Dead End Chapter 119

Dead End

Chapter 119

Unbeknownst to himself, Sohn Tae-hwan reached out with his right hand, only to belatedly realize his right wrist was gone. He nearly fell, missing the edge by a mere hand’s breadth. Paula grabbed Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand with both of hers, allowing him to brace his feet against the opposite building’s wall and narrowly evade the iron bars.

“This is driving me crazy. It’s my body that’s the problem.”

As Sohn Tae-hwan tried to lift himself onto the balcony with Paula’s help, he suddenly noticed that she let out a shriek, tumbling backwards. To him, her scream was less frightening than her sudden release of his hand, which nearly resulted in him falling.

“Paula. If you’re going to let go, at least warn me.”

Grumbling, Sohn Tae-hwan swung his upper body onto the rooftop of the opposite building when he felt the cold metal of a gun against his head.

“What are you? What the hell are you doing?”

“What’s this? Why the hell are you pointing a gun at me all of a sudden?”

Sohn Tae-hwan managed to climb onto the rooftop as if he were a bug, but Paula still had her gun aimed at his head.

“What’s wrong? Why? I’m nowhere near becoming a zombie. Ever seen a zombie that talks this much?”

“Your, your right hand. Your right hand.”

“What about my right hand? It’s not like I can use it to jerk off anymore.”

Paula’s eyes kept darting to Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand. Checking what was going on with his own hand, Sohn Tae-hwan was shocked.

Alpha zombies have steam-like black smoke rising from them. Black smoke was now billowing from Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand, too. It wasn’t surprising that Paula pointed her gun at him in panic.

Sohn Tae-hwan raised both hands and stepped back on the rooftop.

“Look. I get what you’re thinking. Can you please listen to my explanation for a moment?”

“What explanation? Don’t come any closer!”

Understanding her reaction, Sohn Tae-hwan stood still with his hands raised.

“I’m not a zombie yet. Damn, it’s true I am infected with the Alpha though.”

“Alpha, Alpha; what is that supposed to mean?”

Sighing, Sohn Tae-hwan looked at his right hand.

“Alpha infected. My comrades and I have been to where this whole incident began. Right, the Alpha is the original infected, and those creatures you call the ‘Non-Steam’ are man-made disasters caused by this strange vaccine.”

Inside the pocket of Sohn Tae-hwan’s polar suit was the vaccine he had obtained at some point in Antarctica.

“That’s impossible. That vaccine was distributed by the soldiers.”

“That might be the case. But that vaccine… I know this sounds incredible, but even though I’m infected with the original Alpha, my mind is still clear. You’ve killed plenty of Alphas, also known as ‘Steam Men,’ haven’t you? Then you should know.”

Paula found herself nodding at Sohn Tae-hwan’s words. None of the Alphas immediately turned into zombies upon infection, not like Sohn Tae-hwan who could communicate.

“It’s strange. I’m clearly infected with the Alpha, but I didn’t turn into a zombie for several minutes. Even after lopping off my wrist, it took a few minutes.”

“Then what?”

“Perhaps, amputating my right wrist in time turned me into a half-zombie.”

Paula’s eyes widened anew as the black smoke previously erupting from Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand had vanished. Besides the fact that it was severed, his right hand now looked just as normal as before.

“What happened?”

“I wish I knew that myself.”

As he fidgeted with his right hand with his left, Sohn Tae-hwan inspected the area where he had been handcuffed, which was now neatly healed, and though it might have been his imagination, the black veins seemed to have faded a bit.

“Is my body adapting?”

“Adapting to what?”

“Maybe to this black soil.”

As soon as the term “black soil” was mentioned, Paula couldn’t help but tilt her head in confusion. However, her gun remained firmly aimed at Sohn Tae-hwan’s forehead.

Earlier, this mysterious man had emitted black smoke like the Steam Men. If there were more Steam Men, it would spell disaster for Paula and the school survivors. Paula’s hand trembled on the trigger, hesitating whether to pull it.

Setting Sohn Tae-hwan’s shooting skills aside, his ingenuity could prove to be essential to Paula and the other survivors. Even though the yacht was a mere three kilometers away, they had barely covered one kilometer today, harried by horses and dogs amidst this chaos.

“Paula, if you’re going to shoot, do it now. Waiting like this is harder.”

Sohn Tae-hwan brought the gun himself to his head with his left hand. Paula, now even more flustered, stepped back, but Sohn Tae-hwan refused to let go of the gun. Seeing his resolved expression made her even more uneasy.

Paula, as the leader, had already had the experience of killing an infected person. If someone quarantined seemed like they might turn into a zombie, she and a few men would shoot them with arrows or slit their throats to prevent more zombies from arising.

Except for one, the dying people all begged for their lives, pleading their individual, heartfelt stories—claiming they weren’t zombies yet, begging to be saved. Paula ceased to hear their appeals as ‘words’ and would shoot an arrow to their heads. Soldiers, priests, farmers, every single one begged for their lives, claiming they were still human, not zombies. Only one, like Sohn Tae-hwan, calmly accepted death, and that very person’s death nearly caused Paula and everyone else to mentally collapse.

That one person who did not beg had also been concerned for the survivors and died as a human.

Zombies.

Humans.

Most people died begging like zombies, but a very few died with dignity as humans. Paula’s trembling gun finally stilled.

“Sohn, are you considering dying for our sake?”

“Something like that. But, I have a request. Please check if my comrades are alive and convey a message for me.”

“What message?”

Sohn Tae-hwan quickly thought of what he wanted to say to Shepard. I never expected to end up like this. It’s going to be tough, but please take care of the survivors at the school.

However, thinking of Han Soo-jin took Sohn Tae-hwan’s breath away. His mind went blank, unable to think of anything to say. Recalling Han Soo-jin’s smile or her anger made tears unknowingly stream from Sohn Tae-hwan’s eyes. Paula saw the tears and hesitated before lowering the gun. Sohn Tae-hwan’s left hand, which was holding the gun, also dropped to the ground.

There are no zombies that weep.

“Why are you crying again?”

“I don’t know. Just am.”

“Such a grown man acting foolish.”

“Yeah. I don’t even understand it.”

Sohn Tae-hwan shrugged, pulling a silly face. Paula looked disgusted, shook her head, and slung the gun over her shoulder. Sohn Tae-hwan wiped his tears and looked up at her.

“Why aren’t you shooting? I think I’m dangerous myself. Though I don’t understand it fully, I’m an Alpha infected, and I might be a threat to you all.”

“Alpha? You mean Steam Man, right? But you’re strange. All the Steam Men we’ve seen turned into zombies within minutes. You, however…”

Sohn Tae-hwan’s eyes, words, and actions all seemed normal, much unlike the Maestro-like Alpha.

“What exactly are you? You’re not Non-Steam or Steam.”

“That’s what I’d like to know. I also can’t grasp it. I thought cutting off my hand before getting infected caused this, but that doesn’t seem to be it either.”

Paula extended her arm towards Sohn Tae-hwan.

“Sohn, let’s think about this later. We can’t stay here forever. Maybe you’ll figure it out eventually.”

Sohn Tae-hwan felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the hand she offered. If their roles were reversed, he might prefer to blow off his own head for peace of mind. He knew very well that Paula wasn’t making this decision out of a soft heart.

When he took her hand and got up, a light flickered in Sohn Tae-hwan’s eyes once more.

It was the same light he had seen at the school. Almost reflexively, he grabbed Paula’s hand and abruptly stood up. Paula also swallowed nervously as she noticed the flickering light. She first handed Sohn Tae-hwan the monocular she had picked up from the supermarket.

Sohn Tae-hwan took the monocular and checked the light.

“Oh, my God.”

“What? What is it? What’s happening?”

“That wasn’t the light of a flashlight.”

Sohn Tae-hwan handed the monocular back to Paula and continued with a dejected expression.

“That’s the navigation light of an airplane.”

Paula also looked through the monocular and let out a troubled sigh. What she had thought was a flashlight at school, upon a closer inspection through the monocular, turned out to be the blinking navigation lights of an aircraft—a safety measure during night flights to prevent collisions, with different colored lights installed at the wingtips and on the fuselage.

Apparently, the red cover had broken, making the light appear white. As if mocking Sohn Tae-hwan, a blue flashing light could be seen from a house in the vicinity. The blinking light from the fuselage flickered and then went out.

Had Sohn Tae-hwan been too hasty? Although he had seen such lights countless times in the military, he had mistaken it for a signal from Han Soo-jin.

“Sohn, what? What’s going on?”

“It looks like it’s just the aircraft navigation lights malfunctioning.”

“That light we saw from school… that’s it?”

“Most likely.”

Paula also looked disappointed, exhaling a sigh. She had followed Sohn Tae-hwan this far not just for the gun, but also in hopes of finding a doctor. If the light wasn’t a signal from a doctor, it meant that she had to make a more rational decision.

“Sohn. We have to go back now. You’ll need to be quarantined on the first floor, but we have no choice if we’re to escape on the yacht. What will you do?”

Paula gripped the gun tightly, hesitating. She could sense the sadness in Sohn Tae-hwan’s expression. If the light had indeed been from an aircraft, then his comrades could be dead. Having experienced a similar situation, she could empathize with his feelings.

“Sohn, think rationally. We need to meet up with Alejandro and Miguel and return to the school.”

It had been about ten minutes since Alejandro and Miguel had disappeared, but the surroundings were quiet. They couldn’t see Miguel and Alejandro from here, but the lack of disturbance suggested they were safe.

Apart from occasional barks from dogs at Sohn Tae-hwan and Paula, there seemed to be no other incidents. The school survivors were probably observing the cityscape through the curtains.

When Paula was about to persuade Sohn Tae-hwan with gentle words once again, he interrupted.

“You go back with the gun.”

“What? But—”

“I’ve told you already. I’ll check the wreckage and come back. If they’re really dead, I need to see the bodies.”

With a calm expression, Sohn Tae-hwan looked back at her. His face, bathed in moonlight, came into view.

“Look, Sohn. Think clearly. If that’s an aircraft light, there’s no way they could be alive.”

“It’s not that simple. I’m not a robot—nor a zombie, yet. I’m a human.”

“…”

“A human.”

Sohn Tae-hwan smiled faintly.

“You don’t have to risk yourself. I know my way around here; no need to accompany me. Take the gun and go back.”

“But, still—”

“Are you worried I might become a full-blooded zombie? Don’t worry. If I start lisping, I’ll cut my own throat with this knife.”

Sohn Tae-hwan showed the knife he had found at the supermarket and smiled calmly again.

“I hope they all survive.”

Paula felt her eyes well up as she watched Sohn Tae-hwan, who seemed to stumble as he turned away. His words echoed those of the man she had killed before. Holding back her tears, she placed her hand on Sohn Tae-hwan’s shoulder.

“Why does everyone say that? It just makes it harder for the people left behind. Do you understand? It’s hard.”

Paula’s voice was trembling. Sohn Tae-hwan, bewildered by her reaction, turned to look back at her. Paula was trying hard to hold back her sobs.

“Why the commotion now? Did I say something odd?”

“He said the same thing.”

“That person?”

Confused, Sohn Tae-hwan was about to respond to Paula when suddenly, a thunderous noise came from the direction of the sea, and they watched as a giant Coca-Cola sign flew through the air. Reacting instinctively, Sohn Tae-hwan hunched over and shielded Paula.



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