Read The Returner Chapter 25

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Although detained in the KSF’s holding cell, Yi Ji-Hyuk was comfortably lying on the cell’s bed, wasting time and doing absolutely nothing at all.

Indeed, it was somewhat regrettable that he had no access to a computer and thus he couldn’t play his game, but then again, the food served to him tasted unexpectedly nice and no one nagged him in here either.

Plus, for a person being forcibly detained against his will, they even provided the unexpected luxury of a TV as well!!

Sure, he couldn’t change the channel, and even worse, the fixed channel only showed news programmes, but still, he was feeling rather gracious about that.

Why? Because, as he watched these news broadcasts, he came to a realisation that they were sometimes funnier than many entertainment shows.

If there was one thing that wasn’t cool, well, all the walls here were made out of reinforced gla.s.s so his privacy was deeply affected somewhat. Actually, since all he did was do nothing but laze around the bed all day, there really was nothing much to hide anyways.

They must’ve had some sense of tact, considering that the bathroom was fitted with proper walls.

He was expecting to be interrogated to no end as soon as he was brought in here, but for the past three days, he was largely left alone.

Well, it probably was because monsters wouldn’t have been completely subjugated even as he got locked up in here. Also, there was the small matter of paperwork to get through, too. He could more or less understand why his matter was pushed back.

Still…

‘They haven’t forgotten about me, right? But, if they did…. Oh, well. Not a problem, I guess.’

When watching the TV became too monotonous, Yi Ji-Hyuk pulled out his phone to access the webnovel site.

“Eh?”

I can’t buy the chapters?

Does that mean I don’t have any money left in the account?

Yi Ji-Hyuk swapped out of the browser and went through the contacts, then finding the person’s numbers he was searching for, he called it.

“Mom!”

– “Ji-Hyuk-ah!! Are you alright?!”

“Ng. Nothing happened so far. I think I’m still in the place called KSF.”

– “I heard from those people who dragged you away. They say it’s nothing to worry about, but you didn’t commit a crime or something like that, yes?”

“What do you mean, me committing a crime?! Well, I’ll probably go home right after they conduct some interviews with me.”

– “You really haven’t done anything bad, right?”

“No! I’m telling you, I haven’t, okay!”

– “You uneducated son of mine! Okay, fine. But, why didn’t you call the me or the house earlier than today?! You want to see your mom die of worries, is that it?! Why are you calling me only now, when you’ve been clearly carrying your phone around!!”

Now that he thought about it…

“Ah. Mom, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking straight cuz I got overwhelmed and all.”

Of course, he was lying through his teeth. Who was ‘overwhelmed’ here? Hah.

– “Really, nothing happened so far? They are not torturing you or anything?”

“Mom, do I look like an idiot? I ain’t gonna take that lying down, you know. Nothing really happened, so don’t worry about me.”

– “That’s my son.”

“By the way, mom. I don’t have any cash in my account right now and can’t buy anything through the phone. Can you deposit ₩10,000? Pretty please?” (TL: ₩10,000 = $10.)

– “You call me after three days, and the first thing you ask for is money?! Aigoo…. you uneducated, unfilial child! You’re driving me up the wall!! The wall!!”

As soon as her nagging commenced, Yi Ji-Hyuk ever so gently distanced his ear from the phone.

“No, well, it’s fine if you don’t…”

– “I’ll deposit ₩50,000, so get yourself something good to eat there, okay? Do you know when they will let you go?”

“Not sure. But it shouldn’t take long. Probably.”

– “Don’t forget to eat three meals a day, you hear?”

“Ng. I know. Bye, mom.”

After ending the call, Yi Ji-Hyuk laid down on the bed again.

“The world has really changed a lot, hasn’t it?”

If this happened five years ago, his mom would’ve raised h.e.l.l while screaming “why are you dragging my blameless son away?!” But now, his mom was obediently accepting whatever the KSF had been telling her.

This could only mean that, compared to the past, the authority of the government had become that much greater.

“Excuse me, ahjussi.”

Yi Ji-Hyuk called out to the guard watching the door.

“Yes?” (Guard)

The guard asked back with a slightly testy face.

Originally, guards weren’t allowed to communicate with “criminals”, but Yi Ji-Hyuk wasn’t brought here because he had done something illegal, at least to this guard’s knowledge, and also, there hadn’t been any explicit orders issued that forbade any contact. So, it meant the guard found it a bit hard to totally ignore this youth.

“What’s on the menu for dinner tonight, ahjussi? Do you know it?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“It’ll be the veggie-sausage stir-fry with Kimchi stew on the side.”

“Holy cow. You even memorised that?!” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“My seniors forced me to….”

“Oh…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Yi Ji-Hyuk lightly wiped the corners of his moistening eyes.

The unreasonable acts of hierarchy inherent in military inst.i.tutions were happening in the workplaces as well. Just when would the chain of unreasonableness come to an end? Sure, he hadn’t been through the Korean military system yet, but still…

“Feels bad saying this to you, but, uh, can you tell them to, you know, put a bigger portion for me tonight? I mean, don’t get me wrong, the food tastes really great, but I can’t figure out for the life of me, why you guys are giving me such tiny-a*s portions, you know? Is it because you guys don’t have the budget?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“…I’ll call and ask them.”

Too bad, he didn’t get to confirm whether his request got through or not…

…And that’s because, just before dinner, Yi Ji-Hyuk was moved to the interview room, instead.

Through the hardened gla.s.s walls, he could see dozens of heavily-armed men pointing their guns at him while thick hostility oozed out from them.

But, Yi Ji-Hyuk remained unperturbed.

This wasn’t because he was a man of steely heart, someone so full of confidence, knowing that he could render every single one of those soldier boys unconscious in the blink of an eye. Oh no.

No, he was just used to these sorts of treatment.

As the Bringer of Apocalypse, he had gotten so used to having people glare at him with murderous intentions, it was more like an every day routine for him.

Instead, he even felt slightly nostalgic at the moment.

As if she found Yi Ji-Hyuk’s current att.i.tude wholly unacceptable, Seo Ah-Young’s voice was an octave colder.

“Mister Yi, Ji, Hyuk.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Yep?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Just what are you, exactly?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“I’ve no clue what you’re talking about?” (Seo Ah-Young)

He was starting again.

“You are an ability user, yes?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“But, you already took my measurements, haven’t you?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“A regular person fought a Kodiac Monkey and won, you going with that one now?” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Is there a law that said a regular guy can’t win against a monster? In that case, I guess I broke the law, so what should I do now?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“What the h.e.l.l, you…?!” (Seo Ah-Young)

Choi Jung-Hoon lightly tapped on Seo Ah-Young’s arm at that precise moment. It meant that she needed to calm down. She let out a long sigh, and as promised before, took a step back. Then, carrying a friendly smile, Choi Jung-Hoon sat down on the now-vacant chair.

“We keep running into each other.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“That’s not something a guy who arrested me should be saying, you know?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“What can I say? It’s all a part of my job. Please understand that we don’t wish you any harm.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“That BS, I’ll buy it. For now.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Choi Jung-Hoon quietly observed the youth sitting in front of him.

His replies might sound rude and he might be lying through his teeth, but one thing was for sure, he did not possess any enmity towards the KSF.

No, if one were to look at this clinically, it’d be very difficult to find anyone who was this cooperative after being dragged into the KSF’s interview chamber.

‘That is, as long as we take that rude att.i.tude of his out of the equation…’ (Choi Jung-Hoon)

There was no need for meaningless adjectives while chatting to this youth, he figured. Actually, such things should be avoided entirely. Such adjectives might cause the chat to derail even further and make everyone feel rather unhappy, after all.

“It’s not important whether you’re an ability user or not. According to our estimation, you, Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk, possess a similar level of ability to a Level 3 user, at a bare minimum.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Is that ‘according to the law’?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“No, it’s nothing more than our own educated guesses. If we were to take the lawful approach, then things will get complicated. It’d be hard to prove it, as well.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Even if they were to present video footages of Yi Ji-Hyuk’s fights as evidence, proving his status would still be a difficult endeavor simply because, currently, the only accepted means of identifying an ability user happened to rely solely on one’s Ether measurement values.

However, even if one could prove it at the end of the day, merely the fact they had to resort to such tactics to pull this person in, was a failure in itself already. He wouldn’t be willing to play ball by then.

There was no need to mention all this in the open, though.

“So, what now?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Choi Jung-Hoon jumped straight into the main topic.

“Would you like to work for us?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Eh?”

“Our pay is unexpectedly a lot better than you might be thinking. Plus, you also receive an excellent welfare benefits as well. Not only you, but your family members are included in it, too. And in your case, you should be given an incredible position where you’ll get to enjoy a great deal of influence, but have to do comparably little in the way of actual work. This is not a bad proposal, I believe.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

As if he was thinking about it seriously, Yi Ji-Hyuk lightly tapped on his cheek.

“What will be my job t.i.tle, then?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Can you clarify?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“If I work for you, what will I be doing, exactly?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Of course, you’d be tasked to enter the frontlines. Isn’t that your specialty?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Hearing this, Yi Ji-Hyuk smiled refreshingly.

“Not interested.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Pardon?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Argh, you want me to fight? Urgh, gimme a break. How can I fight against monsters again? Heck, even right now, my heart is shaking from fear, you know?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

‘But, you were like a duck taking to water back then.’ (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Although he was full of quips he wanted to blurt out at this moment, Choi Jung-Hoon was a grown-up man who could discern what to say and what not to say in situations like this.

“Just because it’s nominally the frontlines, it doesn’t mean things will get dangerous everytime.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“You tellin’ me that fighting monsters isn’t dangerous?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“No, not that…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Why not? Why dontcha proclaim that a warzone is actually a really wonderful place full of flowers and peace, while you’re at it.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Of course, it’s true that some amount of danger accompanies each frontline, yes. But there are suitable rewards fitting the level of danger. That is why so many ability users wish to work for the KSF, you see.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“I thought that was because you’d end up in a jail cell if you don’t?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“….That’s not 100% correct, not all the time…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Actually, even Choi Jung-Hoon couldn’t deny that this was true.

He hurriedly suppressed the rising pangs of guilt. Not only was he a responsible member of the society, he was also a dedicated salaryman, but more importantly, a loyal agent of the KSF.

For the sake of his organisation, what was the price to pay for small bits of lies now? His soul? Pah!

“Well, isn’t it a bit of a waste of your talent to live a life like that?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Not really, no.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Wowsers. This must also be a form of a superpower. How can he irritate someone so much with nothing but three simple words? He wasn’t even swearing. Seriously now… (Choi Jung-Hoon’s inner monologue)

“If you work for the KSF, you’ll receive lots of benefits…” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“What the. What good are the benefits when you’re dead?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Well, there is really no need to think so negatively about this. The mortality rate of our agents are actually lower than traffic accidents, for instance.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Wow, there must be a lot~ of people wanting to work for such a wonderful agency, no? I’m sure there’s no need for me to throw my hat into the ring and make it unnecessarily compet.i.tive for everyone else, right?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

‘GROAN…’

Just where on Earth did this b*stard go and train to be so good at yapping his mouth off? He doesn’t want to concede an inch, does he? Not even an inch!! (Choi Jung-Hoon’s inner monologue)

Choi Jung-Hoon finally pulled out the ace up his sleeve.

“Have you been to the military yet?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Nope.” (Yi Ji-HYuk)

“Ah. That means you will be receiving your draft notice, pretty soon.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Don’t worry, they won’t take me cuz I’m a high school dropout.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Hahahaha. Looks like you’re not aware of the changes due to going missing for a long time, there. The law changed, so even if you only graduated from the middle school, you’ll still be drafted into the military service. No, wait, I’m quite sure that the law changed even before you went missing.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Ah, so that’s what happened.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Choi Jung-Hoon formed a smile of contentment.

If you were a man, then you’d desperately try to avoid getting drafted into the military. That was simply the human nature. In the past, there had been a few brave souls who wanted to enter the military just to get the social recognition, or simply to satisfy their own manly pride. But, all that changed with the emergence of monsters.

See, the fighting force that could be called to any place at any time for free was the military, so the number of skirmishes soldiers had to partake in naturally saw a dramatic increase. In other words, one couldn’t take it easy in the army no more.

Thanks to that, the number of boys trying to escape the draft was at an all time high right now.

By working for the KSF, Yi Ji-Hyuk could avoid getting drafted, which should hold a fatal attraction to him. Using that bait, they could reel him in real tight. For sure…

But, Yi Ji-Hyuk didn’t seem troubled by it. At all.

“In that case, I’ll just go to the military, then.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“What?!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“What’s the matter? I thought I could just go, though?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“But?! Why would you choose the army?!?!” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Choi Jung-Hoon unconsciously jumped up from the chair, while Seo Ah-Young could only look on with an even chillier pair of eyes.

“Oh well. It’s only for two years, right? I can endure that.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Choi Jung-Hoon’s line of attack wasn’t too bad, in all honesty.

What he missed in his calculations was, though – the one he was attacking, Yi Ji-Hyuk, had already spent well over 50 years in a militaristic environment. In other words, he was a veteran soldier. And that was actually excluding his time spent as the Bringer of Apocalypse, commanding an army full of powerful demons.

If one were to compare the Korean military to that of Berafe’s, then it’d be like a company retreat to a spa resort, since Berafe’s armies were choke-full with every imaginable unfairness and utterly disgusting, horrible working environment.

In the Korean army… they gave you three hot meals a day. They gave you a bed and a roof over your head. h.e.l.l, they even paid for your exercise routine, too!

He heard that the bra.s.s even give out game consoles to while away the down time, so how could that even be called an army?

The real military should be like the following!!

A real military would only hand over a wooden spear and throw you in front of a demonic beast as a cannon fodder. A real military would have you go on a march for ten days straight without a break or food, which in turn made you proficient at discerning whether that weed growing on the ground was edible or not – only then, could one be able to claim, “Ah, now I am truly the man of the world.”

So, for a man of the world like Yi Ji-Hyuk, who had climbed up from the very bottom of the Berafe’s military system to the loftiest of all lofty heights, the Korean army was more or less like going on a paid vacation.

In the meantime, Seo Ah-Young’s knife-like stare stabbed into Choi Jung-Hoon’s back.

And oh boy, did it feel chilling or what…

It definitely felt like a dagger stabbing him in the back countless times.

Cold sweat drops oozed out from Choi Jung-Hoon’s pores, while he was subjected to that pointed stare full of poignant meanings.

If he only knew things would turn out this way, he wouldn’t have talked big in the first place.

As the situation was taking a turn for the worse, Seo Ah-Young tried another line of tactic.

“You keep acting this way, then you might end up in prison for trying to illegally avoid serving in the military.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Threatening me again? Nothing’s changed, has it?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Back then, that was a threat. But now, things will be different for you. No matter how bat-sh*t blind the judge might be, even he wouldn’t pa.s.s you off as a regular civilian after watching the video of the things you’ve done three days ago.” (Seo Ah-Young)

Well, that sounded rather plausible.

Unlike the last time’s CCTV footage, this one would be more like watching a big budget action movie. Probably.

“Besides, you should be well aware of the fact that you are responsible for severe damages to private property. The whole department store could have collapsed on top of us back then.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Oh, that’s right. Speaking of which, is that guy doing okay?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“…………Yes, of course.” (Seo Ah-Young)

On the side, Choi Jung-Hoon was sneakily wiping away his tears.

Since this was a sort-of unprecedented event, no one knew quite how to repair such a structural damage. So, even now, Park Sung-Chan was playing the human support pillar with only the construction specialists to keep him company.

However, there was no reason to advertise this fact out in the open, unless he wanted the public image of his organisation to sour even further…

“Imprisonment, huh…” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Yi Ji-Hyuk shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.

“I will get to eat three meals a day, am I right?” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“….Sure.” (Seo Ah-Young)

“Well then, I’ll just treat it as a time off and check the inside of a prison out, then. No biggie.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Eh?!?!” (Seo Ah-Young)

“In a prison, I get three meals a day, they let you exercise, they give you a bed to sleep on, and h.e.l.l, they even let you take a shower too. And unlike the army, they won’t even force you to do anything. Now that I think about it, going to prison is actually better than serving in the military, huh.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Seo Ah-Young glared at Yi Ji-Hyuk without saying anything.

She wanted to shout out that he should stop bluffing, yet, something felt off to her. It really looked like to her this b*stard wasn’t worried about landing in a jail cell.

Yi Ji-Hyuk snorted derisively.

A prison, huh.

Oh, really now?

A modern prison was truly a holiday getaway. That story, about the incarcerated Somalian pirates praising the Korean prisons as a paradise to stay in, was definitely not some baseless rumour whispered by the disgruntled folks with axes to grind.

Heck, if one stayed in the worst prison in Berafe, Bellcatraz, for three days, he or she would rate staying in Korean prisons as renting out the luxury suite from a 7-star hotel.

‘And I should know, since I was stuck in that place for eight years.’ (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Even now, thinking about that place gave him unpleasant gooseb.u.mps.

If it weren’t for the fortunate incident of the country running the prison getting destroyed, which led to all the prisoners escaping, he might have ended up spending decades in that h.e.l.lhole half-filled with water, where not a single ray of sunshine entered.

Actually, him staying there for eight years was a record of sorts. Before he got there, no one managed to stay alive for longer than two years in that place.

“Hmm….” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

Choi Jung-Hoon decided to change his approach once more.

“Mister Yi Ji-Hyuk.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Please feel free to speak.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“Why don’t we do this the other way around? What is it that you want from us?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“Not sure what you mean by that.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“What sort of conditions should we put on the table that might satisfy you? I believe we have done enough going back and forth by now.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

To call this ‘going back and forth’…

Looks like this dude hasn’t realised it yet. (Yi Ji-Hyuk’s inner monologue)

“No, listen here. I have no desire whatsoever to work, guys.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“At a bare minimum, we can guarantee that our organisation will treat you better than any other potential employment you find later on.” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“No, wait. I’m telling you, I’m not going to work, like, ever.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

Suddenly, Yi Ji-Hyuk became enthusiastic.

“My goal in this life is to play nicely, enjoy nice things, and when the time comes, expire nicely without a fuss. That’s it.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

“But, but, what about your living expenses…?” (Choi Jung-Hoon)

“My parents earn a lot, so that’s that covered.” (Yi Ji-Hyuk)

———-

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