Reform – Chapter 1
The season had gone past late fall and entered a full-fledged winter. The wind was cold in the morning and evening, so people would often find reasons to see each other and huddle together to warm each other up.
It was a holiday today, something that they hadn’t had in a long time. It was quite cloudy outside. The two were making their way down a hill after their morning workout.
A vast wooded area with falling leaves, all dyed brown, spreads out in front of their eyes. The leaves that had not yet died from the morning frost were amazingly red as if they were bursting with their last essence of life. The two were sitting on a dry patch of grass, looking down at the pleasant scene below.
It was a great place to watch the sunrise in the early morning.
“The autumn leaves here are very beautiful,” Biyeon commented.
“Yes, beautiful…” San murmured in reply.
“It will be cold soon. It’ll start snowing soon as well.”
“It is winter after all.”
“Psh- you’re no fun. There’s no mood.”
“Just give up. What do you expect of a person like me with my personality?”
“There’s no such thing as a fixed personality. You need to be a little softer, more open.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
San’s eyes moved up from the brown landscape below to the gradual reddish hue of the trees’ leaves closer to their location up the hill’s ridge. A cold gust of wind blew past his cheeks.
Suddenly, as his sweat dried off from the cool wind, he began feeling cold. San brought the lapels of his jacket closer around him. The cloudy sky in this dawn morning seemed eerily ominous for no particular reason. On such a day like this, he felt a little bit of heartache mixed in with a sense of emptiness. Still, the scenery beneath the hill was spectacular. They could see a vast area filled with ancient buildings of the Imperial Palace.
The vast landscape below looked like a toy, like a miniature model palace out of a fairy tale where princes and princesses lived. The skyline of the Imperial Palace was shrouded in a light morning mist, making it seem mysterious. It was soothing to see slow-moving plumes of smoke rising from the chimneys here and there as the residents were preparing their breakfasts.
“What are you thinking about?” Biyeon asked from the side.
“Nothing in particular…” San replied.
“Are you thinking of your hometown?”
“Well… I guess that would be the most appropriate explanation. On a day like this…”
Biyeon silently picked up a red leaf. It was like the maple leaf from their original world. She held the leaf with her fingers and started twirling it around.
She too was immersed in her own deep thoughts. She reminisced on her previous life in that world. Biyeon didn’t really have many good memories, and there weren’t many great memories to cherish, but for some reason, her heart ached as well. She recalled that her life in the city was always rushed and busy. Everywhere she went was crowded, but the density of people didn’t mean that she had many meaningful, deep relationships. Thinking back now, she felt that she wasn’t truly living during that period.
“Which life do you prefer?”
“Here or there…?”
San was momentarily confused by Biyeon’s sudden question. He hesitated in answering as he didn’t quite know how to respond. ‘Well, which one?’ he thought. San said he would shut the door on going back, so he thought he’d decided once and for all, but he couldn’t answer Biyeon immediately. His answer just lingered in his mouth.
His eyes fluttered slightly as he thought, ‘Hey, San Kang? You really don’t want to go back? Really? Can you honestly say that you don’t want to go back?’
In his mind, San went through a plethora of reasons why he should want to go back. Thoughts that had been suppressed up to now as he struggled to survive started flowing out. Soo, his loving wife who he loved to death, his beautiful daughter Young, scenes of painful memories, his father, mother, friends, and the certain values he abided by while risking his life… suddenly, he felt his heart ache more and more.
San really wanted to go back. ‘If only there was a way! Why am I spending my time like this!’
On the other hand, other thoughts drifted into his mind like an incoming, rolling fog.
‘So? So what? What are you going to do when you go back? If you go back to that time, what would be different? You’ll just live the rest of your life without acknowledging the larger world that exists outside of your bubble? Will I still be able to check-in like clockwork at work, living under the ever-looming deadlines of tight schedules, and living until my body breaks down? The fun of sitting with your co-workers and occasionally pouring a glass of soju into your mouth with a small soldier’s salary? Is it just an instinctual urge to return? An obsession?’
San shook his head to clear away his thoughts.
Even if he went back, he’d no longer traverse the path he used to be on. He would not be the same San Kang. He assured himself of that fact.
What would he think if the people he knew were doing well and living a good life in his absence? Even if he went back to his old life, what kind of life should he expect from then on? Didn’t he fundamentally change as a person? He had killed countless things in this world, and he was continually looking and perceiving the world through the lens of death, to hunt or be hunted… was there any guarantee that what happened here wouldn’t continue and occur in any other life? If so, San thought, it would be an irreversible and terrifying situation. There will still be the damn Creator and the existence of dragons. Of course, no one would believe in him, but…
The rules of the world there were different from this place. Knowing this, what kind of happiness could he find in his previous life? Playing the role of a hero to save the world? Becoming a superstar with tremendous superpowers? Become the savior of humankind who would completely change the scenario and path of the so-called Episode 285?
Would things really work out well as it always did in the movies? Having lived in this world and gaining power, San didn’t feel that it brought any sense of happiness or fulfillment. Also, would the Creator allow him to go back anyway? Wouldn’t San’s existence break the balance of his previous world?
Considering all of this… San felt that there were no roads, paths, or options available for him to go back, which made him feel even worse. No matter what path he chose, he’d feel a sense of loss. This was why San really wanted to meet with the Creator, to obtain the answer to this never-ending cycle of unsolvable questions.
‘In reality, I don’t really plan on asking or expecting the Creator to send me back.’
San turned his head and looked to his side. There, a friend who had already become everything in his life stared back at him.
Could he imagine living without her now? Perhaps, his entire life here revolved around his devotion to this friend. It was his purpose of breathing, the reason to continue living, and the biggest reason he was still alive. San thought, ‘Would she see it the same way?’
“I would choose to not go back…” Biyeon said in a small whisper. White condensation steam came out from her mouth.
“Because I can’t imagine living that life anymore,” she answered with a cracking voice.
“What can’t you imagine?”
“If I go back… you wouldn’t be there… or to be more exact, you wouldn’t be with me. Then all my imagination, my purpose, my reasons to live would be fragmented and become meaningless. I only found out that I felt like this when we performed the play together last time. Why do I feel so happy, why do I want to continue living…”
“Your imagination is fragmented…?” San repeated Biyeon’s words while looking at the landscape below him. The two went quiet as they stared at the calming scenery below.
The performance really was an opportunity to reflect and recognize what was truly important to them. It was like the principle of a jazz performance. Even without sheet music, San and Biyeon knew what to play next.
If one trusted one’s partner and just threw out a note, the partner would make something that surprisingly suits the other. It was like an enchanting ‘matching.’
Throwing oneself with another into the future, not the past. Trusting and entrusting. Their lives were intertwined like a parachute’s weaved jump cord.
The previously dense clouds became sparsely scattered by the morning wind, and the first rays of the warming sun were starting to shine down. A single sunlight ray broke through the clouds and lit San’s face.
His face was turning into a rosy hue. A bright smile spread across his face.
“The beat will break. It won’t even fit or make sense.”
“Nothing will make sense.”
“The next image or story may not come to mind.”
“We’d also be missing the ending.”
“Would you like to see the ending? Even if it takes a hundred years?”
“I want to see it together with you.”
San’s thick palms gripped Biyeon’s shoulders. Biyeon narrowed her shoulders. White condensation steam flowed from her lips for a moment and then disappeared.
The sun that had risen through the clouds was warmly beating down on their cold, stiff shoulders.
“Long time no see, right? I’m a little late, aren’t I?”
San smiled brightly and shook hands with the man in front of him.
“What you requested was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. My friends in the workshop have been through a lot.”
Sedum greeted the two with a smile. He had arrived at Prigojin in advance and had been busy preparing for various things.
“Shall we see the fruits of your labor then?” Biyeon said as she took hold of a machine that a workshop member handed to her. She started tapping it with her finger.
A cheerful sound rang out.
“Hmm, this is pretty good, no?” Biyeon murmured.
She pulled out a piece of paper and looked carefully at the engraved text.
For a machine built for the first time in this world, the build quality and performance were pretty good. The ink didn’t smudge, and letters could be written without any awkwardness.
“Is it to your satisfaction?” Sedum cautiously asked.
“I’ve always felt that the skills your organization possesses are amazing. We probably just need to improve the speed a little?”
“I’m glad that it meets your standards.”
“Alright, first off, we need about ten of these. Can I have it in a month?”
“Since we have all the parts, ten days should be enough.”
“Alright. That’s that for the typewriter… What’s next?”
The printing press was next. When Biyeon wrote on a thin metal plate with a stylus and pushed a roller with ink over it, she was able to place paper over the plate and obtain several letters and drawings that were identical to the original.
“The printing press plate mechanism and ink are good enough. It’s definitely usable,” San said with satisfaction.
Another workshop worker brought in a bucket of water and a contraption the size of a small child. After pouring water into a hole at the top of the machine and turning the handle up and down several times, the water in the bucket was sucked into the machine and exited from another area.
“Hmm- this pump works very well. Can you make 10 of these too?”
Sedum continued to showcase the items that his workshop had been producing.
“The abacus seems to be well made as well… okay, what’s next?”
“The knives, scissors, scales, and office supplies are very good. What’s next?”
“The drill is usable, but the battery life is an issue…”
“These capsule pills are great. Make a few more in other sizes and shapes.”
“The atomizer is fine, but it’s a little too big to carry around. Make it a little smaller, please.”
After checking the various equipment that Sedum and his workshop people had made, the three men went into a secret backroom that was located at the back of the building.
“Is the leader, Maheim, in good health?” San asked.
“Father is always just the same. He feels like he lost a lot of potential profit in the Essen contract, so he’s pretty pissed at both of you.”
“Well…” Biyeon murmured as she took a teacup up to her mouth and smiled.
“Do you think so too?” she asked.
“I asked him if we should then give up the wholesale relationship that we have with the Han-Sung Clan since that was established through the Essen contract. He instantly shut up,” Sedum replied with a bright smile. Everyone smiled brightly at his words.