15. A sword is how you wield it, in the end.
Sunny paced back and forth across the carpet of the office that had so recently been occupied by eight other bodies. She’d stuffed her fists deep into her pockets in an attempt to otherwise keep still. The flip phone that had flashed Yuri’s brief command just moments before had been thrown into a corner of the couch, half-slipping into the crevice between armrest and cushion. As far as Sunny was concerned, it could slip all the way down and stay forgotten, along with all the other…things that had come with it this past week — it hadn’t even been a week, had it?
It didn’t make sense for her to go anywhere, she reasoned. The entire property was certainly being monitored, the secret entrance also definitely under close watch. Any attempt she made at moving might not be resisted, but she would be tailed for sure. And that was one experience she was hoping to avoid for a long time yet.
The logic didn’t stop her from thinking, though. Seohyun was still out, somewhere even Jessica wasn’t aware of. Yoona had presumably gone back to her trailer, if only to keep up pretenses. Sooyoung had mentioned going home as well, after stopping by Yoona’s place to at least attempt to feast away their sorrows, courtesy of the stash of snacks the stunt double had — “to keep up my energy, unnie,” Yoona had insisted with a grin when Hyoyeon looked like she was about to make another comment about the multiple stomachs the younger woman surely possessed.
Hyoyeon, who was now nursing a broken Taeyeon — well, perhaps not entirely shattered, Sunny mused, but the artist had taken the worst physical beating out of any of them during this entire ordeal, and she really did seem the frailest of them all, like a piece of tissue paper torn by buffet after buffet of wind.
Jessica had had enough of it all, apparently, retreating to her office and demanding to be contacted only when Seohyun decided to show up again. Yuri — Sunny’s brow furrowed. If Yuri sent the message, did that mean she was in immediate danger? Running from it at this very moment, while Sunny did nothing more than wear a trench in the carpet.
And then Tiffany — Sunny suppressed a groan. Tiffany was undoubtedly with Red Velvet, but with the warning message, there was no telling what the other woman would do; honestly, Sunny wouldn’t put it past her to have already booked five tickets for the next flight out of Seoul to the United States.
Sunny decided she would give Tiffany a call.
The line connected on the second ring. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing yet,” Sunny said immediately, because Tiffany sounded like she was prepared to jump out of a five-story window if Sunny so much as hinted there was danger. “Did you get Yuri’s text?”
“Yeah.” Sunny heard shuffling, maybe of papers. “I think I need to get everyone out of here.”
Sunny suppressed another groan, realizing how stupid she had just been. “Wait, Fany don’t tell me anything–”
“Our taxi will be here soon,” Tiffany continued, as if Sunny hadn’t spoken. “As soon as Joy finishes packing, we’re good to go.”
Stop talking, Sunny almost said. They’re probably tapping our phones. And then she paused. “Where are you going?”
“Can’t tell you that,” Tiffany answered lightly. “But there’s only two international airports in this city, right? You’ve got a fifty-fifty chance.”
“I’ll take those odds,” Sunny agreed. “Stay safe, okay?”
“When have I not?”
Sunny stood with the phone still pressed against her ear for several seconds, carefully turning over the conversation in her head. Tiffany never called (Park) Sooyoung by her stage name. So did that mean…?
Sunny tossed the phone back onto the couch, where it could slip back between the cushions for all she cared. As long as she could find Yoona’s trailer, she was bound to find Choi Sooyoung, and apparently Tiffany as well.
Furious pounding on her door made Yoona sit up with a start. Sooyoung made a vague noise of protest, lunging forward to barely save the bowl of popcorn that had already been precariously balanced on the younger girl’s lap before the disturbance.
“Unnie,” Yoona hissed, “be ready, okay? Just like we planned.”
“I’m not climbing onto your sink and out the kitchen window,” Sooyoung retorted. But she set the bowl down and walked the five paces into the trailer kitchen area. Yoona grabbed a prop sword from under the couch they’d been lounging on and gripped it in both hands, raising it over her shoulder.
“Why do you look like a gangster from some old Japanese movie?” Sooyoung hissed. “It’s a sword, not a bat.”
“It’s not a real sword, unnie,” Yoona hissed back. “I can hold it however I want.”
“Guys, open up! If I get kidnapped now, it’s all your fault.”
“Oh. I know that voice.” Yoona straightened, tossing the sword into a far corner, where it landed on top of a pile of what looked like an interesting mix of Joseon dynasty robes and garden tools. She opened the door. “What’re you doing here, Hyoyeon-unnie?”
Hyoyeon huffed as she stepped into the trailer. “Taeyeon kicked me out.”
“Kicked you out?” Sooyoung repeated, returning to the couch. “Out of your apartment. Taeyeon. Who has one good leg. If she kicks you then she literally has no leg left to stand on.”
Hyoyeon groaned. “Look, she gets these moods sometimes. Says I mess with her ‘aura’.” She wiggled her fingers in front of Yoona’s face for emphasis. “Starts throwing things, tantrums and perfectly good frying pans included, if I don’t clear out fast enough.”
“Is that safe, though, unnie?” Yoona frowned. “Now she’s all alone. If someone comes after her, no one can fight them off or help her get away.”
“Which is why I came to find you guys for help.”
“Couldn’t you have just called us?” Sooyoung leaned forward to check one of the cellphones lying on the coffee table. “No missed calls or texts.”
“Okay so funny story.” Hyoyeon walked over to Yoona’s prop and costume pile, poking at the sword hilt thoughtfully. “Our phones no longer work.”
“Huh.” Sooyoung glanced at her own phone again. “You’re right. There’s no signal.”
“And it stays that way all through the city,” Hyoyeon added.
“Unnie,” Yoona said slowly. “Doesn’t that mean that, I don’t know, something bad might be happening soon?”
“Which brings me back to my previous point.” Hyoyeon spun back around. “Taeyeon kicked me out so that I could warn everyone else.”
Sooyoung stood up. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
“I was going to, before someone,” Hyoyeon glared at Yoona, “started asking questions.”
Yoona only sighed.
“Okay, this is bad.” Sooyoung had pulled out her regular phone and was now frowning at the screen. “No signal on this one either. Or internet. How’re we going to find anyone else?”
Yoona bit her lip. “Okay, Sooyoung-unnie, you stay here, in case anyone comes looking for you. I’ll drive Hyoyeon-unnie back to her place so we can take care of Taeyeon-unnie, and then we’ll try to find everyone else.”
“Wait!” Sooyoung reached out and grabbed Yoona’s wrist. “What if there’s a change of plans? Or something new comes up?”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Hyoyeon cut in, one foot already out the door. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”
“Thanks, unnie,” Yoona called over her shoulder. “We’ll be back soon.”
The trailer door slammed shut. Sooyoung slumped onto the couch, sinking a little further into the surprisingly comfy cushions once she heard the sound of a car engine starting. She sighed and propped her feet up on the coffee table, nudging the bowl of popcorn aside, but otherwise leaving it untouched.
“So,” Taeyeon said from her seat at the kitchen table, sipping from a mug of tea. “To whom do I owe the displeasure?”
One of the men pushed his sunglasses a little further up his nose before clasping his hands behind his back once again. “We’re just here to make sure you don’t go anywhere, Taeyeon-sshi.”
Taeyeon would have snorted, but that would mean that she would have had to spit out her drink. She settled for an exaggerated eyeroll. “Oh, you’ve taken care of that quite well already, thank you very much.”
The other man shifted his stance slightly. “We also ask that you give us the location of Kim Hyoyeon, since she does not appear to be here at the moment.”
“Give you?” Taeyeon did snort this time. “Give you? I literally have nothing left to give. You torched my entire apartment. I would even go as far to say that you took away my mobility, although I guess it was my fault that I dove in the way of that shelf–but it was a perfectly nice shelf if you hadn’t rigged it to fall in the first place, so there, also your fault. For all I know, you’re the reason I even got jury duty in the first place–”
The first man took one step forward. “Kim Hyoyeon’s location, if you would, Taeyeon-sshi.”
Taeyeon leaned back in her seat. “Fine. She went to get a new burner phone. Since ours mysteriously no longer work. So we can add that to the list of things I’ve already given– hey! You can’t just leave in the middle of my performance art piece. I haven’t even gotten to the extended metaphors yet.”
Hyoyeon’s apartment door swung shut. The remaining man took a step to the side, placing himself squarely between Taeyeon and the exit.
Taeyeon nodded. “I guess it’s just you and me, then.”
Something knocked against the window. The man frowned. “What was that?”
Taeyeon shrugged. “Squirrel, probably. Seoul has squirrels, right?” She tilted her head when a similar noise came from the bedroom.
“Quiet.” The man pulled out a gun from the holster under his jacket and stepped closer to the hallway. Taeyeon watched intently as he slowly opened the door to the bedroom, and then inched his way inside.
“Hey unnie, it’s me.”
To her credit, Taeyeon only elbowed Yoona a little bit in response to the sudden whisper by her ear. The younger woman winced, but crouched beside the chair and motioned for Taeyeon to get on her back. Then Yoona straightened, grabbing the crutches from where they were leaning against the counter. The front door was propped open with a shoe (Taeyeon belatedly noticed that one of Yoona’s feet was bare). Yoona quietly snuck out into the hallway, and then she held up her wrist, staring at her watch intently.
She shut the door just as a rock struck the bathroom window. Not that Taeyeon heard it, because she was busy being piggybacked down the stairway.
“Thank goodness Hyoyeon-unnie only lives on the second floor,” Yoona puffed.
“Are you calling me fat?” Taeyeon asked, putting as much offense as she could into her voice.
“No, just too heavy for my frail stature.” Yoona opened the door and stepped outside, where Hyoyeon was waiting by the car. “Okay unnies, let’s get out of here.”
Once Yoona had pulled into the Seoul traffic, Taeyeon spoke up from the backseat. “So that was the most talking I’ve done in probably my entire lifetime. If I don’t speak ever again, that’s why.”
“Okay then.” Hyoyeon waved a hand. “That means that I can interpret your art any. Way. I. Want.”
“I’m over it,” Taeyeon said. “I can talk again. But seriously, if that adrenaline rush is what you get every time you ski down a hill, you can count me out.”
“Consider yourself officially invited.”
“That was pretty cool secret agent stuff that you did though. He had a gun and everything. You guys weren’t scared?” Taeyeon leaned forward so she could prop her chin on the back of Yoona’s seat. “Did you learn to be that badass from all of your action movies?”
“Actually,” Yoona said as she made a right turn, “Hyoyeon-unnie came up with throwing the rocks at windows to draw that one guy away from you, and timing it with the door opening and closing so that he wouldn’t notice.”
Hyoyeon nodded firmly. “Yeah. Just call me a secret agent mastermind.”
Taeyeon hummed. “How did you know that there was only one guy?”
“Well, we saw one guy leave,” Hyoyeon said, “and we figured they wouldn’t send more than two people to guard a person who couldn’t even walk.”
“So you’re saying that you decided to test your luck.”
“Pretty much.” Hyoyeon laughed, and let Taeyeon punch her in the shoulder.
“It’s mostly cesium,” Seohyun said once they’d sat down at one of the back tables in the library. “An incredibly reactive alkali metal.”
Yuri blinked. “Okay, so I understood maybe half of those words.”
“It reacts with water and basically makes a big explosion,” Seohyun explained. “It’s so sensitive that it’ll explode even when exposed to the moisture in the air. But these plans show a way to somehow make a cesium weapon. The results may not be on the same level as an atomic bomb, but it definitely has the potential to be very, very dangerous.” She glanced down again. “See, there’s even a bit here that talks about adding sodium, which will give more time to generate hydrogen, which can then also catch fire–” Seohyun finally noticed the other’s slightly dazed expression. “And that’s the gist of it.”
“Okay.” Yuri massaged her temples. “Woolen wants to make these bombs, probably gets involved in some shady dealings, the director gets caught by Seo Jisoo on a sketch phone call during said shady dealings, so then she’s framed to keep her quiet.” She took a breath. “Cool. Great. We figured it out.”
“Unnie,” Seohyun whispered, eyes wide as she stared past Yuri’s shoulder, “we should probably run.”
The two slipped out the back door. Yuri chanced a glance behind them, catching sight of a pair of men walking quickly towards where they’d been sitting. “You should ask Jessica to stop making sunglasses. I think I’m going to get triggered every time I see a pair from now on.”
“I’ll bring it up with her next time I see her,” Seohyun promised, tugging the older woman’s hand as they began to run. They rounded the corner, into an alleyway. Seohyun skidded to a stop when she noticed the chain-link fence in front of them. “Oh no. Dead end.”
Yuri whipped around. Their exit was blocked by their two pursuers. “Next time, maknae, let’s get you a map.”
“Good idea,” Seohyun said, and then squeaked when one of the men lunged forward. Yuri pushed her forearm into the younger woman’s stomach, sending Seohyun a couple of steps back. At the same time, she raised her knee and kicked their attacker square in the temple.
Yuri watched him drop to the ground, unconscious. “Wow. That went way better than I thought it would. Good job, Yuri.”
“Unnie,” Seohyun murmured as two more shadows stretched into the alleyway. “Reinforcements.”
Yuri cracked her knuckles. “Bring it on. Stay behind me, okay?”
The alleyway was narrow, which meant that the men had to approach one at a time. Yuri ducked and wove, punching and kicking at the nose, chest, knees, and then somewhere in between (maybe she had actually learned something from that one American movie Tiffany had playing in the background one afternoon). She managed to knock out her opponent again, but when she looked up after flipping the hair out of her face, she noticed that the other two were walking away. “Hey, where’re you going?”
Yuri spun around, just in time to watch Seohyun being dragged through the now open gate of the fence and into a waiting vehicle. “No!” Yuri slammed into the fence a second after the gate was once again closed and locked. She jammed the toes of her shoes into the chain links and began climbing. But the car had driven away by the time she’d made it up halfway.
Yuri dropped back to the ground, threaded her fingers through the links. She shook the fence with straining muscles, its rattles almost drowning out the image of Seohyun banging feeble fists on the window of the vehicle that had taken her away.