“How am I supposed to…”
“Just toss him into a group of zombies and fight alongside him.”
“What if he gets infected?”
“Don’t you know? Animals can’t get infected.”
Yohan nodded. Both in the previous timeline and in the current one, he had yet to see an infected animal. He didn’t know what caused the infection, but it seemed to only affect humans. However, he also didn’t know if animals could become carriers of the infection; he was only certain that they wouldn’t become zombies. Another interesting observation was that zombies attacked and ate all sorts of creatures, but mutants only attacked humans.
“Go rest. You look tired.”
Saeri nodded. She held Blackie close as she plodded back to her house.
It had been a fierce week, but time marched on. The sun and moon continued to rise and set. The recon team and camp members of Sindo did their best to work and keep the painful memories of the recent fights and sacrifices at bay. It was all that they could do.
After a few days, Yohan seeked out Lina. He found her kneeling in the corner of the church, hands folded in prayer. She looked like a holy statue, sitting there in the church with her lips pressed together. As Yohan walked up to her, Lina heard his footsteps and slowly opened her eyes.
“Did you hear anything from your God?”
“Doesn’t seem like it. Maybe my faith is weak.” Lina smiled softly. Yohan dismissed the sentiment with a look and sat down next to Lina with his legs crossed.
“Next time, for the new plan, I’m thinking about taking your comrades along.”
“Please say ‘our’ comrades, Mr. Yohan.”
“Sorry. Our comrades.”
“I should be the one that is sorry. I’m still a burden that isn’t very helpful. I said that I would try my best, but it’s not easy.”
“You don’t seem apologetic in the slightest.”
Lina hid her face as she smiled gently. Yohan frowned.
“Don’t worry. You’re not coming.”
“I added you to the recon team mainly to keep your comrades under control. Now, if we go out on an expedition, I want you to wait in the situation room and radio in any new information you get from your dreams.”
“…So I was a hostage?”
“Don’t worry about it too much. That’s just how we do things.”
“I’m not upset. It wasn’t such a terrible experience since I was able to stay close to you, Mr. Yohan. I’m just a bit sad that I’m really not that helpful. I guess my genes aren’t good enough for me to become a paladin.”
“If you’re referring to me, that’s embarrassing.”
Yohan and Lina exchanged a bit more small talk and the tension in the room relaxed significantly. Suddenly, the church doors slammed open and Saeri came in.
“Yohan, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I was talking to Lina.”
“Oh.” Saeri stood in the doorway awkwardly and nodded. She blinked a few times, hesitating to do or say something.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, it’s nothing. I just saw you through the window when I was exercising, so I came in. Let’s go Blackie.” Saeri exited, closing the door gently behind her. Lina smiled softly once again.
“She’s upset. Her jealous expression is quite adorable.”
“She’s certainly special, for sure.” Yohan stood up and dusted off the back of his pants. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell you our plans moving forward. Don’t resent me if one of your comrades dies during an expedition.”
“Okay. You be careful too, Mr. Yohan.”
“Okay.” Yohan nodded. He stepped out of the church and stretched his legs a bit by walking around the island. He could hear the threshing machines being dragged through the farmlands and the sound of people doing woodwork. The island was alive with activity.
“Oh, bro!” Sweeper called out when Yohan walked by where he and Ha Jin were working. Both men were sweaty. Sweeper was chopping firewood and had taken off his shirt. Ha Jin was doing a handstand with one-arm and doing push ups with it. His rippling muscles were bulging as sweat dripped down his body.
“It’s a bit weird to see two sweaty, shirtless men hang out.”
“Jeez, you just had to say that…” Ha Jin gave Yohan a distasteful look as he stood back up.
“We’re going to go on an expedition again soon. I just wanted to tell you guys that.”
“Oh, so we just need to get ready?” Just hearing about the expedition seemed to re-energize Sweeper. He gathered all his strength and swung down his axe. With a loud crack, he split the log clean in half and the axe head got embedded in the tree stump that he was using as a chopping block. He dusted off his hands and walked up to Yohan.
“Boss man is definitely diligent. When are we going?”
“You two won’t be joining us this time.”
“What?” Both Ha Jin and Sweeper said at the same time.
“I’m taking our new members out to give them some hands-on experience. I’m only going to take a few people.”
“The new members? Which ones?”
“Pio, Verda, So Hee, and Luca.”
“Why such a small group?”
“There’s no guarantee that the Shark we fought was the one that annihilated us in Lina’s dream. There could be more, so some of us need to stay to protect the island. I’m also planning to bring back a lot of supplies, so we need the extra space.”
“Oh, where are you guys going?”
“The Incheon Port Logistics Center.”
“Oh! Couldn’t you just leave the one armed pirate here and take me with you?”
“No,” Yohan replied immediately. Sweeper slumped in disappointment while Ha Jin had a satisfied smile on his face.
“Oh, Hyuk came by again and got us to beat him up. He’s been coming by quite frequently these days.”
“Something about getting stronger.”
‘I wonder if he feels like he’s falling behind now that these two are immune to infection. It’s understandable. He had put in the same effort, but the gap is getting wider.’
“Will you really be okay? I’m really worried about your expedition group…”
Yohan smiled. “There’s no reason to worry. Even if there was, they should still go and get experience. I can’t have them pulling us down at a crucial moment. I’ll leave the island to you guys.”
“Okay, bro. Don’t die out there.”
Yohan waved his hand as he walked away, following the path towards Hyuk’s house. As he stepped into Hyuk’s front yard, he could hear the sound of a knife slicing through the air violently.
“What are you working on so fiercely?”
“It’s good that you’re trying so hard, but learn to be more efficient. The way that you’re doing it right now wastes a lot of energy. Your stamina isn’t infinite,” Yohan advised. Hyuk looked a bit discouraged. “Why are you giving me those puppy dog eyes?”
“Ha Jin and Sweeper…they’re both immune, right?”
“Yeah, you saw it yourself. Is that why you’ve been depressed? Are you envious of them?”
“It’s not that.”
“It’s just…I think it’s a bit unfair. They’re already strong enough as it is.”
It seemed like Jung Hwan’s death sparked something within Hyuk.
“I feel like the gap is getting bigger. I need power to protect and save people, but I feel limited by my own body.”
“It can’t be helped. This isn’t something that can be forced just by putting in more effort.”
No one knew what the steps were to gain immunity. They didn’t know what kind of people were chosen for such a gift. It simply wasn’t something that could be obtained through sheer force. The only thing that Hyuk could do right now was train and fight, like he always did. Until some incident revealed that he was immune, he would have to continue fighting as if he wasn’t.
“Are you okay, Yohan?”
“Jung Hwan’s death.”
“Sorry. I know you’re still recovering from it.”
Even though it wasn’t his fault, Yohan could tell that Hyuk was still feeling guilty and responsible for Jung Hwan’s death. He was a special kind of good-hearted idiot that wanted to protect everyone.
“Hyuk, you know…in Korea…” Yohan said, softly. “Even before the apocalypse, the average company executive avoided their responsibilities. If something happened, they would blame their employees. They would say that it was their own fault for not being able to do their jobs properly.”
Hyuk tilted his head to the side, uncertain where Yohan was going with his random story.
“But after the apocalypse, responsibility meant life. You can’t avoid responsibility when people have placed their lives in your hands. Jung Hwan’s death is my fault and my fault alone. I don’t have any excuses to offer. Of course I’m not okay. I have regrets.”
Yohan’s tone was warm when he was talking about company executives, but there was a hint of sadness in his voice and his eyes when he finished talking. It was an expression that Hyuk had never seen before on Yohan. It made him look like a different person.
“I should’ve told him not to investigate and stay in his house. Maybe the results would have been different if I told him to wait a bit. Or maybe if we used a different patrol method. I’ve gone over the scenarios in my head over and over, rethinking every decision and regretting the ones that I made. This isn’t the only time I’ve done this. Every time someone dies, I do this. But you know what? In the end, I always come to the same conclusion.”
Hyuk looked up at Yohan. Yohan looked him straight in the eyes.
“Let’s get stronger. I can’t let anyone else die.”
“Hyuk,” Yohan said, softly.
Even though the young man was a foolish warrior of justice that frequently got them into trouble, even though he was stubborn and didn’t know his place, Yohan still cared about him and wanted to stop him from ruining his body with his reckless training. This was also Yohan’s responsibility.
“Trust in me. There is no need for you to feel guilty.”
“And don’t be so depressed. There are other ways to get stronger. Get smarter, bulk up, or build up your mental fortitude. Don’t give up. You can get stronger.”
Hyuk started nodding energetically. He had a smile on his face. Yohan watched him walk away and thought about how unfortunate it was that such a promising young man was thrust into these turbulent times.
* * *
Yohan visited Luca next. If Yohan had to say which one of their new comrades was the most valuable, he would pick Luca without a doubt. During the recent encounter, the mobility provided by his helicopter was irreplaceable.
“Yo, what’s going on, young leader?” Luca greeted Yohan with a gentle look that had quickly become his signature style.
Yohan was surprised for a moment when he was called a young leader, but there was a significant age gap between the two of them. Normally, according to Korean customs, Yohan would have to treat Luca with respect. However, they had abolished this notion early on when they established the recon teams. The chain of command had to be strictly maintained for a combat group.
Unfortunately, Yohan had the awkward job of enforcing that rule now. Even though Luca wasn’t technically a combatant, he was valuable during a combat scenario. If he had to categorize him, Yohan would say that he was a support member. A combat assistant. However, there was no difference between that and a normal combatant in their camp, so Luca had to receive combat training.
“As I said before, I’ll be speaking casually to all recon team members. I hope you understand.”
“You keep telling me that. You must really be feeling uncomfortable about it. Don’t worry. This isn’t my first time working for someone younger than me. Would it be easier if I started treating you with more respect?”
Yohan shook his head. “Just act normal.”
“Then I’ll talk casually too. I’m happy to have a young acquaintance. So, what jobs do you have for me today?”
“I need you to go somewhere with me.”
“Just the two of us? A date in the sky? Haha.” Luca laughed. He was quite carefree for a man in his 40s. Yohan frowned a bit and directed Luca’s attention to the map he just opened up.
“We’ll be going here. Incheon Port General Complex. Can you fly the helicopter there?”
“Hm…the round trip will be around 30 minutes if we go in a straight line.”
“We’ll be making a slight detour. There could be people at the Yeongjong Island base.”
“No problem. It’s close enough that a round trip is easy. We won’t have to refuel.”
Luca pointed at the map while stroking his grizzly beard. “We can take this route. When do we leave?”
“As soon as you’re ready.”
“Then, let’s go in two hours. I was in the middle of mixing some fuel.”
Hearing Luca mention fuel caught Yohan’s attention. He didn’t know what kind of gas was needed for aircrafts and warships. Having someone who could essentially create the fuel was important and Yohan felt that he should learn as well.
“Do you mind if I watch?”
“Of course. Anytime.” Luca looked happy that Yohan was interested in his work.
He led them to the warehouse next to the helipad. The once empty and dusty warehouse was now cleaned up and there were different kinds of barrels and containers everywhere.
“This iron barrel contains the JP-8 aircraft fuel. It’s originally used in jets. The barrel with the yellow sticker on it is a pseudo JP-8 that I mixed for temporary use. There’s two additives that’re missing and the ratio isn’t perfect, so I’m a bit worried about it. If I use too much of the bad mix, it can damage the engine of the helicopter and decrease its lifespan. Thus, I want to avoid using it as much as possible. We don’t have a proper mechanic and we probably can’t get another helicopter, so if this one breaks, that’s the end of it. However, we still don’t have that much fuel. Speaking of which, if possible, it would be great if we could get more fuel.”
“Where can we find some?”
“It would be easy to get some from the Coast Guard buildings, the control center or HQ. There’s an Incheon Coast guard station by the police station there. There should be more than enough fuel in the supply warehouse there. You could also loot the business warehouses that distribute through the logistics center.”
“Great. I’ll get you a ton of it,” Yohan replied. Luca gave him a big smile.
— Ω —