Theory of Paradise - Chapter 8
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2 o’clock in the afternoon. City Federation Central School Cafeteria.
It was past lunch time, but the cafeteria was still full of people. This is because Seo Jae Hee, who had been away from school for 15 days, returned yesterday and only opened the dragon breeding room under his authority this morning. It was a spectacular sight to see all the students taking the ‘Dragon Breeding and Communication’ class lining up in a long queue in front of the dragon breeding room. He was there to feed dried ladybugs to the dragon he was in charge of and to write a journal of its communication that had been delayed for 15 days.
The faces of the students who skipped lunch to see the dragon brightened up when they made eye contact with the dragon, while the other students who decided to go to the canteen first because they thought they were going to die of hunger while waiting in line put a bag full of colorful dried ladybugs on their waiting spots before they left.
“Did Senior Jae Hee have the keys to the nursery? I knew that he was managing the herb greenhouse, but even the breeding room…”
“Didn’t you know? It’s been a while since Professor Choi handed it over to Senior Jae Hee.”
“Really? Without him, the school won’t be running at all. Who will sit in the position of dispatch manager if he graduates next year?”
“It’s going to be hard for anyone to take his role when that time comes. Jung Yoon Hwan is already a handful, but now the military even sent the murder weapon to school…”
“Shh, over there. She can hear us.”
Yoo Eun Woo waited in line, and when it was her turn, she got on to the measuring instrument. As soon as she relaxed her body while grabbing the handle, a red card that took into account Yoo Eun Woo’s health condition half popped out. She pulled it out and went to the bin. They were divided into five colors. The transparent door opened automatically when a red card was inserted into the red box. Yoo Eun Woo put her hand into the serving tray and took out her paper bag. She sat down at the nearest table, opened the paper bag, and slowly pulled out the packaged food.
While pulling out the energy drinks, energy bars, and nutritional supplements from the pack, Yoo Eun Woo opened one of the plastic packs first. Inside, the dry grain powder made a subtle sound. She opened a glass bottle, poured the powder into the plastic bag, sealed it, and waited. When the fizzling subsided, she opened the pack. With a spoon, she mixed the contents and slowly scooped it out. It tasted like socks that had been soaked in water for several times.
Most of the students that were judged to be healthy mentally and physically receive every meal in a green box. While students with chronic diseases, fatigue, or allergies sometimes received different colored cards. However, Yoo Eun Woo had been getting a red card since she entered school. As a stress-relieving meal, Yoo Eun Woo’s condition proved to be bad.
“They said she had a fight with Baek Il So yesterday. She poured blood on him from a bucket.”
“Baek Il So? That bastard from the second year? Aren’t the kids who confront Yoo Eun Woo really crazy? Yoo Eun Woo is from the military. She was right under Kim Seo Hyuk, why would you touch a kid with a 100 tuning rate and was a murder weapon? Does he have a death wish?”
“But isn’t that weird? She just played around with the kids for 15 days, but did not fight with the guns. It seems to me that there is something wrong with her.”
“Of course there will be. That’s why she was thrown out of the military. Still, she must be skilled. Wasn’t she in the military before? Don’t mess with her. She could still kill you. Is her tuning rate really 100? I wonder if it will continue that way…..”
“Hey, she pulled out her gun yesterday. There was a 100 on the barrel, but at that time Senior Jae Hee and Senior Ye Won were there so they did not fight….”
“Wow, is it really 100? What’s her damage-strategic ratio?”
“I heard that Eun Woo is taking the test this afternoon. Do you want to skip class and watch? Senior Jae Hee booked the test room at 4 o’clock. Let’s watch her take the test and we’ll find out the reason why Yoo Eun Woo was abandoned by the military.”
Yoo Eun Woo folded the empty plastic bags one by one and put them in a paper bag. She ripped open the energy bar and ate half of it. The sticky chocolate and hard grains clung to her mouth uncomfortably. Far from relieving the stress, if she kept this diet for a few more days, she might dry out.
“But Baek Il So was really pissed off. He went completely crazy. He went to the student council and racked up penalty points yesterday. I don’t know what he’ll do next time.”
“Who cares? Killing Yoo Eun Woo is not considered murder. Besides, no one can do anything to Baek Il So if he mentions his dad’s name. He will submit a few statements to the military for vandalism and the issue will be presented by the media as an accident.”
She was out of breath. Yoo Eun Woo barely chewed the energy bar and swallowed it. She took a drink and gulped it down. Still, she felt like she had an upset stomach. She was merely having lunch at an ordinary cafeteria at school. However, she was the only one standing on thin ice, so she kept choking on her food. She lowered her left wrist under the table to prevent the other students from seeing. The IF had been activated.
Seo Jae Hee. Level 3 of protection strategy in action.
The golden letters were clear. Seo Jae Hee’s effort to go through her memories was disgusting as it reminded her of her military days. But Yoo Eun Woo herself also lied to take advantage of Seo Jae Hee for her own benefit. Even if she could not help but rationalize 100 times, there was this fact that she could not let Seo Jae Hee die because she was on bad terms with the other students. It was called responsibility.
She glanced at the open bag that sat on the empty chair next to her. There were three books that she read so many times that she became restless. ‘120 Standards of Strategic Design’, ‘15 Minutes a day of Strategic Design’, and ‘Core Strategies to Boost Your Partners’. Also a notebook with a scrap of strategic dyslexia treatment cases.
‘Your condition is congenital. Just give it up.’
The mocking sound of her colleagues in the military. Sarcasm. Sympathetic gazes.
Yoo Eun Woo raised her left wrist and looked at the IF’s watch. It was past two o’clock. The test was at 4 o’clock. Still, she thought that she could read a few pages before her test.
Yoo Eun Woo put the nutritional supplements in her mouth all at once. When she stood up after tidying up, she could no longer hear the other students murmuring.
About a week or so after entering the school, Yoo Eun Woo was not tested because no one could operate the testing room. Since she wasn’t scheduled for any classes, she could not even make a timetable. Even though Yoo Eun Woo could not attend a single lecture and still got into trouble with other students, there was nothing she could do. All she had in her hand was a suitcase packed loosely by the military and an admissions guide that was kept in the main building of the school. She could not even use the library because she did not have a student ID yet.
There was no way the school could be happy with Yoo Eun Woo, who was thrown away like an old bag by the military. She thought that she would be killed early, so she thought they were only delaying it because of the painstaking procedures like necessary registrations and several other things. There was only one way to stay safe in the dormitory, but it was nothing more than to avoid the hostility of the other students for a while. In addition, her three other roommates in the four-bedroom dormitory were either being difficult, afraid, or ignorant towards her.
Yoo Eun Woo worked diligently for a full month. No one taught her, so she had to do everything on her own. She went around every corner of the school like a squirrel with a school map at the back of the admission guide. She meticulously recorded with her pen what she had seen and heard. She seemed to have found a treasure when she found a space in which other students did not go to.
During the day, she acted as if she had nothing to fear, confronting other students’ hostility with her body. She pretended to be tough in such a way that they might think of losing if they earnestly fought against her with a gun. At dawn, she snuck out of the dormitory, squeezed into an unnoticeable space that she found during the day, and studied design strategy while holding her breath.
As always, there had been little progress in her studies.
Still, she could not give up.
Her goal was to obtain citizenship by successfully graduating from school without failing a design course. Or to return to the military again after being recognized by Kim Seo Hyuk. She did not have any other way. She could not figure it out herself.
Visiting a human rights group, providing information to the media, answering questions about the blood that she could not even remember, and resolving the accusation about the military treating her inhumanely were all considered to be luxuries.
How could I survive? Could I overcome my design dyslexia? How can I go back to the military? That was all she had been worried about.
There were things in the world that you could not do no matter how hard you try. There was one time when she indulged in self-improvement writing like an obsession, because she was really afraid of the words people commonly said. If you wish hard for it, it’s bound to come true someday. She was chanting it like a spell.
As she made her way to Building No. 9 while carrying her bag after a quick meal, Yoo Eun Woo prayed anxiously to a God that she did not know whether they existed or not.
Please let me succeed during the design strategy test. Even though it’s my first time taking the test, please make it so that the shot would explode right away. This is a crucial turning point for me, so please, please help me.
The small storage room under the stairs from the second floor to the third floor of Building 9 was the most secretive and comfortable space that Yoo Eun Woo had found, despite the sign that said ‘Cleaning Supplies’. The Ceiling was slanted because it was under the stairs and there was a small window in the front, so sunlight and wind were able to pass through it. The view was so good that she almost cried. Unused desks and old glass bottles were piled up one after another. There was an old chair under the window, and a clean blanket was spread over it. She thought that someone came from time to time, but she never ran into them.
There should be no one here. Yoo Eun Woo opened the storage room door and took a step inside.
But there was someone. A boy was sitting on a chair, looking out of the window as he placed his right arm on the window frame and rested his chin on it. The sun was shining over the back of his white school uniform. Perhaps sensing the door open, the boy tilted his head and looked towards the entrance.
“What the hell.”
The male student frowned and looked at Yoo Eun Woo. He had omitted the tie and vest jacket that came with the school uniform and was only clad in the uniform’s shirt, pants, and sneakers instead. He even had his uniform shirt’s sleeves rolled up. The collar of his shirt had a turquoise third year badge on it. His hair, which looked light brown under the sun, looked as fluffy as a chick’s feathers. He was as beautiful as a watercolor painting. However, he wore a sour expression that looked as if he had chewed something awful.
Yoo Eun Woo was at a loss for words. He was too pretty for a person. She was not surprised to see one or two handsome people in the military or at school, but he was different. Compared to the meticulous neatness created by Seo Jae Hee, this boy was still shining even if you put ashes on his face.
Yoo Eun Woo immediately came to her senses.
“Sorry. I didn’t know someone was here.”
She bowed and turned right away. The bag fell off her shoulder. Clicking her tongue, she quickly picked up her bag and stood up. She grabbed the handle and opened the door to leave, but…
A low voice whispered into her left ear. The male student reached out from over Yoo Eun Woo’s shoulder and pressed the door shut again. Subsequently, the door was locked with a click.
Danger. She became nervous. She hurriedly tried to reopen the door, but the boy grabbed Yoo Eun Woo’s shoulder and turned her around. He was stronger than her and she had no time to resist. Her bag fell on the ground. The boy’s face was too close, so she backed away until her back hit the door. Her right hand, which was poised to grab the gun in her holster, was held back by the boy’s rough grip.
A moment later, she felt something cold running against her neck. It was a gun. The opponent pulled the trigger immediately. With no time to escape, she shuddered. She readied herself and shut her eyes tight.
Crack, she could hear the sound of glass shards spilling behind her. Yoo Eun Woo raised her head. In front of her, the three-stage protection that Jae Hee had set up was shaking. The blue transparent membrane wave made a clear sound.
“Protective design? How…”
The male student muttered. The hand that was holding Eun Woo’s neck loosened. Without missing a beat, Eun Woo tried to hit the boy’s chin with her elbow. However, he evaded the attack by a hair’s breadth and kicked Yoo Eun Woo in the stomach. Yoo Eun Woo bent over the floor.
She froze at the sight of the opponent’s gun that was pointed at her when she desperately tried to get up. The male student knelt on one knee and met Yoo Eun Woo’s eyes as she started to get up. He used the black gun and tilted Yoo Eun Woo’s face by the chin. Their eyes met and the boy muttered,
“It’s driving me, really.”
What did I even do to him? Yoo Eun Woo clenched her teeth. Even though she knew that it was useless, she habitually looked at her thighs. The gun was still in her holster.
“Look at me — You can’t even design.”
Yoo Eun Woo’s back ran cold as she stared at the male student. He smiled beautifully.
“Turn on the IF.”
How did he find out? They haven’t even tested me yet. Seo Jae Hee, who risked his life for her, was crazy. He probably would not have talked about it, and was there any man in the school who was so great as to know military secrets? Or did the military just make an official announcement? Did the media even report that Yoo Eun Woo was kicked out because she had design dyslexia? Or did it get leaked out because they were bored of waiting for her to die?
The male student sighed deeply.
“You really didn’t listen.”
He pulled Yoo Eun Woo’s right hand and put it on the IF attached to Yoo Eun Woo’s left wrist. The IF recognized Yoo Eun Woo’s fingerprint and was activated.
Seo Jae Hee. Stage 3 Protection Strategy in operation.
“……You’re paired with Seo Jae Hee?”
This translation is presented by Nocturne Translations.