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The strange flow of stardust was converging on her clothes. Free electrons, from all corners, were pouring in and it even took the stardust that he had driven out earlier.
'Woah, there's way too much gathered.'
Ignorant of the imminent danger she was in, the woman was engrossed in her book. Based on the amount he was seeing, if she were to reach out for a handle, she would feel at least three times the static shock that he had experienced earlier.
Although the stardust wasn’t entirely his fault, he couldn't help but feel responsible. Of course, it was not because this woman was stunningly beautiful.
'Hmph. This is DEFCON Level 1 of the static electricity world. Yup, this is very dangerous.'
Jungwu looked around as he recognized the danger, then cleared his throat.
Chuga chuga clack chuga chuga
The train made familiar noises as it leisurely ran its course on the rails.
Jungwu focused on trying to come up with a solution.
The chemical knowledge that was embedded into his brain cells and his optic nerves worked together to provide a molecular biologists' unique observation which magnified and showed the composition of the 'static electricity bomb'. The elemental stars, which were wound like chains, appeared all over his vision on the fibers' surface.
'CO…NH…CH… if the amides are this closely linked together, there is a high likelihood that charges can accumulate due to friction.'
The nylon was the root of the problem. It was somewhat similar to the phenomenon where women who wore stockings had their skirt sticking on it because of the static electricity.
'But that shouldn't be enough to create a static explosion. Wait. NA…O…Si?'
Jungwu's eyes shone as he found the transparent chemical stuck here and there in the gaps between the fibers. The stardust floating nearby clung onto this chemical then twitched as if they would explode any moment.
'Was it you?'
The chemical that so easily snatched up the free electrons was sodium silicate. If enough were to be stuck on clothes and made alkaline from an ionic reaction, then it would become a great material to attract free electrons. In addition, this would make the clothes stiffer than usual, so the coat's debut as a 'static electricity bomb' was a foregone conclusion.
'Neutralizing the ions take priority. If it's sodium silicate, just sprinkling some water right now will have some effect.'
Jungwu was worrying over how he would communicate this solution that would take the threat from DEFCON Level 1 to DEFCON Level 5, when the woman looked up from her papers.
Her large, clear eyes, which did not have double eyelids, were looking his way. Her look seemed to say, 'Why do you keep staring at me?.'
Jungwu panicked because as much as he was preoccupied with his chemical world, the fact of the matter was that he had intensely stared at her, to the point he felt he should apologize. Jungwu pointed towards her hand.
"Be careful of static electricity."
"When you get off the station, you should sprinkle some water over your outerwear and pat it down a bit. My goodness, your clothes are so stiff…"
The train arrived at a station, so people were starting to move around hurriedly. Jungwu was swept along by the crowd.
'What is he talking about?'
Boyoung Song was confused by what the man said to her. She looked for where he had gone to, but finding a person on the subway that one had met casually, was no easy feat.
She tried to forget about it and go back to her papers when the phone in her purse rang. When she took it out, the caller ID showed her company sunbae*, Dong-gil Lee.
– Where are you? On your way to work?
"I'm on the subway."
– Boyoung, are you really?
"When I was in Munich I took the subway every day."
– Seeing that you've taken to 'Cosplaying as a Commoner', your father's been saying to get involved in the management….
Boyoung Song knit her eyebrows.
"If it's small talk like this then hang up. I am busy."
– Uh-hut! Wait. There's something big going on.
She asked with an uninterested expression.
"What is it?"
– I just met the head of HR and heard of this shocking news. There's a special hire that is parachuting into the lab.**
"Don't they occasionally recruit researchers?"
– And don't be surprised by what I'm about to say. On top of that, they said Dr. Seung-guk Chun selected this person himself.
Boyoung So's eyes were wide open despite the warning in advance to not be surprised.
"Dr. Chun? There's been no news from him for 6 months ever since he'd left saying that this is his sabbatical year. When did he come back?"
– Hold up. I didn't get the chance to ask that much. Should we go to HR to dig up some more info? We could go for brunch at the cafe in front afterward.
"Forget it. Let me ask them myself."
– Wa-wait! Boyou…
Boyoung Song placed her phone in her purse then returned to reading the paper.
[Next Generation's Biocode]
It was a scientific paper that Seung-guk Chun had written towards the end of his stay at Heidelburg's Biochemistry Center in Germany. It held a theory that was regarded as exceptional even today, more than ten years later.
'The person Dr. Chun had scouted himself? I need to see this person soon.'
Maybe because she hoped Dr. Chun would return, Boyoung Song had resolved on committing herself even more to the study. She went back to focusing on the next paragraph in the paper.
While reading, she pressed herself against the wall on reflex when the subway train shook. Just as she did, she felt the spark from static electricity and was taken by surprise.
"Are you alright, student?"
"I'm alright, ma’am."
She couldn't help but smile at the fact that the elderly lady regarded her as a student. Well, if you thought about it, she was at the age where many people would still be studying. At 26, one could easily be regarded as a graduate student. However, she had already been a full-fledged researcher for a full year.
She bowed to the elderly lady to indicate her gratitude then bit on the finger that was still stinging from the shock.
'This is why I hate winter.'
She stared at her hand absentmindedly then tilted her head as she remembered the odd words from earlier. You mean to tell me that he predicted this?
"That makes no sense."
Boyoung Song shook her head.
She went back to reading the paper quietly. But before long, she was disrupted by a loud ruckus coming from the other side of the crowd on the train.
"Uwaaah! I don't like it! Let's go home, Mommy."
"Hey, over there! Let's be quiet around here."
The child was crying loudly. Other passengers on the train were upset from the noise. The crying broke her concentration and made her skin crawl.
Boyoung Song decided she couldn't read another word and took her eyes off the paper. It was difficult enough to try and read the paper in a quiet setting, and to force reading it now would only make her head hurt. She lowered her head to sort out the insides of her purse and noticed Dong-gil's text on her phone.
[Don't ask HR and instead, ask me over some tea. 10 o'clock at the lounge, OK? Also, check out this mug shot of the parachuter ]
A picture that looked like it was taken at a personnel records bureau came up on her phone.
'Oh? This face…?'
Jungwu was staring at the wailing kid with a sorry expression. The child looked to be around 5 years old.
"I'm so sorry. My son has eczema."
The mother kept apologizing for her child’s behavior. When the kid repeatedly scratched his arm, she told him to stop. The kid kept crying as he scratched and the mother stopped him, telling him that he was going to get a scar. The kid then threw a tantrum for which he was chided by the mother.
'Talk about rinse and repeat.'
Jungwu felt for the kid who couldn't adjust to the subway environment, but he didn't know what to say. However, that didn't change the fact that the child was the source of the noise.
An elderly man, who was reading the newspaper, sent a contemptuous look towards the two.
"What's so special about eczema? Regardless of whether you are an adult or a child, you should learn some public etiquettes. Damn them government bastards for removing it from the textbooks.
But the way he spread out his newspapers to the point of pushing off the passengers seated next to him wasn't a good show of manners either. The little kid stopped crying, but his face was frozen stiff from getting scolded by the old man.
Jungwu stared at the kid without much thought when he noticed the stardust gather on top of the kid's head. It was because of his furry cotton hat.
'Hey. If you're going somewhere, go to that cranky old man!'
It was not intentional. But the stardust actually gathered into his palm and then flew away. The problem was that the few strands of hair on the old man's head were getting caught in the stardust.
'Isn't that strange? How did it get affected?'
Wondering what the principle behind it may be, he moved his hand here and there until the stardust hovered above the old man's head. The old man's hair was pointing up straight as if it was struck by lightning.
Jungwu moved his hand to the side to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, and the old man's hair matched his hand movements.
When the old man noticed that something was strange and lifted his head up, Jungwu quickly hid his hand. The old man slapped his newspaper and stared around uncomfortably for a while until he finally lowered his head again.
'Phew. My heart.'
The kid who was frozen in his seat witnessed all of this. Jungwu looked at him and brought a finger to his lips and whispered,
The kid shook his head up and down in big motions with a serious expression on his face, as if he regarded this as a great secret.
Jungwu returned his gaze to his hands.
'What is up with this? Why are these free spirited free electrons listening to me? My hands don't have sodium silicate.'
He tried to find an answer among his knowledge of chemistry.
The recent phenomenon could be explained as an event where the palms of his hands were temporarily charged positive[+] then changed to negative charge[-]. In theory, it was possible. The reason why your hair might stand up when terrified by watching a horror movie is that bodily electrical charges are transferred to your sensories. If you were able to control these electric signals even in a small way, wouldn't it be possible to hold a small static charge on your palms?
'Let's try this.'
As he stretched out his hand, he could see the stardust gathering like a tornado. Nobody could see it, but Jungwu couldn't help but be amazed.
'Should I call this Sensory Control via chemical means?'
The ability to look into the molecular world was quite a shocking experience. Despite that, this newly found ability as the master of static electricity was just as wondrous. Jungwu had gotten the gist of things and turned his gaze to the little kid. It looked like the itchiness from eczema had subsided for the moment, and the kid was now glancing at him repeatedly with eyes full of expectations.
'Should I do it one more time for science?'
Jungwu quietly held his hand over the old man's head once again.
Eventually, he felt as if the positive ions had concentrated on his palms.
As the negatively charged stardust gathered from all four corners and blew winds in the nano world, the old man's hairs responded in tandem. At that moment, the subway broadcast played some advertising music.
Na~Nana~ wahttuwariwari~ in front of Seoul City Hall, your good neighborhood dentist…
'Dance with DOC' is it?'***
He didn't do it intentionally, but he couldn't help but let his shoulders move a bit to the beat of the catchy tune. Due to this, there was a huge storm brewing in the world of the stardust.
The old man's hair also started dancing.
* Korean equivalent of Japanese 'senpai'. People who are usually older than you and/or people who have more years/experience than you in the same industry, workplace, school, etc.
** 'Parachuting' is a kind of mocking euphemism for how people get positions/hired due to connections with people higher up in the company ladder. Usually it means requirements/qualifications are disregarded or irrelevant due to their connections.
***’Dance with Doc' is a really famous song, a classic in Korea. Here's the video link if you would like to listen to it