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    Deep Pivot Episode 15

    Click, Yeon-woo loaded an ampoule and aimed at a parasitic egg attached to the building wall. With a dull thud, the small ampoule embedded itself seamlessly into the center of an egg the size of a human head.

    “Well done. You look like an expert now.”

    The once taut egg shriveled like a deflated balloon and began to melt from the inside. The wriggling larvae around it also flipped over and died instantly a few seconds later.

    “When the ampoule bursts, it releases a toxic gas. It’s not fatal to humans, but prolonged exposure is harmful, so never take off your mask.”

    Seo-joon, who had been supporting Yeon-woo’s arm and helping with the aim, stepped back as he spoke.

    “The same goes for the helmet. It primarily protects your head, but in this field, it also shields you from the parasite’s mucus.”

    Suddenly, a loud noise like a building collapsing erupted from somewhere. Radio transmissions poured into their ears.

    —TH TheFirstClass, a medium-sized parasite detected inside the building.

    —Correction. One large parasite.

    —TH TheFirstClass Building D, 7th floor, large parasite sighted. An adult approximately 20 meters in size.

    —Many civilians inside, request for rescue support.

    —Rapunzel standing by.

    —Nuburi Porori standing by.

    —Risk level upgraded to Level 2. Deploy a Salamander to Building D of TH TheFirstClass.

    —Multiple casualties and falls inside, request for rescue support.

    —Ghost going in.

    —Baldy entering within 5 minutes.

    —Hungry approaching. Right behind.

    “Agnes entering within 3 minutes.”

    As Seo-joon ran, Yeon-woo hurriedly followed him. Black smoke rose across the street where a luxury apartment complex was in chaos.

    “Yeon-woo, help evacuate the civilians. Move with Baldy when he arrives.”

    “What?”

    Startled, Yeon-woo’s eyes widened as he urgently called out to Seo-joon, who was turning to leave.

    “Lieutenant…!”

    Seo-joon turned back and pointed to his ear.

    “I’ll radio. Hold on to your gun.”

    There was no time to cling and worry leisurely. Left alone, Yeon-woo had to control the crowd of civilians surging out of the apartment complex entrance with other soldiers.

    —Secure the safety net at the western back gate. Control the civilians.

    —Baldy has arrived. Entering the first-floor lounge.

    Baldy? Amid the frantic radio chatter, one word popped out. He was told to find Baldy and move together.

    Yeon-woo directed the rushing civilians towards the western back gate as he hurried to the entrance of the first-floor lounge. The question of how he would identify Baldy among the soldiers wrapped from head to toe in protective gear flashed through his mind momentarily.

    Boom, thud! The canopy marked “The First Class D” crumbled down. As the entrance was partially blocked, those who hadn’t escaped spilled out through the narrow gap.

    “Aaah!”

    A middle school girl, screaming, covered her head and crouched. Ssshh, mucus from the parasite’s skin that had burst through the building’s outer wall melted the marble facade as it flowed down.

    “Save me, pleeeaase, save me…”

    The dripping mucus grazed her forehead. Her trembling voice filled with panic leaked out. Instinctively, Yeon-woo grabbed the girl trying to curl up in a corner, and looked at her forehead streaming with blood.

    Tzzzt, zzztztzt. A disgusting sound loudly echoed. Thump! Boom! The elongated body of the parasite thrashed about, smashing the building’s exterior.

    “Aaaah!”

    Eggs and mucus cascaded over Yeon-woo’s head and body, enveloping the middle school girl he was holding. She curled up in Yeon-woo’s arms, trembling violently.

    “My face is melted, oh, what do I do… Oh, mom, ohhh…”

    “It’s not melted, you’re okay.”

    It was fortunate that the person was much smaller than him. Luckily, apart from a slight scrape on the forehead, there didn’t seem to be any other injuries.

    Yeon-woo picked up a torn banner lying nearby and wrapped it around the person’s body. Although it wasn’t as effective as special protective gear, he judged it would provide some primary protection from the falling mucus.

    “Run to the back gate no matter what. Don’t stay too close to the building.”

    As he spoke, debris from the building continued to fall. Each time, Yeon-woo, frightened, pulled the middle school girl to the middle of the street and then took off his helmet to put it on her head.

    “Go now, to the back gate! Hurry.”

    “Thank you, thank you… thank you.”

    The girl, steadying her trembling legs, murmured thanks repeatedly in a quivering voice as she ran in the direction Yeon-woo pointed.

    “Save me! Please save me!”

    Somewhere, a tearing scream rang out. A man hanging from a dangerously dangling balcony railing shouted at the top of his lungs. Below him, a parasite thrashed, and inside the balcony, half-grown larvae squirmed. The railing, almost completely unscrewed, was all that supported him.

    Unintentionally captivated, Yeon-woo looked up at the man with terrified eyes. Thump! The building’s exterior wall shook with the parasite’s thrashing.

    “Aaaaah!”

    It was just as the man was about to fall. In the blink of an eye, a dark figure grabbed the man and landed on the parasite’s body before descending to the ground. The entire process lasted less than two seconds.

    —Ta-da, Ghost has arrived!

    Blinker. A term for those with teleportation abilities, though it’s embarrassing to call it teleportation for those below grade C. To be undetectable to the human eye, one must be at least grade A.

    Yeon-woo finally relaxed after seeing the man, who had been hanging from the 10th-floor railing, safely lowered to the ground. The Blinker almost threw the man aside before disappearing from sight in a flash.

    Yeon-woo helped up people who were falling and looked around. While the witnessed teleportation was fascinating, he wasn’t looking for Ghost but for Baldy.

    He needed to enter the lounge to find him, but too many civilians hadn’t yet escaped. As Yeon-woo was helping with the civilian evacuation, someone inside the lounge roughly grabbed his shoulder.

    “You! Where’s your helmet, you bastard!”

    The man harshly grasped Yeon-woo’s head, pulling him into the building.

    “You’re gonna get a serious scolding from Lieutenant Jin! Huh?”

    The man quickly looked around, searching for something urgently. He seemed uninterested in anything Yeon-woo had to say.

    “Boy, do you have nine lives? Wait, oh, there it is!”

    The man led Yeon-woo to a soldier’s corpse trapped under a fallen marble column and hastily took the helmet off the corpse to place it on Yeon-woo.

    “You’re the new recruit?”

    Before Yeon-woo could respond, the man declared.

    “I’m Baldy.”

    ✽✽✽

    The sky, once clear and bright, was now tinged with sunset. It was after a Salamander had been deployed to the scene to incinerate the adult parasite and all the civilians who had not yet escaped were driven out.

    The man who introduced himself as Baldy led Yeon-woo through the building, checking for any remaining civilians and continuing the disinfection process.

    “Hey, rookie. Come sit down here for a bit. Let’s take a break.”

    The man pulled Yeon-woo by the arm to sit on the emergency staircase and finally heaved a deep sigh.

    “Whew, it’s hot. What a struggle in the summer.”

    The man’s hair, damp with sweat after removing his helmet and mask, fell to his shoulders. He untied and then tightly retied his long hair. Following his lead, Yeon-woo also took off his helmet for a moment, feeling a bit of the heat-induced headache dissipate.

    “……You have hair.”

    Yeon-woo hesitantly voiced what he had been holding back. He couldn’t keep it in any longer. Although he knew it was just a codename, he had assumed it meant the man was bald.

    Hearing this, the man burst out laughing heartily.

    “Pak Min-gun. That’s my name. My training mates used to call me ‘Baldy’ because I was tough.”

    “Ah.”

    “And you?”

    “I’m Cha Yeon-woo. Lieutenant Ji’s…”

    “I know, Ji’s dedicated guide, right? Lieutenant Jin talks so much about you that there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t know you.”

    Apparently, while he was still deciding whether to be permanently assigned as a guide, rumors had already spread. As Yeon-woo was conflicted about correcting the misunderstanding, Min-gun pulled out a pack of cigarettes from inside his combat suit and offered one to Yeon-woo.

    “It’s okay.”

    “You don’t smoke?”

    “No.”

    Min-gun sighed as if disappointed.

    “You should learn to. It really helps get the smell of blood out of your nose.”

    Standing up to light his cigarette, Min-gun wandered around the area.

    “Ah, this is a non-smoking building. My bad.”

    Noticing a sign on the wall that read [No Smoking] [CCTV in operation], he waved at a camera mounted in one corner.

    “I’m the dedicated guide for Lieutenant Gil Tae-hee. You know Gil Tae-hee? He’s our team’s Tamer.”

    Yeon-woo shook his head, indicating he didn’t know. The cigarette tip glowed red. Min-gun exhaled a plume of white smoke, continuing with a lecture similar to earlier, about how they shouldn’t walk around without helmets like Espers, or they’d be on the fast track to the afterlife.

    “Normally, guides are just supposed to rescue civilians and keep things moving in the background. The important stuff is all done by the Espers, and we’re just… well, good for nothing but bed, really.”

    It was the first break Yeon-woo had taken since being abruptly brought to Hyoseok-dong at midday. Sitting quietly, legs drawn up and arms wrapped around his knees, he gazed out the window now purple with twilight. An extraordinary day was nearly over.

    There had been no word from Seo-joon since his last report that the parasite extermination was completed. Was he hurt? As Yeon-woo absentmindedly pondered this, a radio message came through.

    —Rookie guide, where are you?

    “Lieutenant?”

    —Are you still in Building D?

    “Yes, with Mr. Park… Baldy.”

    —Leave the rest of the disinfection to others and come down alone.

    “Okay.”

    Yeon-woo let out a long sigh without realizing it. Somehow, he felt relieved. He relayed the message to Lieutenant Park Min-gun and headed down the stairs. The thought of Seo-joon waiting below made his heart race a bit.

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