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    Deep Pivot Episode 57

    “Lieutenant Ji, take a look at this before going in.”

    In a classified area of the center, Colonel Jin handed Seo-joon a file.

    “That interviewer from the video, we did some digging. Turns out he’s our guy. Completely blindsided us with his trail.”

    The video in question, featuring an unknown interviewer, had been acquired through a broker in China. This broker had sold the footage to several countries, including South Korea. The U.S. had already identified everyone in the video.

    “Our source in the U.S. uncovered him. His name is Viktor Barinov, real name Park Seong-geun. Dual citizenship. He was with the Sino-Russian Joint Special Forces.”

    “Dual citizenship in China?”

    “Not allowed. He’s been officially declared dead in China.”

    The man had changed his nationality to Russian while serving as the dedicated guide to Sergei Onopko, a Russian non-Esper of the joint special forces.

    However, this wasn’t done through official channels; he was declared dead.

    Both men understood how the emotional impact of guiding affected the relationship between Espers and guides, so it wasn’t hard to guess Viktor’s story.

    It was likely because of Sergei. Russia would have disapproved of a Chinese guide matched with a rare non-Esper from their country and would have used Sergei as leverage to coerce Viktor. Declaring him dead and giving him a new nationality would have been easy for them.

    Thus, China probably had no idea he was still alive. No nation would take kindly to losing one of their Espers overseas.

    “His recent movements have been odd. He terminated his contract with Sergei about three years ago and left the Russian special forces. There’s no record of him after that.”

    “When was the interview video shot?”

    “Ten years ago.”

    Seo-joon studied the man’s photo in the file. In this older photograph, his head wasn’t shaved. The picture seemed dated, and his face looked youthful.

    “Alright, understood. Let’s head in.”

    Closing the file, Seo-joon said. The security staff searched him and opened the door. Entering the interrogation room, Seo-joon faced the man. Separated by a long table, they sat across from each other.

    The man gave a slight smirk and nodded in recognition.

    “Look at you, kid. Still in one piece.”

    His distinct baritone voice echoed through the small interrogation room. Hearing his voice not through a video but right in front of him brought back memories of that day’s pain, sending chills down Seo-joon’s spine.

    “Thanks to someone buying me some time. If my head had exploded like you said, I wouldn’t have recovered so quickly.”

    Seo-joon finally had the chance to examine the man’s face closely. For a guide, he was rather lean, with sunken cheeks that made him appear older.

    “Why insist on an interpreter?”

    “Because it doesn’t concern my country.”

    The man’s dialect wasn’t too strong, making his words relatively easy to understand.

    “Is China still your country?”

    “The place you grow up in is always your homeland.”

    However, just because the man could hold a conversation didn’t mean it was easy to discern who he worked for. Seo-joon placed his clasped hands on the table.

    “If you plan to hide, do it thoroughly.”

    “I’m running out of time.”

    The man leaned forward, raising his cuffed hands to tap his forehead in the middle.

    “I’ve got a ticking time bomb in my head.”

    “…”

    “I’ve got things to say before it blows up, but if there’s someone in the middle, I can’t say them.”

    He glanced at the camera in the corner of the interrogation room, seemingly bothered that he was being recorded.

    “You’ve seen it, right?”

    He turned to Seo-joon with a quick question.

    “The video of Seryozha.”

    Sergei Onopko. That was the name of the No-Name Esper from the interview video. Seo-joon nodded, having read the file moments earlier.

    “Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Just like you.”

    Seo-joon frowned.

    “What do you mean?”

    The man chuckled and then looked directly at the camera, raising his voice as if he wanted to be heard.

    “These kids around here don’t know anything.”

    He leaned forward, staring up at Seo-joon with intense eyes.

    “You should understand the words of a senior guide.”

    “The only things I’ll understand are why you tried to kill me or who ordered you to do so.”

    “There is no ‘higher-up.'”

    “So you acted on your own?”

    Ridiculous. Seo-joon played along, though.

    “At the very least, I can find out why you wanted me dead. Why?”

    “To become a hero.”

    The man answered plainly. Seo-joon locked eyes with him for a while.

    “Many people must want me dead if that’s enough to make you a hero.”

    The man glanced at the camera again, tapping the table with his index finger while nodding toward it.

    “Turn that off. I want to talk to you alone.”

    “That’s not possible.”

    “It won’t do you any good to let them hear this. Still okay with that?”

    Seo-joon looked toward the mirror on the wall. He stood up and approached the man, choosing not to turn off the camera.

    — Lieutenant Ji.

    “It’s fine.”

    Seo-joon responded to Colonel Jin’s voice through the speaker.

    “We have our policies, so I can’t turn off the camera. And I don’t want to grant your every demand. But.”

    Seo-joon removed the microphone device from his belt.

    “If I do this, whispered words won’t be picked up well over there.”

    He pulled out the cable and mic hidden under his shirt and switched it off right in front of the man, who silently watched.

    “This is the most I’ll concede to you. I don’t care what you have planted in your head. If you try anything funny, I’ll crush you.”

    The man leaned in close to Seo-joon.

    “I have a question.”

    Seo-joon leaned forward to listen.

    “How much time do you think you have left?”

    Their gazes met. The man stretched out his slow speech even more after seeing Seo-joon’s expression.

    “I’m asking how long you have until you lose control.”

    Seo-joon couldn’t discern the man’s intentions, so he turned the question back on him.

    “How much time do you think I have?”

    “How would I know?”

    “If you’re just playing games, I’ll stop this now.”

    Seo-joon reached for the microphone device to turn it back on, but the man urgently grabbed his arm.

    “Seryozha went rogue.”

    “…Weren’t you his guide?”

    The man seemed determined to convey his message clearly. He tried to suppress his accent and spoke in slow, deliberate Korean.

    “I made Seryozha go rogue.”

    “…”

    “Seryozha wanted it.”

    Seo-joon looked beyond the mirror. An absurd thought crossed his mind. The one who was likely behind that glass, though unseen—Cha Yeon-woo.

    The man continued, “Ji Seo-joon, No-Named Esper of South Korea.”

    At that moment, a red dot appeared right in the middle of the man’s forehead. Even though they were in a secure indoor area deep inside the center, Seo-joon instinctively turned his head, searching for a sniper.

    But the red dot was glowing from inside the man’s skull.

    “Listen carefully.”

    The man suddenly grabbed Seo-joon’s collar and yanked him forward.

    “Your guide will one day make the same choice.”

    Beep, beep. The red dot started blinking, accompanied by a faint noise.

    “Just like me.”

    “What―”

    “The people out there will be the same. Now it’s just me, but soon, the whole world will tell you to die.”

    “…”

    “So, how much are you willing to sacrifice? For your country.”

    The question hung in the air. And then.

    The man smiled and let go of Seo-joon’s collar. Sensing something, Seo-joon reached out to grab the man’s collar as he leaned back.

    Bang! The man’s head exploded in all directions. Blood splattered across Seo-joon’s face.

    “Lieutenant Ji!”

    Colonel Jin burst through the interrogation room door, looking shocked as he stared at the man’s body. Blood, brain matter, and bits of flesh were smeared across the walls and floor.

    “Lieutenant, are you alright?”

    Seo-joon, in a daze, stared down at the flesh stuck to his clothes. Slowly raising his head, he locked eyes with Yeon-woo, who had come in with Colonel Jin.

    Yeon-woo rushed over and grabbed Seo-joon’s shoulders, asking if he was okay while checking him for injuries. Seo-joon stared blankly at Yeon-woo.

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