Chapter 1

Episode 1. Book 1: Deviation – Chapter 1

“One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand!”

San clearly shouted his countdown, as he’d done countless times before.

His right shoulder was numb. He jumped off the plane with all his strength, but he still collided against the plane’s body.

Due to this collision, he momentarily lost control, and his body started spinning. However, with his level of experience, he didn’t panic. He calmly shouted out a countdown and waited.

Teuk- Tuek- Chulung! [1]

He felt a reassuring jolt from his waist up to his shoulders.

As he looked up towards the sky, he saw the parachute’s billowy canvas unfold against the backdrop of the empty, black sky.

Looking at the parachute’s canvas, he started equating the parachute to life. From the detachment of the parachute line from the plane and its natural unfurling and expansion, the parachute truly represented the lifeline that determined a paratrooper’s life or death.

He started to relax and look around.

The feeling of being suspended mid-air was the best.

Those who never parachuted would never know this sensation.

From the C141 Airlifter transporter that filled the night sky, another team of parachuters jumped off. 

San looked downwards towards the ground and smiled.

He had to quickly find the ground installation panels.

There was roughly a minute of parachute time before he would reach the ground.

Even this undeveloped mountainous region recently started to have more light pollution, making it harder to differentiate landmarks. 

However, San was a veteran. His discerning eyes sharply shined.

To the left, at the 10 o’clock position, he saw a T-shaped panel.

Taking his descending speed and the distance to the ground installation panel into account, he felt that the target was fairly far away.

He pulled on the parachute’s take-line on his shoulders and rotated his body towards the target.

Luckily, the wind was to his back.

At this rate, he would make good time.

The design of a standard military parachute had a round canopy with a circular vent in the back to let out air. As the canopy fully unfurled and was filled with air from the weight of the falling parachuter, the canopy would direct the air to the rear vent, propelling the parachute forward and allowing the parachuter to maneuver.   

The take-line on both shoulders of the parachuter allowed for directional maneuvering. 

If the left take-line was pulled, the parachuter would move to the left, and if the right take-line was pulled, the parachuter would move to the right.

If both take-lines were pulled, the rear vents would close, causing a quicker drop.

Furthermore, releasing both take-lines at the same time would cause the parachute to momentarily and abruptly suspend the parachuter mid-air.

Take-lines allowed parachuters to control unwanted lateral movements when faced with headwinds and to take advantage of tailwinds.

The direction of the wind can be discerned by looking at the parachute’s shape and crinkles. 

He felt the parachute move forward. 

‘Yeah! I’m making good time!’

However, unlike his satisfaction with his progress, San started to become anxious as he approached the ground installation panel.

This was because all the parachuters were starting to congregate at that specific location.

He might meet an inexperienced parachuter, or even worse, if he was unlucky…

San quickly shouted out, “What the hell! Idiot! Turn away!” 

To his left, a parachuter was quickly approaching him.

Just looking at the parachuter’s control, he could tell it was a newbie.

This idiot was pulling on both take-lines, obviously increasing downward velocity.

To make matters worse, he could see the parachuter looking somewhere else with a dumb, gaping mouth.

The sky above a ground installation panel was always hectic. One often heard inaudible shouts and a cacophony of noise, usually swear words mixed together.

San momentarily closed his eyes.

It was too late to maneuver out of the way.

However, in the next moment, he opened his eyes and coldly looked above.

The idiot newbie’s foot already went through the lines of his parachute.

There was no way to avoid getting tangled. They were still 200 meters above the ground.

His body abruptly tilted, and his world started spinning.

The tangled parachute lines started wrapping around each other.

He felt his body falling downward faster.

‘Ah! Now I’m dead. Fuckin’ unlucky…’ 

“What kind of idiot… What! Again? No! Fuckin’ idiot!” he yelled out in an exasperated voice. 

San quickly grabbed the other’s lapel and pulled. He pulled the paratrooper towards him while positioning his hips. He swayed his body just enough to swiftly kick upwards.

His foot landed squarely on the back of the paratrooper’s helmet and bounced off. 

“Ke-uk!”

A piercing scream sharply rang out before the paratrooper’s head drooped helplessly forward.

The resulting counter-reaction of San’s kick allowed both San and the other paratrooper to move in opposite directions.

The result wasn’t too bad.

Like untwisting a twirl of tobacco, the twisted parachute lines started unravelling as both paratroopers started to move in opposite directions, allowing air to refill the parachutes.

Their descents were returning back to a recognizable pattern.

A constant cycle of one parachute filling with air and the other deflating occurred as they made their way down.

San was breathing heavily.

He was able to roughly resolve the main issue, but their descending speed was still too fast. 

There was no way of getting around two people depending on one operational parachute.

He expected a broken bone here or there, but at least he’d be alive… 

San took a glimpse at the other paratrooper.

The paratrooper had both arms lifelessly limped down to the side.

The other paratrooper must have passed out.

Whatever. It was probably safer to hit the ground feet-first lifelessly than to act like a fear-filled, spaz. 

‘Man – I really want a smoke.’

Even in this situation, his experience made him scan the terrain below.

If he could, he needed to control the descent and land among the trees rather than the ground.

He didn’t want to land on sharp rocks. Boulders would be worse. That would hurt too much. 

“What? Now what?” 

The terrain beneath him started to disappear. Light started to disappear. The ground installation panel’s light shimmered dimly before being consumed by the darkness. 

Darkness, an absolute absence of light, enveloped his world.

‘Was there some blackout? No way, right?’

It seemed like all the light was taken away from the world, like falling into the open mouth of a dark abyss. As the darkness enveloped him, he had no way of discerning his surroundings, everything became pitch black.

The parachute seemed to float down past the point of when it should have contacted the ground.

It was like falling into the jaws of a demon, a descent towards a never-ending black forest.

Throughout this hazy and frustrating time, San patiently awaited the ground.

Episode 1. Book 1: Deviation – Chapter 2

He checked his hands. There was nothing discernibly wrong.

He wiggled his toes and found nothing wrong with his feet. He slowly got up and methodically went through a procession of checking his hips, chest, back, arms, and legs. Luckily, nothing seemed to be broken.

He started to feel a little better, 

“Damn, I’m lucky. If a soldier has his body, that’s all he can wish for.”

San took out a lighter from his left shoulder pocket.

“Anyways, I wonder if that idiot is alright?”

As he flicked on his lighter, he was able to see around him. He seemed to have landed in a forest. With the lighter on, he took a look around.

Behind him was his parachute hanging from a small tree with the line still connected to his shoulders. Looking more closely at his right, he could make out the newbie idiot curled up like a shrimp around a tree branch. In that state, the newbie shouldn’t be too hurt. 

San took out a cigarette and lightly bit down on it. He didn’t smoke very often, but he always smoked a cigarette whenever he overcame difficulties or celebrated achievements. That’s when one can truly taste a cigarette.

“Hoo-

He deeply inhaled and fully exhaled before starting to look around, with the cigarette hanging from his lips.

He first needed to see in the dark. He turned on his lighter.

He took off the large supply bag that was wrapped around the front of his knees and searched around. He found a military flashlight and a high-performance mini flashlight. In this situation, the mini flashlight, which was lightweight and easily attachable to his body, was perfect. 

He attached the mini flashlight to his shoulder strap and started working.

He released all the harnesses and freed himself from his parachute. He decided to leave the parachute on the tree for now. He had to see about the newbie paratrooper. 

He hoped he was alright. Looking at how the paratrooper was drooped over a branch like clothes hanging from a clothesline, it seemed there shouldn’t be too much bodily damage. He got closer and decided to take off the other’s helmet first…

San widened his eyes with a surprised expression.

“Oho- it’s a she?”

Though she felt a little foreign to his touch, San flipped and flopped the idiotic female soldier down onto the ground. He then released her from her parachute and took off the harnesses to her supply bag.

Tilting his head momentarily in thought, he started shaking her shoulders. There was no reaction. He lifted his fingers up to her nose and found that she was breathing. He shook her a little harder. It didn’t seem like she wanted to come back to reality.

San sighed heavily. There really wasn’t an appropriate place to touch a female body.  

“Hey! Wake up!”

“…”

‘This isn’t working. Ahh! Whatever, you’re already in this state and there’s not enough time.”

San gave a helpless smile before slapping the female soldier across the face.

“Hey, Lieutenant Biyeon Kim! Wake up! You think this is your living room?” 

Flash- 

Her eyes literally flashed open. She moved quickly, as if she understood the tense situation. She instinctively raised herself and looked around.

“Heek – Who are you!”

In her eyes, all she saw was darkness and a blinding flashlight. It seemed like a scene from a horror movie. However, she was able to slowly gain consciousness after seeing a sparkling red light and smoke arising from the other’s mouth.

“Seeing as you moved so quickly, it doesn’t seem like you’re too hurt. Still, you should check to see that everything is alright. You lost consciousness during the descent, so you need to make sure you’re not hurt. Hurry it up. We’re going to have to hurry if we want to rendezvous at the meeting point on time.”

“Sir, who are you?”

“I’m Commander of the Special Forces, Captain San Kang.”

After conversing briefly, San started working on the most important matter, properly putting away the parachute that was hanging from the tree. Since all the parachutes were re-used, he had to make sure the expensive material was not damaged.”

Biyeon started checking her body. Luckily, she didn’t seem to be terribly hurt or have any broken bones. However, her body ached all over, probably from bumping and scratching into all the branches while descending down.

‘What happened to me?’

Her face stiffened. She recalled how her parachute tangled with the Captain’s and how she fell unconscious from a swift attack from that same Captain.

Biyeon wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and saw blood.

She must have bitten down hard on her tongue, causing blood to coat the inside and outside of her mouth.

She touched her cheeks. They were numb.

Biyeon’s expression started to freeze over. That thoughtless Captain was probably the one who put her in this position. To come out of that situation alive was something to be positive about, but she felt bad. Did he have to take that action?

“Can you point the flashlight over here? There’s no way around this darkness. Why can’t I see any stars in the sky? When we dropped out of the plane, the night was so clear, and the stars were out…”

Biyeon wordlessly took out her flashlight and shone it on San. She saw him disassembling his parachute using his bayonet knife to guide the strings across and around the branches. His movements were skillful and fast. As if highlighting his position as a Captain in the Special Forces, he used the tip of his bayonet knife accurately, as if it was part of his hand. He was already starting to pack away his parachute. 

He then started to work on disassembling her parachute. Her parachute canvas completely covered a 4-meter-high small tree, making disassembly a bit more difficult. What made it more time consuming was having to work in this utterly dark place.

San started to become impatient.

Usually, in these types of training exercises, newbies were often found on completely other mountains. There were also cases where they were found hanging from trees unconsciously throughout the night.

‘Should I just leave her here? It’s not like she’s part of my division…’

San turned his head towards the light coming through the darkness.

Behind the source of that light was a female officer that he knew nothing about.

He caught a glimpse of her face and saw that she was surprisingly pretty. Looking at her uniform, she was not a medical officer. How did she come into this testosterone-filled world, and especially, this exercise that everyone recognized as the most hellish training exercise?

‘Since this training encompasses multiple divisions of the military, she must be a communications and intelligence officer…’

San shook his head to get rid of his useless thoughts and climbed up the tree. Even within the darkness, he expertly disassembled the parachute.

It took him quite some time. He looked at his watch. They jumped off at 21:00 and had to meet up at the first meeting point by 22:00… 

“Huh? Is something wrong with my watch? It’s 03:20 right now?”

San took out his cellphone from his pocket. He powered the cell phone on and saw the display light up. The message ‘Out of Service Area’ appeared along with the time… 21:01. San’s expression stiffened.

‘Even if my cell phone is powered off, there’s an internal clock that follows the time. 21:01 was the exact time I dropped from the plane. No time passed since I dropped? The internal clock stopped at that exact moment and just started up again now? Does that make any sense?’

San turned to Biyeon and shouted, “My timepiece must be off. Lieutenant Kim, what time do you have?”

Biyeon was also confused. Her wristwatch showed a time of 03:21, but her cell phone showed a time of 21:02. 

She clearly answered back, “I believe I have the wrong time also. My wristwatch reads 03:21 and my cell phone display shows 21:02.”

San started to logically progress through his thoughts and narrow the reasons for this discrepancy in time. 

Before any jump, his division members always matched their wristwatch times. There’s no reason that a jump would affect his wristwatch. Furthermore, the chances of this happening to two different watches was statistically extremely small. Additionally, the probability that both watches malfunctioned at the same time and showed the same time afterwards was as close to zero as one can get. His keen sense and intuition from experience was warning him of something terribly amiss. 

San started looking around more attentively.

This space… Everything was off. The smell, the atmosphere, the environment… even the feeling it gave off.

It was late-March but the summer-like feel of this forest clashed against the late-winter exercise timeline. Also, the tree he just climbed wasn’t a tree that he could see in Korea. The tree felt abnormally lush with large, tropical leaves and a fibrous, crumbly tree trunk.

San gulped.

For the first time since landing, he started to feel nervous.

Thinking back on it now, the parachute descent time was abnormally long. Since two parachutes tangled, effectively causing only one parachute to function at a time, their descent speed should have been quicker, but it felt like their drop was much longer than what it should have been.

With a pale face drained of blood, Biyeon screamed out, “Where is this place? Why did you bring me here?!”

Episode 1. Book 1: Deviation – Chapter 3

“Ugh, don’t throw a tantrum… be quiet for a moment. I’m going to search around a bit more.”

San walked to the supply bag he had previously detached from his leg and searched around inside. He took off his parachute helmet for his battlefield helmet, took out a handgun, and put a new cartridge in. He took the safety off of the handgun and holstered it to his belt. He then proceeded to take out the newest edition K1 rifle and attached his bayonet knife onto it. After these preparations, he got up and gathered his compass, a map of the surroundings, and the tactical maneuvering plan for this exercise and put them all into a waterproof plastic bag, making sure the landing zone part of the map was visible through the plastic.

“Hmm. Based on the coordinates of the ground installation panel, we should be around here, on a roughly 300-meter-high hill with a ridgeline…”

San turned to Biyeon and quietly stated, “Lieutenant! Wait here. I’ll look around and secure the perimeter. No matter how I think about it, somethings off. Is there a place like this in Korea?”

“Yes, sir!” Biyeon replied bluntly. She also had a nervous expression on her face. It was hard to properly assess her surroundings due to the darkness, but she was surprised whenever she was able to see something.

‘There’s not a single form of vegetation that I can recognize. Even the weeds… Furthermore, were there tropical plants with large, lush leaves that grew so high in March weather? Was there any place like this in North Gyeongsang-do [2]? Maybe it’s a large-scale nursery?’

Biyeon shook her head.

Someone wouldn’t be crazy enough to plant a tropical nursery in this mountainous region. There shouldn’t be a warm enough place to grow these luscious leafy plants and trees in the middle of March…

San cautiously moved forward while being vigilant of his surroundings. Two things were gnawing on his mind.

First, he couldn’t see anything.

Second, he couldn’t advance in any meaningful way. He was eventually blocked in every direction he went, so he couldn’t tell whether he was making any advancement in reaching the end of the area in front or behind him. The vegetation rose to lengths above his sightline, the tree barks were as hard as oak, and a large boulder made a cliff that seemingly hung over a dark abyss.

Even after searching his surroundings for an hour, he couldn’t find a way outside of a 100-meter radius.

San started biting down on his lips. It didn’t seem like there was any physical way to escape this place. Even though he was able to advance 100-meters in a direction, getting to that point itself was filled with hardship, such as scaling the various large boulders that were scattered haphazardly in that small area. He felt that waiting until daybreak was the only option. His cell phone was of no help.

He quickly assessed the situation and organized his thoughts. He had already lost contact with central command and wouldn’t be leading any group as a training advisor at this point, so he decided to be more patient and take what came in stride.

***

Biyeon watched the pensive San calmly sitting. Though her flashlight was off, she didn’t feel scared, as she could see the light coming from San’s flashlight nearby. She pulled her short hair back and wiped the sweat from her face.


1. The sound of tension between the parachute line and the (presumably metal) attachments on San’s body.

2. The northern half of a province in the southern part of South Korea.

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