* * *
Jae Ho took the line four underground railroad and headed towards Seobinggo Station. Once he arrived, he headed toward Banpo Bridge. If he crossed it and the bridge beyond it―Jamsu Bridge―he’d arrive at his destination.
Walking through the subway system by himself made him extremely uncomfortable. He found himself constantly jumping at shadows. Totally alone, there was no one there to light the path for him or to help him if he got into some kind of trouble. This made him nervous. He had a silenced pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. He was trying to hold both of them steady in front of him as he continued on his way, but his nerves were making that difficult.
Thankfully, Yohan had provided him with plenty of extra supplies. Ammunition, flashlight batteries, and lots of food. So he didn’t have to worry about his flashlight failing on him, or about starving. But that still left plenty of other things for him to be afraid of. No matter how prepared he was, if something went wrong, or if he encountered a mutant, it was over for him. He had no confidence in his ability to handle something like a Gremlin. Compared to his other comrades, he didn’t really have any notable combat skills. He was average at best. He could handle a zombie here or there, but even moderately sized groups would be too much for him.
‘Please…..’ he prayed internally, begging that his journey will wind up totally uneventful. He was practically shaking in his boots, expecting a mutant to come roaring around the corner at any second.
Suddenly, something struck his foot.
He nearly screamed in terror, only barely managing to refrain at the last moment. He quickly looked down at the ground and found…a rock. That was what his foot had struck. He sighed in relief and took a few deep breaths. After a few moments, he raised his flashlight in front of him once again and prepared to continue.
He froze. A zombie was in front of him. Its hungry gaze was fixed on him as it approached. It stunk, and Jae Ho could smell it from several meters away.
Jae Ho’s scream was very real this time. Shocked, he fumbled with his pocket knife for a moment before pulling it out and swinging wildly at the creature. He stabbed the blade into the zombie’s eye as it started flailing around. Jae Ho lost his balance and toppled over, falling backward onto his butt.
Fortunately, however, the blade had been driven deep enough into the zombie’s eye socket that it collapsed on its own and stopped moving.
Jae Ho spent the next several minutes panting, as his heart raced. Once he finally calmed down, he stood up and kept going.
His whole body was tense. The previous encounter had not helped his mental state whatsoever so he was even more terrified than before. Every step he took made him feel like something terrible was about to happen. But he kept walking. After walking through the dark, underground passage for what felt like an eternity, he finally arrived at Banpo Bridge.
Despite being in the middle of winter, he was drenched with sweat. Both because of his nerves, and because of moving around so much.
As soon as he exited the underground passage, the zombies on the street turned and made their way over to him. The sight gave him goosebumps. There were way too many of them for him to handle and he knew it. He had no choice but to leave the area. As long as he didn’t get surrounded, he was confident that he could get away. The zombies were slow.
Jae Ho crossed Banpo Bridge as quickly as he could as the zombies grouped up and tried to follow him.
Five zombies appeared in front of him. Jae Ho holstered his gun and pulled out his hunting knife. He had to be prepared in case of an emergency, so he decided to save his bullets for as long as possible to conserve ammo for when he really needed it.
He stabbed the first zombie that reached him and kicked the second one, bowling it over. Then he weaved between the remaining zombies and managed to escape. The zombies were slow. Even a brisk walking pace was enough to get away from them, but he felt the need to start running to create some distance between them. He traveled at that pace for around a hundred meters before slowing down again, out of breath.
Knowing that he needed to conserve his stamina, he continued forwards at a slower pace. If he got too exhausted, then he wouldn’t be able to survive during a crucial moment where his life was on the line. So he alternated. He would walk for a little while to recover, then break into a jog once the zombies got too close.
Eventually, he reached Jamsu Bridge. He encountered another group of zombies just in front of it. Even though there weren’t as many as there were in the massive group behind him, there were a still good number of them. Enough that he couldn’t immediately count them. Their moans filled the air as they closed the distance to him.
Jae Ho bit his lip. He moved to the edge of the bridge and pulled out his pistol. The group of zombies was too dense to be able to break through with only close-ranged attacks, so he had no choice but to use some of his ammo. He had 15 rounds. Ignoring the zombies approaching him from the side, he focused solely on the ones coming from the front. His intent was to break through them, not to kill them all. He didn’t have the ammo to wipe them all out anyway.
Jae Ho took aim and started firing.
He fired again and again, taking great care to ensure that every single bullet he shot killed a zombie. With a few more shots, the crowd was thin enough for him to make it through. He took the opening and tried to sprint through the gap.
A zombie managed to catch his arm as he tried to escape. Filled with adrenaline, Jae Ho yanked his arm as hard as he could and broke free from the zombie’s grip. However, that short moment had allowed the rest of the zombies to partially close the gap Jae Ho was trying to make his way through.
In front of him, the zombies were reaching towards him, gnashing their teeth. When Jae Ho finally came back to his senses, he found his mind…surprisingly calm. His vision was clear and he knew exactly what he needed to do.
He had no idea how he managed it, but a few moments later, Jae Ho found himself on the other side of the group, unharmed. He had broken through. Behind him, the group of zombies was practically falling over itself trying to get to him.
Jae Ho took a quick look around and noticed zombies pouring out of the alleyways to his sides.
They were everywhere.
He was rudely reminded at that moment that this was a world that belonged to them. The zombies. It was no longer a place where humans reigned supreme. And the proof for this could be seen simply by taking a look around. There was no end to them in sight.
Jae Ho started running. He was tired and out of breath and his body felt so hot that it felt like he was infected, but he did his best to escape.
The number of zombies that were following behind him increased.
He felt like he was the Fifer of an army―leading a horde of fellow soldiers with his trusty instrument. It was a silly thought that he blamed on his tiredness. Jae Ho felt like he was going to collapse. His legs felt weak, but he couldn’t rest. He had to move faster in order to increase the distance between him and the zombies.
In order to lose the zombies that followed him near the National Library of Korea, he entered a building from one side, locked the door, and exited through a door on the opposite end. These were survival methods that he learned while searching with Yohan. This, and also knowing how to visually determine a building where he could use this strategy. After crossing several buildings, Jae Ho calmly moved forward and he reached his destination.
The zombies that had been following behind him disappeared. He didn’t know if they had given up on him or not, but at the very least, he didn’t have to worry about them for the time being. The important thing was that he had reached his destination.
There were barely any zombies inside the library. On top of that, most of the ones that were inside couldn’t walk. Parts of their bodies had been cut off. Jae Ho noticed a zombie guard with half of his body missing crawling on the floor towards him. Jae Ho smashed its head open.
‘Why would anyone come to a library during the middle of an apocalypse?’ he briefly wondered. But eventually, he was able to answer his own question.
The zombie corpses inside had bullet wounds on them and there were scorch marks everywhere. This made Jae Ho think that at some point a bomb had been used.
‘Military units had come here to subdue this place,’ he concluded.
There was broken glass everywhere. Everywhere there were bloodstains, dead zombies, and zombies that were still alive but had bullet holes in them. It was clear that a battle had taken place. Since the National Library of Korea had a national protection facility, military operations had probably been ordered to protect it. Thanks to that, most of the zombies inside had been taken care of. This was good news.
After expressing his gratitude for a brief moment to the soldiers that had fought here to protect the legacy of the future, he made his way as quietly as possible down the halls.
‘Where is the unofficial publication storage?’
The library was dark, for the most part. There were a few places where the sun was able to stream through but, other than that, it was a bit hard to see. Even though it was in the middle of an apocalypse, Jae Ho could make out the smell of old books that seemed to be a trademark of libraries everywhere. The scent of blood was mixed in, but there was no mistaking the smell.
Once he found the right place, Jae Ho broke the door that led to the unofficial publication storage and started searching through it. Even though he was used to finding documents, the task felt a bit like trying to cross an ocean by himself. There was a sea of papers to sift through.
There wasn’t any information to reference to help him find what he was looking for more easily. Any system of organization that the library may have had at one point was long gone now. Months upon months of the building falling into further and further disrepair had made the place a bit of a mess. So trying to track down a single volume of unofficial material was proving to be tricky.
He added to the disorder of the building by throwing all the books that weren’t the ones he was looking for in a pile off to the side. He tried his best to look, but he quickly found himself running short on patience.
‘I’m never going to find it at this rate.’
Drops of sweat were rolling down his neck. The number of books on the ground increased. He was getting more and more frustrated, but, at the same time, he was getting more and more tired. Moving around so much to sort through all the books was taking its toll on his stamina.
The next time he looked up at the nearest window, the sun was setting. Jae Ho looked down at the closest book and his expression immediately brightened.
‘I finally found it.’
Jae Ho carefully wiped off the dust that was sitting on the cover. It looked like an old magazine based on its shape. The cover was filled with strange letters and shapes. There was a polyhedral on it, indicative of the Modou religion. He was certain that this was the book that gave him a shock a few years ago. Jae Ho gulped and slowly opened the book. The inside was filled with unknown letters and illustrations made with black mud. The people were dressed primitively and some were dancing around a circle. He paused on an illustration depicting several people bowing to an empty wooden chair that was surrounded by snakes.
There were various religious items behind it. A staff, a necklace made of bone, a knife, and a few other things. They made him feel uneasy. Jae Ho continued flipping through the pages. His hand stopped after seeing a picture.
‘This is it…..!’
A snake-like head with a body that looked like it was about to blow up and a mouth that was opened in a grotesque way. It was the Mutant they named Piccolo. The illustration matched the description that Lina and Noah had given him. Jae Ho’s hand started shaking. Each page contained illustrations of monsters. The more pages he flipped, the bigger his eyes became. Gremlin, David, the Shark, and all the Mutants he had heard of or encountered were all contained in this book. He didn’t know what this book was about, but he was sure that it had to do with the apocalypse. The fact that he didn’t know the language was frustrating. After flipping through many more pages, Jae Ho finally reached the last one.
On it, there was an illustration that filled the entire page. It looked like it was from another planet. There was a big table with various species sitting around it. The formation reminded him of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Some looked like humans and others had long lips and noses. There were some that had wings like an angel and others had horns that reminded him of the devil. There were creatures that were round and reminded him of a dust ball. On top of the table, there was a 6-sided die and a round chip that looked like a casino token. They were spread across the table, which made it seem like they were all gambling. And in the center, there was a globe.
How was he supposed to understand this? Even though it was just an illustration, it shocked him. Jae Ho gulped loudly. Many thoughts and hypotheses went through his mind, but he didn’t dare say any of them out loud. It would almost be better if he had never thought of them. Jae Ho’s eyes were wide as he stared into the book. It felt like he was almost getting sucked in.
‘What the hell are you trying to say?’
So engrossed by the contents of the book, Jae Ho did not notice the zombie sneaking up on him. Totally oblivious, he was completely blindsided as it jumped him from behind.
* * *
A lot of time had passed. The 100-something residents of Sindo were all working together. After spending two whole days getting rid of the zombies at the Incheon Port of Logistics, they used a fuel truck to fill up the warship. They packed food that was compact and that would last a long time.
“Since we can get salt from the ocean, I don’t think we’ll need to pack a lot of seasoning,” Yohan explained.
He took note of the vinyl backpack that Sweeper was holding a moment later.
“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing to it.
“This? It’s a cast net,” Sweeper replied. “It’s illegal in our country, but there isn’t a net that’s as effective as this one. I brought the biggest one. We also need to consider the possibility of not having enough food at the place where we decide to settle down.”
They had enough food. The problem was fitting it all on the boat. They were limited on how much food they could fit inside the thing. They had packed food that could be preserved for a long time and was light and easy to prepare, but they had a lot. It was really unfortunate that they didn’t have access to a cargo ship instead. They hadn’t been able to find one. The remaining ships probably contained refugees instead of goods and were floating out on the ocean.
After filling up to capacity, the leaders reported to Yohan. They explained to him that the preparations were complete. However, there was something that was worrying him and he didn’t know what it was. He felt like something was missing. Was it really right to leave? He thought that maybe it would be safer to move to a closer location, just like Elder Yong had suggested. There was a lot of uncertainty. Was he confident enough to risk the lives of 100 people? He recalled the words that Moon Sung Chul said before he died.
‘You didn’t do very well in school, did you? Why would a nuclear power plant explode?’
— Ω —