“…Shall we call it a day and go home?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
What Choi Jeong-Hoon said just then caused every single agent’s head to snap towards the clocks in the office.
“It, it, it’s already five in the afternoon?!”
“We’re closing up shop at five?! Holy mother of Jesus, we’re going to clock out at regular office hours, just like everyone else! Oh my god… how can such a thing even be possible?”
“I guess it’s all true about this being the end of the world. I never even imagined that a day like today would come.”
“On top of that, it’s not ‘Please go home’ but ‘Shall we’, instead. Wow, that means he also is going home on time, too!”
A loud commotion descended in the office, and Choi Jeong-Hoon felt this cold feeling enter his chest for some reason. He only said they should go home on time for once, yet to think, he’d be met with such reactions.
He could definitely tell just what kind of hell the NDF folks had been put through in the past from how they sounded right now.
“I can’t tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Several so-called ‘spots’ opened up after Earth harmonised with the demon world. Humanity was pushed one step closer to its annihilation, but the NDF at least was suffering from the days of unprecedented peace.
They were all in a mental dilemma, wondering if they should feel happy about earning some peace and quiet at the expense of the world’s destruction, but this didn’t mean they should pretend to be occupied with work, either.
Seo Ah-Young shot up from her seat and yelled out.
“Let’s go home!!!” (Seo Ah-Young)
Well, the director issued her order, so who were they to argue? The agents began packing up their stuff with varying levels of awkwardness on their expressions. Yi Ji-Hyuk was among them, as well.
“Ji-Hyuk-ah!” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min quickly trotted towards him.
“Do you have anything planned for later today?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
“Ng?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Wanna go out and eat something? Everyone’s been thinking of having a group dinner or something.” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Yi Ji-Hyuk grinned and took a look at the agents before shaking his head.
“Nah. Imma head straight back home.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Oh, really…?” (Jeong Hae-Min)
Jeong Hae-Min sounded dejected as she went back to her desk to get her coat. Yi Ji-Hyuk yawned and got up to leave as well. Watching others getting ready to leave for the day was making him feel a bit weird inside.
Now that he thought about it, they had never left work together before, did they?
“Aren’t we going to have an office dinner today?” (Choi Jeong-Hoon)
Seo Ah-Young replied with a scary expression on her face.
“Think about the current situation first, please. What do you think the higher-ups will say if we go out and have a grand get-together just because there’s no work? Think before saying something.” (Seo Ah-Young)
“Eiii, but director, you make a lot of money, don’t you?”
“It’s not enough to pay for your dinner bills, you know? Feeding Park Seong…” (Seo Ah-Young)
She was about to say, feeding Park Seong-Chan alone was enough to bankrupt her, so she hurriedly clamped her mouth shut. Others also realised what she was going to say, and this weird, awkward atmosphere quickly filled up the office.
“Well, I’ll be heading home first, then.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk lightly waved his hand, and the other agents took it as the right opportunity to change the moods and they began bidding him goodbye in an exaggerated manner.
He stepped outside amidst the outpouring of energetic goodbyes.
“Hmm…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The weather was colder than he thought. Yi Ji-Hyuk took a turn and stepped on to the street he didn’t usually take. He felt like sightseeing rather than going straight home today.
‘The sun is setting pretty early.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Amber light was cast across the horizon.
The sky dyed in the gentle orange hue was quite pretty to look at. He even got this feeling of, ‘Why haven’t I noticed something like that before?’
He leisurely walked around as if he was on a stroll, before his hearing caught onto a small noise.
“Ng?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Rustling noises were coming from below the thicket on the side of the road. He peeked his head under the vegetation to see what’s going on.
“Uh?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
A small kitten was hurdled there, shivering away. He reached out, and the kitten backed away in wariness, before hesitantly approaching his hand to lick it.
“You hungry?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk slowly pulled his hand back, then with quick steps walked over to a nearby convenience store. He bought a bottle of water and disposable cutlery, then a can of tuna for the kitten and walked hurriedly back to the thicket.
“You still here?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He looked under and spotted the kitten still shivering there.
“You must be starving.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He smirked and placed the chunks of tuna on the paper plate, then poured water on another one before pushing them towards the kitten.
“Dig in.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The kitten observed him with somewhat wary eyes, but perhaps it couldn’t win against its hunger, sneaked closer to the plates and began eating the tuna.
“That’s some good appetite.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He looked on with a content expression on his face.
While smoking, he watched the meal time take its place, and once the kitten finished all the food and water, he lightly pushed the plates away to the side.
“It’s really cold these days, so I hope you don’t get frozen to death out here…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk reached out and the kitten, now no longer as wary, quietly accepted his hand. It began purring when he gently stroked it, so the little kitten must’ve been feeling rather good.
He wordlessly patted the creature for a while, before slowly standing back up. And as he leisurely headed towards a nearby park, the black kitten peeked its head out from under the thicket and watched his departing back.
“Hey, go back inside. It’s chilly out here.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Maybe it understood what he was saying, because the kitten meowed a couple of times before ducking beneath the bushes.
He smirked and entered the park, before finding a bench to settle down.
The hour must’ve been still early, because he could see quite a lot of people out and about in the park. Young kids were either playing with their drones or with mud while sniffling away despite their mothers urging them to finish up so that they could go home already.
A few adults could be found exercising all around the park’s outer perimeter, while he also saw others coming out for a stroll with their dogs on leashes.
Yi Ji-Hyuk took in the unfolding sight before him and smiled quietly.
This world was beautiful.
He got to engrave that fact in his heart so, so painfully back in Berafe. Maybe it was because he was a human being but from his perspective, this planet called Earth with cultures and civilisations the human race had built up all living together in harmony was definitely a beautiful place to behold.
Could the reason for this place being so beautiful to him be because he ‘existed’ here? What would be the point of simply continuing to exist in this world without being self aware?
He couldn’t understand the notion of protecting the world through one’s death. Someone dying would simply return to ‘nothingness’.
So, what did it mean for the dying folks when they protected the world through their sacrifices?
It was an idiotic thing to do.
And this world was filled with far too many idiots.
Idiots that jumped into the burning wreckage while risking their lives just to save some strangers, or morons who picked up guns so that they could protect their loved ones.
Far too many idiots were willing to sacrifice ‘me’ to protect something else other than ‘me’.
What were they thinking of in their final moments?
If not, regret?
He wasn’t sure about anyone else, but at least Yi Ji-Hyuk knew that he’d not greet such a situation with a smile.
He was a man who lived for aeons of time.
For the longest time imaginable, he avoided building any and all relationship with strangers, and lived like that for a length of time that could easily be described as an eternity. So, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was the personification of the ultimate self-attachment.
But then, sacrificing himself for this world?
“Don’t make me laugh.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
The world could exist only because ‘I’ was here, too.
Yi Ji-Hyuk worked hard to shake off all these useless thoughts invading his head.
“This is all because I ended up hearing some useless crap.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
If he had to die, then it’d be better to die together. But if he could survive, then obviously surviving together would be even better.
The act of someone sacrificing themselves so that some others could live on with those sacrifices as their foundation might be a nice-sounding fairy tale for the others, but it’d remain as a terrible, horrible story in the end.
“What are you thinking about?” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Aaaah?!?! What the freak?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
A voice suddenly coming from behind him caused Yi Ji-Hyuk to break out in spasms.
“But, I even made noises while walking closer…” (Kim Dah-Som)
This girl, was she a ninja or something in her past life?
How could she approach my back without me noticing it? (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)
Plenty of assassins in the past wanted to kill him and tried to get close only to fail and die without breaking past the one hundred metre radius. If they saw the current spectacle, they would be spinning in their graves out of sheer frustration.
Kim Dah-Som smiled refreshingly and sat down on the bench next to him.
“Were you following me again?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
She shook her head.
“No, not this time. I actually stop by here often when I’m out on a stroll.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Now that he thought about it, her home wasn’t too far from here.
Yi Ji-Hyuk groaned and looked at her.
“What were you thinking about so intently just now? I even called your name out, but you didn’t respond.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“…Really?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Which meant that it wasn’t Kim Dah-Som who was amazing this time, but him who was acting like a dazed idiot.
“I wasn’t thinking about much.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Really?” (Kim Dah-Som)
He asked her back.
“How are things?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Which things?” (Kim Dah-Som)
“I mean, you know. Everyone knows that the big Gates are open now, right? What with the news reports and all. They must know by now that humanity just doesn’t have enough power to stop this, so like, has anything changed?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Not really.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Kim Dah-Som replied as if there was nothing to worry about.
“Not much has changed, you know. The subways are still packed with commuters in the mornings, teachers are still lecturing us in my school, and Ye-Won is still dozing off in classes…” (Kim Dah-Som)
“That little punk…!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
She giggled and continued on.
“So, yeah, nothing much has changed. It’s just like every other day, really. Like what you can see right now.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Yi Ji-Hyuk replied with an unimpressed expression.
“Is it because they haven’t really grasped what’s going on with the rest of the world?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“No, not that.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Kim Dah-Som resolutely shook her head.
“That’s not true. Everyone is aware of it. They know that it’s really the end. The news broadcasts have been subtly hinting that for a while now, and they even outright said that despite all the concerted efforts, we just don’t have any workable solution at the moment.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Yi Ji-Hyuk’s brows quivered.
“In that case, how can anyone act as if it’s all okay?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“…It’s not like they are okay with it, you know.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Ng?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“The day when the first Gates opened up, the world was a sea of tears. Well, far too many people have died, after all. And then, sacrifices continued on from that day.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Oh, so they’ve become used to it, is that it?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
She resolutely shook her head again.
“You can never become used to losing someone no matter how many times you experience it.” (Kim Dah-Som)
Yi Ji-Hyuk couldn’t quite figure out what she was trying to say here.
Not used to it, but still, you can be calm about it?
Kim Dah-Som quietly stared back at him, before opening her mouth.
“After the first Gates opened… Not just me but everyone has come to accept it. That sooner or later, a day like today will happen.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“The world will end someday. In that case, what should we do? The answer was pretty simple, actually. We just have to keep living.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“…Yeah, that’s true.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“If the world was about to be destroyed tomorrow, then I’ll probably stay at home and have fun. If it’s going to happen in a month, then I’d still be having fun somewhere. But what if it’s in one year? What if we’ll all be destroyed in ten years’ time?” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Mm…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
Yi Ji-Hyuk nodded his head.
“The world about to get destroyed doesn’t mean we must drop everything, right? Because, until the final moments, we still need to keep living our lives. That’s why we have to study even if nobody knows doing that will help anyone. That’s why we keep preparing for tomorrow. Because, no one can tell when a miracle might happen and then the lives we have given up will come back to us again.” (Kim Dah-Som)
He quietly stared at her.
Has this girl always been this deep and thoughtful?
“Aren’t you scared?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“I am. Really scared. But if you keep thinking that it’s scary when something scary happens, it’ll become even scarier than before. I’ve been taught that when it’s scary, a person needs to stand tall and confront it, instead.” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Who taught you that?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“My mom. She passed away during the Black Monday.” (Kim Dah-Som)
So, that’s how it was.
Yi Ji-Hyuk leaned against the bench and looked up at the darkening sky above.
This world was still beautiful.
Not because of the setting sun, though.
Also, not because of the cute kitten, either.
It was beautiful because the people living their lives each day while waiting for tomorrow existed here.
‘It’d been so much better if I realised this a bit sooner.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
…Realising that what he wanted wasn’t the world he knew, but a world where everyone was still living their lives.
Yi Ji-Hyuk slowly got up from the bench.
“Thanks, I feel lighter now.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
“Pardon?” (Kim Dah-Som)
“Let’s go. I’ll take you home.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)
He grinned refreshingly and helped her stand up as well.
< 402. That’s why we’ve ended up in this state -2 > Fin.