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    While it may seem abrupt, Woo-jin had been thinking about this the entire taxi ride as well. He agonized over how to phrase it and when to bring it up. He wanted to take Jae-chan to his place. Even if they didn’t do anything, he wanted to spend the night together.

    Jae-chan was speechless. Gazing into his round eyes, Woo-jin earnestly added:

    “Of course, I’ll take you home in the morning. Not too late.”

    “…”

    Jae-chan blinked a couple of times. Wasn’t he reluctant to let others into his house? No, that wasn’t important. Jae-chan’s eyes suddenly brightened, and he raised the corners of his lips while firmly grasping Woo-jin’s hand.

    While this meant he wouldn’t actually be giving Woo-jin a ride home, he could do that next time. What to do now has been decided. He wanted to guide him, and he didn’t want to let go of their clasped hands, so accepting was only natural.

    And that night when Jae-chan did not return to the dorm.

    A suspicious shadow loitered in front of the darkened hallway.

    Finishing his evening shift and returning home with brisk steps, Jeong Noah noticed the shadow. Having had an encounter with a stalker before, he immediately stopped a short distance away and asked cautiously, “Who’s there?” Hesitating, the shadow retreated. Soon, the sound of a woman’s heels rushing down the opposite corridor echoed. In the dim lighting, an untimely summer sandal was revealed.

    Suddenly, the sandal was left behind as they slid off. While Noah Jeong was perplexed, a pale hand slowly came out of the emergency exit. The white hand snatched up the sandal before vanishing without a trace.

    *

    – Sunbae, did something good happen?

    That weekend, Jae-chan was teaching his apprentices through video conference. Hearing Song Se-in’s puzzled voice, he realized he needed to manage his expression.

    It was four days ago that he resolved the misunderstanding with Go Woo-jin and restored his relationship to how it was before. Phone calls and messages were continuing more frequently than before. He had even called Woo-jin just to hear his voice right before this video conference with the apprentices. It was only natural now that they were dating rather than just a sponsor and beneficiary.

    Composing his expressions coldly, Jae-chan deliberately changed the subject for the juniors’ sake. Hae-sol had stepped out to retrieve a workbook, leaving only Se-in, Myeong-gyu, and Kang-man present.

    “Did something good happen to you guys too?”

    – Not a chance. We’re in dire straits.

    Song Se-in replied lifelessly. The junior Guide evaluation was less than a month away. Her dejected voice continued, questioning why Guides even needed to know the criteria for Esper rank assessments.

    – Among misfortunes, there are also good things. The workload at the center is similar. We have the same amount of study time as other team trainees, but we get extra points every day…!”

    “Then just slack off relying on that extra credit. You only need to avoid failing the written exam.”

    – …But I won’t get assigned to District 1.

    “Then study hard.”

    At Jae-chan’s nonchalant response, Sein snorted, but the senior showed no particular reaction, as if unbothered. Feeling embarrassed, Se-in opened her problem notebook filled with sticky flag tabs. Han Myeong-gyu and Choi Kang-man also asked about problems they couldn’t understand despite the explanations.

    Meanwhile, as Jae-chan was working through the problems, he suddenly lifted his gaze. It was because Hae-sol had returned, opening the door with an armful of workbooks from beyond the monitor. Jae-chan felt his back automatically straighten and his head lower as if summoned before a senior of incomprehensibly high rank long ago.

    Suddenly, Jae-chan remembered what happened the day before he sent them to Zone Z. After the conversation with Woo-jin at the guiding barracks, it was inside the car as they moved to Training Facility A.

    ‘How about being dispatched to Zone Z?’

    After completing various calculations, when asked about their intentions, Song Sae-in and Choi Kang-man expressed their intention to participate when the opportunity arises, as if they had been waiting. Han Myeong-gyu gave an ambiguous response that he would go if all his peers were going.

    Hae-sol, who had remained silent until the end, requested a separate consultation with Jae-chan after getting out of the car. In the empty office she entered, she asked a rather peculiar question.

    ‘If I don’t go, will you go, Sunbae?’

    What was the intent behind that question?

    Jae-chan couldn’t give a proper answer to a question that he couldn’t understand at all. It felt like solving high-difficulty past exam questions would be easier. While Jae-chan couldn’t come up with any answer, Hae-sol seemed to have found her own answer. Her slight nod with a dejected expression was the reply she gave that day.

    Even now, he couldn’t figure out Hae-sol’s feelings. Jae-chan swallowed a sigh. In any case, he was determined to treat Guide Nam Hae-sol well unconditionally.

    “Alright, don’t rely on extra points and study hard.”

    Jae-chan clapped his hands and continued his thoughts. Offering to look after the apprentices’ studies was part of that resolution. Just like guiding Woo-jin on Mentosa Island or guiding Han Roy, Jae-chan couldn’t shake the feeling that he had taken away opportunities rightfully belonging to Guide Nam Hae-sol.

    Unlike in the past, Woo-jin no longer required Hae-sol as a Guide. Therefore, Jae-chan intended to take responsibility and support her so that she could remain in District 1 even without serving as a guide for an S-class Esper. If possible, he hoped she would achieve an outstanding score in this evaluation that would be a lasting asset to her career record.

    After about an hour and a half of helping the juniors with their problem-solving, Jae-chan ended the session.

    “You’re the real oddball here. Enough already. You’re the only reason my team’s apprentices badmouth me.”

    The recently returned Jeong Noah grumbled as he changed clothes, but Jae-chan paid no mind.

    After Jeong Noah entered the bathroom with a towel, Jae-chan, who had been stretching his arms and shoulders, sat back down at his laptop.

    He opened the project file. In fact, he hadn’t taken a break at all lately. Whenever he rested even briefly, the thought of dating Woo-jin made him feel like soaring to the heavens, but then his mood plummeted as he worried about whether it was really the right choice. He was concentrating on work to avoid distracting thoughts.

    The size of the project file had increased significantly compared to before.

    [Official incident]

    1. Massive burial of explosives discovered at the ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of President Gyeong Jeon-seok’s inauguration (✓)

    2. Universal Park hostage situation (✓)

    3. Kidnapping of the President’s maternal nephew, Han Roy (✓)

    4. While tracking a drug trafficking organization, a guide group experienced an outbreak of mental illness → Under investigation

    5. Area 5 nuclear power plant protests and explosion

    6. Four years later, the rebel ‘Black Swan’ appears

    Jae-chan scrolled down to check the items he had organized at the end of last year. They had also been recently modified.

    -The connection between Go Woo-jin and Black Swan??? → None (tentative conclusion)

    Jae-chan looked at the project file objectively, ignoring his heartbeat that was trying to react to Woo-jin’s name. During the previous Mentosa Island incident, he had suspected Woo-jin of supplying the bomb due to lingering questions about who provided it, but that suspicion was largely dispelled after receiving data files related to the drug organization from the person himself.

    Jae-chan clicked on the item “4. While tracking a drug trafficking organization, a guide group experienced an outbreak of mental illness → Under investigation.” A pop-up window appeared with the information Woo-jin had sent.

    The file Woo-jin handed over included the structure and income system of the unofficial organization run by the President, in addition to the drug factory work. Among them was information that they were collaborating with defense companies to develop military weapons. When Jae-chan asked Woo-jin about what happened on Mentosa Island last year, he readily informed him that he had received bombs from Gyeong Hye-in. To be precise, she stole the President’s homemade bomb without permission.

    For a moment, Jae-chan’s fingers twitched restlessly on the mouse. Woo-jin’s cautionary words echoed in his mind:

    ‘I hope you don’t get involved in anything dangerous.’

    The information Woo-jin sent this time about Gyeong Hye-in and President Gyeong Jeon-seok who would be behind her barely scratched the surface. Jae-chan could have bet 20 billion won that Woo-jin sent superficial information on purpose.

    While it was the kind of information that could invite major blowback if poked at recklessly,

    What troubled Jae-chan was that this was not all the data he had on the President. He clicked on the subcategory ‘JS’ at the bottom of the file.

    Information on President Gyeong Jeon-seok’s corruption came out one after another like Wikipedia. Somehow, Jaecan had ended up acquiring an astounding amount of information about the President, far more than about Black Swan.

    Although it was said to have not been distributed in earnest yet, the list seemed endless – not just the recent drug production, but also human rights issues on Mentorsa Island, suspicious circumstances surrounding the suppression of rebels 30 years ago, destruction of cultural heritage, secret connections with defense companies, production of custom-made bombs, disregarding hostage safety during the Universal Hostage Crisis, deliberately ignoring contact from kidnappers, and so on. There was so much that he had no choice but to create a separate category for it.

    Woo-jin really overdid it.

    Jae-chan let out an astonished laugh. If Black Swan had directly massacred civilians through random acts of terrorism, President Gyeong Jeon-seok would have been no different from indirectly harming the Union citizens.

    Still, it was too early to confront the President now. Challenging the upstart Black Swan, who had not even fully emerged yet, was on a different level from challenging a dictator who had ruled the Union for 30 years.

    But if he grew stronger later on, then at that time…

    ‘It would be a matter for the distant future.’

    After resolving the Black Swan issue, he would have to utilize this data someday, even if he was an old man by then. Jae-chan kept the data reserved for the future.

    Jae-chan closed the project file and the likely candidate areas where the President’s drug factory would be located were marked on the world map. Jeong Noah, who finished showering quickly as always, came out of the bathroom shaking off his brown poodle-like hair, and spoke.

    “Did you see anyone suspicious person in front of the dormitory lately?”

    Jae-chan, who was leaning on his chair, just looked up at the sudden remark.

    “Suspicious person?”

    “I think I might have a stalker.”

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