“We’ve got six hours before the pickup,” Jeong said as we entered the apartment. “Check your weapons, then get some sleep. We’ll wake you when it’s time.” I took a look at the apartment. The room had obviously been a very nicely decorated room, and still was. However, a bunch of pictures had been taken out of photo frames and a lot of the ornate wood shelves had been emptied of what had to either be works of art or sentimental curios that could identify the owner.
Meanwhile, the NIU recon team had made themselves at home. On the large coffee table, someone had strewn parts of what looked to be a PKM machinegun, an M-21 rifle, and a SCAR-H with underslung grenade launcher. There were also pieces of the cleaning kit strewn about as well.
John and I sat down at a bar and began to check our weapons. For me, my first weapon was my Heckler and Koch G-3KA4, a compact battle rifle with folding stock. I had… obtained it during Hell Semester, and it had come with a reflex sight and a flip-down 3x magnifier. It was a very good gun on semi-auto. I also had a SIG-Sauer P229 and a Beretta 92FS Inox for backup. I had also purchased a small utility knife as well. Another new gift was silencers for all our weapons that had been supplied by NIU.
John, meanwhile, liked to travel light. He just had an LR 300, a Bren 10, and his own knife. Needless to say, he got done a little before me. Still, it wasn’t until we had both been done for a little while that Joseph looked up from reassembling his SCAR-H for the second time and said, “If you’re done, you can go into the other room and pack everything you think you’ll need for a week.”
“Are we going to be there for a week, or are you hoping to be there for less?” I asked.
“We be crossin’ the country on foot the short way,” Joseph said. “It shouldn’t take more than a few days but…”
“In case you’re curious,” Kyle said, checking some IR goggles, “Plan A for exfil relies on a different set of smugglers. Plan B is sneaking across the 38th Parallel. Plan C is heading back through China.”
“So take as much as I can carry, got it.” I said as we moved into the other room. In the other room there was a collection of food, ammo, medical supplies, and grenades. I grabbed a rebreather, night vision goggles and began to balance the other supplies I would take.
“You know,” John said, as we packed, “I’m kind of wondering, how heavy we should travel. I mean, we’ve got a way out and we really don’t want to get into a bunch of firefights. Maybe we should pack light.”
“You see this?” I asked, holding up a packet of rations. “This is fucking power sludge. You remember that stuff? We’re going to be able to move pretty damn fast and carry a lot of stuff. Also, while I want this to be easy, it won’t.”
John just sighed and continued to pack. I noted with some satisfaction that both our packs were reasonably full. When we were all packed, we got changed into the multicam uniforms that were provided and put the various magazines and grenades into the pockets of our pants and flak jackets. After we were sure everything was packed, we got into the sleeping bags.
It was a little after nightfall when Joseph woke us. “Come on,” he said, “it be go time, my friends.” We grabbed our stuff, grabbing everything we had taken off to go to sleep and heading out the door.
As we moved through the hall, I reflected how weird the picture was. Here we were, a group of heavily armed and armored, mostly non-Asian people walking through a peaceful middle-class Chinese condo. We should have been in a military base or urban warzone, not yuppie central.
Amazingly, no one saw us. As the door slammed shut, I decided to ask the obvious question. “So, can we trust our ride?”
“They’ve been… jumpy,” Sunny said. “They’re North Koreans, and they’re close to the fighting.”
“And they’re not fighting for Kim Jung… which Kim are we on again?” John asked.
Jeong shrugged. “Very few people are actually loyal to whoever the Glorious Leader is currently. We’re just scared, mostly. We just listen to the people we think are the biggest danger at the moment.” For some reason, despite the fact that he was the smallest person in the group, he was carrying the PKM.
“So, what’s the worst case scenario?” I asked.
“Worst case is they don’t show up,” Jeong said. “Then we’d have to steal a boat or something.” I nodded, but for some reason I wasn’t convinced.
Eventually we came to a dock. Joseph maneuvered the van behind some shipping containers and turned off the engine and all the interior lights. The rows of crates were poorly lit and spaced at irregular intervals, effectively killing line of sight.
“Wait here,” Jeong said, as he got out of the van. I noticed he also had left his PKM as well. “They want to meet with us alone.”
“Wait,” John said, “you’re going to meet them there… alone? I’m sorry, I know I’m usually the sunshine and rainbows guy, but that just seems like a bad, bad, bad idea.”
“Gotta agree,” I said. “This just screams ‘trap.’”
“I know mon,” Joseph said, “but we can’t be altern’ the deal. That’d just make ‘em more nervous, and we can’t have that.”
Jeong had left while Joseph was talking. I could tell from Sunny and Kyle’s faces that they didn’t like the setup either. We then began to wait… and wait. Then we waited some more. Then we heard the sound of a silenced gunshot.
Instantly, we drew our weapons. As we piled out of the van, we heard several more gunshots. “Killer,” Joseph whispered, “take point, mon.” I nodded, and began moving in the direction from where we had heard the shots.
We didn’t have long to go before we saw Jeong stagger out from behind some crates. His eye was closed and he was limping funny. Smoke trailed from the muzzle of his Makarov. “They… wanted to change the deal,” he said. “They wanted more money. When I told them that all we had was the agreed upon amount they… ah!” He cried out in pain. “They got violent. One of those” he said some word I didn’t understand “stabbed me in the eye.”
Kyle suddenly held up his hand to silence us. We fell silent. When we did, we heard the sound of a motor desperately trying to start in the distance. We began heading towards the sound. Eventually, we saw a fishing boat with North Korean markings that had backed into a dock. Its lights were off, so we couldn’t see who was in it.
Kyle let his MP-7 hang down in its sling and flipped down his night vision goggles. “Aw man,” he said. “This is not going to be fun.”
“What is it, mon?” Joseph asked. “Are they armed?”
“Two females in the cabin,” Kyle said, “no weapons. But one is pregnant.”
“Still,” Joseph said, “that’s our ride. Kyle, Jeong, get our shit out of the van.” Keeping his SCAR-H pointed at the ground, he began walking towards the boat. Sunny, John, and I followed him. Once we were all on the boat, Joseph said to Sunny, “Tell them to come out.”
Sunny raised her AKM and yelled something in Korean. There was shouting from inside the boat. Sunny called out again. The door opened and from the darkness, two skeletal women emerged. One, I noticed, would have been the thinnest if not for the lump on her belly, indicating late-stage pregnancy. After a bit of shouting from Sunny, they knelt on the deck, facing the cabin with their hands on the back of their necks and their legs crossed.
“Ask them if the boat is fixable,” Joseph said. “Also, if there’s anyone else on the boat.”
“Don’t bother,” John said. “I’m actually familiar with this model. They had the thing in neutral. All I need to do is move a lever.”
Sunny nodded and, much more calmly, began conversing with the two women. After a while, she turned to us. “There are three more in the hull.” I looked down to see I was standing on top of the hatch. “They’re the children.”
We were interrupted by Kyle and Jeong returning. “Are there any more?” Kyle yelled out.
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Joseph said. We moved out of the way of the hatch, Sunny still covering the existing prisoners, the rest of us pointing our weapons at the hatch. “What do you think,” Joseph asked, “flash and clear or frag and clear?”
“How about we have their mothers talk them out?” Sunny asked acidly. “I think that we can find better uses for grenades than children where we’re going.”
“Fine,” Joseph said, “get them out. We need to get going before some guard comes by.”
“My time to shine!” Jeong said, jumping into the boat, despite the fact that he was carrying a gun that looked like it weighed just as much as he did. He then began to talk to the people in the hold. The rest moved to the side of the boat farthest from the dock.
“Y’know,” I said, watching Jeong coaxing a bunch of kids out of the hold, “we should debrief these people. We’ve got no clue where the safe places are. I’m not particularly psyched about the possibility of coming ashore on a stronghold of KPA wondering what the fuck a bunch of foreigners are doing in their country.” As I watched, I saw Jeong slip something to one of the kids, an angry-looking half-starved teenage boy. Probably the money and the keys to the car.
“Not sure I’d trust them,” Joseph said. “After all, we did just kill a few of them. Let’s just kick them off and do the scouting ourselves.”
“I hear you, boss-man,” Jeong said. He and Sunny began ushering the refugees off the boat. I noticed that the boy was still giving us angry looks. The others in his family, including the wives and two young girls, watched as the boat sailed away. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for leaving them to fend for themselves.