Chapter 0 - Prologue
Yoongun Jung was akin to Pluto, ejected from Kyuyoung Seo’s solar system.
She stripped him of his planetary status, and there was nothing left for Yoongun to do but wait. If he had to be relegated to dwarf planet status, desperately clinging to Kyuyoung with what little gravity remained, then so be it.
To her, he was a calamity. A disaster caused by the collision of unfortunate atoms. A veiled mass of deceit. He was the root of her suffering and cold rage. Caught in the rain and having fallen into his trap, Kyuyoung was… likely crying.
That night he pictured her tears, colder than ice, and felt his world freeze over. These were not the kind of tears that fanned the flames of his hidden desire.
Yoongun liked the way Kyuyoung looked when she cried. Whenever her dark eyes welled up with glistening tears, the back of his neck would grow hot and his jaw would twitch. He’d be struck with an unquenchable thirst, and a pang of insatiable hunger. When Kyuyoung could no longer hold it in and the tears spilled over, it felt like a supernova exploded within him.
Unbeknownst to him, Kyuyoung had become the center of his blurry, formless universe. The traces she’d left behind were so profound that he couldn’t help but chase after her. Freed of pretenses, he instinctively hunted her, completely consumed by his gluttonous desire to possess her.
Yoongun felt unable to breathe as if his regrets were a rope tightening around his throat, or fangs stabbing him repeatedly. Before realizing it, a fever had begun to rage within him. His heart felt as if it was being crushed under the pressure and heat. Yoongun realized this fever was lovesickness, but it was far too late. He no longer had the strength to hold onto her.
Kyuyoung had requested a three-day moratorium — that was all the time it took for Yoongun’s stable world to lose all order; the reality of being alone left him far more desolate than he could’ve imagined. His stunted affection was obsessive and selfish, a far cry from the rationality he normally held himself to. His twisted logic and distinct cruelty defied the boundaries of the law, and these perversions in his being had all but broken Kyuyoung. Yoongun had everything, except for her. And in his pursuit to obtain her, he risked losing everything.
The Yoongun of the past easily obtained whatever he wanted. He had taken it for granted and grown arrogant. However, despite lacking nothing and having the highest level of intellect, one person had succeeded in afflicting him with the sweetest of poisons.
Happiness, anger, sadness, excitement, envy, greed… and love.
Yoongun was a man who buried his emotions and viewed such unfamiliar feelings as a threat. In front of Kyuyoung, the catalyst of these sensations, he turned into a cunning and wild beast. Yoongun’s subconscious expression of affection was aberrant, twisted, and excessively cruel, and it was what had led him to the present moment.
It didn’t take much to deduce what would happen next. She would leave him.
That night, Yoongun remained trapped in orbit around Kyuyoung as always. He used to despise imperfect things, but now he had become the most inadequate man in the world. He knew nothing. He didn’t understand what caused a romance to bud, how to sustain it, or what lay at the end. For Yoongun, love was an unsolved algorithm. A maze without a map. Misunderstanding disguised as understanding. It was an unprovable hypothesis and an abyss of depths unknown.
He had thrown a rock in to test its depths, but it had returned striking him in the heart and making him bleed.
Love laughed in his face.
Act 1: Algorithm (noun. a finite sequence of well-defined instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation.)
4:59 AM. Just like he had yesterday and the day before that, Yoongun awoke like clockwork. There were no exceptions. On weekdays, he woke up at 5 o’clock, and on weekends, he slept until 7. He kept this schedule without fail.
Not long after Yoongun sat up in his bed, the time on his phone switched from 4:59 to 5:00, triggering the alarm. He tapped the screen with his long fingers and turned off the alarm before it had the chance to ring.
Walking into the bathroom, he set about brushing his teeth and washing his face as usual, and then stepped into the shower. As his drowsiness washed away with hot water, Yoongun reviewed his plans for the day. This was the time he spent organizing his thoughts, a habit he tried to allow for each day.
Once showered, he made his way to his dressing room. The digital clock on the built-in dresser read 5:21 AM. His morning showers always lasted 20 minutes, give or take a minute or two.
As he thumbed through his closet, he looked over his suits, neatly pressed and arranged by color. Even the neckties and shirts were arranged perfectly as if they were part of a display at a department store.
Yoongun did not have a good sense of style. In fact, he knew next to nothing about fashion. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, he had taken a job at an American company where there was no dress code. However, now that he was back in Korea, he had to put a lot more effort into his appearance. As someone who valued productivity over aesthetics and appearances, he was baffled by this aspect of Korean culture. This had resulted in much trial and error on his part.
People used to comment on his choice of attire, which initially consisted of a checkered shirt overlaying a plain white T-shirt, that he paired with basic cotton pants. As told by one of his colleagues, during a business meeting an external representative of one of the business partners that should’ve been appealing to their company had instead scoffed at Yoongun’s shabby attire. Of course, it had gone unnoticed by Yoongun because he simply did not care, but his colleague had repeated the events at work, leading to his boss lecturing him to be mindful of the time, place, and occasion when dressing up.
It was times like these that he felt fortunate to have a younger half-sister he maintained a congenial relationship with. Although perhaps congenial wasn’t exactly accurate, as in actuality he simply did not pay much attention to her in general. For starters, he didn’t even know her age. The last time they had spoken, she had been a college student, so it came as a complete shock to Yoongun when he discovered she had already joined the workforce.
Their contacts were infrequent, but somehow, she had found him at work one day, dressed in an ill-fitting suit that their father might have worn. Horrified, she made it her mission to refresh his wardrobe, requesting only that he spared her his time and money. As she deftly selected clothes suited for each season, she taught him an algorithm of sorts to pick out his outfits. She explained how to match his shirts to his suit jackets and how to pick out a complimentary tie, and each day he lived faithfully by this algorithm. With the right programming, it was simple for him to visualize each possible outcome. However, mostly he just couldn’t be bothered. He was not thrilled at having to expend so much energy on something as trivial as clothing.
He had a client meeting scheduled that day. Since he had worn a dark grey suit to the last meeting, he elected to wear a navy blue pinstriped suit this time. According to his algorithm, a white shirt or a pale blue shirt paired best with the navy pinstripes. Spotting a white shirt, he removed it from the closet, and then selected a necktie from the five possible choices remaining. Everything was executed with speed and precision as if it was all coded into a program.
Having dressed and clasping on a watch, Yoongun stepped back to take final stock of his appearance in the mirror. This was the last step of his algorithm, a final rundown to ensure everything on his checklist was accounted for. His tie had to reach his belt buckle, and his belt had to match the color of his shoes. The sleeves of his shirt had to be 1 to 1.5 centimeters longer than the sleeves of his jacket. After fastening the middle button on his three-button blazer, he checked the time.
5:31 AM. Although he selected his clothes quickly, it still took him around 10 minutes to get dressed because of the numerous steps.
Yoongun always left his house 35 minutes after waking up, meaning he still had 4 minutes to spare. He always allotted a little buffer to give himself extra time in case of an emergency, but he had ended up with too much time on his hands this morning.
Standing at his window, Yoongun stared down at the scenery below. Normally, it would still be dark outside, but the sun was beginning to rise earlier each day. It was already March, which marked the end of the first fiscal quarter. Next week, he would have to present a proposal for the second quarter. After running down his future itinerary, his 35 minutes were up. He strode towards his front door.
If he left his apartment at 5:35, the elevator would almost certainly be on the first floor. Pressing the elevator call button, getting in, and heading down to the underground parking lot took anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes. It usually took 5 minutes, but sometimes there were unexpected variables, such as lost couriers. However, since he always parked in the same spot every day, his margin of error never exceeded three minutes.
6:00 AM. After arriving at work, Yoongun walked into the cafe next door at the same time he always did. For the last 3 years, he had been the cafe’s first customer at 6 o’clock each morning. Seeing him appear at the door, the middle-aged cafe owner rang up an americano and a club sandwich without even asking.
6:06 AM. Yoongun left the cafe, his coffee and a paper bag in hand. As he walked into the company building, he realized that he had been given a croissant sandwich instead of a club sandwich, but he did not bother returning to the cafe to correct his order. Occasionally, the cafe owner would pack him the more expensive sandwiches. At first, the owner had offered Yoongun the upgrade, but when he declined, the owner had opted to switch out the sandwiches when he wasn’t paying attention instead. Since he did not have any particular allergies, he decided to just consume the requisite amount of caffeine and calories needed to keep himself awake, and not waste any more energy than was necessary.
6:08 AM. Yoongun passed through the employee entrance.
6:13 AM. Yoongun finally arrived at the office.
All of the lights were still off, and the office was enveloped in darkness. It was in the same condition he had left it in when he clocked out last night. Just like the day before, he was the first person to arrive on the 44th floor. After entering his personal office, he hung up his suit jacket and turned on his computer.
From the window across from him, he could see the Seoul Tower. Of course, he could only see about half of it because of the yellow dust blowing in from the north.
When ST Telecom had scouted him, one of the conditions in his contract was that he be given his own office. The chief human resource officer had initially balked, arguing that no team leader had ever received their own office, but when Yoongun threatened to renege on the deal, they acquiesced to his demands.
The office was modest in size and was arranged according to his preferences. The desktop tower sat on the left side of his desk, and the middle of his desk was filled with three monitors. To the right sat a laptop, and underneath it were two drawers filled with every smartphone from the two major smartphone companies. The third drawer held his tablet, while the bottom drawer contained a collection of miscellaneous smartphones from Korea, China, and Finland. Although his programs were tested on all the major operating systems most commonly used by consumers, Yoongun liked to check that they still worked with past models of smartphones as well.
Sitting at his desk, the first task at hand was to check his email. He was waiting for a reply from one of his old classmates from California. Since his friend always took care of work after lunch, he should have replied by now.
Just as he expected, a new message was waiting for him in bold font at the bottom of their email thread. The message was simple.
The rat is trapped.
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