Taeyeon’s heart freezes over like water at the North Pole at the thought of tomorrow’s training. It would be best if time would fast forward some thirty hours and go straight to the day after. But life doesn’t come with a fast forward button and time insists on giving every second equality. There’s no other way to put this. She’s freaking screwed.
Just waking up is a pain in itself. Taeyeon sits up groaning and rolls over onto her forehead. She’s not ready to get out of bed.
Taeyeon’s head snaps up and her eyes focus on the stern figure standing in her room. How? When? What? “S-Seo,” she croaks. “G-Good morning . . .”
“Look at the time. You should be out of bed and stretching already. How can you live your life like this?”
Taeyeon swallows hard. “I-It’s hard to get out of bed . . .”
“Out. Out, right this instant.”
Seo stands stiff, upright like the Statue of Liberty, her disapproval blatantly displayed in her pressed lips and frown. “Now wash up quickly. We’ve got to get going.”
There Taeyeon sits, trying her hardest to remember the phrases and sentences.
“Watashi wa isshōkenmei benkyō shimasu.”
“Watashi wa isshō . . . k-kenmei . . . benkyō shimasu.” Raising her hand, Taeyeon asks politely, feeling very much as though she were in middle school again. “Why am I learning Japanese?”
“Just in case.”
Taeyeon blinks. “Huh?”
“Situations can arise anytime, anywhere. We have to be prepared for the unexpected.” Seo smacks Taeyeon’s arm with a riding crop. “Focus! You’re getting distracted.”
“Could I have a five-minute break?”
The riding crop lands on the table right next to Taeyeon’s hand making her jump in her skin. “Yes, ma’am!”
“How . . . many . . . more . . . steps . . .” Taeyeon is rapidly losing her strength. All she has left are dregs, hardly enough to get her through this gruelling physical training. She leans forward as much as possible, fighting the elastic band wrapped around her waist with all her might. That’s all she can do now, however. Lifting any foot would likely result in the stretched out elastic band flinging her back to the starting point like a sack of potatoes.
“One more.” The riding crop lands on Taeyeon’s butt with a crack. “One more!”
“Oh God. I can’t.”
“You can. Push yourself!”
“Say you can.” Another smack lands on her back. “Say it!”
“I CAN!” Taeyeon roars and just manages to push one foot forward, her body shaking from the effort.
“Now take a step back.”
Taeyeon obeys and groans. Going backwards is just as hard as moving forward!
“Keep it steady. Don’t stop. One step at a step.”
With a grunt, Taeyeon strains against the band as she takes another step back. Step after step, she perseveres till she’s back behind the red line she started from.
“Good. You may take a five-minute rest. We will continue after that.”
Taeyeon collapses and lies flat on the floor, gulping air like a goldfish. She doesn’t even have the strength to groan. All she can do is close her eyes and pray for survival till the end of today.
There’s a knock on the door but Taeyeon can’t find the strength to get up to open it. “Sorry, come again later,” she says weakly. To her surprise, the door opens nonetheless and in steps Sunny. “How did you open the door?”
“Dear Taeyeon, you didn’t even lock your door.”
“I didn’t?” Taeyeon lifts her head for a second before dropping back down on the pillow. “Oh.”
“What happened to you?” Sunny sits on her bed, beside her. “You’re missing out on dinner.”
Taeyeon groans. “I just wanna lie here and rest.”
“Did Seo train you very hard?”
“I don’t even wanna talk about it.”
“That bad, huh.” Sunny pats her shoulder comfortingly. “Stay here and rest. I’ll bring up dinner for you.”
“Thanks, Sunny.” With a smile, Taeyeon watches as Sunny leaves her room to get dinner. Wonderful Sunny. She can always count on her friends to help her out.
Moments later, there’s another knock on her door.
“Come in, the door’s not locked.”
“How are you doing, Taeyeon?”
This voice is not Sunny’s. Taeyeon looks. “Tiffany.” The agent is wearing a smug smile that irritates her a little but she answers politely, “I’m very tired.”
“Seo gave you the workout you deserve.”
“What did I do to deserve such torture?”
Tiffany merely laughs. “Aji no aru,” she says with a smile and leaves the room, shutting the door behind her.
Taeyeon blinks. Did Tiffany just speak Japanese to her? What was it she said? Aji no aru. Did Tiffany just say she’s interesting? Thanks to Seo’s vigorous training, she actually understands some Japanese now. But why does Tiffany think she’s interesting? What was that about?
The next day, five weary girls make their way to the meeting room aka lecture room to be briefed on their very first mission—Operation Secretary. Their targets are not the men with the info but their secretaries. Befriend the secretaries and gain their trust. That will ensure they gain access to information more easily.
Seo points at the images flashed on the wall. “The two men we want are Daniel and Nicholas. Their secretaries are Wendy and Irene respectively.” A map of the centre of Leous replaces the images. “Wendy and Irene frequent a place called ‘Crash & Burn’. You will drive your cars there and go in for a drink. Then one of you will bump into one of them and create a chance to introduce yourselves. Your aim is not to get anything out of them. You job is to become friends. Real friends, with the intention of continuing it even after everything is over.”
“You won’t need all of us for this,” says Taeyeon.
“You’re right. Just two of you.”
The five women look at each other. Who will be chosen?
Tiffany smiles and she steps forward. “Yoona and Taeyeon, you’re on.”