“Where is your head?” the man across from me wants to know.
I’m in an airplane above the clouds. I woke up here. All I know is what I’ve been able to take in for about 45 minutes. I’m wearing a parachute.
The plane is called The Albatross and it’s some manner of spy plane. The man who wants the location of my head sounds authoritative. I’d better answer him.
“Just thinking about the mission.”
“What’s the final instruction?” the man asks.
Is that a test question? Or is he earnestly asking me for information? This seems to be a South Korean operation. I’m pretty sure we’re speaking fluent Korean. Do I outrank him? I’m playing that hand…
“But it’s time!” he says urgently.
“Where are we? Right now?” I demand. The command thing seems to be working.
“Thirty-five seconds from the drop point,” the pilot answers by radio.
I don my goggles.
“Aircraft approaching from six o’clock! It’s a fighter jet!” the pilot announces.
“Identity?” I ask.
“North Koreans! Locking on to us! They know what we are!”
The man opens the door of The Albatross, wind gusting into the cabin as he looks to me expectantly.
“At this altitude?”
“Isn’t this what you’re trained for? They’re coming along. Go protect us!”
“From missiles? With a gun?”
“They’re not gonna shoot us down! They’ll try to force us down for the plane and everything on it intact. What’s wrong with you?”
There’s no time to assimilate the indigenous knowledge of my host brain. Whatever skills I possess on this Earth are presently beyond my grasp.
I take the large-barreled weapon he thrusts at me and head to the open door. I look out. Don’t see anything. What am I supposed to…?
I’m pushed out. Shit! Am I wearing a parachute?
Wind blasts me and I close my eyes, release the rifle, flail for a string to pull and pass out.
A miracle; I have been delivered.
Delivered exactly where I can’t tell you at first, but at least as I come to I am no longer plunging to my death.
I guess I’m still in the same world since I’m in the same uniform. But now I’m elsewhere.
I turn to see a young woman holding a gun on me. We’re on some riverbank.
“May I ask an honest question?” I request. She nods. “Where exactly am I?”
Okay, so the news isn’t all that great. Turns out I’m in North Korea.
“What’s wrong with your eyes?” I ask, noticing that there are no pupils.
“Silence!” she orders. “Extend your arm.”
“Oh, hell, are you gonna shoot me in the arm?”
I extend my arm. Still holding the gun on me with her right hand, she reaches out with her left clasping my arm tightly. “What is your purpose here? Speak the truth or be shot.”
“How can you know if I’m telling the truth?”
“What is your nationality?”
It’s all there now. I’m in touch with my host brain enough to remember the details. I’d better lie.
“North Korean…” I squeak as I squirm from the pain she inflicts on my arm with a twist.
“I know that’s a lie!” she tells me, squeezing my arm tighter. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. That’s the truth.”
“You’re not sure,” the woman concludes.
“But you’re sure I’m telling the truth, aren’t you?” I notice.
“Somehow you honestly do believe what you’re saying. That, or my system is fucked up. Either way you still come with me.”
It’s a long trek out of this wilderness. Her gun is at my back every step.
“How do you know I’m not North Korean?” I inquire after a few miles.
“Because I am North Korean.”
“Where are we going?”
“To the South Korean border.”
“But – I’m sorry – why is a North Korean woman taking a prisoner to a South Korean border?”
“I have suffered my whole life under communism and dictatorship,” she says softly. “I spy for South Korea. One day I will defect.”
And South Korea is allied with the United States, I hope. At least it is where I come from. That’s good.
“Then I can share the truth with you,” I say, now that I ‘remember’ it. “I’m an agent of the South Korean Intelligence Network. I’ll be safe in South Korea because I’m publicly known as a Sino-American relations specialist, a consultant to international corporations. I speak fluent English and travel regularly between Washington and Beijing.”
“What were you doing when I found you out here?” she wonders. “I’ve never heard of this network.”
“SKIN’s role is hidden forever in the encrypted files of piecemeal records, and there is no mention of SKIN officially or otherwise. Our ultimate goal is to keep the North Koreans and China as confused and mistrustful of one another as possible without South Korea herself becoming directly involved.”
“I grew up in Sonbong by Unggi Bay,” she shares as we trudge on, “which leads out to the Sea of Japan – a sea named for a cursed enemy and one-time invader of my ancestors. Sonbong is also near the borders of both China and Russia, and I learned several languages early in life. I was recognized for linguistic skills and taken for youth training in Pyongyang.
“You are fortunate to be away from your country,” Quadsor informs me. When I ask why, she smiles cryptically. “You don’t know the true extent of North Korea’s nuclear powers. Those capabilities now include nuclear missiles to knock out military strongholds in South Korea and any naval forces within a thousand miles, beautifully diverted from journalistic attention by the obvious, slow progress demonstrated to the public.”
After ten miles I’d caught enough glimpses of her to know that Quadsor was blind. Yet she was having no trouble negotiating this outback.
“How do you do it?” I ask. “What’s with your radar senses?”
“I have been blind for ten years from an industrial accident. In duty to my nation I consented to operations leading to my present state of capabilities. My hearing, tactility, tasting and olfactory senses are now combined into one general sensor where hearing is also tasting and smelling and feeling a texture all at once. Likewise, touching is hearing and smelling and tasting at once. After the secret experimental autonomic modification treatment I had to teach my brain how to cope with such input, just as sighted children’s development focuses mainly on visual things. Now each remaining sense reveals multiple truths about everything around me.”
“And who knows? Maybe you’ll soon be safe overseas in the U.S.?”
“There are the three nuclear submarines ready to launch low-flying nuclear missiles into the United States as far east as Chicago. Americans have no idea of the true power of the DPR’s navy. I believe that three major American metropolitan regions will be hit with nuclear attacks very shortly. When that happens, North Koreans are counting on China to back us up. The Chinese don’t like Japan and the USA in South Korea but are too timid to try a military solution again as they had in the Korean War of the early 1950’s. With North Korea leading the way so irrevocably, they would surely choose the righteous cause against the Western invaders.”
“Are you sure you’re we’re heading for South Korea? Shouldn’t the sun be setting to my right?”
“Quiet you fool,” she snarls, changing her tone. “I am a North Korean loyal to the Democratic People’s Republic, serving the ideology of national self-reliance. I answer directly to the Chairman of the DPR, a strange little man but the grandson of North Korea’s first leader. I am devoted to sacrificing my life for the reunification of Korea. And no, you are never seeing the United States or South Korea again.”
When spies infiltrate the borders of her nation, Quadsor is authorized to apply every skill at her command to end their visits completely.
I am to consider myself fortunate as she takes me into the lion’s den.
…and I will never see the sky of this Earth again.