
“Hmph.” He adjusted the gun on his shoulder, “Well, you see, the city is undergoing so light… changes to regime. Luckily you came to me. Their just arresting everyone who comes through the front gates...”
Kyungsoo shot Yixing a glance which went ignored.
“... I’m not as much of a headache as those guys. Too much work, but I don’t think I can let you in.”
Just then, another guard appeared from the bolted door beside the gates. Kyungsoo watched the well covered guy walk up behind the current guard and tap him on the shoulder. As he did so, he looked directly at Kyungsoo. His eyes were sharp like tacks.
“Taemin. Jonghyun wants to see you.” The guy said softly.
The original guard, Taemin presumably, turned and walked away from them. The other guy hovered for a moment until Taemin had disappeared through the doors. Something seemed off about him, like he was watching for something to happen.
But instead he just shrugged them off, “You heard him.”
Yixing’s jaw was locked, but he must have made the decision that this wasn’t worth it since he turned on his heel and started to walk away. Kyungsoo turned to his side, torn between following Yixing and whatever magnetism was gluing him to his spot.
“Wai… Wait!” He called out to Yixing. The man paused. Kyungsoo turned back to the other guy saying, “I’m D.O.”
The guard smirked, “I thought as much. You ready to go?”
“I’m… I guess?” Kyungsoo felt that uncertainty and fluster bubbling up in him again.
“Who are you?” Yixing called out, staying in his place.
The guy ignored his question, “Bring your friends too. Chop chop.”
No sooner had he said that then he ended up disappearing into the guards door, not bothering with the gate. Yixing quickly signaled the rest of the group over and after a couple of minutes they were reunited as a group.
“So we’re following this guy?” Baekhyun asked, his eyebrows pulling together as he spoke.
“We have no other option,” Tao pushed past the rest of the group, a little stilt still in his step as he walked towards the door.
Kyungsoo fell in step again, silently walking along with everyone else as the entered the depths of the guards tower. It was a mess inside. Tables were overturned, blood stains were fresh on the walls, and the guards looked like they had seen hell. None of them looked happy. None of them looked familiar to Baekhyun as guards. The insignia’s on their shoulders had been torn off and replaces with red X’s. It looked like the aftermath of a revolution.
They all gave them heavily suspicious looks as they walked towards the familiarly sharp eyed man at the end of the quarters. He gave no vocal cue before turning and heading out of the tower and into the city.
Baekhyun held back his shock when he saw it.
It was destroyed. Buildings had been burned and toppled. The streets that were once so beautiful and showing a glimmer of hope for the remaining civilizations on Earth were dark, grimey, and full of people that looked like they had seen hell. They all gave them strange looks and every single one of them gripped their weapons of choice a bit tighter as they followed this person.
A couple minutes of walking and Kyungsoo wished they had stayed at that stupid gas station instead.
The guard was walking them closer to the port. Closer towards the ocean and the briney sea. But they barely made it to the entrance of the docks before another guard stopped them.
The group of outsiders stopped, remaining as quiet and still as stones in graveyard as the two guards conversed in hushed voices. The other one seemed a bit perturbed with the first one, raising his voice a little s the conversation went on.
Eventually, their original tour guide turned to them and spoke in a low voice, “Alright, so here’s the deal. I need you guys to run.”
“What?” Baekhyun hissed.
“Yeah, now!” He shouted, spinning around and knocking the guard down as he did so.
It took milliseconds for the band of travellers to break out into a sprint, following their mysterious guard all the way through the dock entrances and down the makeshift landing port area. The sounds of landing ships and boats throttling filled their ears, disorienting the crew as they tried to keep up. Most of them had never seen a ship let alone run for their lives past one. Fourteen feet clopped against the wooden surfaces as seven pounding hearts pushed oxygen deprived blood through hundreds of aching muscles in one push to stay alive or uncaptured.
Then two of those feet stumbled.
Tao hit the deck, gripping his side and yelling out in pain. Kyungsoo, being the most unequipped to take on a marathon was the closest to him when he fell. He stopped, turning back to where the tall man laid, struggling to get back on his feet and clenching his teeth.
“Tao!” Kyungsoo yelled, glancing at the boys who were getting further away by the second.
He doubled back, crouching down at Tao’s side and watching blood leak out the side of his shirt. The increased cardio must have broken through his closing wound.
“Tao, come on. I can’t carry you myself,” Kyungsoo pleaded desperately.
“Shit. Didn’t know you cared about anybody,” Tao coughed, “Keep going then.”
“No. No. I’m not going to be responsible for this—” Kyungsoo grabbed Tao’s arm and pulled it over his shoulder.
Behind him he could hear the rhythmic pounding of boots. The guards must have figured out where they were heading and were not so far behind them. Kyungsoo pushed up against the deck, but couldn’t lift Tao’s weight. He tried once more, lifting him up enough so that Tao could somewhat stand, but he couldn’t walk. He was losing too much blood and was just too heavy.
The shouting behind him was deafening now as Kyungsoo tried to pull Tao with him. Somewhere in his mind he figured this was where the end of the line was. How stupid he was to ever think adrenaline would help him in a time of need.
Just then, Tao felt suddenly lighter and Kyungsoo could walk, pulling Tao’s weight with him.
He looked to his left where he saw Chanyeol under Tao’s other arm. He looked and Kyungsoo as well, “We have to run.”
And so they did. They awkwardly pulled the bleeding man across the docks, barely keeping a lead on the guard behind them that nipped at their heels hungrily. The journey felt simultaneously longer than any single moment that had come before it and also one of the shortest passages of time the boys had ever experienced in their short lives.
Once they reached the end of the docks, they noticed everyone else from their party had disappeared.
“Kyungsoo,” Tao’s weak voice sputtered, “You’re not supposed to talk to strangers online.”
Kyungsoo looked at Tao in disbelief for a second before Chanyeol started yelping, drawing his attention back to the water in front of them that was bubbling like a pot on a stove.
It hadn’t taken them long to get to the city at all. Before they knew it, the bright colors of the modernized city of indulgence was flashing before them like a warning sign on a highway. They group of boys bickered among themselves as they followed the increasingly more vague and basic instructions that Junmyeon gave them. They passed through many of the city’s side streets before landing at an area Luhan knew all too well.
“The parking garage?” Luhan asked, “What are we doing at my parking garage, Dr. Cryptic-face?”
“Different things,” Junmyeon responded, obviously somewhere else in his thoughts than he was in the conversation, “Your ship is on the top, right?”
“Yeah, you wanna take a joyride?” Luhan winked at Sehun across the room who did his best to hide a knowing blush.
“Kind of,” Junmyeon responded, unaware of the innuendo.
“Uh… just to humor this entire situation, sure.” Luhan walked forward, pressing his watch bearing wrist against the scanner. The door opened, showing the top of the building on the other side. “After you.”
Everyone walked through the portal door, appearing at the top of the garage on the other side and instantly recognizing the overly opulent red speed ship to be that of Luhan’s. When he stepped through to the other side he spun the keys on his fingers with a smile.
“What does this have to do with helping D.O.?” Jongin asked, the impatience in his voice more obvious than he would have liked.
“I… can’t tell you?” Junmyeon offered.
“Can you stop fucking saying that?” Jongin snapped suddenly, “This isn’t a joke, Junmyeon. We have no idea what’s going on! Throw us a bone here or I’m going to throw you.”
Everyone’s eyebrows spiked like a seismograph. Jongin didn’t have outbursts like … ever.
“Listen… Jongin…” Junmyeon started.
Suddenly there was a crackling noise far above them in sky like thunder. Except it didn’t rain her unless it was scheduled too. There was no rain in the forecast for today either.
“We’re out of time,” Junmyeon took off towards Luhan’s ship, “We have to move the ship now!”
“I swear if this is a ship jacking, I’m going to lose it,” Luhan cursed under his breath, sprinting ahead of Junmyeon as a low rumbling noise began to grow closer and closer to them.
He pressed the key disc against the door, urging it to open. After a couple more hectic presses, the door opened, greeting him happily.
The automated woman’s voice spoke pleasantly despite the situation, “Welcome back, Luhan. I see Sehun is with you today. Should I get the champagne ready?”
“No! I just need to drive!” He ordered, hopping into the door and clambering up the stairs as soon as the door was open far enough.
He skidded a bit at the top of the steps, halting his momentum so he could 180 back over to the front of the ship and drop into the driver’s seat. Shaky fingers slammed the disc into the activation console and the ship’s engines began to roar.
Her automated voice came again. “Luhan, I’m required to remind you that you have several unpaid flight traffic violations in effect. You may be stopped if you attempt to go far.”
“We don’t need to go far,” Junmyeon informed him, appearing behind the seat along with the others, “We just need to not be on this landing pad as soon as possible.”
The rumbling had become even louder, drowning out the sound of the engines kicking into gear. Luhan made no comment as he pressed a few buttons, starting the pad detachment process.
As if there weren’t already enough noises, an alarm suddenly blared out from the launch pad.
“What the fuck is that?” Sehun ran a hand through his hair, tossing it into a haphazard shape that made him look even more stressed than he already was.
“Shit. That’s the unauthorized landing alert.” Luhan yelled back, “Why would that being going off.”
“Because something unauthorized is landing here,” Junmyeon offered awkwardly, “Can you turn it off?”
“Yeah. I can authorize whoever to land on my launchpad, but I can’t drive it at the same time,” Luhan stood up suddenly, “Does anyone here have any sort of license?”
Everyone turned to look at Jongin.
He put his hands up. “Uh, no way. Driving a car is not the same as driving a fucking space ship.”
“It’s going to have to be,” Junmyeon grabbed Jongin by the shirt and pulled him over, pushing him down into the chair.
Jongin looked at all the controls in absolute terror. How the fuck was he supposed to drive this? He turned back to see Luhan and Junmyeon already down the stairs and outside the ship. He saw them run out from under the ship and towards the control console.
“I can’t do this,” Jongin said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Fuck,” Sehun started. “Jongin. Be confident for once!”
“I’m not confident at all!” He yelled back.
Yifan reached over his shoulder. “Time to change, dumbass.”
He pressed the button to disengage the ship from the pad and all of a sudden they were moving. In the air.
Moving. In The Air.
“Holy fucking christ,” Jongin gasped, grabbing the controls and yanking up.
The ship pulled up suddenly, moving towards the sky at an alarming speed. The pad shot away from them as they headed for the top of the Atlas City dome.
“Jongin! Hit the brakes! We’re gonna hit the dome!” Sehun yelled, flattening himself into the passenger seat as quickly as he could.
“I dont--” He looked around furiously.
“Do something!” Yifan yelled.
Jongin slammed both of the thumb triggers as quickly as possible. The engines cut out all at once and the hover control engaged, bringing them to a halt just yards from the surface of the doom.
A drop of sweat dripped onto his shirt from his chin and his brain began to process what just happened. Sehun in the passenger’s seat carefully opened his eyes to look at the dome surface. He removed his arms from over his head and stretched his legs back out onto the ground.
Yifan on the other hand, had been knocked onto his back in the commotion and was just staring up at the ceiling while he breathed heavily.
“Are we dead?” He asked from the ground.
Luhan’s voice came crackling over the communication system, “Unfortunately not. I’m gonna take remote control now.”
The display in front of Jongin went black and the resistance of the controls disappeared. He let the joystick and panel slide away from him as Luhan took remote control of the ship. It dropped a little before turning back to to a more reasonable orientation and slowly descending through the sky and back towards the top of the parking garage where this whole debacle began. Jongin finally used his sleeve to wipe the sweat off his forehead and let out a deep sigh.
When they landed, all three of them were all too eager to leave the death trap. They descended the staircase and walked back onto the to roof. The shiny red speed ship had been landed in an empty section of the walkway, precariously placed between two other ships. Where it was once located was a ship like nothing Jongin had ever seen before.
The ship in Luhan’s landing pad was sleek, silver, and had blue fringes. The wings were long and arched. It seemed to be much bigger than the other ones on the garage top. Somewhere along the side was a word written in an old language from before Common Tongue. One from before the Earth was torn apart.
The three sweat covered and tired boys met up with Luhan and the doctor. They all stared at the ship as it sat unmoving before them.
“Seriously.” Yifan muttered, “You’re sure I’m not tripping?”
Before Luhan could snark, the underside of the silver ship dropped out suddenly.
They all watched with bated breath as a person descended from the platform. It was a man, presumably. Wearing all black with blond helmet hair sticking this way and that. He had a mask over his face and ducked out from under the ship with purpose. He walked towards them a little before pulling the mask down, taking in a deep breath of fresh (recycled) air and then smiling at them.
“Nice to meet you all. I’m X.” He offered his hand and a cocky smile.
Jongin didn’t accept his hand, “You’re X? Where’s D.O.? Is he okay? What can I do for him?”
X paused for a moment, holding back a laugh and retracting his hand in as charming of a manner as he extended it.
"I do believe that the deed is done." X responded, "As for whether or not he's okay ... you can always ask him yourself."
Jongin's eyes grew wide with anticipation as he followed the stranger's gesture towards the open ship. A figure seemed to be climbing out of it. He ducked out from underneath the cover of the silvery wings. When his head came into the sunlight, Jongin felt like he would have known it to be D.O. even if he hadn't had the forewarning.
His hair was greasy and matted. It was kept out of his face by the grease and sweat it had accumulated over the past three days. He had deep round eyes that seemed to shine on his otherwise dirt covered face. Not an inch of his skin was left uncovered by dust and scratches. Jongin instantly wished he could buy the guy new clothes. The ones he was wearing were shades of gray, green, and brown. They were torn and faded, layering his body like an ill-fitting suit of armor.
"Kai?" He asked, getting a bit closer.
"Ye-yes!" Jongin stuttered, "It's actually Jongin, but that's ..."
"It's actually Kyungsoo but ..." Kyungsoo mirrored, pausing just a couple yards from him, "You're way hotter than I expected."
Jongin frowned, "You didn't expect me to be hot?"
While his focus was trained on Kyungsoo, he had entirely missed the other five people that had unloaded from the ship in the meantime. One of them slung an arm around Kyungsoo's shoulders, causing him to grimace in upset.
"That's a compliment from Soo here. Take it or leave it, bud." Baekhyun laughed, "I'm Baekhyun and this is Chanyeol--"
A taller one slung another arm around Kyungsoo's shoulder, making the black haired Earthling even more pouty than before.
Chanyeol tacked on, "This place is absolutely insane."
"Hell fucking yeah it is." Baekhyun commented, looking around in wonder, "God damn the galaxy has made some awesome stuff."
The other men behind them, all just as rugged and exhausted looking, stared at everything with mouthes slightly agape. They had come from a place were homes were stitched together out of pieces of other homes. A place where finding a car made you the luckiest man alive. They came from a place where technology and electricity was almost impossible to found. All they had were bullets and beans.
"Are you okay?" Jongin prodded, taking a careful step forward to look Kyungsoo over, "How did you even get here?"
"Funny story, actually." Kyungsoo shrugged his two friends off finally, "I was pretty sure I was going to die until X here pulled a space craft out of the water."
"There's so much to talk about." Jongin said excitedly.
"Like about what you guys eat here?" Jongdae asked from afar.
"This is probably a lot for them." X noted, now standing alongside Junmyeon, "They're from Earth."
"Earth?" Sehun asked meekly, unable to comprehend anything that had happened in the past few hours.
"Yeah." Yixing said, stepping beyond the two star struck long distant friends, "We're from what little remains of Earth. I suppose we're here to seek refuge."
X snorted from where he was standing on the side, "Refuge, really?"
Yixing raised an eyebrow, "Why else would you have saved us?"
"Well ..." X rolled his eyes, "To be fair it was a joint effort. You deserve somewhere close to a third of the credit for saving yourselves. Your alien buddies here put in some effort too. But, no, I didn't save you for kicks. If you really want to stay on this corrupt planet, then be my guest, but I had something a little bit bigger in mind."
The crowd was silent for a second before Tao spoke, "Hopefully it involves better bandages than the ones on the ship."
"We do have one of the finest doctors and one of my very best friends Kim Junmyeon with us. That is, of course, assuming he accepts my proposal."
"Stop being cryptic and spit out this whatever." Yifan interjected, standing with crossed arms and a very put out glower.
"Don't be so impatient Kris." X responded.
The put out glower was instantly replaced by one of shock, "How do you know that?"
"Oh please." X squinted, "Did you all really think Exodus was all fun and games? Did you honestly believe that there was a program by an unknown developer that managed to simply and easily connect the entire universe that had entirely charitable motivation?" He snickered, "If so you'd be sorely mistaken, because Exodus was meant to seek people out. When you're pretending to be someone else you reveal more about yourself than you ever would under your own guise."
He paused. A circle had formed among the men and X stepped into the center of it. He made a slow show of spinning to look at each of them as he spoke, "You're all capable young men stuck in awful situations. Living a sorry existence on a planet that's dying or stuck in a vicious cycle of drugs and corruption that few ever manage to break away from. You all feel ... no, you're destined for something bigger. You helped each other, but that's not all you can do. Exodus was only the beginning. There's hundreds of planets like Earth that could use a helping hand. Plenty of societies ruining lives with greed like this one. Why not do something about it?"
Luhan held a hand up, stopping X in his lengthy monologue, "You're asking us to join you, a person we've never met before, on a ship we've never seen anything like ... to run around the galaxy saving people?"
"You may not have met me until now, but I did save six of your lives and at least gave five of you something fun to do for an hour?" X shrugged.
"I almost died!" Sehun shouted suddenly, "Jongin literally almost crashed Luhan's ship into the dome with me and--"
Yixing stepped out of the circle into the center and rose his voice above Sehun's, "I'd be honored to serve under you, X."
Sehun stopped yelling, leaving just the sound of his exasperated breathing for a moment before X responded.
"Under me? No, no, no." He raised his hand up dramatically, "You'd be the new Captain my friend. I'll just be your advisor and consultant."
Yixing nodded, holding back a sense of pride that he gained form X's words.
Junmyeon stepped up, "I trust you, X. I'll join you too."
"Junmyeon you warm my heart." He put the dramatic hand across his heart as he looked around the circle.
Everyone began chattering among themselves for a moment. The rooftop became suddenly abuzz with thoughts and fears and feelings. Every single one of them felt incapable of deciding something so quickly.
Tao stepped into the center as well, "I trust Yixing with my life. I'll follow that jackass anywhere."
Yixing cracked a smile, "I wouldn't want anybody else following me."
"We're coming too." Baekhyun announced, grabbing Chanyeol by the arm and yanking him into the circle.
Chanyeol stumbled for a second, surprised by how assertive and quick Baekhyun's decision was, but almost as quickly coming to the same conclusion, "Of course."
"All I can do is work a radio," Jongdae shrugged, taking that step inside himself, "But I think I'll bum a ride."
X lit up, "Just a radio? Heavens no, you'll be our communications officer. We have so many pieces of equipment and I trust you'll learn them all in due time."
"So wait." Sehun addressed X, "I can just pack up, leave this place and go be a badass superhero?"
X made a funny face, rolling the words back and forth in his mind a couple times, "Sure."
"I'm in." Sehun threw his hands up, "When do I start?"
"I'll just tell my parents I got a job?" Yifan offered.
'"That's the spirit" Luhan chuckled, "And I'm going to do it because Sehun's doing it according to Yifan."
"Excellent!" X clapped his hands together, finally turning to the last two undecided factors in his wonderfully elaborate equation, "And ...?"
The two newly short-distance friends gave one another a brief, but hesitant look. Neither one of them had inwardly made a decision. In fact, Jongin had just been watching everyone else bandwagon one after another. He was thinking about the reasons why he would leave. The whole point of joining the GPD and attending the GPA was because he wanted to travel. He wanted to do something and be someone and feel as though he was making a difference. But he was the kind of person to stick to what he knew. His comfort zone was his happy zone and his routine was were he found joy. It wasn't until he first spoke with Kyungsoo that he felt perhaps he had the capability of leaving that headspace.
"I suppose you're going with him?" Jongin asked quietly.
Kyungsoo tilted his head to meet Jongin's eyes, "If all your friends jumped off a bridge ... well I guess I'm jumping off too. I don't exactly have anywhere else to go, yeah?"
"So it's decided then." Jongin nodded.
Kyungsoo smiled, "I guess it is."
Jongin was smiling brightly at his phone. He loved to make Kyungsoo flustered. It was perhaps the one hobby he really picked up since joining up with the mysterious X and flying halfway across the galaxy. Everything was slow and simple. He was risking his life and seeing great places and wonderful things. He was sharing fun times with Kyungsoo and the 11 other people on this ship and it kept a permanent grin on his face. He only stopped to grimace when Junmyeon splashed some disinfectant on his scrapes and cuts.
“Hey, you good?” X called from the doorway, “Junmyeon got you all patched up?”
Jongin looked up from his phone and across the little medical bay room to where X was leaning. His hair was styled perfectly in a sharp shape that matched his sharp eyes and his sharp smile that said he knew more than he’s ever going to let on.
“Yep. All good to go until the next time. Need some rest though.” Jongin put the phone on the bench next to him.
“Awesome. I’ll be back before we leave tomorrow.” X saluted him.
“Hey, wait!” Jongin called, keeping X from leaving.
“I just …” He let out a breath, “How do you know so much … and all the time? Where does your money come from? How do you make this all work?”
X kept that eerily knowing smile on his face as he spoke, “That would take all the mystery out of me. Suffice to say I just have a drive to do good and the means to do it.”
Jongin frowned. Another cryptic answer. He spent nights thinking about this guy. He’s starting to trust him to the point that Kyungsoo and the other Earthlings did, but thoughts kept him at bay from full loyalty.
He met with X’s eyes quite suddenly, “Are you Minseok?”
X’s smile didn’t falter. His eyes didn’t blink. Nothing changed in his demeanor but Jongin knew.
“Jongin, don’t you have a date soon?” X tapped the doorway twice before finally disappearing into the hallway.
His phone clicked then.