The shortwave radio, thankfully, worked perfectly fine. In fact, it only took a few minutes to get through to someone on the other end. “Hey, Recon One,” a distorted voice came from the speaker, “this is Central. You guys are coming home early. Now, where’s Joseph?”
I recognized the Hispanic-accented voice. It was Professor Mando, one of our Hell Semester teachers. “Well,” I said, “the bad news is Joseph is dead and resistance was extremely heavy. The good news is…” I paused. I didn’t want to say we had a North Korean defector from a school that shouldn’t exist and we were carrying top secret documents over an unencrypted line. “…Let’s just say we’ve got a package to deliver and a prospective student.”
“Mmm,” Mando grunted in agreement, then asked, “Hey, how many of you made it out?”
I looked out onto the deck. Sunny was bandaging Kyle’s hand. Thankfully, Kyle looked completely alert and was even joking a bit. “Well,” I said, “Sunny’s rib seems to have been cracked by an unidentified fourth party, and Kyle might need surgery for his hand. Last time we saw Jeong, he was pretty much burned to a crisp, and Joseph got blown up. Apart from that, we’re all ok.”
“Can you get back to Yantai?” Mando asked.
“That’s a negative,” I said. “Repeat, that’s a negative. We barely have fuel enough to get across the 38th Parallel. We’re also somewhere in the East China Sea if that helps decide what to do with us.”
There was a pause on the other end. Finally, Mando responded. “This actually works out perfectly,” he said. “The original team that was going to pick you up bailed at the last minute. We do have a backup team located out of a city called Incheon. It would probably be best if you guys could try and make it there. If you’ve got a cPhone, they just automatically find the strongest signal, so you can just call the team when you get there. I recommend finding an unused area of the docks and waiting for them to collect you.”
After I wrote down the extraction team’s phone number, I said, “Ok, we’ll call you when we arrive. Hope to be back soon, Recon Team over.” After that, the channel went dead. We had already spent too much time talking and risked being heard by some random dude with a ham radio.
I turned to the rest of everyone. “So,” I said, “apparently, we’re going to Incheon! Anyone know anything about it?”
“Only that it’s a…” Nari said, pausing to search for the words, “I’m sorry, but my knowledge is a little biased. Also, I never really cared enough about propaganda to learn how to translate it.”
“Basically,” Sunny said, “it’s a port. One of South Korea’s biggest. There’s a lot of foreign investment around there. In other words, it’s everything North Korea wants its citizens to hate.”
“Is it going to be busy?” I asked. “I really don’t want to get into a shootout with South Korean cops or blown out of the water by a Naval destroyer.”
“Well,” Sunny said, “let’s just say we’re going to have to get really lucky.”
I sighed. This was not something I wanted to hear. “Well,” I said, “let’s see what we can do to improve our odds.”
Sunny shrugged. “We could keep you and Kyle below decks, hide the weapons, vests and coats below decks, put some sunglasses on John, and pretend to be a fishing family. If it’s just a few people who look Korean from a distance, maybe they’ll let us past.”
“Ok,” I said, “but if we get caught by South Koreans or the US, we surrender. It’d be better to give the information to them then have it get lost in the sea.”
“Are you sure?” Sunny asked. “We stand to make a lot of money off this. We could just sit tight and…”
I shook my head. “The Dragon’s Teeth are going to get much worse. Between what Nari’s told us and our own experiences, that should be obvious. To top that off, I’m not sure what the South Korean punishment for espionage is, but I can bet that avoiding it would be worth four million dollars.” After Sunny nodded, I added, “But we should still avoid being taken prisoner by anyone.”
After that, I went down into the hold with Kyle. It was pretty easy to see that his wounds were stable, but would require time to heal. I decided that my job for the day would be to clean our guns and refill all the various magazines that we had emptied. I quickly discovered that except for the pistols and Kyle’s MP-7, there was very little remaining ammunition for our weapons. In fact, I could only fill four of my G-3’s remaining magazines.
“Well,” I said, “It looks like we brought the right amount of ammo. We almost ran out!”
Kyle nodded absent-mindedly. “Yeah,” he said. After a while, he said, “Hey, Killer… I need to tell you something. I feel like I haven’t been completely straight with you.” He then laughed, as if realizing some odd joke.
“Ok…” I said, worried about what the confession. Knowing my luck, I figured that it would be something like he’d set up an ambush and would pocket the rest of the money.
Kyle took a deep breath. “So,” he said, “Around seventeen years ago, there was this little boy living with his parents. The problem was, this little boy had a girl’s body.” That explained everything. I had suspected it ever since May told Kyle she had “kept his secret.” I decided not to say anything and just let him tell me.
“Now,” he said, “people react very strange when trans people show up, and usually in a bad way. The little boy’s parents reacted… very poorly. Of course, they hadn’t been very good parents to start out with. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but they were pretty much…” He had been looking at the ground, but he suddenly looked up. Upon seeing my face, he said, “You already figured out that little girl was me, right?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “But if you want, you can keep pretending you’re talking about someone else and I can pretend to be surprised at the big reveal.”
Kyle shook his head. “Fuck that,” he said, “I’m done pretending.” He then broodingly stared at a random point of wall and said, “That’s the thing I hate most of all. When you’re a kid, all these little morality books constantly tell you how bad lying is. Then, if you’re trans and realize something is wrong, they force you to lie. Your teachers, your parents… hell, even people you don’t even know keep telling you that you’re wrong.” He snapped out of his reverie. “Anyway, where was I?”
“Your parents were pretty much something,” I said. “I didn’t find out what.”
“Oh,” he said dismissively, “basically, if you can think about generic child abuser stereotypes, then you’ll get a pretty good idea of what they are. They aren’t worth bothering about.” I nodded, but couldn’t help thinking that he was lying about that last bit. “Anyway, the day my grandad came to take me away from them was the happiest day of my life.”
“How did that happen?” I asked.
Kyle laughed. “I honestly didn’t know I had a grandfather,” he said. “But he knew all about me. I didn’t find out about him until I was seven. Apparently, old man Kyle Chapman thought my dad was trouble and was keeping an eye on him. When my dad gave me a couple broken ribs for my birthday, he filed for custody of me. Apart from the people I came in with and my football team, he was the only person who I had ever told I was trans after the gene therapy.”
“Wait,” I said, “gene therapy? I thought gender reassignment was a surgical procedure.”
“Normally it is,” Kyle said, “but my grandad was a former teacher at NIU. He knew a guy back there who could give me the full treatment. Genetically, I’m a completely different person from Karen Rockford.”
He waited, trying to gauge my reaction. I could tell he was trying to be cool, but he had just straight-up told me that the first time he had told anyone this, the next five years of his life became a living hell. Finally, I said, “You know, you’re the first…”
“Non-cis person?” Kyle supplied, sensing that I was searching for a word.
“Probably,” I said, “anyway, you are the first non-cis person to ever come out to me, you know that?”
“Wait,” Kyle said, “really? You do know that…”
“Cross and Doc are banging?” I asked. “Yeah, even I know that. Hell, I think I may have caught them sneaking off to have sex the day after Hell Semester ended. Assholes probably used my bed to do it and didn’t even have the decency to tell me that they’re banging.”
Kyle laughed. “Really?”
“Yeah,” I said, “well, anyway, I need some sleep. Nice talking to you.”
“Same here,” Kyle said. “I’ll wake you up when you’re needed. Hell, I might try and get some rest myself. We might not be out of this yet.”
It was much later when John came down. Kyle and I, startled by the sound, raised our guns. “Jesus!” John said, facing the barrels of a Beretta M92 and a Browning Hi-Power. “Calm down, guys.”
“Sorry,” I said as Kyle and I holstered our pistols. “Just a bit jumpy, that’s all.”
“Why?” John asked. “We’re pretty much home free at this point.” At this point, Kyle knocked on one of the wooden crates. John frowned. “You don’t need to do that, you know.”
Kyle shrugged. “You didn’t need to jinx us, either.”
Determined to cut off an argument, I said, “So, do we need to call them?”
“Nope!” John said, “I called the extraction team and set up a meet. Sunny is bringing us in to dock at the meet right now.”
We climbed up the ladder to look at the ocean and the massive wharf. However, something caught my eye despite the setting sun doing its best to blind me on one side. On the seaward side, I thought I saw a glint of light on the waves. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nari notice it too. Suddenly, I was irrationally grateful that I had put my G-3 on the deck before coming up. Keeping it out of sight, I sat down and began searching for the flash again.
Meanwhile, Kyle asked Sunny, “So, are we going to just dock? Isn’t that kind of illegal?”
“More like highly,” Sunny said. “The plan is to just dock and make our way to the car as fast as possible. We should probably hide our weapons before getting off.”
“Sunny,” I asked, still looking out at the sea, “is there anyone on the dock?”
“…No, apart from our ride.” Sunny suddenly was on guard again. “But maybe there should be. This is a hugely busy port.”
“Let’s keep our weapons out and our vests on,” I said. “But maybe we can put some parkas on over them or something.”
As I said this, I finally found where the glint was coming from. Quite a distance away, there was a rubber dinghy. It was a dark color that blended in with the ocean, and if there was anyone on it, their dark clothing made them impossible for me to see. I was about to use the scope on my G-3 to see what the boat was doing, but something told me that aiming a gun at it would be a very bad idea.
After John called the people extracting us to inform them of the change in plan, we moved in to dock. We quickly tied the boat down at my insistence, despite how odd John found it. After I finished, I noticed both that the two people who had come to extract us were getting antsy and that two more people had appeared. As we headed towards the SUV that would take us to safety, these two newcomers were also heading there as well. Under my improvised parka, I gripped my G-3.
And then everything went to hell.