Entering the mistrepool called Leous, the girls invariably begin eyeing the glinting glass walls that rise high all around them. They are on the lookout for any possible snipers and such but it is hard to tell. Leous is a busy place. Full of commercial towers. Full of business suits bustling about in broad daylight. Full of other hovercars like the ones they’re in. The snipers (if there are any) could be anywhere.
“Spotted anything?” Taeyeon asks as she makes another turn in the never-ending maze of a mistrepool. In a big, busy place like this, roads can be confusing and getting lost in the concrete and glass jungle is about as common as hitting a stop traffic signal.
Yuri puts down her zoomer and shakes her head. “Nothing sighted.”
“We’ll comb another cluster.”
Over on the other hovercar, Sunny and Summer are scanning the surroundings for any sign of a lethal weapon as well. None are in sight and they report this information to Taeyeon and Yuri. After combing two more clusters each, both Taeyeon and Yoona are satisfied with the search and put their zoomers away. On to the SM building they go.
It is an unusual choice for a meeting place, considering how well known the SM building is. Located in central Leous, it is the premier media centre, housing a theatre, café and offices, rising high into the sky. Celebrities are known to visit the building and human traffic is high in this place. If the meeting were meant to be private, this would be one of the worst places for it.
Yoona parks her hovercar at a hovermobile storage tank (HOST) adjacent to the building while Taeyeon parks hers in the building. The three of them fan out around the sides of the building while Taeyeon enters the lobby with Yuri. All five proceed with caution, on full alertness, ready for any emergency situation.
The crowd inside is thick and as petite as Taeyeon is, she finds it hard to manoeuvre through the throngs of people milling about. Yuri must be having a hard time sticking close to her, thinks Taeyeon, so she reaches back to grasp her friend’s hand. Only, it isn’t.
“I’ll take that as a sign of willingness on your part to follow me,” a foreign voice speaks. It is low and textured like sand on the beach but there is no doubt that it belongs to a female.
Taeyeon releases the hand immediately but it is too late. The hand has taken over hers with an unshakable grip. So strong for a female.
“Uh, uh. I’ve got you now. You’re not running away from me.”
The pressure on Taeyeon’s hand guides her through the crowd towards a stairway exit. She contemplates making a run for it, or screaming something like ‘FIRE’ to create a diversion but the mystery female presses close and says, “We have your friends too. If you try something funny to get away, you might succeed, but your friends will die instant deaths.”
“What is this? Some kind of sick game?” Taeyeon mutters in disgust, even as a dash of fear slips into her heart.
The husky voice merely chuckles. “You could call it that.” A push. “Now, be good and follow me.”
Taeyeon suspects it may be a bluff, but under these circumstances, there’s no way for her to test the waters, neither is she willing to gamble on the lives of her most cherished friends. In the end, she finds herself entering the stairwell and down the stairs. Not halfway down a flight however, something pricks her neck and that’s the last thing she remembers.
Soft voices are murmuring in the background when Taeyeon comes to. The next thing she notices is the ache in her neck. That is probably caused by her hanging head so she lifts it and opens her eyes. Her movements are slower than she would like and her head is heavy like a sack of soggy rice. The only view she has is that of a concrete grey wall, unrefined and undecorated. And a ceiling adorned by a single florescent light tube. It is safe to say she’s not feeling great at the moment.
“Our heroine is up,” says the same sandy voice.
Taeyeon twists, trying to get a look at her abductor but her arms, legs and chest are secured to the chair, preventing her from moving excessively.
“Eager to see me, aren’t you.”
The mocking voice infuriates Taeyeon but she holds her temper, knowing what she stands to lose should her abductor be displeased. Instead, she puts on her calmest voice and says, “I don’t know what kind of plan you’re trying to pull off here but I’m willing to play along.” After a pause, she adds, “As long as my friends are unharmed.” The laughter that follows agitates her even more but she forces herself to inhale deeply. “It was worth a try.”
“You were right. This is a game. A sick game perhaps, but a game nonetheless. So here’s how to play it. We have all five of you in separate rooms right now. These rooms are sealed, airtight once the ventilators are shut off. That is to say, if some poisonous gas were to slip into the room by accident . . . you and your friends are probably not gonna make it out alive.”
Shaking with both anger and fear, Taeyeon retorts, “It’s not a game if I don’t stand a chance of winning.”
“Correction. It’s not a fair game if you don’t stand a chance of winning. But who’s into fair games these days?” Another laugh. “Alright, alright. Since you brought it up, let’s modify the game a little. I’ll give you a chance to win. Say the word, and I’ll gas your four friends in exchange for your life.”
“No,” says Taeyeon, without the slightest trace of hesitation. “No way.”
“Fine, let’s negotiate. Give me one name and I’ll let that friend go with you.”
This time, Taeyeon’s rejection does not come as easily, but she says no in the end.
“You’re a hard-core haggler, really.” A sigh. “Okay. You’re really making it hard for me here. Two. I’ll let two friends leave with you.”
Who is this deranged woman? How is she capable of talking about people’s lives with such . . . callousness?
“Let me see your face. I want to see who I’m playing this sick game with,” Taeyeon demands. She will have a good look at the woman’s face and she will hunt this woman down if she escapes from this hellhole.
“Not before you give me your answer, Taeyeon.”
Squeezing her eyes shut, Taeyeon takes another deep breath. Two friends. That’s half. She doubts this madwoman is going to give her anymore than that. But what if she’s so insane that she does give in? And who’s to say that she won’t be crazy enough to gas them all once she’s done with the game anyway.
“My, my . . . I could see the wheels turning in your head. Somebody was thinking very, very hard about this. But somebody made a mistake and played beyond their hand.”
A presence brushes by and Taeyeon tenses, gearing up to see her abductor’s face at last. The woman is shockingly normal. In fact, she looks better than normal. She’s pretty. From the mess of black curls to the smiling round eyes to the curve of her hips, this woman standing before her is someone she would be happy to hit on if she were to meet her at a gallery or club or café. How can someone who looks so normal be so insane?
“You are trying for three but you’re not gonna get it. You can only save two.” The woman flashes a beautiful smile that would have stolen her heart if it belonged to anybody else but right now, it is downright sickening to look at. “Choose wisely.”
Taeyeon wants to scream. She wants to tear off this woman’s head, as charming as she looks. But she can’t. She can’t even scratch her nose if she needs to. She has to keep herself under control. Losing her mind to a criminally insane woman is the last thing she needs. Instead, she thinks. All is not lost. She can save two. And maybe . . .
“Am I allowed a trade?”
A cultured eyebrow lifts but the rest of the woman’s face remains passive. “What kind of trade?”
“My life for my friend’s. It would still be three.”
“I can count to three by myself, thank you very much. And my answer is a no. Choose two and no more negotiating or I’ll just gas them all.”
There is a nagging feeling that all of this is for naught but Taeyeon refuses to let go of the slim hope that she may salvage two out of four lives by supplying two names. No matter how hard it is, it has to be done. It has to be. And actually, if she were to simplify her thought process, it really isn’t that hard to choose two after all.
“Sunny and Summer.”
“Those two? Why?”
“You didn’t say my answers had to come with reasons.”
“I’m saying it right now. Tell me your reasons.”
“Sunny and Summer—” Taeyeon bites her lip. What if this bit of information inspires this woman to hatch another sick game? What if this psychotic woman uses the knowledge to torture Sunny and Summer instead? “Sunny and Summer are strong enough to live on with the guilt,” she says at last. It is somewhat true but it isn’t information that can be used against them.
“How do you know they are strong enough? What if they’re not?”
“Sunny and Summer are very supportive of each other.”
“And the rest of you are not?”
“Sunny and Summer are better with words. They’ll be able to comfort me well.” Taeyeon cringes internally at how pathetic her comeback is but the madwoman does not seem to have noticed. She is preoccupied with something attached to her ear that Taeyeon hadn’t noticed before. It is skin-coloured and looks like part of the woman’s ear. What is it?
The woman nods and says, “I’m done over here as well.” She pauses to listen, then nods again. “I’ve got enough. See you in the main.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“My accomplices.” The sickening smile widens. “It seems like your friends have passed the test as well. This is unprecedented. Unique. Amazing.”
“What test? What are you talking about?”
“All of you have passed the test.”
Suddenly, the smile on the woman’s face gains a shipload of warmth. “I am not a crazy kidnapper out to kill innocent ladies in a psychotic game of multiple choice. I am Tiffany Hwang, leading agent of an unknown secret service called Security Network Service Defence.”