Dead End Chapter 101

Dead End

Dead End Chapter 101

Chapter 101

The man was smoking a cigarette, enjoying the fragrant smoke wafting from the high-quality cigar as it burned away. He inhaled deeply, admiring the scene outside the window.

Outside looked like a vision of hell. Beta zombies were attacking people, who were desperately fleeing. Above the heads of the fleeing victims, a massive garbage truck fell, crushing them like cockroaches. An Alpha zombie pulled out a street sign and impaled uninfected survivors with it, biting into them as if nibbling on skewers. The smoking man watched this unfold, chuckling and shaking his head in disapproval.

“If existence in this universe is merely a cycle of predation, isn’t that rather sad?”

“I don’t know about that,” the other man replied nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders.

“Eating and being eaten. It’s possible that life itself is parasitic. Humans like to think they’re stewards of nature, saving the earth and shouting about preserving whales, but…”

“Are you saying all organisms are parasites?”

“Yes, all of them. I’m sick of it – eating, being eaten, defecating, reproducing. Maybe it’s not just humanity that needs to grow up; maybe all life on Earth does.”

The man beside the cigar smoker showed no significant reaction, merely shrugging again.

“Though your beginning was insignificant, your future will be expansive.”

The man then chuckled, showing a small bottle filled with black dirt.

“Chief, I have a question. What exactly is that?”

“Possibility.”

“Possibility?”

“Yes, possibility. I don’t know how much this black dirt will show us, but…”

The cigar man chuckled cryptically, eyeing the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“There are plenty of people with potential, after all. Yeah.”

Suddenly, the cigar-smoking man turned his gaze toward the direction of Antarctica, frowning thoughtfully.

“Sometimes that potential doesn’t lead the story in the direction we hope for.”

* * *

A plane barely managed to take off from Antarctica crashed. Son Taehwan regained consciousness only to remember a flock of black birds hitting the plane’s windshield.

“Crap!”

As soon as he came to his senses, Son Taehwan looked down at his right hand, which seemed to be evaporating in a smoky haze. The phenomenon unfolding in his hand was the black steam he’d seen throughout his experience from King George Island to Livingston Island.

It first happened in the dark living quarters of the Antarctic Sejong Base, then amidst the piles of corpses at the Chilean base, and finally from the back of an orca that pursued Son Taehwan’s party with relentless tenacity.

The sight of the black steam made past events flash before his eyes, instantly making him aware of his current state. How much time had passed?

“Sujin! Shepherd! Where are you? Damn it! I’ve been infected!”

Panicked, Son Taehwan screamed like a child. But to anyone else, the phenomenon in his right hand clearly indicated infection.

A myriad of scenes flashed through Son Taehwan’s mind: Alpha zombies and Beta zombies.

An Alpha zombie was someone exposed directly to the black dirt, the original source of the infection. Beta zombies were either those who got infected by an Alpha zombie then mutated after receiving a mysterious vaccine or those infected by the mutated beings.

Though there were tremendous physical and intellectual differences between the Alpha and Beta zombies, the clearest distinction was that Beta zombies did not exhibit the phenomenon of black dirt burning and evaporating from their veins.

“I’m infected with a goddamned Alpha zombie! I need to move, now!”

Son Taehwan knew better than anyone it only took seconds for the transformation into a full-fledged zombie to complete. Though he had been unconscious, the fact that he still had his wits about him suggested he wasn’t a zombie just yet.

“I need… to operate… on the arm. Sujin.”

As he called his companions’ names, the black dirt was likely spreading throughout his body. Son Taehwan quickly unbuckled his belt and wrapped it tightly around his arm, cinching it to the point of cutting off circulation to prevent blood flow.

The black dirt or steam seemed to climb his arm towards his shoulder, suggesting that cutting there would release more black smoke. He tightened the belt around his wrist immensely, ignoring the pain and trembling more from fear than the agony.

It seemed his vision was shuttering to darkness as he reminisced about the countless Alpha zombies and harpoon victims. Alpha zombies had incredible vitality, walking under the Antarctic sea. Despite the panic and chaos, Son Taehwan’s mind operated with excruciating clarity.

There was no point in becoming another Alpha zombie, putting other survivors at risk.

“I should… shoot… my head!”

He staggered to his feet to find his Dragunov rifle, but the scattered debris made it impossible to locate the firearm. His speech began to slur as he felt himself turning into a zombie.

Now the bandaged wrist bulged as though to burst the belt, his right hand pitch black as if dipped in ink. Looking at his engulfed hand, Son Taehwan felt time running out.

Becoming an Alpha zombie.

What would happen to him once transformed? All Alpha zombies he had encountered possessed supernatural physical abilities – they ran through the air like gymnasts, tossed cars around like stones. They wielded powers unimaginable for a human.

But, after all, they were zombies.

Becoming a zombie meant the end.

All he could think of were the mindless Beta zombies wandering aimlessly with vacant stares. Son Taehwan didn’t want to become one even in death.

His eye caught a glimpse of the landscape as desperation set in.

He’d crashed miles from Punta Arenas Airport and, incidentally, on a hill closer to the cityscape of Punta Arenas.

Houses clustered on top of each other, the blue Atlantic in the distance. But more than the Atlantic, what grabbed his attention was the toolbox near the crash site.

He’d fortuitously landed in someone’s woodworking shop. The plane’s engine had demolished the workroom’s block wall, scattering tools inside.

Organized lumber rested against the wall, and materials like studs were neatly placed on shelves. Son Taehwan dashed inside the workshop, thinking that where there were boards and studs, there would surely be a circular saw powered by an engine.

His assumption was correct: there it was, the circular saw.

Immediately finding it, Son Taehwan pulled the starter cable with his left hand. The generator sparked to life at once, and as he clutched his right hand, he lamented.

“Aaaaargh!”

Whenever his right hand, filled with black dirt, moved or exerted force, it seemed to extend like a black snake towards his heart. As he lifted his shredded parka, he could see black roots stretching near his heart.

Son Taehwan checked how far the black aura had reached, tilting his head slightly. Despite tightening his arm with the belt to delay infection, the sight was peculiar. Infection typically transformed subjects into Alpha zombies within seconds.

The man that had been killed in the Sejong Base’s mechanical room was engulfed in black steam in mere moments.

“I’ll die with human consciousness.”

Echoing the sentiments once expressed by a priest on Nelson Island, Son Taehwan repeated the same words.

Thinking back to the priest’s end, Son Taehwan lifted the circular saw blade and pushed his head underneath. The ringing noise filled his ears while the scent of wood and oily fragrance mixed. Recalling events in Antarctica, tears surged in Son Taehwan’s eyes.

He was shocked by the tears on the circular saw table: like charred ashes mixed with water, the black dirt moved within them. It was time to say his last words.

“Sujin, I hope you survive this mess.”

That was when Son Taehwan began to lower the circular saw blade handle. Unbeknownst to him, the plane crash had destroyed the stand’s support, trembling at the brink of collapse since he had started the generator.

The stand support crumbled just as Son Taehwan pushed down on the saw handle, tilting his body. This caused not his neck but his right hand to be sucked into the saw with a crunching noise.

Startled but briefly, the circular saw chewed through his right hand as easily as slicing through wood, then flung it aside. Defeated by the spinning, the blade stuck into a block wall like a throwing star, sending concrete debris flying.

Son Taehwan was more shocked by the situation than being hit by concrete pieces. To him, it felt like cutting off a piece of lumber rather than his own body. There was no pain as his right hand hit the ground, and then he witnessed something even more extraordinary.

Black dirt was pulled from the amputated wrist along with the black hand, leaving only a fraction of it behind, as if people were leaping from a sinking ship.

“What the heck?”

Even Son Taehwan, who had seen countless Alpha zombies, had never witnessed such a scene. The remaining black steam at the sliced section seemed to be sucked back into his body, and he watched in bewilderment.

The cut was bizarre; where it had been cleanly sliced, black crystals clustered together. Like the black dirt had crystallized into a mirror, it even reflected Son Taehwan’s face.

“What is this?”

Realizing he was still speaking, Son Taehwan tilted his head again. An Alpha zombie typically loses the ability to speak within a minute of infection. The phenomenon Son Taehwan was observing seemed odd for an Alpha zombie.

“What exactly is happening?”

He regarded his severed right hand, now calm and free of dark energy, yet not overtaken instantly by Alpha zombie transformation.

Almost simultaneously, as he turned toward the amputated hand, it began to exude black steam furiously until it abruptly evaporated.

Intending to crack a silly joke, Son Taehwan suddenly tumbled backward from a pain emanating from his right hand. It didn’t feel like the cut of a knife but like piercing needles throughout his body.

As if suffering a seizure, he frothed at the mouth, writhing in the dust. The excruciating pain nearly led Son Taehwan to bite off his tongue.

Despite spasms rocking his body, he could see the veins that had turned black were now reverting to their natural skin color. Collapsed face down, Son Taehwan eventually found the strength to stand, though he still felt as if needles were stabbing throughout his body.

What first caught his eye was a single black line running up the severed right wrist, an unsettling contrast to the blue veins.

He gently touched the ominous black line with his left hand, which remained soft and human. His face, too, was human, bleeding from a wound caused by the flying saw blade.

He was still alive.

As a human.

Unsure if he should be thankful for this luck, Son Taehwan was at a loss. And if this black line made its way toward the heart, consumed it, and even invaded the brain?

Watching the rippling black dirt, Son Taehwan shivered in terror.

“Isn’t black steam supposed to come out?”

Indeed, it was strange. Normal Alpha zombies, once infected and amputated, emit black steam like a whistling kettle. Son Taehwan had seen it himself, pursued to Antarctica’s limits by the relentless harpoon and other Alpha zombies.

The sight of the injured emitting black steam while chasing Son Taehwan and his group was nothing short of a nightmare.

Yet when Son Taehwan lost his hand, no steam emerged. After calming down from the seizure, he tested the sliced black part against the wall, to no effect. It felt no different from tapping a pencil against a desk—no pain or sensation.

“It doesn’t feel like my arm.”

He stood beside the saw table, stupidly staring at his wrist. Infected or not, the sudden amputation, everything seemed like a dream.

The oil generator nearby hummed loudly as he watched it absent-mindedly.

“Ah, right.”

The generator noise reminded him of the ever-so-loud combined heat and power units in the Antarctic base. He rushed to turn it off.

“Oh no, noise. If there are zombies here, they’ll come running to this sound!”

As he had heard at the Chilean base in Antarctica, Punta Arenas had also undergone a massive zombie assault. If the birds that struck the plane were infected Alpha zombies, then zombies would undoubtedly be in the area as well.

His guess was spot on…



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