“Urgh….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon frowned deeply and stabbed his hand inside his pocket.
“….Not there.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
He couldn’t find his keys.
But then again, he had been basically living in his office for the past week or so, and it’d be a bit of a mission to recall just where he misplaced his keys all those days ago.
“Hah, seriously now….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Just where would he find a taxi at this late hour? The distance to be covered wasn’t to be scoffed at, either.
They said that a luckless fool would break his nose while falling backwards. Who would’ve thought that he’d lose his car keys just as he was ready to go home for the first time in seven days?
“Whew….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon turned around. Now that things had come to this, he was planning to cleanly give up on going home and simply head back to the office.
But it was just then, someone noisily honked their car horn. He frowned slightly and looked behind him.
“Ng?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
A white sports car was shining its headlights at him.
“What are you doing?” (Seo Ah-Young)
The driver’s side window wound down, and a familiar face peeked out.
“I don’t have my keys.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young chuckled as if she couldn’t believe it.
“And why don’t you have them?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Not sure.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Okay, what were you planning to do next?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I was thinking of going back, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Why?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Well, it’s a bit late to catch a taxi, so….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Gimme a break.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young spat out a groan and beckoned him.
“Get in.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“…..Eh?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I said, get in. I’ll give you a ride. Just because you don’t have the keys, you are not going home anymore? That’s nonsense.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“N-no, hang on a minute, ma’am….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon hurriedly shook his head.
“If I don’t take my car, it’ll become pretty inconvenient to get back to work tomorrow morning. So I’ll just sleep in the office and call the service centre tomorrow and have someone come over.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Just get in, will you? Don’t worry, I’ll come to get you tomorrow morning, as well.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You don’t have to go that far, ma’am….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“How many times did I tell you to get in?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s head dropped low.
Seo Ah-Young would become a stubborn mule once she came out like this. He realised that he no longer had a choice in the matter and trudged towards the vehicle, before opening the passenger door and climbing aboard.
‘So tight.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Since he preferred large saloons, Seo Ah-Young’s car felt just too small for him. Even the seat felt too hard.
He just couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a car like this.
“Okay, we’re off.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You know where my house is, yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It’s not my first time, okay?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I thought it was?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“………” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Okay, maybe two times.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young groaned.
“I remember where it is, so don’t worry.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Alright, then. I’ll be in your care.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
The loud engine notes accompanied the car accelerating forward at a rate of knots. The ride height was so low that he thought his a*s was busy kissing the tarmac. As for the harsh ride quality, Choi Jeong-Hoon couldn’t help but frown once more.
‘I don’t get why anyone would want to ride in a car like this.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Sure, sports cars were nice. Fine. However, just where would anyone find a place to drive such cars in a city like Seoul? Why would you waste money to buy cars like this, then?
“Are you unhappy about something?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Not really.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
When in front of Seo Ah-Young, even if he was unhappy about something, everything must be a-okay. This was a different type of uncomfortable atmosphere from Yi Ji-Hyuk.
‘Now that I think about it….’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon turned his head slightly and observed the side of her face. The first time he saw her, she was still a wet-behind-ears ability user newbie, but even before anyone had realised it, she had become a veteran widely acknowledged by her peers in this profession.
Sure, that’s how the passage of time worked, but still, that truth felt kind of awkward to Choi Jeong-Hoon today for some reason.
“You need to take more breaks, you know.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It’s not like in the past, right? Back when we needed to run around everywhere. You know, that’s you being addicted to work.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I understand what you’re saying, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled bitterly.
Well before Yi Ji-Hyuk made his entrance – how hard did Choi Jeong-Hoon work in order to create an organisation that improved the poor treatment towards the ability users as well as to respond to a crisis in a timely manner?
The societal treatment had improved by a good deal nowadays, and he was now a part of the ability user organisation that the entire world respected, yet his old work habit didn’t want to disappear at all.
“I’ll have you know, it’s the other people who are getting more anxious when you keep pushing yourself so hard like this.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….I see.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
He nodded his head in defeat.
“What are you so concerned about, exactly?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Pardon?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It doesn’t look like a simple work-related issue. Actually, it feels like you’ve gotten worse recently. What makes you so concerned that you keep looking over those documents?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Well, that’s because Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“No, it started before that.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon delayed his answer and instead shifted his gaze outside the window.
“I thought you knew the way to my home?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I do.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“But, ma’am. This doesn’t look like the road that’ll take us to my place.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“You’re right.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Is this a kidnapping?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“It won’t take long.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“What a scary prospect that is.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
But, what could he do? He was already riding in Seo Ah-Young’s car, anyway. They drove for a long while, before she parked the car next to the riverside.
She climbed out and spoke as if she was being gracious here.
“You can smoke if you want.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Why, thank you.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon pulled out a cigarette and placed it between his lips.
“Let’s talk for a bit.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I never said I didn’t want to, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young’s dissatisfaction-filled eyes were now directed at him.
“Do you know what your problems are, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Mm. Well, I’m not sure.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“There are lots.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Now normally, when a conversation started in that manner, you weren’t supposed to respond like that, no?
Wasn’t her reply wee bit off?
“You have lots. Too many. But your worst problem is that, even though you pretend to worry about other people, you never tell anyone if you have a problem yourself.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Mm….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
She hit the nail in the head, and he couldn’t really refute her.
“But, ma’am. That applies to most other people as well.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I don’t know anyone who’s as bad as you, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You think so?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon looked a bit embarrassed as he lit his cigarette up.
“So, just talk to me what the problem is. It feels like you’re getting more and more jittery as time goes on. There must be a reason for that.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon exhaled the cigarette smoke out the car’s window.
“It’s because I’m worried.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“About what?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“About our current world, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young tilted her head. She couldn’t really understand what he was trying to say here.
“The Gate appearance frequency has decreased a little bit.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“I know. And thankfully, that’s giving us a bit more downtime.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“However, the ranks of the Gates are steadily increasing.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Really?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon nodded his head.
“Since we don’t get dispatched too often for such matters, it’s only normal for us to not realise it. If we take into account the entire world, then the Gate’s average level has gone up by around two.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“….That much?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Have you seen a level one Gate recently, ma’am?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“No.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“It’ll be okay to revamp our grading system now. Because, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the Gates lower than level two have almost completely stopped appearing, ma’am. Right now, we are at the point where we need to reassign the level three Gates as level ones.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Mm, well, I admit that situation has become strange. But, is that really important?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Rather than important, it….” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon stuck yet another cigarette between his lips.
“That’s enough cigarette for you. Your lungs will rot if you don’t stop.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“But, you told me it’s fine?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Who said you can smoke two in a row?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“…Damn, so cheap.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Cheap?!” (Seo Ah-Young)
Flames erupted out of her eyes.
“Fine! Smoke all you want!! Get lung cancer and just die, why won’t you?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Even though he heard all of Seo Ah-Young’s venomous words, he unwaveringly lit his cigarette anyway. Then, quickly changed the subject.
“Currently, the Gates are growing stronger with every passing day. However, the frequency of new ability users appearing around the world hasn’t changed.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Okay.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“In other words, our situation will remain the same, but the enemies we need to face will get stronger and harder. And it’s about time the balance starts tilting the wrong way. At this rate, it won’t take long before something somewhere is broken.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young’s expression hardened.
“But, we’ve become stronger, haven’t we?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon smirked deeply.
“Just how much percentage do we take up in the world of countless ability users and Gates opening up constantly? A single fistful? I’m sure it’s not much more than that.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young nodded her head.
He was right. The population of South Korea should be less than 0.1% of the entire world’s. It shouldn’t be too different when talking about the ability user numbers, as well.
And the NDF only occupied around 0.1% of the Korean ability user pool. So, it was rather obvious that they wouldn’t be able to deal with the massive and urgent Gate crises occurring throughout the world.
Physically and realistically, it wasn’t possible.
“Even then, we have Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk, and….” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon smiled bitterly next.
This part was what tormented him the most. He was definitely not a slow witted man. What Affeldrichae told him during the consecutive battles against the demon kings, and the side effects the ability users told him about after receiving a bit of dark Mana in their bodies, made the situation abundantly clear to him.
‘That Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk you’re talking about, he has reached his limit now.’ (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
He never thought that that guy would stay as a guardian protecting them for all eternity, but still, he didn’t expect a void to form so soon.
“….Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk can’t solve everything.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Sure.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“The balance has already been tilted. If my thoughts are correct, then we will no longer be able to stop the Gates within a year.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“What about the other people?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Which other people, ma’am?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Are the Americans or the Japanese making the same assessment as you?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I’m not sure. I’ve never spoken to them about this matter. However, their own assessment shouldn’t be too drastically different from mine, ma’am. Because, it’s something you can see rather easily for yourself. Analysing it isn’t even all that difficult. They are probably searching for a response of their own right now.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon spat out a long sigh.
“Unfortunately, we just don’t have a good response and that’s the problem.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Mm….” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young nodded her head.
“I think I understand what you’re saying. Okay, so. You’re under a lot of stress while worrying about something utterly useless, right?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“…….Utterly useless??” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s expression crumpled. The end of the world was right before their nose, yet she called it a useless worry?
“Look here, Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Yes?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“You’re not a Superman.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“You need to recognise and separate what you can do and what you can’t. And your job isn’t to worry about the world’s situation, but to secure enough time tonight to get a good night’s rest.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“I know that, ma’am.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“No, you don’t.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Seo Ah-Young resolutely shook her head.
“No, you think you know, but you don’t. You’ve been thinking that, since we still have some cards left, we’ll somehow find a way if you look at the problem hard enough, am I right?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon didn’t answer right away. But he still had no choice but to admit that she was on the money.
“You’re someone so predictable like that, after all. It’s so obvious what you’re thinking about. However, you should leave that to the higher-ups, okay? That’s not part of your job description, anyhow.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“….You’re correct.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“And besides, let’s say we failed to stop a crisis and the world is destroyed.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Okay.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Is that a problem?” (Seo Ah-Young)
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s flabbergasted face looked back at her.
“What do you mean, is that a problem??” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“Well, is it really a problem? It’s not like you’re going to die alone, but everyone will die together, right? That’ll be the end of humanity, then.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“What a carefree observation that is.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young smirked a little.
“I’m not joking. Surely, everyone out there must’ve thought about it at least once after the Black Monday. But well, if it’s something inevitable, then you simply have no choice but to accept it. What would change by shivering away like a wet dog?” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Mister Choi Jeong-Hoon, you might be a talented man, but if this matter was something that you could resolve by yourself, then trust me, there will be other people in the world who can also solve it. And if it’s not something you can solve alone, then your current way of looking at it and agonising over it is all wrong.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“…I guess so.” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
“That’s why I’m saying, don’t worry about unnecessary things. It’s only making people around you stressed out.” (Seo Ah-Young)
Was this what others would call ‘cheering someone up’?
Choi Jeong-Hoon’s unconvinced face shifted over to Seo Ah-Young.
< 366. Is that a problem? -1 > Fin.