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    Chapter 280: Chug-Chug, Puff-Puff! (1)

    A month had passed since the commotion with the guns.

    In the 3rd Workshop of Area 51, Hyang and the key figures from the research institute and Area 51 had gathered in front of the workshop that primarily produced large equipment.

    Although it was the sweltering midday of midsummer, the heat radiating from the assembled people was even more intense.

    “It’s coming out!”

    As the workshop door opened, the artisan’s cry drew everyone’s gaze to the open door.

    Click! Clank! Chug-chug, puff-puff!

    Accompanied by the clamorous sound of escaping steam, a cart equipped with a steam engine began to emerge from the workshop.

    “Ooh! It’s moving! It moves!”

    “Wow!”

    Seeing the cart in motion, the researchers and artisans cheered and rejoiced.

    Even the soldiers standing guard nearby stared at the cart’s movement with wide eyes, witnessing a machine they had never seen before.

    “Hyung-nim! Hyung-nim! It’s finally moving!”

    While everyone present was delighted, the most elated was Prince Jinpyeong.

    Utterly excited, Jinpyeong forgot all decorum, grabbed Hyang’s arm, and hopped up and down.

    “Now we just need to lay railroad tracks across Joseon and have that self-propelled cart run on them!”

    “Not yet.”

    “Pardon?”

    Hyang pointed at the cart and continued.

    “We’ve only confirmed that it moves. We haven’t even verified if it performs as expected, have we?”

    “Ah…”

    At Hyang’s words, Jinpyeong nodded with a face full of disappointment. However, he quickly regained his spirit and shouted with a confident expression.

    “The performance will surely be excellent! I’m confident!”

    “Really? Considering what happened not long ago, I don’t think so.”

    As Hyang narrowed his eyes and spoke in a doubtful tone, Jinpyeong’s face reddened as he yelled.

    “Ah, Hyung-nim! I told you that was a mistake!”

    ***

    A few days before the prototype of the steam locomotive was completed, Hyang and Jinpyeong had been conversing in the Eastern Palace.

    The topic was, of course, the steam locomotive.

    “The self-propelled cart equipped with a steam engine will be finished soon. We must prepare and execute the railroad construction in advance.”

    “The actual product hasn’t even come out yet. And its performance hasn’t been confirmed either. It’s not too late to think about railroad construction after that.”

    “Your Highness!”

    “Do you want to persuade His Majesty and Lord Kim of the Ministry of Finance?”

    At Hyang’s question, Jinpyeong’s mouth clamped shut like a clam.

    “By the way, it’s terribly hot today. Eunuch, could you fetch some ice water?”

    “I’ll bring it to you!”

    As soon as Hyang finished speaking, Jinpyeong left the room. Seeing this, Hyang burst into laughter.

    “The kid must be afraid to face His Majesty.”

    Jinpyeong was no match for King Sejong and Lord Kim of the Ministry of Finance. Jinpyeong knew this well and was trying to get Hyang on his side.

    Shortly after, Jinpyeong returned with a glass filled with ice water and handed it to Hyang.

    “Your Highness! The water is very cold! Drink it quickly! The ice will melt and overflow the glass!”

    “Than-“

    As Hyang received the glass from Jinpyeong and began to express his gratitude, he suddenly stopped and stared at Jinpyeong.

    “What’s the matter?”

    “Go to the research institute right now and study physics again.”

    “Pardon?”

    “Figure out what was wrong with what you just said and report back to me. Go!”

    “Huh? What?”

    “Tsk!”

    As Hyang’s expression turned grim, Jinpyeong scurried out of Hyang’s room with his tail between his legs.

    Placing the glass with beads of condensation on the desk, Hyang rested his hand on his forehead and muttered.

    “Even if it kills him, that guy is a science student… Even I, a liberal arts student, know this… I’m worried if the locomotive will turn out properly. No, putting that aside, is this why Joseon ended up in such a state after that guy staged a coup? Well, I suppose such a thing won’t happen this time? Oh dear, should I start worrying about this too?”

    Hyang began to worry about various things because of Jinpyeong, who had forgotten the most basic knowledge about volume.

    In the history before Hyang’s intervention, the evaluation of Jinpyeong – who later changed his military title to Prince Suyang – was that his literary talent was lacking, but his military talent was excellent.

    However, Teacher Samcheonpo had a different assessment.

    “A noble who lacks literary talent participates in creating Seokbosangjeol[1]? That evaluation came from comparing him to his father and brother!”

    That evening, Jinpyeong submitted a written reflection to Hyang, proving Teacher Samcheonpo’s assessment correct.

    ***

    While Hyang teased Jinpyeong about the incident, the steam locomotive that had emerged from the workshop slowly moved back and forth along the pre-installed railroad track. Before placing it on the test track installed along the boundary of Area 51, they were checking its condition.

    “How is it?”

    In response to Hyang’s question, the artisan operating the locomotive promptly answered.

    “No issues!”

    “Is that so? Then let’s proceed with the formal testing.”

    With Hyang’s permission, the steam locomotive ascended onto the test track.

    The official testing had begun.

    ***

    As the ongoing tests yielded positive results, Hyang formally reported to King Sejong.

    “A self-propelled cart utilizing a steam engine has been completed?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Upon Hyang’s report, King Sejong immediately descended from the council hall.

    “Then let’s go and see it.”

    “Your Majesty! The state affairs…”

    The ministers rose in surprise, trying to stop King Sejong, but he simply replied.

    “I can attend to them after I return, can’t I? It’s not the first time I’ve come home a little late, is it?”

    “That is true…”

    The ministers answered in a subdued voice and hastily rose from their seats to follow King Sejong.

    ***

    As they approached Area 51, King Sejong turned to Hyang.

    “It seems to be expanding.”

    At King Sejong’s observation, Hyang’s expression turned troubled.

    As the reform progressed and the types, quantities, and sizes of items manufactured and tested in Area 51 grew, the district itself was steadily increasing in size.

    Initially, it occupied about half of the southern district of Hanseong, but now its territory had expanded beyond the city walls to cover approximately half of Yongsan Plain.

    From an aerial view, Area 51 encompassed everything except the eastern slope of Namsan (South Mountain).

    “As the size of the equipment we make and test grew larger, it became inevitable.”

    “Have you considered establishing additional sites elsewhere?”

    “Communication and confidentiality would be difficult.”

    At Hyang’s answer, King Sejong clicked his tongue.

    “Nothing is ever easy.”

    ***

    Arriving at Area 51, King Sejong and the ministers observed the Iron Horse and exclaimed in admiration.

    “Seeing it clad in iron armor all over, it truly looks sturdy!”

    “The sound of the escaping steam is like the breathing of a ferocious beast!”

    Against the backdrop of the ministers’ exclamations, King Sejong, who had been examining the steam locomotive, asked Hyang.

    “How much does it weigh?”

    “900 gwan (approximately 3.4 tons).”

    “It’s heavier than it looks!”

    As King Sejong marveled at the weight, which was far heavier than its appearance suggested, Hyang explained the reason.

    “That’s because everything is made of iron.”

    “Is that so? Then how much can it carry?”

    “Including the weight of the connected carts, it can carry 2,500 gwan (approximately 9.4 tons).”

    “It’s quite powerful! And how fast can it travel?”

    “With a load of 2,500 gwan, it can travel 90 ri (approximately 36 km) in half a shichen.”

    “The speed is impressive too!”

    King Sejong showered Hyang with exclamations of admiration as he listened to his explanations. Meanwhile, Kim Jeom’s eyes, who had been listening to Hyang’s explanations from behind, began to gleam fiercely.

    ‘Hmm? If we do this right, it could be profitable.’

    As King Sejong meticulously inspected the freight and passenger cars connected to the steam locomotive, he turned to Hyang.

    “Can it move now?”

    “Yes. Would you like to take a ride?”

    “Certainly!”

    King Sejong answered as if he had been waiting for this, and Hyang guided him and the ministers to the passenger car.

    “The interior is quite plain.”

    Seeing the passenger compartment with two rows of wooden bench seats, King Sejong commented in a matter-of-fact tone.

    “We plan to divide the passenger section into different classes later.”

    “Divide into classes? Like thatched and tiled houses? Then you’ll also differentiate the fares?”

    “Yes.”

    As Hyang answered, King Sejong, who had been nodding his head, turned to Kim Jeom.

    “Minister of Finance.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    “When this machine eventually travels throughout Joseon, study how we should handle it.”

    “I shall obey your command.”

    Kim Jeom answered with enthusiasm. His mind had already been racing furiously from the moment Hyang mentioned “dividing into classes.”

    ‘I hear the sound of money coming in!’

    ***

    The train carrying King Sejong, Hyang, and the ministers completed two laps around the test track in Area 51.

    “Bleurgh!”

    As they disembarked from the train after the test run, many of the ministers began to vomit as soon as their feet touched the ground.

    And the scribes recorded all of this.

    It was ‘officially recorded motion sickness.’

    King Sejong, who had disembarked from the passenger car with a slightly pale face, turned to Hyang.

    “It’s a bit dizzying. This aspect needs improvement.”

    “We are currently researching it.”

    “Make sure to improve it.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    After repeatedly urging Hyang, King Sejong moved on to the next matter.

    “So, has an official name been chosen for this self-propelled cart?”

    “Not yet. Please bestow a name, Your Majesty.”

    At Hyang’s request, King Sejong pondered for a moment and soon found a suitable name.

    “Since it carries many people and cargo and moves swiftly, ‘Iron Horse’ would be fitting.”

    “A truly excellent name.”

    “Indeed, Your Majesty!”

    As King Sejong named it the ‘Iron Horse,’ Hyang and the ministers all bowed their heads, echoing that it was a fine name.

    ‘They say people think alike…’

    Hyang, who had been the first to respond, muttered inwardly.

    ***

    After the test ride of the Iron Horse, King Sejong and the ministers returned to the palace and soon exchanged opinions on how to utilize it.

    “I certainly believe it’s a useful machine. What do you think?”

    “Although the Crown Prince said it needs some improvements, I believe it will be sufficiently useful even in its current state.”

    “I agree, Your Majesty. Traveling 90 ri in half a shichen means it can cover 180 ri (approximately 72 km) in one shichen. Considering the cargo capacity of the Iron Horse, this can bring tremendous benefits!”

    While all the ministers provided positive responses, the one who stepped forward most actively was Jo Mal-saeng.

    “We must adopt it as soon as possible! Imagine using the Iron Horse for troop transportation. The soldiers can travel long distances without getting tired!”

    As most of the ministers showed favorable reactions, King Sejong turned to Hyang.

    “How long will it take to have the Iron Horse running throughout Joseon?”

    “It’s impossible in a short period. We should expect at least ten years.”

    “Why is that?”

    In response to King Sejong’s question, Hyang explained the reasons.

    “First, the ironworks in Anju alone cannot supply the necessary amount of iron. Not only is the quantity required to build the Iron Horse substantial, but the amount of iron needed to lay the railroad tracks is also considerable.”

    “Hmm… That’s true.”

    As King Sejong nodded, Hyang explained the next reason.

    “The second reason is even more problematic. It’s the rivers that run through Joseon’s territory. As a simple example, even the Han River that flows south of Hanseong must be crossed by boat.”

    “I see.”

    At Hyang’s point, the atmosphere in the council hall grew heavy.

    ‘These gentlemen! What are they, teenagers? Why are their mood swings so extreme?’

    Grumbling inwardly, Hyang promptly proposed a solution.

    “The issue of bridges will be solved as soon as we gain experience through the ongoing road construction.

    As we build bridges one by one over the large and small rivers across Joseon, we will gain the experience to construct bridges even over large rivers like the Han River and the Daedong River.”

    Hyang’s explanation somewhat brightened the mood of King Sejong and the ministers. Hyang continued his explanation.

    “The most crucial aspect is training those who will operate the Iron Horse. Therefore, I humbly suggest replacing the horse-drawn carriages moving within Hanseong with the Iron Horse.”

    “Oh?”

    “Pardon?”

    1. Seokbosangjeol is a collection of Buddhist hymns and chants compiled during the reign of King Sejong in the Joseon Dynasty. It contains musical notations and lyrics for various Buddhist rituals and ceremonies. The term literally means “Detailed Explanations of the Musical Notations for Buddhist Chants.[]

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