Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 11
It was a destructive power comparable to a small rifle. With such power, his ability to become one with nature, the sudden bursts of speed, and offensive regenerative abilities, it seemed as if he wouldn’t die so easily on the battlefield. Rather, he had reached the point where he had to hide his abilities or else he was going to be targeted.
“It’s a nightmare.”
Jang Shin stood there looking at Mu Ssang with a blank stare and his jaw hanging open. Mu Ssang laughed. Logic got in the way as he tried to understand the supernatural display of strength before him. He knew that Park was an amazing human, but he didn’t know that he had long overstepped human boundaries.
He was also a top-tier, 8-mixed martial arts champion. With some special training, a human could become stronger than one might imagine. But there was a limit to the human body. A human couldn’t gain the speed of a tiger nor display the strength of a bear. The skeleton wouldn’t be able to support anything beyond its limit.
Jang Shin, before being awed by the display Mu Ssang’s power, feared even more for Mu Ssang’s body, which had endured such a shock.
“How can I, a human, understand a monster?”
Jang Shin shook his head. He simply had to accept that his friend was a presence that went beyond human comprehension. Trying to understand it with logic and his frame of reference gave him a headache.
Jang Shin had also considered himself a champion of the 8-mixed martial arts, but his skills were no incomparable to Mu Ssang’s. It was better to remain silent in a corner.
“Park, was that the Expelling Principle?”
“I don’t know. Master told me it was resonance.”
“Resonance? That’s my first time hearing of that. Sounds like one of those Expelling Principles. Park, are you normally capable of controlling your power?”
“Well, I didn’t know my power was this destructive.”
“Be careful, if you hit someone like Mike so carelessly, you might kill them.”
“I’ll be careful.”
Jang Shin made a gesture as if to lock his mouth. Nothing good could come from revealing a power that was beyond the norm.
Mu Ssang smiled. This was a friend who understood him. He wasn’t quite human, and he had killed some people. Many idiots became handicapped after he handled them. When he lost his reasoning and made a scene, destruction occurred. Now he understood a little of what his master had been thinking when he persuaded him into becoming a mercenary.
“Park, please be careful.”
Mu Ssang had once wiped the floor with the Odd-Ear’s group at Castelnau Bridge. Jang Shin’s master could have done that, too. But the power he saw this time around was on a different level. It was the kind of power that could break his spinal cord if Mu Ssang simply patted him on his back after getting drunk.
“Jang, do you want to warm up?”
Jang Shin’s face, after receiving a request to be a sparring partner, crumpled to the point of rotting. His hands flapped violently.
He recalled the last time he had last played around with Park. Shivers ran through his body. He liked Park, but he didn’t want his spine broken. The idea of playing around with his friend permanently left his mind.
Year 1982, mid-August.
A long line, like a line of ants, appeared on Mt. Cinto. Those climbing the mountain were equipped in full military gear. They were short of breath, and every khaki uniform was drenched in sweat.
It was the Deuxieme Rep’s 4th squadron that was thrown into sudden mountain training. While the other squadrons had left for their holidays, they had been thrown into this hell. Even Jang Shin, who had been planning to go to the Ajaccio markets, was there. The 136 members of the squadron moved their feet while cursing out Commander Pief.
Mt. Cinto was in the middle of southwest Corsica. In the world atlas, it was called Monte Cinto, but it was in actuality a mountain range of 20 mountains at around 2000 meters high. Mt. Cinto filled most of Corsica’s central region.
It had been four hours since they started their march. The path wasn’t easy. Some of the climbing paths were as narrow as a rabbit’s path. They sometimes passed through forests where there were no paths at all and had to cut down leaves with their jungle knives, and push through it.
The soldiers climbing the elevated slope were breathing like trembling grass. Their military gear, which had seemed a light 40 kilograms, in the beginning, had magically started to gain weight throughout their training session. Their shoulders were pressed down by the gear and leaned towards the ground. They were bent forward to the point that their noses could touch the ground. It was a representation of their draining stamina.
“Straighten your backs, and tuck in your chins. Don’t open your mouths.”
The officer shouted at them continuously, but everyone was still on the verge of eating the dirt beneath them.
There was one person who was fine. Mu Ssang had even taken the Minimi rifle that private Emil handed to him and strung it around his shoulder. He carried 40 kilograms of military gear, the Dragunov, a 7.5-kilogram Minimi rifle, and a 10-kilogram bullet box. There were no restrictions on helping partners during training.
Mu Ssang was rapidly climbing the cliffs of Mt. Cinto without a single drop of sweat on his face. While his comrades were hanging their necks out like herons, he took in the scenery around him. Sometimes he committed the crime of pulling out the cistus flower (a special flower representative of Corsica) on the road and smelling it.
He had once climbed up and down the river banks with three sacks of rice on his back at dawn. The 70-kilogram weight didn’t affect him as much. Emil was still panting even after handing his firearm and bullet box to his partner. Mu Ssang carried a weight that bordered 100 kilograms, now. Emil, who was trailing behind him, shook his head.
“Park, you’re too much. Are you even human?” Emil complained.
And as he spoke, even more strength left him.
“Why? Do you want to entrust your bag to me, too?”
“No. You monster.”
Emil acted as if he was pouting. His decision to give up the machine gun and choose Park as his partner was a good decision. A talented partner was a lifeline.
Mu Ssang remembered the time when he used to clean out the outhouse. The buckets of feces weighed the same as his military gear. He carried them twice, often before noon. So he had already marched with such a weight at the age of 12.
“I’m human. If you clean the outhouse before noon, you become like me.”
“What are you talking about?”
It was something Emil would never understand.
Mu Ssang looked around at his comrades. Everyone had at least half of their tongue hanging out.
“Weaklings, look at them struggling. If they had carried a bunch of outhouse buckets when they were young, like I did, they would have been flying around like I am.”
If they would have understood Korean, they would have buried him in Mt. Cinto’s western mountains.
The feces buckets had to be cleaned every season in the middle of Hajungdo’s willow forests. Minnows swam up the river in a line, the cicadas buzzing tore through the air, fields of well-blossomed chrysanthemums, flocks of mallard ducks turned the sky black. Jin Soon gritted her teeth to hold back tears, his master waved while smiling like a fool, Hae Young’s scent of melting ice cream and her soft skin…
His mother whose life or death couldn’t be determined, Jang and her abusive family on whom he had not been able to take revenge, his uncle who disappeared without a trace, and many other memories welled to the forefront and messed with his head.
“Damn, it’s a hometown I want to throw away, so why do I have so many regrets?”
His hometown wasn’t something that could be abandoned simply because he wanted to. Mu Ssang shook his head and threw out his worries.
Beep— beep— beep—
The corporal leading the march gave the signal to rest for 30 minutes. The soldiers collapsed in their spot. It was the second break of their five-hour march.
It was 43 kilometers from the Calvi Garrison to the summit of Mt. Cinto. Half of their march had been on flat land, and the other half was up the incline. Deuxieme Rep’s training march was 6 kilometers-per-hour on flat land and 4 kilometers-per-hour on the mountain. After a rapid march, they were given a 30-minute break after every 150 minutes.
When an adult walks on flat terrain, the average speed is 4 kilometers-per-hour. North Korea says that their reconnaissance brigade female warriors march a 60-kilometer mountain pass overnight, but that was a blatant lie. The body would not be able to tolerate such energy consumption.
Mountain marches generally consumed four times the energy of flat terrain marches. Of course, differences depended on the terrain. The average person could march uphill at 1 kilometer-per-hour and downhill at 3 kilometers-per-hour. Depending on the terrain, it could be difficult to travel 15 kilometers-per-hour for 10 hours. It was not easy to go on a mountain march at 4 kilometers-per-hour in full military gear.
Deuxieme Rep’s mountain training base camp was located at 2300 meters above sea level, on the ninth ridge of Mt.Cinto. The camp was just a small cabin, currently managed by the 2nd company and could accommodate one company.
Today’s destination was that cabin. Only six kilometers remained. Mu Ssang took off his sweat-drenched military boots, uncovered his neck, and dried his feet in the warm sun. His head reeled at the awful stench of his feet. As much as his heightened five senses had given him an advantage, there were as many inconveniences.
The soldiers rested comfortably along the gentle slope. Thirty minutes was not long. Even the well-trained Deuxieme Rep found the 20-kilometer flat/20-kilometer mountain march a difficult training session.
“Oh, you were here.”
Mu Ssang was searching through his backpack then took out a flat, tin hip flask. (There is a rumor that Al Capone designed this flask to hide alcohol in his places of business.) When he turned the cap and opened the flask, a deep rich flavor of wine filled the air.
Wine consumed in the middle of a march not only hydrates the body but gives one the necessary energy to recover from fatigue. Mu Ssang had a habit of taking at least two bottles of Sciaccarello when packing his bag.
He had acquired his hip flask by going all the way to Ajaccio in the southern region just to drink the Sciaccarello properly. It was heavier compared to the assigned aluminum flasks, but he had splurged on it because it maintained the liquid’s temperature.
“I knew it.”
Jang Shin shoved his face in front of Mu Ssang’s. He was Chinese to his very bones. That meant he enjoyed alcohol, gambling, and women. He couldn’t resist alcohol no matter the type or flavor it was. Emil also shoved his head forward.
“That smells nice.”
“Ha, did you smell that from beyond a hundred meters?”
“What are you talking about! I came here to see my friend.”
Jang Shin denied it.
“Yeah right. You look as if you’re about to propose marriage to him.”
Emil twitched his thin lips. The two always fought over their relationship with Mu Ssang. They especially fought over whether one’s status as Mu Ssang’s partner was more important than the other one’s status as his friend.
A thin line of red wine trickled down Mu Ssang’s mouth. Jang Shin glared at the thin streak like a vampire lusting after a woman’s neck.
Emil snatched the flask.
Jang Shin, who had missed by a second, frowned.
“I’m his brother.”
“Coolie’s aren’t the same race as Koreans.”
Emil made a rather logical and historical point. He shoved the flask in his mouth just in case Jang Shin would steal it. With a gulping sound, his throat moved. Jang Shin couldn’t wait any longer and snatched it right out of his mouth.
Mu Ssang nodded.
Emil raised his thumb.
Corsica’s Mediterranean climate, with mild weather and humid soil, allowed Corsican farmers to grow the grape called “Sciacarello.”
The Sciacarello grape had a subtle, sweet flavor and deep scent that lingered for a long time after one drink.
When one drank Sciacarello and closed their eyes, the blue wind of the willow forest could be felt blowing around. It was the wine that the flight attendant served Mu Ssang on the airplane, a wine that recalled memories of his hometown mixed with love and hatred. Because it brought forth memories, Sciacarello was the only alcohol he came to like.
White wine was strongly acidic and bitter, and sweet white wine was good to drink cold. The sweetness harmonized with the sour and bitter taste. On the other hand, a red wine with a strong sour and bitter taste was good to drink at room temperature.
Sciacarello was a wine with little difference between the way it tasted cold or at room temperature. But he had heard that tin flasks were good for maintaining the wine’s temperature, which was the only reason he bought it.
Jang Shin’s hand shook slightly as he held the flask. Even a martial-arts-trained body could not stand the five-hour rapid mountain march.
“Jang, you must be very tired. Like, wow, your hands are shaking.”
Emil smiled sneakily as he started to tease him.
“Who gave his partner all of his things to carry, even his weapon? I don’t think I should be hearing that from someone who entrusted his lover to another man.”
Emil didn’t even get to make his point and backed down.
Jang Shin shot back the wine to the point that his entire neck rumbled. Now that he had delivered Emil, someone who lingered around Park, a definite blow, the wine tasted better. He drank wine the way people drink beer.
Emil dug around his bag. He tossed a heavy lump to Mu Ssang. It was Fleur du Maquis, a Corsican cheese wrapped in ivory leaves, one of Mu Ssang’s favorite snacks.
Emil looked back at Jang Shin and stuck out his tongue like a child. The two men fighting like girls before Mu Ssang reminded him of the Jin Soon and her sisters. She should be doing well, right? She had to be.
Red wine went well with meat and cheese, and white wine went well with seafood. Of course, this was something that usually happened after work at dinnertime or a relaxing holiday dinner.
The mercenaries were on the verge of collapsing from fatigue and thirst. They were too thirsty to be choosy about their wine. The most expensive alcohol in the world, Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac, was invented in 1776, and one bottle made the Guinness world record after being sold for 22 billion dollars. But, at that moment, it would have been no different from a bottle of water. To relieve his thirst, one bottle would have been enough. After exchanging a sip each between Emil and Jang Shin, Jang Shin finished off the alcohol and threw the empty flask at Mu Ssang.
Mu Ssang, who took up the empty flask, frowned.
“Pay me back. Five times in interest.”
“You bastard. You’re saltier than Shylock. I’ll give you a whole box of it.”
A mercenary’s partner had his back in the mercenary world. It was a relationship closer than brothers. Emil was three years older than him and was a two-year veteran, but they remained close friends. Jang Shin forced himself into this friendship, and therefore the trio became friends.
The Deuxieme Rep respected privacy but enforced the rules. They allowed drinking during training. Whether wine or whiskey, they allowed it.
What they were strict about was the actions that came after drinking, such as accidents or irregular training patterns. They had to know how to handle their alcohol. Korean soldiers who hid alcohol in their water bottles would have been envious of this aspect of the training.
Jang Shin paled.
“You’re going to Chad?”
“Yes. The risk payment is the same as my average pay.”
“If my partner goes, I go. I need to protect my partner.”
Jang Shin glared at Emil.
“You’re going to protect the matchless? It’s the first time I’ve heard of a rabbit protecting a tiger.
“Bullets don’t avoid Park. I’ve chosen a fat, middle-aged woman as my partner instead of a slim lady as my partner.”
This time, Emil was mad. Jang Shin flinched slightly. Emil was a sniper, and, for Park, he had taken up the machine gun instead of the Epal that he had been carrying around for two years. That couldn’t have been an easy choice.
“Don’t you regret it?”
“I do, but if I want to support Park’s sniping I need to take up the machine gun.”
Jang Shin felt as if he was being pushed out of the group by Emil. He had only received help from Park, who he had acknowledged as his da ge. There was nothing he had done for him in return.
“I’m going, too. I’m going to protect my friend.”
“Oh, the yellow bomber is going to rampage around the desert.”
Emil laughed as he ran away.
“Wang ba dan!”
Jang Shin shoved a potato in Emil’s mouth.
“Peng you, you’re really going?”
Jang Shin gritted his teeth as if he had come to a decision.
“Fine, if we’re going to die, we should die together. There’s extra pay for stolen weapons, too. It should go to my wife’s hospital fees.”
“How’s Ho Ming?”
“She got the surgery thanks to a friend, but she isn’t well. She’s at the Haier hospital in An hui.”
“You should earn a lot.”
“I’m going to work for five years then set up a restaurant.”
Mu Ssang glared.
“You spend all your money on prostitutes and casinos, so when and how are you going to set up a restaurant?”
Jang Shin narrowed his eyes and scratched his head.
“Alcohol’s my foe. It’s frustrating. That’s why I only buy the cheap stuff.”
“If you get your citizenship, bring your wife over and live together.”
“I’m going to. Peng you, thank you so much.”
“My wife’s treatment fees! I’ll pay you back soon.”
One month prior, Jang Shin’s wife, Ho Ming, was gravely injured in a hit-and-run car crash. She needed a lot of money for the surgery, but Jang Shin didn’t have it. Mu Ssang found out about it and gave Jang Shin all of his savings: 4000 francs.
“We’re friends, and you said that I’m your da ge? Koreans don’t calculate money between brothers. Money is used by the one who needs it the most!”
Mu Ssang wanted to laugh at the white lies he was spouting. His uncle had taken all of his grandfather’s inheritance, and when his brother had died, he had captured his nephew to use as a slave. He had also sold all of the tangible goods his younger brother had acquired. Korea was a place where brothers fought each other because of an inheritance.
“Wow, Koreans are amazing. Chinese have a lot of brothers killing each other for money.”
“That’s because your countrymen are ssangnom.”
“People who are not educated and don’t know gratitude and love are called ssangnom.”
Mu Ssang recalled his uncle’s family. That was the very example of ssangnom.
“Right. China has a lot of people who don’t know gratitude, are uneducated, and unkind.”
He had thought Jang Shin would be mad at him, but he wasn’t; he accepted it. It seemed he, too, had his difficult past.
“But aren’t there people like Mu Song and Song Kang, people who are loyal?”
Jang Shin laughed.
“That’s all a lie. Chinese people will do anything for a little bit of benefit. China is a country that respects people who kill and commit all kinds of crime, even those who are con men acting as heroes. It’s a country I was born in, but I don’t like it.”
Jang Shin didn’t have a handsome face. The edges of his eyes lifted, and the ends of his lips were pulled down. His nose was flat and his cheekbones were high. It was a face that invited fights.
But aside from his looks, Jang Shin was an intellectual who had graduated from Tsinghua University. Jang Shin’s personality repaid his benefactors a hundredfold and took care of grudges a thousandfold.
“Well, there are things about your country that I don’t understand. From Water Margin, Chaewonja Jangcheong and Moyacha Son Rae come to mind. A couple at a restaurant kidnaps an innocent pedestrian and fills him with dumplings like a pig, and they were praised as heroes. That behavior is too unethical to be rationalized as a cultural difference.”
Mu Ssang hated the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, Water Margin, and the Jin Ping Mei. This is because of the cruelty and deception of the Chinese people. The Water Margin was especially terrible.
Every character in the Water Margin was cruel. They were supposed to reward the good and punish the bad, but they were not human beings with a moral compass. A mass of anarchists and psychos met at Mount Liang.
“Sigh, I also left my hometown because I didn’t like the people there. I received pure help, for the first time, from da ge. Since da ge doesn’t like that, I’ll treat you like a friend. I won’t forget this gratitude.”
Jang Shin looked at his friend, who he regarded as a da ge, with complicated eyes. He could defeat 10,000 people but didn’t reveal his strength. Mu Ssang was the wise man that his master had talked about, the representative of martial arts. And he was the representation of humility. He didn’t buy a separate uniform from the one that was assigned and bought all the equipment that he needed from the general store and not the city. The only splurging Mu Ssang did was to spend a little money on the Sciaccarello. He was three years younger, but Jang Shin gladly regarded him as a da ge. The first benefactor in his life was Mu Ssang.
A gaoribangzi was a person who was strict on oneself but lenient on others. Jang Shin thought of Mu Ssang as a gaoribangzi. He had thought that he was a naive man, someone who didn’t know how to play, didn’t know how to spend money, and was a leader but not a street smart person.
Mu Ssang had given him all of his savings as soon as he heard that he was in a tough situation. After reflecting on the money he had spent on women and alcohol, Jang Shin was so embarrassed that he wanted to climb into his gun barrel.