AN General Hospital main building.
Anxiety filled the eyes of the young man who just got off the taxi. He took out his phone at the hospital’s entrance then carefully looked over the text message he received this morning once again.
[KG Chemical Health Supplement Phase 1 Clinical Trial: December 9th-10th, 4th Floor Pharmaceutical Supply Center]
Afterwards, the young man took a deep breath, thrust his shoulders back, and entered with a gusto.
That was three seconds ago.
The pupils of the young man who crossed the automatic doors started shaking slightly as the smell of antiseptic characteristic to hospitals invaded his nose. He felt as if his heart shriveled in anxiety again.
‘Hey, Jungwu Han, you have nothing to be afraid of. This is a simple job where you get paid to take nutritional supplements.’
The receptionist, who met him in the lobby, stared at him with concern as if asking him if he was feeling uncomfortable. Jungwu formed a small smile on his face to show that he was fine and crossed the hallway quickly to stand in front of the elevators.
While waiting on the elevator to come down from higher floors, Jungwu’s gaze settled on the reflection that was on the gleaming elevator doors.
It was a strapping young man with dark brown pupils in his mid-twenties.
He was on the tall side without excess fat.
This was part of the criterion listed under recruitment notice for the clinical trials he wanted to participate in today. He saw the ad by chance while sniffing around job hunting sites. But the problem was with the additional requirements below.
[ You have had experiences where you were in a coma for over a week.]
[ You suffer insomnia and hypersomnia in turns.]
[ You feel as if someone’s striking up a conversation with you when you’re alone.]
[ You have experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu on multiple occasions.]
The requirement was, that among dozens of special conditions like this, you had to meet at least one. Maybe that’s why he got more goosebumps than usual.]
‘They can’t be selecting for mentally ill people. Besides, I’m … ‘
Who knew that being hospitalized after a car crash could help him out in this way?
As he got on the elevator, there was a man who shouted “Please hold up!” as he ran over. Jungwu was a little surprised, as his gaze naturally turned towards this person. The man had a similar physique to him and had a rather pale complexion. He was a man that fit the physical requirements of the recruitment notice.
The man looked at Jungwu and asked.
“Do you happen to be going to the clinical trials?”
“Huh? Oh, yes.”
“Phew. What a relief. This is the right place.”
The man must have been cold, as he placed both hands in his armpits and scrunched up. With a side glance, he scanned Jungwu and asked.
“Is this your first time?”
“First timers usually come in feeling intimidated. Clinical Trials. To be honest, it’s an unnerving set of words. You don’t know what some strangers, whose face you don’t even know, will do to your body.”
The man continued as if it was all a matter of fact.
“One time, I went into a clinical trial for high blood pressure medicine. They first fed us a diarrhea inducing medicine, and told us to get on a running machine and keep running. Apparently, they had to check blood pressure changes resulting from extreme stress forced on the body.”
“That… that sounds awful.”
“Nah, that’s not much. For erection inducing medication, they told us to masturbate as they randomly turned on porn… “
“They said, “Shall I pull it out with a syringe? Or do you want to ejaculate yourself?” What are we supposed to say? If we asked the nurse to help, we’d probably get dragged off right to prison.”
“Anyways, when you get around, there’s all kinds of weird things. But, all of this adds up to a decent wage.”
In other words, this man was like a specialist in clinical trials. Jungwu couldn’t tell if he meant to be encouraging or intimidating.
At that moment, the elevator came to a halt, then opened its doors. As he stepped out into the hallway, he saw five to six other participants standing there.
‘There’s lots of people who are just as nervous as I am.’
Jungwu took a spot among those waiting with a frozen demeanor and started waiting for the clinical trials that begin momentarily.
The room he got called into was like a scientific lab with various medical equipment that he couldn’t even name. The numerous people in white gowns caught his attention.
One woman approached Jungwu, who was looking around.
“I am KG Chemical’s Senior Researcher Chae-un Moon. Call me Dr. Moon.”
She had her hair tied up neatly and the voice to match her appearance.
“First, come this way.”
Jungwu followed her for a bit and was surprised that there was such a beautiful researcher in a place like this.
“The test will proceed here.”
On the table that Dr. Moon pointed to, was a syringe and an ampoule the size of a finger, code named ‘AF-12’.
Jungwu was confused for a moment.
“I’m getting an injection instead of ingesting something? Wasn’t this a health supplement?”
Dr. Moon coldly answered Jungwu, who asked in confusion.
“The method of administration is written on the terms. You are the one that signed the agreement, correct?”
The information on the dozens of pages mostly went over his head. He read it all, but he couldn’t remember most of all the technical terms because he couldn’t understand them. Dr. Moon continued briskly with a business-like attitude as other participants were also surprised like Jungwu.
“The methods are different for each volunteer. We need to vary the administration of the drug to gauge its effectiveness in the body. Cream, patch, liquid ingestion, aerosol, suppository… .”
He was very satisfied with the injection.
Dr. Moon picked out the blood pressure monitor among the medical equipment then placed it on the table.
“I will start with some basic tests. We have to make sure that the side effects aren’t resulting from some other illnesses.”
At the moment, Dr. Moon had an expression on her face that said, ‘this isn’t a million won* job for nothing’.
Afterwards, a scene that was familiar even to Jungwu unfolded. Blood pressure and ECG checks, measuring height, weight, and other physical features were not very different from the physical exams he regularly had in school.
30 minutes later.
“Current time is 16:05. Administering diluted solution AF-12 to volunteer Jungwu Han starts now.”
Dr. Moon brought the syringe to Jungwu’s arm.
As he felt the sting, Jungwu watched the 0.1 mg of liquid disappear into his arm.
Maybe due to the small dose, it was simpler than even getting a flu vaccine.
“Please standby in room 407. We have to monitor you for 12 hours to observe the progress so please refrain from excessive movements.”
Jungwu nodded as he rubbed the alcohol soaked cotton on his arm.
As he went out the door, the specialist in clinical trials recognized him and approached him.
“How was it in there?”
“It wasn’t much.”
Jungwu saw a pointy pill form of AF-12 prepared on the table and flinched. It was obvious that it was a shape designed to go into a certain hole.
Other volunteers, who had been given the drug before Jungwu, were leisurely taking up space in Room 407.
After he met some of their gazes, he found himself an empty bed.
‘That wasn’t much.’
He felt all the pent up energy from being so nervous about the clinical trial leaving him, given how shamefully uneventful the process was. He was almost sorry about taking a million won after spending his time peacefully like this.
A moment later.
As he was spending his free time, a man walked in awkwardly as if something was stuck in his crotch but he didn’t look all that uncomfortable.
“Hey~ Jungwu Han ssi!***”
He started chatting as he sat on the bed next to Jungwu as if it were a matter of course.
“Dr. Moon is no joke, right?”
“Yes, she’s rather stiff. It’s almost to the point of being a little scary.”
“No, isn’t she really pretty? I thought I was gonna melt when she was rubbing the salve on me~.”
Jungwu just scratched his chin as he watched the man gesturing the rubbing motion on his own arm. I get it. I won’t comment further on this.
He was quietly nodding, but the man went into chatterbox mode.
“I asked the nurse earlier a little about Dr. Moon, and she said that she was a medical practitioner. My goodness, there’s such a woman. Pretty and studious. In the future, I have to volunteer in this company’s clinical trials no matter what. Who knows? Maybe I can get her number.”
“Would she feel attracted to a man who comes to these part-time jobs?”
“Ku. You’re hitting where it hurts. You’re more realistic than you look, Jungwu. Still, since there is a goddess like that, shouldn’t we keep volunteering for KG Chemical’s clinical trials?”
Maybe if Jungwu were a clinical trials specialist like this man, he could see himself enjoying tests with a beauty like Dr. Moon.
‘If I did this one more time, my liver might just crumble completely.’
One by one, the people in the hospital room increased.
Time flew by and it was getting late as they had already finished the inadequately seasoned hospital meal for dinner. In that time, researchers with KG chemical’s logo on their gowns came by occasionally to check blood pressure.
Jungwu turned his head from the smartphone that he was tapping on. All of a sudden the hospital room felt dead silent. Strangely enough, not only the man next to him but all of the other participants who were in the middle of their conversations had their eyes closed.
When he looked at the time, it read 10 PM. It was time to sleep after all.
Jungwu also leaned his head against the pillow, thinking he will fall asleep soon.
‘Let’s sleep. They said to relax until tomorrow.’
Sleep did not come as easily as he had hoped.
It was 11 o’clock, then 12 o’clock, and he was still wide awake at 1 o’clock.
‘… This is strange. Is it because I’m not used to sleeping in this place?’
It was boring, but he was also a bit hungry. In addition, what worried him most was the eerie silence in the room. How can everyone be so quiet without even a single snore?
He was tapping on his smartphone again as he killed time when the door opened all of a sudden.
Maybe it was because it was too quiet in the room, but Jungwu unconsciously brought his phone to his chest and held his breath. He didn’t want a cut to his pay from getting found out that he was the only one not sleeping and not following the directions to relax.
Two men in white gowns opened the door and entered.
“All of them are out like lights.”
“Isn’t this almost to the extent of being comatose?”
“Every time I go into the room at this stage, it feels like I’m looking at the results of some mass suicide. It’s creepy.”
Jungwu’s ears couldn’t help but listen to this conversation intently.
“Anyways, this is a failure too, isn’t it?”
“Yup. Dr. Moon will be disappointed again.”
“Isn’t there something wrong with the medicine? I mean we’re fine with getting paid without doing much. But still.”
Ggoruruk (stomach growl)
The hungry stomach sent its signal.
“Huh? Did you hear that noise?”
“Where is it?”
Feeling that it was inevitable that the two men, who were now looking around, would find him, Jungwu raised his hand.
He noticed that they were surprised when he got up.
“Can I go to the convenience store to get some cup ramen? I’m too hungry to sleep.”
While he grinned widely as he rubbed his belly, the two men’s faces changed as they ran off screaming.
‘Why are they so surprised?’
What was even scarier than that, was that none of the other participants in the room even reacted to the loud noises coming from the men who screamed and ran out.
Jungwu felt goosebumps all over. He went over to the clinical trials specialist next to him.
He shook his shoulder slightly but the man was in a deep sleep, and it didn’t look like he would be able to wake up anytime soon.
All of a sudden, he felt very uncomfortable.
Clinical trials with strangely high remuneration. Illegal procedures. Side effects. Maybe they were trying to harvest organs from comatose patients and sell it on the black market…
All kinds of thoughts were going through his mind.
But then he heard sounds of running as if three to four deers were running down the hall. The two men, who had ran out earlier, came back with the beautiful researcher he met earlier in the day.
“So, you really were awake.”
Dr. Moon stopped at the door as she looked straight at Jungwu, and swallowed some dried spit. She then turned to the men who came with her.
“You two can go back now. Good work.”
The men nodded silently and left. Dr, Moon approached Jungwu nonchalantly.
“Would you mind talking to me for a bit?”
“Why aren’t these people waking up?”
“They took sleeping drugs.”
Jungwu looked at her as if he was asking, ‘then what about me?’. Dr. Moon spoke calmly.
“The protein cell that AF-12 is composed of has a powerful sleeping drug on one side and a chemical that contains special knowledge on the other.”
“What do you mean…”
“ The reason for utilizing this dual structure is to target people like you. I honestly didn’t expect to find someone who would respond to the treatment this quickly. We estimated we would get one result out of ten thousand. In three months’ time, we haven’t gone through anywhere near that amount of people. I apologize for the poor reception earlier.”
Jungwu muttered as he still hadn’t recovered from what she had said so unexpectedly.
“I’m sorry Doctor Moon, but I was in humanities.”
“You didn’t even take the general education courses?”
“… Should I have?”
Dr. Moon nodded, indicating that she gave a perfectly understandable explanation.
Jungwu felt a little depressed from that reaction.
“Now that I think about it, I’m starting to regret it a lot. Why didn’t I, a Business Administration student go and audit some Pharmaceuticals related classes?”
As Jungwu growled, Dr. Moon looked frustrated in her own way. All of a sudden she opened up both of her hands before him.
“AF-12 is composed of two molecules that mirror each other. We call this chirality, or optical isomers.”
She wiggled her fingers as if they were mirrored reflections of each other.
“The theory behind it is simple. Even though hands look similar, the left glove does not fit on the right hand. For these people, the sleep-inducing component took effect, and for you, the knowledge component became active.”
She continued as he wondered whether she was still speaking Korean.
“You don’t know what chirality is?”
“Forget chirality, I just wanna scream.”
His head hurt as she explained further.
“So why did you make some people sleep while making me stay awake?”
“You know the answer to that better than I do. Doesn’t anything come to mind?”
“This woman, really!”
He was being serious, but Dr. Moon’s no-big-deal attitude made his patience run out.
“Are you toying with people? Okay, let’s say there was a sleep inducing component in my injection. Optical isomer? A knowledge-transference chemical? Come on, does this even make sense? Recording information on a molecular level has to use techniques that are on the level of the Genome Project. Not to mention, understanding genetically coded knowledge by translating it back from gene into coherent words without using some kind of bases-to-language-analyzer in your head is simply impossible.”
“Normally, it would be impossible.”
“Yeah, it’s impossible. As you know, genetic code has to be transcribed into RNA first then get translated into amino acid chains. If something goes wrong during transfer, RNA’s intricate molecular recognition process in grabbing its amino acid…”
“… Why is this stuff coming out naturally out of my mouth!”
* USD roughly equal to 1100-1300 won depending on current exchange rate. Koreans generally treat 1000 won as Americans would treat 1 dollar.
** word of encouragement. In this context, it’s similar to saying ‘good luck’ or ‘god’s speed’. Also pronounced (probably more commonly) as ‘Hwai-ting’. It does originate from the English word fighting, though this use of the word in modern Korean has deviated from the English origin.
*** similar to san in Japanese.
We honestly cannot do justice in explaining certain chemical terms. We advise you to read up on them