Chemistry

Chapter 108
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Chapter 108

    Old Steel Great Line(6)

    Mile 85 28 degrees below zero, Second Pump Base

    Jeong-woo awoke early in the morning.

    He had slept uncomfortably in a tent pitched in the middle of a snowy field. The sound of ice freezing and the growl of wild beasts echoed around him. Every aspect of this place was unfamiliar to him.

    However, it wasnt these strange experiences that roused him from sleep.

    Back when I was going around for interviews, who wouldve thought Id dream of something like this.

    Lying in a region far above the tree line, camping as if in some distant northern territory, was something he could never have imagined last year.

    Of all the things he had wanted to do, achieved or not, nothing seemed more surreal than this current experience.

    These days, filled with unexpected events, even vague anxiety crept into him, wondering where this journey would ultimately lead.

    Maybe 36 hours in this snowfield makes me more sentimental.

    After roughly ten minutes of staring at the swaying tent ceiling, the subtle emotions of dawn faded, and rationality returned.

    I came here to make money. Time to work.

    Deciding to check the temperature since he was up, Jeong-woo crawled out of his sleeping bag and dressed in layers of winter clothing. Wearing two pairs of socks and a fur-lined pair had become as routine as preparing for a regular workday.

    Carefully unzipping the tent to ensure he didnt wake the other three sharing it with him, he stepped outside.

    Reaching for his belt, he pulled out a digital thermometer and pressed the button.

    [-28]

    Still, he felt a bit relieved, thinking it was a few degrees warmer than yesterday.

    Slowly inhaling the crisp, pollution-free air, Jeong-woo cast his gaze towards the distant land where the sun was rising.

    The orange glow of the sun, shimmering subtly above the horizon against the snowy morning backdrop, was incredibly majestic.

    Ahh~ Perfect weather for flying a drone.

    Mile 97 26 degrees below zero, Continual Tundra

    Since todays ground exploration segment was short, Kaya did not accompany them. Jeong-woo and Shin Seong-beom had already completed their objectives and were analyzing the footage, waiting.

    Beep beep beep.

    The satellite phone rang, and Shin Seong-beom picked up the receiver.

    Yes, Team Leader What? Who are you?

    Given that there was only one person who would contact him, hearing a different voice made Shin Seong-beoms eyes widen. He turned his head toward Jeong-woo and spoke.

    Theyre looking for you, Mr. Jeong-woo, from Rust Guard.

    Me?

    As Jeong-woo received the weighty satellite call, the voice of the other party reached his ears.

    -Mr. Han. My name is Raylan.

    Hello.

    -You declined our proposal, so Im reaching out personally.

    Rust Guard wanted to purchase a compound that could melt frozen ground. Due to the hassle of using the compound from a competing company and mobile research labs, Jeong-woo had previously declined outright.

    My stance remains unchanged.

    -Before presenting new terms, I wanted to clarify that Rust Guard didnt enter this deal as a countermeasure against Yujin Chemicals.

    Raylans voice was rather serious.

    -The oil spill accidents in April 2006, 4,800 barrels, and January 2009, 1,100 barrels, caused significant economic turmoil in North America. And there was another incident last month. While we acknowledge Yujin Chemicals diagnostic systems are excellent, if theres even a slight chance our line walkers, with 30 years in the field, can find a single flaw, we wont give up. To diagnose the pipeline properly, we absolutely need the product developed by Mister Han.

    Hearing this, even Jeong-woo couldnt help but feel swayed. The sincerity in the other partys voice, emphasizing the sole purpose of protecting the pipeline, was evident.

    Even if I agree, you still need permission from Team Leader Joo Hana.

    -Team Leader Joo Hana has agreed to follow the new terms I presented. Hence, this satellite call.

    New terms? ๐‘“๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐“ฎ๐“Œ๐‘’๐’ท๐˜ฏโ„ด๐‘ฃ๐“ฎ๐“.๐’ธโ„ด๐˜ฎ

    -Youve seen the pipeline map, right? Theres a section in the Brooks Range where vehicles cannot enter. Even using drones for detection from the outside will have limitations. Were preparing surveillance planes to transport our line walkers to that location. Thats our condition.

    This seemed quite reasonable. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Jeong-woo.

    Youre going to fly and insert them in the middle of the mountain range?

    -If its a natural airstrip on ice, thats sufficient. Weve even contracted a plane company with skilled pilots.

    Jeong-woo had heard that in Alaska, given its vast area, surveillance planes were commonly used as primary transport. He nodded, seemingly without reservations.

    Alright.

    -Thank you. Well send people to your base camp.

    A win-win deal had been struck between them.

    Of course, the bonus commission Rust Guard would pay through KG Chemical by the end of the year was an unexpected windfall. Ending the call, Jeong-woo chuckled at the unexpected additional income.

    Mile 105 27 degrees below zero, Third Pump Base

    A truck driving along an unpaved road veered into a base situated on a snowy tundra where a circular pump facility stood.

    Jeong-woo stepped out of the truck.

    Ah, Im hungry. Lets eat first.

    Ill just get the charging generator running and follow right behind.

    The base camp was, as it was yesterday, an open space with the pump facility serving as a windbreak.

    As Jeong-woo walked, likening the scene to the snowy campsite he had been to before, his eyes caught a blonde lady setting up a camcorder on a tripod.

    What are you doing?

    Kaya turned her head.

    They say we might get a clear view of the northern lights today.

    Northern lights?

    Its expected to be between brightness levels 3 and 4, something that might only happen once every few years. Our channel editor was so insistent he even made a satellite call.

    A mysterious phenomenon of nature visible from Alaska.

    Upon hearing this news, Jeong-woo felt a thrill akin to an adventurous boy. He thought that if he had come near the Arctic Circle, he should definitely capture at least one photograph beneath the northern lights.

    Where did I put my phone? No, I should ask Kaya to take the picture with her good camera and send it to me later.

    In front of four neatly arranged tents, team members who had returned earlier were gathered around a small fire.

    Mr. Jeong-woo, would you like a cup of cocoa?

    Sure.

    Mook Soo-min, a deputy in the data collection team, offered Jeong-woo a cup. As he sipped the hot and sweet liquid and took his seat, Wi Ji-seong, who had been loudly talking, gave him a nod before continuing their conversation.

    Snowmobiles are fast, but man, its freezing. Youll get frostbite if you ride for too long.

    Team 2 couldnt use them much for the same reason. Anyway, remember the cowboy we met halfway? How we discreetly inserted a probe where he was after we finished? I wonder how suspicious he is.

    Those guys mustve had a tough time. Oh, by the way, Jeong-woo, you said you werent selling that, right?

    No, I agreed to make it. There were conditions attached.

    A diversionary tactic? Haha, youre clever.

    It wasnt intentional, but the conditions did end up favorable for us.

    As they conversed about the events of the day, they didnt realize that the sun had already begun to set.

    10:30 PM.

    Some were asleep, while others remained awake to witness the phenomenon unfolding in the sky.

    Jeong-woo was among the latter.

    Having carefully opened and activated a hot pack, he waited for roughly two hours.

    Is it going to appear?

    He turned his head toward Kaya, who was chatting with Wolf while looking at the stars in the sky, not appearing particularly restless as someone who had never seen the northern lights before.

    Ah, its cold. I think I should give up.

    Shin Seong-beom, shivering, crawled into the tent. The only remaining team member from the Korean side was Deputy Lee Jae-sang from Team 1.

    Deciding whether to continue waiting or to sleep, Jeong-woo approached Kaya.

    Hey, Kaya. How did you know about the news of the northern lights?

    To this query, Wolf chuckled before answering.

    I know someone at NASA.

    NASA?

    A space weather forecasting expert. Responsible for observing solar activities.

    Suddenly feeling a surge of credibility, Jeong-woo decided to wait a bit longer.

    Wondering how phenomena related to solar flares or plasma from the corona would appear to the molecular eye, he became even more intrigued.

    Around midnight, even Lee Jae-sang gave up and went inside.

    Guess its not happening tonight.

    Just as he felt the cold reaching his toes, changes started appearing in the sky.

    Its starting.

    As Kaya began recording with her camcorder, Jeong-woos gaze also turned skyward.

    At first, it was almost indistinguishable whether it was a faint cloud or scattered moonlight. However, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the night sky, it finally revealed its form.

    Wow

    Jeong-woo couldnt help but exclaim in awe.

    A curtain of eerie green light shimmered in the sky as if swaying with the wind, an ethereal dance of charged particles at an altitude of 100 kilometers.

    Mr. Han? You said you wanted to capture it.

    When Kaya approached with her high-definition camera, Jeong-woo finally snapped back to reality.

    Ah, right.

    He struck various poses: a typical tourist pose, a pose of someone overwhelmed by the majesty of nature, and even a cheer pose with Wolf. After the exhausting four-hour wait, it felt rewarding.

    Its truly amazing. Id regret it if I hadnt seen it.

    Jeong-woo examined the northern lights through the molecular perspective.

    The natural light emitted by oxygen and neutral nitrogen molecules covered the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves, from infrared to ultraviolet. It reminded him of the vivid display he had witnessed after taking AF-5 in Venice, yet this was a refined and mesmerizing spectacle.

    Is this a cosmic chemical reaction stemming from solar winds?

    Jeong-woo held a battery in his hand and tried to project a tiny spark into the sky. However, it was immediately swept away by the cold winds, unlike the northern lights, which seemed transcendent.

    Afterward, Jeong-woo continued to observe the northern lights.

    At 1:30 in the morning, Wolf also entered the tent. Kaya looked at Jeong-woo and smiled broadly.

    Looks like youre deeply impressed.

    I never realized the significance of the 557.7-nanometer wavelength.

    What?

    I mean I was referring to the color of the northern lights.

    Jeong-woos eyes, which had been fixed on the sky for a full two hours, shimmered with a strange energy, as captivating as the northern lights itself.

    Kaya glanced at him with a sense of wonder before quickly lifting her wrist-mounted action cam to capture footage. At the sound of the machine whirring, Jeong-woos gaze shifted toward Kaya.

    Are you filming again?

    My dad says the Inuit people call it the torchlight guiding the souls of the dead to the celestial realm. For a moment, I thought I saw that torchlight in Mr. Hans eyes.

    Thats unlikely.

    Ill send you the footage later for confirmation. They seem like the Inuit people living here.

    Kayas expression showed no sign of jesting.

    A torch for the deceased

    It wasnt proof of the existence of souls. However, Jeong-woo pondered whether when people die they become souls, encountering something that doesnt seem like the light of this world might make the transition less disconcerting.

    Mile 137- 41 degrees below zero, is this hell?

    Everyone, wake up.

    The fifth day since arriving in Alaska began with Wolfs rigid voice.

    Team members, dressed in insulated clothing, emerged from their tents, facing the biting cold that felt like it could slice through flesh. Their expressions were tense.

    The weather isnt favorable. If you feel the cold intensely, immediately cease activity and return to base camp. Those wearing metal-framed goggles should cover the areas touching their skin with gauze and must never touch anything with bare hands.

    Mile 145- 39 degrees below zero, beginning of the Brooks Range

    There was no movement in sight in all directions.

    The air blowing over the frozen mountains felt so cold that merely watching the footage transmitted by the drone made Jeong-woo shiver.

    Hi, Mr. Han.

    Passing by Jeong-woo, who was operating the drone in freezing temperatures, a cowboy-hatted figure waved. Ever since Rust Guard employees got the combination explosive two days ago, they had been increasingly friendly.

    Jeong-woo responded with a nod and warned him to be careful on the slope ahead. Shin Seong-beom, inspecting the pipeline, watched the passing cowboy hat and said.

    Earlier, our team leader mentioned it. Now, Deputy Chief Neogi is right next to us, waiting for our inspection results. The games over.

    Thats fortunate.

    Though he said so, Jeong-woo wasnt particularly thrilled.

    Flying drones over endless pipelines, reviewing reports, and performing routine tasks while also enjoying breathtaking natural landscapes.

    Money was abundant here, yet it seemed of little use. So the concept of competing with the competition has long been lost.

    Is this what life alongside nature is like?

    However, the remote controller he held and the drone flying beside the mountain seemed too worldly to signify such a life.

    Lost in thought, the almost completed footage from the returning drone suddenly shook. Jeong-woo was startled.

    Why is it doing this?

    Shin Seong-beom also looked at the monitor and opened the status information pane in surprise.

    The video transmission is normal, but it seems the controllers signals arent reaching well. Theres interference between automatic and manual flight commands.

    Interference?

    Gazing into the sky far away, beyond 500 meters, Jeong-woo squinted.

    He recalled the colors of microwaves witnessed within the northern lights, where excited electrons roamed in a spectrum of electromagnetic waves. Upon opening his eyes, the ash-colored microwaves connecting the controller and the drone were vividly clear.

    Got it.

    He discerned between automatic and manual flight commands, making the drone respond with every pulse of manual commands, almost as if seizing control of a year-long experiment.

    Hmm.

    Turning his face towards Shin Seong-beom with a look of concentration, Jeong-woo started talking.

    Tiny ice particles from the mountain range seem to be rising due to updrafts. Certain frequencies are scattering.

    Really?

    Puzzled by Jeong-woos explanation, Shin Seong-beom looked up, seemingly unsure.

    We need to be careful today. The cold has severely affected battery efficiency.

    Due to the mornings minus 41 degrees, they were flying within a 2.5-mile range instead of the usual 5 miles.

    Once the drone returned safely, Shin Seong-beom immediately checked its status.

    Watching this, Jeong-woo asked.

    What if this breaks down?

    Theres a spare drone at Anchorage Airports warehouse. But its not set up for polar conditions, making it hard to use until we cross this mountain range.

    Upon hearing this, a sinking feeling overwhelmed Jeong-woo.

    If the drone disappeared, inspection speed would significantly decrease. Even now, with Rust Guard increasing each persons range to 2 miles, Yujin Chemical couldnt keep up.

    While Baker Hughes, using smart pig, might be slower, they were consistent.

    Faced with the reality that the project could fail if the drone broke down, Jeong-woo looked at the X901 in astonishment.

    Dont fail on me, my five thousand.

    Mile 167- 23 degrees below zero, Fourth Pump Base

    On the eighth day of ground inspection, things began differently than usual.

    It feels wrong to only have you, Mr. Han, do all this hard work. You should have had a plane ready in advance.

    Jeong-woo glanced at Shin Seong-beom with a look of apology after placing a black case onto the surveillance plane.

    The route for inspection was a challenging section atop the Brooks Range, surrounded by icy regions. Due to the need to replace batteries for the X901 drone provided by Rust Guard, the number of personnel who could go was limited.

    Dont worry too much. Its quite warm today.

    Take this. Ive packed some chocolate and other things you might need.

    Shin Seong-beom handed Jeong-woo a pouch filled with heartfelt items. Smiling, Jeong-woo accepted it and took his seat on the plane.

    Kaya, carrying a bag full of safety gear, also boarded the surveillance plane.

    Glacier trekking! Thanks to Mr. Han, Ill have some special memories from this trip.

    Hearing her cheerful voice, Jeong-woo cautiously remarked.

    In Korea, memorable trips are usually classified into two categories.

    Two categories? What do you mean?

    Those that are vividly remembered due to hardship and those that are simply enjoyable This would be the latter, right?

    Of course. For an ordinary person to undertake such a magical trek would cost a fortune. I dont have enough time to be happy.

    Kayas answer was filled with anticipation.

    As three Rust Guard employees boarded the surveillance plane, the pilot started the engine.

    Vroom, vroom!

    With a light whirring sound typical of the surveillance plane, the propellers began to spin slowly, propelling the plane forward.

    Seeing Shin Seong-beom still looking apologetic through the window, Jeong-woo nudged Kaya, gesturing toward him.

    Kaya waved, and Shin Seong-beoms lips reflexively formed a grin. However, he stopped and looked away when Wolf stepped up beside him.

    Moments later.

    With a dizzying sensation, the view of the pump station outside the window quickly diminished, shrinking to the size of an ant.

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