“Oh my God. I think we’re done here.”
Tiffany perks up. “All systems go?”
Agent Amber nods. “We have access to the ten Baby Bottles on top of the system clone. Now what we can do is manually switch Baby Bottles in and out of the cloned system so their AI is less likely to pick up on irregularities.”
“Everything is in place,” Agent Seulgi confirms, spinning around on her swirl chair. “We are ready for operation.”
“Then we have no time to waste. Daniel is out of the country and Nicholas can be distracted by Yoona and Summer. Agent Amber, is Sunny ready for the uncoding?”
Agent Amber grins. “As ready as we are.”
Basement 3 Research Lab
Central Operating Research Environment
Test Lab X
Test Lab Y
Data Analysis Lab
Basement 4 Research Lab
Life Science Bio Lab
Bio Chemical Lab
Physics Engineering Lab
“The ten Baby Bottles cover the monitoring of B4, up to B2. We will keep tabs on your location but to prevent a security lapse, you have to report your location whenever you are on a different level or room for our cross-reference. This can be easily done with your wrist ICE, Agent Amber will brief you on the advanced functions as well.”
Taeyeon, Yuri and Sunny nod seriously. No laughing, no joking. This operation will either free them, or kill them. There is no room for mistakes.
Tiffany looks over their worried faces and smiles. “Don’t worry. We are on standby to extract you from the scene if anything happens.”
“This black stuff is horrible. It’s damaging my skin. Look, pimples grew after the first time.”
“Stop moving or I’ll stuff it into your mouth.”
“That’s what you said the last time.”
Tiffany’s steely glare makes Taeyeon’s hair stand and she claps her hand over her mouth to protect herself from harm.
“Put your hand down.”
Taeyeon shakes her head. Over my dead body.
“Put it down.”
With a grunt of exasperation, Tiffany puts the brush down and grabs Taeyeon’s arms, spinning her around. Taeyeon ends up with arms twisted back but she refuses to be docile. She pushes back, forcing Tiffany up against the wall behind them and pinches her.
“You fight like a ten-year-old, Kim Taeyeon.”
“You won’t say the same if I pinched you with my full potential.”
“I warned you.” Taeyeon pulls her arms free from Tiffany’s grip and turns around. “You’ll cry.”
“If I don’t end up crying, I’ll give you two layers of the camo.”
“Don’t regret it.” Taeyeon cracks her knuckles and flexes her fingers. “Here it comes.”
“I told you so.”
Tiffany is glaring at her while rubbing her arm. “But I’m not crying. And this is not going to save your life in an emergency situation.”
“You never know in life. Anything can happen. Expect the unexpected.”
“Shut up. Get camo-ed and get going. If we miss the timing, your life will be in danger.”
“No problem, I’ll just pinch my way out of it,” Taeyeon quips airily.
Tiffany just grunts as she resumes slapping on the camo on Taeyeon’s face.
Tiffany watches the monitor as Yoona and Sooyoung strut to the reception in the Elgoog building. The confident ladies smile and Tiffany can hear Yoona talking to the receptionist. She states her appointment with Nicholas and has the receptionist suitably distracted.
“Lobby cloned. They have thirty seconds,” Agent Seulgi reports.
Tiffany nods and speaks into her ICE. “Thirty seconds, Paper Girl.”
The monitor has split into two different views. The original footage and the cloned footage of Yoona and Sooyoung talking to the receptionist. Anything more than thirty seconds of cloned footage would begin to raise the suspicions of security. Taeyeon has to move fast.
Tiffany watches as Taeyeon slinks past Yoona and Sooyoung unnoticed. “Black Pearl. Twenty seconds.”
Once Yuri is flat against the wall beside Taeyeon and safely out of the security cameras’ range, Tiffany taps Agent Seulgi’s shoulder and speaks into her ICE again. “Elevators.”
Taeyeon and Yuri stay out of sight as Yoona and Sooyoung make their way to the elevators. They enter and Tiffany hears them loud and clear.
“Nicholas is a nice man,” says Yoona.
That’s the cue.
“Paper Girl, thirty seconds. Alarms disarmed.”
The security footage is cloned and Taeyeon emerges with Yuri beside her. Together, they pry open the elevator doors and slip into the shaft. They are in.
“This is kinda fun,” says Yuri as they slide down the metal cables in the shaft.
“I just wanna get out of this alive.”
“Lighten up will you. This is a way better plan than we’ve ever had. It’ll be fine.”
“I’ll lighten up once this gob is cleaned off my face. I’m currently too camo-ed to lighten up.”
“Ha-ha-ha, very funny.”
“We’re here,” says Taeyeon, reading the depth measured by her wrist ICE. “B3.”
“B3 cloned,” Tiffany’s voice announces through the ICE wedged in her ear. “Three minutes.”
“Push me to the side,” Taeyeon tells Yuri. She clings onto the metal ledge after Yuri gives her a push and fishes out the mini-ICE previously used on the Baby Bottles. “Shine some light over here, will you?”
With Yuri’s light shining on the panel, Taeyeon opens it and inserts the mini-ICE. It blinks red, then green. Leaving it in the slot, Taeyeon pulls herself to the other side of the elevator doors. “Up here. The vent.”
Yuri nods and pulls herself up. Her impressive upper body strength has her up there in no time, and unscrewing the vent cover. “After you.”
Taeyeon reaches for the edge and hauls herself into the vent with a hoist from Yuri before turning back to help Yuri in. Once the vent cover is replaced, they take the first right turn and head till they see some light.
“This is it,” Taeyeon whispers.
“Now you wait,” says Tiffany.
“Sure, we love lying still in cramped places,” Taeyeon replies.
“Don’t be a jackass, Paper Girl.”
Yuri gives her a thumbs up and slides further back to give herself more space. Then she proceeds to lie on her back and close her eyes.
“Whatever you do, don’t end up snoring,” Taeyeon says with a grin.
Yuri flips her middle finger and goes back to sleep.
Looking at her cramped surroundings, Taeyeon sighs again.
“You’re like an old woman. Sighing all the time.”
“Stop insulting me when I can’t fight back,” Taeyeon hisses.
“It’s a test of your endurance, Paper Girl.”
“I’m going to sleep. Goodnight.”
Three hours later, Taeyeon is still lying on her back, getting stiffer by the minute. Sounds of the scientists and researchers chatting as they leave the lab drift into the vent, giving her hope that the action will soon be on.
“They’re leaving,” she says.
“Make sure they’re all gone before going in.”
“I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Watch that tone, Paper Girl.”
Suppressing a growl, Taeyeon waits as patiently as she can until the light streaming into the vent through the cover is gone.
“I think they’re all gone now,” she reports. “And the light’s off.”
“Proceed with caution, Paper Girl.”
Taeyeon swears she will dump a truck full of paper over Tiffany after this mission is completed. If she even hears Tiffany calling her Paper girl one more time . . .
“Paper Girl, report status.”
Taeyeon growls as she slides to the vent cover and checks. “All clear.”
“Great. All systems go.”
“Black Pearl, open the cover,” Tiffany gives the command and Taeyeon’s heart begins to pump harder. The mission is finally kicking up a notch. This is the real deal now.
Pointing at the vent cover, Taeyeon slides past it to give Yuri space. The taller woman gives her the thumbs up and sets about opening the vent cover. This particular cover is secured by twice the number of bolts and that hampers Yuri’s progress.
“Ninety seconds,” Tiffany’s voice comes through again.
Taeyeon pushes up against Yuri and peeps through the gaps in the vent cover. The room beyond it is in complete darkness except for the glow of the emergency exit sign. It is definitely safe. “Test Lab Y,” she reports through the wrist ICE.
“Got it,” says Yuri as the vent cover opens.
“I’m going in,” Taeyeon declares and slides out the vent, feet first. She drops and rolls, then waits for Yuri to join her. “Heading out.”
Tiffany’s voice comes through. “Three minutes. Corridor.”
Taeyeon pulls out the cloned security card and taps it on the lock. “I need the password.”
“Coming right up,” Tiffany replies.
Three seconds later, Taeyeon presses the password as Tiffany reads it one at a time. The lock glows green and makes a happy beep. Taeyeon opens the door and peeps out the corridor. There is no one.
“Corridor,” Taeyeon reports.
“Three minutes,” Tiffany replies.
“Move, move,” Yuri chants as they jog down the corridor and around the corner. They come to a stop in front of a thick metal door. Painted across it in bold are four letters.
C.O. R. E..
This is it. This is the where the Mind Reading Chip is.
“Operation Deal Breaker starts now.”