A Taxi stopped in the market district close to the Yeouido*.
Once paying the fare and out on the street, Boyoung looked around and then pointed at a Chicken Pub with the name “Apocalypse of the Pigs”.
“It’s in there, the outing.”
Jungwu, who climbed out after her, asked,
“Are you sure it’s fine for me to come along here?”
“Of course. Donggil Sunbae has mentioned Parachuter ssi by name.”
“Ah ha. Hearing that Project Lead himself asked me to be here gives me more faith.”
“There is a ‘Sunbae’ of mine at the research station that somehow causes unexpected problems for me every time he or she tells me to come with him or her.”
“Hmm? Is it possible that you are that ‘Sunbae’?”
Boyoung avoided his accusational gaze and opened the door to the Pub and stepped within.
When Jungwu followed behind her, he was suddenly hit by the sweet aroma of fried meat and felt his appetite grow.
“There they are.”
There was a large table on the far side where twenty or so researchers were gathered around.
‘All of them look old.’
It couldn’t be helped since this was the meeting between the members of Central Research station’s main projects and the aces of Lab 1. Since there was no Sunbae that he knew well, he bowed until his waist was bent 90 degrees to greet them.
“Hello everyone! I am Intern Jungwu Han!”
His energetic greeting turned everyone’s gaze towards him.
“He’s the guy on the news earlier, right?”
“Right, it’s that intern.”
Project Lead of Team 1 Donggil Lee raised his hands among the murmuring crowd.
“Boyoung! Take Jungwu and get over here!”
“Let’s go, Parachuter ssi.”
Jungwu who was brought to sit next to Donggil didn’t know what to expect and looked around nervously. Seated directly next to him was the Head of Lab 1, Seungju.
‘Why did they call me? None of the temp Researchers are here.’
He felt this about Donggil before as well, but seeing his brazen smile gave the feeling that Jungwu was looking at a man who has been following the elite course to success and was among those who belonged to the upper echelons of society. He had even heard that Donggil had obtained a PhD at a famous college in the US.
Donggil asked Jungwu after Jungwu was seated.
“Soju** or beer?”
“Ah, I haven’t eaten yet…”
“Then let’s start with beer for now. We don’t force anyone to drink unreasonably so make sure you control how much you drink on your own. And Boyoung? Mixed shots?”
“Let me get some food in me first. I’ll start on the beer.”
Jungwu was shocked to hear Boyoung’s answer due to her having an appearance that didn’t quite fit someone who consumed alcoholic beverages.
Jungwu watched the beer be poured into his mug while spacing out when Donggil asked,
“Boyoung, did the cooperative project with Yujin Chemical go well?”
“I know the Head of Research Jaegil personally. He wouldn’t have accepted anything less than perfect.”
Because the question was asked while looking at Jungwu, Jungwu answered without much thought.
“The task was nothing difficult so.”
Donggil let out a ‘Huh’ unconsciously. After taking a shot of Soju, he turned to face Seungju.
“What do you think, Seungju Sunbae? You were really surprised earlier.”
A late thirties man scanned Jungwu without much concern with his bright eyes before giving a nonchalant reply.
“He said everything went well.”
“Wow, so chill. If the Intern made terrible mistakes, wouldn’t you have been on the chopping block for resignation as the person responsible for sending him?”
Jungwu panicked upon hearing the mention of resignation. Seungju put down his shot glass and turned to look at Donggil.
“Why are you saying things to scare the intern? Boyoung was sent to care for him. You know that research isn’t done solo.”
On hearing this, Boyoung turned to look out the window as she drank her beer. She was supposed to be the one to babysit him, but all she ended up doing was follow him around.
“Jungwu ssi, don’t misunderstand me and listen.”
Donggil, whose face was filled with a gentle smile, suddenly became serious.
“What you’ve done today was very dangerous. Saying random things at the Press Conference is one thing, but putting KG Chemicals’s name on the line needs to have indisputable proof that the goal can be met. But I saw none of that in Jungwu ssi.”
“What you’re telling me is don’t do anything I can’t take responsibility for, right?”
“It’s good that you can understand quickly. From now on, just be more mindful in these matters.”
No matter what the reasons were, after working with Jaegil today, Jungwu became certain of something. As long as he could see the microscopic world, he would be able to brute force everything confidently.
‘The things I can see with ease, they cannot.’
This was an enormous advantage for a Chemist.
By the time it was 8 pm, the mood at the outing became more relaxed. The Senior Researchers surrounded Jungwu before he had noticed.
“It was so funny when you spoke at the end of the week meeting, Jungwu ssi.”
“Jung the Project Lead has quite a temper, but he’s mellow before Professor Shin.”
Jungwu laughed along with the Seniors and drank beer with them. He got carried away by the mood and ended up drinking four bottles.
‘I guess having a night out is the start of forming a network at work.’
He could begin to understand why his college mates boasted so much on becoming employed this summer.
The good thing was that unlike the temp researchers, the Seniors of the Central Laboratory did not seem to discriminate against him. The successful completion of collaborative work with Yujin Chemical must have increased their confidence in him.
“Hey Boyoung, there’s things here other than alcohol too. Hey, someone stop her. She had to be carried home last time too, remember?”
Jungwu turned to see what Boyoung was doing when one of the seniors next to him called out a warning. She was sitting towards the center of the tables where she and the other ladies of the Laboratory were chatting away and having a good time. She must have drunk quite a bit judging from the redness of her cheeks.
“Yes, Boyoung here! I’ll sing one song.”
“No one said that.”
“One, two~ Please clap along!”
“Let’s just drink quietly, you brat! You’re embarrassing us.”
Jungwu winced in his mind. He had been thinking that it was normal for seniors to urge the most junior member to sing and the said member to back out abashed, but here the seniors were begging the juniors to settle down and remain calm.
“Jungwu ssi, how are the preparations for the Assessment going?”
When the senior next to him asked, even the silent and reserved Seungju turned to see Jungwu with close attention.
“I’m thinking of doing something simple. Probably with Synthetic Resin…”
The list of research projects he had created earlier flashed through his mind. Because he had included every significant Fundamental Elements research topic, he could answer flawlessly without hesitation.
“Among the Polyurethane manufactured by KG Chemicals, there are lots of interesting products. Bed mattress, glue, saddle of Bicycles, Ski shoes, to components for an artificial heart valve.”
“Ah, Heart valve. Wasn’t that the project Seungju Sunbae was working on?
Seungju Oh nodded briefly. Jungwu thought that Seungju’s behavior was quite unexpected. He was the type of drunk that goes silent. Because the highest ranking Senior present was so withdrawn and quiet, there was a sense of freedom among the gathering. There was little to worry about your superiors here.
A Sunbae next to Jungwu patted his shoulder.
“Well, good luck anyway. I went through it during the initial years, but not every bright idea becomes a project. The higher ups prefer more utilitarian projects, so don’t be too upset if yours doesn’t get selected.”
“Does that mean it’s rare for an idea to get translated into an actual project?”
“It’s almost nonexistent. What could newly hired temp researchers possibly propose that could compete with the professors? Ah, but there was that one from Pharmaceuticals who began her own project as soon as she joined. Her name was Cheuhn Moon or something. I’ve heard that not even Project Supervisors are able to say anything to her.”
Jungwu made a knowing smile, but the senior researcher sitting next to him was unable to see it. Now that he was reminded of her, he sent Doctor Moon a text asking if he had to come to work tomorrow.
[There are rules in place to restrict working on weekends unless there is a special type of research taking place.]
Jungwu checked with the Senior researcher next to him and learned that wandering around the Lab without a project on weekends is looked down upon. Something about ‘right time to work and right time to rest’ bringing better results.
‘It’s a better end to a day than I had originally thought it could be.”
He had initially been reluctant to join the seminar. Except for being unable to get material gains, Jungwu felt quite satisfied with his day.
Jungwu smiled as he sipped on his beer. And when he looked to the left, he couldn’t help but flinch. He hadn’t noticed it earlier, but Boyoung had made her way next to him and was staring right at him.
“Oh my god, you surprised me. Weren’t you singing?”
“Junghwi Sunbae told me she’s going to kill me if I utter another word, so I came to seek refuge.”
When he turned to check the center of the tables, he saw the Senior Researcher Junghwi Shim gesture to him to ‘stop Boyoung from talking’. Jungwu picked up an oven-baked chicken wing.
“You’re hungry, right Sunbae?”
Boyoung’s eyes grew wide when she was fed a wing as soon as she tried to open her mouth. Jungwu who successfully completed the mission sent an ‘ok’ sign to Junghwi.
Boyoung, who was munching away at the wings in her mouth, pushed her way past the Senior who sat between them and placed an empty mug on the table.
“Pour me a glass.”
“Didn’t you have enough today?”
“The drinks taste so sweet today. And I’m quite resistant to alcohol.”
She then gave him a glowing smile. Jungwu had suspected her of ill intentions this morning, but now it seemed like it was just an integral part of her personality.
“When I drink, I drink intensely until the end. In case I get all teary if I don’t drink enough.”
Because she wasn’t slurring her words despite the volume that she had consumed, Jungwu picked up the bottle. After he began pouring her drinks, she stopped him once the mug filled up halfway by saying,
“Ey!” and picked it up.
“You have to leave room for Soju.”
“You’re going to have more mixed drinks? Wow, you really are strong to alcohol.”
“Please mix the right amounts.”
Jungwu then paused and soon after he began pouring the Soju in a shot glass. He saw the contents of the glass expand and zoom in until he saw their chemical makeup.
‘Soju has simple constituents.’
Most of it was just water and alcohol. Because it wasn’t something that he was interested in seeing, he tried to turn off his ability. But then his attention was focused on the movement of a chain-like chemical compound.
An artificial sweetener.
It floated around the Soju as it trembled as if trying to communicate.
Jungwu initially thought that the Aspartame was shaking because of the shaking of the glass itself, but none of the other molecules seemed to be affected.
‘Why is it fidgeting so much?’
Did it hear him?
The myriad of Aspartame particles began to vibrate at once. It was as if it was enticing him to take a shot.
‘I can’t get drunk here. I’ll behave like a dog when I get drunk. I’m too much like my father.’
The moment he touched the glass with the tip of his finger to pretend to convey his intentions to the glass of Soju, the Aspartame seemed to flip, as if switching places with a mirror view image of itself.
“Hey, why aren’t you pouring me a glass?”
Boyoung took away the shot of Soju and poured it over the Beer. She swirled it few times before lifting the glass up high.
After knocking glasses against Jungwu’s, she took a gulp of her mixed drink.
‘Pfff!’ she spewed the drink all over the floor.
“Aww, what’s wrong with this thing? Why is it so sour?”
Jungwu tilted his head while looking down at the Aspartame particles.
‘Did the molecules really change on their own? Or by me? Am I drunk?”
Aspartame’s two Amino Acids are Chiral molecules that are mirror images of each other. The left-hand form is sweet, and the right-hand form is sour.
Because the drink she just had contained much of the right-handed form, it was clear that it would be sour to the taste.
Jungwu thought about this as he tapped on Boyoung’s glass another time out of curiosity. The altered Aspartame molecules seemed to vibrate once more before it returned to its original form.
The Senior sitting next to them was disgusted by Boyoung spewing alcohol all over the place.
“Boyoung, are you drunk? Take a taxi and go home already. Aren’t you ashamed of how you are conducting yourself before your Hoobae?”
“No Sunbae, my drink tastes strange.”
“Why are you blaming your drink for your mistakes?”
“But it’s true.”
“Bring it here.”
Boyoung tilted her glass and poured a bit of the drink in her mug into his. The Senior researcher sitting next to them laughed and said,
“It tastes great.”
“What? It really was weird…”
Boyoung took another sip.
“Eh? It’s not sour?”
“You’ve lost it. Go home.”
Jungwu made a fake cough after witnessing the scene. He had all the proof before him that the molecules really changed their form.
‘Then one more time.’
He poured the Soju into an empty cup to experiment.
He took a taste of the drink after tapping the cup.
Jungwu gripped his neck upon tasting a liquid that seemed impossible to swallow. It jerked him awake. If Soju had such toxic flavor, then the Alcohol industry in Korea would go bankrupt.
“What’s wrong Parachuter ssi?”
“Nothing. And I’m so sorry, Sunbae nim.”
Boyoung stared at Jungwu without understanding the reason for his apology.
“See you all on Monday!”
The outing lasted until exactly 10 PM.
While bidding each other farewell at the entrance of the pub, Boyoung walked up to the street to catch a cab.
“Hey, Ssong. I called for a designated driver for hire. Should I let you off on the way?”
Donggil walked over and asked Boyoung, who shook her head.
“Sunbae, I know Grandpa asked you to take care of me. But I don’t like it, so please stop.”
“Wow, My Ssong knew one thing but missed two.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s true that President did ask me that, but what I’m doing right now isn’t just taking care of you, I’m expressing interest in you as a man to a woman. Can’t you tell?”
Boyoung’s eyes grew wide.
“What? No way we have a 10-year gap between our ages.”
“Is that bad?”
“You should date people around your age. And I make more money than you, so why would I date an older Oppa?”
“Ugh… right in the…”
“And I have no intentions to be in a relationship for now. I’ll pretend you didn’t say anything.”
Donggil had asked out of curiosity and had to swallow back bitterness when he was given such a clear-cut rejection.
“I think your judgement is affected by drinking. We’ll talk later.”
“I am not that drunk. And because of that strange flavor halfway through, I’m awake.”
“It’s fine. My ride is here. I’m going.”
Boyoung tilted her head as she watched Donggil hastily walk away. She then discovered Jungwu standing among the Central Research Seniors.
“Jungwu ssi, the interview was really funny. You should have seen Oh Sunbae go rigid when he saw you come on. He didn’t say anything, but he looked really worried.”
“I am very sorry. I was trying to act confidently.”
“No no, I liked your gusto. Central Research Laboratory needs such confident Researchers. Everyone tends to shut themselves away in their labs and aren’t all that active.”
Boyoung moved her hands to the scarf she was still wearing. She just realized that she didn’t return it yet.
“Go home safe, and see you all at the assessments.”
“Thank you for your guidance, Sunbae nim!”
“You sure got friendly with the Sunbaes quick.” Boyoung quietly commented after she walked up to Jungwu who was bowed at a 90-degree angle.
Jungwu turned around to face Boyoung after hearing her voice.
“You didn’t leave yet? I thought you were sent home after Junghwi Sunbae chased you out earlier.”
“She was kidding.”
“The look in her eye sure didn’t look like she was kidding.”
“I did beg for mercy outside.”
Jungwu who let out a laugh also had slightly rosy cheeks from drinking. Boyoung looked up at him who towered over her as she carefully asked,
“Um… about that weird Sunbae you mentioned earlier.”
“If that ‘Sunbae’ asks you to come with her somewhere, would you go with her?”
“I’ll have to decide at that time.”
“Oh yeah, here.”
Boyoung undid the scarf and handed it to him.
“It was really warm. I’ll buy coffee next time.”
“Coffee sounds nice, as long as there’s no ulterior motive.”
“Ah, should I buy a meal instead? That sounds better.”
“Coffee is enough.”
Boyoung had already halfway given up asking about Professor Chun.
Taxi had already arrived, but Jungwu asked,
“Oh yeah, Sunbae. Quasicrystal coating. Do you have any sample left?”
“I want to apply a bit on my gate. It’s an aging iron gate, so it’s heavily corroded.”
“There’s none left at the Central Research Laboratory. There might be some available at Cheonju Plant… never mind. There might be some at home I took with me for research. Should I get you that?”
Jungwu nodded. Meanwhile, the Taxi honked its horn while parked on the sidewalk.
“If you text me your address, I’ll have it delivered there. Give me your phone number too.”
Once she had the number, Boyoung said “bye” and waved as she boarded the taxi.
Boyoung entered the phone number into her phone and initially wrote ‘Parachuter ssi’, but deleted it and entered ‘Jungwu Han’ instead and saved it.
‘And we happen to be the same age, right? Twenty-six. There’s no generation ga…’
Boyoung shook her head wondering what she was thinking, as she resumed staring at the back of Jungwu who grew further in the distance.
Case: Molecular Communication Network
Research: If the body’s senses are stimulated in a certain way (Ex. Alcohol), a particle that affects other molecules are generated at the fingertip. It’s thought to be colorless and odorless.
TL Note: Island in the middle of Seoul, extremely populated. The Do in Yeouido means island. It is surrounded on all sides by the Han River. It is Seoul’s main finance and investment banking district.
Soju is a type of Korean Vodka, with high alcohol content (classified as a spirit) and is dirt cheap. It’s the preferred drink in Korea.