Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 12
People want strength, whoever they are, and once they have it, they wish to display it. Mu Ssang had stepped beyond the realm of ordinary human beings. He recalled the moment when he had suppressed three white, bear-like humans with one move at Castelnau Bridge.
He didn’t seem to understand how strong he was. When there was a conflict, he backed away from it, and when there was a fight involving him, he lowered his head first. He had amazing self-control considering that he was only 20 years old. It was the only stroke of luck that had descended on his bleak life.
“What gratitude are you talking about? I have no immediate need for money. Money is earned to be used. If I don’t use it when it’s needed, all it does is smell. Jang, you can also help other people in need.”
Mu Ssang waved his hand as he refused Jang Shin’s offer to pay him back. But even as he said that he recalled the stereotype: a person becomes a mercenary to earn money. Every franc was valuable. Even when he was handing the money to Jang Shin, his hands shook slightly. He had acted as if he was very generous, but, on the inside, he knew that he was vain.
“A receiver doesn’t forget a grudge and also doesn’t forget gratitude.”
Mu Ssang picked up his gear, gun, and bullet case.
“Don’t look at me like that. I have no interest in men.”
Jang Shin’s face, at the lackluster response, wrinkled. His friend’s French wasn’t very fluent, so he could not tell whether he was joking or being serious.
Break time flew by.
Jang Shin took the machine gun from Mu Ssang’s arms and handed it back to Emil.
“Hey, Emil, in China there’s a proverb that says, ‘the person who ends it is the one who finished it.’ Since we don’t have much farther to go, you should carry it.”
“Oh, I like those words.”
Simple and stupid Emil took back the Minimi immediately and sat it on his shoulders.
“There’s really such a proverb?” Mu Ssang asked with suspicious eyes.
“I made it up just now.”
“Hehehe, idiot,” Mu Ssang laughed at Emil.
The march resumed. The lead officer and the surveillance officers ran about like mad. The soldiers scurried after them with their tongues hanging out. With their deployment to Chad just around the corner, their mountain training, unlike the previous years, had become more difficult. In the past, they had only marched to the edge of the 2nd brigade’s campsite then returned to the fortress.
This time, the course was divided into three stages. The first stage was following Mt. Cinto’s path and arriving at Corte Natural Park. The second stage was from the Corte Natural Park, using the North 193 highway, to the Ajaccio port. The third stage was along the shoreline and returning to Calvi. In total, the training they marched over half of the island, covering over 300 kilometers.
Half of the course was filled with rugged terrain for mountain climbing and cliff climbing. It was an extremely difficult course, and the soldier’s faces had soured while listening to the briefing given by their commander.
At least the path from Ajaccio to Calvi was along the coastline. When they marched along it, the Mediterranean’s western cold winds, called the Ponant, cooled their sweat.
Compared to the Korean military’s special forces’ 400-kilometer march, this was nothing. The Korean Special Forces marched the distance over seven nights and eight days. On the last day, they ended the training with a continuous 100-kilometer march. Their monstrous training was known around the world for its intensity. Of course, this was something Mu Ssang, who had lost his right to enlist in the Korean military, didn’t know.
The cantonment was outside. Sleeping bags filled the park and clearings in the forest around Mt. Cinto’s peaks. Nothing was more like a slave-training camp than this place. All that was there was a tent and an ammunition case.
“Bivouac” was a term that originated from the word “biwak” used in Germany. It referred to a cantonment created by the surrounding terrain, a sleeping place without a man-made roof or walls. It could be made out of natural caves, a debouche, or by burrowing oneself underneath a bunch of leaves.
Mu Ssang gathered the leaves and laid them thickly on the ground before spreading his sleeping bag on top of it. He had survived for seven months sleeping on the rock-hard floor of the cave. An outside camp with a sleeping bag was like a hotel suite to him.
The moon was the same one he had seen from his hometown’s bridge. The silent night brought about all kinds of thoughts.
The owls’ hoots pricked at his mind.
“I need to find my mom soon. I wonder if master’s doing well?”
There were cuckoos cries, the silent but elegant moonlight, the blooming chrysanthemum fields, his need for Hae Young’s scent, and the Bijindo flat with the floor heater that burned to the point of burning his feet, all kinds of nostalgia attacked him.
In the end, he couldn’t get to sleep and opened his sleeping bag. The soldier who was on guard duty glanced at him and shook his head. The Famas on his shoulder clicked. He was annoyed that someone was awake when they should have been dead to the world, and Mu Ssang felt those vibes.
He dragged himself along the rabbit paths. The moonlight shone down like a waterfall. Although the animals and plants were different, the moonlight here was the same moonlight that hung over the tip of Wol Song San.
Fights between carnivores and herbivores sometimes broke the silence. Mu Ssang’s hearing was several times better than a normal human’s abilities, and his sensitive ears recognized the animal sounds. But the slight whining of an animal was unlike that in his hometown. Even the thick forest was different from the one on Wol Song San.
“Obviously. How could the experience on the bridge back then be the same as my experience in Corsica?”
Suddenly, the sadness of being in a place several thousands of kilometers away from his hometown poked at his mind. The full moon in the middle of the sky was surrounded by a halo. When it disappeared, it would rain. Now that he thought about it, there hadn’t been any rain for the past month.
The grasses, as tall as he was, waved underneath the moonlight and made rustling noises. He couldn’t discern if it was silver grass or common reed.
His idle footsteps stopped. A pale pink flower, smaller than an iris, extended its stalk over the tall grasses. It was a fully blooming cistus, a flower that could be found all over Corsica, just like the Korean wild chrysanthemum. There was an exceptional amount on Mt. Cinto. The flower was a mixture of a sweet-briar and a rose. The stalks were fragile and would break when a light wind blew. The pale pink petals were reminiscent of violets shyly squeezing through the gaps between stones.
“Is it the violets in the front yard or the dianthus on the fringes of Wol Song San?”
It was a flower that emanated its scent quite strangely. Mu Ssang flinched. He was thinking about the bridge again. His hometown was something that clung to his memory no matter how many times he tried to forget it.
The light pink flower reflected the bluish light of the moonlight. Suddenly, Hae Young’s scent overwhelmed him.
Mu Ssang cried out without realizing it. The tip of his nose turned red. Hae Young was a smart and wise woman. There was no chance she settled for that waiter instead of finding someone more worthy. She probably needed an excuse. Most people with too much pride did that.
What would Jin Soon have done?
She would have thrown everything away and worked at the Night BOSS to become a chef. She was such a woman. She had no regrets nor held grudges. She always thought about what she had to do to help. It was her personality. Just as Hae Young wasn’t Jin Soon, Jin Soon wasn’t Hae Young.
Perhaps he was the coward here. He had read Hae Young’s mind and decided to move first. He tried to cover his pain in the pretense that he was sacrificing for another. He had done something childish to act like the better person.
They were a thousand kilometers apart from each other and away from their hometowns. His body may have been strong, but his mind wasn’t. Mu Ssang buried his longing under a bottle of Sciaccarello and the scent of cistus.
He was only human, albeit a strong one. But he was no different from the people being killed by a bullet to their throat. Chad was going through an internal civil war and was a battlefield where a bullet could go through him at any time. He didn’t have his family or Hae Young. If he had any regrets, he shouldn’t be heading into the battlefield where bullets flew around. Perhaps it was because he couldn’t forget the times he had with Hae Young.
His mother had disappeared, and, even though he missed her, he couldn’t forgive her. No, this wasn’t a problem of forgiving but the unforgettable sadness he carried after being left behind.
His uncle and the student, Lee Kang Chul, had some connection to his mother’s disappearance, so that gave him a reason for her disappearance that he could accept.
Now that he was older and his decision-making skills had matured, he realized that there was another reason for his mother’s disappearance. But currently, he was not in a situation where he could search for her. He was too busy living and trying to fend for himself, and there was a continuous stream of things happening around him.
After he was kicked out of school, he wanted to head to Lee Kang Chul and his uncle’s house to get his revenge. Ultimately, he had to board a plane without doing anything. He had no choice but to fend for himself when the military had been organized under martial law and soldiers were out for blood. If his master hadn’t calmed his raging anger, he would have caused a huge incident.
All the normal years that he had were during childhood and his teenage years, which only meant the two years spent with Hae Young. He had been young and weak, and therefore, used by the people around him. When had he not lived desperately in harsh conditions when he was so young?
And somehow he had arrived in a place that was miles away from his hometown. He was living in a place he had never heard of and was eating and sleeping with foreign people.
It had been eight months since he put on the military uniform, and this was a precious time where he could evaluate himself. It was a moment to solidify his determination to avoid being used by others again.
The meeting with that strange skeleton was his father’s gift. It had to be his father’s advice that prompted him to become stronger and look for his mother. He had gained physical strength, but the flow of time had given him another kind of strength.
That was a time when the legal umbrella of parental authority became the violence upon him. He was ignored because he was young and was crushed. Being protected by the law and being obligated to follow social conventions were powers that had controlled him.
“Mother, my poor mother, wait a little longer. Your son’s going to make money and find you. I’ll return the pain a hundredfold to the people who hurt you. I will teach them that there are people who will not forget a grudge, even after all those years.”
Mu Ssang murmured through his gritting teeth. Anyone can kill someone, but he had become mentally strong enough to accept that he could commit murder. Only Master’s words that his tie with his mother had not ended, comforted him.
“You trash, just wait. I’ll return soon.”
Mu Ssang couldn’t handle his anger and struck the nearest tree.
The bark crumbled and the trunk exploded inwards. The tree that had been expelling fresh air valiantly during the day and was resting during the night had just been hurt by a bad guy.
“This place is heaven for me.”
The Legion Etranger didn’t consider an individual’s past as long as the applicant wasn’t a criminal or drug user. They didn’t care about anything else other than the current form and achievements they had made. He, who was rejected by his own country, was accepted by France. For him, this was a blessing.
Legion Etranger was not an army that only trained and fed people. It was the first combat unit to be sent to conflict zones under French national interests. An operation could begin today, no one knew when a dispatch order would be issued.
When the operation began, he would have to pour shells over his enemies’ heads and inject bullets into their hearts. They turned into wraiths that sought the blood of others while being bloody themselves.
“Those who take the lives of others must be prepared to abandon their lives, too,” Chief Colonel Jean Philip reminded them all the time. He was right.
Mu Ssang signed up for the Chad Civil War enlistment without hesitation. Death had always been a part of his life. It was a presence that he felt continuously in Bang Tae San’s cave. Human beings were mortals anyway. Being alive only meant prolonging death. The problem lay between whether you die slowly or suddenly. Death was a matter of how to die, not when to die. He was now about to find out what the honed beast within him would do on the battlefield.
“Peng you, you can’t sleep, either?”
He seemed to have been walking for some time, lost in thought because when he lifted his head, he found Jang Shin who was a part of the third brigade. It was past midnight. Jang Shin was crouching on the floor and smoking as if he couldn’t sleep either. The ground was wet.
“Jang, you’ll catch a cold if you sit on the ground.”
Mu Ssang looked around. He found a slab of rock that was about half the size of those oak barrels used for fermenting wine in the distilleries. It was flat, and therefore a good slab to be used as a chair. He lifted it and threw it near Jang Shin.
The ground shook. Jang Shin scurried away with a pale face. It was a rock that four men would have had trouble lifting. To think he would throw it around like a handbag!
Even after witnessing such a superhuman feat, it was still hard to believe.
“Just call me peng you. Or Park.”
“Peng you, please be careful.”
“Hmm, I’ll try.”
A soulless reply came back. When Mu Ssang said that he would “try,” it meant that he would listen to the scolding but not take it to heart. One might wonder whether the man even recognized that he had inhuman powers.
“Park, have you ever killed a human?”
“I have. Three years ago.”
“Three— years— ago?”
Jang Shin was so surprised by the nonchalant reply that his sentence broke apart. If it was three years ago, then Park would have still been underage.
“Yeah, I killed six. Or maybe five.”
“Li, liu? Xiang lai dou jue de xin jing dan jan de!” (Si— six? Just thinking about it gives me anxiety!)
Jang Shin was so surprised that his liver sank, and Chinese popped out of his mouth. But even then, he didn’t question whether this was a lie. Peng you Park was a man who didn’t know how to lie.
Jang Shin looked at his peng you with a tired gaze. He had assumed that Park had had a hard life looking at his scars, but to think he would kill not one, or two, but six people!
Jang Shin couldn’t ask anymore. It was because of the bitter smile that had appeared on his da ge’s face. It was an emptier smile than his flooded and washed out hometown by the Yang Ja Kang river. The several wounds and the horrible scar on his cheek told the story of a difficult life, but he had not thought that he would have committed murder, too.
The conversation stopped. Jang Shin’s cigarette burned red.
“I have not killed a person. But there was someone I wanted to kill.”
“Since it’s the past tense, I’m assuming your target has died or you’ve given up.”
“Gave up.” Jang Shin gritted his teeth.
“It’s a big person who is hard to reach.” Jang Shin’s face twisted.
Rage welled up quite suddenly. The bastard had purposely hit Ho Ming without slowing down his car. He had disappeared without even stopping. His wife was badly injured and was still in critical care even after the surgery.
Frankly, it wasn’t even a hit-and-run. The bastard who had hit Ho Ming was Anhui Province Hefei Public Security Officer Branch’s son. There was nothing he could do to him. At the astronomical amount needed for his wife’s surgery, he had knocked on Legion Etranger’s door. She had been able to undergo surgery thanks to Park, but for the second surgery, he needed even more money. All that was left was an organ transplant.
“It’s because of your wife and son.”
“How did you know?”
“My peng you isn’t a weakling. When there’s something to protect, a man becomes vulnerable. There’s nothing more precious than family.”
It was what he said to Jang Shin, but honestly, he was talking about himself.
“I’m not saying this to reassure you. It’s the truth.”
Jang Shin’s heart swelled. His anger slowly dissipated. “What kind of life had Park led to know these kinds of struggles so well?” he wondered.
“We’d have to kill people next month.”
“In order to not die, one must kill. If you have to kill, you kill a lot to earn more money,” Jang said with an uncomfortable tone.
Jang, you shouldn’t go. Ho Ming will be sad.”
“Ho Ming is having problems. She needs a liver transplant.”
“Didn’t she already have surgery?”
“She did have surgery with the money da ge gave me. But it’s not looking good.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The hospital’s not sure. Chinese hospitals have low-quality care.”
“You’d need a lot of money.” Mu Ssang sighed.
“That’s why I need to go to Chad. I have to kill a lot of guerrillas to save Ho Ming.”
“You need to kill to save? It feels like I’ve really become a mercenary. I remember a novel written by Jun Pei called ‘Human’s Conditions.’ If Jang dies, Ho Ming becomes a widow.”
“If I’m next to peng you, I won’t die. I’ve got your back. I will pour explosives on peng you’s enemies.”
Mu Ssang nodded wordlessly. Like Emil, he knew that Jang Shin had his back. The higher-ups didn’t know, but Jang Shin’s gunning marks were legendary.
Jang Shin used an area-suppression weapon—a mine thrower— as a sniper’s tool. He also didn’t reveal all of his abilities. It probably stemmed from his distrust of humans.
Jang Shin’s expression darkened. Even if the training was hard, it was, in the end, just training. The battlefield was a different story altogether. He had to go out and kill people that he didn’t know to save his wife. There was no way the 25-year-old young man would feel comfortable.
Mu Ssang didn’t feel comfortable either. He had been abandoned in the world at an age where his nose still ran, but he had somehow survived. Now that he had survived, his life had turned into something that could only continue if he took other people’s lives.
“What are the conditions for being human?”
“Under what expectations should the humanity of a person be judged?”
He was in a foreign country 15,000 kilometers away from his hometown. The moonlight shone to the point where it was cold, but the two men, whose worries were weighing heavily on their minds, were somber. Even if there were no chirping birds from their hometown, the night brought intense feelings of home.