‘I wish for your life to be a symbol of respect for the universe you live in.’
Literature experts often tend to talk about sentences that seem to strike them across the back of their head, or sentences that seem to caress their hearts gently. If I were to talk about Khaliafandën using a similar comparison method as the mainstream literary world, I would tell you that the first translated sentence of the Khaliafandën could be called a sentence that makes you feel like you just got tackled brutally. Even if I spoke with a more professional tone, I’d still call it a sentence that made me want to send a letter of complaint to the Council of Accelerated Cultural Exchange. But what would that letter of complaint even look like?
“Why doesn’t the story begin with ‘Once upon a time’? That’s how Cinderella began!”
The Council would most likely send me a letter back asking me why Khaliafandën should have the same starting sentence as Cinderella. And since this letter of complaint comes more from prejudice than logic, the only answer I’d have for that question would be ‘because Khaliafandën was the story that was exchanged with Cinderella.’ Looking at this in a more objective view, I’d probably end up having to give up on the complaint letter altogether.
To be honest, by sending a letter of complaint to the council I would only be attracting the wrong crowd. However, it’s more than likely that by sending a letter of complaint, I’d be attracting the attention of my fellow people of Earth rather than the Council like I’d hoped. Seeing as there were people out there who knew that I was translating literature from an alien culture (despite the fact that these people only number around one in a thousand amongst which includes the number of people that were tasked with the same job as me); there remained a crowd of people with a rather antagonistic point of view towards my opinions about the translation of Khaliafandën. While a good chunk of these people would express murderous rage at me for complaining over a sentence like this, there were also a smaller group of these people with rather sterile minds couldn’t stand for the fact that I was at Mt. Sinai translating alien scriptures inscribed on a stone tablet. However, they couldn’t be more wrong seeing that I was currently located at Mt. Pugak, translating a child’s story printed on A4 paper.
I found myself to be a little disappointed of the fact that the story wasn’t inscribed on anything fancy. But if information were to be transferred over space, it would undoubtedly be easier to use an ansible rather than a rocket with stone slabs inside. This was how Earth sent Cinderella to the Council and this was also how the Council had sent Khaliafandën to Earth. After receiving the story, The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs printed it onto thirty pages of A4 paper, handed it to me with a dictionary for Universal Standard Language, and told me to translate it to Korean.
Despite being printed on a set of A4 paper, it was still the first piece of extraterrestrial literature that had made it’s way into human hands. On account of this, anyone with any sort of standpoint in the literary world would treat this piece of work with great respect. But instead of doing that, I chose to grab a pack of cigarettes from one corner of the table. When I lit the cigarette, I could see Captain Park’s lips twitch from the other side of the room.
Captain Park was rather conflicted; I could tell just by looking at his face. This lasted for a moment before his face changed as if he had made a certain decision, he straightened his face and approached me with a very amiable and understanding smile.
“Must be a difficult sentence straight off the bat, Ms. Ree?”
A member of the Special Forces was speaking to me like an innocent student… Please, listening to this actually felt a little disgusting. But to Captain Park, I was a person important enough for him to have to drop the traditional attitude soldiers had to have. But that didn’t make me feel arrogant or proud at all.
“Captain Park… You heard everything that I said yesterday, right? Then I’m sure you know that this is all useless. In the end, people will just read the English translation of the book.”
Captain Park was a killing expert who been through years of special training, which is why it was strange to see him yet again react in such a unprofessional manner.
“Ms. Ree, what the Council really wants is for us to undehstand the story from outeh space. And that’s why we’re trying to translate it to every single language in the world. Why would anyone intentionally try to lower the chances of getting someone to successfully translate the text?”
The captain’s words made sense. Due to this, the people in the Council would become enraged if they knew I was paying more attention to the Captain than the text itself. But at this moment, what caught my interest more than anything else was the Captain’s North Korean dialect.
“There must’ve been a group that forced you to change how you spoke? The influence must’ve been on a subconscious level, but I assume that reading books and watching TV in standardized Korean probably forced you to change how you speak.”
The Captain smiled.
“I undehstand what you’re saying. And yes, it was inevitable for me to follow a more of a univehsally spoken language.”
“That’s precisely what English is doing on Earth. Just take this dictionary as an example, it’s a [Universal Standard Language – English Dictionary]. The higher-ups in this operation would most likely just look at the English translation because it would be easier for them to read. And the readers would understand this children’s story in an English reader’s perspective. Well, but then again, I’m not sure if this was even supposed to be just a children’s story in the first place.”
Captain Park seemed to have convinced himself that talking with me about this wouldn’t be the most profitable affair. He changed the subject slightly due to that.
“It’s not a children’s story? Didn’t the aliens say they’d send one?”
I could hear disappointment from Captain Park’s voice at that moment. Though it was only a hint of it, I could still remember exactly what that disappointment of his felt like in the past.
The moment in which humanity first came into contact with aliens was undoubtedly a great marking point in history. Nine years ago, humanity came in contact with its first extraterrestrial spaceship. The spaceship travelled an astronomical distance of 30AU and introduced itself to every single one of the observation devices on Earth. The spaceship easily settled into the 1st Lagrange point as if it was simply returning home. It then managed to become a relay point between Earth’s messages to an alien world far away. It was obvious that this miraculous machine would be given the name “Ansible”.
Whenever I think of Ansible, I can’t help but compare our situation to that of a cartoon where a caveman was given a modern cellphone. We did not know how this ‘phone’ was made, or where the voice on the other end of the phone came from, but we could still communicate with person on the other side regardless.
‘A precious visitor came from the stars far away. These visitors wish to give you a very nice story in exchange for one of yours.’
Once we had managed to learn how exactly we would communicate with each other, the other party introduced themselves as the Council of Accelerated Cultural Exchange. Furthermore, these people have asked to trade with Earth. However, when they did get down to trading, the details of this transaction shocked the people of Earth greatly. The Council wasn’t interested in our technology, science, or information. What they wanted were stories. Children’s stories, to be precise. The men in white and the people who had stars embedded their shoulders were truly shocked by this. They were suddenly thrust into a situation that would only appear in… that’s right, a children’s story.
Only at this point in time did people start thinking that this trade was for the best. In truth, humanity had actually experienced being invaded frequently and in ways more brutal than this. These invaders intruded with pain, didn’t understand any form of communication, and destroyed the calm and peaceful life that had once existed. If you ever reproduced before, you should know exactly what I’m talking about: our children.
Once these little invaders have developed enough to understand our language, what would be the first thing we tell them? We tell them of animals who speak, magic that defies the laws of physics, and about a caste system long gone. We just hand them all this false information like candy. And the thing that we’ve given and received from the aliens is exactly that. False information.
The aliens wanted us to act like their children, while we were expected to do the same. We would tell them our stories and they would tell us theirs. But the Council (even after 9 full years, no one still knew exactly what the Council was. Perhaps we’d know once we read enough stories and became an adult) didn’t send us all of the stories they collected from alien civilizations. Rather, they seemed to have paired us up with one alien civilization after the other. Just as what Judith Rich Harris had believed, a child won’t grow up according to a parent’s lessons, but rather according to the activities they share with friends. The Council was essentially finding a friend we could talk to, then ‘handing the phone to said aliens’. If two civilizations understood one another’s stories well enough, the Council would step back and we would officially get to speaking with each other across space.
At first, the Council paired us up with the Gwindithan race (we only know their name. We knew nothing of their location or appearance), but due to an unfortunate accident, we were instead introduced to the Witanians. Thankfully, this pairing has yet to cause any major problems for us, so many stories were exchanged between earth and Witan. This time, we’ve exchanged Cinderella with Khaliafandën.
And this Khaliafandën, with the first sentence sounding like a religious text, had already robbed me of all the interest I had for it.
“A story? Who knows. Honestly, I don’t even know what this Khaliafandën thing even means, seeing that it doesn’t appear in the dictionary. I suppose the people in Witan would be confused with what Cinderella means as well, which makes me wonder if this is a character’s name?”
“Then I suppose a sentence like ‘There lived a pretty lady called Khaliafandën’ would be in the start of the story.”
The man really had a way with words, seeing how effective he was at trying to gently steer me towards translating like this. I feel that the military might have sent someone far too overqualified to be my bodyguard. I smiled faintly at the Captain before I put out my cigarette and turned my attention towards the second sentence of the story.
Unfortunately, the pretty lady we had both been expecting failed to appear in the second sentence. My expectations were dashed when I read the second sentence: ‘The universe had waited patiently for you for the longest time.’ Even with a sentence like that, though, my impression of Witan itself did not go down: it was already at the lowest of the low.
Four days had already passed and I had only managed to translate twelve more sentences. When official Kim came from the Blue House to check on my progress, I was promised a scolding for my lazy behavior. Despite the harsh choice of words, the official seemed very careful not to offend me as he said this to me. I remained oblivious to the man’s actions, since he didn’t seem to be something branching out from the respect he had for an old woman like me, I just decided to ignore it.
“I assume that the progress on the translation of this novel is similar in other countries?”
“Yes. Translating a translation of a translation and the acclimation of a whole new culture and worldview is causing a lot of the translators to be quite stumped.”
I got excited when I heard this and began ranting about how tricky the grammar of the Universal Standard Language was. I also got to ranting about how because of the fact that I had no idea what the original sentence in Witanian sounded like, it would take an insane amount of talent translating sentences as strange as the one in the story. But in truth, I was a little confused by the reactions that the translators of the other countries showed to this story. A little while afterwards, though, I understood why these fellows were so stumped by the story. They seemed to have worked on this story with hope and expectations, and because of this, it was only inevitable that the letdown they experienced was massive.
Official Kim must have come to visit to cheer me on for a bit. Knowing this, I intentionally acted a little depressed in front of him, then showed him a bit of excitement for the work I was about to do. Official Kim seemed satisfied by my reaction and carefully requested me something.
“The Earth supremacists have released their official statement two hours ago on the web.”
I could see Captain Park tense up. I tried to keep a straight face as I spoke to him.
“What did they say?”
Official Kim moved towards my computer. He seemed to want to show me himself, but doing that would be too much of a hassle, so I just told him to explain it to me on the spot.
“I’ll do that, then. This statement isn’t too different from those that they’ve released in the past. Essentially, they’ve asked the people of Earth to rally against these alien invaders. Personally, I don’t understand why anybody would even pay attention to something as nonsensical as this.”
“The story from Gwinditha was what made this happen. That story really managed to touch the people of San Andreas.”
The story that the Gwindithans had was composed of a long and complicated chemical formula. It was difficult to even assume what kind of a sensory organ these aliens had, but the fact that they used a chemical formula as a story wasn’t that big a surprise. There were even animals on Earth that communicate using pheromones. Humans also used things like perfumes for self-expression. As long as there was a suitable tool, it was entirely possible to communicate using chemicals.
To the Gwindithans, the story must have been safe enough to give to children and this was also the case for most of Earth as well. However, when the chemical mix was synthesized in the JPL, for whatever reason, the chemical reaction caused a giant explosion that shook the city of San Andreas to the core.
Of course, people who wished to take revenge for the tragedy of California appeared. These people included racists, cultists, and people who could only be described as the space-KKK. They came together to form the Earth supremacists group. They did all this quite well, but they ran into a dead end soon after that. They had no clue where Gwinditha was and even if they did, Earth lacked the technology or the resources to send a space fleet to Gwinditha. The only thing they could attack was the Ansible located at the 1st Lagrange point, but governments that possessed the weapons necessary for attacking it refused to listen to these extremists. Due to this, the only target of attack the earth supremacists had were humans like them who worked with the Council.
It was a foolish form of self-harm if one looked at the big picture, but since when was the feeling of revenge good friends with logic? So in the end, I was forced to retreat to Mt. Bugak under the protection of the military.
I was curious as to why official Kim came to talk to me about this, so he explained the reason for his visit very carefully to me.
“The problem lies in the latter part of their statement. If I were to put it simply, they’re threatening to attack the translators’ families if the translators do not stop translating the story right now.”
I had the urge to put on a bitter smile. Doing something like this would only lessen the amount of sympathizers they had in the world, but this must mean that they were in danger of completely disbanding for doing this.
Official Kim told me that he’d assign bodyguards to the list of people that I gave him, but I told him to forget it. I told him that I couldn’t choose some people and fail others myself. Official Kim looked a bit confused about this, but he didn’t say anything against it.
“We’ll protect Mr. Lee Insoo’s family, then.”
“If my big brother agrees to it, then sure.”
Official Kim seemed rather relieved at the fact that I was going to continue the translation when he left. Thanks to this, I was was now able to take a smoke without a person whom despised smoking in the room. Captain Park saw me put a cigarette to my lip with an annoyed face as soon as official Kim left and asked me a question.
“Ms. Ree, you’re worried about your elder brother’s family, right? I’ll send smart people to guard them if you just give me the word.”
“It’s alright. The police should be able to handle it well. Plus, the Earth supremacists wouldn’t care too much for a Korean translator. No one apart from Koreans would be sad over a Korean translation not coming out.”
The frown on Captain Park’s face told me that I had touched something inside him with my bitter response.
“Ms. Ree, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs requires all the intelligence Earth can muster in order to undehstand this mysterious document from outeh space. That’s precisely why you’re needed here. Although the language of Joseon does not have many speakers in comparison to the rest of the world, it is still a language that is unique nonetheless. Having you give up on the translation would completely erase the branch of human language that might let us translate the story. Of course, the pride of our nation is important as well. But right now, I’m protecting you, Ms. Ree, for something greateh than that: the Earth.”
I couldn’t help but feel a stab at my heart when I heard this. Seeing how I just told someone protecting me with his life that his job was utterly pointless, it seemed that I had not really aged well. I felt the need to find some excuse of sorts to respond to Captain Park in some way. But what came of my mouth was something completely different.
“Captain Park, when was your date of birth?”
“What? It’s Novembeh 15th, 2001.”
“So you’re a human of the 21st century, while I’m one from the 20th century. I was born on December 27th, 1974. But do you know anything that happened on that day?”
“Other than the fact that you were born on that day, Ms. Ree? I don’t know. What day was it?”
“It was the day when a fisher named Ned Maddrell died.”
“Ned Maddrell? Who is that?”
“There’s an island between England and Ireland spanning about 50 kilometers in length. It’s called the Isle of Man. It’s known as a place of origin for a peculiar breed of cats known as the Manx. The language spoken in the island went by the same name as well. Edward “Ned” Maddrell was a normal fisherman who was born in the Isle of Man and died in it. His life wasn’t anything special, and it was only obvious that he would use the native language of his homeland. But there’s one thing that’s rather interesting about this. Edward Maddrell was the last native speaker of Manx. See, on the day he died, December 27th, 1974, everyone on the Isle of Man was speaking English. So, other than that, you might also know the December 27th of 1974 as the day the Manx language died.”
I crushed the cigarette that some treated as a tool of respiratory rape into the ashtray. I wonder what else changed apart from that?
“If we go along with what you’re saying, it would mean that we have lost the ability to translate Khaliafandën with the loss of the language Manx.”
“The language of Joseon is not dead yet, Ms. Ree.”
“By the time you pass, Captain Park, I imagine the last of the people with a North Korean dialect would pass. After all, you’re already speaking a mix between standard Korean and the Northern dialect.”
I could see pain in Captain Park’s face. Damn it, dying early was a charitable action when it came to mean old fogeys such as myself.
“I’m sorry, Captain Park. But I can’t think like you, I see things differently. Using every single different form of language to understand an alien text? Humanity’s doing this because they’re afraid. Afraid of what, you ask? Afraid of the possibility that the multiple perspectives they have now might disappear. This happened with capitalism in the last century. Now, it’s happening with aliens. Both of them spoke in languages different from that of ourselves. Capitalism speaks in the language of economics, while the aliens have a entire damned language system of their own. When an invader speaking a different language appears, humans tend to group up together to defeat the invaders. Once this final attempt to defend our culture against the aliens end, humanity will unite under one language. That language would more than likely be English.”
Perhaps it would rain today? I pondered as I rubbed my sore knee. I looked down at Seoul through the window. Not many people probably looked at Seoul at an angle like this. It wasn’t as if anyone could climb the mountain below the Blue House, after all. But nothing really mattered even if one looked at Seoul from this angle, did it? Thanks to the grey clouds and the smog in the air, Seoul looked more like a worn out wallpaper than anything else. The type that seems to have a unique pattern to it, but just refuses to be seen under its old age.
“Honestly speaking, I could see the resemblance to my actions and those of the Earth supremacists. We’re both resisting against death of one’s individuality. And the conclusion that we have at the end of this would be the same as well.”
I didn’t say what that conclusion was.
Two days later, after having gotten more used to the feel for the language, I had managed to translate twenty more sentences of Khaliafandën. And it was then that we were attacked. It was rather unexpected.
As I had expected, the Earth supremacists didn’t care for the fact that Khaliafandën was being translated to Korean. But what I didn’t expect was how the attack played through. Since there were no other people in Korea who were as proficient with the Universal Standard Language as I was. This meant that by attacking me, the Earth supremacists would completely halt all progress in the translation of Khaliafandën in the language of Korean. Due to this, the Earth supremacists included me in their list of targets along with Herr blah of Swiss (they seemed to be primarily targeting Rhaeto-Romance languages), Ms. blah of Ireland (probably Gaelic), blah-san of Japan (I learned a bit later that they weren’t targeting Japanese, but rather the Ainu language. How meticulous.) among everyone else.
Because translators were extremely well-guarded by the government, the Earth supremacists resorted to attacking the families of the translators as they had told us in their statement. In my case, that would’ve been my big brother Insoo and his family. I’d imagine that they were probably very annoyed over trying to find a family of some grandma who never married anyone. I was only able to contact my big brother’s family two hours after the attack, when official Kim gave me a secure telephone unit connected to big brother Insoo. But the person who picked up the phone was not my big brother.
I only realized after a moment of confusion that I was talking to my big brother’s grandchild, Chulhoon. The boy must’ve been fascinated by a phone like this and begged to take the phone. I shot back annoyedly at the boy.
“Damn Cheild. What are ye doin’ not sleeping now? Hand the phone to ye granpie.”
“Ah told ye to give the phone to ye granpie!”
I heard someone crying in the background before I heard my big brother’s voice on the phone. He spoke in between intervals, as he was trying to calm Chulhoon as he talked. I had heard from official Kim already that it was thanks to the guards set up beforehand that the attack failed, and the individuals involved had already been arrested. Because of this, I simply ended up asking big brother about how he was.
As I talked, I realized that Chulhoon was indirectly helping me. Thanks to the boy being excited over seeing the terrorists get arrested, my big brother’s anger towards me for taking on such a dangerous job had lessened as well. I ended the phone call with the lingering thought of sending the little boy a gift.
As I put down the phone and grabbed a cigarette, a lighter entered my vision. When I looked up, I could see that the person was Captain Park. He seemed to know better than me when I was about to go for a smoke at this point. Captain Park lit my cigarette and stepped back a few times.
“Ms. Ree, what dialect is that?”
“Me? Oh, it’s a dialect from Gyeongsang province.”
“Ahh, isn’t that the place that can’t pronounce rice properly?”
I couldn’t help but sneer at that remark. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve always been asked to pronounce ‘rice’ whenever I revealed the fact that I came from the Gyeongsang province. To think I’d hear such a thing from a former North Korean special forces member…
“The people who can’t pronounce rice properly come from the Nakdong river area whereas I’m from the Western area. Plus, that’s an old story. Most people from Gyeongsang province, regardless of location, speak standard Korean now. So if you ever go to Gyeongsang in the future, take care not to ask a question like that. That dialect is only for oldies like me and my big brother at this point.”
I could once again see a faint hint of sadness in Captain Park’s eyes, but I didn’t really want to try to guess what he might have been thinking, so I took a glance at my computer instead.
“Want to hear something interesting, Captain Park? I’m not completely sure if I’ve understood this correctly, but it seems that the Witanians have three genders. If I tried to explain this using more understandable terms, there is a single form of female and two forms of males. But it’s more complicated than that. The mating process is a little weird. See, if a female mates with male 1, male 2 is born. If she mates with male 2, male 1 is born. It seems that a female is born when a female mates with a female as well. Don’t you think only females would be left in a world like this? That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. I think there’s a culture of preserving males in the planet. But in any case, since their world is like this, I have no idea how conflicts work for them. Especially because stories never go into how explaining how their societies work.”
Captain Park politely showed me some interest in the topic.
“The Witanians must be confused about the two gendehs that appear in Cinderella as well.”
“Yeah. Perhaps to them, Cinderella is just a story of perversion.”
“The sociologists should be able to discuss that once you finish the translation. By the way, Ms. Ree, did you figure out what Khaliafandën means?”
“No. It has only appeared once in the story so far in a context that doesn’t make it seem like it’s a name of a character or anything. I think it has something to do with genders. Perhaps it’s a ceremony of sorts? If it’s a word that only exists in the Witan language, it might not be in the dictionary.”
“They should be able to research this soon. If you translate fasteh.”
“They should be able to research it, but they’re probably going to work off of the English version. So stop trying to get me to work. I want to finish having a smoke.”
Captain Park seemed rather offended by that. He spoke in an agitated tone.
“Ms. Ree. Why are you still doing this if you think this is so useless?”
I’ve managed to make such a nice, calm person like this in just a week. I suppose it was a victory for myself. Nevertheless, I still looked away from his face.
“It pays well.”
“It pays well? You undehstand the gravity of this piece of work, right?”
“I do. It’s something that will unite humanity under one language. It’s something that shows that the Witanians are so drastically different from us that they surpassed our realm of understanding.”
“What would you do if it was discovered that the language of Witan was the most similar to the language of Joseon? What would you do if it was discovered that there was an uncanny similarity between the language of Witan and the language of Joseon? That really might end up being the case, right? And if it were, the people of the UN might come to you for advice, Ms. Ree…”
I turned my head to look at Captain Park in the eye.
“Maybe so, but perhaps it was the Manx tongue that was the language that was the closest second to the Witan language. Or, perhaps that title might belong to the lost Akkadian language or even the long forgotten Lydian tongue. The point is that there have been countless languages that were lost throughout the stream of time. The question of ‘what if this language was similar to Witan?’ doesn’t matter anymore, Captain Park. Have you ever considered why trains would still run along a perilous path despite the dangers that lie straight ahead, or why people still use such an inefficient keyboard like QWERTY? Is the reason why your dialect is disappearing because the standard Korean is more efficient?”
Captain Park fumed angrily.
God damn it, what do you even want me to do? My own grandnephew talks to me in English as he says my first name just like that.
“This is all just the law of nature. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or how precious something is. The only thing that matters is how widely it’s used. That’s the reason why I’m not resisting or getting angry about this. Resistance and revolutions are something that only subject to humans. I won’t spend my life trying to resist something as big as the law of nature. I’d rather earn my money and be content with it.”
A ding sounded from the computer at this moment. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The two of us turned to the computer with a rather tired face. A new mail had appeared on my screen. It was sent from the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs with the recipients being the various translators of the world. I tried opening the mail.
The monitor turned off all of a sudden. I raised my head thinking that the computer was hacked, but to my surprise, the lights in the room had turned off as well. I wondered if what went wrong was my old body if anything, before Captain Park whispered something to my ear.
“Don’t move, Ms. Ree.”
“The electricity went out. Seeing how the backup generator isn’t working either, someone must’ve done this purposefully.”
I could hear a gunshot from somewhere far away.
I had never watched any action movies in my life, nor was I planning on watching such a thing any time soon. But hearing something like this made me think of all sorts of action scenes. Unfortunately, I could only think of a scene of a cop who was kind to young women, and cruel to the old. I was able to imagine myself being killed in multiple ways. (Though, to be honest, imagining a ninja choking an old woman was a bit much even for me). I screamed when I felt a hand on my shoulder in the darkness, but I didn’t actually hear anything. I must have just screamed in my imagination.
Something was put on my head. Despite knowing that it was Captain Park, I couldn’t help but think of a scene where I was being choked to death with a black plastic bag put over my face. Of course, the thing over my head wasn’t a black plastic bag.
“It’s a gas mask, so please don’t take it off.”
Captain Park stood me up. I walked to an unknown direction with Captain Park in the lead as I occasionally heard a gunshot. Captain Park stopped me for a moment and muttered something. I thought he was talking to me and tried to listen in, but he seemed to be talking to a walkie-talkie. Since Captain Park had an earphone on, I was unable to hear who he was talking to. A little while later, Captain Park whispered something into my ear.
“We were attacked by what seemed to be the leftovehs from the Earth supremacists group. They must have attacked the families so that the government would turn their attention away from the translators.”
I didn’t have the ability to respond, but I disagreed with Captain Park’s train of thought. The Earth supremacists must have felt that they were going to disappear once their attack failed. This was probably their final attempt to survive.
What was scarier than a person without hope, was a person who didn’t have hope, but had a gun in its stead. Such perfectly describes the people outside were just like that.
In my younger days, the thought of having a gunfight in the middle of Seoul would have been dismissed as a ridiculous dream. But around the time when the two Koreas first united, a significant amount of North Korean weapons managed to find its way to the black market. It was understandable for the public to be outraged when it was discovered that the soldiers and weapons of the enemy state has made it’s way into Seoul. The government did their best to try and control the situation, but even now Seoul was still known to be the home of gang groups that would make the mafia seem cute.
I couldn’t help but swear. However, when I did, Captain Park pulled me in a little closer with his hand.
“Don’t get too heated now, Ms. Ree. Seeing how they turned off the lights, they should be using heat detectors and night vision goggles to locate us. You getting heated up would only help them in the end.”
I froze, but only started moving when I soon realized that Captain Park was just joking. I forcefully grinned under the mask as Captain Park pulled me in even closer.
“I’ll protect you no matteh what happens, Ms. Ree.”
I followed Captain Park without thinking much about what he said, but a eerie thought popped up in my head as I did so. Such a line would appear in movies during times when a couple were having sex, but right now, we weren’t in a movie. And obviously, we didn’t share a romantic interest for each other. So did Captain Park think that the situation was truly getting dangerous? I asked a question to him in a chillingly calm voice.
“Are things getting difficult, Captain Park?”
Captain Park didn’t respond till we walked a few more steps.
“It’s going to be nothing, Ms. Ree. Since there are two of us, the luck we share should double as well.”
Oh dear. A response like that… The show in my head suddenly turned from an action movie to an educational one. Probably something close to elementary math. [An old translator woman addicted to nicotine is set as variable X, while the young soldier with dignity is set as variable Y. Is X and Y equal, or not equal?] Putting an equals sign between X and Y would just be shameful, while putting a not equals sign would show far too clear an answer. Damn it. The only person here who deserves to die tonight was me. An old woman with no parents, no children, and not even a dog. Not Captain Park of all people. I gritted my teeth.
“Captain Park, it’s rather strange for me to say that you’re like the son I never had, right?”
“Yes. It’s quite strange, Ms. Ree.”
“Yeah. I can’t ever see myself saying something like that. But I don’t like it when my words get ignored, Captain Park. If you remember anything I said from all of last week, then try to save your ass, not mine.”
“I can’t translate Khaliafandën into the language of Joseon like you can.”
“Captain Park, I’ve told you already that all this is all useless! Even the Korean sociologists are going to read the English translations of the book. They’ll want to write their academic journals in English, after all. Something like the Korean language is just going to disappear by the time my grandnephew…”
“Do you know what it feels like to lose the language of your nation, as well as your nation itself, Ms. Ree?”
Perhaps a voice like this would appear when one grounds two pieces of ice against each other. I stopped breathing for a split second before barely managing to open my mouth.
“Right now, I may be Captain Park. But once long ago I used to be Park Wonjin, a high ranking official of the Korean People’s Army. Now that name feels very foreign to me. But the feeling of despair I felt when I found out that I could no longer use that name still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Captain Park stopped walking, then sat me down on the floor. I had lived here for an entire week, but I had had instantly lost all familiarity with this place. I couldn’t even pinpoint where in the room I was sitting.
“You’re right. This is just like the law of the jungle, the strong prevail, and the weak disappear. I’ve experienced this myself. The dialect of North Korea is set to disappear. The Korean language is set to disappear. Eventually, Earth and Witan would also disappear.”
“The Council wishes to have a being mature enough to talk face-to-face with them; yet instead of raising us into maturity, they want us to find a lifelong friend to quarrel and grow old with. Once we grow enough, the two of us would no longer be Earth nor Witan. Children are different from adults, after all. The two planets would disappear then.”
I lost my words at that. Despite having been huffing under the gas mask, my mind felt like it was flying off into deep space.
“You’re speaking of extinction on a bigger scale than I ever did, Captain Park. Then you should know better than I that all this is useless?”
“It’s not extinction. It’s giving up. Adults can only truly become adults once they abandon the child within.”
“The two are the same thing in the end. It’s all useless.”
Captain Park was speaking to me in the calmest tone he could muster.
“Ms. Ree, what was the thing that the Council wanted from us 9 years ago?”
I stopped myself from replying angrily, but I still ended up closing my mouth. What was the thing that the Council demanded that greatly surprised the people in white and the people wearing stars? Information that was wrong on both social and scientific levels. Stories that people no longer read after turning into adults. Stories that were absolutely useless in life, but stories we read to our children night after night.
I wanted to cry all of the sudden, but suddenly a crushing feeling came over my head that stopped me.
A gunshot sounded as soon as Captain Park dropped me on the ground. A flash of light appeared in the darkness as well. Captain Park flinched violently, and I was shocked at the sharp bang that penetrated my eardrums. I quietly watched the flashes of light that appeared in the dark air.
To me, this show of fireworks almost seemed like the stars in the sky. This felt like a vision. I felt as if I was looking into the future of beings that started off as Earthlings and Witanians, but ended up growing into an entirely new being altogether…
I was being foolish. I might as well just try and read the future of the universe through some astral magic.
By the time I had managed to think that far, I felt like I might black out. I was right. I woke up three minutes later, and now ten days have passed, I was in a hospital room. But I wasn’t the one in bed.
Perhaps it actually was the two people’s worth of luck that did the trick, or perhaps it was the highly-skilled soldier that Captain Park was, but the two of us both survived the attack. When the rescue team arrived the only thing I had to show for the whole attack was only a couple of scratches.. But Captain Park sustained a few bullet wounds. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything fatal. In fact, the Captain Park in the hospital right now looked nothing like a patient.
I sat down next to his bed and spoke in an annoyed manner.
“Your greeting is quite nice, isn’t it, Ms. Ree?”
Captain Park smiled as I took out a set of papers out of my bag and threw it on top of his chest.
“I’ve finished the rough translation of the story. I haven’t even given it to the government officials yet, but I’ll let you look at it first.”
“Ah, so this is the Khaliafandën…?”
Surprise was written all over the captain’s face as he looked through the first page of the story. He sent me a curious look.
“Captain Park, do you remember the mail that came right before the attack?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I wasn’t the only translator who didn’t know what ‘Khaliafandën’ meant; the UN sent a message to the Council about it. The Council finished their research on the word and sent us their answer. The UN sent this response to the translators, which happened to be the mail we received at the time.”
I took out a pack of cigarettes as I said this, then paused. I started putting it back in my pocket, but before I did so, Captain Park took out a lighter and an ashtray from the desk next to him.
“I thought you didn’t smoke.”
“I heard you were coming, so I asked for one.”
I grinned, and committed a crime that could have gotten me arrested on the spot. I casually mixed the smoke of a cigarette into the air of the hospital before speaking.
“Khaliafandën is one of the sexual combinations of the Witanians.”
“Yes. For us, we only have a single combination of sex to conceive a child. A male, and a female.”
“Correct. Since we only have a single form of sex that’s required in conceiving a child, we don’t even need to refer to it as a ‘sexual combination’. But since Witanians have multiple variations of sex that results in different types of children. If two females get together, they make a female child. If a female and male 1 gets together, male 2 appears. If two females get together with male 1, a female and male 2 appears. If a single female gets with male 1 and male 2, two types of males get conceived. What would the Witanians need to do to produce all three types of children?”
“There would need to be two females and two different males.”
“That’s right. That is what’s referred to as a Khaliafandën. This story’s about four people getting together with each other, separating, and eventually coming back together again. It’s quite a bit like cinderella. Though, instead of two people being involved, there are four.”
Captain Park nodded.
“So that’s why it wasn’t included in the dictionary. Because it was unique to them.”
“No. It’s actually included in the dictionary since it’s such an important act of reproduction. I found it once I dug around a bit. ‘The Witanians call a reproductive combination that produces all three genders a Zwingvindar.’ The Witanians refer to this process as a Zwingvindar. Not Khaliafandën. That’s why I couldn’t find it.”
“Zwingvindar? What’s Khaliafandën, then?”
I tried to answer him in the calmest voice I could muster.
“Apparently that’s what they call this process in the region where the story originated from.”
Captain Park looked at me incredulously. A little later, he exploded into a fit of laughter. Despite being in pain from the gun wounds in his sides, he just couldn’t stop himself. Only after I called in the doctor to give him some relaxants could he squeeze a response out of himself.
“It’s a dialect!”
“Well, not really. The language of Witan function a little bit differently from the languages of Earth. It’s more developed than the ones on Earth, and the gestures they make are very nice as well. Since they all look the same to each other, there are no dialects when they…”
I stopped speaking once I realized that Captain Park wasn’t listening to me. The man was still laughing despite having run out of breath a long time ago. He spoke, too.
“It’s a dialect… That managed to get across… The universe!”
I closed my mouth as I took a smoke. If a nurse saw me smoking like this next to a patient, she would have immediately called the police for attempted murder. Such a thing actually almost happened ten minutes later. If it wasn’t for Captain Park, the nurse would have turned me into one of her ‘dear’ customers.
Well, that’s a story for another time. Captain Park managed to stop laughing before speaking.
“Is that why you translated it like this?”
“It’s a very liberal translation. Close to being wrong one, really. It’s probably going to change after a bit of refining. But this is what I have for now.”
“This is good enough, I think. Ongashibushi… It’s easy enough to understand and we can also see that there are several different sexual combinations in Witan.”
“Is this fine?”
“In my opinion, yes.”
Due to this, Khaliafandën was translated as Ongashibushi in Korean. Under the agreement between the best Korean translator of the Universal Standard Language and a former soldier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Once people realize that people call the process a Zwingvindar instead of Khaliafandën, complaints will surely subside. But if they try to argue with me further on the subject, I would forever argue that my translation was correct. The time would come in the future where people would argue against my translation, but for now my story was called Ongashibushi.
1. Blue House is the equivalent of the United States’ White House in South Korea.
2. Joseon is an old nation that existed before Korea. Occasionally the language “Korean” can be referred to as “the language of Joseon”. This is done by the people of North Korea.
3. Ms. Lee’s grandnephew is speaking in English instead of Korean. He does not understand a single word of what Ms. Lee is saying, and since he is unaware of how Korean works hence him calling her by her first name.
4. Gashibushi is a word from old Korean that means “parents”. “On”, in Korean, means “belonging to everyone”. Therefore, Mrs. Lee’s translation of Khaliafandën would mean “everybody’s parents”.