Chapter 44

Amusement Park.

It was a place filled with hope and dreams of children. In some ways, it was the closest to the fairy world imagined by children. It was a place they wanted to visit with their friends and begged their parents to go to. It was a dream world that children wanted to visit again and again.

However, adults viewed the amusement park in a completely different light. It was crowded with people, and overly energetic kids recklessly ran around everywhere. Everything was expensive here. It was a torturous place. If the parents had worked late the previous night, this place would be that much more difficult to endure. Parents would go to an amusement park once or twice for the children, but if they had a choice, most parents would avoid going there.

Of course, there were exceptions. One such exception was Sungyoon. Sungyoon liked anything that his child liked.

“Dad!”

The merry-go-round spun, and Shinhae waved when she saw Sungyoon. He quickly brought up his camera and zoomed in on Shinhae’s cute face. He kept pressing the shutter with one hand and waving with his other. When the merry-go-round rotated Shinhae out of his line of sight, Sungyoon lowered his hand and camera. His bright smiling face would return to its normal blank look. However, a big smile appeared on his face when Shinhae appeared again, and he again took pictures as he waved. Several people around him gave him odd glances, but as usual, he ignored them.

Soon, the merry-go-round stopped rotating. People got off the horses en masse. Sungyoon walked toward the exit of the merry-go-round.

“Dad!”

Shinhae grabbed Sungyoon’s leg. Her dad put his hands under her armpits and lifted her up high into the air.

“Holy cow! My daughter! Did you have fun?”

“Yes!”

Shinhae raised her hands high into the air.

“The horse spun round and round!”

“Yes. It spun round and round.”

It seemed Shinhae was in a really good mood as she kept bursting into laughter. Sungyoon kept raising and lowering the little girl as if she was an airplane lifting off. Shinhae liked it at first, but she got bored with it really quickly. She rolled her feet in the air as she asked him to put her down.

“You still have a great relationship with her.”

When Sungyoon let Shinhae down, a woman approached the father and daughter.

“Unni!”

Shinhae ran toward the woman. The woman was gentle as she caught Shinhae and lifted the little girl into her arms.

It was Jiyoon. After Shinhae left the orphanage, Jiyoon had been in constant communication with Shinhae. This was why she had been invited to join in on the father-daughter amusement park trip.

“You shouldn’t run out by yourself like that.”

She lightly pinched Shinhae’s nose. However, the smile on her lips never left, and Shinhae also never stopped laughing.

Sungyoon remained outside as he took pictures of Shinhae. The one to ride most of the amusement park rides with Shinhae was Jiyoon. Shinhae and Jiyoon had ridden the same horse, and they had played around with each other. They looked exactly like sisters with a bit of an age gap.

Shinhae shook her head, and she was successful in freeing her nose. She suddenly grabbed her stomach. Sungyoon’s enhanced hearing caught the rumble of her stomach.

“I’m hungry!”

Shinhae spoke as she pulled on his shirt. Sungyoon was a fool for his daughter, so he took immediate action.

“Yes, let’s go eat.”

When he looked at his watch, it was about time for lunch. Sungyoon navigated the crowd with Shinhae and Jiyoon in tow. Fortunately, since it was the weekday, there were fewer people than usual. When they arrived at the food court, Sungyoon placed his hand behind Shinhae’s back and guided her forward.

“What would you like to eat?”

Shinhae’s eyes became fixed to the menu on top of the counter.

“Mmm- I want to eat hot dog, udon, and tonkatsu...”

Shinhae placed her finger on her lips. Her eyes spun as if she was making the decision of her life. She wanted to eat a lot of things, so she was having a hard time making a decision. However, Sungyoon didn’t rush her. He was at ease as he waited for Shinhae to make her choice.

“You should order too, Ms. Jiyoon. I’m paying.”

Jiyoon looked at Sungyoon as if he was an odd duck. How could a person instantly change so much? He gave off a feeling of being a fool for his daughter and showed all kinds of love and smiles toward her, but as soon as his gaze landed on someone else, all of that disappeared. Still, instead of being displeased by it, a strong curiosity in regard to him arose within Jiyoon.

“No. I brought my own money.”

Sungyoon had already paid for the entrance ticket, and other various costs related to her being here. Jiyoon should be the one buying lunch for the father and daughter pair. She was reluctant to let him buy her food. However, Sungyoon was firm.

“It’s fine. It is a recompense for taking care of Shinhae. I’ve made a good amount of money this time around.”

‘Oh, right! This guy is a Connector.’

Jiyoon looked at Sungyoon in a new light. When they had first met, he had been a dirty and gloomy middle-aged man. But now, that middle-aged man was nowhere to be seen, and a pretty handsome man in his mid to late twenties was standing in place of him. Shinhae, who had worn old clothes passed down by other children in the orphanage, was now wearing expensive clothes. The two of them had changed a lot since Jiyoon had first met them.

“Dad, I want that!”

It seemed Shinhae had made up her mind. She pointed toward the menu and picked tonkatsu and hot dog. It was clearly too much food for a child to eat, but Sungyoon said ok without hesitation. If there were leftovers, he would eat it.

“What would you like to eat, Ms. Jiyoon?”

Sungyoon asked as he took out a card from his wallet. Jiyoon thought it would be rude if she continued to decline, so she picked an item from the menu.

The three of them sat at a desk, and they waited for the food to come out. Shinhae’s face was full of anticipation as she held a fork and knife in each hand.

When their number blinked on, Sungyoon and Jiyoon got up to get their own food. Of course, Sungyoon brought Shinhae’s food too.

“Do you want me to cut it for you?”

Sungyoon asked as he watched the steam rise from the tonkatsu. However, Shinhae shook her head from side to side.

“I’m going to cut it and eat it!”

When one grew old, the act of cutting steak or tonkatsu became tiresome. However, for children, it was a fun experience. As if she thought her father was going to take her fork and knife away, Shinhae tightened her grip.

“It would have been great if Jimin unni came too.”

Shinhae excitedly cut into her tonkatsu. She suddenly spoke after she placed a slice into her mouth. It seemed she had been looking forward to it, and the disappointment was visible on her face.

“Unni has work to do.”

Sungyoon comforted Shinhae by patting her back. Thanks to Jimin’s threat, Sungyoon was diligent in using the title unni when referring to Jimin.

“Jimin unni?”

“Yes! She's an unni that's close to me!”

Shinhae’s sauce-covered-mouth moved busily. Thankfully, she didn’t speak with her mouth full anymore. She was trying hard to follow the etiquette learned in kindergarten. 

Jiyoon took out a tissue from her handbag, and she wiped Shinhae’s mouth.

“Really? Are you close to this unni?”

“Yes!”

A playful smile appeared on Jiyoon’s lips.

“Who do you like better? Do you like Jimin unni or me?”

Shinhae froze in place.

“Uh. Mmm. That's...”

Shinhae’s eyes went from Jiyoon to the empty air and then to the desk. Her eyes continued to wander in every direction. It was an action that expressed the child’s anguish.

“Huh? Huh? Who do you like better?”

It seemed Jiyoon was having fun. Her smile deepened, and she asked the question again. This question was on the same level as ‘Do you like your mom or dad?’ for Shinhhae. She looked like she was about to cry as she looked up toward Sungyoon.

“You should stop there, Ms. Jiyoon.”

“Oh my. I’m sorry. Shinhae was too cute. I couldn’t help it.”

Jinyoon had a soft smile on her face as she apologized to Shinhae. However, Shinhae was miffed. She ignored Jiyoon and focused on attacking the tonkatsu. Jiyoon attempted to speak to Shinhae a couple more times, but the little girl sniffed each time as she refused to raise her head. In the end, Jiyoon had to carefully soothe Shinhae for five minutes.

After she finally placated Shinhae, Jiyoon turned her gaze toward Sungyoon.

“Do you mind if I ask what it was like on the Moon?”

Sungyoon, who had been busy eating his ramen, looked at Jiyoon. He could see the twinkling in her eyes.

“I’m sorry if my question was rude. However, my goal is to go to the Moon.”

“Is Ms. Jiyoon a Connector too?”

“No, I’m going to take the state exam, and I would like to be assigned to man a post on the Moon.”

Sungyoon thought about one of the receptionists at his Support Center. She was a government employee sent to the Moon by the Korean government. Jiyoon probably wanted something similar to that.

“The Moon…”

He was conflicted. He wondered what to say, and his eyes drifted upward. Jiyoon looked a little nervous and excited as she watched Sungyoon.

The main reason why she had come out today was to play with Shinhae, whom she had gotten really close to. However, she had also wanted to ask Sungyoon about the Moon.

“First, it isn’t like fairytales.”

Sungyoon thought about the gray landscape and the high cost of living.

“I heard some stories about it. It isn’t a place overflowing with dreams and hope.”

“I don’t know what you’ve heard, but it's much worse than that.”

Sungyoon had a decent amount of information regarding the Moon. From his personal experience, the Moon was a ruthless, scary place.

At Sungyoon’s firm words, Jiyoon’s expression stiffened a little bit.

“Mmm. As expected, I should harden my resolve a bit. I want to look up and see Earth and space from the Moon. I want to experience it once.”

“That's a commendable goal.”

The Earth shining blue in the midst of the dark space filled with stars, It had been a memorable sight. Just the thought of the image made Sungyoon's heart ache.

“I heard a trip to the Moon is expensive. That's why I want a job that'll allow me to experience it with no costs to me. Is it really that expensive?”

“In order to celebrate my first labyrinth exploration run, the president of my company bought me a meal. It was a steak, and the dish cost her around ten thousand dollars.”

Jiyoon had been twirling spaghetti around her fork, and she came to a stop.

“Uh. H...how much?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”

Sungyoon was used to the unreasonable price now, so he could keep a straight face as he talked about it. However, Jiyoon became lost for words.

“If your goal is tourism, it’ll be very difficult for you to get there. That is the reality of the Lunar city Armstrong.”

After speaking those words, Sungyoon ate another bite of ramen with his chopsticks.

Jiyoon shut her mouth. She was from a wealthy family, but even she wasn’t rich enough to spend ten thousand dollars on a single meal while sightseeing.

“W... Wasn’t that just exceptionally expensive food?”

Her question contained her last grasp at hope. However, the answer she received was ruthless.

“I was told that it's the average price in Armstrong.”

In the end, Jiyoon let out a sigh.

“Ha-ah! It is beyond expensive. How’s your life up there, Mr. Sungyoon?”

According to what she knew, Sungyoon had become a Connector not too long ago. Even if a Connector earned a lot of money, she didn’t think he could afford to eat a ten thousand dollar meal three times a day.

“Our country supports beginner Connectors. They support us by providing daily water allowance and vitamin packs. I’m using those to hang in there.”

He spoke as if it was no big deal, but his words almost made Jiyoon choke on her pasta.

“I... I see.”

‘Is it really ok to eat the food bought by this man? Should I pay him back right now?’

While Jiyoon was lost in her thoughts, Sungyoon turned to Shinhae. Shinhae was tapping his knee and begging him for a story. It seemed the topic of their conversation interested her. Of course, Sungyoon started giving an explanation with a smile on his face. However, it was a different story compared to the brutal reality of the real Moon. He spoke about a Moon that might appear in a children’s fairytale.

Just a moment ago, he had ruthlessly broken Jiyoon’s fantasy about the Moon. And watching this same man make all kinds of imaginative stories about the Moon, Jiyoon was a bit baffled. However, the affection shown between the father and daughter was picture-perfect. In the end, Jiyoon could only smirk as she watched them.

‘He really is a strange person.’

She had never felt so at ease with a man that wasn’t her father. That was why Jiyoon hadn’t felt conflicted when she was asked to come out here.

Sungyoon was using exaggerated gestures and fantastical stories to describe the Moon, and Shinhae was listening as she gasped in wonder. Jiyoon quietly watched both of them.

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