"He's holding your freedom," chuckled Yun Gap-sun. "And in case you're wondering, a member of our group called the South Korean embassy just a short time ago to warn them of what we were doing, so the Chinese guards will be caught by surprise."
"You could consider it an array of firearms," started Gim Kil-chun. "There is a plastics factory nearby. We took a number of scrap pieces -- actually, I think the proper term for the shape is right rectangular prism -- and drilled barrels in them, in other words, a hole that does not go through both ends. We drilled a tiny hole at the dead end of each barrel for the fuse. We used a lathe to make bullets, well, okay, they're rather crudely shaped, slightly tapered on the business end. We removed the gunpowder from many firecrackers and dropped some down each barrel. We jammed a bullet down each barrel and inserted a fuse into each hole. Then we took a strap and connected many of them together, connecting all of the fuses to a larger, primary fuse. The last thing we did was attach a bracket to allow us to quickly bolt it to a street sign. The array shifts so we can aim it."
"How strong is that plastic?" asked Ko Yun-bok. "Isn't there a chance the plastic solids will explode into many pieces?"
"I see someone paid attention in science class," began Gim. "Yes, that is a possibility. We chose pieces with no obvious flaws. We've done a bit of testing and discovered that the solids are never a problem for the first and even second use, but sometimes they fracture on the third use. Given that we only use them once, I think it's unlikely that they will fracture."
"Okay, pay attention," ordered Yun. "Kil-chun and I will walk to the street sign with me blocking the view of the array from the perspective of the Chinese guards. Kil-chun will attach it to the sign. Do not make your move until I raise my arms above my head and then drop them to my side. Understand? There are four stages to the array, meaning there are four volleys, forcing the Chinese guards to run for cover, though the plastic bullets are not traveling fast enough to injure them unless they strike an eye. Then Kil-chun and I will run to a nearby building where more members of our underground railroad are waiting with different shirts for us to wear. And you didn't really think we wore these silly hats because we liked them, right?"
All nine members of the group nodded.
"Good luck to all of you," added Gim.
Yun and Gim walked to the sign, with Gim quickly attaching the array to the sign and aiming it at the Chinese guards. Gim lit the primary fuse.
Yun turned around to face the Chinese guards. "Chinese Han must die!" he screamed as he raised his arms above his head.
"Free Tibet! Long live the Dalai Lama!" shouted Gim.
The Chinese guards started walking toward them. The first stage of the array fired, with the Chinese guards being stunned by the flying projectiles. Then the second stage fired and they ran to a concrete barrier. Yun dropped his arms and the nine North Koreans, including orphans, ran to the front entrance of the South Korean embassy. As Yun and Gim ran away, the third and fourth stages fired, forcing the Chinese guards to hunker down behind the concrete barrier.
"Welcome to the Republic of Korea!" announced the embassy guard as he opened the gate.
* * * * *
The telephone rang, with the president of Feed North Korea answering: "Hello, this is Christian Talvela."
"Hello. My name is Euh Kun-hee. I am a senior aide to South Korean Ambassador Lee Kyung-ni. Can you come to the South Korean embassy in Washington DC as soon as possible? Since this is not a secure telephone, I am hesitant to discuss the matter right now."
"I could leave early in the morning and be at Washington National around noon," replied Talvela.
"Excellent. Would a 1:00 PM meeting be acceptable?" asked the aide.
"Yes, that's okay, as long as the plane isn't late. Should I ask for you?" asked Talvela in return.
"Yes, please do. And thanks for traveling on such short notice," concluded the aide.
* * * * *
Talvela told the guard at the gate of the Korean Embassy in Washington DC that Euh was expecting him. The guard called to the main building, confirmed that Talvela was on the list, and motioned for him to continue toward the main entrance where he was met by Euh.
"Mr. Talvela, thank you for coming on such short notice. Please walk with me to Ambassador Lee's office. We have much to talk about," said Euh as they walked to Ambassador Lee's office.
"Mr. Talvela, I'll bet you are wondering why we asked you here. Please have a seat," offered Ambassador Lee Kyung-ni.
"We never quite know what to believe with respect to North Korea. As you know, Kim Gour-met was the leader until December 2011. Recently we received an overture from his son and current leader, Kim Young-un. He asked to see you in person. He would tell not us why. Given your interest in the Korean peninsula, I believe you might find it educational to travel to Pyongyang to meet him," explained Ambassador Lee.
"Absolutely!" declared Talvela.
"We will classify you as a temporary employee and pay you at the level of Special Representative for North Korea Policy. When can you leave?" asked Ambassador Lee.
"I suspected something like this might happen, so I brought clothes suitable for the Korean peninsula. I can leave on the next flight," declared Talvela.
"Excellent," concluded Ambassador Lee.
* * * * *
As Talvela stepped off the plane at Incheon International Airport, he saw an attractive female lieutenant holding his photo.
"Mr. Talvela, my name is Lieutenant Song Han-na. I have been assigned to assist you with your meeting in Pyongyang. My regular position in the army is in logistics, but since I have a degree in English, my superiors believed that I would be a suitable assistant for you."
"Since we will be working with each other in tense circumstances, I would like to eliminate the formality between us. Please call me Christian," said Talvela.
"In that case, please call me Han-na," countered Lieutenant Song. "By the way, how did you get involved in Korean matters? You aren't even partially Korean, or Asian for that matter."
"My much older sister adopted a Korean girl, Da-seul, with the two of us not being very far apart in years. My sister insisted that she continue her education in Korean, so she became perfectly bilingual. Whenever I could, I sat in on her lessons. My Korean is really uneven, but I can get by. Da-seul might have come with me, but she's pregnant with her first child right now. Very pregnant," explained Talvela.
* * * * *
"President Shon, I would like to introduce Christian Talvela," said Lieutenant Song.
"Mr. Talvela, it is good of you to travel to our peninsula. Kim Young-un's message has us dying of curiosity. Besides Lieutenant Song, do you require any assistance?" asked President Shon Joon-ho.
"Given the humanitarian nightmare that is North Korea, I would appreciate it if you can supply us with a medical doctor who is familiar with the conditions there. I have a feeling that those skills might prove useful. Of course, the doctor needs to speak English," offered Talvela.
"I know just the person. I expect you will leave tomorrow for Pyongyang, so I will ask the good doctor to be ready in the morning. Anything else?" asked President Shon.
"Yes, do you know anything about the North Korean woman who was seen in a video searching for grass to sell to wealthier people to feed rabbits? She said in the video that she was an orphan," added Talvela.
"I think you will find that Lieutenant Song is an expert on that subject," noted President Shon.
Talvela looked at Lieutenant Song with curiosity.
"I will conclude by telling you that you will probably also deal with Kim Tip-ple, Kim Gour-met's younger sister. We believe she is acting as a regent for Kim Young-un. She is reputed to be a mean drunk and even caused her daughter to commit suicide," added President Shon.
"Sounds like it will not be boring," said Talvela.
"I cannot wait to hear what you have learned upon your return," concluded President Shon.
Talvela and Lieutenant Song walked out of the president's office.
"Han-na, what did President Shon mean by your being an expert on orphans?"
"I am an orphan myself and grew up in an orphanage. I joined the army because I have no family. I was one of the very first graduates of our officer training program for women. I keep current with orphan matters on the Korean peninsula. I am fairly certain I could find Yoo Tok-ki, the rabbit girl. For me, she represents all of the starving orphans in North Korea."
"I love the smell of baby food in the morning," offered Talvela.
"It smells like -- victory?" finished Lieutenant Song, catching the cultural reference.
* * * * *
"My name is Colonel Kim Yu-shin. I will be your escort," said Colonel Kim.
"Colonel, my name is Lieutenant Song Han-na. This is Special Representative Christian Talvela. And this is Doctor Lee Mi-hyun," said Lieutenant Song.
"Please come with me," said Colonel Kim.
They walked further into the palace.
"Radiant Marshal, General Kim, please allow me to introduce Special Representative Christian Talvela, Lieutenant Song Han-na, and Doctor Lee Mi-hyun," said Colonel Kim.
Turning to the visitors, he said, "This is Radiant Marshal Kim Young-un and General Kim Tip-ple."
"You want a drink? It's the best Canadian Whiskey. Let me get you one," slobbered Aunt Kim.
"Not now, revered aunt. Please have a seat. Mr. Talvela, I have read your blog. You do not agree with many of the policies of North Korea," stated Kim.
"To be blunt, the policies of your father have resulted in the deaths of millions of North Koreans and more than a few South Koreans, Americans, and others. Why do you not see that allowing your people to eat proper meals, and stopping the never-ending war with the rest of the world, would enable North Korea to be a much more powerful country? South Korea is the 8th largest exporting country. North Korea is 120th, just ahead of Mozambique. There is no reason North Korea could not emulate South Korea; after all, you are the same people. By switching your spending from your military, Pyongyang could become another Asian Tiger," declared Talvela as he watched Aunt Kim constantly slurping caramel-colored liquid from a large glass.
"What would you say if I told you that we want to do just that? What would you say if I told you that our generals are preventing us from doing that?" asked Kim.
"Your grandfather and father made many promises and offers over the years and all of them turned out to be vapor from a starving cloud," commented Talvela.
"You have a vivid imagination. I would like you to give us your suggestions as to how my aunt and I can wrest power from the generals," said Kim.
"Excuse me for a second," said Kim as he turned to his servant. "Take my dog out for a walk now. And don't forget to feed him."
"Dog food!" Aunt Kim giggled hysterically.
"I have an plan, but first I have a request of my own. You may or may not know that a North Korean woman, Yoo Tok-ki, was featured in a video which has been seen around the world. This video showed her starving and looking for grass to sell to wealthier North Koreans. She clearly lived a pathetic life," said Talvela.
Lieutenant Song looked at Talvela with a slight smile on her face.
"Before I give you any advice, I want to find this woman, if she is still alive, given her predicament. And I want to take her back with me to Seoul," said Talvela.
"Does this woman interest you sexually?" asked an amused Kim.
A thudding noise caused everyone to look over at Aunt Kim who had fallen out of her chair onto the floor. She looked up with half-opened eyes, laid her head down, closed her eyes, and went to sleep on the floor.
"No, nothing like that. She represents deprivation on a scale I could never imagine. I cannot save the world, but I will save this woman," said Talvela.
"I accept. Colonel Kim will assist you. I assume you already know the general whereabouts of this woman?" asked Kim.
"Yes, we do," offered Lieutenant Song.
"Okay, we will meet again after you find her," concluded Kim.
* * * * *
"She should be around here. This is where the truck driver filmed her. That's her, I'm sure of it! Stop the truck!" demanded Lieutenant Song.
"Let me address her. Yoo Tok-ki, please come here!" said Colonel Kim.
A pathetically thin young woman walked slowly to Colonel Kim. "Am I in great trouble?" she asked in a whisper.
Colonel Kim laughed. "No, this is the luckiest day of your life! Please get in the truck. We will take you where you can eat a complete meal for once," said Colonel Kim.
Yoo had a dazed look on her face, but she got in the truck as ordered.
* * * * *
"I am allowed to eat all this?" asked Yoo.
"Yes. What do you think about moving to Seoul?" asked Lieutenant Song.
Yoo looked at her with a puzzled expression. "Seoul?"
Talvela turned to Lieutenant Song and Doctor Lee and said in a low voice, "Tell her to take a long, soapy shower."
"Why are you helping her?" asked Colonel Kim.
"I do not know if you heard this story, but in Japan, there is a classic manga comic magazine from the 1960s called Tiger Mask about a professional wrestler who donates his winnings to the orphanage in which he was raised. On last Christmas Day, anonymous donors brought gifts of school satchels, fruit, vegetables, bags of rice, and even cash. One of them left a drawing of a man behind a tiger mask with a note of: 'I am Tiger Mask -- I have come to your city and I want you to distribute the gifts to all the children's homes here.' Another left a note saying there are Tiger Masks across Japan," explained Talvela.
"There are Tiger Masks all over the world," declared Talvela.
Lieutenant Song smiled at him and squeezed his arm.
* * * * *
As before, Colonel Kim brought the visitors to the presidential palace where Kim was waiting. Talvela wanted to make sure that Yoo Tok-ki did not disappear, so he brought her with him and ask her to sit in the corner where he could keep an eye on her. Lieutenant Song and Doctor Lee joined Talvela.
Talvela started, directly addressing Kim. "Have you studied the aftermath of the collapse of totalitarian regimes?"
Kim's eyes opened wider.
Talvela continued: "When the fascist government of Italy fell near the end of WWII, Mussolini and his mistress were strung up like slaughtered pigs. Romania's Ceausescu and his wife were put up against a wall and shot on Christmas Day, shot like the common criminals they were, just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. You could avoid all that, you know. By ending the state of war which exists between the two halves of Korea, you could end the starvation of your people and probably end up winning the Nobel Peace Prize."
"Korea is a shrimp between three whales, China, Japan, and the USA. The first two have tried to eat us for hundreds of years. How would you ensure that we were not swallowed up by the whales if we declared peace? How would you rebuild North Korea?" Kim asked.
Talvela hesitated for a few seconds before replying. "Your immediate concern is food and medical care. After signing a genuine peace treaty with the South -- nothing can start until that happens -- we would establish camps in all of the major cities. Each one of these camps would have a large food tent, in which basic, cooked food is given away. We would not allow raw food to be given to your government because it would be sold in the black market. A second tent would be set-up for medical care."
"You would quickly have a situation where you would be overwhelmed with people needing food, given your country's starvation crisis. I believe you would discover that you have far more orphans than you realize. After these homeless people have been cleared by the medical authorities, they would need a place to live. The solution lies in the many abandoned factories you have. The homeless people would remove the junk and fix them up to make them livable."
Kim looked at his watch. "Oh, no! Piercings Rudeman is arriving any minute! I must go now!" he shrieked as he ran out of the room.
"Piercings Rudeman, the American basketball player who declared that foreigners being held prisoner in North Korea deserved it," whispered Lieutenant Song to Talvela.
"It appears we are done here," said Colonel Kim almost too quickly.
All of them stood and started walking out of the building.
Talvela turned to Doctor Lee and whispered: "Walk behind us and converse with Tok-ki. It does not matter what you say. Just keep talking and get her to talk."
Doctor Lee just nodded his head and smiled.
Talvela, Lieutenant Song, and Colonel Kim were walking three abreast.
"Tok-ki looks cute with her new buzz-cut," joked Talvela.
"She did not relish the thought of having her hair chopped off like that, but she had lice and other nasty things on her. I made her scrub her entire body in the shower," added Lieutenant Song.
"It is very kind of you to take her back to Seoul with you. What will happen to her?" asked Colonel Kim.
"We will get her an apartment, update her knowledge of Korean, maybe even teach her English, and get her a job somewhere. She'll probably work in a restaurant until she learns a few things, but at least she will eat three meals a day," said Talvela.
"I wish we could give all orphans adequate food and shelter," volunteered Colonel Kim.
Talvela and Lieutenant Song realized this was a strange thing for a North Korean officer to volunteer and looked at each other briefly.
Colonel Kim turned his head to directly face Taleva. "I tell you as a friend, do not return to North Korea unless I invite you to see the zoo," he whispered. "Do not return if anyone else calls you." He turned his head back to face the front. "I wish you great success in your endeavors. I hope to see you soon," he said just a little too loudly and turned and walked away.
As they walked away, Talvela asked Lieutenant Song in a low voice, "What did he mean by that?"
* * * * *
Talvela and Lieutenant Song were having dinner in a Seoul restaurant.
"I read that Kim Gour-met's hobby was collecting pedigree dogs, yet he continued to eat dogs, especially dog stew. So to paraphrase the old expression regarding cake -- he wanted to have his dog and eat it, too!" joked Talvela.
Lieutenant Song simultaneously rolled her eyes and smiled. "Christian, all kidding aside, don't you think there is a strong possibility that some North Koreans would emulate the fanatics in Jonestown and commit mass suicide if their country imploded because their world has come crashing down?"
"Drink the North Korean version of Kool-Aid? I hope not, but it's always a possibility. However, people are still people and nobody likes living as an ignorant, starving slave. This has been true for centuries, with Spartacus and his band of former slaves being the best example. I will wager that the only people who would be crushed are the sycophants in the Kim family circle, in other words, the relatives and friends of the Kims and the military and civilian elite. I realize that North Korea is probably the most extreme case of national indoctrination the world has ever seen, but look at what happened in East Germany. No one committed suicide and no army units attempted a counter-coup."
"So, Han-na, are you going to show me some of Seoul's nightlife?"
* * * * *
Lieutenant Song's home telephone rang and she answered it. "Yes, Colonel, I will give him the message. I will call you right back."
She hung up and called Talvela. "Christian, it is Colonel Kim. He wants to know if we can return to Pyongyang tomorrow morning. He sounds a little stressed. And he specifically stated we are going to the zoo."
"Tell him we will be there at 8:00 in the morning. Please call Doctor Lee and ask him to join us."
* * * * *
Lieutenant Choi Sung-hui had given up all hope long ago. When she first arrived at the prison camp, she was tortured by a sadistic male guard who used a cattle prod, inserting it everywhere he could. Later she witnessed the same guard beat a small girl to death for hiding a few grains of wheat in her pocket. She had been imprisoned because her sister picked up a South Korean leaflet. North Korean authorities imprisoned her immediate family, as well as the generation above and below.
Now she had been summoned to the commandant's office for reasons unknown. She was sure she would be shot -- or worse. She was surprised to see a number of other prisoners, all former army officers, along with two current officers. They were all being fed the largest meal she had seen in her entire time in the prison. She did not waste time asking about the situation. She just sat down and started to eat.
* * * * *
Talvela, Lieutenant Song, and Doctor Lee arrived at the presidential palace promptly at 8:00 AM. Colonel Kim ushered them into a small office, different than the large room in which they had previously met.
"I apologize, I have no time for pleasantries. You have no idea how lucky you were before. Kim had told me that I was to arrest and jail you because of the content on your blog. I can only guess that Rudeman's arrival caused him to forget his plan. Later, I spoke with him. He told me that the only reason he did not have me arrest you at first was that he wanted to see this woman you mentioned. He ordered me to travel to all of the prison camps and execute all former army officers held there to prevent them from ever taking part in a revolution. Then he said some bizarre things, most of which I do not remember. The craziest thing was his order for me to kidnap the entire American All-Star Basketball team during its travels to Europe, and bring all of the team members here to Pyongyang for his personal amusement. I believe he is as nutty as his father," Colonel Kim breathlessly exclaimed.
"Actually, wouldn't he need two teams to play a game?" deadpanned Talvela as Lieutenant Song glared at him.
Colonel Kim ignored his attempt at levity. "And then he ordered me to arrest and execute a long list of officers in a purge, with many of the officers being my friends."
"So what did you do with him?" asked Talvela.
"Something I did not tell you before because I was not sure of who I could trust was that I have some friends in the officer ranks who agree with me that the direction of North Korea must be reversed. We are not many -- only 16 in all -- but we are willing to die to stop the madness here. I called my friends and we arrested him and placed him under house arrest just before I called you," explained Colonel Kim.
"You have already started the clock. We have very little time to act," said Talvela. "Here is what you must do today. Your friends will be busy. Two of them will immediately travel to each prison camp. They will order the prison commander to release to them all army officers. If we had time, it would be best if we could verify that all of these officers were not guilty of an actual crime, such as murder, but we have no time for that now. We will have to chance it. You will need to forge papers for your friends to appear as if they are operating on direct orders of Kim. Have your friends inform the camp commanders that the prisoners are being released for a suicide mission against South Korea. Make sure they understand that this is top secret and that any release of information will result in one more prisoner being added to the camps: them. They must not communicate with the commanders of the other camps. Bring all of the officers back here for a meeting. That should give us enough time," said Talvela.
"Traveling to the camps, loading the officers onto buses, and returning will require most of the day. What will you do until we are finished?" asked Colonel Kim.
"We need to return to Seoul to coordinate some things with South Korea. We will call you as needed. I would like to speak with one of your officer friends now in regards to the announcement you will make tomorrow morning on television," finished Talvela. "By the way, what did you do with Rudeman?"
* * * * *
All of the released army prisoners had been given a thorough scrubbing. They were all significantly thinner than they had been before and their new uniforms fit poorly.
Colonel Kim entered the room. "Please sit down and save your strength. You will need it later."
"84 of you were released from the prison camps. There are 16 of us who were lucky not to have been sent there. That makes an even 100. All of us will have the most important day of our lives tomorrow. This is a day about which you will tell your grandchildren -- and maybe they will even pay attention," Kim joked.
A few of the officers smiled, but most of them were still unsure of what they were going to be asked to do.
"You will participate in the greatest adventure of all, releasing North Korea from the shackles of the last 100 years. All of you have been assigned important missions. It is possible that the failure of any of you will result in failure of the entire mission. I realize personal initiative is not something we have been trained in, but you must exercise it today. If someone interferes with you, you will do whatever it takes to complete your mission. If you need to tie him up and stuff him into a filing cabinet to keep him quiet, then do so. If you need to shoot him in both shoulders to prevent him from calling an aide, then do so. If you need to shoot him in the head to immediately silence him, then do so. No one will question your motives later. However, I must tell you that many of the senior leadership knows some very important things, for instance, the location of the billions that has been stolen from us. We really need to interrogate these senior officials to plan our future and it is difficult to interrogate a dead man," lectured Colonel Kim.
"In ancient times, the 300 Spartans fought to the death while they delayed a massive army. Their exploits are legendary even today. There are 100 of us, so perhaps we will be remembered as the 100 Koreans or even just the 100. But this will only happen if we all do our job. And it will help no one if we fight to the death. To quote the American General George Patton, we need to make the other guy die for his cause. Okay, pay attention, here are your assignments," said Colonel Kim.
* * * * *
Sergeant Paek Tae-jing was going to be the first one out of the door of the helicopter.
Just before it landed, he opened the door and looked out at the sleeping prison camp. Dawn was still a few hours away.
After the landing, he jumped out, followed by his squad. They ran as fast as they could to the barracks to which they had been assigned. All of the soldiers quickly and efficiently set up their equipment. Hurry up and wait, that's how the military is.
* * * * *
Sergeant Kim Soon-tek woke up because he really had to pee. After he did he walked outside for a cigarette. He was so fat that he had to squeeze through the doorway.
"Are those South Korean voices?" he asked himself. He was familiar with the different accent because he had confiscated South Korean DVDs from dissidents before he became a camp guard, watching them later.
"Are those weapons glinting in the moonlight?" he asked himself again. "Should I sound the alarm or just save myself?"
* * * * *
"Was that the noise of a jet engine?" wondered Sergeant Paek.
He had been ordered to paint the side of the main barracks with his laser and that was what he was doing. To his left and right, his fellow soldiers had set up machine guns to kill the labor camp guards who were not blown to bits.
He was a part of the ROK commando team at Camp 22, the largest of the major prison camps in North Korea with an estimated 50,000 prisoners, with the entire archipelago population approaching 200,000. They had flown from South Korea directly to the camps without DPRK radars detecting them. But did Chinese radars detect them?
The commandos landed during the night because intelligence had told them that was the best time to catch the majority of the guards asleep in the barracks. They needed to kill as many as possible in the barracks because of the sheer number of them. The DPRK used many guards because of its level of brutality, with the prisoners sometimes revolting against the constant torture.
Sergeant Paek's orders were simple: all guards were to be killed as quickly as possible because they would start killing prisoners to eliminate witnesses against them in later war crimes trials. He was stationed at the main barracks, but other ROK troopers were stationed outside guard shacks and other guard buildings. As soon as his bomb exploded, the turkey shoot would commence.
Their briefing had explained that camp guards had tortured, raped, murdered, and otherwise abused untold numbers of prisoners, including little children. If nothing was done to stop it, more people would die in one day than on any firebombing raid on Germany or Japan or either of the atomic bomb blasts.
"Holy cow!" thought Sergeant Paek. The entire building was leveled in a deafening blast. He was not expecting such an enormous detonation. His friends with the machine guns would not have much to do.
* * * * *
Talvela and Lieutenant Song had been up all night arranging for the contents of the vehicles in their caravan. As soon as they climbed into the front seat of the truck, with a South Korean soldier at the wheel, they fell asleep, with her leaning against him.
The caravan had traveled to a point just beyond the view of the North Korean border guards. An officer banged on the side of their truck to wake them up. "It's 8:30 AM. Wake-up! It is time to go!" he declared.
Talvela struggled to wake-up. "Han-na, finally, we're sleeping together," he whispered.
She straightened two fingers, slipped them between two of his ribs, and inserted them forcefully, causing him to sit upright because of the sharp pain.
"Coffee would be much better," he said.
Their truck engine rumbled to life, along with the other engines in their caravan. They started to move forward.
* * * * *
Sergeant Paek and his fellow soldiers walked through the remnants of the bombed-out barracks.
"Wow, all these bodies and body parts lying about as if a giant child had thrown a tantrum while playing with his toy soldiers!" he said.
"Look at all these machine guns! They could not have known we were coming, so the weapons must have been stored here in case of a prisoner revolt. It's a good thing we did not underestimate them. They were third-rate soldiers, but with this many machine guns they could have inflicted lots of pain on us," he declared.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Choi saw the approaching caravan, with vehicles ranging as far as the eye could see. She had been assigned the task of returning to her prison camp, this time as a liberator. There was a score to settle. It really was going to be a beautiful day.
The young North Korean reporter standing beside her was already videotaping the approaching caravan. The footage would be aired immediately after the announcement from Colonel Kim. Yes, the revolution would be televised.
* * * * *
Talvela switched on the small television in the cab. It was tuned to North Korean television. He could see the usual belligerent female announcer being escorted from the stage. Then the camera switched to one covering a much younger woman who started to announce the weather. She started in the northern part of the Korean peninsula, giving the weather for the major North Korean cities. She continued without a hitch down south, giving the weather for Seoul and the major South Korean cities. At 30 seconds before 9:00 AM, she stopped announcing the weather and declared, "It is going to be a beautiful day throughout the entire Korean peninsula!"
"Showtime!" Talvela exclaimed.
* * * * *
Colonel Kim called the first of the divisional army commanders, Dong Kee-tae, someone he had known for many years.
Divisions were the key to control of the military for two reasons. First, as is true in any military, they are the smallest unit capable of independent combat operations. And second, divisional commanders were the lowest ranking officer to be awarded a Mercedes automobile. In other words, they had real power and they had something to lose if they didn't join the revolution.
"General Dong, as you saw on television, Kim Young-un and his aunt have been deposed. It is time to stop the insanity which has gone on for over 60 years. You and the other divisional commanders are the key to a new Korea. If you agree to go on television and declare your support for an end to mass starvation and deprivation, the other generals will fall in line behind you. Will you do it, sir?" asked Colonel Kim.
* * * * *
General Hiram "Ulysses S" Grant, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea at Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, knew he was in his last days before retirement. He had recently made a comment to Canidae News which U.S. President Supercilious Moffie found unacceptable: "Moderate Muslims? Listen, there are only three types of Muslims. The first category consists of the killers, the people who behead and explode suicide bombs. The second category, the largest one by far, consists of people who agree with the killers but don't have the balls to kill for themselves. And the third category consists of lapsed Muslims, those who have figured out that what they have been told is a crock. This third category includes the many women who are killed every year by their families because they wore Western clothing or dated non-Muslim men."
As a result, he was already planning his retirement party. It seemed like both a million years and only yesterday since West Point.
General Grant's nickname of "Ulysses S" was a bad joke stemming from his abstinence from alcohol, as the original Ulysses S. Grant took to alcohol like a fish to water. He thought it was amusing to go to the bar during official functions and call out in his booming voice, "Ginger ale, straight up!" The bartenders often thought he was a little weird.
His telephone rang and he answered it.
"General Grant, my name is Christian Talvela. I am the Westerner you just saw on North Korean television. You were watching, right?" he asked.
"Yes, my South Korean aide suggested that I start watching just before the weather-girl came on. You people were keeping something from me," General Grant chided.
"Sorry about that. If we told you, then you'd have had to tell Washington, the Swiss cheese of secrets. I have a few requests," said Talvela.
"Shoot," replied General Grant.
As the truck crossed the border, Lieutenant Song noticed that there was a large, hand-painted sign. It was obvious that it was painted in a hurry. The sign read, "We are one people." Lieutenant Song made a mental note to ask Talvela if he had anything to do with that. She was sure he had.
The truck stopped for only a minute, but the conversation between Talvela and General Grant did not miss a beat. Lieutenant Choi got in, with the convoy rumbling on to the north.
Their convoy was only one of many headed for the major labor camps. The guards had already been eliminated before they could begin executing their prisoners, but the convoys still drove as fast as they could because food was a major issue. A few trucks diverted to Pyongyang, but the majority continued on to the camps. Lieutenant Choi exited the truck carrying Talvela and Lieutenant Song and boarded the one carrying Doctor Lee headed for the camps.
* * * * *
General Dong was standing in front of a video camera.
"General, we are live in ... three, two, one," prompted the nervous, young reporter.
"My name is General Dong Kee-tae. I am placing the forces of my division in support of Colonel Kim Yu-shin and the other officers who have overthrown the selfish and cruel Kim family. I urge the other divisional commanders to do the same. Today is a new day for Koreans. Let it be a peaceful one."
* * * * *
Sergeant Ju Sang-ho was finished with his hours of driving. His bus was filled with the wives and children of soldiers who manned the artillery pieces within range of Seoul. He opened the door and watched them flood out.
Sergeant Ju assisted other ROK troops establish a mobile canteen. Some of the troops started putting on white kitchen hats. Talvela had recommended that they all wear the tallest and silliest-looking ones they could find.
Two large televisions were set-up, back-to-back, under a tent with a generator to power them. The televisions were switched on and started displaying North Korean Central Television. The program consisted of Colonel Kim's announcement followed by ten minutes of scenes from South Korea, then the announcement again followed by ten minutes of scenes from North Korea, repeated over and over again. Announcements of solidarity from divisional commanders were also being played.
Colonel Ko Yoon-dae, the North Korean officer in charge and one of The Hundred had arranged for some of the children of the junior soldiers to be transported here. They were standing around him with apprehensive looks on their faces.
He bent down to them and said in a soft voice: "Go over to the canteen and have breakfast. It's okay. Children will eat before adults today."
The children walked to the canteen. As one of the ROK soldiers bent over to speak to the children, his tall hat fell off. One of the North Korean soldiers snickered at the sight. Then the ROK soldier placed the hat on the head of one of the children and it promptly fell to his shoulders because it was too big for him. As the soldier quickly pulled the hat up to avoid suffocating him, the boy started giggling. Then a number of North Korean soldiers started to laugh at the sight.
* * * * *
The arrangement of two televisions was being repeated all over North Korea, including labor camps and military bases. North Koreans gathered around the televisions in amazement, especially regarding the scenes of ordinary life in the South.
"Do you think it is true?" whispered one woman to her husband. "The war is finally over? We no longer have to pretend that the Kim family is anything other than a group of hyenas?"
"Look how big the children are!" whispered another woman to her friend. "They are not mere skin and bones like our children."
* * * * *
Colonel Kim was waiting for Talvela and Lieutenant Song.
"Your speech was a little wooden," commented Talvela.
"Yes, I am not used to giving such speeches. I think your videotaped speech was much better than mine," said Colonel Kim.
"Time will tell," predicted Talvela.
"Ever since we arrested Kim, he has been demanding to speak with you," admitted Colonel Kim. "We brought him to the palace because we thought you might want to ask him some questions."
"Good thinking," replied Talvela.
Colonel Kim, Talvela, and Lieutenant Song walked into the palace.
Kim Young-un stood up as soon as he saw Talvela. "What is the meaning of having me arrested?" demanded Kim. "My people love me and will soon loudly demand for me to speak to them and reverse the mutiny of the past hours."
"Only in your dreams," replied Talvela. "Sit down. You are no position to demand anything."
"All of the animals in the forest cried when I made my first appearance," pleaded Kim.
"Probably because they knew you would eat many of them soon," retorted Talvela.
"And people weep when I make an appearance," again pleaded Kim.
"Let me tell you of a common occurrence with Stalin. He would enter a large room and the audience would applaud. And they would applaud. They would applaud for many minutes because they were all afraid of being the first person to stop applauding. They knew that the secret police would soon arrest the first people to stop applauding. So everyone applauded until Stalin raised his arms and then the applause immediately stopped. Stalin was such a sadistic freak that he kept the applause going until people's muscles hurt from the strain of constant clapping," explained Talvela.
"Let's get something straight right now. Most North Koreans only pretend to adore you because of the atmosphere of fear your grandfather and father created. If anyone protested or even displayed a bad attitude, they were arrested and often sent to a labor camp, along with the generations above and below them. And at least some of the people who cry are the usual, useless sycophants and toadies who will lose their vaunted place in society if you lose power," clarified Talvela.
"I demand to be treated better!" stated Kim.
Talvela ignored his plea. "You know, you could have been a world-wide hero. People who voluntarily relinquish power are admired throughout the world. You would have won the Nobel Peace Prize. You could have made speeches where people gave you thunderous applause. Genuine applause. I could have obtained VIP seats for you at the next NBA All-Star Game and probably for many years to come," explained Talvela.
Kim's eyes widened at the mention of basketball.
"You best think of your future. Billions of dollars were stolen from the North Korean people and deposited in European bank accounts. This money must be returned immediately. This is your only bargaining chip. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life scrubbing toilets, you had best tell us what we want to know," demanded Talvela.
Talvela turned to Lieutenant Song. "We need to get to the camp."
* * * * *
"No, a little more clockwise. That's it!" declared Anna Göldi, IT supervisor for the Swiss Embassy in Pyongyang, as she looked at the compass.
"Didn't the DPRK order us to do exactly the opposite of what we are doing just last year?" asked Messer Ansaldo, IT engineer, as he tightened the directional antenna mounted on the roof.
"Yes, they did. All of the embassies surreptitiously increased the power of their Wi-Fi networks so the signal traveled far past the building. A good number of Pyongyang residents were able to use free Internet for some time, but then the bureaucrats realized what we were doing and ordered us to ensure that our signal stayed within our property," answered Göldi.
"But we're going much farther than any of the embassies did before, right?" queried Ansaldo.
"Much. Before, we just cranked up the power on the routers and access points, but now we are using specialized, directional antennas to maximize signal strength. We had to coordinate our work with the other embassies to prevent overlap of the frequencies. That's why we're using a digital compass to point this antenna," continued Göldi.
"What's next?" asked Ansaldo.
"System test. We need to verify the entire network from top to bottom. But first let's get some coffee. My neck is killing me," concluded Göldi.
* * * * *
The truck carrying Talvela and Lieutenant Song arrived at Camp 22. Both exited the truck. One of the 100 officers who had taken control of North Korea and a former resident of the camp, Major Seo Sun-kyu, met them.
Major Seo got right to the point. "Colonel Kim called. He said that Chinese tanks are massing on the Chinese side of the bridges over the Amnok River."
The Amnok River was generally known as the Yalu River in the West, but Yalu is a Chinese word.
"Can we call him now?" asked Talvela.
"Immediately," replied Major Seo. as he dialed the number and handed the phone to Talvela.
"Colonel Kim, have Chinese forces started crossing the bridges over the Amnok River yet?" asked Talvela.
"No, but it looks like they might do that any minute at the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. We cannot allow Chinese forces to enter the country. They might be thinking of installing a puppet leader," reflected Colonel Kim.
"I agree. We need to stop them, but at the same time we cannot start a war. I have an idea. What's the name of the officer in charge at the bridge?" said Talvela.
"Major Suk Cheol-soo," replied Colonel Kim.
"Can you arrange to have a North Korean Central Television crew meet us at the bridge. They'll need a portable antenna to communicate with the satellite so we can go live," requested Talvela.
"Consider it done. Gotta go," finished Colonel Kim.
"Han-na, let's find the camp public address system," said Talvela.
They walked to the former commandant's office. "Your Korean is far better than mine. Please translate," asked Talvela.
Lieutenant Song grabbed the microphone and waited for him to begin.
"May I have your attention, please. You have no doubt already heard that Kim Young-un and the Kim family are no longer in power."
The sounds of raucous cheering from all over the camp filled the room.
"If anyone has a serious medical problem, tell anyone in uniform and we will expedite your departure to a hospital."
"As of immediately, all work details are canceled. The only work you might be asked to do would be in regards to the preparation of food or the cleaning of kitchen, shower, barracks, or other facilities you use."
"We have already switched off the power to the electric fences. The gate will be left open during the day, but we will close it at night to prevent wild animals from entering the camp. If you want to walk home right now, no one will stop you, but we urge you to wait until we call your name for a slot on a bus. It's a very long walk home and it would be a real shame if you starved to death so close to freedom. We will call entire family groups at one time."
"More food trucks will be arriving very soon. We expect to have more than enough food for everyone to gorge themselves."
"We are installing instant-on water heaters so you can take hot showers instead of the cold ones you have been taking, but it might take a few days to complete that work. Until then you can queue for the officer showers, but you will need to be patient as there are few of them."
"And if any of you wish to become intimate with a member of the opposite sex, we do not care, but you will need to arrange for privacy with the other members of your barracks."
The sound of nervous laughter and shouts filled the room. Lieutenant Song chuckled and looked at Talvela with amusement.
"Where's Lieutenant Choi, the officer who rode in our truck? I have an idea regarding the border situation," said Talvela.
"Sergeant Paek, please find Lieutenant Choi. She's around here somewhere," requested Lieutenant Song.
"Doctor Lee, how is the general health of everyone?" asked Talvela, as Doctor Lee walked over to him.
"Terrible, as you'd expect. Everyone has diarrhea. Everyone complains of toothaches. Everyone has symptoms of vitamin deficiencies," answered Doctor Lee. "I'm arranging for a number of medical personnel to be transferred here to at least allow us to resolve their major medical problems. We're going to be here for some time."
* * * * *
Lieutenant Choi had gone in search of an entirely different quarry. She walked to the guard supply office. She was sure she would find the tool she needed. Yes, there it was -- a cattle prod. She put in a bag along with a length of rope, a pocket knife, and a small roll of sticky packing tape.
She went in search of the guard, Kim Soon-tek, who brutally abused her with possibly the same cattle prod. She had previously mentally nicknamed this guard Fatbutt after his corpulent body. She found him in a clearing behind the guard supply office. He had changed his clothing to that of a prisoner to avoid being shot. He was hiding here now to avoid having one of the prisoners identify him.
She was betting that she could directly approach him without him realizing that she was formally an inmate in the camp. She applied just a touch of makeup to further disguise her appearance. She put the bag in her left hand and the prod in her right hand, with her right hand behind her back. She walked straight toward him. At the last second, she brought her right hand from behind her back to expose the prod.
She pressed the business end of the prod against his temple, which caused him to go silly for a few seconds. That was all the time she needed. She dropped the bag and prod. She quickly threw him to the ground, face-down, and tied his hands behind his back.
She pressed the business end of the prod against his temple once again. It wasn't really necessary, but she enjoyed seeing him twitch. She tied his legs at the ankles. She once again pressed the prod against his temple. She tied his legs together just above the knee. She pressed the prod against his genitals and held it there for about 30 seconds. Even though he was in agony, the three ropes ensured that he could not move much at all.
She tied a ten meter length of rope to his ankles and dragged him to an old, filled-up latrine trench. She knew it was deep enough because she had helped to dig the trench. She turned the spigot on a nearby water hose and placed the nozzle at the edge of the trench. She oriented his body so that his feet were at the edge of the trench, with his body parallel to the long axis of it.
She walked the free end of the ten meter length of rope to the other end of the trench. She walked back to him.
"Do you remember me? You took great pleasure in abusing me. Now it's my turn," she hissed.
All this time the water hose was converting the latrine trench from solid waste to a semi-liquid stew of shit. Uncontrolled fear showed in his eyes. She used the tape to fix the prod's on-switch so that it would remain on. She taped the cattle prod to his body so that the business end was firmly touching his genitals. She walked back to the other side of the trench and pulled his body into the trench. This way she would not get dirty from splash-back.
The cattle prod shocking his genitals ensured that he was unable to hold his breath. The equipment on his belt reduced his buoyancy just enough so that he would not remain above the floating turds.
She watched him until he sank beneath the surface. The story of Lazarus would not be repeated here.
"Lieutenant, Mr. Talvela would like to see you," said Sergeant Paek as he walked over to her. "Eww, that's a big pool of crap!"
"It certainly is," she answered with just a hint of a smile.
* * * * *
Colonel Jang Yong-Suk was in his element at last.
Up until a few days ago, he was still only a major. And he was a major only because his friend and classmate, Kim Yu-shin, interceded on his behalf, giving him a promotion from captain. North Korean authorities never knew what to make of him. He had a true photographic memory and was a whiz at logistics. However, he never could bring himself to immerse himself in the cruelty that was required of all officers. His personnel record was filled with negative remarks, sometimes ending with "Not suitable for command."
That was all in the past. He was now the official minister of refugees. He had already memorized the lists of people deported from China and the lists of people executed during the past 40 years. Now it was his job to make the assignments to bring home the hundreds of thousands of Korean refugees living in China.
* * * * *
Talvela and Lieutenant Song were walking through the camp. They came upon a recently abandoned building.
"This is where pigeon torture was carried out, where the wrists of victims were tied behind them to a bar situated about 1/2 of the height of an adult, forcing the victim to endure in a crouched position, being unable to sit or stand for hours at a time. Other victims had been forced to stand in poses that one could normally only tolerate for a matter of minutes, with severe beatings following lapses," she explained.
He looked inside but stayed in the sunlight. "Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing," he pondered aloud.
Lieutenant Choi walked over to them. "Sergeant Paek told me that you wanted to see me."
"I have an idea concerning the buildup of Chinese vehicles on the border," said Talvela.
* * * * *
General Grant called his friend Alfred Terry, commander of U.S. forces in Japan.
"Al, I need you to make most of the Asians in your command unhappy. Please have all commissaries in Japan gather up all brown rice and canned tuna. Use any discretionary funds to buy more rice. Send it to me as soon as you can," said General Grant.
"So the announcement is on the level? North Korea really has replaced the Kim family?" asked General Terry.
"It seems so. The American who made the video announcement called me. We discussed his plan and I think he's got a good one. We will also need any spare tents, cots, and medical supplies, as well as all the medical personnel you can spare. Think in terms of the humanitarian disaster we had in the Nazi death camps," explained General Grant.
"I'll have something for you by later today. Keep me informed, okay?" asked General Terry.
General Grant told an aide to get in touch with Doctors Without Borders. He dialed the duty officer at the White House.
* * * * *
The two little girls looked like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. It was not obvious at first because of their dirty faces, tattered clothing, and ratty hair, but they were twins: Tan-na and Kan-na
"I found them hiding in some bushes," said Major Seo. "I asked them where their parents were and they told me that they were orphans."
Lieutenant Song bent down and asked them, "Where are your parents?"
"They are dead," both replied at once as only twins can do.
"How did they die?" asked Lieutenant Song knowing full well that she did not want to hear the answer.
"They were killed because they stole food to feed us," explained Tan-na.
Major Seo had also brought the camp commander, Moon Dung-me who had been captured alive. Talvela saw the growing look of sheer hatred on Lieutenant Song's face and he jumped in. "Why were these girls left to fend for themselves in the camp?" he demanded.
Moon was unapologetic. "Their parents were enemies of the state! Their children are therefore also enemies of the state! They got what they deserved!"
Talvela began speaking in a cold fury: "When professionals hang someone, they place the proper amount of weight on the person's legs so that his neck is broken quickly. But when amateurs like us hang someone, the results are never pretty. Sometimes amateurs place too much weight on the legs. When that happens, the head pops off just like on a Pez dispenser. When we hang you, I will make sure no weight is placed on your legs. Your neck will not break. You will flop around at the end of your rope like a fish on a hook. Why, I bet it will take a full minute for you to choke to death." Talvela leaned in close to his face, "And I bet that minute seems like an hour."
Moon's eyes were as big as saucers.
Talvela bent down in front of the girls and told them, "We will take care of you until we find you a good home, okay?"
Both girls nodded in unison.
Talvela turned to Major Seo. "Do you know if the camp has any clean clothes in their size?" he asked.
"We have new clothes in the storeroom nearest my office!" Moon blurted out, almost in a panic.
Talvela looked at him and replied: "Perhaps there is hope for you yet. But the day is not yet finished."
Kan-na said something too softly for Talvela to hear. He bent down and asked her to repeat it.
"We were really scared sleeping in the bushes all alone last night. Wild animals sniffed us like they wanted to eat us," whispered Kan-na.
Tan-na continued the thought. "Our father always sang us a song when we were frightened. Will you sing us a song?"
"Not me; North Korea has renounced the use of torture," Talvela whispered to Lieutenant Song.
Lieutenant Song gave him a sad smile, turned toward the twins, and said, "I will sing you a lullaby I learned in the orphanage."
* * * * *
"Look, South Korean soap operas!" declared one North Korean teen-ager as she played with her smart phone which had previously only displayed insipid, jingoistic DPRK programming. They were sitting outside the fence surrounding the Swiss embassy, near a sign which advertised free wi-fi and noted the channel.
"So cool!" answered her friend.
* * * * *
Talvela, Lieutenant Song, Lieutenant Choi, and Sergeant Paek were standing near the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge connecting North Korea and China.
"Okay, it's a simple concept. China is probably just gathering vehicles just in case, but we can portray it as a Chinese military intervention, that Chinese military forces will cross the bridge at any moment," began Talvela.
"Han-na, we need a slogan with a good rhythm, like: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot; intimidation and propaganda are all we got," offered Talvela.
Lieutenant Song smiled and shook her head.
"So, does this work in Korean? North, South, it's all the same; the Korean peninsula belongs to us alone!" he continued.
"Not literally, but if I phrase it differently, it will have a rhythm," answered Lieutenant Song. "Sung-hui, let's say it together."
"North, South, it's all the same, the Korean peninsula belongs to us alone!" they both chanted in unison.
"Yes, it has a certain quality," offered Lieutenant Choi. "Not bad at all."
"Okay, you guys, let's get rolling. I want to go live with this. Let's start with a pan of the bridge showing the Chinese vehicles on the other side. Then we'll go to a close-up of the two lieutenants chanting," directed Talvela to the assembled group including the television crew.
"You guys?" mouthed Lieutenant Choi.
* * * * *
"Mi-ja, is that you?" asked Colonel Ko, speaking into his satellite phone. "There appears to be quite a bit of crowd noise there."
"Father? FATHER?" shouted Ko Mi-ja. She ran into the entrance of a nearby restaurant while waving at her brother, Ko Yun-bok. "It's father!"
"Yes, father, I'm in Seoul with Yun-bok in the middle of a protest. Is mother there?" she asked.
"No, she is not here with me. What do you mean, protest?" asked Colonel Ko.
"Two female lieutenants, from both Koreas, were on television. The camera footage showed Chinese military units staging to cross the Amnok and invade the North. Many of us are here, ditching school or whatever. I have seen groups of people dressed in company uniforms. They chanted this great slogan, 'North, South, it's all the same, the Korean peninsula belongs to us alone!' We're doing the same thing here. The noise is much louder than any sports event I've attended," explained Mi-ja.
"But Yun-bok and I would like some answers. The last we saw you, you told us that we had to leave North Korea immediately. You never told us why. Your plans for us worked out perfectly, but we never knew what happened to you and mother," continued Mi-ja.
"Your mother's idiot brother got caught reselling military hardware. I was given a call by one of my friends that his family and friends would be arrested, even me, a colonel. I had to make some fast decisions. Your mother's health was not good and she refused to leave the country. I refused to leave her, so the next best thing was to arrange for you and Yun-bok to leave immediately. I used both my influence and bribes to ensure that you two could get into and through China. Some ethnic Koreans met you after you crossed the river, correct?" asked Colonel Ko.
"Yes, and then we traveled to Beijing. Those Koreans were worth their weight in gold. They arranged for a diversion, fake violence outside the South Korean embassy, and when the Chinese guards left their posts, we ran into the embassy. There was a small group of us and we all made it," continued Mija.
"Oh, good. I ended up in a labor camp and never heard what happened. I had to make many calls to find you in Seoul," said Colonel Ko.
"But what about mother? Was she put in the camp too? Where is she?" implored Mi-ja.
"I wish I was there to tell you in person," started Colonel Ko. "Remember I took you and Yun-bok to the guard station and bid you farewell, with your mother staying home because she said she was feeling unwell. When I returned home, I found a note from her. She had ... hanged herself because she felt she could not handle the camp."
"No, no, NO!" shrieked Mi-ja.
"I'm sorry. She must have hanged herself soon after I left because she was long past help when I found her. I was arrested shortly thereafter and never even had the chance to bury her," explained Colonel Ko.
* * * * *
"I was quite worried that the artillery units would not be immediately subdued. There were 10,000-20,000 artillery units within range of Seoul, right?" asked Talvela.
"Yes, but that was not the worst thing. There were many chemical munitions as well as high explosive ones," explained Colonel Kim.
"And then there would have been a deadly stampede of people trying to escape the city," added Lieutenant Song.
"It would have been death and destruction on an industrial scale," observed Colonel Kim. "By the way, did you come up with the 'We are one people' signs idea or did you steal the idea from somewhere else?"
"The latter. Posters with that sentiment appeared in reunified Germany right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their signs read 'Wir sind ein Volk,' we are one people, or 'Wir sind das Volk,' we are the people, the latter of which was similar to 'We are the 99%' from Occupy America," answered Talvela.
"Christian, did you notice the other signs?" asked Lieutenant Song.
"No, Han-na, what did they say?" asked Talvela.
"They really got in the spirit of it all. One sign I saw read 'Food for Korean children.' Another read 'North + South = Korea' -- must have been an engineer," joked Lieutenant Song.
Talvela smiled and looked at her for more than a few seconds. She returned the glance and continued smiling.
"Everyone got in the spirit. At first I was very worried about the paltry number of officers we had, but new officers joined in very quickly. I really think all we needed was the spark and an unquenchable bonfire resulted," declared Colonel Kim.
Lieutenant Song glanced at a television. "Holy cow, look at that! The streets of Seoul are jammed with people! I've never seen it like that, not even during the run-up to the impeachment!"
"The announcer said before you arrived that there are probably two million people protesting. Traffic is at a standstill. Colleges canceled class for the day and asked all students to protest in front of the Chinese and Russian embassies, but most people never even get close. The mayor ordered all aircraft to avoid flying over the huge crowds just in case one of them loses power," explained Colonel Kim. "Most of the time the crowd chants what you did before."
The two lieutenants looked at each other in amazement.
* * * * *
"Doesn't anyone want to go home?" asked Colonel Ko, back in Camp 22.
"I've never been able to eat so much in my life," said one former prisoner of the labor camp. "Why leave now?"
"Unlimited rice, tuna, vegetables, chicken, and beef! I think I'll stay here for a year and fatten up," added another.
"Besides, I've got no home to go to. My apartment was given to someone else," said another.
"I saw how the troops looked at our meal tables with more food than they had ever seen. And the military always had the best and most food! The war was over for them right then and there," added another.
"Look, they're bringing boxes of Choco Pies! Yum, yum! Let's go!" shouted another, as a number of them headed for the food tents.
* * * * *
"Mr. Ambassador, I will make you a proposal. The Japanese government will decide whether to accept," stated Talvela.
The Japanese ambassador to South Korea, Kichisaburo Nomura, said nothing.
"At the signing of the peace treaty between the two Koreas, the Japanese Emperor will make a speech. This speech will begin by explaining how Japan invaded the Korean peninsula near the end of the 1800s. In 1910, Japan formally annexed Korea. But then Japan proceeded to wipe Korea and Korean culture off the map. Japan forbade the speaking and writing of the Korean language. He will announce that Japan forced perhaps as many as 200,000 women, 80% of them Korean, to be prostitutes for the Japanese army. Japan then added insult to injury by labeling them as 'comfort women' as if their being forced into prostitution was no big deal. He will apologize for the actions of the Japanese government at the time," declared Talvela.
"Then Colonel Kim will accept the Emperor's apology. He will add that North Korea also perpetrated some terrible deeds, namely the kidnapping of ordinary Japanese civilians in order to facilitate language training for DPRK spies. He will announce that, starting immediately, teams of North Korean, South Korean, and Japanese officers will form to search for all living abductees. He will admit that he has no idea how many Japanese were kidnapped, but that the truth will be revealed via archive searches and interviews of relevant officials. He will conclude by apologizing for ruining the lives of abductees and their families," continued Talvela.
"The alternative is that no Japanese are invited to the signing, with no mention of the abductees. If a reporter asks a question on the matter, we will simply mention that an offer was made to the Japanese government. Perhaps there will be a public uproar in Japan over this matter," concluded Talvela.
"I will communicate your position to the government," replied Ambassador Nomura.
* * * * *
"General Grant, you are out of uniform," declared Talvela.
"Who said anything about a general? I'm just Hiram Grant. I tell everyone to just say 'Hi, Hi' when they see me," joked General Grant.
"Does anyone actually do that?" asked Talvela, smiling at the dumb joke.
"Well, no. Everyone just looks at me like I've lost my mind," said General Grant.
"Generals are not people to be trifled with, you know," chided Talvela.
"But I won't be an active duty general for much longer now. I was able to put off my official retirement in exchange for taking leave of my position as commander of U.S. forces in South Korea. Being able to run the refugee camp here is the best possible way to end my career," explained General Grant.
"Were there any surprises, general?" asked Lieutenant Song.
"Not really. The camp has three entrances: men, women, and small families. They are handed a Ziploc bag for their valuables. They strip and throw their ratty clothes into a trash bin. For women and girls, nurses give them a buzz-cut to ensure that lice remain behind. Then everyone takes a long, hot shower. We give them new clothes and give them a number for medical processing. We examine everyone for medical and dental problems. One thing that was not a surprise, but still plays havoc with our schedule is that almost everyone needs dental work. We do not have enough dentists to work everyone in, so the camp is quickly filling up with tens of thousands of people. We had to construct a few more tents for the overflow," continued General Grant.
"And to be honest, I get the distinct impression that no one minds being in line for the dentist. That means they can continue to eat as much as they want. I am not sure if anyone has left yet. Food is becoming an issue. Al Terry, commander of U.S. forces in Japan, sends me all the food he can, but holy cow, these people were starving. We might have to bring out the fire hoses to convince them to leave!" joked General Grant.
"Christian, Han-na!" cried a squeaky voice behind them.
Yoo Tok-ki almost knocked them down in her attempt to hug them. "It is so good to see you!" she declared.
"Same here. Are you working here in the refugee camp?" asked Lieutenant Song.
"Yes. When I heard that a refugee camp was being built, I traveled to the DMZ, stood in the roadway, and demanded that I be taken along," she said breathlessly.
"She climbed onto the hood of my truck, so we had to take her with us. She rode in my truck along with my South Korean XO. Can't ignore enthusiasm like that!" beamed General Grant.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Song walked back to Talvela's hotel along with him. They walked past a row of televisions which were replaying his speech for the nth time:
CHRISTIAN TALVELA: In 480 BC, 300 brave Spartans, along with other Greeks, held off an enormous invading army for one week. This heroic action convinced Greeks to forget their petty differences, banding together to defeat the enemy at the gate. Here in the north of this peninsula, events are already underway to eliminate a government which would have been familiar to slaves, peons, and serfs throughout history.
A group of brave Korean military officers -- call them "The One Hundred" -- have taken control of the government and military. All weapons of mass destruction are under the direction of new management. The situation remains fluid, so we caution the leaders of China, Russia, and the USA to stay out of this; China's practice of using North Korea as a buffer zone between it and the West is now at an end. Any interference by outside countries may result in WWIII.
We invite South Korean President Shon Joon-ho, along with representatives from China, Russia, the USA, and the United Nations, to travel to Panmunjom to sign a permanent peace treaty with the North. Our only condition involves the DMZ. We insist that it be converted into a permanent nature preserve with no future development allowed. A coast-to-coast hiking trail must be built including primitive stone huts for those who wish to stay overnight, absorb the new-found peace and tranquility, and admire the majestic red cranes. The DMZ always divided Koreans; from now on it will bring them together.
Northerners: if you are given an order to fire on your fellow Koreans, make a wrong turn somewhere, become lost for a few hours, and wait for reunification fever to engulf your peninsula.
Southerners: demand that your government immediately send food and aid to help eliminate the tension which has existed for over 60 years. Officials who delude themselves with thoughts of closing the border will be trampled, first by Koreans and then by history.
Korean expatriates: emulate Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz; click your heels three times and repeat to yourself, there's no place like home. There's no place like home.
To rebuild the shattered lives here, we need farmers, teachers, engineers, doctors, dentists, nurses, and public health workers. We do not need carpetbaggers, grifters, politicians, or religious nuts. We call on Doctors Without Borders to help us establish an out-processing center for the almost two hundred thousand souls, including entire extended families, involuntarily dwelling in the six major prison camps.
President Shon Joon-ho -- launch your caravans of hope and family reconciliation.
They were having such a nice conversation he almost didn't notice that she accompanied him all the way to the door of his room. Almost.
"Han-na, don't you get enough of me during the day?" playfully asked Talvela as he inserted the key card into the lock and opened the door.
She giggled, pushed him back gently, and shut the door behind her.
* * * * *
Kim Young-un woke up in a cold sweat as he had every night since he had been dethroned. The nightmare was always the same.
A pale horse walked toward him, carrying his grandfather. In his hand was a blood-red sword. The horse's skin was on fire.
Then the rider morphed into his father. In his hand was a glass full of red wine. The flames disappeared, only to reveal an animal with sickeningly protruding ribs. The horse was mere skin and bone.
Finally the rider became him. In his hand was the severed head, dripping blood, of a former pop-singer girlfriend. The horse's skin disappeared entirely, with the horse consisting only of a skeleton
Then the skeleton collapsed. As the bones fell to the ground, they were transformed into wood. As he fell following the wooden bones, they formed themselves into a structure and he found himself lying on top of it.
A glistening liquid was poured on the wooden bones by apparitions garbed in white robes. A match was lit and the structure set ablaze. As the flames licked at his corpulent body, ghosts from the past started to appear.
First came the millions killed in the Korean War. They swirled around him, accusing him of murdering them in the name of some cult of personality nonsense. They accused him of being responsible for making the decision to invade the South in a vanity-inspired attempt to reunify the peninsula under his sadistic leadership. He tried to cry out -- "But it was my grandfather who did that!" -- but he could not speak. The apparitions marched back and forth across his body, simulating the times that the cities were occupied and then re-occupied by the opposing forces.
Next came the millions of people who died of starvation in the 1990s. These ghosts were composed largely of children, mere waifs, who wailed that they died because he built a skyscraper that reached to the sky, with the money for this building being diverted from money needed for basic foodstuffs. He wanted to cry out -- "But that was my grandfather and father's doing!" -- but he was unable to utter a sound. The apparitions threw balls of fire at him, with the fireballs shrieking the words "Sunshine Policy" as they raced toward him.
Last came the ghosts of people who died in the many labor camps, starved to death because the food intended for them was diverted by the military and elites for black market activities, or were executed simply for trying to escape from their East Asian purgatory. Their mouths were filled with grass because that was all they could find to eat. Kim thought to himself that his grandfather created those camps and dreamed up the philosophy of treating people as badly as Japan, the occupier of Korea for decades, did during WWII, with his father continuing those policies. He wondered why the ghosts did not accuse him of killing them because he shared responsibility for that horror by not reversing the policies he inherited.
Then the fire beneath him became fireworks, with rockets flying into the air and exploding in every conceivable color. At this point, he was launched into space. He rocketed into the air, but gravity started slowing him down. Just as he reached the apex of his trajectory, he exploded into a million pieces. This is when he always woke up.
He went into the kitchen of the apartment to get a glass of water. This was not the accommodation to which he had become accustomed, the park filled with large mansions, water slides, and every imaginable luxury, in the forest north of Pyongyang. This was a plain apartment with no luxuries whatsoever. And all they gave him to eat was rice, nothing like the lobster, crab, and French wine which was always served in his father's, and then his house.
He went back to sleep.
* * * * *
The handmade sign was wired to the bars: "Do not feed the animal!"
"Didn't this used to be the monkey enclosure?" asked one child of her friend.
"Yes, but the monkeys disappeared a long time ago. I think the Kim family ate all of the animals in the zoo," answered her friend.
"It's funny how he is too tall for the cage. He cannot even stand up completely," continued the first.
"Hooh, hooh, hooh, hooh!" they both shouted as they slumped over and brought their arms up and down, simulating how a monkey walks.
Two painfully thin adults stood behind the children. One of them asked, "Did you bring it?"
"Yes, of course," said the other as she produced a small snake from her bag. "Here's your lunch, Rudeman," she said in broken English as she threw the snake between the bars.
Rudeman grabbed the snake, bit its head off, and wolfed the body down. He had not eaten in days and did not know when he would see another meal.
"How long do you think it will be before he gets the runs from the parasites in uncooked wild snakes?" asked the first adult.
"Everyone I know developed diarrhea within hours. Now this animal will know how we were forced to live in the camps," replied the second adult.
"I'm an American citizen!" he cried. "I deserve better! Where's my friend, the Marshal? He'll get me out of here, I'm sure," pleaded Rudeman.
The children and adults laughed.
* * * * *
Major Suk and Sergeant Ju watched with satisfaction at the other side of the Amnok river as the Chinese tanks and trucks continued their departure.
"My orders were clear: China was not to cross the bridge under any circumstances. If necessary, the bridge was to be disabled via explosives. China's action would be a bridge too far," said Major Suk. "China would then have rapidly moved east to secure the port of Najin, a true ice-free port unlike Russia's Vladivostok just to the north and one essential for China's international commerce, dividing the country once again."
"Major, it appears that China took the hint that it would not be allowed to interfere," offered Sergeant Ju.
"Sergeant, the Chinese forces will never know that hand-held surface-to-ground missiles had been moved to the border as a precautionary measure. If China had attempted to occupy North Korea with helicopter-based troops to prevent South Korea and especially the USA from moving north of the DMZ, there would have been a bloodbath, with most of the blood being Chinese," touted Major Suk.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Kok Mu-hwan was going to sit outside all day today.
He had been captured in the Korean War. At first, he was held in a POW camp with all of the other UN troops, but then for reasons he did not know, he was transferred to a different camp along with other South Koreans and some Americans. He spent a few years in this camp before being transferred again. No one told him, but it was obvious that the new camp was in the Soviet Union. He was interrogated daily, but mainly he was being worked to death. Rations were minimal and disgusting, often containing live insects. His fellow prisoners died in large numbers. That's the problem when a war ends in a cease fire, he thought, with the evil side not being occupied.
He tried to keep track of time, but his captors were adept at transferring him from time to time to a different cell, and they almost always found his notes. He estimated that he stayed in the Soviet camps for five years. Then he was transferred again, back to North Korea. None of the Americans were transferred with him, though he honestly wasn't sure if that was because the Soviets had killed all of them through torture and neglect, something they appeared to specialize in.
Not long after his transfer back to North Korea, he was assigned a temporary wife. One day his captors marched him into a squalid room and pushed a North Korean woman into the room. The guards sneered at him, said, "Make us another slave," and closed the door behind them.
He was much luckier than his fellow captives, as his companion, Ong Su-bin, was fairly good looking. She was a member of the songbun-hostile class -- North Koreans were divided by the founder of the country into three classes, core, wavering, and hostile -- which meant that she essentially had no rights whatsoever. Songbun-core people, 25% of the population, were the Kim family sycophants who occupied Pyongyang. Songbun-wavering people, 55% of the population, could go either way, but sometimes ended up in prison camps. Songbun-hostile people, 20% of the population, were the lowest of the low, with entire extended families often being sent to prison camps because of an alleged crime that one family member committed. She was in the prison camps because her cousin defected to South Korea.
He was lucky in another respect; she did not become pregnant right away, so they could continue having sex. When she finally became pregnant, they were permanently separated. Lieutenant Kok sometimes saw her in the mess hall, but he never had time to speak with her. She had a boy named Min-kyu.
She only lived for six months after the birth of Min-kyu. Lieutenant Kok was never told the official cause of death, but he was sure she had been raped by one or more of the guards and then killed to prevent her from telling anyone of the assault. Pretty young women like her often died for no apparent reason in the camps.
Sometimes Lieutenant Kok could steal a few minutes to be with his son, but mostly Min-kyu was an orphan in the camp. Lieutenant Kok sometimes saw him scrounging for food with the other orphans, picking stray grains and corn kernels out of animal manure. Just before he became a teenager, he was taken by the guards, never to be seen again. Lieutenant Kok was never told what happened to him. He hoped Min-kyu was living the good life somewhere, but that was unlikely.
So he continued to work every day until he could work no more. A few days ago, he no longer had the strength to work, and so his captors discontinued his meager rations. He was very weak now and was sure he would not last much longer. He would sit outside today as much as he could, think of the good times he had with Su-bin and Min-kyu, and wait for the end.
* * * * *
As Kyung Hi-lee left the shower area of the refugee tent, she saw a sign reading, "Attention: all parents who were forced to leave their children in China, please register here."
She had never forgotten about her two children, one boy and one girl, who she was forced to leave behind when Chinese policemen arrested her. She had left North Korea because she was starving and ended up marrying a Chinese farmer who was cruel to her. She did not know if the policemen found her because she made a mistake or because her husband wanted to trade her in for someone better looking. She quickly walked to the registration desk to start the process.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Ryu Ji-hoom was the daughter of Korean Christian missionaries who had worked in China. They were an integral part of the Korean Underground Railway, bringing North Koreans to South Korea or the USA. Both had served a year in a Chinese prison and were then permanently banned from China, preventing them from personally taking part in any more rescues. They had to settle for fund-raising and coordination based in Seoul. They could not understand the attitude of previous presidents who operated under the "Sunshine Policy" -- a policy of giving large amounts of money and aid without conditions -- which was promoted as the way towards peace, but in reality was quite the opposite. The two administrations often refused to accept North Korean refugees at their consulates, causing many Koreans to dub the ten years of the two presidents as the "lost decade" in terms of Korean human rights. The current president was a member of the conservative party and immediately changed the policy, ordering his diplomats to accept all North Korean refugees.
* * * * *
Captain Sobong Ye-jun was a legend in the South Korean military for the way he led his troops onto a ship which had been hijacked by Somali pirates and retook the ship, with no casualties to his men or the hostages. The Somalis had not done as well, he was not sorry to say, with all but three dying on the ship in a hail of gunfire. He believed in leading from the front and suffered a bullet wound to his ear as a result, essentially ending his commando career because he could no longer determine the direction of sounds.
Up until a few days ago, he had been working in a planning position, fighting from a desk. He was told to report to Colonel Jang for an assignment. He eagerly looked forward to another shot at glory.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Ryu and Lieutenant Choi's names were announced by Colonel Jang. Both of them walked to his desk and stood in front of it.
"Lieutenant Ryu, Lieutenant Choi, you will work together on this mission. Neither one of you will be in charge; you will come to a consensus on all decisions. Northerners and Southerners need to learn to work together and this is as good as any place to start. You will travel to an unofficial orphanage in China -- by unofficial, I mean it is someone's house where they look after abandoned children -- and find the two children of Kyung Hi-lee. Where is she? Kyung Hi-lee, come here, please. Of course, you will all travel in civilian clothes like ordinary businesswomen," explained Colonel Jang.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Song wasn't accustomed to making breakfast for four people. Actually she rarely made breakfast at all because she always just grabbed a quick bite and went to work.
She needed something from the fridge, so she turned around, opened the door, retrieved the item, and closed the door, only to jump back a little in mild shock as she did so. Standing in front of her were two little girls with nylon stockings over their heads, making them look like junior bank robbers.
"I see you are teaching them something besides English," she called out to the next room.
A man's head appeared just to the side of the door jamb. His head was also covered in a nylon stocking. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men ... or little girls?" rhetorically asked Talvela.
Lieutenant Song shook her head from side to side. She bent down to the girls and said "I cannot tell which of you is Tan-na and which is Kan-na."
The two girls giggled and ran back to the room where Talvela was waiting. Strange noises erupted from the room as the three of them continued playing their game.
"Those had better not be my new stockings!"
* * * * *
"Captain Sobong Ye-jun, please come here," requested Colonel Jang.
"You will be in command of this group of commandos, a mix of Northerners and Southerners. You will travel to China as civilians and rescue a group of perhaps a dozen women who were tricked into working as prostitutes. You will not be assigned firearms because if you are found with them, you could be accused of being spies. You will be given pepper spray bottles to use if you find it necessary to silently incapacitate someone. Your team is quite experienced in Hapkido and Taekwondo and you are welcome to use these talents. After you rescue the women, you will give them new passports and identities so that they can leave China without mishap. The process for obtaining new passports will be explained on the bus," he explained.
"Colonel, if we run into trouble, is it possible for us to divert to a South Korean embassy," asked Captain Sobong.
"Only in a true emergency. China has turned the entrances for all Western and Asian embassies and consulates into gauntlets, with barbed wire and other impediments. There are multiple passport checks manned by Chinese policemen. I think it will be safer if you return here in one of our buses. Think about the cover story for the women; perhaps they could be entertainers. It is not so important if the Chinese border police suspect that the women are former prostitutes because their passports will check out. China has always had a policy of one hand winking at the other hand, so I suspect that everything will go well as long as we do not splash the truth onto their faces," concluded Colonel Jang.
"Good luck and good hunting."
* * * * *
Lieutenant Nam Tae-yeon had not been the best student in South Korea. She had the worst scores in her officer training classes. She now regretted going that route because her talents and chosen profession were clearly disparate.
Now she was not at all sure she was in her assigned town in the North. She found the road signs a bit confusing. She finally parked her government SUV and walked to the center of town. If this wasn't her assigned town, she thought, she'd at least make the best of it.
At first she thought it was only a pile of trash. But as she got closer, she was that it was actually two girls sitting close together. Their clothes were dirty, tattered, and full of holes. Their faces and hands were dirty, with some spots darker than others.
"Hello, my name is Lieutenant Nam Tae-yeon. I am curious as to what you girls are doing."
"We are finding lice and removing them from each other. It is not so easy for us to do it ourselves, but it is easy to do it to each other," answered the first girl.
"How old are you?" asked Lieutenant Nam.
"I am ten and my friend is nine," replied the second girl.
"Where are your parents?" asked Lieutenant Nam.
"We are both orphans. Our parents were executed by the government," replied the second girl.
"Come with me, please. I will take you to have a good meal," implored Lieutenant Nam.
The first girl looked at her friend. "Do you think we should go with her?"
"It couldn't be any worse than what we are doing here," replied the second girl.
* * * * *
Their destination was in sight, an apartment block which looked like all of the other ones, gray and dull. They knew the flat number. All of their mouths were dry in anticipation, especially that of Kyung.
A man walked up to them. "Excuse me, my name is Zhao Yun-fat. I was told that you are businesswomen looking for opportunities," offered Zhao.
"Yes, it is true. However, we must be careful when discussing our line of business. Competition is fierce and we intend to be the first ones to release our products," countered Lieutenant Ryu.
"Our city offers much in the way of opportunity and hard-working people. Please, I insist, you must come with me for lunch with our mayor. We have much to offer Korean businesspeople," concluded Zhao.
"It would be impolite to refuse," said Lieutenant Choi.
The three women looked at each other with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. They would have to wait a little longer.
* * * * *
"Colonel Jang, please give me an assignment to rescue children in China. My job is in intelligence, keeping track of Chinese military units. I speak fluent Mandarin and have traveled to China many times. I know I was not in the group of officers which executed the coup against the selfish Kim family, but I am perfect for the job," pleaded Captain Roh Sok-yong.
"Yes, we can always use Mandarin speakers," replied Colonel Jang with a smile. "We will use you in your current capacity, in intelligence. Since you will be by yourself, you are not authorized to do anything other than observation. You will contact me when you discover a situation which requires intervention. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Colonel, thank you!"
* * * * *
"Major, take a look at this car," implored Sergeant Ju, indicating a car which was waiting to enter North Korea from China.
Major Suk walked over to the late-model Hyundai.
"Why does it have cameras on the roof?" asked Sergeant Ju.
"I was warned about this. It's a Google Maps car. Google thinks it's entitled to take imagery of the country and display it, accompanied by Google ads, so Google can make a killing via people wanting to vicariously visit North Korea," answered Major Suk.
Major Suk walked to the driver's side of the car.
"You will not be allowed to enter the country. Turn around and go back," ordered Major Suk.
* * * * *
Captain Sobong and Sergeant Yeong Jae-gu were dressed in typical business suits. They walked along a busy street until they saw a Chinese policeman. They approached him.
"Good morning, officer. We are new to this area; obviously we are Koreans on a business trip. Police officers always know what goes on in a city, so I will ask you a question. Do you know of a bordello which employs Korean women?" asked Captain Sobong.
The officer paused a bit and made a strange motion with his hand. Captain Sobong recognized the movement, having anticipated the corruption level of China. He placed a Chinese bill in his hand.
"Yes, there is one," replied the officer. "Go down this street until that curved building on the right. Turn right there and go maybe two kilometers and you will see a blue and green building which has what you want."
"Thank you very much, officer," finished Captain Sobong.
As they walked away, Captain Sobong spoke softly to Sergeant Yeong, "In Busan, that corrupt behavior would never be tolerated."
"In Chongjin, that behavior would be normal," answered Sergeant Yeong with a smile.
"Let's take a walk and see if we can determine the opening hours of the bordello," said Captain Sobong.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Nam was walking along with the two girls when she spotted two boys even younger than the girls. Both boys were pathetically thin and looked as if a slight breeze would topple them over. They were unsuccessfully begging for money or food.
"Hello, my name is Lieutenant Nam Tae-yeon. How old are you?"
The taller boy slowly turned to her. "I am five." His companion said nothing and just looked at her with lifeless eyes.
"I am taking these two girls to get some food at one of the kiosks. Please come with us. You need some food now," cajoled Lieutenant Nam.
The two boys listlessly followed the three of them.
* * * * *
General Terry had never been so busy in his life. His command had become the de facto logistics coordinator, as both the South Korea government and General Grant were too busy with the never-ending refugee tasks.
Pyongyang's airport could never handle the extreme traffic which the many ground efforts required. And given how poor the airport's infrastructure had become over the years, he really did not dare to send planes after dark, as the lights and signaling equipment were unsafe.
Seoul's Inchon airport was perhaps the best in the world, but the designers had never anticipated the current number of flights departing from and arriving on the Korean peninsula. And he could not monopolize Seoul's airport because shipments from South Korean manufacturers still needed to depart for worldwide customers.
The problem was that the countries of the world had other things, pressing matters, to worry about. Depression 2.0 was still in full swing, so no country could afford to solely designate their aircraft to send aid. Aid was coming in droves, but it was coming in from all points of the compass. General Terry sometimes ordered planes to land in Japan where his crews could consolidate, sort, and re-pack the contents.
North Korea's railway system was pretty much a joke, with some routes taking days to travel what should have only taken hours. High-speed rail was a mirage. Therefore General Terry needed to plan how supplies were going to travel from an airport or port to where it was needed.
Aid was also arriving in ships, though that had just begun because of the time required to sail from North America, Europe, and other places. He wondered if he should route everything to ports on the eastern coast of the Korea peninsula to avoid Chinese naval vessels, given that China had issued a proclamation that the entire South China Sea belonged to it alone; the East China Sea might be next.
Unlike his friend General Grant, he planned to remain in his command for a long time to come.
His telephone rang.
"General, this is Colonel Jang. Have you made any progress on obtaining coal for the winter? Many North Koreans use wood in their stoves and they have essentially denuded the hillsides of trees as a result. I think some people will freeze to death if we do not stockpile coal for the coming winter."
"Yes, Colonel, we have ships on the way from Canada, South Africa, Australia, Columbia, and the USA. One from Australia will arrive shortly, headed for the port of Najin. I think we will have no trouble supplying you with enough coal for the winter," replied General Terry.
General Terry pondered on how the situation compared with supplying coal and supplies to Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. Sending it by sea was so much more efficient.
"Also, General, I am worried about the many orphans and refugees temporarily housed in abandoned buildings. As you know, we are using these buildings until we can build proper housing, but that will require years. We are still desperately short of cots and blankets," continued Colonel Jang.
"Unfortunately we outsourced the production of cots and blankets to China and other countries a long time ago. We have placed orders with manufacturers, paying them extra for top priority. I think we'll beat winter, but not by much," answered General Terry.
"Thanks, General," concluded Colonel Jang.
* * * * *
Sergeants Chu Dong-ju and Paeng Keun-suk walked into the bordello right at opening time.
"I am really horny!" loudly announced Sergeant Chu.
"I am double-horny!" declared Sergeant Paeng. "We want to see your two youngest girls."
A large man with a bulge under his right arm nodded ever so slightly and walked into the hallway behind the lobby. He barked commands and two teenaged girls, perhaps 13-years-old, slowly walked into the lobby.
"They'll do fine," said Sergeant Paeng. "No time to waste, let's go!"
The two sergeants and two girls walked into the hallway and then into a room with a divider in the middle. Sergeant Chu closed the door behind him.
"We are not here for sex. We are going to get you out of here," declared Sergeant Paeng.
The two girls looked at him. "You don't want sex?" one of them asked incredulously.
Sergeant Paeng got right to business. "How many Korean girls work here, in total?"
"Eleven," they both answered as one.
"Are all of them in the building right now?" asked Sergeant Chu.
The two girls nodded their heads.
"We dodged a bullet there," said Sergeant Paeng. "The mission would have to be delayed if one of you was away."
"I did not see any customers. Are any customers here now?" asked Sergeant Chu.
The two girls shook their heads.
"How many employees are in the building right now?" asked Sergeant Chu.
"Four: three security and one manager," the second girl answered.
Sergeant Paeng pulled his cellphone from his pocket and started texting: "come now, we're in room; 0 clients; 11 girls; 3 heavy, 1 fat."
* * * * *
Lieutenant Nam saw two more children, this time two girls who were not close in terms of age. As with the others, they were dressed in clothes which only ragamuffins would wear.
"Hello, my name is Lieutenant Nam Tae-yeon. How old are you?" she asked the older girl.
"I am twelve and my sister is six," she answered.
"What happened to your parents?" queried Lieutenant Nam.
"They just disappeared one day. Then someone came to our apartment and told us to leave. We have been living on the streets for many months now," she replied.
"These four children and I are going to the kiosks to obtain some food. Come with us and you can have a good meal," insisted Lieutenant Nam.
As they walked down the street, the 6-year-old girl moved close to Lieutenant Nam and grabbed her hand.
* * * * *
Captain Roh watched the Chinese farmer balance his load on his under-fed, over-worked donkey. His two young children walked behind. Even though the farmer was straining his muscles keeping the load on the donkey, Captain Roh noticed that he smiled at his children when they asked something. Captain Roh waited until they passed by a roadside cafe before approaching.
"Excuse me sir, my name is Roh Sok-yong. I work for the North Korean government, in child welfare. We have been investigating cases of child abandonment and abuse of half-and-half children. However, I could not help but notice that your relationship with your children is good. The boy, he is 100% Chinese while the girl is half-Korean, correct?" asked Captain Roh.
"You have an eye for detail, sir. Yes, my son, Shen'en, is Chinese by my first wife who died in childbirth. My daughter, Yunxiang, is half-Korean by my second wife who left us," replied Diao Shaojie.
"Please, sir, I would like to buy you and your children lunch at this cafe," offered Captain Roh.
"Since we are so poor, I will accept. My children are very hungry," answered Diao as he gave a little bow. "My name is Diao Shaojie."
Captain Roh ordered food for the four of them while Diao tied his donkey to a fence. The children looked at him with wide eyes.
"They will be attending school soon, yes?" asked Captain Roh.
Diao sighed. "Yes, Shen'en will start school in the next session, but I do not know what I will do with Yunxiang. I cannot afford the hukou and the bribes that go along with convincing the bureaucrats that a second child should attend school the same as the first. Our stupid one-child policy is so restrictive. She will grow up as an uneducated peasant and never be able to meet her full potential," railed Diao.
"Is your donkey your only large animal?" asked Captain Roh.
"Yes. And I wish I could afford another one. A tractor would be a gift from heaven, but I am not holding my breath," answered Diao.
"I hope I am not being too personal, but what happened to your Korean wife?" queried Captain Roh.
"Since you are paying for lunch, I guess you can be a little personal," chuckled Diao. "I met Lee Wen-di through a broker. She was not terribly considerate, but as you can see I am not a looker so I married her immediately. One year after Yunxiang was born, she disappeared. I later heard that she had moved to South Korea. I took every last bit of money we had and traveled to South Korea. I thought she would be happy to see us and we would be a family again. But she had already found another man, one with a good job. She icily told us that she never wanted to see any of us again. I was glad that Yunxiang was too young to understand how her mother rejected her like that. We moved back here, but now we are living from day-to-day because I have no savings," admitted Diao.
* * * * *
Talvela, Lieutenant Song, and Major Seo had arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the residence of the Japanese Emperor.
"Now let me do the talking. We do not want to insult him," Major Seo insisted. "He has been allowed to retire by the National Diet and will do so soon due to age and medical problems, and from what I've heard, he is much more relaxed than he was in the past, but he's still the Japanese Emperor."
As Major Seo walked into the building first, Talvela looked at Lieutenant Song and winked. She looked at him and mouthed, "Don't you dare!"
"Your Imperial Majesty, my name is Major Seo Sun-kyu. This is Christian Talvela and Lieutenant Song Han-na," began Major Seo.
They all bowed.
"There was a famous boxer in my country named Jack Dempsey. He was casual even for an American, but he also had a poor memory for the names of people. When he could remember someone's name, he would address them, 'Hiya, so-and-so,' but usually he would simply say, 'Hiya, pal,'" started Talvela.
Major Seo's face displayed abject horror.
"It's an apocryphal story, but one day he met a king of a European country. This would have been in the first half of the twentieth century. Upon meeting the king, he said with his usual flair, 'Hiya, king.' So, in the spirit of Jack Dempsey, I say to you, 'Hiya, emperor,'" said Talvela with a big smile.
The Japanese Emperor chuckled.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Nam and her six charges came upon four pre-teen boys begging for food. "What happened to your leg?" she asked one of them.
"I tried to climb aboard a moving freight train and slipped. The train wheels cut my leg off. If my friends hadn't immediately applied a tourniquet, I would have bled to death," replied the boy.
"Where did you learn how to properly use a tourniquet?" asked Lieutenant Nam of the other boys.
"My parents were both medical professionals. Before they were arrested and taken away, they explained first aid to me," revealed one of the boys.
"I am taking these children to get something to eat. Come with us," implored Lieutenant Nam.
The four boys walked behind the group, with the disabled boy using a crutch cobbled together from scraps of wood.
* * * * *
The commandos parked their bus and walked to the bordello. Captain Sobong started giving orders.
"Sergeant Yeong, you and I will schmooze with the management and pretend to be lushes taking a break from our hard life as Korean businessmen. Corporals Eom and Im, you will be the primary sprayers. Corporals Jeo and Corporal Pan, you will be in reserve for surprises. We will refer to each other as Mister Yeong, Mister Sobong, and so on. Remember, big smiles on everyone! We are sleazy businessmen who want to sleep with Korean girls. Play your part," explained Captain Sobong.
As they entered the nightclub, they were met by a large man with a bulge under his right arm. Corporals Eom and Im paid close attention to him. He was obviously a member of their security team, as he did not say a word or smile.
A second man, fat with a false smile, walked up to the men. "Welcome to our happy club! I am sure we will make you very happy," he declared in a slimy sort of way.
"My friends and I would like to party with Korean girls," said Captain Sobong much louder than necessary.
In their room, Sergeants Chu and Paeng and the two girls stood up.
"That's what we do best," said the fat man.
"We would like to see the girls now, please," said Captain Sobong.
"I would like to see all of your girls. Maybe I will party with two of them!" added Sergeant Yeong with a big smile.
"Of course. We have eleven girls, but two are busy right now," replied the fat man. He motioned to the security guard to bring the girls out for display.
Nine sad-looking, young Korean women walked out slowly. They stood there looking at the floor. The security guard walked behind the bar.
Captain Sobong noticed that every girl looked like a doll, with heavy black mascara and eyeliner, over-the-top rouge, ruby red lipstick, garishly electric blue finger and toe nail polish, and thick concealer to hide the circles under their eyes from long days. The youngest was probably 15-years-old.
"I would like a drink," said Sergeant Yeong. "Mister Eom, please join me."
"Mister Im, please bring the money bag over here," said Captain Sobong.
Captain Sobong and Sergeant Yeong looked at each other. Captain Sobong nodded every so slightly. Captain Sobong gently squeezed the arm of Corporal Im and Sergeant Yeong gently squeezed the arm of Corporal Eom.
"Now!" Captain Sobong shouted.
Corporals Eom and Im reached into their bags and brought out their pepper spray bottles. In one smooth, fluid motion, they brought them level with the eyes of the two Chinese men and started spraying. The security guard did not even look up until the gas was upon him. He doubled up with his hands over his face. Sergeant Yeong and Corporal Eom removed the pistol from under his arm and laid it on the floor in the far corner of the room. The fat man saw the attack coming, but he was so fat and slow that he could not raise his hands before the gas enveloped him. He doubled up just like his employee.
Two other security men walked quickly into the lobby from the other end of the hallway after hearing the commotion.
Sergeants Chu and Paeng opened the door of their room as quietly as they could and walked behind the two security men. "I'll bet my gun is bigger than yours," said Sergeant Paeng.
The two security men turned around in surprise, not realizing that anyone was behind them. Sergeants Chu and Paeng sprayed them heavily in the face with their pepper spray. As the two men doubled over, the two sergeants removed their pistols from their holsters.
"We are Korean commandos, North and South! We will take you back home! If you have any valuables, run to your rooms and retrieve them! We must leave immediately!" ordered Captain Sobong, addressing the women.
The girls ran to their rooms as ordered, grabbed what little possessions they had, and ran back to the lobby. Sergeants Chu and Paeng followed them, looking through all of the rooms to make sure they left no one behind. They threw the two pistols onto one of the beds.
Corporals Eom and Im opened their bags again and brought out cheap dresses and makeup remover pads for the girls.
"They aren't couture, but they will make you look like typical girls," instructed Captain Sobong. "Just throw them on over your clothes. And try to remove some of that gaudy makeup."
Sergeant Yeong brought out his satellite telephone. "Departing now!" he told the driver of their bus.
Corporals Jeo and Pan opened the door and cautiously peered out, looking for policemen or anyone else who could cause them trouble, but the only people in the street were children playing a game. They exited the building, followed by Sergeant Yeong, Sergeants Chu and Paeng, the 11 girls, Corporals Eom and Im, and finally Captain Sobong.
They walked down the street towards their bus. They boarded it and rode it out of the city.
* * * * *
"Major, you really need to see this," said Sergeant Ju.
Major Suk walked to the car which had been stopped on the approach to the bridge. He could see that the driver was the mayor of Pyongyang, Bling Ka-ching.
Their car was filled to the roof with loot, so much so that the tires were sagging. The soldiers had already started to empty it and had discovered gold coins, bottles of expensive French wine, a small box of diamonds, Rolex watches, boxes of Cuban cigars, a large box of euros and dollars, Chanel stockings, and cases of perfume.
Many of the items had come from Bling's stores in Pyongyang which offered luxury goods to the elite. His star had risen dramatically after the death of Kim Gour-met, who had once sentenced him to house arrest for almost two years for trying to gain too much power for himself.
"Just like rats leaving a sinking ship," thought Major Suk.
"Major, this one's not quite as good as the last car, right?" asked Sergeant Ju.
Major Suk chuckled. "You mean, you liked the car with the spheres of plutonium in it better?"
* * * * *
Lieutenant Ryu, Lieutenant Choi, and Kyung paused outside the door of the apartment.
"I have dreamed of this day for so long. What if my children no longer recognize me? What if I no longer recognize them?" she cried.
"Not a chance. A mother always recognizes her children and vice versa. Just make sure you bend down before they reach you or they might knock you over because they are so happy to see you," said Lieutenant Ryu.
Kyung slowly opened the door and walked inside. Almost immediately her two children screamed and ran towards her. She tried to bend down, but it was to no avail; Sung-hoon and Eun-hee knocked her on her butt. She sat there both crying and laughing.
While the three became reacquainted, Sin Yu-jin, the apartment owner, walked over to the two lieutenants. "We expected you here earlier. What happened?" she asked.
"Oh, you would not believe it. The mayor wanted to have lunch with us to convince us that this city is suitable for opening our 'business.' And they kept bringing food and drink. It was a little embarrassing, to be honest," answered Lieutenant Ryu.
"Two of your colleagues arrived earlier and took the other two children. Even though I love these children and will miss them dearly, I am very happy that they are going home. They would end up illiterate because they would be unable to obtain a hukou, what China calls a person's identification, needed to attend school and obtain medical care," said Sin.
All this time, Lieutenant Choi was watching the last boy, Nae Hak-chul. He just sat dejectedly and watched the reunion of his friends. "Do you know anything regarding the whereabouts of his mother?" she asked.
"Only that she was arrested. His father is a Chinese businessman who dumped him here right after his wife was arrested. I met him only once and I disliked him immediately," answered Sin.
"I will call Colonel Jang and ask him." Lieutenant Ryu called him via satellite phone. "Colonel Jang, do you know anything about a boy named Nae Hak-chul?"
"Let me think." He searched though his photographic memory, pattern-matching names, dates, and locations. "I am fairly certain his mother was executed. His mother and Kyung were arrested on the same day and for whatever reason, Nae was executed and Kyung was only imprisoned. I am sorry, but the records tend to only contain dates and names, not reasons," concluded Colonel Jang.
"Thank you, Colonel," Lieutenant Ryu said as she hung up.
"Why do you do this? I mean, why do you risk your life to rescue children you do not know?" Lieutenant Choi asked Sin.
"We are Christians," answered Sin.
"What is a Christian?" interrupted Lieutenant Choi.
"Yes, you would not know about that. Oh, boy, what a long story! There was this man named Jesus who lived around 2000 years ago. From all accounts, he was quite charismatic, with people following him in droves. He was a pacifist. He eschewed wealthy people and spent his time tending to the sick, the downtrodden, and prostitutes. The leadership at the time could see that he was stirring up trouble with his radical ideas of salvation after death and income inequality. He was eventually executed in a particularly grisly manner, crucified on a wooden cross with his hands and feet nailed to the cross. Christians believe that he was not just a man, but the actual son of God. We refer to him as Christ for that reason. We use a cross as a symbol to remember him," explained Sin.
"Do Christians believe that Jesus will return?" asked Lieutenant Choi.
"Yes, we do, though there is no general agreement as to when that might be," continued Sin.
"When Jesus returns, wouldn't a cross be the last thing he would want to see?" asked Lieutenant Choi.
Both Sin and Lieutenant Ryu laughed. "I never thought of it that way," interjected Lieutenant Ryu.
"Do other religions rescue children in this manner?" asked Lieutenant Choi.
"Um, no, they do not. It is strange, I would think that Jews would have the same compassion, given what they went through in WWII with the Holocaust," explained Sin.
"Muslims, on the other hand, never rescue children anywhere in the world, as far as I know. There could not be a bigger contrast between Christianity and Islam. As I said, Jesus was a pacifist and allowed himself to be executed. He gave all of his money to the poor. His followers, especially early Christians, died rather than deny their faith. There are plenty of stories of how Christians allowed themselves to be eaten by wild beasts rather than renounce their faith. Muhammad, the man who created Islam, was quite the opposite. He preached that Islam should be spread by the sword. His followers invaded Spain and Portugal shortly after his death, occupying those countries for almost a thousand years. Today, Muslim men force their women to wear long robes, often covering the entire faces of women. There was a case in Saudi Arabia about ten years ago where schoolgirls were not allowed to exit a burning building because they were not wearing their long robes, with many of them dying," concluded Sin.
"Islam sounds like a belief system for losers, for violent control-freak men and submissive women lacking self-confidence. I will work hard to ensure that our new government is not another totalitarian one: no dictatorship by personality cult, chaibol, or religious nuts. No man will force me to wear a sack and walk behind him. I have had enough of tyrants," declared Lieutenant Choi.
"Koreans are not 'rice-Christians'; that was the term used to describe pre-Mao Chinese people when they professed to believe in Christianity, as everyone knew that they were doing it only to obtain more rice. South Korea is the second-most Christian Asian country after the Philippines. And possession of a Bible in North Korea was a capital offense, hence why you never heard of Christianity," added Sin.
"I have a spare Bible I could give you. It details the life of Jesus and much, much more," offered Sin.
"Yes, I would like that," said Lieutenant Choi. She looked over at Hak-chul. "We will take him to North Korea with us. I will pretend to be his mother. It is the Christian thing to do," she declared.
Both Sin and Lieutenant Ryu smiled.
"Hak-chul, please come here," said Sin. He walked to where Sin was standing.
"These two women will take you back to North Korea. Lieutenant Choi will pretend to be your mother until you actually leave China. Do you think you can pretend that she is your mother for a day or two?" asked Sin.
Hak-chul nodded shyly.
* * * * *
"Thanks for buying us lunch. I cannot remember the last time I ate an actual meal," said the oldest girl to Lieutenant Nam. The other children nodded their agreement.
"Where do you children sleep at night?" asked Lieutenant Nam.
"Many of us sleep in caves just outside the town," explained the boy with one leg. "My friend and I sleep under some abandoned work materials at the outskirts of town. The caves are too far for me to walk."
"In caves? Are other children there now?" queried Lieutenant Nam.
"Probably not because we need to beg for food during the day," answered the oldest boy. "The caves hold teenagers too, but I don't know what they do during the day."
"After lunch we will visit the caves, okay?" implored Lieutenant Nam.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Kok was sitting in the sun when he heard voices. At first he ignored them. But then he realized that they sounded different than the voices of his captors or fellow prisoners. They sounded young -- and South Korean.
He stood up in the hope that they might see him.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Ryu, Lieutenant Choi, Kyung, and the three children had boarded the same bus carrying the commandos and the eleven rescued women.
Nam Min-soo approached the three women. Lieutenant Ryu was amazed at him because of his diminutive stature. He was shorter than five feet tall, yet he was in his 20s and full-grown. He nearly died from starvation more than once and it greatly affected his growth. Lieutenant Choi and Kyung were not surprised, as they had seen it many times before.
"Ladies, we need to take passport photos of the children. And we need to determine the proper personal data, even if that data is fictitious. I need to know which of you will be the official parents of the children. I have a passport machine in the very rear of the bus which I already used for the eleven women the commandos rescued. After you re-enter Korea, the false passports will be collected," explained Nam.
"Does he know where my mama is?" Hak-chul asked Lieutenant Choi.
"I do not think so. Wait until we reach North Korea, okay?" asked Lieutenant Choi as her eyes misted up.
* * * * *
"Colonel, the children of Diao Shaojie are in fine hands with him in terms of parental love. However, they live at the very edge of existence. The children look like skeletons. If they become sick, they could quickly die," declared Captain Roh via phone.
"Okay, Captain, this is what we will do," answered Colonel Jang.
* * * * *
Colonel Ko, Mi-ja, and Yun-bok were walking through the now empty Camp 22.
"Your mother was right; she would not have made it here. The food was disgusting at best, usually corn mush filled with insects. I lost about one third of my body weight in just the one year I was here. I saw so many people simply not wake-up in the morning, having died during the night. I even saw a few people who ran to the electrified fence and threw themselves on it to escape their living hell," offered Colonel Ko. "And of course there were many people who were executed. I had no idea there were so many ways to murder someone."
"Many people would eat any small animal that crossed their path, but I deduced that it actually made things worse. Snakes always had parasites which caused diarrhea, resulting in more weight loss. Some people died because they lost too much of their body's fluids, and of course, it was impossible to obtain medicine," added Colonel Ko. "Cooking the animals would have made it okay, but prisoners would have been beaten to death before their meal was properly cooked."
"Father, how could people do that to their fellow Koreans? Were the guards chosen for their brutality?" asked Yun-bok.
"Yes and no. I never saw an organized effort to populate the camps with psychopaths, but they volunteered for duty there. And guards who had a conscience tried everything they could to leave if they were stationed here. Not every last guard had a never-ending urge to murder, but most of them did," answered Colonel Ko. "The crazies convinced themselves that the prisoners were less than human and deserving of of their fate. They were true believers in song-bun and the other evil philosophies of the Kim family."
"Did you ever try to escape?" asked Mi-ja.
"No, because I saw what happened to those who were unsuccessful. They were hacked apart with axes, ripped apart with automatic weapons fire, set on fire, and beaten to death," responded Colonel Ko. "Pregnant women were given abortions regardless of how far along they were. Many were raped."
"This place will never leave me," added Colonel Ko.
* * * * *
Doctor Lee was waiting for the group of commandos and rescued women. "Ladies, we would like to give you a medical examination, as we do for all refugees. Please come with me," he said.
The eleven women first turned to the commandos and gave each one of them a hug in thanks. They then turned and followed Doctor Lee into the examination area.
"Let's get something to eat. Then we will find Colonel Jang and get another assignment," declared Captain Sobong.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Nam used her satellite phone to call Colonel Jang. "Colonel, I need a bus for all of the children I have found!"
"How large of a bus?" asked Colonel Jang.
"I have 20 children so far and I have not completely searched the hiding places the children tell me they use here. I'll have to give you my GPS coordinates because I am not sure where I am," sheepishly admitted Lieutenant Nam.
"I take it that map and compass were not your favorite tools in training. Never mind, I'll get a bus out to you pronto," promised Colonel Jang.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Ryu, Lieutenant Choi, and Kyung separated at the refugee camp. Kyung took her two children and went in the camp along with the other refugees. Everyone hugged each other, knowing that they might never see each other again.
Kyung walked to a table where her parents were sitting. "Father, mother, this is Sung-hoon and Eun-hee. Children, these are my parents, your grandparents."
* * * * *
Talvela, Lieutenant Song, and the twins entered the conference room of South Korean President Shon Joon-ho. Lieutenant Song and the twins walked to the end of the conference table. Executives from South Korea's chaibol were already present.
"Mr. President, thank you for holding this meeting. Gentlemen, thank you for coming on such short notice," began Talvela.
"Very soon, North Korea will be able to hold talks on future business. There are prime locations to be assigned. As is always true, some locations will have perfect access to mass transit and a railway line. Less desirable locations will require the use of trucks to move products. Of course, you will want to build all future factories in North Korea because of the drastically improved transportation, not to mention that your new factories will operate under your native tongue," continued Talvela.
"However, we have a severe problem with orphans. Very soon we will have thousands of orphans in need of housing. We simply do not have the space to hold them all. So here is my proposal. We will give you, the chief executives of the major South Korean companies, prime locations for your next factories. We will, in conjunction with South Korea, improve the metro lines and the notoriously poor railway system so you can transport your products most efficiently," he said.
Tan-na and Kan-na giggled at the end of the table, drawing everyone's attention to them. Talvela and Lieutenant Song's eyes met for a fleeting moment.
"And in return, you will supply project management, all building equipment and supplies, and trained foremen to build new orphanages in Pyongyang. North Korea has plenty of workmen. Given that Internet access will not be available outside Pyongyang for years, maybe many years, we need to situate all of the orphans in Pyongyang so that get the best start in life," continued Talvela.
"You will provide basic laptops to all orphans, both from the North and South, for the foreseeable future. Their life sucks enough as it is, so giving them an educational leg-up is essential," finished Talvela.
"There will be a substantial tax advantage for companies which build all future factories on the Korean peninsula," added President Shon.
"Another thing involves the DMZ. I realize that South Korean businessmen have plans to build a new city there. It's not gonna happen. The DMZ will be converted to a nature preserve for the red crane, sun bear, and other animals of the Korean peninsula. I think we will actually increase the size of the DMZ, adding adjacent hills that cannot be farmed. We will need to have scientists choose the route, but the DMZ will contain a hiking trail running from coast to coast, something quite unique in the world. We'll add feeder trails so Koreans can day-hike a portion of the main trail. We'll also build hotels on the edge of the DMZ for tourists who want to stay in the area, with these hotels being designed in a similar manner to the majestic ones in my country in the national parks," finished Talvela.
* * * * *
Lieutenants Ryu and Choi took Hak-chul to the house of his grandparents, the sole remaining relatives he had left.
"I realize you have never met your grandparents, but I am sure they will give you a good home," said Lieutenant Choi.
Lieutenant Ryu knocked on the door. Hak-chul's grandparents opened the door and the three of them went inside.
"Do you know where my mama is?" asked Hak-chul of his grandparents.
All four adults just looked at each other, not quite sure of what to say.
Hak-chul's grandfather bent down in front of him. "Come and sit by me. I have a story to tell you."
* * * * *
For the first time in well over 60 years there were no weapons to be seen in Panmunjom.
"Father, do you remember me? I am Min-kyu, your son. The North Korean authorities took me away to work as a logger, but I escaped and made my way to South Korea with the help of Christian missionaries," exclaimed Min-kyu.
"Yes, I remember. You have grown up," answered Lieutenant Kok.
"This is my wife, Seul-ki. I have two sons who are both in the army; they are very busy right now. These are their two wives, Ji-yeong and Eun-ju. And these are your great-grandchildren, Hyun-woo and Jin-hye," continued Min-kyu.
"Lieutenant Kok, I am President Shon Joon-ho. Welcome home. I am so sorry we could not bring you home sooner," apologized President Shon.
"Thank you, Mr. President. It is so good to finally be home," declared Lieutenant Kok. "I do not intend to be impolite, but I would very much like to have something to eat. I am starving."
* * * * *
"I would like to be the temporary mother of the next orphan we find," said Lieutenant Ryu on their way from Hak-chul's grandparent's house back to the refugee camp.
"Of course, it is the Christian thing to do," replied Lieutenant Choi.
* * * * *
The bus pulled up at the entrance to the refugee camp. Lieutenant Nam emerged and stood next to the door. "Okay, children, it is time to get out and eat dinner," she announced.
One after another they exited the bus, with Lieutenant Nam counting to make sure they were all accounted for.
36 hungry children and teenagers walked as fast as their starved bodies would allow to the canteen with Lieutenant Nam following them like a mother duck and her ducklings in reverse order.
"Maybe this military thing is okay after all," she thought.
* * * * *
The character of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun had completely changed since Kim Young-un had been deposed.
It had been the official residence for the head of state until the death of the first Kim family dictator, Kim Song-bun. But after his death, his son and heir, Kim Gour-met, realized that transforming his father into a Korean god would suit his purposes, just as Stalin realized that placing Lenin on public display in a mausoleum would greatly further his goal of creating a cult of personality. So the palace was converted into a mausoleum, with Kim Song-bun's body preserved in the same manner and largely by the same experts who keep the founder of the Soviet Union permanently preserved under glass.
Kim Gour-met placed statues and photos of his father in every room and public square in the country. Every railway car contained a photo of the Great Leader. Every family was expected to keep a photo of the Eternal President in their house; if the photo was found to be missing, the entire family might find themselves sentenced to a long stay in one of the many prison camps. It was impossible to travel within North Korea without seeing a photo of the first dictator. And then after Kim Gour-met died, he was entombed in the same manner as his father, with his photo and eventually that of his son became ubiquitous as well.
After the coup, Colonel Kim and Talvela thought it might be therapeutic to allow people to continue to view the bodies of Kim Song-bun and Kim Gour-met. Since they knew this display would not go on much longer, they instructed the keepers of the corpse to just use formaldehyde to maintain the two bodies. The fancy equipment, including refrigeration pumps, required lots of electricity to run and that power was needed elsewhere.
The mausoleum had become an unofficial place for North and South Korean soldiers to take a break after the coup.
During the reigns of Kim Gour-met and Kim Young-un, mausoleum visitors were required to bow multiple times and display a deep sense of respect. However, within a day of the coup, people started showing extreme disrespect to the corpses. They began yelling insults of all varieties. The soldiers hanging around thought this was most amusing and often broke out laughing at some of the things visitors said.
Today the mood became downright ugly. Large crowds of people began to gather around and inside the mausoleum. The soldiers had no intention of interfering, but they wanted any gatherings to remain peaceful.
Suddenly a group of men walked to the glass case and started smashing it with hammers. The soldiers started to walk towards the disturbance, but the crowd called on them to stay out of it. The men had come prepared with a wheeled cart, which they used to carry the two corpses out of the building. They also broke into the storage cabinet and stole the jugs of formaldehyde.
The soldiers wondered where they were going with the bodies and formaldehyde.
* * * * *
President Shon, Colonel Kim, Talvela, Lieutenant Song, and a few others were gathered around a table in Panmunjom. Quite unlike meetings in the past where North Koreans sat one side, South Koreans sat on the other side, and both sides glared at each other, the participants were mixed, sitting in a semi-random order around the table.
"Mr. President, Colonel Kim, I know South Korea has an educational scheme for North Korean defectors," began Talvela. "You attempt to teach them the ways of the South, but their integration is not very successful, with many of them ending up working in menial jobs because they lack the skills to perform at their best in the consumerist culture of the South. Some of them were so frustrated that they returned to the North. This approach is not acceptable for the current situation."
"Yes, and the money we give those people often ends up in the hands of grifters because the newcomers are naive in the ways of capitalism. We have done a poor job of educating them in the perils of money management. We also failed in not prosecuting those parasites and not voiding any contracts involved in the swindle," admitted President Shon.
"We need to create a new educational scheme and soon," continued Talvela. We have different levels of people in the North. The people of Pyongyang are well-educated, except in history and current affairs. They will require education in those subjects, along with the Korean spoken in the South. Also, they will need to understand the toys, especially smartphones. However, people outside Pyongyang will require much more, as their education has been lacking compared to the residents of Pyongyang."
"Yes, I cannot believe some of the things Northerners are ignorant of, even things which South Korean children know well," exclaimed Colonel Kim.
"And the many orphans, refugees, and former labor camp inmates will require a completely different educational system. They will need a custom education to bring them up to the level of Southerners. Orphans generally did not finish high school and some are much worse off. Counseling will be paramount, as many of them believe that the world is one big prison camp. Their self-confidence has been shattered and they will simply not be able to understand an entrepreneurial point of view," continued Talvela.
"That is especially true with respect to orphans. The younger they became orphaned, the more insecure they will be regarding life in general. And the older ones who were forced to make their way in the world without the guidance of parents almost certainly have a grim view of life," added Lieutenant Song.
"Many people, especially older ones, will need to be given apartments, financial assistance that rises with the cost of living, and jobs so they feel as if they are contributing to society. These jobs may very well consist of sweeping the streets, as the South's modern society may be beyond them. It is not acceptable to simply discard them like yesterday's fish," concluded Talvela.
"We have already started planning for this. We realize this will be expensive, very expensive. We will need to raise taxes on Southerners and they will complain, but the lesson of Germany is always in our mind. Even today Eastern Germany has unemployment rates higher than that of Western Germany. Integration will not be complete until it is difficult to tell whether someone is in the North or the South," declared President Shon.
* * * * *
Lieutenants Choi and Ryu stood before Colonel Jang.
"Colonel, we brought back three children. Two were the children of Kyung Hi-lee and the third was an orphan, Hak-chul. The mission went without any problems," lied Lieutenant Choi.
Colonel Jang smiled at their initiative in bringing the third child back.
"We would like another assignment as soon as possible, please," finished Lieutenant Ryu.
* * * * *
"I never got the chance to shine in North Korea, always having to defer to a superior. No longer!" thought Kang Jae-sang, junior administrative clerk.
"Ladies and gentleman, I would like to draw your attention to the missile parts in the center of the room. All of them have Chinese markings on them -- See? Made in China! -- because they were supplied by a Chinese company. I must admit, I was always amused when China claimed it had nothing to do with our missile launches, because the parts China supplied were essential to our program," he began.
"I hope you all realize that the Sunshine Policy was a complete failure. It lasted until 2008, yet the DPRK's first nuclear test occurred in 2006. The weapons programs were always running at full speed, but the leadership pretended to slow it down to gain time and acquire aid," he continued. "All of the food and other aid was diverted to the military. The aid should have been accompanied by a restriction that outside food agencies distribute it to the actual consumer to prevent the military from confiscating it. Ordinary Koreans still starved, even though massive food aid was entering the country."
"Over here we have an amusing structure. It is an empty shell of a nuclear device which we were just about to build. It has an inner liner of cobalt-59 which converts an ordinary fission bomb into a doomsday device. The fallout from this bomb would have had a half-life of 5.27 years. We only needed a missile powerful enough to direct it toward Tokyo and we have plenty of those. We already finished the development of a warhead small enough to fit on our missiles, so we were ready to rock-and-roll," he concluded.
* * * * *
"Mama, who is that ratty old woman begging on the sidewalk?" asked the little girl.
"That is Kim Tip-ple, the aunt of the former dictator of North Korea. Her family was turned out of their palatial estates and now has to forage like the millions of people they made poor over the last 70 years," answered her mother.
"Should we give her some money?" naively asked the little girl.
The woman grabbed her daughter's hand and walked briskly past Kim as she raised her bottle to her lips and took a swig.
* * * * *
Diao raised his head at the noise outside. "No one ever visits our farm. Come, children, let's go outside and see what is happening."
Outside the gate was a truck with a trailer attached to it. On the trailer was a shiny new tractor, a plow and other attachments, a large box, and a barrel of fuel.
Sergeant Paek slowly backed the tractor off the trailer and drove it toward the barn. Sergeant Ju disconnected the trailer and pushed it away from the truck. He opened the rear of the truck, pulled out a built-in ramp, and walked a healthy donkey down the ramp and toward the barn. Sergeant Paek started unloading the hay inside the truck. Then Sergeant Ju used a two-wheel cart to move the plow into and the barrel of fuel close to the barn.
Captain Roh walked toward Diao and his children with his hands behind his back. The children walked to him as he brought his hands forward, revealing two teddy bears. They shyly accepted the bears and walked behind their father.
"This should be enough money for Yunxiang's hukou and the associated bribes," announced Captain Roh as he handed Diao an envelope.
Sergeant Paek placed the large box on the ground to the side of Diao.
"This box contains some clothing for your children and seeds optimized for the local soil. I think you will find that you can grow many more crops with these seeds," continued Captain Roh. "We will look in on you from time to time to see if you and your children are in need of anything else."
Diao could not say anything as the tears rolled down his face in gratitude.
* * * * *
"Lieutenant Nam, you did pretty well for someone who was hopelessly lost," chided Colonel Jang. "Did you know that your target village was 35 kilometers away from where you ended up?"
Lieutenant Nam blushed.
"Lieutenant Jo Soon-kyu will accompany you on your next assignment. She was first in her class in navigation," said Colonel Jang with a chuckle. "But, very good work today. Very good, indeed."
"Colonel, um, one more thing. Lieutenant Jo and I will need a ride because I, uh, left the SUV up there," sheepishly admitted Lieutenant Nam.
* * * * *
"Han-na, did you ever think you would see this day?" asked Talvela.
"No. I joined the military to defend my country. I never dreamed I would play a part in the end of the war," answered Lieutenant Song. "But here we are in Panmunjom for the peace treaty signing!"
"Look, there's the Japanese Emperor! He's coming this way. You must be more respectful this time. This is a day which will be celebrated by Koreans and non-Koreans for a long time to come," chided Lieutenant Song.
Talvela turned to face the approaching contingent.
"Hiya, pal," greeted the soon-to-retire Japanese Emperor.
* * * * *
Up until today the door of the apartment was guarded to prevent him from leaving. But now the guard had disappeared.
"I wonder why they would stop guarding the door of such an important man," pondered Kim Young-un to his wife. "Let's go for a walk in the park!"
"It is suicidal to travel without ample security personnel," asserted his wife, Dior Hand-bag.
"I am determined to walk outside today. I think I will wear a sun hat and world-class Mao-style clothes. I am sure the people still love me and would never hurt me. Why, they will probably demand that I be returned to power immediately!" answered Kim.
"Let me first change into one of my couture outfits," acceded Dior.
"Yes, a fine day to walk in a country which knows how to treat its citizens!" declared Kim.
They exited their apartment and walked outside. They never noticed the small group of men who noticed the couple and started making cellphone calls.
They had walked about three blocks from their apartment when a large group of people appeared. The mob walked purposefully toward them, shouting various insults and making rude gestures. Dior immediately wrapped her arms around a lamp post and started sobbing.
"Forget the plump bimbo! We only want him!" shouted a voice from the mob.
The mob gathered around him and tied his wrists and ankles together, tying a third rope between them so that he was trundled like a lamb for the slaughter.
"But I am the Great Successor, the Supreme Leader, and the Shining Sun," Kim implored. "I have many university degrees!"
"Yeah, none of which you earned!" yelled a man in the crowd as everyone laughed.
"Better return to singing and slutting!" one man hissed at Dior.
Dior watched as the mob dragged her husband away. When everyone had left, she ran back to their apartment as fast as she could, locked the door behind her, and collapsed into a chair.
They dragged him to a nearby park. In the middle of the park, another group of people had erected a lattice of recently felled trees. The bodies of Kim Gour-met and Kim Song-bun had been tied to the top of the lattice. Inside the lattice had been thrown piles of party newspapers and broken wood furniture, including an old, beat-up rocking horse.
The mob carried Kim to the top of the lattice and tied his body on top of the corpses of his father and grandfather, face-down so that he could see nothing but the faces of his two dead ancestors. Some men poured flammable formaldehyde all over the three Kims. Then everyone climbed down from the structure.
Around twenty people lit crumpled pieces of newspaper and threw them into the structure, causing many small fires to start. The small fires quickly became one large fire, climbing relentlessly to the three Kims.
Many people threw packs of firecrackers into the fire, with the explosions continuing one after the other. Almost everyone threw photos of the three Kims into the fire, with some being large ones taken from railways cars and other public places.
The fire reached the two formaldehyde-soaked corpses and burst into a fireball which burnt so hot that it started melting Kim's body fat. His fat dripped onto the logs, with the fire emitting black smoke.
"Welcome to the world's only true burning man festival!" one man loudly declared as people started dancing in jubilation around the bonfire.
The crowd cheered.
* * * * *
HEARING BEFORE THE EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE OF THE U.S. SENATE.
CHRISTIAN TALVELA: Senators, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the opportunity to speak in this honored venue.
I had one main plan, to ignite the fires of nationalism. I intended to light a bonfire so large and intense so that even hairy hippies, naked New Agers, and generic Jesuses at the Burning Man Festival would be compelled to kneel down in deference to a greater power. But I could build all the bonfires I wanted and nothing would have happened without help on the inside.
Adolf Hitler's Germany was overthrown, but not before the deaths of millions of people, mainly Eastern Europeans and Soviets. And even though the Holocaust is an established fact with countless photographic, movie film, physical, and written records, there are imbeciles who claim that it only involved a relative handful of people.
A similar situation exists today in Turkey where the Islamist government refuses to accept that the Ottoman Empire was directly responsible for the deaths of over three million people in the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Genocides, which actually started in the late 1800s.
This is why we held the get-together for the women forced into prostitution to serve the Japanese army leading up to and during WWII, the so-called comfort women. As many of you remember, we staged a peninsula-wide advertising campaign to notify all women who were wronged via this Japanese cruelty. We held it during one week in Panmunjom. We invited all of these women, who are sadly entering their last years with many living in poverty, to sit for a video interview. I think we have around 100 of these interviews being edited. When the editing is completed, we will allow the interviews to be viewed in two places: the reunification museum in Panmunjom and on a dedicated website. Dangerously ignorant Japanese like the current prime minister who insist that the so-called comfort women volunteered to serve as pin cushions for the Japanese army will have a difficult time explaining the interviews, most of which are simply painful to watch. This gathering was limited to Koreans, but since the event, we have had Chinese, Filipino, and other women ask if they can attend next year's gathering.
The Soviet Union fell, not because Ronald Reagan made his famous speech in Berlin -- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" -- as the "tax cuts create jobs" crowd ignorantly believes, but because its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was not willing to use machine guns against his people. He believed in "socialism with a human face," as he naively believed Soviet citizens, given the choice, would retain the communist system. He told a Communist Party conference in 1988 "the imposition of a social system, a way of life, or policies from outside by any means, let alone military force, are dangerous trappings of the past," effectively renouncing the Brezhnev Doctrine, the policy governing the ruling of Eastern Europe by force.
In July 1989 in Strasbourg, Gorbachev proclaimed: "The social and political order in some countries changed in the past, and it can change in the future too, but this is entirely a matter for each people to decide. Any interference in the internal affairs, or any attempt to limit the sovereignty of another state, friend, ally, or another, would be inadmissible." In May 1989, Hungary started to dismantle the fence separating it from Austria, which led to East Germans escaping through it, which led to the Pan-European Picnic in August. Also in August approximately 2 million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians held hands across the three countries in the Baltic Way demonstration against the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In September the Monday Demonstrations started in Leipzig, East Germany; by October, these demonstrations attracted more than 300,000 people. In November the Berlin Wall fell.
Reagan did not win the Cold War. Gorbachev allowed it to end by inaction because given a choice, intelligent people will choose something other than a totalitarian government.
Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin did not hesitate to kill their subjects to maintain the dictatorship. Vyacheslav Molotov, a true believer in Bolshevism until his death in 1986 and Stalin's foreign minister, said in his quasi-memoirs that Stalin was like a lamb compared to Lenin in terms of brutality and that's saying something given that Stalin ordered the killings of more people than anyone except Mao and possibly Genghis Khan. Speaking of Stalin and Khrushchev, it is an insult to the president who served during both of their reigns, Dwight Eisenhower, to say that Reagan won the Cold War all by himself. Eisenhower had to deal with the last weeks of Stalin, then with the period where we really had no clue who was running the Soviet Union, and then with Khrushchev. Former general Eisenhower also cut the defense budget by 20% and was the last Republican president to have a budget surplus, something today's politicians should remember.
Yuri Andropov, may have been the most dangerous General Secretary since Stalin. He served in Budapest in 1956 during the uprising. The sight of Hungarian secret policemen being hung from lamp posts left a lasting impression on him. He saw first-hand what happens to totalitarian government leaders after those institutions fail. He suppressed information revealing that the West was not actively involved in the Prague Spring. Regardless of whether he truly believed in the conspiracy theory or simply wanted to manipulate the Politburo, the end result was the same.
There is no doubt that Andropov would not have allowed the Soviet Union to fall. He would have been happy to bring out machine guns and tanks and slaughter large numbers of people to maintain power. If he had lived just ten years more, it is entirely possible he would have passed power to that other famous KGB operative, the current Russian president, leaving the Soviet Union intact.
Back to Korea. The evil Kim family would have continued its grip on the throats of Koreans for decades more, except for the brave actions of Colonel Kim Yu-shin and the many officers who decided to put an end to the deprivation once and for all. But their lives were not the only ones being risked.
A great American, Rodney Dangerfield, often joked that he lived in a neighborhood which was so tough that after tackling a player in a football game, the other team went after his family. The same thing would have been true for the families of "The One Hundred" if the coup had been foiled. Hitler ordered the members of the 1944 plot against him killed and used guillotines to kill the members of the White Rose Society in 1943, but he left their families alone. For the Korean officers, their spouses, children, parents, and siblings would have been painfully executed, along with their distant cousins. The Kim family would have ensured that their family tree was eradicated down to the roots.
We had problems with some South Koreans who seriously asked us to close the borders, by force if necessary, to keep the unwashed Northern masses out of their consumerist paradise. We explained to them that they had two choices. First, they could raise their own taxes so that Northerners would be able to stay in their homes without starving. Or second, they could watch as millions of starving Koreans crossed the border to satisfy basic needs. Were these people honestly proposing that we employ machine guns at the border?
When we were crafting the reunification treaty, we took the opportunity to fix a few problems with current law.
We banned the cruel religious slaughter of animals, called dhabihah for Muslims and shechita for Jews. Both of these practices involve cutting the throat of fully conscious animals and allowing them to bleed to death, accompanied by the chanting of some religious mumbo-jumbo. Civilized societies have come to the learned conclusion that animals must first be stunned with a bolt-gun or a similar device. Also, the meat of animals killed by religious nuts in other countries is no longer allowed to be imported. And we banned face veils to help prevent radical Islam from taking hold in Korea.
Scientology was banned outright because it is not a religion. It is a predatory, totalitarian cult which employs a surfeit of shysters to suffocate opponents with legal motions. It is an immortal manifestation of Ron Hubbard's roach motel concept: members check in, but they are never allowed to check out.
We created a Minister of Reunification who will ensure that Northerners are not forgotten, educationally or infrastructure-wise. A direct report of the Minister of Reunification is the Vice-Minister of Refugees and Orphans who will ensure that the large number of homeless people have a home. These people will work together to ensure that Northerners are educated in the ways of the West, not the least of which includes how not to be conned by carpetbaggers, snake oil salesmen, grifters, and other capitalist parasites who are drawn to the aftermath of a disaster like flies to manure.
That said, the entire Korean peninsula is now open for business.
I am ready to take your questions now.
* * * * *
Han-na Song-Talvela and the twins were sitting directly behind Talvela.
"Can we get some ice cream now?" asked Kan-na breathlessly.
"I want chocolate chip!" declared Tan-na.
Song-Talvela laughed quietly. "No, we must wait until Christian is finished with his testimony. We will get ice cream in an hour or two."
Without turning around, he extended his hand back to where the three were sitting. In his hand were two foot-ends from a pair of nylon stockings.
Both girls tittered.
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