Dead End Chapter 23

Dead End Chapter 23

Chapter 023

Tatadadada…

A sharp sound pierced through the silence, catching the attention of both Son Taehwan and Han Sujin. The sound wasn’t a figment of Son Taehwan’s imagination—it was faint, but even Han Sujin could hear it.

“Uh… this is real. What’s that sound?”

“This is… no way.”

It was a sound that one would never expect to hear in Antarctica. Han Sujin tilted her head in confusion as she observed Son Taehwan, whose hands dropped the chopsticks he was holding.

“This doesn’t make sense.”

“Senior, what’s wrong?”

“That’s a gunshot!”

Son Taehwan, formerly a military man, could not mistake the sound of a gunshot. The sharp reports that penetrated the thick walls of the mechanical building amidst the blizzard were undoubtedly from an M-16 series rifle.

At the same time, the radio began spitting out static. Reacting reflexively, Son Taehwan grabbed his weapon and dashed downstairs.

“Could it be the rescue team?”

“We don’t know who they are yet. But those guys have guns!”

Son Taehwan tried to recall the events of the previous day, but everything was still too fresh in his mind, creating a muddle of memories. He glanced at the brightly-lit mechanical building and impulsively shut down the circuit breaker. With a hum, the electricity was cut off, leaving only the clamorous sound of the generator.

“Why turn off the lights? If they’re shooting, that means there are people, right?”

“The Antarctic Treaty prohibits the introduction of weapons. There’s no reason for an automatic rifle to be here. And if those people are in a similar situation to the survivors who left…”

“Ah…”

Han Sujin nodded in the darkness, recalling her first encounter with Son Taehwan. They had both been suspicious of one another, worried about the intentions the other might harbor. The current Antarctica was very much that kind of environment—if there were people with firearms, it was certainly not a good situation.

‘But how could a rescue team have guns?’

Guns and Antarctica were inherently mismatched. The Antarctic Treaty strictly banned the introduction of firearms, and one couldn’t simply pop up out of nowhere. Moreover, the idea that the rescue team, who had instructed them to await further orders without explanation, would suddenly be armed, was unthinkable. Antarctica was not a conflict zone, and the more Son Taehwan heard the automatic rifle sounds, the chillier he felt.

“This feels wrong. This isn’t a normal situation. Even if they claim to be a rescue team, something doesn’t add up.”

“You’re right, senior. It’s very odd…”

Han Sujin, too, sensed that something was amiss. Upon reflection, if they were indeed a rescue team, they should be loudly inquiring if there were any survivors—not just the sound of gunshots. Rescuers should be calling out to attract survivors’ responses to pinpoint their locations, which is the basic procedure to increase the chances of successful rescue. What kind of rescue team wouldn’t call out and just silently search for survivors?

“Why wouldn’t a rescue team ask if there are survivors?”

While pondering this, their radio crackled, and someone called out Son Taehwan’s call sign.

“Twixt Zero One. Sejong Science Base? This is the rescue team. Is anyone still alive? Repeat. Is anyone still alive?”

Swallowing hard, Son Taehwan stared at the radio. According to communication protocol, one should always report their call sign. Yet, those on the other end merely referred to themselves as a “rescue team.” That problematic word, “rescue team,” was something Son Taehwan had mentioned during yesterday’s radio communication.

“Senior, this is strange… It’s like…”

Han Sujin too felt an uneasy premonition.

Meanwhile, the sound of gunshots was drawing closer. It was hard to discern the direction from inside the building, but Son Taehwan’s intuition told him that the person with the gun wasn’t coming from the direction of the coast but from inland.

‘Could it be that they came overland with a gun? Not by boat? Ah! The explosion yesterday!’

Suddenly, the images of the explosions at the Chinese and Chilean bases flashed in his mind. There were no weapons in Antarctica. Naturally, there was nothing there that could cause such explosions, and it wasn’t a gas bomb’s light either. And now, the ominous sound of the radio calling for Sejong Base seemed to pierce his heart. While the persistent questioning continued, gunshots could be heard, indicating that the transmissions were coming from nearby.

Son Taehwan felt chills and promptly turned off the radio.

“Stupid fool. Having seen that yesterday, why did I say anything over the radio? What a foolhardy act…”

“Senior, what are you talking about?”

“…Quacksalver. You’re a doctor, right? Even if not, you’d understand.”

“What are you suddenly getting at…?”

“What would happen if the ‘outside world’ knew about these walking corpses here?”

“That would cause…”

Han Sujin’s eyes widened at the realization, but she couldn’t bring herself to voice it aloud. She knew too well how one would react to an outbreak.

Isolation and incineration.

Quarantine and incineration were the most standard responses to an epidemic.

To Son Taehwan, who wasn’t a doctor, the black blood seemed lethal and, judging by the number of infected, its rate of contagion was far from ordinary. In a world where individuals suspected of infection due to diseases like Ebola and novel flu were isolated, what would happen if one tried to stem the spread of an infectious disease like this evaporating black blood?

Avoiding research on suspected infections was a delicate matter, likely requiring massive facilities and extensive funding. What if an infected person, like during the Ebola crisis, insisted on their rights and tried to leave for the outside world?

Son Taehwan finally understood why the survivors had felt compelled to flee. There was only one reason the survivors had frantically taken supplies and batteries and left on rubber boats for King George Island.

“No survivors. All infected… To prevent the spread of infection, execute all living infected individuals.”

Son Taehwan’s voice carried a solemn tone.

“If I were a decision-maker aware of this situation, that’s the judgment I would make. It’s that dangerous.”

“That’s a far-fetched assumption, isn’t it? Even so, that’s a bit…”

“No, it’s the most cost-effective and politically expedient. Everything that’s happened in Antarctica gets buried. Beneath the ice.”

Han Sujin reluctantly nodded with a pallid expression. Although logically stretched, the news of reanimated corpses getting out would be no small matter—it would surely cause immense turmoil and panic in society.

Son Taehwan continued to ruminate over his words. Until now, his only concern had been survival; he hadn’t considered what would happen if these facts were to spread to the outside world.

“Let’s hide and watch for now. Let’s see if they really are a rescue team or if they’ve come to eliminate us too. Can’t be too careful, right?”

“Yes, senior.”

Han Sujin had no choice but to agree to his suggestion.

Maybe their fears were unfounded. Perhaps these gunshots belonged to a rescue team there to save them, dealing with the remaining zombies. They might just be overreacting. In that case, Han Sujin and he would awkwardly smile and say, “Oh, that was then,” and that would be the end of it.

But if they weren’t a rescue team, regret wouldn’t be enough to end this situation.

Son Taehwan led Han Sujin out of the facility maintenance office. They had already secured the doors with ropes or chains the night before. No matter who was armed, entering the mechanical building wouldn’t be easy.

Son Taehwan took a deep breath, focusing on the doors, but was distracted by a sudden gunfire ringing out from just next door. It came from the living quarters across the Y-shaped intersection.

The two exchanged panicked glances. The armed strangers were methodically searching the buildings and heading their way.

Son Taehwan tallied the number of gunshot sounds with his estimate of the number of infected individuals. He couldn’t be sure how many people had come from the Chinese base, but the numbers seemed to add up roughly.

‘Perhaps that’s a silver lining? At least there won’t be any more encounters with zombies in the base.’

Then, amidst the cacophony of voices, the sound of someone approaching the mechanical building could be heard. Tense, Son Taehwan focused on the voices.

“Hey, didn’t you say you were good at foreign languages? What language does it sound like?”

“I’m not sure. It’s definitely not English or French.”

“Huh… I could tell you that much.”

“What’s the point in asking then?”

“Ever heard of brainstorming? Anyway, the accents somehow feel like Spanish…”

“Chilean, then?”

“I don’t know. I can’t really distinguish between Portuguese and Spanish.”

The two were like mute onlookers to the conversation when they slowly approached the window they had closed the previous night. Son Taehwan cautiously breathed on the outside windowpane, causing the frost to melt and reveal the outside situation.

‘Rifles with flashlights. Did they come prepared with proper equipment?’

The blizzard had subsided significantly compared to yesterday. Observing the flashlights flickering at the barrel of the guns, Son Taehwan deduced there were two adversaries.

Two—neither a small nor large number.

While Son Taehwan was in thought, a flashlight beam suddenly swept towards his location. If they spotted him, bullets could come flying. Quick as a whip, he ducked to avoid the beam of light.

Narrowly, the flashlight scanned different parts of the mechanical building before fading away.

Han Sujin then took out one of her cosmetics—a compact mirror attached to her powder case—and used it to stealthily observe the situation outside beyond the window.

“Smart idea.”

“I can be resourceful. But, senior… the zombies we fought yesterday are still burning.”

To their surprise, some zombies that had been hit by Molotov cocktails were still aflame. Watching this, the two intruders’ actions changed; they began gesturing to each other and scanning the area with their guns.

It was a peculiar sight. The zombies had been downed, suggesting that someone had survived the encounter with them—there was a strong likelihood that there were survivors. If these men were a ‘real’ rescue team, they should prioritize a verbal search for survivors instead of pointing their guns.

However, the two men exchanged hand signals and cautiously advanced towards the wooden building. Watching this through the compact mirror, Son Taehwan sighed.

“Good Lord… they’re using urban warfare tactics?”

An image all too familiar from footage and news reports of the Iraq War. The strangers approached the mass of snow piled outside the wooden building and kicked around, inspecting the freshly fallen snow marks and evidence of a struggle.

“Sujin, I think we’re in trouble.”



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