In Yao Yuan's mind's eye, he could see clearly that he wasn't drastically faster than usual. Granted, his speed was greater than your everyday man's, but that didn't explain the ease with which he could avoid Chou's bullets. It also wasn't due to a sudden improvement of his reflexes or acquiring a new ability where he could predict the bullets' trajectory. Of course, all these were given a minor boost in an adrenaline-filled gunfight, but it wasn't boosted to a superhuman level.
What did help though was a newly acquired ability which allowed him to psychically envision malice projections. Whenever a bullet was fired, he could sense a coagulation of malice forming at its target location. It was in this way that he could tell beforehand where the bullets would land, and thanks to that millisecond of foresight, he could evade incoming danger accordingly.
This new instinct of his was so strong that he could even tell where his opponent intended to move before he actually moved. And so he aimed at where he felt Chou was going to move next instead of where Chou actually was. He had never experienced anything like this before, but it was incredibly instinctual. It surprised even himself that he could dodge every bullet and stop the enemy short in his step.
This didn't mean that he had the natural upper hand though because it appeared that Ning Bo Tao, or Chou, had mastered the same skill. As Yao Yuan weaved through the volley of bullets, so did Chou.
After a few minutes of this back-and-forth dance, both men had emptied their cartridges without a single slug ending up in the opponent's body. Without pulling their triggers again, they both somehow knew that their guns had emptied, so they flung them off for hand-to-hand combat. The sounds of bones on bones and muscles on muscles were so loud that Zhang Heng had to cover his ears.
Before long, the fight was fast approaching its premature conclusion. A projected simulation inaccessible to Zhang Heng had occurred between the two brawling men, and it showed that after a few more clashes, Yao Yuan's greater skill at close-quarters combat would prevail. The visage was so authentic that both men had to give it validity.
Perhaps dampened by the vision or maybe he had truly reached the end of his limits, Chou's attempts at evasion became attempts at blocking. Weirdly enough, at one point, as he got further cornered, he started laughing and said, "Your Killer's Arms has gotten better since the last time I tasted it! But unfortunately…" He let his guard down and allowed one of Yao Yuan's punches to land. Reigning in the punch's blowback, he somersaulted onto the floor. At that instant, the room's door was kicked out and Chou's men rushed in. They immediately lifted their assault rifles and were ready to unload them all across the room. However, Yao Yuan was somehow faster; even before the door had landed on the ground, he had rushed towards the opening.
Before any of the triggers were pulled, Yao Yuan had already sidled up to the foremost man. Without giving him any chance to react, Yao Yuan unleashed a punch on his stomach. As the force sent him folding upon himself, Yao Yuan elbowed his back and the man crumbled as his vertebrae snapped.
The whole process happened so fast that when the rest of Chou's men registered the sound of bones cracking, their fingers were still on the triggers.
Within the next second, Yao Yuan kicked the fallen man into the air. As shells were being unloaded, Yao Yuan grabbed hold of the man's body and used it as a human shield. The unexpected rabid convulsion of their mate's body made Chou's men hesitate momentarily.
As they dropped their weapons, Yao Yuan could no longer feel any projected malice, and that bade him into action. Dropping the bullet-riddled body, he rushed into the group of stunned men.
The result was to be expected. Yao Yuan's combat style was neither military boxing, which was common to trained men, nor special ops' grappling techniques, nor Chinese Wushu; it was a unique fighting style tailored to his height, ease of movement, and appendages' length. Yao Yuan spent eight years honing this art of killing which he dubbed the Killer's Arms. It was somewhat similar to Jeet Kune Do2; both styles using the smallest effort and shortest time to achieve lethality.
With lightning speed, he collapsed the trachea of one man before letting loose a flying roundhouse kick that caved in another's temple and one other's neck. And with that, all of Chou's reinforcements had been vanquished.
It has to be said that Yao Yuan's airborne roundhouse kick wasn't for show. He was in the middle of dropping his heel on the last man, but right then, he sensed projected malice in the form of flying knives sailing towards him. Out of options, he added lifting propulsion to his kick in the hopes of avoiding the knives by using the momentum of air twirls.
However, no matter how fast his instincts were, his body couldn't catch up with the speed of the darting knives. As he landed, two knives were jammed into his left torso, but because he was hit in a mid-air spin, the angle of entry was slanted, so they missed his vital organs by a bit.
The knife on his right bicep though, that was unfortunately possibly fatal.
This was how it was between highly-skilled experts; one small distraction could prove fatal. Chou started laughing maniacally as he leaped towards Yao Yuan, hoping to land the final blow.
Seeing this, fear clogged Zhang Heng's heart. He knew fully well that after Chou kills Yao Yuan, he will have outlived his use. He had serious doubts that Chou would be as kind to him as Yao Yuan once was.
Even if he were to miraculously survive this, he would be a sitting duck. The control code to initiate warp was in the hands of the Black Star Unit, who had found Noah Two. If Yao Yuan were to die, the rest of the Black Stars would be blown into smithereens, and the remaining ten million people would be left on death panel…
In an unexpected twist, Zhang Heng saw Yao Yuan step onto the hand of the body beside him and the rut-tut-tut of an assault rifle rang out. The man Yao Yuan stepped on still had his fingers entwined over his weapon's trigger, so as Yao Yuan applied pressure, the pistol shot out a series of bullets aimed at Chou!
Chou could sense the projected malice, but since it didn't come directly from Yao Yuan, he misjudged the trajectory the bullets would take. He tried swerving out of the way, but as he landed by the wall, the lower part of his body was already riddled with holes.
As Chou slumped in his pooling blood, his facial expression was not one of fear or sorrow as one would expect, but rather he looked relieved. Between gasps of air, he croaked, "Yao Yuan, did you purposely let yourself be hit to lure me to charge towards you?"
Yao Yuan shook his head as he walked solemnly towards Chou, "No, that was indeed unavoidable. But somehow, as I landed, I felt like this plan would be able to spell your death."
After hearing that, Chou started laughing even harder. "Looks like even fate wants me dead. When I was still in the Black Star Unit, you were always just a little bit better than me, be it bravery, resourcefulness, combat skills, or leadership… When we were on the space station, you told me how small you felt when you looked at the immense nothingness around us. I didn't tell you at the time, but I totally agree with you; I felt swept by a sensation of anxiety, emptiness, and loneliness when we were in space… It was unsettling, but it also gave me this ability which had me overjoyed because I'll finally had something that could help me overtake you… Alas, it's a trick of fate after all, huh? In the end, I'll never outrun your shadow…
But seeing you with this power did help me confirm the hypothesis that this power comes with man's extended habituation in space. Perhaps it evolved out of man's need to feel empowered against the nothingness of space… And so, as your spaceship continues on in space, you'll probably have more people like us on your hands… But that concerns me no more… Lan… How I've missed you, but don't worry… I'm coming…"
Chou's breath gradually slowed until his spirit returned to nothingness.
Yao Yuan looked somberly at his former squad member and a few moments later, he retrieved Chou's dog-tag from his body and slipped it into his uniform. Then he stood up and addressed Zhang Heng. "Can you still move?"
This gathered Zhang Heng's scattered senses. He sprang up and replied, "Yes, sir. I have no problems moving, but quick, inform Captain Wong that the building they're in is full of explosives!"
This information startled Yao Yuan, but when he spotted the shattered remote at the corner of the room, he breathed a sigh of relief. "That's alright, now. Without the remote, the bombs won't go off so easily. Ning Bo Tao was a top secret agent; he wouldn't set the bombs at places where they would be accidentally hit by stray bullets… So let's get moving. We're leaving earth by six. And have you found your father?"
The question brought tears to Zhang Heng's eyes. Shaking his head, he answered, "He's been found dead…"
Yao Yuan moved forth to corner Zhang Heng into a hug. "My condolences… But now you have to carry on on his behalf. He would want you to do that. Now, let's meet up with Ol' Wong' and then we'll depart for the spaceship."
Just before Zhang Heng was made to follow, he caught himself and yelped, "Yao Yuan, wait a minute. I have a request to ask of you… There are some womenfolk in this station that were gathered by Chou's troops. They are truly helpless. Can't we bring them along? There are only a hundred of them, that isn't really a huge number. They're nice people; in the three days I was captured, three of the girls came over to nurse me to health. They gave me water and changed my bandages. One of them is called Bai Ning Xue, another Luo Mao Miao and the last one, whose surname I didn't catch, was called Bo Li. Please, I beg of you to bring them along! I'm willing to trade my rank for their places on board."
Yao Yuan stared intently at Zhang Heng for quite some time. As he turned to leave, he said, "This is the last time I will hear of such a request again! You're a military man now; your rank represents your honor, your life! Do not treat it so lightly! I will not hear of something like this again! So do not let me down…
But I'll remind you that the hovercraft will leave in another ten minutes. Until then, anyone that fits our screening criteria is allowed onboard…"
1. A term used to describe the next stage of human evolution after homo sapiens by futurist Juan Enriquez.
2. Martial art philosophy favored by Bruce Lee. Unlike other martial arts, Jeet Kune Do or JKD values usefulness in everyday life.