STORYHansaneega@Lee Jongbeom
Sergeant (days before discharge)Absolute power in its final days.A once powerful being that has seen it all; however, his heart is no longer in it and his body grows weaker by the second as his power returns to nothingness. “It’s so damn hot…” spat out a shirtless corporal as he busily shoveled the earth. He wasn’t the highest-ranking guy there, but there was no one who said anything to him. It really was hot enough to use that kind of language.   “Do they not know how to think…?”   With his first comment, the corporal started trash talking for real. He glared a the administrative officer who had given them this order.   “He knows there was a heat advisory today and still he does this. Seriously, before I get discharged, I’m gonna…”   He was slowly approaching the point of no return, but the sergeant closest to him was just watching, with a look of something that seemed like support on his face. Then the private added to the tirade of abuse.   “Please take me with you, sir.” “Punk, if you do that before you get discharged, you’ll get put in the guardhouse.” “I could cover my face with a mask and beat him up, sir.” “Crazy bastard.”   No one tried to stop them. Everyone became one and chewed the administrative officer out, trash talking him together. Actually, the administrative officer had always given absurd orders, and everyone hated him. It would have been odder if they didn’t chew him out.   -Thud.   There was one man who just kept quiet and continued shoveling.   “Sergeant Cheon.” “Yeah?”   Cheon Gongi. Sergeant. The sergeant with the shortest amount of time until his discharge. There wasn’t even a week left.   “Aren’t you even angry, sir?”   asked the corporal who led the trash talk. He didn't appear to expect Cheon Gongi to support him. Because Cheon Gongi was a soldier’s soldier.   “You gotta do what you gotta do.”   Right. You did what you had to. That was truly Gongi’s life motto.   “Still… You don’t even have a full week left until you are discharged. Doesn’t it make you angry having to do this crap, sir?” “I…”   Gongi finally stopped shoveling and straightened up. His back was screaming from being hunched over for such a long time. Sweat dripped from his buzzed head, a style very unlike other sergeants with a similar timeframe.   Am I supposed to get angry?   If he thought deeply about it, the act of shoveling in itself was pretty useless. It didn’t make sense that they were digging waterways when the monsoon season had just hit. It was the sort of task where the person who ordered it and the people carrying it out all have a hard time finding meaning in it. It was exactly what people called a pointless task.   If you are ordered to do something… you do it. Isn’t that what a soldier is?   Wasn’t the army a continuous chain of pointless tasks? Looking back on it, saying that the past two years was a pile of pointless tasks wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Honestly, Gongi was staying quiet because he thought they would gang up and beat him up, but he liked that. When he wasn’t in the army, he had to keep thinking and acting independently, but here, if he just did what he was told, he was treated as an ace soldier.   “Yeah, well. It’s not like I’m not angry.”   Of course, he wasn’t so slow that he couldn’t read a room, so he just answered vaguely. The corporal grinned at Gongi’s answer. The look on his face said that he finally thought Gongi was human.   “That’s good, sir.” “What is?” “I’m only saying this because you only have a few days left, but… You never asked to be exempted from anything, Sergeant Cheon, sir. Even when the men who were conscripted later than you are lazing around, sir.”   The corporal gestured toward the barracks. There really was one soldier who was conscripted later than him lounging around over there. No matter how horrible the administrative officer was, he wouldn’t make a soldier with just a month left on his mandatory military service come shovel. What if they got hurt while they were working, when they were treating their bodies like china dolls?   - Gongi, you should stay in, too.   Actually, Gongi was also ordered to be an exemption.   But Gongi came out and was shoveling ferociously. More diligently than anyone else. Better, too.   Although, I don’t want to be a military man either.   He could feel it. He knew his NCO’s wanted him to become a career soldier. Gongi himself was tempted, too. Because this was the first time in his life he was treated as an ace at anything. To put it bluntly, where else was there a place like this anywhere else in the world? A place where you could be treated like you were the best just by doing what you were told, and you could rise up the ranks if you fulfill the amount of time required? But somehow, the feeling that he had to go out into the world wouldn’t dissipate.   “I’m not really the type of person to laze around.”   That said, it wasn’t like he wasn’t scared. And that fear came and stabbed him in the chest every time he wasn’t doing anything, like a surprise attack. That was why he even refused the exemption and was out here shoveling.   - Thud   He started to shovel again, and some time passed. A strange sound rang out in Gongi’s ear. Was it just a ringing in his ear? The ringing he heard when he fired his gun? No, it wasn’t like that. How could he describe this?   “Hey, did you hear something?” “Sir? No, sir.” “No, I heard it.” “I think it’s time for you to be discharged, Sergeant Cheon, sir. You’re even joking with us now.”   He asked the others, but they all shook their heads no. Were they all teasing him together? That was impossible. Since no one could look down on Gongi, at least in the army.   - Ring   The sound rang out again. It was just a low hum before, but now it was slowly beoming a solid sound. This…   “Hey, who’s… a guitar? No, a harp? Anyway, is there someone playing something?” “Sir? You’re scaring us… Why are you… Oh, oh no. Sergeant, sir!”   Just as he was going to ask again, he heard the sound again. It felt like it was ringing from inside his body, not out. At the same time, it felt like the ground and the sky had switched places.   “What… What’s going…”   When he opened his eyes again, he wasn’t on the parade ground. He wasn’t in the clinic. He was simply in a space. A dark space. No, it wasn’t even that.   This… Am I crazy…?   Everything was spinning. Scenes he recognized and scenes he didn’t. Gongi couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight of everywhere blending together and disappearing, then appearing again.   “Sergeant Cheon Gongi, nearing discharge. Correct?”   Just then, someone called his name from behind him. It was a voice that could be called masculine, but also feminine. When he turned around, a being was standing there. He didn’t know what to call it.   “Who… Who are you?”   Gongi was instinctively wary of the being. He didn’t know why, but in his hands, he was carrying a shovel. After he realized that, somehow he felt reassured. Didn’t he survive the past two years with this one shovel? He felt like he could solve most things with it. Maybe not all things, but most, yes.   “Is it really a shovel? “What…?” “They say seeing is believing.”   They were smiling and they waved their hand. And the blended background slowly started to calm. At the same time, he could see figures looking around, just like Gongi was. Instinctively, he knew. That they were all like him.   “What do you think? The stage we’ve arranged?” “What do you mean, a stage? ...Oh.”   Stroke. Gongi remembered an incident that had blown up on the news a while back. He wondered if it was possible, but he naturally shook his head.   “But… but I’m just a sergeant who’s just about to be discharged.” “That’s true. That’s how you start.” “No, I… What can I… What can I even do here?”   The shovel? He couldn’t even see it now. He could only see the endless universe. It finally dawned on him. This was Stroke. The world that seemed to be easily able to turn Gongi, the ace who passed with flying colors in that tiny pea of a station, into nothing but a speck of dust that could be blown away at any moment.   Gongi started to tremble in fear, and the being disappeared with that short statement. There was nothing he could lean on at all.   A shovel… Damn it… Is this it?   A single shovel in this enormous universe. He was flabbergasted, but when he thought about it, it was the same when he was in army training.   For god’s sake… Damn it, let’s do it then.