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    The reason a dental clinic was established in the underwater base was due to the numerous issues people were experiencing related to their teeth. Even a person with perfectly healthy teeth would experience pain if the pressure changed ever so slightly, as even the tiniest hole in a tooth could become a source of agony. It was akin to discovering the existence of a cavity only after boarding an airplane.

    Now, imagine experiencing a toothache 3 kilometers (km) underwater, where the pressure difference is more than 300 times greater. It was much more efficient for work to visit a dental clinic rather than enduring the pain while sucking on vodka and painkillers, waiting for a someday treatment date.

    Before the dental clinic was established in the underwater base, one would first have to make an appointment at a dental clinic on land, then take the central elevator from -3km to 0km (sea level). Since there was no dental clinic on the artificial island (Daehan Island), one had to catch a helicopter or boat from the island to nearby Hawaii or the relatively closer Solomon Islands, or even Japan or Jeju Island.

    The shortest time it took to receive dental treatment was at least 5 hours. Of course, this only applied if a dental appointment was available, if one could immediately board the central elevator that moved every 10 minutes to go to the surface, if the weather on the artificial island was good enough to launch a helicopter, if the helicopter was fully fueled, if at least two people excluding oneself had business outside and were heading out, if there was magically a vacant seat on the helicopter, if there were no issues with the weather for the journey and landing, if one had their passport ready, if it was a country one could enter, and if one could get a taxi or car upon landing to go to the reserved dental clinic in the city. All of these factors had to align perfectly for the process to take 5 hours.

    Of course, one couldn’t do this during their work shift, so they had to do it on their days off or during vacation. In cases where dental treatment couldn’t be completed in one visit, it became a very cumbersome process.

    Why not just install a dental clinic in the hospital on Daehan Island? The people working in the underwater base unanimously agreed that there was not enough space in the island’s hospital to accommodate a dental clinic, so they sent the clinic down to the depths. It was later discovered that the reason for the dispute over whether to place the dental clinic in the medical center on the artificial island or not was that all facilities in the underwater base were free of charge. Only cafes, bakeries, and convenience stores charged fees, but even those were minimal—1 cent for a cup of coffee and 300 won for a piece of bread.

    However, after talking to the people at the hospital on the ground floor of Daehan Island, it turned out that only the medical treatment was free. Medications were also free, but only those prescribed by the dental clinic and the psychological counseling center. When asked why these services were not included in the free services, it was explained that everything built on Daehan Island (the artificial island) was not located underwater. It was a ridiculous situation, similar to insurance clauses.

    If located in the deep sea, any dental treatment, whether using gold or aluminum, could be covered by the underwater base’s budget, which is why the highly demanded dental and psychological services were placed in the deep sea. Both services were extremely expensive to use on land. Considering that the people working on Daehan Island and the underwater base come from all over the world, the cost-free dental treatment is nothing short of salvation for some. That’s why the dental clinic was placed in the depths of the underwater base. What would be an enormous expense on the surface becomes free once it’s in the depths.

    I took advantage of the lull in patients to read the undersea base guidebook. It was in English, so it wasn’t easy to read, but I figured I wouldn’t bother trying to read it later. And when the number of patients increased, I wouldn’t have time to read anyway.

    In the event of an injury at the undersea base, patients are immediately transferred to the central elevator and treated on Daehand Island. The elevator moves every 10 minutes, but if the emergency button is pressed, it stops wherever it is and descends 3km. Then, if you catch that elevator, it goes directly to the ground floor.

    The ground floor, also known as the Basic Air Area, allows direct access to the emergency medical center. This method is much faster than calling 119 on land and going to the hospital. In the case of a 119 ambulance, you have to pray that no one else calls the ambulance before you at the same time, that traffic is not bad on the way to the hospital, and that there are no more severe patients in the emergency room. In comparison, you can use the emergency center in just 10 minutes by riding the elevator once.

    There are a few things that must be strictly observed at the undersea base, the first of which is no alcohol or cigarettes. Of course, if you are a smoker or an alcohol addict, you can indulge in those habits on the artificial island (Daehan Island) before coming down. The problem is that alcohol and cigarettes are not sold on the artificial island. Moreover, they are prohibited from being brought into the undersea base.

    At the undersea base, air is as essential as life itself. Although the air purification system at 3,000 meters underground allows even lowly humans without gills to breathe, the undersea base cannot afford to accommodate smokers.

    The 20-page contract I signed five days ago clearly stated that alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs are prohibited, and if caught within the undersea base, I agree to be expelled. However, two days ago, an engineer named Michael came in for treatment, and as soon as he entered the treatment room, I could smell the strong, distinctive whiskey scent. I couldn’t find any evidence during the treatment, as he had thoroughly brushed his teeth and gargled. I also felt the signs of smoking when a Chinese researcher named Zhang Wei greeted me in the hallway, but I couldn’t find any concrete evidence.

    Now, even after brushing and gargling, I could still smell a faint bitterness from the patient’s open mouth. I haven’t memorized his name yet, so I quickly glanced at his chart. Seo Jihyuk, the engineer of Team A. I scribbled a barely legible ‘T’ on the pad in the electronic chart section, indicating he should rinse his mouth. As the patient spat out blood and saliva, I asked:

    “Is there a place where you can smoke within the base?”

    Seo Jihyuk, holding a small glass cup, widened his eyes. He seemed hesitant about how to answer, but then countered the question with a confident expression.

    “Uh… Doctor, do you smoke?”

    “No.”

    I am a non-smoker. To be more precise, I quit because I couldn’t afford it. As I answered with a smile, Seo Jihyuk also smiled and replied. The orange whale in his arms seemed to be smiling as well.

    “I don’t smoke either.”

    “Seo Jihyuk, your teeth say you’re a smoker.”

    “…It seems like my teeth are lying.”

    “You love chocolate and candy, chew more on your right side, smoke, are stressed, and have a habit of clenching one side of your jaw.”

    “…You won’t tell anyone, right?”

    “Yes.”

    “Especially not our team leader?”

    “That… is the team leader of Team A, Shin Hae-ryang, right?”

    “He’s incredibly temperamental, beyond imagination. If he finds out I haven’t quit smoking yet, it’ll be a headache.”

    Upon my agreement, Seo Jihyuk surprisingly spilled the beans. There were numerous CCTV, heat, smoke, and carbon dioxide sensors within the underwater base, making it nearly impossible to find a place to smoke. However, he mentioned that if you enter “under repair” for the engineer’s computer, the sensors in that area will be temporarily deactivated.

    There are quite a few secret spots within the underwater base. I thought, “Well, that’s just human nature,” and continued with the treatment. Then, suddenly, I had a question and asked again.

    “You can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes on Daehan Island or within the underwater base, right?”

    “That’s why it’s heaven if you can just bring them in. A pack of cigarettes costs $60.”

    I laughed incredulously upon hearing the price. When I was working part-time on land, a pack of cigarettes was several times more expensive than my minimum hourly wage.

    “Are there people who buy them at that price?”

    “It doesn’t seem like they’re selling them because there’s no demand. Many Americans, some Chinese, and many Russians buy them,” Seo Jihyuk said, scratching his cheek with his fingertip. “There are people who quit as soon as they arrive, but there are also those who can’t quit so easily.”

    “So… Team Leader Shin doesn’t smoke?”

    “Smoke? Our team leader wouldn’t even bleed a single drop if you pricked him.”

    I got to hear more details from Seo Jihyuk about why the engineer teams are named alphabetically and why the island is called Daehan Island. During the vote, employees from various countries requested and pressured to use their national language for the island name as much as possible.

    At that time, the vote was conducted over two days, with each person logging into the underwater base program using their ID and password on their electronic pad and casting one vote. On the first day, Team Leader Shin Hae-ryang swept up all the votes from the entire engineering team (ABCDEFGH) and the entire mining team (ABCDEFGH), a total of 160 votes, and threw them all into [Daehan Island]. Since there were about 190 people at the time, it became Daehan Island.

    “Originally, Team Leader Shin wanted to name the island [Republic[1]].”

    I burst into laughter as soon as I heard that. This underwater base was built with funds from eight advanced countries. More than half of them is only wearing the skin of democracy.

    “I wanted to see some countries having a fit too. At that time, Chinese and Japanese people were absurdly arguing that Taekwondo was their national martial art, so Team Leader Shin, unable to bear their nonsense, wanted to name the island Taekwondo. But people around him dissuaded him, and he named it Daehan Island.”

    Hearing that, I couldn’t help but smile. I imagined Team Leader Shin as a white Maltese-like puppy with no patience, but soon shook my head twice and brushed off the thought.

    “How did you manage to scrape together the votes?”

    “Gambling, sir. Our director wouldn’t necessarily invite you to play poker, but if he ever does, never take a seat at the table.”

    Gambling is one of the things not permitted at the underwater base. I became curious about whether the people here observed any of the prohibited activities.

    “Is he that good at it?”

    “He’s like a ghost.”

    I’m a person who’s bad at not only poker but also the Korean card game go-stop. I have no connection to gambling or money. I’ve never even won a cheap instant lottery ticket.

    “Why are the team names in alphabetical order?”

    “They ran out of tickets for the bets, so they even wagered the team names, and that’s how it turned out.”

    As I finally burst into laughter, Seo Jihyuk also chuckled. He informed me that all of N Team’s engineers were Japanese, and all of D Team’s engineers were Russian. He also explained the nationalities of the engineers in the R and M Teams, as well as the teams named with English numbers, but I couldn’t remember them all. I inwardly lamented my poor memory but tried to console myself with the thought that everyone’s memory and focus had declined since electronic devices became widespread. It didn’t help much…

    1. Minguk (Republic); From Daehan Minguk Manse (Long Live Republic of Korea)[]
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