King & Queen is a Kpop fan fiction drama that is released in an episodic format exclusively at Critical Kpop. Enjoy and keep tuning in for the continuing story! Catch up on previous episodes here!
“Well, this is it.”
Rap Monster flips a switch, and three rows of fluorescent tubes buzz in protest from a low-hanging metal fixture, flickering for several seconds before revealing the room in a pale, white light. Ailee sees desktop workstations against every wall, some off, some in screensaver mode. Power cords and cables spiral upwards and disappear in the ceiling. In the center of the room is a thick pillar, covered in flyers and posters of future and past events, one even for tonight’s prom. “Dance the night away!” it says, purple text against black. “Witness the historic crowning of Kpop High’s King and Queen.” Next to the pillar, forgotten on the floor, is a printer flashing an error message, and three reams of paper.
“This is what?” Ailee asks.
She looks around her once more, as if she might have missed something. “It’s a room full of computers.”
“I know,” he says, smiling, enjoying himself. “A bit depressing isn’t it.”
She knew she shouldn’t have listened to him. Finding IU hanging around a computer lab in the basement was about as likely as Ailee winning Queen of Kpop High.
Rap Monster is unphased. “You were looking for The Dungeon, right? This is what we call it.”
Ailee watches as he bends over and feeds paper into the printer on the floor. It whirs and clicks in appreciation, and begins spinning invisible wheels.
“This can’t be The Dungeon,” she says, unwilling to believe it. This was the only lead she had.
“I spend a lot of my time here,” Rap Monster admits, sitting down in a nearby swivel chair.
“Why?” Rap Monster points to the center pillar, and Ailee follows his gesture to a flyer pasted up high. It’s nothing more than black text on a piece of paper. “We are the Nameless,” she reads aloud. “What does that mean?”
He cocks his head to the side before responding. “No one remembers the person who produces the album. Only the idol singer.” He opens his arms to indicate the room around him. “This is Kpop High’s state-of-the-art production studio. There’s a cabinet full of rusty monitor headphones over there if you feel like giving it a go.”
“Probably a good decision.”
The printer is still churning away, then something clicks and she hears the unmistakable sound of paper being sucked into the machine. Who could possibly be printing something? They were the only ones in the room. Rap Monster must have seen the confused look on her face.
“You never print to here? It’s networked, so you can print from anywhere in Kpop High.” Documents begin shooting across the floor, the printer obviously lacking any catching mechanism. “Wow, I think these are from yesterday,” Rap Monster says, peering at what looks like a term paper sliding across the carpet one page at a time.
There is no way this is where she’ll find IU. Ailee looks around the room, searching for some other clue. She stares at a screensaver until she can read the text that is spinning and twirling around in some unknown pattern. “Kpop is Dead. Long Live Kpop,” it says.
Rap Monster continues to study the pages being printed. “Sometimes people send messages down here through the printer.”
“Can’t they just text?” she asks, not hiding her frustration.
“Well, yeah, I guess. Sure. Is something wrong?” He looks at her with concern. “What is it you’re actually looking for?”
Ailee stares at the floor. If only she knew.
Pages of white paper flutter by. The last one is spewed out, and the printer, finally, goes silent. Tired and spent.
“Is there anything else that The Dungeon could refer to?” Ailee asks, still hoping she’s in the wrong room. “Maybe something that isn’t a computer lab?”
But her question is interrupted by the door being opened behind them.
There’s a throbbing insistence in Gary’s head, sure sign of a coming migraine. The pain is focused just between his eyes, and though he hasn’t seen any yet, visual distortions are probably on the way. Little flips and fuzzles in the corner of his vision. He presses thumb and forefinger against his closed eyes, trying to counteract the pressure. He imagines a warm bath with a bottle of soju, nevermind the glass. Not tonight.
The door to room 131 opens, and Gary waits for someone to speak before opening his eyes. He can’t take much more from these students. But the voice he hears is much deeper than expected. Authoritative. Sure. This is no student.
“Detective Gary. My name is Tony An. Vice Principal Tony An. I need a word.”
Gary lifts a bleary eyelid to find the once-famous member of H.O.T., now turned hard-assed administrator of Kpop High. He’s young, still, but his age is beginning to show in the depths behind his eyes.
Tony An is accompanied by Gain, who looks nervous. She lacks the self-assuredness of her colleague. Gain remains quiet, half-hidden in Tony An’s shadow. She could easily be mistaken for a student, and Gary wonders, briefly, about her effectiveness in the classroom.
“Detective Gary, are you aware that students are using your office as a pretense to circumvent the lockdown?”
Gary waits for him to continue.
“It’s chaos out there. With respect, Detective Gary, the situation is completely out of hand. I can no longer account for the whereabouts of our students, or ensure their safety.”
Gary leans back in his chair. Just another person who thinks he can do Gary’s job. High school students induce headaches, sure. But try solving a murder. Try peering into the soul of a sociopath. Try being responsible for the well-being of civilized society. The pain behind his eyes sears through his skull, causing an involuntary wince.
“And where is Principal Hyori?” When Gary does not answer, Tony An continues. “We’ve heard...rumors. I don’t want to speculate, but...”
He can’t listen to another second. He’s tried to be reasonable. He’s tried to handle these students like they were delicate flowers. He’s used the lightest of touches, he’s worn his kid gloves out of respect for Lee Hyori. But that’s over now.
Gary opens his mouth to call for the officer stationed outside the door, but cannot remember the man’s name. He whistles instead, immediately regretting the high-pitched noise, but it does the trick. A beefy cop appears in the doorway, and Gain has to move out from behind Tony An to make room. Gary addresses him directly, not bothering to acknowledge the Kpop High administrators.
“Have them shut down the cellular network in a three-block radius, and disconnect all internet access within the school.” The officer responds with a clipped affirmation.
Tony An chimes in, unwilling to be ignored any longer. “What about the students, Detective Gary?”
He gives the Vice Principal a withering look. “They’ve been bad, Mr. An. We’re going to send them to their rooms.” He smiles in spite of the intense pain in his head. “Why don’t you make yourself useful, Mr. An. Make an announcement over the intercom system that all students are to return to their rooms. At 9:00am tomorrow morning, they are to report to the auditorium. Understood?”
The Vice Principal nods. Say what you will about Tony An, he knows how to follow orders. Addressing the officer again, Gary gives additional instructions. “I want a door-to-door check. I don’t care if you have to wake them up, verify that every student in Kpop High is quarantined inside his or her dorm room. I want officers stationed in every hall. No one leaves.”
The officer turns to carry out the orders, but Gary calls him back. “Wait. Officer…” There is a long silence, but the man does not provide his name, oblivious to the pregnant pause. “Report to me the names and location of anyone found outside their rooms. Let’s find out something tangible, for once.”
Liars, liars, everywhere. HyunA wanders the halls, already losing Taeyang and Detective Gary’s detail. She already knows the truth: No one can keep up with her. She tried to give Gary enough hints to break this case wide open. But did he listen? He was probably lying to himself that he could ever figure out this shooting. Kpop High holds its secrets close. He was a fool to think that anyone would rat out their own. Even if it involved JYP. Especially.
Well, HyunA would. If she knew. She holds no allegiances. Owes nothing to anyone. That’s how you can enjoy a life on the edge. Edge of what? Exactly.
HyunA leans against a locker and imagines the shooter into existence. She imagines he or she finding just the right channels to procure a gun on the blackmarket. She imagines building a hate so sustainable, so powerful, that it would survive until the right moment, the most important moment, to finally be released in a bloody euphoria. He or she must have built a hate so resilient that it survived all other high school traumas. And then when that bullet was released? What would the shooter feel? HyunA imagines holding the gun, she makes the fingers of her right hand into a pistol, holds it with her left, fires. And when she does, she wonders. Why not shoot to kill? If you’ve spent all of that time in formulating this plot, figuring out a way to leave undetected, how could you not make sure JYP was dead?
HyunA holds her hands out, cocks her imaginary gun. And then IU gets into her crosshairs. IU stops her trek and stares at HyunA, who doesn’t drop her imaginary firearm. She’s too shocked, and HyunA isn’t one to surprise easily. Where did she even come from? How could she not have heard her? IU is in a plain white tee and blue jeans. She’s carrying a green dufflebag on her left shoulder. She’s not wearing shoes. Her face is dead serious and she won’t look away from HyunA’s hands. They are like this for what feels like hours, just the two of them, trapped within this absurd tableau.
“What are you waiting for?” IU finally says. “Shoot.”
And what if she does shoot? Why does she have the terrible feeling that even with an imaginary gun she would shoot IU dead?
“Do it,” IU says.
The intercom breaks the standoff. “Attention students,” Vice Principal Tony An says. “Please return to your dorm rooms at once. We will be checking every room to ensure that all students are accounted for within the hour. Everyone should report to the auditorium at 9:00am tomorrow morning for a mandatory meeting. Goodnight.” Doors open. Students begin filing out with a bluster that takes HyunA away from IU for just a moment, and as the hallways crowd again, with all of these desperate liars, whispering their desperate lies, HyunA turns back to IU, and, of course, she’s already gone.
“Just open the damn door,” Hyori tells Jay Park, who keeps stalling.
“We’re not going to find anything,” he tells her.
“The door,” she says it in the way that implies that her having to say that again would result in a punch in the face. And Jay Park just has that punchable face she needs right now.
He opens it, reluctantly, and his eyes go wide.
“What is it now?” she asks.
And it’s not Jay Park that answers, but a student, a kid. “We can explain,” he says. What was his name again? Why didn’t she know the name of all of her students? Why does Something-Monster keep popping in her head? But that can’t be his name. Next to him is a girl, Ailee, and the only reason she knows her is because of the awful things that happened to her last year. Even when she looks at her now, with that dumbfounded expression on her face, she feels a tremendous sadness. Like regret would forever follow her.
“Explain,” Hyori tells the pair. They’re surrounded by computers. A technological dungeon, but that’s it.
The young man fumbles for an explanation, but Ailee takes control. “We were told that IU could be here.”
“Why would IU be here?” Hyori snaps.
“What do you know about this place, Rap Monster?” Jay Park interjects.
Rap Monster. Of course.
“I know they call this place The Dungeon. What do you know about it, Mr. Park?” Rap Monster is insinuating something, but Hyori has no idea what. Why does she always feel like she’s the last to know?
“Someone better tell me about this Dungeon now or there’s going to be trouble.”
“It’s a production studio,” Rap Monster says.
“It’s where albums go to die,” Jay Park interrupts.
Ailee rolls her eyes. Hyori joins her.
“Don’t you get it?” Jay Park asks. “JYP can’t say no. He brings in too many students but never wants to let them go. Do you know how many albums have arrived here and died? How many idols have had their futures put on hold? All because one man can’t say no.”
“So you’re saying students just languish here, waiting for approval that will never come?” Hyori asks. She can picture it. JYP being evasive, being nonresponsive. Being nonchalantly absentminded. And still being charismatic, like that’s all that mattered.
“That’s why they call it the dungeon,” Jay Park tells her. “He only says yes to two people every year. I’ll let you guess how.”
“The king and queen,” Ailee says.
Jay Park scoffs. “There’s voting but it doesn’t matter. JYP has his own system.”
“I find this all hard to believe,” Hyori tells them, lying through her teeth. “Are you telling me the dungeon people shot JYP?”
Rap Monster laughs. He certainly has a face one could punch, Hyori notes, for later. “The worst anyone here has done is toilet paper JYP’s car or leave nasty SMS messages. They’re harmless.”
“So you say,” Hyori says, and she wants to sees Ailee’s reaction but she’s by a stack of papers, balling one into her fist. She almost asks her what she’s hiding but stops herself. No matter what this girl is planning, it seems as though they’re on the same page. Crisis breeds strange bedfellows. “I want the names of all the students involved with this Dungeon, Jay.” Hyori says. He nods.
Vice Principal Tony An blares on the intercom, telling students to return to their dorm rooms. “We should go,” Ailee says immediately, tugging on Rap Monster’s sleeve. “We’ll see you soon, Principal Hyori. I really hope you find the shooter.”
Hyori believes her. That’s why she lets her go.
To Be Continued...