Though she registered the biting cold wind at the back of her mind, Jinsol felt a warm flush spreading outwards from her chest and creeping up into her cheeks. Wonder Girl leaned over her, pressing a rigid Jinsol against the rust-red container, acutely aware of the gentle brushes of air against her ear.
A few metres away, they could hear the supervillain moving about. There was a solid thump and a sigh, before a long procession of footsteps that faded into the night.
Jinsol exhaled slowly.
Wonder Girl pulled back. Their eyes locked - and Jinsol froze, the feeling of familiarity crashing over her like a wave.
Something flashed across Wonder Girl’s face. “Come on,” she said quickly, and that thought, which Jinsol had so nearly formed, dissipated. She stumbled as Wonder Girl took a step back.
“Hey - ” She blindly grabbed her bag - when had it fallen to the ground? - and hurried after the super. “Wait up.”
They rounded the stack of containers they had been leaning on, and stopped in front of a locked manhole cover a few paces away from where they had been standing. Jinsol watched Wonder Girl give the lock a light tug.
“You’re going to have to pick it.”
“What? No. No, no, no.” Jinsol shook her head. “I am not going in there.”
Wonder Girl raised an eyebrow.
“No. Seriously? Ugh, fine.” Grumbling under her breath, Jinsol stomped over to the cover with her knife and twisted it a few times until the lock fell open. She stepped back and allowed Wonder Girl to lift the cover.
The strong stench slapped her in the face. Gagging, Jinsol covered her nose and turned away. “I’m gonna puke.”
“It’s not that bad,” said Wonder Girl. The corners of her lips twitched. “Although you can stay here if you’re too scared, I guess.”
“Scared? Me?” Jinsol scoffed, hiked her coat up, and held her breath as she lowered herself into the sewer.
Inside, the stench was even worse. Jinsol closed her eyes as she stood on the hard metal. Don’t vomit, don’t vomit. The pipe was short, descending only a few feet before tunneling straight ahead, and Jinsol had to crawl on her hands and knees to continue.
Behind, she could hear Wonder Girl clambering in, before dragging the cover back over them with a long, grating sound. Then it went black.
Well, not completely. She noticed a faint green light ahead as her eyes grew used to the dark. In the enclosed space, all she could hear was their breaths, echoing endlessly through the long, freezing tube. Her hands were already growing numb from the chill of the metal.
But at least the pipe was clean. Someone clearly used this frequently, thought Jinsol, as she crawled forwards, Wonder Girl hot on her heels. The super was infinitely patient, waiting soundlessly each time Jinsol paused to take a break.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the green expanded, lighting the path in front of them. Jinsol emerged into a large, rectangular cavern, gasping for breath. She descended a short ladder at the mouth of the pipe and landed on solid concrete.
Wonder Girl hopped down next to her.
The green glow was coming from the centre of the room, giving the place an eerie, otherworldly feeling. It felt even colder inside, and the low hum of what felt like a thousand machines sent shivers down Jinsol’s spine.
Wonder Girl took a step towards the light. It was almost she had been caught in trance, her eyes trained on the source of the glow as she took one careful step after the other. The canister in the middle of the room sloshed.
“Hey, wait - ” began Jinsol, as she felt around the wall for the light switch. There was a small plastic piece set into the wall, and she flicked it, praying it wouldn’t turn out to be some kind of alarm. Clinical, white light flooded the chamber, flushing all the other colours out of the shadows.
Jinsol’s eyes widened as she took in the workbenches, the gleaming machines, and the freakishly neat row of labelled chemicals.
This was a full-on villain lair.
Wow. Jinsol exhaled in wonder as she wandered over to the workbench against the wall. A dizzying array of shiny lab instruments littered the table. Jinsol ran a finger along the tongs, the calipers, and the giant microscope screwed tight to the desk.
The shelf on top of the desk held little labelled containers - RA, TH, RN, PO… Chemical elements, maybe? But if they were, there was no indication what they were used for. (Or if they were even used at all.) There was something else on the highest shelf - and Jinsol grabbed the nearest chair, only to start when she realised that it was stuck to the ground
What the - ?
She shook it. But the chair was bolted fast to the ground. Puzzled, Jinsol looked around. There was something like a hairdresser’s hair steamer shunted to the side. There were a few velcro straps hanging off the top. Huh. Weird.
A desk stood to the right of the chair, framed by two sets of filing cabinets. A rolling chair had been pushed in. Other than some stationary, there was nothing much of interest - at least, until Jinsol pulled out of the bottom drawer of the desk.
A faded green notebook lay right in the middle, having been thumbed through so often that its cover was dog-earned. Jinsol removed it and opened the pages carefully, pinching the spine so that the book didn’t fall apart.
God, It must have been at least a few decades old.
Most of the pages were filled with chemical equations - all incomprehensible to Jinsol’s journalist brain. But at the last page…
Properties: Radioactive, alloy, inert
Composition: 15.08% plutonium, 18.06% tantalum, 27.71% xenon, 24.02% promethium, 10.62% dialium, 3.94% mercury, 0.57% unknown
Kryptonite? Jinsol blinked. She flipped back to the previous pages in realisation. So the supervillain was researching Kryptonite, whatever the hell that was. She took a quick picture of the pages and made a mental note to show it to Hyunjin.
With nothing else of interest at the desk, she walked back to where Wonder Girl stood, still frozen in front of the black canister.
Jinsol had her suspicions, but as she neared, certainty settled in the pit of her stomach. A fist-sized green rock floated in the middle of some dark grey liquid - unmistakably that same green rock which the supervillain had pulled on Wonder Girl. It seemed like whatever that liquid was, it was neutralising the effects of it for now.
“So what is that?” asked Jinsol. She realised, from the way Wonder Girl was staring at the rock, that she knew exactly what it was. (And she still let her run around half the city chasing down the answer that she already had.)
“You mean this?” Jinsol held out her phone. Wonder Girl tore her gaze away from the rock and squinted at the picture.
“I got it from a notebook under her desk. So this is that?”
Wonder Girl looked rattled. “She wrote this?”
“I don’t know… It seems pretty old...” Jinsol frowned. But still. How did she get hold of this? How did she know how to use it? “What is kryptonite anyway?”
She watched a muscle in Wonder Girl’s jaw twitch. But if there was anything Jinsol learned from her time as a reporter, it was patience, and as the silence lengthened, the super started to twitch.
Jinsol took the chance to study her. She had grown used to how slight Wonder Girl was in the weeks that they had known each other, but now, staring at her bony shoulders and thin limbs, she remembered how she struck she had been by the super’s small stature. She could even press her down, if she wanted to.
Finally, Wonder Girl sighed. “It’s my home,” she said, her throat bobbing as she swallowed. “What’s left of it anyway.”
“What’s left of it?”
Wonder Girl gave her a faint smile. “Krypton. My home planet.”
“I’ve never heard of it…”
“The scientists call it Alpha-554b. A planet that exploded 21 years ago, although no one knew why. Everyone just brushed it off as another one of those unexplainable space things.”
Jinsol sucked in a sharp breath. “So everyone else is…”
“Gone, yes. My parents sent me here to keep me safe.”
Jinsol found herself at a loss for words. What did you say to someone who had survived her entire planet, her entire people? “I’m sorry,” she settled for saying, sounding weak even to her own ears.
“Don’t be,” said Wonder Girl. There was a softness in her voice that made Jinsol look up. Her breath caught. “I don’t remember anything. Earth is my home now.” She blinked, and her stare seemed to bore right through Jinsol. “You’re not… afraid of me?”
Afraid? The idea was so ridiculous that Jinsol nearly laughed. Wonder Girl seemed to read the answer in her eyes, the ghost of a smile on her face. “You’re not going to write this into your next story, are you? I mean, not that it matters.”
Jinsol grabbed her arm. “It matters to me.”
The super started. She stared at Jinsol with her mouth open, and Jinsol held her breath as she realised how close they were. Wonder Girl’s eyes flicked downwards. Jinsol’s heart thudded in her ear. And then Wonder Girl’s hand was on her hip, pulling her closer.
Jinsol’s eyelids fluttered shut.
The kiss was soft - barely there, even. Wonder Girl’s lips brushed hers, so lightly and delicately that Jinsol’s heart skipped, and it was just like their first time over again -
Jinsol’s eyes flew open, as she tore herself away, hand cupping over her mouth as she stared at Wonder Girl in horror.
They had just -
She had just -
“Jinsol - ” The super began, but Jinsol threw her hands up between them as a barrier.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
“Hey… Hey, don’t panic.” Wonder Girl was eyeing her, arms outstretched as though she wanted to hold her.
But the idea only made Jinsol even more sick to her stomach.
“I want to go home,” she blurted, looking everywhere but at the super.
Wonder Girl coughed awkwardly. Then, with a sharp nod, she turned and went back through the pipes, leaving Jinsol to trail after her.
Back out in the open, the wind snapped at them, cold and biting and punishing, and Jinsol hated herself. She imagined Sooyoung back home right now, curled up in their warm blankets and reading, waiting faithfully for her to come back.
“I’ll take you home,” murmured Wonder Girl, after she had replaced and locked the cover.
“I’ll make my own way,” insisted Jinsol, and began to walk.
Wonder Girl caught up with her and sighed. “It’s way past midnight, Jinsol. Are you going to walk home?”
“If I have to.”
“Look, I’ll just take you home, okay? Nothing else. Can you just - stop being so pig-headed for a moment?”
“Pig-headed?” Jinsol whirled on her. “I wasn’t the one who insistently tried to worm my way into being friends with someone else. I didn’t even want to have anything to do with you people!”
She regretted it the moment she said it. Wonder Girl recoiled at her words, the open expression on her face clouding over.
“Let me take you home,” she said, frighteningly calm. “It’s not safe.”
Jinsol swallowed. She nodded. They didn’t speak the entire way back, the atmosphere between them more frigid than the air surrounding them.
Soon, the flat roof of Jinsol’s apartment block became visible over the horizon. They landed on the darkened roof, Wonder Girl letting Jinsol off the moment her feet touched ground.
“Thanks,” murmured Jinsol.
Wonder Girl nodded stiffly.
“I…” Jinsol began, but Wonder Girl interrupted her with a cough.
“I should be going home,” she said. She didn’t wait for Jinsol to respond as she soared into the sky.
And then Jinsol was alone.
She sank to the ground, her heart heavy with the knowledge of what she had done.
Sooyoung got busy again. She came home only after Jinsol had fallen asleep and left the house before Jinsol woke up. In a way, it came as a sort of relief - but the thought made her feel awful, as though she had betrayed Sooyoung for the second time.
Wonder Girl kept her distance. There were no more calls, no more impromptu drop-bys, but she seemed to be fighting crime with even more of a vengeance. Just this week, she had apprehended a record high of fifty criminals, putting her at the top of the Daily Planet’s unofficial leaderboard.
“Alright. What’s going on with you?”
Jinsol jumped and dropped her pen. Chaewon narrowed her eyes at her from across their desks.
“You’ve been catatonic for the whole week. Your eyeliner is crazy uneven. What’s going on?”
Jinsol quickly took out her pocket mirror. Even her make-up was patchy, the fat, uneven eyeliner, and dark circles under her eyes making her look like an enormous raccoon. Shit. How long had she been walking around like this?
“Is it Sooyoung again? I’m going to beat her ass if she - oh Jinsol.” Chaewon rushed to her, as Jinsol broke out into silent tears at the mention of Sooyoung’s name.
“Oh god, I’m a mess,” Jinsol choked out as she grabbed her make-up pouch and dashed to the bathroom.
Behind her, Chaewon stuck an out-of-order sign on the door, before pulling Jinsol into a hug. “There there.”
“I’m so - ” Jinsol sobbed, “ - stupid…”
Chaewon stroked her head until Jinsol’s cries started to peter out. “What happened?” she asked gently, as she patted Jinsol’s back.
Jinsol sniffled. “I fucked up, Chaewon,” she mumbled into her shoulder. “I fucked up so bad.”
She sucked in a deep breath. Shame constricted her throat. But she couldn’t - “I kissed someone else,” she cried. “Last Friday.”
Chaewon’s hand stopped. “Oh, Jinsol…”
“I know, I’m awful.”
“Does Sooyoung know?”
“No… I haven’t seen her all week…”
“How did it even happen?”
Jinsol groaned. “I don’t know. We had a moment, and then she just went for it - and I… I think I was going to kiss her back, if I wasn’t reminded of - ”
Jinsol stared at Chaewon.
“Shit,” said Chaewon.
“Yeah…” Jinsol furrowed her brow.
“Are you going to talk to her about it?”
“I don’t know…”
Chaewon sighed. “Oh, Jinsol,” she said again. “You really messed up this time…” Jinsol felt Chaewon’s eyes on her. “But,” she continued, and this time, she sounded almost hesitant. “I think it’s hard to keep up a marriage when neither of you are honest and open with each other… And I don’t just mean you.”
Jinsol sighed and scrubbed at her face. “I know.” She felt Chaewon pat her back as she stared into the mirror, her make-up now smudged beyond repair. Her hands were stained too, black and grey under the running water. “What should I do now?”
Chaewon nodded at her make-up pouch. “You start again,” she said simply. “You do it right this time.” She handed Jinsol a wad of tissues.
There was a sharp rap on the door. “Hey…” Jungeun’s voice travelled through the wood. “You guys in there? Vivi’s looking for us.”
Oh no. Jinsol and Chaewon exchanged glances. “We’ll be there in a minute!” Chaewon called. “Ate something bad at lunch.”
There was a pause at the door. “Okay, but hurry,” said Jungeun. “Think it’s important.”
Five minutes later, they emerged to find the entire newsroom in a flurry. Jinsol grabbed a passing intern by the arm. “What’s going on?”
“Someone attacked Star City,” she said nervously, eyes darting between her and Chaewon. Jinsol vaguely recalled her name - Jihan? “Vivi’s been looking for both of you for twenty minutes.”
Well. Shit. Alarmed, Jinsol and Chaewon made a mad dash to Vivi’s office, only to find everyone already there. Shiiiit.
“I thought I was going to have to send out a second search party for you,” said Vivi, as Jinsol and Chaewon settled into their seats. “Given that the first one seemed to have gotten lost as well. Maybe next time let’s not volunteer if we can’t get the job done.” She gave Jungeun a pointed look.
All three of them coughed.
“Anyway,” said Vivi, narrowing her eyes. “Now that we’re all here. I’m sure you’ve heard about the attack. I got the whole newsroom working on this, but I want the five of you here to continue working the elections. Jinsol, Jungeun - Jo Haseul is having a press conference at 8 tonight where she says she will release concrete details of her proposed policies. I want both of you to handle this. Take Heejin with you for pictures.
“Johnny, I want you to look into Jackson. I heard he’s pretty much barricaded himself in his home. I’m guessing he’s still paranoid about getting assassinated, not that anyone would want to do that, but let’s see if you can get him to tell you why. Also get a comment from him about how he feels about the elections.
“Jaehyun, you try to get a comment from Yeri about Haseul’s improved poll numbers and her thoughts on whatever Haseul is going to announce tonight. You can do this tomorrow.
“Chaewon, you head down to Star City now. I need eyes on the ground. Wendy will be your point person.” Her gaze swept the room. “Got it?”
“Got it,” they chimed.
“Good.” Vivi dismissed them with a flap of her hand, before picking up her phone. As the door swung shut behind them, they could distantly hear the sound of Vivi yelling.
An hour before Haseul’s press conference, Heejin sidled up to their desks.
“Sooo it’s us again, huh.” She grinned and nudged Jinsol as she packed her bag. “Heejinsol. Best team.”
“Wow,” said Jungeun. “It’s like I don’t even exist.”
“Oh, I mean, of course. There’s you too,” replied Heejin absently, before she turned back to Jinsol. “So what do you reckon? You think she’ll announce that they found the supervillain?”
“If that’s the case, it’d be the police having a press conference, not her,” said Jinsol tiredly.
“Oh.” Heejin deflated. “Maybe she has a lead?”
Ever since she had gotten personally involved in Yeri’s attempted assassination, Heejin had been very eager to speculate on the identity of the supervillain. Was the supervillain Jackson’s agent? A foreign enemy determined to topple Metropolis? A jilted lover determined to cause as much chaos as she could? Usually she would be more than help to discuss - but between the emotional exhaustion of the week and her own guilt eating away at her, Jinsol could find scant patience for Heejin’s wild theories.
Her thoughts drifted back to Sooyoung. She had mustered up the courage to text her once, early this afternoon, only for the message to be left unread. In fact - Jinsol checked her phone again - Sooyoung’s phone hadn’t even received the message.
They clambered into Jungeun’s car. Jinsol fiddled with her phone in her lap as Jungeun turned up the radio.
“Gooooood evening, Metropolis! It’s Im Yeojin here with the 7 o’clock news. Top of the line today - Star City’s superheroes decimate half the city. At slightly past 12, reports trickled into from Star City that one of its superhero teams, The Titans, has destroyed half the city.
“The attacks continued for over an hour as the city’s second team of superheroes, Young Legion, tried to stop them in vain, until reinforcements - including Metropolis’s own Wonder Girl, Choerry, and Harpy - arrived from other cities around the country.
“Reports say that most of the city’s infrastructure has been down since half past 12. Cellular network and internet is still unavailable, and we’ve only just managed to get our first reports from the city now.”
Jinsol straightened. “Wait.. Turn it up.”
Jungeun cast her a curious look, but complied. Yeojin’s voice filled the interior of the car.
“Until today, Star City had been known as a peaceful city, well-protected by its two teams of superheroes. While some cities have started to regulate their own superhero presence, Star City has - so far - stood staunchly on the side of deregulation.
“‘We believe that it is in the city’s best interest to let the superhero community regulate themselves,’ said Mayor Kim Yubin just last week. And now, a break. Stay tuned for more updates for Star City.”
Jinsol stared at the radio on the dash, a peculiar feeling rushing up in her. Star City, huh.
At the mayor’s office, they were ushered into a small meeting room, already packed full with rows of journalists. A small board had been set up behind Haseul’s seat, where her smiling face beamed at them, her campaign slogan splashed out across the top.
Jinsol’s hands went back to her phone, sitting up straight as she realised that Sooyoung had finally read her message. She began tapping out another message when her phone buzzed.
Her heart leapt in her chest. Ignoring Jungeun and Heejin’s curious looks. Jinsol hurried out of the room, cupping her hand over the side of her phone.
“Hey,” Sooyoung sounded tired.
“Hey,” Jinsol breathed. Her confession, the flood of words she had prepared, stopped on the tip of her tongue. Somehow, hearing Sooyoung’s crackly voice, the static distorting the background noises, it only made her lose her nerve.
“Sorry I didn- text - lier.” Sooyoung was barely comprehensible over the static. “ - busy.”
Jinsol pressed the phone to her ear. “Where are you? I can barely hear you.”
“Out - pa - trol….”
There was an indistinct noise on the other end, as though Sooyoung was trying to say something. Then she paused, and Jinsol heard a scream on the other end.
She frowned. “What’s going on?”
“ - can’t talk - later - ” And before Jinsol could interject, Sooyoung had ended the call, leaving her listening to the dial tone.
Jinsol sighed and pocketed her phone. When she turned around, she jumped at the sight of Jungeun behind her - when had she come out of the room?
“Hey,” said Jungeun calmly. “I came out to call you. It’s about to start.”
Haseul came out just as they found their seats, looking breezy in a light green pantsuit. She greeted the journalists in the front row by name, and Jinsol felt her gaze fall on her for a moment as she scanned the rest of the room.
Taking her seat in front of the microphones on the table, Haseul smiled, her face illuminated a pale white from the countless camera flashes. Jinsol absently switched her recorder on, her mind still on Sooyoung’s weird call.
What the hell was that all about? She tapped her pen against the corner of her notebook. The static… The explosions…
She had completely forgotten about Haseul until the words ‘superhero registration’ snapped her out of her reverie.
She locked eyes with Haseul.
“Superheroes have done a wonderful job of protecting the city,” she said, as her gaze jumped to the next person in the room. “But what happened in Star City today is proof that we don’t know these people. We can’t depend on them to regulate themselves. At least 50 lives have been lost in Star City today. We don’t know if, or when, this will happen in Metropolis. We need a way to regulate these people, whom we are the mercy of every day.”
The journalists started to murmur. Jinsol sat up.
“Which is why I propose forming a superhero register. Anyone born with superpowers will be registered and monitored, so we won’t have supervillains operating with impunity. We will know who these supervillains are. We will bring them to justice.
“Even now! We have a supervillain at large. Our superheroes have failed to identify her. With the register, this will no longer be a problem! We will have records of every person with superpowers in our city - ”
“You can’t!” Everyone turned to Jinsol, now on her feet. “This is an invasion of personal autonomy!”
“Ms Jung,” said her aide, “you’ll have to wait till the end to ask questions.”
“Kyubin, that’s fine. I’ll take Ms Jung’s question.” There was a wide smile on Haseul’s face. “We don’t want to control these supers, Ms Jung. What’s the difference between this and registering other people when they’re born? We just want assurance that they won’t endanger our people.”
“But they’re our people too! And you know this can be exploited in so many different ways - ”
“I didn’t know you were such an ardent supporter of superhero rights, Ms Jung.” There was a gleam in Haseul’s eyes as she leaned forward. “As I recall, didn’t you write an article exposing the identities of the League of Extraordinary Ladies? You weren’t so concerned about personal autonomy and privacy then.”
Jinsol opened her mouth, then closed it.
Haseul gave her a satisfied smile. “Nonetheless, I appreciate your concern very much.” She looked straight into the TV camera. “It’s very good to know that we have dogged journalists such as yourself asking the tough questions. Now, if I may continue?”
Jinsol felt the gazes of the whole room on her. Slowly, she sat back down, fingers tight around her notebook.
“I have a question.” Jungeun raised her hand. “When do you plan to roll out this superhero register, if elected?”
“It will be the first order of the day. With a strong mandate from Metropolis, I will no longer let this supervillain continue to terrorise our city.”
Which means it was five days away. Jinsol’s heart stopped.
The moment the conference ended, Jinsol hid herself in the bathroom and called Wonder Girl’s payphone. It rang for a full minute before Jinsol let her hand drop - was she still in Star City?
Then her phone began to vibrate again.
“How is it?” asked Vivi, as soon as Jinsol answered.
She quickly gave Vivi a rundown. Once she was done, Vivi sighed. Jinsol could almost imagine pinching her nose bridge, the way she did whenever she got annoyed. “Alright,” said Vivi. “Change of plans. Tell Jungeun to write up that press conference. Meanwhile, I want that Wonder Girl interview - and a statement from the Justice Union if you can - asap. We need to run this before Haseul gets into office.”
As Jinsol rejoined Jungeun and Heejin in the car, she relayed Vivi’s instructions word for word, cracking a smile at Jungeun’s and Heejin’s sighs.
On the way back, they turned on the radio again.
“It’s the nine o’clock news with Rosé, and we have updates coming in from Star City. Here with us is Lisa, reporting live on location. Evening, Lisa.”
“Ev - ning, Ros - ” Lisa’s voice trickled in, distorted by static. “It’s har - to get a read - situation now. Cellu - data - internet are intermit- tent.”
“And how is the situation on the ground, Lisa?”
“Destruc - mostly stopped. It seems the supers - subdued the rogue ele - many have gone back - rubble everywh - ”
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” Heejin nudged her with an elbow. “We’re at your place.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Jinsol shook her head. She stumbled out of the car in a daze, too many thoughts crowding her mind. On her way up, she dashed off a quick email to the Justice Union, before she stopped at their front door.
Sooyoung’s pair of black hiking boots, which had always been in the back of their shoe closet, had been left lying on their doorstep, covered in some kind of white dust. Jinsol peeled off her shoes and entered the dark apartment.
On her way in, she poked her head into the bathroom, only to find a pile of black clothes soaking in a basin of soapy water. The water sloshed and spilled over as she fished out a pair of dark track pants and a black jacket.
She switched the lights off and made their way to the bedroom, only to find Sooyoung sound asleep.
Though it was dark, Jinsol could see the band-aids on her face, some on her cheek and forehead and another over her nose bridge. She sat on the edge of the bed and watched her snore, sighing as she tucked a curl of Sooyoung’s hair behind her ear.
There a drawer hanging out from their closet, and Jinsol went over to put it back in - only to pause and pull out a bunched up wad of cloth that had been stuffed into the back. The strip of cloth looked homemade, the stitches on the end rough, and the elastic band already fraying.
For a long moment, Jinsol stood there, thinking. She grabbed a few outfits of her own, and stuffed it into an overnight bag.
Then, as silently as she had entered the apartment, Jinsol slipped out.
What is behind Jo Haseul’s sudden lead in the polls?
Opinion by Choi Yerim
[Choi Yerim is a political scientist with the University of Metropolis studying grass-roots level politics. She is also published in the Morning Star and the Business Daily.]
METROPOLIS - It has been a good two weeks for Ms Jo Haseul. After trailing political dark horse Kim Yeri for the better part of the election campaign, she has finally achieved a resurgence, polling at 65 percent in the latest surveys.
One of Ms Jo’s election promises was to get tough on crime in the city, and it seems like that has struck a chord with voters, who have consistently named crime as their top priority in surveys. And it seems like the police’s recent effectiveness in solving crimes - a seven-year high for the department - has cemented Ms Jo as the candidate who is working hard to eradicate crime in the city.
Even in the last week of her current tenure, Ms Jo has been seen around the various police precincts, speaking to officers and demonstrating her commitment to fighting crime.
She has also suggested, in the past few weeks, that she will be introducing a slew of new policies that she plans to have in place, should she be elected as mayor again.
Rising crime rates in the city have aided Ms Jo’s re-election efforts. After all, it was the rising crime in Metropolis in recent months that have sparked this outcry, with Ms Jo’s tough-on-crime policies taking centre stage, leaving Ms Kim’s wealth redistribution policies trailing in the dust.
Many surveys have shown that people tend to favour the status quo in times of crisis, and that is exactly what is happening now. Where the fight might have centred on the city’s large inequalities at the start of this campaign, it is now an issue of crime. It remains to be seen if Metropolis will be better off for it.
Jungeun’s eyes widened as Jinsol hauled herself into the office, dragging her giant bag behind her.
“Wha - ?”
Jinsol only shook her head. Jungeun fell silent.
“We got quite a response on Jo Haseul’s superhero registration,” said Jungeun, after a beat. “It seems pretty mixed. Some virulently anti-superhero rhetoric, some staunch superhero supporters in the comments.”
Jinsol hummed. She rested her head on her desk and sighed. There hadn’t been anywhere for her to go. Chaewon was in Star City, Hyunjin’s apartment was way out of the way, and the thought of dragging herself back to her mother’s and listening to her crow about how she never approved of her marriage anyway made her stomach turn.
Besides, her leaving didn’t mean anything. She just needed some time to think.
“How’s the Wonder Girl interview going?” asked Jungeun, and bless her - she was trying her best to distract her.
Oh wait, yeah. The Wonder Girl interview. Jinsol let out a weak laugh. “I don’t know, honestly.”
“You could say that.”
She could feel Jungeun’s eyes on her. “You’re not planning to sleep here tonight, are you?”
Jinsol sighed. She wondered how pathetic she must look right now, half-asleep on her desk in the office, clearly having just run away from home.
“Come on,” said Jungeun, standing. “I have a pull-out sofa in my home. You can sleep there tonight.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I can’t leave you to sleep here, can I? The office runs overnight - you’re not going to fall asleep with this zoo here.”
Jinsol’s heart swelled. “Thank you,” she said. Jungeun merely quirked a corner of her lips.
For the third time that day, Jinsol clambered into Jungeun’s car. This late at night, traffic was smooth. Jinsol’s phone began buzzing in her lap.
She could feel Jungeun’s curious glance. Jinsol dropped her phone into her bag. But the buzzing filled the car, a continuous hum in the background in the twenty minute drive back to Jungeun’s place. Finally, as they entered Jungeun’s apartment, the calls stopped.
Jungeun pulled out the sofa for Jinsol. “Bathroom’s that way, kitchen’s there if you need anything. I’m going to wash up. Make yourself at home.”
Whispering another thank you, Jinsol sat on the sofa and stared at the missed calls on her phone. With Jungeun gone, she felt the fatigue setting in heavily; she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and sleep for the next week, and maybe when she woke up, the election would be over, and this entire business with Wonder Girl would have just been a bad, bad dream.
She was about to turn off her phone - with its 25 messages from Sooyoung - to take a shower when it buzzed again. This time, from a number Jinsol was intimately familiar with.
She paused, torn - but her curiosity finally won out, and she answered the call, breathing in a deep, steadying breath.
“Where are you?” Wonder Girl’s tone was sharp. Oddly enough, the panic in Wonder Girl’s voice grounded Jinsol. An overbearing calm overtook her.
“Nothing, just - I - ”
Jinsol imagined her struggling for words. After a long minute, she finally said, “Let me interview you.”
“Let me interview you. For the paper.”
“We can do it tomorrow evening, if you’re free.”
“Jinsol… where are you now?”
“I’m home, of course. It’s late.” Jinsol snorted as Wonder Girl stammered at her answer. “So?”
“You - I - ” There was a long pause. “Fine,” the super gritted out finally. “What time and where?”
“Daily Planet roof. 11pm tomorrow.”
She was about to put the phone down, when Wonder Girl said, softly, “Wait. Are you… are you safe?”
Jinsol bit her lip. She thought of ending the call, of putting the phone down, but ultimately, she hummed. “Yeah. Don’t worry.”
“Okay.” She ended the call with a sigh, before opening the door - only to bowl right into Jungeun. “Shit, sorry! I didn’t see you there.”
Jungeun dusted herself off. “It’s fine. I just wanted to see if you were hungry. I was going to order pizza?”
Mm. Pizza. It had been a while since she had eaten properly, after all. “That sounds amazing.”
“Perfect.” Jungeun grinned. “We’ll have a nice night in, then.”
It was a Saturday, which meant that Jinsol would usually be doing chores and running errands all over the neighbourhood. But well… With no house to do chores in and no one to run errands for, she settled for working.
That morning, Jungeun had, very graciously, offered to let her stay for a few days, as Jinsol sorted out her plans for the next few days. That was before she went out to meet a friend… more than twelve hours ago. Dimly, Jinsol wondered if she had interrupted Jungeun’s Friday night plans. Oops.
She spent the day cleaning out her email inbox with its 49,501 unread messages. With an hour to go, Jinsol dressed quickly and got a taxi to bring her back to the office. She stared out of the misty windows as the driver turned the evening’s programme up.
“Come ye, come ye, all those lost and heartbroken. It’s time for dinner with Metropolis’s favourite Agony Aunt Amber.”
“Today, we have a story from… Sooyeon! She’s a chef and she has recently ran into some problems with her sister. But first, let’s hear it from Sooyeon herself!”
There was a burst of carnival music, and then a second female voice came on.
“Hi Sooyeon. Let’s hear what happened, shall we?”
As it turned out, three years ago, a food critic gave Sooyeon’s fledgling restaurant a negative review, causing it to collapse.
Cut to last month. Sooyeon found her sister’s old laptop and uncovered the fact that she had been the food critic. When she confronted her, her sister said that she didn’t expect that Sooyeon’s restaurant would actually collapse, which is why she had hidden the truth until now.
“What do I do, Amber?”
In spite of her scepticism, Jinsol found herself leaning forward as she listened.
“Ahh,” Amber sighed. “Fear. That’s always a powerful impediment. Your sister was afraid of the consequences of her actions and so she hid it for three years. Many people do strange things when they’re afrai - ”
“...miss? Miss? Your stop’s here.”
Jinsol jolted in her seat. Outside, she could see the tall gleaming Daily Planet building, illuminated by the golden light of the streetlamps and the giant brass globe on its roof.
She waved to the night guard and the others on the night shift as she tapped the button in the lift for the top floor. At this time, the office was mostly empty, save for the skeleton crew that kept the Daily Planet running overnight.
As soon as she stepped out onto the roof, the chill seeped through her clothes. Jinsol shivered. The sky was a pitch black, hundreds of city lights winking like stars in the sky. She took a seat on the freezing ground.
She didn’t have to wait long. Wonder Girl landed on the roof five minutes later, dishevelled and panting, and made a beeline for her.
“Jinsol - ” she began, but Jinsol held up a hand.
Wonder Girl frowned. Jinsol kept her expression even. “Or stand,” she said, “if you prefer.”
Wonder Girl pursed her lips, and for a long moment, she seemed to be struggling with whether to sit or stand, before taking a seat on the small circuit box behind her. Jinsol flipped her notebook to the first page.
“So,” she said, cocking her head. “Wonder Girl. Superhero. Woman of Steel.”
Wonder Girl looked visibly uncomfortable.
“How old are you this year?”
“Jinsol, is this really - ”
Wonder Girl frowned. “Twenty-seven.”
“Is that your human or alien age?”
“They’re the same. Jinsol, I - ”
“And where are you from? On Earth, I mean.”
There was a brief pause. A muscle twitched in Wonder Girl’s jaw. “The countryside.”
“Mysterious. And your home planet is Krypton?” She waited for Wonder Girl’s stiff nod before she continued, “And how does someone from another planet come all the way to Earth?”
“My planet was dying,” said Wonder Girl, as though she hadn’t just told Jinsol the entire story recently. “I was a baby when my parents put me on a spaceship to Earth, because they wanted to make sure that I would live.”
“And you’ve always had powers.”
Wonder Girl nodded.
“When did you come to Metropolis?”
She hesitated, looked nervous, even. “A… a few years ago?”
“How long ago?”
Wonder Girl frowned. “Do we have to talk about this?” she said. There was an edge to her tone, and that fired Jinsol up.
“Fine,” she said, standing. “Let’s talk about something else then. Let’s talk about the first day we met. When I was in that alley and you arrived almost as soon as the mugger did. How?”
“I was there, I was by the rooftops - ”
“Okay, and what about the award ceremony? You appeared less than ten minutes after the supervillain. How did you do that?”
“I… I saw it on Twitter…”
“You were already here when I started streaming. And I was the one to break the news.” Jinsol took a step closer. “And that day, when you gave me your number. Do you make it a habit of giving every reporter your number? Or is it just me?”
Another step. “And at the PC Bang. You said that man had prison tattoos. How did you even know what they looked like?”
Wonder Girl stared at her, wide-eyed, almost frantic in the way she could barely respond to Jinsol’s questions.
“And,” said Jinsol. “I’ve never mentioned a wife, so how did you know to ask if my wife was going to be worried?” Now standing right in front of her, Jinsol crossed her arms.
“Your… twitter page…” Wonder Girl stammered.
Jinsol leaned over her. “And how do you know where I live?” she whispered, her voice razor thin. She looked down at Wonder Girl, and breathed, “How did you know where to drop me off last week?”
Their faces were only inches apart. Wonder Girl’s eyelids fluttered.
She looked down at Wonder Girl, with her wide-eyed and parted lips, her breath coming out in short pants.
“You lied to me,” Jinsol snarled, and ripped her mask off.
Wonder Girl’s hands flew up to cover her face. But it was too late. Jinsol’s expression twisted.
“Inspector Ha Sooyoung. Of course. I should have guessed.”
Jinsol jumped as Sooyoung crumpled to the ground, gasping desperately as she clutched her chest. Two sets of footsteps echoed in the wide, empty space. Jinsol looked up and froze.
“And Jung Jinsol,” said Haseul, her lips curving into a smile. “Why am I not surprised that you were the one who broke into Jungeun’s lab?”