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    “Where should we go now? Where are we going?”

    “For now, to the escape pod port.”

    The woman from room 8 kept talking as she followed closely behind me.

    “Why are we going to the escape pods?”

    “People will be gathering there to escape. If not there, then at the elevators.”

    “Uh… Do we need to escape right away? Are we in a dangerous situation?”

    The woman asked me with a bewildered expression. Hearing her questions made me even more flustered.

    “The dormitory you were just lying in is filled with water up to your chest, and you’re asking if it’s a dangerous situation? Could there be a more dangerous situation in an undersea base?”

    “I forgot my passport in the room. We can’t go back, can we? ……Doesn’t look like it.”

    Seeing me quickly lock the door connected to the flooded dormitory stairs, the woman hastily added the last part. Then, wringing out her wet clothes, she asked me:

    “If there’s a water leak somewhere, won’t the engineers fix it? There were over 50 engineers.”

    “First, we need to get out of the undersea base quickly.”

    “So we can escape using the escape pods instead of the elevator? I’ve never used an escape pod in the undersea base before, have you?”

    Hearing these questions, I realized this person didn’t know anything about the current situation.

    “You didn’t hear the broadcast, did you?”

    “There was a broadcast? As you saw from my state earlier, I was busy making the most of my day off. I’m Tumanako Oranga. I’m from New Zealand, and I’m the resident hairstylist of this undersea base.”

    Tumanako extended her palm energetically, and I reflexively shook her hand. There was a hair salon in the undersea base? There was nothing about that in the guidebook.

    “I’m Park Moohyun, a Korean dentist who came here 5 days ago. Was there a hair salon in the undersea base?”

    “It’s only been here for about a month. It’s next to the escape pod port in the 3rd Undersea Base, so people don’t come often. It’s quite slow because of that. I hope it stays unknown forever, but then the salon itself might disappear due to lack of customers. I’d like it to be moderately busy. Don’t you think the same about your dental clinic?”

    “I might have thought that at first, but now I don’t think anything.”

    “I heard that people living in the undersea base requested a dental clinic and a hair salon the most. As you know, both hair and teeth become a mess if you don’t take care of them consistently. I’m new here too. Nice to meet you.”

    Tumanako said this with a smile. I nodded blankly. Although Tumanako had just been submerged in water up to her chest moments ago, she didn’t seem to care about it at all.

    The undersea base guidebook that Seo Jihyuk gave me must have been translated a long time ago, as it didn’t mention anything about a hair salon created a month ago. Well, the same goes for the dental clinic. As we started walking side by side towards the escape pod port, Tumanako looked at me and casually asked:

    “How do you like working here? I’ve only been here for a month, but I think it’s really, really good. It’s my first time having my own hair salon. Plus, there aren’t many appointments yet, and they pay a lot since it’s a salary system. They provide accommodation and three meals a day. Where else in the world can you find a place like this! It’s absolute heaven.”

    Uh… What should I say? Listening to Tumanako’s story, I felt like my mind was slipping out through my nose. I was so desperate to quit this job. Hearing such contrasting sentiments made my head hurt.

    “I… I’ve only been here for five days.”

    “Really? It must all feel so new. I never imagined I’d be working in an undersea base either. As you can tell from my name, I thought I’d be rejected as soon as I submitted my resume.”

    “Why?”

    “Huh?”

    “Why did you think you’d be rejected?”

    Tumanako looked surprised at my question.

    “Ah. I guess you Asian people don’t discriminate based on names?”

    What is she talking about? ……Can you discriminate based on names? Hire for some names and not for others? Do they use name fortune-telling in the hiring process or something? Is it because I’ve never been an employer in my life? It was hard to imagine. Maybe it’s a form of discrimination I’ve never experienced.

    “How do they discriminate based on names?”

    When I asked, Tumanako looked at me as if surprised. It was an expression like she had stepped into a culture she had never encountered before.

    “My name doesn’t sound like a white person’s name living in New Zealand, right?”

    “All I know about New Zealand is that the kiwi bird that lived there went extinct.”

    Kiwis went extinct like dodos, suffering from dehydration due to heat waves and droughts. Tumanako laughed lightly at my words and said:

    “My name is in the Maori language. Just submitting a resume with a name like this to a big company like this would usually mean instant rejection. I didn’t think I’d get in either. Have you seen the names of the Australian and New Zealand engineers?”

    “No.”

    “They all have white names. I was worried they might take away my contract and kick me out during the first month here, but now I’m starting to get used to it.”

    ……I had never thought about it like that before. Is it because I’ve never worked in such a multinational environment? Would Tumanako not have been able to get hired under normal circumstances?

    I imagined Priya taking away my employment contract right now and kicking me in the butt while chasing me back to Korea. I would probably run out of here cheering. They don’t even have to pay me for the five days I worked.

    Recalling all the dark aspects of the undersea base I had learned over the past three days, I suddenly realized I could never go back to that moment when I first marveled at the interior of the central elevator. Was I too shocked by the room growing opium poppies? As if affirming it to myself, I said to Tumanako:

    “I’ve only been here for five days, but I’ve decided to quit.”

    It felt like more than a week had already passed. The events I experienced on my day off were more challenging than the five days I worked. Tumanako seemed not to understand me. With a slightly worried expression, she asked:

    “Why? Is the food not to your liking? If you’re having trouble with seasickness or noise from living in the undersea base, you can get earplugs or medicine from the hospital on the first floor. Are you depressed because you can’t get sunlight?”

    “No. Those things are fine.”

    What should I tell Tumanako first? I remembered asking Baek Ae-young about life in the undersea base after I first started. Didn’t she say it was a bit… difficult? I didn’t realize then how much meaning was compressed into those words. Is this what it feels like to see a newcomer who has unknowingly entered hell?

    When we arrived at the escape pod port, the surrounding floor was flooded. It seemed that the people from the White Tiger dormitory had already entered the escape pod port. I quickly told Tumanako the most important part of what I had broadcast:

    “We need to leave the undersea base without using the escape pods.”

    “Really? Why?”

    “Because they’re broken.”

    As we entered the escape pod port, everyone inside looked at me. I never thought I’d receive the gazes of so many people in my life. I felt like I was being crushed under the weight of their stares. There were more people than I expected. Tumanako, who was following me without much thought, flinched. Then she said to me:

    “Everyone’s looking at you.”

    I know. Well, it can’t be helped. They must have heard the broadcast. ……Let’s handle this one step at a time.

    As I walked down the corridor, I acutely felt how light my body was with the backpack on. There was no cat, snake, or child on my back.

    I saw Vladimir laying Henry down on a dry spot where the Engineer Da Team had gathered. I’m glad he’s safe. I approached Yoo Geum-yi first, who was near the Engineer Ga Team.

    “Yoo Geum-yi. I’m glad you made it out safely. You said the cat wasn’t in room 64?”

    “What? Yes. It wasn’t there. Is the cat so small that I couldn’t find it? How big is it?”

    “Hmm. It’s about 6kg. It’s not a size you could miss.”

    It’s not a cat small enough to overlook. When the alarm went off loudly, the cat’s fur puffed up making it look huge. Where could it hide? Yoo Geum-yi shook her head.

    “I shook out the blankets several times, but it wasn’t there.”

    “……Thank you for looking.”

    Then where did the cat go? Did it slip off the bed and fall into the water? Can cats swim? Is it still trapped in the flooding White Tiger dormitory? That kind and gentle creature wouldn’t go anywhere on its own. And no one took it.

    At that moment, I recalled the image of Emma running out of the elevator with my backpack, disappearing into the sunlight. If Emma had escaped with the cat and snake. If that’s why the cat isn’t in the undersea base, how did that happen? How should I make it happen again?

    While I was lost in thought, someone approached with large strides and grabbed my collar with one hand, lifting me up. In the blink of an eye, my body was suspended in the air. Vladimir held me up and said:

    “You little rat bastard.”

    With a man over 190cm tall lifting and shaking me with one arm, I was completely disoriented. Even though he was just grabbing my collar, it was hard to breathe.

    “Are you playing with me?”

    I have nothing to say even if I had a hundred mouths. But if I hadn’t told you that your team member was there, if I had said a child was sleeping in a flooding room, you wouldn’t have gone to rescue them, would you?

    Vladimir was pulling his right hand far back. I had seen Nikolai get hit like this when he wasn’t fully sober. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes tight, bracing for the incoming palm. Just spare my eyes. The surgery costs if they’re injured are no joke. Teeth, well. I know many dentists.

    When I didn’t feel any pain on my face after a few seconds, I opened my eyes slightly. Vladimir’s right hand, which was about to fly towards my face, was stopped in mid-air.

    Shin Haeryang was holding Vladimir’s right forearm. Seeing me suspended in the air, Shin Haeryang said one thing to Vladimir:

    “Put him down.”

    “This has nothing to do with your team.”

    “He’s a Korean civilian.”

    As Shin Haeryang finished speaking, a flash of annoyance crossed Vladimir’s face.

    “Two of our team members are missing.”

    Still holding Vladimir’s arm, Shin Haeryang replied:

    “I know.”

    “How could this bastard have known about Dmitri being missing in that situation?”

    “Team member management is the team leader’s responsibility. If you want to argue about negligence in management, punch your own face.”

    Shin Haeryang replied coldly. ……Mr. Shin Haeryang. If you’re going to talk like that to someone who woke up to find water leaking and two team members missing, why didn’t you just watch me get beaten? From the perspective of someone suspended in mid-air, I could see the members of both teams gathered around their team leaders.

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