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    Loves Error

    #026

    It wasn’t the first time he had heard that. Ha-gyeom wiped the dripping water from his chin with the back of his hand and replied.

    “So, what are you going to do about it?”

    If it were Baek Seung-woo, Ha-gyeom would never have dared to act so insolently. But this was Baek Sa. He stared back at him defiantly, without showing any sign of being intimidated. Baek Sa shook his head and took a step closer.

    “Shut up and just wash.”

    He moved close enough to block Ha-gyeom’s view with his shoulder and gripped the flimsy partition. The threatening gaze made Ha-gyeom flinch.

    Ha-gyeom quickly pulled his face back into the shower area, not forgetting to close the partition thoroughly.

    He couldn’t afford to be completely relaxed. Conscious of Baek Sa outside the partition, Ha-gyeom finished his shower. After drying himself roughly, he put on the clothes the child had given him and stepped out. Baek Sa was still standing there.

    Water dripped from Ha-gyeom’s hair onto the nape of his neck. Baek Sa, watching him intently, suddenly lifted Ha-gyeom’s t-shirt. The bandages wrapped around his waist were soaked. It had been better to wash them off since the wound was still fresh.

    “What are you—”

    Ignoring Ha-gyeom’s protest, Baek Sa quickly unwrapped the bandages. With water soaking the wound, it was hard to predict how it would heal. Baek Sa pressed a dry towel to the wound with the same indifferent look he had when he stitched it up.

    “I’ll call Dr. Cha to treat you properly. I hate dealing with sick people.”

    It was an unnecessary threat since Ha-gyeom hadn’t asked for anything. If the wound got worse, it might interfere with guiding, so it made sense.

    Annoyed, Ha-gyeom snatched the towel from Baek Sa’s hand.

    “I’ll take care of it.”

    Staring at him confrontationally, Baek Sa stepped back and motioned towards the entrance. With an exasperated sigh, he placed his hand on his hip and walked ahead.

    As Ha-gyeom followed him out of the shower room, he saw the gathered ability users scatter like cockroaches.

    ‘So, that’s why he stayed by the shower partition.’

    The thought struck him that without Baek Sa’s presence, he might have ended up like a monkey in a zoo or worse. While Baek Sa’s actions were likely just to ensure guiding, it was still a chilling realization for Ha-gyeom.

    A small pillow and blanket were placed on each bed. There was also a locker for storing belongings, but Ha-gyeom had nothing to put in it, so he left it empty.

    The pain from his wound started to become noticeable. As he struggled to climb onto the bed, Baek Sa ordered the guide on the adjacent bed.

    “Teach him the rules in detail to avoid any trouble.”

    “Yes, Baek Sa-nim.”

    It seemed that the row of beds where Ha-gyeom’s was placed belonged to the guides. It was common sense for Espers and guides to live separately, but in a place like this, such expectations were a luxury.

    Spreading the blanket, Ha-gyeom collapsed onto the bed and covered his face. Although a thin sheet couldn’t separate him from the world, he desperately wanted to be alone for just ten minutes.

    Baek Sa, who had been watching him, checked his wristwatch. The setting sun cast a red glow into the shelter.

    “Lights out in three hours.”

    Even though he didn’t raise his voice, everyone turned to look at him. Or rather, everyone had been watching him all along, so no extra effort was needed.

    Baek Sa pointed to the CCTV cameras around the ceiling with his chin.

    “You all know what happens if you cause trouble, right?”

    The ability users responded like they were brainwashed. Some nodded, but no one showed any sign of rebellion.

    The only exception was Ha-gyeom, who had just arrived. His bed, protruding like a python, remained silent.

    Baek Sa, looking at Ha-gyeom as if he were a troublesome child, started to walk away with his typical indifferent expression.

    The ability users exchanged glances, their curiosity piqued. In the suddenly quiet room, the sound of Baek Sa’s footsteps echoed in Ha-gyeom’s ears. He was nervous about what other reprimands might come, but fortunately, the footsteps didn’t come closer.

    With a thud, the door closed. The irritating murmurs started up again. The center, his name, the battle before he was captured, Representative Kim, his son, Yujin, Baek Sa… The conversations about him hammered into his ears like shouts.

    Ha-gyeom was horrified.

    By the fact that he had become part of this place again.

    * * *

    Upon waking up, Ha-gyeom found himself surrounded by about half a dozen ability users standing around his bed, staring at him like grim reapers in the dark. He peeked out from under the blanket, wary.

    “…Should we just kill him?”

    “Are you crazy? Didn’t you see Baek Sa’s eyes earlier? Touch him, and we’ll be dead before we know it.”

    “So, are we supposed to just live happily ever after without revenge?”

    Ha-gyeom had relied on the CCTV, but if it was a model that didn’t work at night, that would be a problem. He perked up his ears, quietly observing. With at least three Espers among those standing around, acting hastily could get him killed.

    “It’s not just about Baek Sa. What do you think will happen if we mess with an S-class guide? He’s a resource, a resource. Even ten A-classes can’t match up to one S-class. Now that Ah-rang is dead, there are only three S-class guides left, including him.”

    The central center generally had friendly relations with all the districts, but District 0 was an exception. The numerous operations the center had conducted to restore order and fight crime were seen by District 0 as unwelcome interference or blatant appropriation.

    Ability users “rescued” by the center became its resources. Ha-gyeom, having been one such rescued ability user, understood this contradiction better than anyone.

    Ha-gyeom recognized one of the speakers by his split-dyed hair as the dyed-hair Esper who had fought with Han Youngjae. It was natural for those directly involved in operations to harbor more resentment.

    “They didn’t even give him a private room, so they must want us to let off some steam.”

    “Forget it. When guiding, they strip you down completely. How could we not get caught?”

    …Did they not realize he was awake and listening? Their casual conversation was making Ha-gyeom increasingly uneasy.

    “We don’t need to dirty our hands. Dr. Cha will handle the revenge for us.”

    Someone suddenly suggested, and they all laughed in agreement. What kind of revenge was that eccentric planning? Ha-gyeom could only imagine him mumbling like a pervert.

    “Thinking about it that way, I feel a bit better.”

    “Let’s go back before we get caught. We’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future.”

    The ability users, having reached a consensus, glared at Ha-gyeom before spewing curses and returning to their beds. Ha-gyeom swallowed dryly, watching them.

    As he turned over in bed, he saw the guide who had received orders from Baek Sa. Their eyes met in the dark, and the guide frowned slightly.

    “Do you know what they meant?”

    “…You’ll find out tomorrow.”

    Reluctantly, he answered, closing his eyes as if signaling he didn’t want to talk further.

    Staring into the darkness, Ha-gyeom couldn’t fall back asleep for a while.

    ***

    Just as the guide had said, Ha-gyeom learned the meaning of “Dr. Cha’s revenge” the next morning.

    At 6 AM.

    Everyone woke to an ear-splitting alarm. As the guides quickly washed up in the shower room and lined up next to their beds, Ha-gyeom joined them, thinking it was a process to check energy levels or control abilities, much like at the center.

    A mercenary who looked like Tae-seong stood at the front of the guide line. As they left the room and descended endless stairs, Ha-gyeom began to sense something was wrong.

    Their destination was not a research or examination room but the purification system room.

    Though the center had a purification system, the scale of this one was at least five times larger. At least twenty cylindrical columns, each with a diameter of 10 meters, stretched out so far that the end wasn’t visible.

    The thought that all of these were filled with the guides’ energy was dizzying.

    “Don’t dawdle, keep up!”

    The mercenary at the front shouted. Ha-gyeom hurried to keep pace with the guide ahead.

    ‘How in the world do they extract so much energy?’

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