Chapter 361: I better stop being jittery (1)

“Are we finished with all of our preparations?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Yes, sir.” (Defense Minister)

After hearing the Defense Minister’s reply, the President of South Korea, Yun Yeong-Min rubbed his eyes.

He couldn’t get a proper night’s sleep for the past few days. Sure, he didn’t have a lot of things to do, but still, the weight of the burden was figuratively crushing down on him.

‘A war, is it….’ (Yun Yeong-Min)

If they could avoid it, he’d have done so already.

Unfortunately, the North Koreans rejected outright all the windows of opportunity for open communication. They locked themselves up tight and refused to even say a word.

“What about the Americans?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“They should be arriving by tomorrow. They and the Japanese have agreed to use South Korea as their first base camp and gather here before crossing the DMZ, sir.” (Defense Minister)

“And China and Russia will cross the borders on their own?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Yes, sir.” (Defense Minister)

“Mm…” (Yun Yeong-Min)

If China and Russia, arguably only two nations with any sort of friendly intentions towards the North’s regime, had turned their backs on them, then North Korea no longer had any hopes left.

Even then, Yun Yeong-Min simply couldn’t get a grip on this one question, a doubt, bubbling in his heart.

“But why?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“What do you mean, sir?” (Defense Minister)

“Don’t you find it strange? The North might have been called the thug regime, the rotten apple of the world or all sorts of other unflattering names until now, but when the push came to shove, they always were the first to bow their heads. When the relationship between the United States and the North reached their lowest in history, it was the North’s leaders who bowed their heads first to grovel, didn’t they?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Are you talking about that time regarding the ‘Pygmy’ incident, sir?” (Defense Minister)

“Indeed. Back then, the North’s regime laid flat down on the ground and waited for the gale winds to blow over. Honestly, it’s not as if they don’t know the differences in the military strengths, and whenever they were pushed towards the brink of potential destruction, they always, always let others know of their lack of desire to fight first. But, it’s different this time. It’s like, they seemed to be saying there’s no helping it if war really breaks out. More correctly, they seem to not care if a war happens or not.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“You’re right, sir. They do seem that way.” (Defense Minister)

The Defense Minister had to agree with the president here.

In all honesty, North Korea’s responses always had been one of the most sensitive issues for the South Korean government. What the North said or did always was subjected to the most intense scrutiny.

Most regular citizens would go, “Argh, they are like that to begin with,” whenever North Korea did something stupid/insane, and that would be perfectly fine for them. However, as far as the government was concerned, they just couldn’t do that.

Especially when they shared borders and described each other as their main enemy nations.

The government’s job was to agonise over everything – to the extent that they might even be able to write a dissertation regarding a photograph that probably didn’t amount to anything or a simple wording/clause found in an official announcement.

And as a result, their own version of the North Korea response manual had been diligently compiled and perfected, but what the North’s regime was doing right now? That manual was being turned into a useless piece of toilet paper at the moment.

‘….As if their leader has been changed in the blink of an eye.’ (Defense Minister)

The Supreme Leader of North Korea the Defense Minister knew was definitely not a man who would shut out all communication. Sure, he might not talk to you, but his responses had always been pretty swift in the past.

Whether it was America, China, or even South Korea doing the deed, this much of prodding should have elicited some sort of clarification from the North regarding their current stance, but not a single squeak could be heard even now.

“It’s too late to think about this now, but….” (Yun Yeong-Min)

This ship had already set sail by now.

Not only that, the ship in question was an incredibly fast one, to boot. What with America, China, Japan and Russia all getting involved, South Korea was no longer in the position to back out from the operation. And now, it didn’t matter whether they had questions about the matter or not. They simply had to get rid of the North’s top leaders.

“We cannot afford to make even a single mistake.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Yes, sir. Please rest easy. They are old hands at matters of this nature.” (Defense Minister)

“I’m not worried about the military side of things. Maybe not the soldiers, but at least the officers of our army are renowned the world over for their prowess, are they not? No, what I’m worried about is not them, but our ability users.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“I shall definitely pay proper attention to them, sir.” (Defense Minister)

“Since the director has been changed recently, he might have a problem with controlling his organisation, so please lend him as much helping hand you can, Defense Minister.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Yes, sir. Please rest easy.” (Defense Minister)

‘I’m sure nothing much will go wrong.’ (Yun Yeong-Min)

Although it was slightly worrisome that a matter of this grave nature had to occur when the director was still new to his job, the KSF director didn’t have a whole lot of things to do in reality, anyway. As the branch managers were independently taking care of the events happening in their jurisdiction, all he had to do was to rein in those managers well and that would pretty much be it.

‘And also, not a lot of the agents are involved in the operation, anyway.’ (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Okay, let’s forget about the KSF for now. What about the NDF?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“Well, they have Choi Jeong-Hoon, so I’m quite certain that things are working out painlessly there, sir.” (Defense Minister)

“Indeed, that Choi Jeong-Hoon is a dependable man.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“He’s truly a find of the decade, that guy. Honestly, I’d have made him my deputy in a heartbeat if only I could, sir.” (Defense Minister)

“Hahaha, that’s not as easy as it sounds, is it? Who would control Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk if that happens?” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“And that’s why it’s such a loss, sir. If only it wasn’t for Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk’s matters, he is talented enough for me to bring him under my wings no matter what. Despite being from the KSF, maintaining a cordial relationship with the defence command is what makes him even more attractive in my opinion.” (Defense Minister)

“Fufufu.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

Yun Yeong-Min chuckled happily.

It was a truly wonderful thing to watch a future pillar of the nation developing so well like this. Especially so when knowing that the pillar wasn’t going to threaten your position – now you could enjoy watching the growth of the pillar without any sense of burden.

In that definition, Choi Jeong-Hoon was truly a once-in-a-generation talent that was enjoyable to watch.

“I’m sure things are really hectic for him at the moment.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“However, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk is currently absent, so it’s possible that he’s enjoying his freedom right now, sir. And besides, he’s got this workaholic streak in him, so wouldn’t it be more like a fish meeting water?” (Defense Minister)

“It’s a relief that we have someone like that with us.” (Yun Yeong-Min)

“I agree, sir. Hahaha.” (Defense Minister)

***

“Please, someone just shoot me.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon muttered to himself without even realising it.

He had already started seeing three computer monitors instead of one. As a quick fix, he mercilessly shoved down a tumbler full of ‘Zoom-zoom’ juice in his stomach, but too bad, his innards seemed to be rebelling against all the abuse he had put them through until now and were fiercely rejecting the drink.

If someone passing by saw the dark circles sagging all the way down to his chin, they probably would’ve accused him of doing a blackface. Or, maybe mistake it for a new Halloween make-up.

“Are you alright?”

A subordinate asked him worriedly, but right now, Choi Jeong-Hoon didn’t even have enough energy to reply that he was fine.

“Groan….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon waved his hand around dismissively and leaned against the back of his chair. Then, he dazedly stared at the computer screen.

‘My work, there’s no end to it.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Actually, the work did have an end, but he was the one unwilling to reach it.

Was this really the end?

Would it be fine to end it there?

Was it really okay to do only this much?

As if a doubt generator was installed inside his head, all sorts of endless doubt continued to torment him.

“Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“….Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Seo Ah-Young, unable to look on anymore, finally said something.

“Looks like you’re finished with your work, so why don’t you get some rest at home?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“I’m alright, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Do you have any idea how many nights you’ve been staying up in a row?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Yes, I do.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“If you were to enter the operation in your current state, you won’t be able to do anything. You also know that, don’t you?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Yes, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon nodded his head. Anyone would be able to tell that his current condition was abnormal.

“This is an order from your boss. Wrap everything up in one hour and go home. Have a good rest.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“In one hour? Even ten will be insufficient, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“It’s not insufficient, but you’re making it so. That document you’ve been looking at, weren’t you looking at it in the morning, too?” (Seo Ah-Young)

Choi Jeong-Hoon sneakily closed the document without saying anything.

“What are you so concerned about? If someone new sees you like this, they might think you’re a high schooler going on his first field trip.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“High school kids nowadays don’t enjoy school trips all that much.” Choi Jeong-Hoon)

“Stop saying dumb things and quickly wrap up your work, please.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Yes, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon spat out a lengthy groan. Then he got up from his seat and headed outside the office.

Seo Ah-Young looked at him with dissatisfied eyes, but she already knew why he was going outside, so didn’t try to stop him.

He left the building, put a cigarette between his lips and lit it up.

‘This is getting on my nerves.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

He knew full well the reason for his anxiousness. No, he just didn’t want to acknowledge it, that’s all.

The agents were worried about Yi Ji-Hyuk not participating?

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Yup, very true.

The problem was that the most worried one right now was none other than Choi Jeong-Hoon.

‘I can’t even fathom how I’ve been taking care of things before Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk showed up.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

He used to be a perfectionist in the past, but after running into Yi Ji-Hyuk, he kept finding himself in situations that no one could’ve planned in advance.

But he witnessed those situations being sorted out by Yi Ji-Hyuk, and it seemed that the idea of “Things will turn out alright with that man around even without making perfect plans” had taken root deep in his consciousness.

The end result of that was this pathetic sight.

When he took another look at the plan with the assumption that Yi Ji-Hyuk won’t help them, he discovered far too many holes and dangerous blind spots.

With that alone, he acutely realised just how badly he had been relying on Yi Ji-Hyuk until now.

‘Control him? Me?’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled wryly.

It was not ‘control’, but more like him leaning heavily on the name and the power of Yi Ji-Hyuk to have an easy passage. He might have been aware of the truth, but feeling it personally like this was a different issue altogether.

He never expected Yi Ji-Hyuk to back them up forever. No one knew whether Yi Ji-Hyuk himself really wanted to look out for Choi Jeong-Hoon and Co., but it was true everyone had that man’s halo protectively hovering above them until now.

Choi Jeong-Hoon deeply sucked in the last dregs of his cigarette.

“I better stop being jittery like this.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

He understood that his anxiousness was infecting other people around him. And that’s why Seo Ah-Young wanted to send him away, telling him to go home.

She was someone who didn’t care about his plight in the past, so the fact that she said something like that indicated how terrible his current condition looked to others.

“Okay, let’s just go home.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Him agonising over the problem wouldn’t miraculously solve it, anyway. No, now was the time to drop everything and rest. At this rate, he might really collapse from overwork on the day of the operation.

Vrrrrr….

It was then, the phone he left on vibration buzzed briefly.

“Was that a text message?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

But, no one should be sending him texts at this hour?

Choi Jeong-Hoon looked into his phone, and couldn’t help tilting his head.

“Wha… what is this?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

A photo of Jeong Hae-Min dolled up all pretty and the like, with her arm around Yi Ji-Hyuk’s while making a V sign with her other hand, had been uploaded to the NDF agents-only chat room.

“HUL??” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Choi Jeong-Hoon stared at his phone with stunned eyes before rushing back inside the office building.

Predictably, the inside was abuzz with lots of tense noises.

“Where are they going?”

“N-no, never mind that… but look at this!” (Park Seong-Chan)

Park Seong-Chan shouted loudly while showing everyone the photo filling up the screen of his smartphone.

“He, he, he’s not wearing a tracksuit!!” (Park Seong-Chan)

“What?! Seriously??”

“Wait, that wasn’t his second skin?”

“He never, ever changed his look even when the seasons changed, yet he took that off and wore something else?”

Every person looking at the photo was freaking out grandly at the moment.

But then again, all those who saw Yi Ji-Hyuk for the first time after joining the NDF had never seen him wearing anything else besides the tracksuits.

“H-hey, doesn’t he look pretty good like this?”

“You think so, too? They say good clothes will give you wings, but now I get why. Should I change my style, too?”

“Mm, but the one where those clothes will hang is a bit so-so….”

“What was that, you bastard?!”

Seo Ah-Young among the bickering agents peeked her head out a little before opening her mouth.

“But seriously now, what’s going on here? Where are they going, looking like that?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Don’t their attires scream a meeting between two families to discuss marriage?”

“A marriage meeting??” (Seo Ah-Young)

BANG-!!

It was then, the office door was slammed shut loudly.

Everyone’s gaze hurriedly shifted over to the doorway.

“….Dah, Dah-Som-ah….” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

“……………………..” (Kim Dah-Som)

Kim Dah-Som wordlessly pushed forward the lunchbox in her hand to her older brother, Kim Dah-Hyun. He received the food with trembling hands.

“The photo.” (Kim Dah-Som)

“N-ng.” (Kim Dah-Hyun)

He cautiously switched his phone on and tapped on the photo before handing the device over to his sister.

“They are nearby.” (Kim Dah-Som)

She nodded her head, handed the phone back to him, and rushed outside.

BANG-!!

The door was slammed shut so hard that it might have come off the hinges. Choi Jeong-Hoon stared at that spectacle and slowly muttered out.

“I wonder, is it really okay to go home now?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

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“….For the time being, please be on standby.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“I agree.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)

Going home to rest? My foot.

Choi Jeong-Hoon sighed softly in resignation.

< 361. I better stop being jittery -1 > Fin.

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