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    Shin Hae-ryang stared at the pad for a long time before turning it off, handing it back to me, and saying cleanly, “Let’s head to the main control room.”

    I must have unknowingly smiled. Shin Hae-ryang looked at me for a few seconds before opening his mouth to speak. Before he could say anything, Sofia, who had been talking to Vladimir, spoke to us softly.

    “We’ll be going to North District.”

    Carlos, as if waiting for the Russian team to speak, said with a booming voice, “I’ll go with the Russian team to North District as well.”

    As Shin Hae-ryang glanced at Baek Ae-young beside him, the latter just sighed. It seemed like that was the sign of agreement from their team. Seo Jihyuk was telling Nikolai to save a spot for the escape pod.

    “Should we write a post on the underwater bulletin board in case there are people from the Engineering Team?”

    Sofia, who looked at me after hearing this, shook her head. Her dark brown hair swayed like thin threads.

    “Irina and Dmitri wouldn’t be easily killed, but they also aren’t the type to want their teammates to risk their lives for them.”

    I flinched at the firm voice of the woman who appeared to be in her early twenties. Was this their way of saying to survive on their own in dangerous situations? I had heard that each team had a different atmosphere, but it seemed that these people were all about self-preservation.

    “What about the child?” When I asked Vladimir, who was now carrying the child on his back after passing Seo Jihyuk and myself, he replied as if it was obvious. “Since you saved him, you take care of him.”

    How cold. The Siberian weather wouldn’t be as cold as this.

    Shin Hae-ryang took the child from Carlos, whose legs were trembling. Carlos gave a thumbs up to Shin Hae-ryang before sticking close to the Russian team. As they entered the central square, they headed north.

    Vladimir, who was at the back, said, “Let’s meet on the surface, Doctor.”

    “See you later.”

    Vladimir waved his left hand a few times before pointing to his wristwatch and putting his index fingers together. It seemed to be directed at Shin Hae-ryang, but he completely ignored it.

    Baek Ae-young waved to Nikita. “See you later!”

    I could hear the distant sound of “Dasvidaniya!” I waved my hand in response.

    A few seconds later, after the Engineering Team disappeared from view, Shin Hae-ryang said, “The person trapped in the main control room is Korean.”

    “Eh? How do you know that?”

    “The writing style, the fact that the first post was written in Korean before being changed to English, and the emoticons. It’s probably Kim Gayoung, a researcher in the main control room.”

    Only then did I realize that a few sentences of the post I had read were in Korean. I laughed at the absurdity of not even knowing what language I had read due to my everyday use of both English and Korean. Upon hearing Shin Hae-ryang’s words, Yoo Geum-yi’s expression brightened a little.

    “It’s really lucky if Gayoung is still alive.”

    “Isn’t it unlucky? She’s trapped in the room right now.”

    Seo Ji-hyuk unfolded the blueprint of the main engine on the pad and said, “The whole main engine is dead. If the main engine’s electrical system isn’t completely dead, this seems to be broken.” He vigorously tapped on my pad.

    ‘Aigoo! You’ll break it like that!’

    “At least, wouldn’t it be a little less scary since we’re trapped together with five people?”

    Hearing Yoo Geum-yi’s opinion, Baek Ae-young, who had been writing a post on Yoo Geum-yi’s pad, made an awkward expression. “Wouldn’t the carbon dioxide in the room fill up faster?”

    There wasn’t a single good suggestion. Were they all engineers? With no choice, I decided to take responsibility for the positivity in this place. “We can get out of here sooner if we go. Don’t worry too much.”

    “That’s right. There’s no way that eonni [1] would die easily.”

    We exchanged vague positivity and applied it to our wounded spirits. Meanwhile, Baek Ae-young posted the article.

    [su_note note_color=”#eeecee” text_color=”#000000″ radius=”8″]

    Title: Going to the main engine now.

    Content:

    Who’s in the room? What’s the situation in Room 77? Are there any objects for breathing, swimming, or avoiding water pressure?

    [/su_note]

    Baek Ae-young spoke as if to justify herself while I was reading the post.

    “I asked just in case. There’s one crazy person I know who keeps a BCD vest, an air cylinder, a parachute, and a fire extinguisher next to his bed, saying you never know when he’ll die.”

    Isn’t that a serious anxiety disorder? I asked while walking diligently to leave the large central square and waiting for replies or additional posts. Around here, there are places like restaurants, cafes, and a central lounge where people use them daily. Of course, there is also a dental clinic in the corner.

    I consciously stopped my gaze from going in the direction of the dental clinic and asked Yoo Geum-yi, “What kind of person is Ms. Kim Ga-young?”

    “Ga-young is a researcher who studies seawater purification. She came here to study the restoration of marine pollution, which is severe. She’s really amazing. I want to get a Ph.D. soon, too. …Or maybe I just want to quit.”

    Her last words changed to self-mockery. After realizing that the main engine research center was visibly gone, Yoo Geum-yi began to look increasingly depressed. I decided to keep her talking.

    “What research does Ms. Geum-yi do?”

    “I study marine life.”

    “Like deep-sea squids?”

    “Ha ha ha. Something like that.”

    Then the conversation stopped. Looking at her slumped shoulders, I realized that my conversational skills were really pathetic and closed my mouth.

    “Ga-young used to share snacks with everyone.”

    Seo Ji-hyuk, who had been walking ahead of us, chimed in after listening to our conversation.

    “Snacks?”

    “My eonni enjoys baking, so she’d rent out a restaurant once in a while to bake macarons and cookies. When she’s stressed, she makes a batch and shares it with people around her since she can’t eat them all. She also holds bakery classes about once a month. At that time, she’d sell the baked goods at the central square for the cost of ingredients.”

    Baek Ae-young smirked as if she had tasted them before.

    “Ga-young’s hands are quite skilled. She can bake 60 or 70 cookies at once.”

    “What have you tried?”

    “I’ve had her chocolate cookies and macarons, and what was the name of that small lemon-flavored one?”

    “Lemon madeleines. Madeleines.”

    “Oh, right. That was the most delicious one. How about you, Team Leader Shin?”

    While carrying a child on his back, Shin Hae-ryang momentarily pondered over Seo Jihyuk’s question before answering,”Uhm…cookies with lots of almonds.”

    “Was there such a thing? Geum-yi, have you tried it?”

    “No, I took all of Ga-young’s cooking classes’ leftovers, and there was nothing like that. What about you, Ae-young?”

    “I haven’t tried it either.”

    “This seems suspicious.”

    “Almonds are even hard to come by.”

    I also shrugged with a slight smile. “It must be delicious.”

    Although people were teasing the new team leader from all sides, Shin Hae-ryang remained unfazed. He simply walked at a leisurely pace towards the end of the line. I admired him internally. His gait was the same even with a six-year-old child on his back.

    “Stop.”

    Seo Jihyuk, who was walking at the front, stopped immediately upon hearing the command. A rumbling noise could be heard in the distance. It sounded like low thunder, but it was impossible to tell where it was coming from. Suddenly, the ground shook slightly with a rumbling sound. I plopped down on the spot like a sack of gold.

    As the vibration subsided a bit, Baek Ae-young spoke up, “Is that the sound of metal bending?”

    No one responded.

    No way. It couldn’t be true, right?

    “Could it be an earthquake?” as I asked nervously, Shin Hae-ryang, who was beside me, shook his head. “It shouldn’t be an earthquake. The base was built in a location that’s slightly off the seismic zone, and it’s designed to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7 or higher.”

    It was a submarine base that was said to have spent money from nearby North Pacific countries in every direction. Even if an earthquake occurred, the base might shake, but it wouldn’t collapse. I remembered a documentary where an expert proudly introduced this fact. In my mind, I was already imagining that the place was hit by an earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher. Please, let it not be true.

    Seo Jihyuk asked Shin Hae-ryang with a worried expression, “What should we do?”

    “We have to keep going.”

    Shin Hae-ryang helped Yoo Geum-yi, who was sitting on the floor, to stand up. Since their hand didn’t reach me, I got up on my own. As we left the central corridor, we soon entered the main control room. At first glance, there seemed to be no issues with the bridge connecting the main control room and the central building.

    [su_note note_color=”#eeecee” text_color=”#000000″ radius=”8″]

    Title: Water is slowly filling the room.

    Content:

    There’s nothing but food and books. What should I do? I’m in room 77!

    Please save meㅠㅠ I’m Kim Ga-young from the Underwater Pollution Center.

    [/su_note]

    After showing it to people, Baek Ae-young let out a sigh and asked, “What should we do?”

    “We don’t know if the main control room collapsed less. When we saw it, the lights of the main control room were all falling in the darkness, so we thought the dormitory building had also collapsed.”

    “Then, only the research center might have collapsed, and we’re not sure if only the front part of the dormitory building collapsed. Wasn’t the room number at the end, so it survived?”

    “Even if the individual room doors are well-sealed, they’re not strong enough to withstand external water pressure, so they wouldn’t have been exposed to the outside environment, right?”

    While Seo Ji-hyuk and Baek Ae-young were discussing the technical aspects of how they could survive in a room filled with water, I couldn’t take my eyes off the window as I passed by the bridge. Something was passing by outside the window, and the object outside seemed to shimmer due to the light.

    It was hair.

    A bundle of very long yellow hair was passing by the window. Shin Hae-ryang forcefully hit my shoulder. As his well-defined arm forcefully pushed my shoulder from behind without much effort, my body turned 90 degrees to the side.

    “Don’t look and let’s go.”

    Then, he pushed my back with one hand. I was forced to take two or three steps and completely lost sight of the window.

    “Just now… That.”

    Shin Hae-ryang stopped pushing my back and opened his mouth, then pushed Yoo Geum-yi’s back.

    Yu Geum-yi spoke calmly with a pale face, “It seems her head exploded.”

    “Huh?”

    “We’re 3 kilometers underwater. Can you imagine the pressure! With a human’s fragile body, they would explode as soon as they’re exposed to the outside. We wouldn’t even find the pieces!”

    So, the flesh-like things attached to the end of the long blonde hair earlier were pieces of scalp.

    Seeing my completely disgusted expression, Yoo Geum-yi bit her lip and then spoke, “Although there are many blondes in the underwater base, there aren’t many with hair that long.” Recalling the endlessly long and flowing blonde hair, Yoo Geum-yi asked, “Who is it?”

    “It could be Angela Malone, the director of the Deep-Sea Life Center. Or maybe Camilla from the Engineering E-Team. Both have hair long enough to reach their hips. It’s probably Angela, right?”

    Baek Ae-young whispered cautiously to Yoo Geum-yi in a low voice, “Camilla cut her hair short a few days ago. She said it was too difficult to wash. It’s likely Angela.”

    “Seeing that makes my head itch,” Seo Jihyuk scratched his short hair and quickly walked past the window.


    Author’s Note

    Underwater Base 4th Level

    North District

    West District

    East District

    South (Central District)

    –> Central Research Center

    1. elder sister in Korean, a calling for someone who’s older than you[]
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