Skating Free

Info auguy86
04 Feb. '19
Skating Free

Skating Free

The crowds at Gangneung Oval roared with excitement.  The Pyeongchang Olympics had so far been a rousing success, and this was one of the most hotly anticipated events of all: men’s speed skating.  South Korea had experienced great success in the sport in recent years, and the fact that a local boy sat atop the leaderboard had brought the crowd’s emotions to a fever pitch.  Just two skaters remained, guaranteeing their hometown hero no worse than a bronze medal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our final pairing for the men’s 1500-meter speed skate,” said the announcer, speaking first in French, then English, and finally in Korean.  “In the inner lane, representing the United States of America, Scott Erickson.”

At the starting line, Scott gave a quick wave to the cheering crowd, making sure to keep his mind focused on the task at hand.  He was in excellent shape, as one would expect from an Olympian, but he still couldn’t believe he found himself in this position.  Scott wasn’t the greatest speed skater, lacking the explosive power to compete in the shorter events and not being quite lean enough to last in the longer races, but he had found a niche in skating the 1500-meter races. His athletic build placed him right in-between sprinters and marathon skaters, strong enough to get good starts yet still able to last the length of the race.

“And in the outer lane, representing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Moon Se-jun,” the announcer continued.

Though crowd gave Scott a warm reception, their response to the North Korean skater was decidedly more tepid.  Most South Koreans were relieved that the games had progressed without incident, thanks in large part to their own government’s desire to have many North Korean representatives present at the games, but tensions remained high. Still, most of the athletes received at least polite cheers; everyone realized that North Korea’s athletes were fighting for more than just Olympic glory.  They were potentially fighting for their lives.  Any embarrassment during the games would not end well once they returned home to face Kim Jong-un.  Still, one section was almost hysterical in their jubilation as Se-jun stepped up to the starting line next to Scott.

“There they are,” Scott chuckled to himself.

Since the day the Olympics began, the American media had fawned over the large squad of cheerleaders North Korea had sent to support their athletes.  Wherever they went, the gaggle of young ladies was impossible to miss. They were young, pretty, enthusiastic, and highly coordinated.  Of course, Scott knew damn well their devotion had to stem from years of brainwashing.  The way the media fell over themselves to praise their routines sickened him; they were playing right into the hands of the North Korean propaganda machine. Shaking his head, Scott forced these thoughts from his mind.  After Scott took his mark, the starting gun sounded and the two skaters were off.

To the casual observer, speed skating might seem an uncomplicated sport; the fastest skater wins the race.  In reality, there was an enormous amount of strategy to such a simple race.  For Scott, he had a strong preference for long track as opposed to the more popular short track.  In short track, anywhere between three and six skaters would race at once, confined to laps around a hockey rink.  This cramped space created frequent collisions and penalties; a clean short track race was a rare feat, and racers were often disqualified as such. But in long track, only two skaters raced at a time, one in each lane of the larger oval track.  On the back stretch of every lap, the skaters switched lanes to equalize their distances, but even with this swap, collisions were quite rare.  Scott liked it that way; it meant the most skilled skater won more often than not and minimized the risk of being disqualified due to an accidental collision.

As Scott and Se-jun took off, each displayed their unique strategy.  Se-jun was built like a sprinter; the 1500-meter race was his longest possible race.  As such, he exploded off the line with as much strength and power as he could muster. Scott, on the other hand, focused on his technique, attaining a full extension of his legs with each push he gave. He was not in the lead to start with, but this strategy had given him great consistency during his short career. Approaching the first curve, Scott began to show off his greatest advantage in the sport: his balance.  He was able to get so low to the ground on the curves and maintain a consistently high speed that it sometimes felt to Scott as if he were racing in the Indy 500.  The forces on his body as he whipped around the oval sure felt that way. By this time, he had caught back up with Se-jun, though Scott knew the North Korean excelled in the straightaways.

Coming out of the second curve to finish their first lap, Scott and Se-jun were neck-and-neck, forcing Scott to let up a bit as they swapped lanes.  In long track skating, the skater swapping from the outside lane to the inside always had the right of way, but this still provided Scott a perfect opportunity to skate directly behind Se-jun for part of the lap, gaining a speed boost from his draft.  As long as he was back in his proper lane by the time he reached the curve, this was well within the rules.  While Se-jun set up for his turn, the crowd cheered in surprise as Scott zoomed ahead from the draft and rocketed around the curve at breakneck speed.  Unbeknownst to Scott, he was demolishing the time of the South Korean who currently led the field, yet the crowd was loving it all the same.

Two laps later, the pair entered their final lap.  The crowd watched with baited breath, seeing the American still just ahead of the record previously set by the South Korean.  All the while, Se-jun remained just a half second behind.  Seeing that their man could defy the odds and win an Olympic medal, the Army of Beauties erupted into a cheer, chanting Se-jun’s name. Se-jun started the lap by drafting behind Scott, gaining a speed boost as Scott had done earlier in the race. His speed was incredible, but he still lacked control on the curves this late into a longer race, and he began to fall behind again on the final turn.  At last, the two skaters crossed the finish line to the deafening roar of the crowd in Gangnueng Oval.

“And now for the results,” said the announcer.  “With a time of 1:44.25, Scott Erickson is now in first place and has won the gold medal for the United States of America!”

Scott lowered the hood of his racing suit and stared in disbelief.  He had never expected to medal, let alone win the gold, yet the time was there in front of his face.  He was an official gold medalist!

“And with a time of 1:44.80, Moon Se-jun is in third place, capturing the bronze medal for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea! Your silver medalist is Kim Sang-han from the Republic of Korea!”

At that point, Scott couldn’t have cared less what country Se-jun came from; he had just medaled when every expert predicted he would finish well outside the top five! Turning to the North Korean, Scott smiled and extended a hand.

Usuhan jongjog!” he said, roughly translating to, “Hell of a race!”

Se-jun cocked his head and gave a lopsided grin as he shook Scott’s hand.  “You speak Korean?” he asked in slow yet clear English.

“I do.  My grandmother was born here.  You speak English?”

“Yes,” said Se-jun.  “Dear Leader wants us to be able to communicate our great nation’s ideals across all tongues.”

“Ah, I see,” Scott replied, trying to be as polite as possible.  Thankfully, Se-jun’s handler arrived at that moment and whisked him back to his coaches. Still, Scott couldn’t help but smile at the elation on Se-jun’s face; perhaps he had earned a better life for himself and his family back home.

The rest of the day was a blur of activity for Scott.  His coach nearly crushed him with a bear hug and his parents couldn’t have been more thrilled with his victory.  It seemed odd to him that Tom, his identical twin brother, wasn’t with them, but they assured him that Tom was just feeling a bit ill and was glued to the TV in his hotel room.  As evening drew near, there were interviews and press conferences galore, followed by the medal ceremony itself.  As a former member of the U.S. Army, Scott had heard more than a few renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner in his day, but this one almost made him tear up.  Almost.

*****

As Scott left the final party for U.S. athletes before the Closing Ceremony the next day, he grabbed his phone and typed up a text message to his brother.

“Hey, Doofus.  You still playing sick, or can I actually come by and rub your nose in this gold medal of mine?”

“That’s not much incentive for me to be well if I’m indeed ‘playing’ sick,” came the reply.

“Smartass…”

“But yeah, I’ll be up for a while.  Stop on by.”

“Cool.  See ya soon.”

With that, Scott began to walk the two blocks back to his hotel.  The night was bitter cold, as were most in Pyeongchang, but the thrill from actually winning a gold medal during these games was more than enough to keep him warm.  As he approached the hotel entrance, Scott could have sworn he heard a struggle of some sort coming from a side alley.  Though his first inclination was to keep his head down and move on, hearing a few choice words and the yelp of a female voice changed his mind.

Ssi-bal nyeon!” came a rough male voice.

Now, Scott’s grandmother had taught the entire family to speak Korean, but she would have never taught any of them such language, the equivalent of “fucking bitch.”  But when Scott was studying Korean as a thirteen-year-old boy, it was only natural for him to seek out curse words in said language.  Scott took a deep breath and allowed his military instincts to rule his senses as he rounded the corner into the alley.  He expected to come across a mugging of some sort, but the actual scene before him was far more confusing.  He saw a young college-aged woman lying on the ground in a crumpled heap. Standing over her was not a mugger, but a young man about his age wearing a coat bearing the North Korean flag. There was no way this was going to end well, but he had no capability to walk away from a defenseless girl in need.

Jungji!” Scott shouted, demanding the man stop.

The man turned in surprise, expecting to find a local behind him, but instead, he saw a man wearing a United States Olympian coat.

“Go away!” he spat in English.  “This does not concern you!”

Scott studied the North Korean for a moment.  He supposed this man thought himself intimidating, what with the scar across his cheek and a larger than average build for a Korean, but Scott had seen far worse.  He wasn’t afraid of this punk.

Ignoring the man, Scott asked the girl if she was hurt.  “Neo sangcheo ib-eoss ni?

After a moment, she stirred and looked up with her brown eyes, mascara running down her cheeks from her tears.

“Please… help,” she said weakly.  “I wish… to… defect…”

“Shut up!  Geol-le-gat-eun-nyeon!” said the North Korean man, kicking her in the face for good measure.

That did it.  Not only had he called the girl the dirtiest of all whores, but now the man was physically assaulting her.  While the man still had his back turned, Scott stepped forward and latched his hand around the man’s wrist.  The North Korean retaliated in an instant, spinning around and attempting a swing with his other hand, but Scott was ready for the telegraphed move.  After ducking under the North Korean’s punch, Scott stunned him with a punch to the gut. This allowed him to twist his arm behind his back and pin the man against the brick wall of the hotel.  The man tried to struggle for a moment, but one further twist of his arm quashed that effort.

“Apologize to the lady,” Scott growled.

Kaesaekki,” he seethed.

“You can call me an S.O.B. all you want, but you willapologize to the lady.  Now!  Sugnyeoege sagwahada!” Scott repeated in Korean, ensuring there was no misunderstanding.

As the pain increased, the North Korean eked out, “Nae moyog-e sagwahanda.”

“Good boy,” Scott replied with a grin.  “Now, get out of here!” he continued, tossing the soldier onto his ass.

“You will regret this,” he muttered.

“I don’t think so,” said Scott, standing over the man with his fists at the ready.  “Oh, and don’t even think of going for a weapon.  I felt you up, there; you’ve got a pistol in your coat and a knife in the small of your back.  You’ll be a mass of bruises before you can even touch them.  Just leave.”

The man growled, “You meddlesome-”

“GET OUT!  If I ever see you near her again, I’ll kill you myself!”

Scott and the North Korean stared each other down for several long seconds, each waiting for the other to make a move.  Were this a fair fight, the North Korean knew he would likely have the advantage in hand-to-hand combat, but Scott had gotten the drop on him from behind.  Worse, he knew where the North Korean had his weapons on him, leaving him without his own element of surprise.  Whoever this American was, he had considerable combat knowledge.  As much as the North Korean hated to admit it, reengaging him now would be a foolhardy attempt.  With a final glare, the man stood and jogged off into the night.

“He’s gone.  You’re safe now,” he said to her, keeping one eye on the entrance to the alley in case the goon returned.

In a flash, the girl lunged forward on the ground, wrapping her arms around Scott’s ankles.  “Brave American, I ask your pity!” she said, her English clearly heard even through her tears.  “I seek asylum with your leaders!  Please!”

Moved by her emotional plea, Scott knelt down and gently helped the girl to her feet, tilting her head to look him in the eyes as he did so.  He made sure to give a warm smile for her, letting her know that he would do her no harm.  Once she was up, he saw the bump on her forehead from where the soldier had kicked her, along with the subsequent gash from where her head had struck the concrete.

“Please…” she whispered once more.

Nodding, Scott said, “Come with me.  I’ll call the right people who can help you, but first, we need to take care of that gash.”

Taking her hand, Scott led the girl with haste through the empty hotel lobby and to the elevator. As they ascended, he pulled his cellphone from his pocket and dialed the first speed dial option.  During the briefing that all the athletes had received before traveling to Pyeongchang, several things had been made clear to them on avoiding international incidents.  These games represented goodwill and a casting aside of differences, after all, and they were considered ambassadors of the United States. Their handlers had spoken to them of the possibility of defectors, but Scott had never imagined it would actually happen to him.  Raising the phone to his ear, he waited for his handler and best friend from his army days to answer.

“Scott!  What’s up, my man?”

“Hey, Willie.  I need your help; got a bit of a situation here.”

“Situation?  Is something wrong?”

“I… I met this girl. She says she’s from North Korea and that she wants to defect.”

“Holy shit… where are you now?”

“At my hotel.  When I found her, she was being beaten by some goon with a North Korean flag on his uniform, I’m guessing her handler.  I’m taking her up to the first aid kit in my room.”

“Ok, treat her wounds and stay there.  I’ll get my boss and we’ll head over, maybe thirty minutes ETA. You good ‘til then?”

“Yeah, we’ll be fine. Thanks, Willie.”

“And Scott, no matter how much you believe her, don’t turn your back on her for a second.  We still need to check her out.”

“Will do.”  As he hung up, he said to the girl, “My boss is coming. He can help you.”

“Thank you…”

On the way down the hall, Scott stopped to grab a bucket of ice from the vending area, figuring it would help her head.  Soon, they arrived at his door.

“Come in.  Let’s get your head taken care of,” Scott said, ushering her in.

She only nodded and took a seat at the small table in the corner.  The poor girl was still dazed from her run-in down in the alleyway. After placing some of the ice in a plastic bag, Scott handed it to her and instructed her to hold it against the forming bump on her head.  Next, he cleaned a small amount of blood from her wound with a bit of gauze from the first aid kit before reaching for the disinfectant.

“This may sting,” he said, moving the cotton ball to her wound.

The girl recoiled a bit from the medicine, but her body soon began to relax, allowing Scott to bandage her wound with some gauze and tape.

“How does that feel?”

“Better,” she admitted.

Taking a seat in the chair across from her, Scott said, “My name is Scott Erickson.  Who are you?”

“Park Chin-sun,” she replied with a tiny smile.  “You may call me Chin-sun, Erickson Ssi.”

Recognizing the honorific, Scott answered, “And you can call me Scott.”

“Scott,” Chin-sun nodded. “Thank you… you saved my life.”

“I’m just happy you’re safe.”

In spite of Chin-sun’s injuries, Scott was struck by her beauty.  She appeared two or three years younger than him, perhaps twenty or twenty-one, with a youthful face and a warm smile.  Her skin was a gorgeous shade of porcelain, standing in stark contrast to her long black hair, which was tied into a low ponytail with a red ribbon. This suggested that she came from a relatively wealthy family by North Korean standards.  The notion was further reinforced by the fact that she did not appear malnourished in the least; her body was fit and toned.  This brought about an ominous realization in Scott’s mind: if someone so affluent wanted to defect from North Korea so badly, things there must be worse than he had ever imagined.  At that moment, Scott recognized the red and blue jogging suit she wore.

“Have I seen you at some of the games?” he asked.

“Yes!  I saw you race against Moon Se-jun!” Chin-sun replied, at last recognizing Scott from the speed skating finals.  “I am captain of the Spirit Ambassadors.  You have seen us?”

“I have.  You and your friends put on quite a show,” said Scott, trying to be polite.

“Oh… yes.  It is a show,” Chin-sun said, her face becoming sad. “We look so happy and excited, do we not?  But inside…”

“They treat you badly, don’t they?” Scott realized.

Chin-sun nodded.  “It is our purpose to promote Juche, the ways of our homeland.  We are instructed to capture the hearts of our enemies, to show them how wonderful our ways can be, and especially the wonders of Dear Leader Kim Jong-un,” she said, emphasizing her last words with clear disgust. “But there is a great darkness in our group.  The other girls, they are trained into absolute obedience, even when none of our overseers are present.  There was one time when we were riding in our bus and everyone started screaming for the driver to stop.  I at last saw what they were screaming about: there was a poster with a picture of Dear Leader on it that had been left out in the rain.  These girls think, ‘how could anyone allow an image of Dear Leader to become wet?’ and they form a human ladder to take it down and bring it inside…”

“I’m sorry,” said Scott. “You don’t have to talk about it anymore if you don’t want to.  I don’t want to bring up bad memories.”

“I assume your leaders will wish to hear of it, yes?”

“Maybe, but that’s their decision,” Scott shrugged.  “I just want to help you however I can.”

“You are very kind,” Chin-sun said with tiny smile.  “Down in the alley, you spoke Korean very well.  Where did you learn?”

“My grandmother,” Scott replied.  “She was born here in South Korea.  My grandfather fought in the Korean War and met her during his time here.  They fell in love and she decided to return to America and marry him, eventually having my dad.  She taught us all to speak Korean, said we needed to learn a second language.”

“So wonderful!” Chin-sun smiled.  “She is still with you?”

“Yep, she and my grandfather are still alive and well, and stubborn as ever.”

“Hmm… it seems strange,” Chin-sun said.  “Your grandmother is Korean, but you look very American.”

“My dad definitely looks half-Korean, but my mom is your typical blonde-haired blue-eyed American girl,” Scott explained.  “I got a lot of my looks from her side of the family, but if you look closely, you can see the Korean in me.”

As Scott spoke, Chin-sun saw exactly what he meant.  He was tall like many American men, perhaps six feet in height, but she could now see the subtleties he was talking about.  His jaw was rather prominent and his face thin, as it was with many Korean men. He also had the high cheekbones and smaller eyes common amongst her people.  His short dirty blonde hair certainly helped mask these traits, but now that she knew what to look for, his Korean heritage was clear as day.  One other thing that was clear as day was his appearance; Chin-sun couldn’t deny that he was a handsome young man.  Just looking at him like this was making her squirm in her seat, forcing her to look away to maintain her composure.

“I have to say, your English is impeccable,” Scott said, sensing her discomfort.

“Thank you.  I work hard at it, but don’t get much real practice. My studies help.”

“What do you study?”

Chin-sun said, “When not attending official events as a Spirit Ambassador, I study at Kim Il-sung University to become a diplomat.  They selected me as a Spirit Ambassador to train me for this, but they lie, of course. I was only chosen because of my beauty.”

“Well, you are beautiful, but in more ways that I suspect your superiors could ever appreciate,” Scott grinned.

She cocked her head at this. “How do you mean?”

“In America, women are not only valued for their physical beauty, but also for their inner beauty. Intelligence and determination are desirable traits, at least to men like me.”

“And you think me intelligent and determined?”

“Of course!” Scott chuckled. “You’re smart enough to know when your superiors are lying to you and brave enough to try and get away from them.”

Chin-sun gave a sad smile. “I have my halmeoni to thank for that…”

“Your grandmother?” Scott asked, recognizing the word as one of the first ones he learned in Korean.

“Yes.  She was raised in a tiny village just south of what would become the border between the North and South.  When the war broke out, she was a young woman of eighteen, but was taken captive by North Korean soldiers and made a trophy bride.  To this day, she lives with my grandfather, the man who took her…”

“That’s terrible!”

“It could have been so much worse for her,” Chin-sun continued.  “As she tells the story, my grandmother was at first claimed by one of the lower soldiers moving through her village, but before she knew what had happened, that soldier’s commander, my grandfather, had stepped in and claimed her for himself.  He later told her that the man who wanted her was violent and evil; she would not have survived a year as his bride.  For all his faults, my grandfather treated her well.  It took years, but I believe my grandmother even came to love him.”

“It’s still terrible,” Scott muttered.

“I know,” Chin-sun sighed. “My grandmother would always tell me stories in secret about her childhood, how wonderful and peaceful those times were.  Every day after school, she would tell me of the wondrous things she experienced growing up, trying to counteract the things they taught us in school.  All Korea was free and prosperous in those days, and she knows the world outside our borders is a far better place than our government claims.  It was thanks to her that I have never allowed my heart to be tainted by the State. I play the part they wish me to play, I say the proper things, but I wish for nothing more than freedom.”

“Wow… you’ve mastered the art of double-thinking.  You must be an incredible actress if you have managed to fool them.”

“It is not about fooling them so much,” she explained, “more than it is using my grandmother’s stories as my anchor against the tides.  The words of the State are powerful and persuasive; I would have had no chance without my grandmother’s efforts.  It was, in fact, her idea that I should use the games as my chance to defect.”

“And the rest of your family is ok with this?”

“My grandfather and mother have no idea; my grandfather is a high-ranking official in the government, after all, one of Kim Jong-un’s advisors.  The less he knows, the less the State can interrogate him should something go wrong.  My father worries, but he grew up with the same stories as I did.  He wishes this for me, too.”

“Why hasn’t he tried to defect?” Scott asked.

“Father is too visible. He is the son of a war hero and one of the best strategists in the army.  Any attempt would be snuffed out before it got started, and he knows he would not be the only one to pay the price.  His family would suffer most of all.  Father loves us too much to risk our lives.  Thankfully, we have some small amount of safety with his status in the government.”

Scott pursed his lips at this.  He liked to think that he would have found a way to get his family out, even if he didn’t survive the process.  Then again, nobody in America really knew just how bad things were in North Korea. Who knows how he would react, or even how he would be able to react, if he found himself in such a predicament? As he pondered all this, he wept inside for everything this poor girl had suffered.

“Do you think your superiors will believe me?” Chin-sun asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“I can’t speak for them, but as for me, I believe you, and I’ll vouch for you.  I promise I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. You deserve your freedom, and I’m going to help you get it.”

Chin-sun smiled at this. Seeing Scott’s hand resting on the table between them, she felt the urge to lean forward a bit and touch her fingers to his.  It was an odd sensation; intimate moments like this were discouraged or even forbidden in North Korea.  Still, she couldn’t deny her attraction to Scott.  In the days leading up to her defection, Chin-sun had dared to dream some wonderful dreams.  She imagined escaping into South Korea, meeting a kind man, marrying him, cooking for him, bearing sons for him, and not once would she be in fear of her life. Her grandmother had always insisted that such good men existed in the world.  Now, her imagination began to replace her faceless Korean husband with Scott.

Hearing a knock at the door, Scott broke their touch and said, “Wait here.”

Scott peered through the peephole for several seconds before at last opening the door, revealing two men. One was even taller than Scott with flaming red hair, the other was a shorter black man wearing a tailored suit.

“Willie, thanks for coming,” Scott said to the redhead.

“No problem,” said Willie, shaking his hand.

“Major Parker, sir,” Scott continued to the other man.

“I’ve told you a thousand times: you can call me Leon after everything we’ve been through together. You’re not under my command anymore,” said the black man.  “Now, I understand we have someone to meet?”

“Yes, sir.”  Standing aside, Scott gestured to the table in the corner.  “This is Park Chin-sun.  I found her in the alley by the hotel being beaten by some punk with a North Korean uniform.  She was trying to defect; that’s why he was beating her.”  Taking Chin-sun’s hand, Scott brought her to stand beside him and introduced his friends to her.  “Chin-sun, ideul-eun nae chingudeul-ida, Major Leon Parker gwa Willie Wallace.  Geudeul-eun neoleul doul su-iss-eo.

Chin-sun gave a slight bow and spoke in English, “Major Parker, Wallace Ssi, my name is Park Chin-sun. I am a citizen of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and it is my wish to defect from my homeland due to the horrors my people endure every day.  I humbly request asylum and sanctuary, be it here in South Korea or in America.”

Both men’s eyebrows shot up at hearing her clear English.  “You are very well-spoken, young lady,” said Leon.  “Is English a normal class for your people?”

She nodded.  “It is for those of us sent abroad as Spirit Ambassadors.  We are to speak with all who will listen to our troubles about the fear we have of the great evil, the United States of America.  This is what our State tells us to do, but I know my own government to be capable of incredible evil.”

“And how do you know this?” asked Leon.

“There are many ways. When friends on my team disappear a day after making a mistake, I know it is the State who took them.  When a teacher forgets to speak of the South with great contempt and hatred, the State comes and replaces them.  They are never seen again.  But most of all, I know this because of my grandmother.  She grew up in a free Korea but was taken to the North as a trophy bride during the war.  She knows how things once were and how free the rest of the world is.  Every day, she would tell me stories of her childhood and wish for me to know this freedom one day.  It is our secret between us.  It was she that told me to defect during this visit to the South.”

Leon studied her face for several seconds, his own face expressionless.  “Your story is touching, Ms. Park, but you’ll have to forgive our being cautious.”

Without a word, Chin-sun peeled back the gauze taped to her forehead.  “This is what my guard did to me when he caught me trying to escape. Had Scott not arrived when he did, it would have been far worse.  I would probably be dead, and I can see in your eyes that you know this.  I am no spy.  I only wish to be free, Major Parker.”

Leon again remained quiet and contemplative.  “Mr. Wallace,” he said after a few moments, “what do you think?”

“I believe her, sir,” Willie replied.  “The wound itself speaks volumes, but there’s no way she could have lied about her grandmother like that.  We’d have seen a tell if she were making that up.”

“Yes… I agree,” Leon grinned.  “Ms. Park, I report directly to the Secretary of State.  He made it clear to me before these games that we could not accept any defectors of our own accord without South Korea’s permission.  We are on their soil, after all, but if they are agreeable, you will be free to travel to America and make a new life there.”

A tear of happiness leaked out of Chin-sun’s eye and rolled down her cheek as she heard these words. “Thank you, Major Parker.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Leon said, pulling out his cell phone.  “Let me call our contact in the Korean Immigration Services and bring him into the loop.”

As Chin-sun’s emotions welled up within her, she turned to Scott and threw her arms around his neck, thanking him for everything he had done for her.  He accepted her touch happily, though he did have to shift his lower body to keep from scaring Chin-sun with the bulge that was beginning to form in his pants.  It had been quite a while since he had held a pretty girl like her in his arms, after all, and his body was just a little sensitive.  After a moment, his distraction was broken by a knock at the door.

“Who’s that?” Willie asked.

“No clue,” said Leon, stopping in the middle of dialing his contact.

After checking the peephole, Leon opened the door to reveal a young Korean man a bit older than Scott. His suit was cut to perfection and appeared more expensive even than Leon’s.  The man smiled a warm smile as he spoke.

“Major Parker, yes?”

“I am.  And you are?”

“Yoon Suck-chin, Korean Immigration Services,” he replied, producing an ID badge.

Leon inspected his credentials, commenting, “Vice Chief?  At your young age?”

“Yes, sir.  Feel free to contact my superiors if you have your doubts, of course.”

Handing the ID back to Suck-chin, Leon said, “No, that won’t be necessary.  What are you doing here?”

“I am here regarding an alleged incident that took place a little while ago outside this hotel.  I am told that a North Korean may have been involved.”

There was an uncomfortable silence before Leon replied, “How would you know about that?  I hadn’t had a chance to contact the KIS yet.”

“My office was contacted by someone with direct knowledge of the situation,” said Suck-chin.  “You may come in,” he then said to someone in the hallway.

Scott felt Chin-sun cling to him tightly as a woman entered the hotel room.  She was in her early thirties and wore a fitted blouse and a knee-length skirt.  Her face seemed pleasant enough, but Scott sensed something sinister lurking beneath the surface.  After a few moments, he at last recognized the woman from the news reports since the start of the Olympics.

“Hello, Major Parker. My name is Kim Yo-jong,” she said. “I represent my brother, the freely elected leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un.”

“I know who you are, Ms. Kim,” Leon replied stiffly.

“Ah, there she is!” said Yo-jong.  “Chin-sun, naneun nega musahadago gippeohanda.  Wa, jib-e gal sigan-ida.

As Yo-jong tried to pass through Willie and Leon, Chin-sun clenched Scott’s arm in a death grip. She was not fooled by her words of concern and promise to return home safely.

“Do not let her touch me! She will kill me!” she protested.

“My dear Chin-sun, you wound me!” Yo-jong replied.  “I would never do such a thing!  We are gajong. Family.”

“NO!  Please, do not let her take me!” Chin-sun begged Scott. “You promised you would allow my defection!”

“Oh my, the poor girl is delirious,” Yo-jong said, shaking her head.

“Ms. Kim, you’ll have to forgive me for not believing you,” said Leon as he and Willie closed in to shield Chin-sun.  “This young lady came to us of her own volition seeking asylum, and I’m of a mind to grant it.”

“Not your call, Major Parker,” said Suck-chin, stepping up beside Yo-jong.  “This is our land, and you arrogant Americans have no say as to our immigration decisions. You may not value the good will that has been gained between the North and the South during these Olympics, but I do. Our nations have signed an agreement to disallow any defections during these games, as I am sure you are aware. Besides, our northern neighbors have behaved most properly in this matter.  Ms. Kim came to me in peace seeking my help in finding one of the North Korean Spirit Ambassadors that had gone missing.  She is fortunate she only received a minor injury and not anything worse.”

Scott snorted.  “Ms. Kim should know.  It was one of her own men that did it.”

“Oh dear!  Her own handler did this to her?!” Yo-jong gasped. “Major Parker, you have my word that I will personally investigate this matter and find the individual responsible for harming this poor girl.  He will face justice for his actions.”

“In any case,” Suck-chin continued, “it is my full intention to allow Ms. Kim to take her citizen back home with her tomorrow as soon as the Olympics come to a close.”

“She came to us seeking asylum!” Leon seethed.  “If you won’t grant it, then we’ll bring her back to the United States with us!”

“You will do no such thing,” Yo-jong rebuked him.  “That would be considered an act of kidnapping against one of our citizens, an act of extreme aggression.  I can assure you that our government would take swift and decisive action against this.”

Suck-chin agreed, “And even if you decided to do this, good luck getting her through customs.  The KIS will make sure she cannot leave the country unless it is with her people across the northern border.”

Leon gritted his teeth at hearing this.  If Suck-chin had enough influence to ensure Chin-sun couldn’t leave the country, Leon had underestimated his overall power.  And with the threat of international kidnapping charges from Kim Yo-jong, they had no means with which to hold Chin-sun.

“You don’t want to do this,” Leon at last seethed.

“Actually, I do,” Suck-chin replied.  “Everything I do is with the best interests of my citizenry at heart.  To become taken in by the delirious cries of one traumatized girl while incurring the loss of all goodwill with our northern neighbors would not only be irresponsible, it would be stupid.  Chin-sun is not granted asylum and will return to her homeland with these representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

At that, two men in North Korean jackets entered the room and flanked Kim Yo-jong, who proceeded to push past Leon and Willie.  Scott backed himself into a corner, trying to shield a weeping Chin-sun as best he could, but the men soon restrained him and moved him aside.  Yo-jong looked at Chin-sun as if she were a long-lost family member, but Scott saw how roughly she grabbed the girl’s arm.

“We will be leaving for home tomorrow.  That will be the end of this,” said Yo-jong.  “Major Parker, in spite of your hateful demeanor, know that I hold no ill will against you or your nation for the events of this evening.  I am only happy to have our beloved Chin-sun back.”

“NO!  NO, PLEASE!” Chin-sun cried as she was dragged out the door.

“Let her go!” Scott roared, but it was no use.  The men had him pinned.  The last thing he saw of Chin-sun was the red ribbon in her hair.  Once they were gone, the North Korean goons released him and left to follow.  Scott as about to chase after them, but Willie’s firm hand on his shoulder managed to deter him.  Once Suck-chin had left, Scott glared at Leon.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Leon said.

“How could you let them do that?!” Scott berated him.  “She came to us for help and you threw her back to the most oppressive government in the world!”

“My hands are tied!” Leon insisted.  “I never imagined the KIS would be uncooperative!  I figured they wouldn’t allow her defection to South Korea due to the treaty, but I thought they’d let us to take her with us.  At least now my suspicions are confirmed…”

“What suspicions?” Scott asked, barely managing to avoid strangling Leon.

“I tried not to let on, but I’ve been watching that Suck-chin character for a few years now. His meteoric rise in the KIS has not gone unnoticed, and I’ve long wondered if there was something else behind it all.  Now, I’m positive there is.”

“What are you talking about?” said Scott.

Leon sighed.  “I think Suck-chin is a North Korean plant.”

“Are you sure, boss?” Willie asked.  “I know he’s an ass, but espionage?  That’s a serious charge.”

“You didn’t hear it, did you?” Leon grinned.  “He slipped up there.  No true South Korean would refer to North Korea as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, certainly not in the tone that he did.  He almost did so with reverence.  Every South Korean I’ve met simply calls it the North, or the DPRK in official matters.”

“So, what are we going to do about this?” Scott wondered.  “We’ve got to expose the bastard and get Chin-sun back!”

“I’ll work on a way to expose him, but you need to forget about the girl,” Leon replied.  “As much as I want to help her, Suck-chin bested us this time.”

“Bullshit!” Scott spat. “If they get her back to North Korea, they will kill her.  I won’t just sit by and let that happen!”

“I sympathize and agree with you, but she’s beyond our reach,” said Leon.  “There is nothing I can do to help her at this point.”

“Nothing you can do or nothing you’re willing to do?” Scott shot back.

“You watch your mouth, Erickson!  I may not be your direct commander anymore, but I will not hesitate to put you in your place!”

“What happened to you, Leon?” Scott asked in disappointment.

“What are you babbling about?”

“Come on, we all know the rumors.  The legendary rescue staged by Lieutenant Leon Parker during his time in the Army Rangers.”

Leon sighed.  “That was a lifetime ago.  I was young and stupid…”

“And your youth and stupidity led you to rescue two-dozen hostages from the Taliban in a tiny Afghani village,” Scott pressed.  “Against orders, I might add.”

“What’s your point?”

“You did what needed to be done, orders be damned, because you knew it was the right thing to do. Leon, don’t try to stop me from doing the same.”

“You know he’s right, Leon,” Willie chimed in.

“Don’t tell me you’re in on this, too!” said Leon in exasperation.

“I’ll follow Scott anywhere on this,” Willie replied.  “That girl deserves our help.”

“Jesus Christ… fine. Let’s say hypothetically I decide not to have you both arrested for this.  What exactly is your plan?  You have no idea where they’ve taken Chin-sun.”

“Maybe not, but we know where she’ll be tomorrow: at the Closing Ceremony,” said Scott.

“Why would they let her go to that?” Leon asked.  “They already know she’s a flight risk.  Why take the chance of her running?”

“They’ll put her in the very center of the cheerleading squad,” Scott replied.  “What safer place to keep her than in the middle of over two-hundred girls brainwashed into absolute loyalty to North Korea?  Find the center of the cheerleaders, and that’s where she’ll be.”

“Hmm… all right, I’ll give you that.  You know where she’ll be, but how do you plan to get her away from them?”

“All I have to do is catch her eye,” Scott insisted.  “Once she sees me, she’ll know I’m there for her.  All she has to do is slip away from the group in the mass confusion of everyone leaving the stadium, and we’ll be gone before Kim Yo-jong even knows what happened.”

“In other words, you’re making this up as you go,” Leon sighed.

“Leon, we have to try!”

“Scott, as much as I want to, there’s just too many unknowns.  Hell, you’re not even sure you’ll be able to get near her!  You’ll be down on the arena floor with the rest of the Olympic athletes!”

“You let me worry about that,” Scott replied with a grin.  “Look, Willie goes to scope out the North Korean vehicles during the ceremony, make sure they don’t get ahead of us.  While he does that, I’ll stay close to Chin-sun and wait for our chance. Once I’ve got her, all you have to do is come around with the getaway vehicle.”

“We still won’t be able to leave the country with her,” Leon pointed out.

“Maybe not right away, but the North Koreans won’t be able to pursue her, not without overstaying their welcome in enemy territory,” Scott countered.

“He’s right about that,” Willie nodded.  “The North Koreans are expected to be out of the country within hours of the Closing Ceremony.  They’ll have to keep to that, even if they’re missing a person.  And all this will give you time to smooth things over with the KIS and secure Chin-sun’s clearance to leave.”

“Assuming everything doesn’t go to shit!” said Leon.  “You two are incorrigible… fine.  We’ll give this a shot.  But you have to find a way to get close to the North Koreans without being noticed, Scott. If you can’t do that, the deal is off.”

“I’ve got it covered.”

*****

Standing outside room 512, Scott took a deep breath and knocked three times.  Several seconds passed, but the door soon opened.

“Hey, Doofus,” said Scott.

“About time you showed up, Bonehead,” replied Tom, greeting his twin brother with a head-slap.  “Get your ass in here.  If you were as slow on the ice as you are in real life, you’d never even make it to the starting line.”

“Sorry, man. Something came up.  That’s actually what I need to talk to you about.”

“Uh oh.  Everything ok?”

“Uh… depends.”

Taking a seat on one of the beds, Scott related to his brother the events of the last hour, from meeting Chin-sun to the plan to get her back from the North Koreans.  Tom listened in silence, almost unable to believe it was all happening.  But with everything he knew about his brother’s inability to walk away from someone in need, he knew it must have happened as he described it.

“Dude… that’s a hell of a story,” Tom said.

“Yeah, and I need your help.”

“What do you need?  I mean, I’m not ex-military like you are, so I don’t know what I could do to help.”

“Be me.”

“Oh, hell no…”

“C’mon, Tom!  One last time!” Scott pleaded.  “Just do this for me and… and I’ll owe you for life. Please.  This girl’s counting on me.”

Tom paced the room and considered his brother’s request.  Throughout middle school and high school, they would often switch places to try and figure out what people were saying behind their backs.  The twins pretended to hate each other in public, but in reality, they were the closest of confidants.  But they hadn’t pulled this in years, and never in a situation that could result in jail time should they be discovered.

“What would you need me to do?” Tom asked.

“Nothing special.  Just dress as me, hang out with the athletes during the Closing Ceremony, be seen, maybe give an interview or two.  All I need is plausible deniability.”

“And when would we switch back?”

“I’m hoping at the airport. But if something goes wrong… it could be once I get back to the States.”

“Are you insane?! You’re asking me to lie to customs!”

“I would never ask if there was any other way.  But I’ve run through every scenario in my head, and there’s not.  Please, Tom.  You’re my only chance.”

Tom stared at his brother before inching into his face and saying, “If I do this and you live through it… you name your kids after me.”

“Dude, you’re full of shit!” Scott laughed.

“Oh, I’m serious,” Tom replied, his smile growing bigger.  “And not just your firstborn son; you gotta name all of ‘em after me, boys and girls!”

“That makes no sense!”

“Sure, it does! George Foreman did it with his kids, right?”

“I’ll give you my firstborn son, will that work?” Scott shot back.

Tom pretended to agonize over the decision, finally replying, “Deal.”

After a quick trip to his room to retrieve his belongings, Scott returned to Tom’s room and gave him his instructions for the next day.  What clothes to wear, the itinerary for the ceremony, and most importantly of all, his gold medal.  Thankfully, both brothers had packed only a single suitcase, allowing Tom to take both bags back to America with him.  Tom then gave his passport to Scott and took possession of his brother’s ID.

“One more thing,” said Scott.  “If you don’t hear from me within a week of returning to the States… destroy that.”

“Scott…”

“I’m serious, Tom. This plan of mine could go south. If it does, destroy my passport and resume your old identity.  You’ve still got your driver’s license back home, right?”

“Yeah, I do.  But-”

“If something happens to me, you can use that to get another passport,” Scott replied.  “You’ll be fine.  Just keep your head down and don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

Tom smirked.  “And what exactly does that put off limits?”

“Smartass,” Scott snorted.

“Bro, are you sure about this?”

“Yeah… yeah, I am.  I promised that girl I’d help her.  If they get her back to North Korea, she’ll be dead on arrival.  I have to try…”

Tom nodded, seeing the determination in his brother’s eyes.  “You be careful out there, Bonehead,” he said, giving him a hug.

“You too, Doofus…”

With that, Tom took all the bags with him and made his way to Scott’s hotel room, ready to assume his identity in the morning.  Meanwhile, Scott stripped nude and crawled into bed, knowing he would need his strength for what was to come tomorrow.

*****

“Any movement?” Scott heard Leon say in his earpiece.

“Nothing yet,” Scott replied, whispering casually into the microphone hidden in his coat collar. “Looks like the Spirit Ambassadors are staying put until the official end of the ceremony.  Willie, how’s things looking on your end?”

“All quiet.  Just the bus drivers and an official or two.”

“Ok, keep us posted.”

Scott took a deep breath and tried his best to keep calm.  Two sections over from him sat the North Koreans, the gaggle of cheerleaders in the middle of it all.  Though they all wore identical red and blue coats and hats, he knew he would have to find Chin-sun before they started moving.  Otherwise, they’d have no chance of getting to her.

“Find Chin-sun… easier said than done…”

Not only were the cheerleaders dressed identically, but they all wore the same style of makeup and had the same hair color, making picking out Chin-sun a daunting task.  But after scanning their faces for most of the ceremony, Scott finally saw her.  It wasn’t a certainty, but the look of worry and fear in her eyes was unmistakable. Upon closer inspection with his binoculars, Scott could tell that her forehead appeared to have makeup in the same spot where her gash had been the night before.  What finally sealed it was when they all removed their hats for the Olympic Anthem, revealing Chin-sun’s signature red ribbon.  None of the other cheerleaders had one.

“I’ve got eyes on her,” Scott said.

“Ok, keep it that way and stay close once they start to move,” Leon replied.

Through the rest of the ceremony, Scott maintained eye contact with Chin-sun, hoping against all hope that she would look his way and see him.  For the longest time, she only looked straight ahead, but as they were performing one of their hand-clapping routines at the end of the night, she turned his way and saw Scott smiling at her.  Chin-sun didn’t know what to think at that point; she had seen Scott on the video board as he entered with the rest of the athletes.  All the same, there he was.  She had to break eye contact a moment later to continue with the routine, but she found him again the next time they turned his way.  This time, Scott pantomimed as if he was jogging, then pointed at his chest.  It all happened in an instant; none of the other girls would have been able to see it if they weren’t looking for it, but Chin-sun’s heart leapt.  He wanted her to run away with him.  She smiled and gave a slight nod just before she had to turn back to face the front.

“I’ve made contact. She saw me,” Scott said.

“You sure?”

“Positive.  I sent her a signal that I wanted her to run away with me. She smiled and nodded.  She’s on board with this.”

“Holy shit, this may actually work,” Leon chuckled.

*****

As soon as the ceremony ended, Chin-sun glanced over to her left and saw Scott climbing the stairs to the exit ramps.  He gave another look in her direction and winked; she could hardly believe it.  Her hero was still trying to save her!

Jigeum idong!

The rough orders to move from a nearby handler broke her concentration.  When they were out of the public eye, every single member of the Spirit Ambassadors had their own individual handler to keep an eye on them. It was nothing short of a miracle that Chin-sun had managed to elude hers the night before.  But in a public setting like this one, such a ratio would be counterproductive for two reasons.  First, it would distract from the overwhelming display of beauty their squad sought to portray.  But more importantly, it would show to the world just how fearful the State was that one of them might run away and defect.  This would take away from the narrative that North Korea’s citizens were among the happiest and most loyal in the world.  As such, the number of handlers they had for this event was severely reduced.

As she climbed the stadium steps, Chin-sun took inventory of the soldiers mixed in with their group. Though they dressed in plainclothes for the public, these men were some of the most vicious members of their military. There were three soldiers assigned for each row they occupied in the stadium, one to guard each end and one to keep an eye on the middle.  With her failed defection the night before, Chin-sun had been placed in the very center of the middle row of cheerleaders, ensuring she was surrounded by as many bodies as possible.  But now that they were exiting up the stadium steps single file, there were not as many people blocking her in.  She could find an opening to run, but she would need a distraction of some sort. Looking around frantically, she at last saw an opening.

The cheerleader in front of her had tied her shoelaces too loose, and they were now almost undone completely.  All Chin-sun had to do was take a large step forward as they walked and step on one of the laces.  It came untied with little effort, and the extra second that Chin-sun stood on the lace was more than enough to cause the girl to trip and fall on her face with a yelp. The nearest handler leapt to her aid, kneeling down to help the crying girl.  As his back was turned to her, Chin-sun turned and sprinted toward Scott on the other side of the walkway.  She clutched her backpack tightly as she ran, knowing her passport, her only chance of leaving the country, was inside.  The other girls saw her run and began shouting her name, but she paid them no mind. She knew this was her only chance.

“Chin-sun!” Scott called out, waving his hand overhead.

“Scott!”

Chin-sun pushed her way through the crowd of people, inching closer to her hero.  All other thoughts flew from her mind in those moments; all she could think of was her final escape from the State.  At last, she reached him, and she could not help herself. Without a second thought, Chin-sun threw her arms around Scott’s neck and pressed her lips to his, grateful beyond belief for this man.

“You came back for me,” she said with a smile as they parted.

“I promised I’d help you. I always keep my promises.” Hearing a commotion on the other side of the walkway, Scott took Chin-sun’s hand tightly.  “Come on, we have to get out of here!”

The pair took off down the winding ramp leading down from the stadium’s upper deck, sliding past people as quickly as they could.  After one level, Chin-sun dared a glance over her shoulder and recognized the man following about thirty feet behind them.

“It’s Song!” she cried out in fear.

“Huh?  What?”

“The man with the scar on his face, the one you saved me from.  I only know him as Song,” Chin-sun explained.  “He follows us!”

“Shit… come on, keep moving!”  Speaking into his collar, Scott continued, “Leon, I’ve got her.  We’re heading for gate twenty-two.  You copy that?”

“Gate two-two.  I’ll be there.”

“Good.  Be ready for a quick getaway; we’ve got her handler on our tails.”

“Scott?  It’s Willie. They’re getting ready to load the girls on the busses over here.  Looks like they’ll be taking off soon.  I’m heading your way.”

“Copy that.”

They pressed on, continuing to push through bodies as fast as they were able.  To Chin-sun’s relief, Song appeared to be having similar difficulties with the crowds, and they soon managed to put some distance between them and him.  By the time they reached the main concourse at the bottom of the ramp, Song was still stuck on the level above them.  Scott and Chin-sun broke into a jog as the crowds thinned out, and Song knew his quarry was about to escape.  Deciding to make one last effort to end this, he took hold of the railing on the concrete ramp and waited for the pair to pass underneath him on their way out. With incredible precision, Song leapt from the second level and landed directly on the couple, tackling Scott to the ground in the process.  The two men struggled for a moment, but Song had the clear upper hand and managed to stun Scott with a punch to the jaw.

“That’s for yesterday, Me-gook nom!” Song sneered, calling Scott an American bastard.

While Scott struggled to get to his feet, Song grabbed a dazed and confused Chin-sun and began to drag her off to a nearby parking lot just outside the stadium.  She tried to resist, but Song was so much stronger than she was.  Tears began to stream down her face as she looked for Scott over her shoulder.

“Scott!”

“No… CHIN-SUN!”

At last regaining his wits, Scott took off after them, but they were too far ahead.  By the time he had reached the parking lot, Song had already stuffed Chin-sun into a black sedan and hopped in the driver’s seat himself. Before the car sped off into the snowy night, Scott caught a glimpse of another woman in the car with Chin-sun.

“Goddammit!”

“Scott!” called Leon as he pulled up in a black SUV.

“Leon… she’s gone. Her handler got her.  I think she’s in Kim Yo-jong’s personal car.”

“Scott!  Leon!” said Willie, jogging up to join them.  “What happened?  Where’s Chin-sun?”

“Gone,” Scott muttered. “Kim Yo-jong has her.”

“That’s checkmate, then,” Leon sighed.

“The hell it is!  We can still catch them!” Scott protested.

“And we’d be arrested for assaulting a foreign diplomat!” Leon countered.  “Look, we tried, but they’re gone.  I’m sorry, Scott.”

Willie said, “Boss, if I may say so, their car didn’t look equipped to handle this snowy weather with ease.  It’s pretty unlikely they’d be able to make good time.”

“Out of the question,” Leon said firmly.

With a heavy sigh, Scott replied, “Leon, I get it.  You’re a man who has built his entire career up from scratch all to provide a great life for your family.  You can’t have any further part in this.  So… just give me the keys.”

“The hell you say, Erickson?” Leon snorted.

“You can tell the Secretary of State I took it from you, that I overpowered you and stole your car. Tell him whatever you want, but I have to go after her,” said Scott.  “I made her a promise.  I intend to keep it.”

Leon growled and stared daggers at Scott before holding up the key.  As Scott reached to take it, Leon held a firm grip for a moment.  “If you do this, you’re on your own.  You are out of favors, out of help.  If you get caught, if anything goes wrong, the U.S. will disavow any knowledge of your actions.  You will be thrown to the wolves and you will face criminal charges here… or possibly in North Korea.  Do I make myself clear?”

“I understand.”

“And you still plan to do this?” Leon asked.

“I do.  Whatever may happen to me is nothing compared to what’ll happen to Chin-sun if I don’t get her back,” Scott replied.  As Leon relinquished the key, Scott continued, “I’ll call you when I have her.”

With that, Leon turned and walked away.  Scott wasn’t sure, but he could’ve sworn he had seen a tiny grin on Leon’s face.  A moment later, he turned to the SUV, but Willie stepped up and swiped the key from him.

“Gimmie.  I wanna drive.”

“Huh?  Willie, what the hell are you doing?”

“You’re worked up and emotional.  I’ll be a better driver.  You just ride shotgun and keep an eye out for that car,” he replied with a wink.

Placing a hand on his best friend’s shoulder, Scott said, “Willie, this is a hundred-to-one shot at best. There’s a strong chance I’m gonna die trying to save her.”

“Sounds like you need me, then,” he retorted.  “Hop in. We need to move.”

*****

Chin-sun sat in silence next to Kim Yo-jong, slowly coming to terms with her fate.  Scott had done his best, but it wasn’t enough.  She couldn’t blame him.  Perhaps it is simply her destiny to be executed as an example, she thought.

“How far are we from the border?” Yo-jong asked in Korean.

“Just under thirty-five kilometers,” Song replied from the driver’s seat.

“Have you detected anyone following us?”

“None.  They would not dare risk it as close to the DMZ as we are.”

“Good.”  Turning to Chin-sun, Yo-jong gave a warm smile. “We’re almost home, my little flower. Soon, we’ll be able to put all this messy business behind us.”

“You can cease the act,” Chin-sun said in a monotone voice.  “I know what awaits me.  I will be dead before the sun rises.”

“My dear Chin-sun, you still do not give me enough credit,” Yo-jong replied, again feigning concern. “You will not die for your actions. In all honestly, I cannot say that I blame you.  That American… Scott, was it?  He is, admittedly, quite handsome.  I can see why you would be seduced by him.”

“He did not seduce me. He saved my life.”

“Hm.  Well, it’s no concern either way.  Though I will admit to taking it personally that my hand selected captain of the Spirit Ambassadors would try to run, I assure you that I will take into account your years of loyal service when rendering your punishment.”

“Just kill me and end it.”

Yo-jong giggled at this. “No.  Oh, no.  Your punishment will be far more meaningful than mere death.  You see, my brother has need of you, Chin-sun.  His wife is a perfectly regal First Lady to be sure, but her skills in the bedroom have been… lacking.  My brother has voiced his desire for a younger and more energetic girl to warm his bed.  He has noticed you as you have practiced and is quite taken by your beauty.”

Snapping out of her trace, Chin-sun glared at Yo-jong.  “I would rather die a thousand deaths than touch that disgusting man,” she hissed.

“I am quite sure you would,” Yo-jong nodded.  “But be assured that if you refuse, it will not be you that reaps the penalty. Instead, it will be your family. Yes, if you continue your rebellious streak, your family will suffer for it.  You will be made to watch as they die.  I wonder who we should start with?  Perhaps your mother?  Your father? Or maybe… your beloved grandmother?”

“You evil witch!” Chin-sun growled, attempting a clumsy swipe.

“Ah, too slow,” Yo-jong laughed as she caught the girl’s wrist.  Reaching forward with her other hand, she took a firm grip on Chin-sun’s cheeks and continued, “It appears we have a verdict.  Do I need to make this any clearer for you, Chin-sun?  You will submit yourself to my brother and be dealt with as he pleases.  If you refuse, if you resist, if you do anything at all that displeases him in any way, you will watch as your dear grandmother dies a slow… painful… agonizing death.  After that will be your parents, then any and all remaining members of your family. And once you are the last remnant of your family’s bloodline, you will still return to my brother’s bed to be used at his pleasure.  Stupid girl. No matter what you do, the end result is the same.  So, what is your decision?  Will you accept your punishment with grace and honor?  Or do we need to apply… pressure?”

For a moment, Chin-sun prayed that she was only bluffing, but one look into Kim Yo-jong’s eyes told her the truth.  She would do everything exactly as she had described.  Her eyes were wide and empty, the eyes of a cold and emotionless psychopath who had ordered countless deaths already in her young life.  Overseeing the deaths of Chin-sun’s family would be as nothing to her.  Chin-sun’s heart broke as she realized what she would have to do.

“You win,” she whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek.  “I will do ask you ask, just… please, do not hurt my family.”

Wiping the tear away tenderly, Yo-jong smiled and replied, “Good girl.”

*****

“Any sign of ‘em?” Willie asked.

“Not yet.  Just keep going; this is the only road leading to the DMZ.”

“You sure you’ll know the car when you see it?”

“Positive,” Scott nodded. “Black sedan with North Korean flags, license plate with the characters for ‘government official’ on it.”

“Ok.  We’re about twenty kilometers from the DMZ.  Keep your eyes peeled.”

As he watched the empty road ahead of them, Scott asked, “Why are you doing this, Willie?  Why put your neck on the line like this?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he said shortly.

“Come on, there’s got to be more to it than that.”

Willie sighed.  “You know me, Scott.  The U.S. Army is my only family.  My parents died when I was in high school.  No siblings.  No other family of any kind for me.  Hell, haven’t you wondered why I’ve never even thought about getting married?”

“I figured it was because of the hundreds of hot girls you go through every week,” Scott chuckled.

“Well, maybe,” Willie grinned.  “But in all seriousness, the world needs men like me.  I have no attachments, nobody depending on me.  I can throw myself into dangerous missions without any concern for who I might leave behind.  I guess you might call it ruthless…”

“I’d call it selfless,” Scott replied, punching him in the shoulder.  “I knew there was a reason we all called you Braveheart.”

Doing his best Scottish accent, Willie said, “If there’s one thing ah love, laddie, it’s FREEDOM!”

“You do a better Scotsman than Mel Gibson does, that’s for sure,” Scott deadpanned.

“So, what’s your plan once we catch up to them?  How do we stop the car?”

Opening the glovebox, Scott said, “Knew it.  Leon always keeps a pair of pistols tucked away for emergencies.”  Pulling out a pair of Sig Sauer P226’s, he continued, “Damn, he’s even got suppressors for them.  Nice.  Ok, once we catch up to them, we’re gonna have to act fast.  If we each shoot out one of the back tires at the same time, that should bring them to a quick stop without hurting anyone.  That’ll give me my opening to grab Chin-sun from the wreck.”

“Good thing I can shoot southpaw,” Willie chuckled.  “What else does Leon keep in there?  Grenades? A rocket launcher?”

“Just a combat knife. Ooh, a Gerber Mark II!”

“Always good.  Slip that into your boot; never know if you might need it.”

“Good call,” Scott agreed. Seeing a black sedan on the road ahead of them, he said, “There they are.  Ok, show time.  Turn off the headlights and get as close as you can.”

“Turn off the headlights? How are we gonna see what we’re aiming at?”

“On my signal, flip ‘em back on and we’ll take our shots.  They’ll never know what hit ‘em,” Scott replied.

Willie followed Scott’s directions, inching closer to the sedan with his headlights turned off.  As Scott had hoped, this gave them the element of surprise; the sedan gave no indication that they had noticed their approach.  As they reached a long straightaway, Willie aligned his speed with the sedan and put the SUV on cruise control.  Scott then lowered both windows and leaned out with pistol in hand, motioning for Willie to do the same.

“Lights!” said Scott.

Taking care to keep the wheel steady, Willie flipped the headlights back on, allowing them to take careful aim at each of the back tires of the car.  There was a decent amount of snow flying, but not enough to deter two sure-shots from the U.S. Army.

“I’ve got mine in my sights,” Willie said.

“Same here.  Fire in 3… 2… 1!”

As if it were a scripted dance, Scott and Willie squeezed their triggers in unison, each firing a single suppressed shot into the tires.  Sparks appeared as the rubber flew off, leaving only the metal rims to grip the road.  Willie then took the SUV off cruise control and deftly navigated them to a safe spot, ensuring they would not be caught in the ensuing wreck.  As the North Korean car began to fishtail, Song tried his best to steer them back on course but soon hit an icy patch.  Their car spun out and eventually came to a stop on the left shoulder with the front of the car facing Scott and Willie.  The pair approached with caution, but once no movement was detected, Scott felt it was safe to exit the SUV.

“Get Chin-sun in here pronto!  I’ll keep you covered!” Willie said, keeping his pistol trained on the car.

“Roger that!”

Scott zipped up his coat as he stepped into the cold night air, keeping his pistol close at hand as he approached the wreck.  He saw Song in the driver’s seat with a nasty bump on his head, most likely from hitting it on the steering wheel.  As the man was still shell-shocked, Scott pocketed his weapon and opened the back-driver’s side door to reveal a very frightened and confused Chin-sun.

“Unh… Scott?!” she stammered.

“Come on, we’re leaving!” he said, pulling her out of the car.

“Wait!  My backpack, i-it has my passport,” Chin-sun replied, stumbling to the ground.

Nodding, Scott reached into the back seat and grabbed the backpack, but it wouldn’t budge.  He looked up to see an enraged Kim Yo-jong holding onto the other strap, her eyes bulging with fury.

“YOU WILL NOT TAKE HER!!!” Yo-jong shrieked.

Scott gritted his teeth as they struggled.  “I wouldn’t normally hit a lady, but you’re no lady!”

With that, he lunged forward and smashed his fist against Kim Yo-jong’s cheekbone, forcing her to release the backpack as she recoiled in pain.  Scott helped Chin-sun to her feet and they began climbing the slight embankment towards the SUV.  Little did they know that Yo-jong’s screaming had alerted Song that something was happening. Though he was still woozy from the wreck, he was awake enough to see Chin-sun running alongside another person. Relying only on instinct, Song drew his pistol and took aim at the pair.

“Gun!” shouted Willie.

As soon as he heard the warning, Scott tackled Chin-sun to the ground and flattened his body on top of hers.  This gave Willie a clear line of sight down to the car, but he never had a chance to pull the trigger.  Song had already squeezed off a shot from his pistol.  The bullet flew safely over Scott and Chin-sun, but as bad luck would have it, the bullet flew into the undercarriage and struck the fuel line, igniting a fire right next to the gas tank.  Before anyone knew what had happened, the SUV exploded in a ball of flame, peppering Scott and Chin-sun with shrapnel and knocking Song unconscious once more from the blast.

“WILLIE!  NOOOOO!” Scott screamed in rage, but it was too late. Willie “Braveheart” Wallace was dead.

In an instant, Scott’s grief was overtaken by his survival instincts.  They were still in danger as long as they stayed there, and if they didn’t hurry, Willie’s sacrifice would be for nothing.  The two of them struggled to their feet and climbed back up to the road.  Scott stole a glance over his shoulder and saw that Song was still recovering from the explosion he had triggered.  As long as they could get out of sight, they should be able to make their escape. With a heavy sigh, Scott wrapped an arm around a shivering Chin-sun and darted into the woods on the other side of the road.

*****

“Song!  Song, wake up!!!” Kim Yo-jong screamed, slapping the man across the face.

“GAH!  Wha… what happened?”

“What happened?!  They escaped, you fool!  That is what happened!”

Before Song could inquire further, a car with North Korean flags pulled up, having broken off from the busses ahead of them when they had heard the explosion.  A trio of soldiers exited and surrounded Kim Yo-jong’s wrecked car.

“Director Kim, we must get you out of here!” the soldier in charge said.

“NO!  One of our people has betrayed us and escaped!” Yo-jong snarled.

“Director, if the enemy finds you here, they will assume you were involved in an act of terror.  We must get you across the Demilitarized Zone. I am under orders from Dear Leader to keep you safe at all costs,” the solder replied forcefully.  “We leave.  Now.”

Yo-jong gritted her teeth at this.  There was no way a soldier would lie about his orders from Kim Jong-un; to do so would mean execution.  In a fit of anger and frustration, she opened the driver’s door and yanked Song from the car, landing him on his knees.  She then pulled the pistol from the soldier’s coat and pressed it to his head.

“This is all your fault,” she seethed.

“Then let me make it right!” Song pleaded.  “I am the best tracker in the army; you know this to be true.  I will find them.  I will kill the bastard.  And I will bring the girl back.”

This gave Yo-jong pause. As much as she wanted to be done with this, getting Chin-sun back was a mark of personal pride for her.  She had personally selected the girl as captain, after all.  Snorting, she strode to the trunk of the car and pulled out a duffel bag, tossing it at Song’s feet with the pistol.

“You will bring her back alive or you will die,” Kim Yo-jong ordered him.  “Finish the mission… no matter the cost.”

As Yo-jong entered the newly arrived car and sped off towards the DMZ, Song reached for the duffel back on the ground in front of him.  Upon opening it, his eyes went wide with surprise at what he found inside. This, he thought with a smile, will be everything he needed to finish the job.

*****

“Scott… I’m so cold,” Chin-sun whimpered.

“I know.  We just have to keep moving,” Scott encouraged her. “Here, take my hand.  That should help keep you warm.”

“Thank you.”  As she followed him through the dark woods, she asked, “Where are we going?”

“I saw a sign for a town less than four kilometers from here,” Scott replied.  “With any luck, someone there will give us shelter for the night.”

“Why would a stranger do this?” Chin-sun asked.

“I’m guessing these towns near the border see defectors on a regular basis.  I think someone will sympathize and be willing to offer help.”

“I hope so.  Scott, I… I am so sorry about your friend.”

Scott lowered his head at this.  “Me too. Willie knew the risks, but still…”

The pair summoned all the strength they had as they pressed on.  The night was bitter cold and the wind constant, though the trees around them helped mitigate the latter to some extent.  In spite of Scott’s superior fitness due to his athletic and military training, Chin-sun kept up with his pace, if only to remain near the relative warmth of his body.  She still wondered if they would manage to survive this ordeal, but even if not, she would be happy to die by Scott’s side as a free woman.

After half an hour of trudging through the snow, they finally emerged from the woods to find a sleepy little town nestled at the base of a nearby mountain.  They made their way through the empty market, seeing what appeared to be residences on the far side of town.  Most of the houses were dark, but one single-story dwelling still had a few lights on and smoke coming from the chimney.  By this point, poor Chin-sun was practically hanging from Scott’s shoulder from sheer exhaustion.  He continued helping her along and approached the door, knocking three times.  They could hear movement on the other side, and after a few seconds, the door opened to reveal a short elderly man.

Wonhaneunge mwoya?” the old man said, inquiring as to what they were doing here.

Jebal dowajuseyo.  I sonyeoneun talbugjaibnida,” Scott replied, explaining that Chin-sun was a defector and needed shelter.

The man’s eyes went wide upon hearing this and he swung the door open, ushering the pair into his home. He and Scott placed the shivering Chin-sun between them, helping her to sit by the fire in the den.  While their host fetched a blanket for her, Scott grabbed a log from a nearby pile to stoke the dying flames.  The man attempted to ask Chin-sun her name, but she was still too cold to say much of anything in reply.

Geunyeoui ileum-eun Chin-sun,” Scott told him.

Seeing that Chin-sun was now beginning to warm, the man now turned his attention to Scott and eyed him warily.  “You… American?” he asked in English.

“Yes, I am,” Scott replied, surprised that an old man so far out in the country would know English. “My name is Tom,” he continued, remembering that he was posing as his brother.

After a moment of silence, the man grasped Scott’s extended hand firmly.  “I am Kim Myung-dae,” he said.

“Thank you for allowing us into your home, Kim Ssi,” Scott said.

“Of course.  Come, I have tea brewing.”

Scott followed Myung-dae into the small kitchen, watching as he prepared a tray with a trio of cups. Once Myung-dae placed the teapot on the tray, Scott stepped forward and volunteered to carry it.  Before he could leave, though, Myung-dae placed a hand on Scott’s shoulder.

“You are far from home, Tom. What are you doing with this girl?” he asked.

“I am helping her defect. I… was in Pyeongchang for the Olympics when I first met her.  Have you been watching the games?”

“I have.”

“Chin-sun is one of the North Korean cheerleaders that have been all over the news.  She escaped two nights ago before being caught by her handler,” Scott explained.  “I saw him beating her in an alley and rushed in to save her.  That was when she told me who she was and what she was trying to do.”

Myung-dae furrowed his brow at this.  “I thought the North and South had signed an agreement to disallow any defectors during the Olympics?”

“They did,” Scott sighed. “That’s why a government official arrived to stop Chin-sun’s defection and deliver her back to her countrymen. But to me, that is unacceptable. I made her a promise that I would help her gain her freedom, so I went after her the moment the Closing Ceremony had finished.  Caught up to her handler’s car a couple of miles west of here and rescued her from them. That brought us here.”

“I see… and what do you hope to gain from helping this girl?”

“Nothing,” Scott replied.

Myung-dae laughed at this. “You cannot fool me, Tom!  Nobody does something like this for nothing!  Besides, I know how you American men feel about the exotic beauties here in the Far East.”

“It’s the truth.  I’m helping her because it’s the right thing to do. And as to your other observation, my attraction to Chin-sun has no impact on my actions.”

“So, you admit your attraction to her?”

“I do, but I am perfectly capable of acting contrary to those baser instincts,” Scott insisted.

“Hmm… very well.  If you are truly helping her because it is the right thing to do, you will have no issue with the sleeping arrangements. She will take the guest room and you will sleep on the floor in my room.  I am a light sleeper, so do not think of trying to sneak out to visit her. Agreed?”

Scott grinned at how protective Myung-dae was of his guest.  “That will be fine.”

“Perhaps, but it is unacceptable to me.”  The two men turned to find Chin-sun in the doorway of the kitchen, the blanket still wrapped around her.  “I am sorry for interrupting, but I heard you talking about me, and I am feeling much better now.”

“What are you doing here?” Scott scolded her playfully.  “You need to stay by the fire.”

“I told you I am feeling much better,” she replied.

“Not to me.  Your hand is still like ice,” said Myung-dae, feeling her skin.  “Come, back to the den.  Tom, if you will bring the tea.”

Chin-sun glanced at Scott with a questioning look at hearing him called Tom, but Scott gave a wink to let her know it would all be fine.  Soon, they were situated comfortably around the fire and Scott poured a cup of tea for each of them.

“Mmm… delicious,” Chin-sun purred.  “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Myung-dae replied.  “Now, why do you say the sleeping arrangements are unacceptable, young lady?”

“I have my reasons,” she said.

Myung-dae chuckled at this. “I will need more than that, my dear.  A young defector arrives at my house with a strange American man?  My only concern is to ensure her safety from both her countrymen and this stranger.”

While Scott took no offense to his concerns, Chin-sun narrowed her eyes.  “I thank you for your hospitality but be assured that the best way to ensure my safety is to allow him to remain by my side at all times. Sco… Tom has saved my life no less than three times in the last two days.  Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary.”

“Forgive my overprotectiveness, I simply do not want you to be placed in any situation in which you could be taken advantage of,” Myung-dae replied.

“If Tom had wanted to take advantage of me, he would have done so already.  He had ample opportunity yesterday.  I trust him with my life.  He will sleep with me in the guest room tonight.”

Scott and Myung-dae exchanged amused looks; both knew there was no changing Chin-sun’s mind on this.

“As you say, young lady.”

Seeking to turn the conversation to more pleasant topics, Scott asked, “I am curious how you became so fluent in English?  Were you educated at university?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Myung-dae grinned.  “I learned English as a boy.  I lived right here in this same town when the war first broke out.  Those were difficult times.  We had no desire to join the fight of the northerners, yet they saw us as their subjects all the same and occupied our village.  When the combined forces of the south and the Americans began to push them back, the northern soldiers began to show their cruelty as they retreated.  There were new calls for our men to join their forces, and all who refused were killed. My parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances one day, never to be seen again.  All I had left was my older sister, but even she was taken from me, captured by an officer as a trophy bride.  She surrendered to them while ordering me to hide, ensuring I would not be caught.  I owe her my life…

“In any case, it was not long before the American forces arrived in the village.  They saw the devastation we faced at the hands of the northern forces, yet we who remained still offered them hospitality.  It was during this period that I began to learn English.  I was not the fastest learner, but the men I would see every day were kind and patient with me.  Some of them would come to the market every morning to purchase fresh fruit, which I understood was a luxury for them.”

“Damn right,” Scott snorted. “Military meals are functional and not much else.”

“Indeed,” Myung-dae laughed. “Those men left a positive impression on me, and I continued to practice my English even after the war had ended. As a young man with few prospects and no family left, I knew I would need every advantage I could find. Learning one of the most common languages in the world seemed to be such an advantage, especially once I served a few years in the military.  I was one of the first members of the KATUSA assisting the U.S. military.”

“I am so sorry for your hardships,” Chin-sun said.  “I know the pain of which you speak.  My grandmother was also taken as a trophy bride as a young woman.  It is due to her stories of the life she knew before that I decided to seek my freedom.”

“It is a sad story, yet all too common, I fear,” Myung-dae nodded.  Turning to Scott, he asked, “What is your plan?  When we find defectors, we will normally alert the local authorities.  They then escort the defector to a secure location where their case can be considered by our government.  But considering what you told me before, I sense that you do not wish to do this.”

“I’m not sure what would be best,” Scott replied.  “The agreement to disallow defectors was for the Olympics, which are officially over. I suppose there is a chance they would now accept her, but I’m not willing to take that chance.  The official that stopped her yesterday and sent her back to the North Koreans is a man my superiors suspect is secretly working to prevent defections.  To be honest, I think our best option is to get Chin-sun out of the country.  She does have her passport, at least.”

“There is one thing,” said Chin-sun.  “North Korean passports are only issued on a temporary basis for specific purposes. Mine will expire at the end of the day tomorrow.”

“Dammit… looks like that settles it.  We need to get you out of the country tomorrow,” Scott answered.

“How do you plan to do this without permission from the government?” Myung-dae wondered.

“I have an idea about that,” Scott grinned.  “In any case, all we need is transportation to Yangyang International Airport.”

“I will be happy to drive you in the morning,” Myung-dae replied.  “Now, if you will excuse me.  I will prepare your bedroom, then I believe I will need my rest.  Tom, Chin-sun, good night.”

As Myung-dae took his leave, Scott pulled out his cellphone and dialed his brother.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, Doofus.  It’s me.”

“Shit!  Where the hell are you?!  I’ve been waiting for you at the airport, got reporters swarming all over me!”

“Things went south. I’ve got her, but we’re stuck for the night.  You need to head on home.  Get back to the States.”  Thinking a moment, he continued, “Wait, you said there are reporters there, right? Any TV cameras?”

“TV, papers, you name it.”

“Talk to them, give a quick interview on camera.  Trust me.”

“Dammit, I hate when you get like this… fine.  You be safe, Bonehead.”

“We will.”  As he hung up, Scott saw Chin-sun eying him with a confused look.  “That was my brother,” he explained.  “My twinbrother.”

“Oh!” she realized. “His name is Tom?”

“Yep.”

“I see… he is pretending to be you, and you him!”

“Exactly,” Scott grinned. “Gives me an alibi for tonight. Oh, speaking of which, I need to call Major Parker.”

Two rings, then, “What’s your status?”

“I’ve got her.  We’re safe for the moment… but down a man.”

“Goddammit.  What happened?”

“Braveheart was covering me from the driver’s seat, but the bad guys got a shot off.  Bullet hit the fuel line.  Your SUV exploded.  I’m sorry…”

There were several seconds of silence before Leon replied, “I suppose he knew what he was getting himself into.  Where are you?”

“A little village near the border.  A kind old man offered us shelter when he learned our girl is a defector.  We’ll be heading to the airport in the morning. Her passport expires after tomorrow.”

“Ok, I’ll be there.  Meet in the Middle East?”

Scott smiled, recognizing Leon’s code for meeting up in the shitter.  “That works.  See you then.”

As he hung up, Scott saw Chin-sun making her way down the hall towards the guest room, so he decided to call it a night himself.  He arrived in the simple room to find her turning down the covers of the double bed. Chin-sun then removed her heavy coat and hung it up, reminding Scott of her beautiful form.  He soon shook those thoughts from his mind and kicked off his boots before grabbing one of the pillows from the bed.  Scott was about to get settled on the floor, but Chin-sun gave him an odd look.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Giving you the bed,” he replied.  “Don’t worry, I’m fine down here.”

Chin-sun snorted a bit. “Scott, we have a bed big enough for two.”

“I know, but you’ve had a hard couple of days.  You need to be able to sleep well without having to share with my fat body.”

“Your body may be many things, but fat is not one of them,” she giggled.  “Scott, please.  I feel so much safer with you close to me.”

He hesitated for several seconds before stammering, “I… I don’t want to presume-”

Chin-sun was having none of it.  In a bold move that shocked even Scott, she slid across the bed and grabbed his arm, yanking him onto the mattress with her.  This led them both into a much-needed giggle-fit.  They tried to muffle their laughter as best they could so as not to disturb their host, but that was a tall order.  After a minute or two of this, both of them began to feel more relaxed and at ease.  Though Scott would never take this as a signal that Chin-sun wanted to do anything other than sleep, he was finding it harder and harder to ignore his attraction to her.  It wasn’t just her physical beauty, though she had that in spades.  No, it was her courage and her ability to hope that attracted him more than anything else.  In spite of all the horrible circumstances she endured on a daily basis, she held onto her grandmother’s stories like they were the Word of God, even to the point of having the courage to try and escape.  She was an inspiration.

As the two of them laid there face-to-face on their sides, something unseen seemed to be drawing them together.  Their faces began to inch closer, and both could feel the glorious tension between them rising.  The moment Chin-sun’s nose grazed Scott’s, the resulting spark of emotion was too great for either of them to ignore.  Scott remembered the impromptu kiss she had given him at the stadium, but this was completely different; this was a true crescendo of emotions with nothing spontaneous about it.  Collecting his courage, he ignored every logical thought in his mind and closed the remaining gap between them, pressing his lips to hers.

Chin-sun was, in a word, exquisite.  Scott could think of no better way to describe her.  In spite of the frigid weather outside, her lips remained soft and moist, having been helped by their tea from earlier.  At first, she seemed to return his affections, moving her lips in time with his.  But just as Scott was about to place a hand on her cheek to draw her closer, Chin-sun pulled back all of a sudden.

“No…”

Scott blinked from her sudden movement.  “I… Chin-sun, I’m so sorry.  I-”

“Do not be sorry, Scott,” she replied, standing and beginning to pace the room.  “I do not do this because of you.  I would be so lucky to have a man like you, but… you do not deserve that.”

“Don’t deserve that? What are you talking about?” he asked, sitting up on the bed.

“Scott… I am dirty. Used.  You don’t want to be with a girl like me.”  When he made no reply, simply gazing at her with the same loving look in his eyes, she continued, “It is one of our duties as Spirit Ambassadors. We are not only responsible for promoting our homeland while abroad.  We must also meet with government officials and provide… entertainment.”

Scott’s blood now began to boil at what she was suggesting.  “Entertainment?”

Chin-sun nodded as a tear rolled down her cheek.  “Sometimes, we are sent in a group for several of them where we are forced to… play games with them.  Other times…”

“Stop.  You don’t owe me anything more,” Scott said, approaching the crying girl and wrapping her in a hug.  “I don’t care what they forced you to do, Chin-sun.  That doesn’t make me think less of you.  If anything, I admire you more for it.”

Chin-sun looked up at him with confusion in her eyes.  “But I am dirty!  How could a nice man like you ever desire a girl like me?!”

Sidestepping the direct question for the moment, Scott asked, “When you say ‘dirty’, are you saying these men gave you a disease of some sort?”

She shook her head. “No.  It is one of the only good things about this duty.  They test us every two weeks.  No official would so much as touch a girl who contracted a sexual illness of any sort.  Kim Yo-jong certainly wouldn’t be planning what she is for me if I had…”

“Planning?  What’s she planning for you?” Scott asked, knowing his suspicions about the lady.

“She… wishes me to be her brother’s… personal bedwarmer,” Chin-sun said through her tears.  “If I resist in any way, my family will be killed.”

Goddamn, she’s a sadistic bitch, Scott thought.  “Is your family in any danger from your defection?” he asked.

“I do not believe so. In the past, families are used to make an emotional plea for defectors to return by choice.  If we succeed, I assume that is how they will be used.”

“Then nothing changes,” Scott replied.  “And that applies to everything you’ve told me.”

“Scott…”

“Chin-sun, I don’t care what those men may have done to you; none of it changes how I feel about you,” Scott said, taking her hands in his.  “You are the most incredible woman I have ever met in my life.  You’ve got more courage in your little finger than the U.S. Army, and I would know.  Last night, I said I’d do everything I could to help you earn your freedom.  I meant that; I’ll risk anything and everything for you, Chin-sun.   I… I’m falling in love with you.  And even if you don’t feel the same way, even if you want to leave and never see me again once we escape, I’ll still do anything to keep you safe.”

Fresh tears now began to well up in Chin-sun’s eyes as she listened to Scott profess his feelings for her. From the moment he first saved her, she knew she would have been willing to do anything for his help, even becoming his personal plaything.  Better him than with the horrible men back home, she had reasoned.  But he had never once attempted to claim her for himself, never once demanded payment or compensation for his efforts.  Now, her fears of rejection from her previous experiences began to melt away, replaced only with her desire for this one man. Scott Erickson truly was the most wonderful man in the world, and Chin-sun wanted nothing more than to grab onto him and never let go.  As she finally let go of the last of her fears, she cupped his face in her hands and pushed up onto her toes, meeting his lips with hers.  After a few seconds, she dared to allow her tongue to enter his mouth, eliciting a delightful moan from Scott.  They continued in this manner for a few minutes before parting to catch their breath.

“Scott,” Chin-sun whispered, “will you make love to me?”

“Chin-sun, we don’t have to-”

“I wish it,” she said. “Just… in case we do not make it… I want to know for once what it is supposed to feel like.  To give myself to a kind, deserving man.”

With that, Chin-sun unzipped Scott’s coat and pushed it off his shoulders.  As she began to unbutton his shirt, he gave up any thoughts of resisting her; she had rendered him powerless.  He did have the presence of mind to disengage for a moment and retrieve his pistol from the pocket of his coat and lay it on the nightstand by his side of the bed.  By the time he had done this, Chin-sun was already on him again, pulling his shirt off from behind him and fiddling with his pants.

She’s having fun… guess I should, too, he thought.

Before Chin-sun could make any further progress on his pants, Scott spun around to face her and scooped her up in his arms, eliciting a delighted yelp from her.  She was light and easy to carry, he found, and he knew as he held her in his arms that he never wanted to let this girl go.  He planted a loving kiss on her lips before laying her down on the bed and reaching for her pants.  She gave no struggle, raising her hips to allow him to slip them off, leaving her in just her long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of white cotton panties.

Enraptured by Chin-sun’s beauty, Scott stammered, “I know it’s cold, so… if y-you wanna leave your shirt on…”

Chin-sun only gave a flirty smile and shifted onto her knees, peeling her shirt off to reveal a simple white bra.  “I want nothing between us, Scott,” she purred, reaching behind her back to unhook the clasp.

Scott swallowed hard as she shrugged and allowed the bra to fall to the floor.  To him, Chin-sun’s body wasn’t just sublime, it was perfection. Her fair skin complexion seemed to glow in the light of the bedside lamp and was only further accentuated by her dark black hair.  His eyes soon found her B-cup breasts, high and perky on her chest.  A pair of tiny brown nipples protruded from them, and they already appeared to be rock-hard from their foreplay.  As he drank her in, Chin-sun only smiled and slipped her thumbs into the waistband of her panties, slipping them down to her knees and revealing her bare pussy at long last.

“Do… do you like?” she asked in a nervous voice.

Scott smiled right back at her.  “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you,” she blushed. “Is it my turn to see you?”

Scott finished unbuckling the belt Chin-sun had already fiddled with earlier, lowering his pants to the floor. Her eyes went wide at seeing his size; even with his boxer briefs still on, his erection appeared far larger than any she had ever seen, let alone touched.  She briefly wondered if he would be too much for her, but her instincts soon decided that she didn’t care.  Seeing Scott hesitate to drop the last of his clothes, Chin-sun leaned forward and pushed his underwear down to his ankles.

“Oh, my,” she gasped, touching his member with a trembling hand.  “Are all American men so big?”

“Um, I’d say I’m… a little above average,” Scott managed, trying desperately not to blow too soon from her stroking.

“Wow…”

To Scott’s relief, she then released her grip on his cock and took him by the hand, pulling him into bed with her once more.  Their bodies were both like ice by now, considering the weather outside and their slow pace in undressing, but they both relished in each other’s warmth under the covers.  Through it all, Scott managed to restrain his urges, reminding himself that he needed to show Chin-sun how women are supposed to be treated in bed.  They kissed for several minutes, allowing their bodies to warm each other back to a comfortable level.  Soon, Chin-sun broke their embrace and bit her lower lip.

“Scott… would it be ok if… um…”

“What is it?” he asked gently.

“Could… could I be… on top?” she managed.  “It’s ok if you say no,” she continued quickly.

“Of course, you can be on top,” Scott replied with a slight laugh.  “Why would you think I’d say no to that?”

Chin-sun shrugged. “All the men I have known enjoy… submissive women.  We are expected to know that our place is on our backs, quietly taking whatever the man has to give.  But there was one time I spent the night with a soldier who had sustained severe leg injuries and had to lie on his back.  Our only option was for me to ‘ride’ him, as he put it.  I found the experience… exhilarating.”

Scott leaned forward and kissed her forehead.  “Those men don’t know what they’re missing out on.  To me, everything is more fun with two active participants.  Besides, I’m just glad to be here with you. Whatever you want to do is what I want to do.”

With a twinkle of excitement in her eyes, Chin-sun swung her leg over Scott’s torso and pressed her chest into his.  She could feel his equipment pinned against her abdomen, as well as every twitch of anticipation it gave.  She continued to tease him a bit, planting playful kisses on his chest and grinding her lower body against his cock.  Scott was in blissful agony as he laid there and allowed her to have her way with him. Soon, she could wait no longer to join with him and shifted her pelvis appropriately.

Scott held his erection still for her as Chin-sun pressed her entrance against his tip.  Her eyes bulged a bit as he began to penetrate her, but she remained undeterred.  She sank down a couple of inches and stopped to allow her juices to seep out and coat the rest of his length.  After returning to his tip, Chin-sun continued her descent, managing to take more than half of him this time around.  All the while, Scott remained patient and understanding, never rushing her or forcing the issue.  Chin-sun was in complete control of the situation.  At last, she managed to sink all the way down to the base of his cock, halting for several delicious moments as she savored the feelings of fullness.

“Oh, Scott…”

Scott said nothing in reply, simply running his fingers along the supple skin of her hips and tummy. Chin-sun enjoyed that sensation and soon began to work his cock with her sopping wet pussy.  Her speed increased little by little, and Scott became entranced by her long ponytail swaying with every graceful movement she made.  After a few minutes of this, the poor boy couldn’t help but reach up and take hold of her firm breasts.  They were a perfect fit in his hands, and Chin-sun seemed to have just the right amount of sensitivity that his touch enhanced every sensation without overwhelming her.

All too soon, Chin-sun was bucking and convulsing on top of him, the musky scent of her pussy filling the room.  As Scott began to worry about their volume, he pulled her down to lie on his chest and sealed his lips around hers.  She replied in kind, her tongue dueling with his as she rode the crest of her orgasm. The feeling of Scott’s strong hands running down her back to grasp her perky ass only served to intensify the experience.  At last, she began to slow, though she remained impaled on his stiff rod the entire time.

“Amazing…” she whispered, laying her head on his shoulder.

“Had enough?” Scott chuckled.

“From you? Never.”  Rolling onto her back, Chin-sun beckoned him to follow her. “Please, love me, Scott.  I need you.”

There was no way Scott was going to deny her that request.  After positioning his body on top of hers with care, he rubbed his swollen tip against her slick entrance and pushed back into her.  Chin-sun’s eyes never once left his as they made love in the tried-and-true position.  Though she felt his weight on top of her, she was far from the submissive little girl she usually had to be, running her fingers through Scott’s hair and kissing his neck to urge him on.  At one point, he withdrew almost his entire length from her, which Chin-sun answered by refusing to let him out.

“Mine,” she said, wrapping her legs around Scott’s waist and pulling him all the way back into her.

“If you insist,” he chuckled.  “Though, I did have one idea.  Do you trust me, Chin-sun?”

“With my life, Scott.”

Without another word, Scott withdrew from Chin-sun, eliciting a mew of disappointment from her.  But she soon realized he was up to something as he rolled back over to his side of the bed, remaining on his side.  He pulled her a bit closer to him and gently rolled her onto her side so that her ass was pressed against his cock.

“Scott, what are you… ohhhhh…”

Chin-sun moaned in pleasure as Scott lifted her leg and entered her from behind in a position she would later come to know as spooning.  She found that by adjusting her butt a bit, they could maintain penetration without having to keep her leg lifted.  This made it easier to keep the covers on top of them for warmth, though their bodies were still pressed together for this purpose, albeit in a back-to-front manner.  In spite of the fact that she couldn’t see Scott’s face, Chin-sun had never felt closer to him.  She could feel his hot breath on her shoulder and shivered with excitement every time he planted a soft kiss on her neck.  Feeling bold, she reached a hand behind her head and again played with his hair, even finding that she could turn her head slightly to look him in the eyes. Through it all, Scott never missed a beat in his leisurely thrusting.

“I love you, Chin-sun,” he whispered.

Smiling back at him, she replied in kind, “Nado neoleul salanghae.  I love you, too, Scott Erickson.”

Hearing those words seemed to trigger both lovers’ orgasms at the same time.  They once again sealed their lips together to stifle their moans of pleasure, with Chin-sun writhing as she felt Scott’s hot seed fill her up. A moment later, Chin-sun felt his body relax and turned to find him lying on his back, as happy and content as she had ever seen a man.  She felt a sense of pride as she rolled over to join him, laying her head on his chest.

“And… that’s how lovemaking… is supposed to be,” Scott said, still catching his breath.

“It is more wonderful than anything I have ever known,” Chin-sun sighed.  After a few minutes of comfortable silence, she asked, “Scott… if we get to America, will I ever see you again?”

“Of course, you will,” he replied, glancing down at her.  “Why wouldn’t you?”

“Scott, I love you, but… surely a nice man like you would have an American sweetheart waiting for him, yes?  I could never steal such a wonderful man from her.  It would be wrong…”

Scott leaned down and kissed her forehead.  “Chin-sun, the only ones waiting for me are my mom, my dad, and my brother.  You’re the only woman in my life.”

“You mean that?”

“I do.  In fact, to answer your question, whenwe get to America, I plan to see as much of you as I possibly can.  To be honest… I want to see you every day.”

“I would like that,” Chin-sun smiled.

“And not just every day,” Scott continued, “but every morning and every night, too.  Wake up next to you, have breakfast, spend our days together, have dinner, fall asleep with you, every day… for the rest of our lives.”

Chin-sun’s eyes went wide as she realized what he was saying.  For a wonderful man like him, she would have happily settled for being his bedwarmer, allowing him to take her for fun outside of his marriage.  But what he was describing was far more than that.

“Scott, are you saying-”

“I want you to be my wife, Chin-sun,” he whispered, his voice quivering.  “I-I want… everything with you.  A home, a life…”

“Sons?” she asked hopefully.

“Sons and daughters.  As many as you want!” he smiled.  “So… what do you say?”

An impish grin spread across her face.  “I say… we will have three sons.  The oldest we will name for my father and he will grow to become a successful businessman. Our middle son will be named for your father, he will be well loved and become a great leader in government.  And our youngest son will carry on his father’s name, becoming a renowned athlete like you.”  She paused a moment before continuing, “And once we have had them, I would wish for a daughter, one I can show everything my grandmother has ever taught me.”

Scott laughed a bit. “You’ve thought this out, haven’t you?”

Chin-sun blushed.  “It has long been a dream of mine.  Well, except the daughter part; that I have only begun wanting tonight.”

After pulling her in for another kiss, Scott said, “I’m onboard, with one exception.”

“And that is?” Chin-sun asked, cocking her eyebrow.

“I, um… kinda promised to name my firstborn son after my brother,” he admitted.  “It was how he agreed to help me out tonight.”

Chin-sun attempted to appear angry, but she couldn’t maintain the façade for more than a few seconds.  “In that case… I would love nothing more than to be your wife.”  She leaned in to kiss him again but stopped just short.  “Three sons then a daughter, yes?”

“What if we have a daughter first?” Scott asked with a smartass grin.

“We will just have to keep trying,” Chin-sun giggled.

After another short make out session, the pair began to feel the call of sleep wash over them. Chin-sun untied the red ribbon from her ponytail and smoothed out her hair before curling up on her side. Scott then flipped off the light and pulled the covers tightly around them, spooning his body against Chin-sun’s back for warmth.  Before long, they were sound asleep, dreaming of their new life together.

*****

High in a tree, Song sat in silence and overlooked the small town ahead of him.  He had tracked his prey here through most of the night, but his progress had been glacially slow due to the snowstorm.  As the first inkling of dawn glowed over the horizon, he scanned the area through a pair of binoculars, looking for any sign of Chin-sun or the American.  All the while, he felt sick to his stomach at everything he saw.

“So wasteful,” Song muttered.  “Even peasants like this have electricity and running water?  It is no wonder their government is so soft.  Focusing on giving luxuries and comforts… we would crush them if not for those meddlesome bastards.”

Though he knew they had to be here somewhere, finding them was still a tall order, one that he would have to take great care in.  Even with his secret advantage, Song knew he couldn’t just barge in and demand the American. He surmised that these people encountered traitors on a regular basis, rendering aid to them without a second thought. No, he had to know exactly where they were hiding before he could act.  For what felt like ages, he saw no movement anywhere, but one house in the sleepy town soon began to stir.  After a few moments, he caught a glimpse of someone peeking out the window.

“White face… blonde hair… that’s him!  Me-gook nom…”

Feeling the adrenaline rush that always came right before a major operation, Song climbed down from the tree and pocketed his binoculars.  He did a final check of his equipment, finding it in proper working order. With a deep breath and a slight grin on his face, he began the short walk into town.

*****

Scott awoke first that morning, pleased to have Chin-sun still wrapped in his arms.  He disentangled himself carefully and slipped out of the bed, taking a quick look out the window.  The sun was still below the horizon, but dawn would break soon. As he was about to slip back into bed, a soft knock came at the door.  Though he figured it was their host, he took no chances and grabbed his pistol from the nightstand.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Good morning,” came Myung-dae’s voice.  “Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes, then we will go to the airport.”

“We’ll be ready. Thank you.”  Placing the pistol back on the nightstand, he rubbed his hand along Chin-sun’s exposed shoulder.  “Wake up, gorgeous,” he whispered.

“Mm… good morning, Scott,” she breathed as her eyes fluttered open.  “What time is it?”

“A little before six,” he replied, glancing at his watch.  “Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes, then we’ll go to the airport. Why don’t you wash up a bit in the bathroom across the hall?”

“That sounds delightful,” she smiled.  “I do not have time for a full bath, but it will be so nice to wash my face…”

Scott began to dress himself, slipping on his boots and making sure his silenced pistol was secure in his coat pocket.  Chin-sun followed suit, putting on her clothes from the night before.  Once they were decent, they opened the door to the hallway and Chin-sun headed for the bathroom.  Scott strolled into the kitchen, catching a whiff from the pot of rice cooking on the stove.  He then walked into the den and was about to take a seat in a chair when he noticed a cold draft.  Looking around, he saw a bit of light shining in from the direction of the front door and decided to investigate in case Myung-dae needed his help with anything. But as he rounded the corner into the entryway, his eyes went wide at seeing their host speaking with a man at the door in military fatigues.

*****

As Myung-dae walked from the guest bedroom and turned toward the kitchen to check on the rice, a knock came at the front door.  He approached and looked through the peephole, finding a man about Scott’s age wearing military fatigues.  After unlatching the door, he opened it to greet his visitor.

“Can I help you?” he asked, studying the soldier’s face.  His eyes gave no hint of emotion, though a prominent scar ran down his left cheek; Myung-dae surmised that this young man had seen significant action in his career.

“Have you seen this man, sir?” the soldier asked, producing a picture from a cellphone.  “We believe him to be in the area.  He is a dangerous man, wanted for murder and kidnapping. He may have a young woman with him as a hostage.”

Myung-dae studied the photograph for a moment.  It was clearly Tom, his houseguest from last night, but the elderly man had immediate doubts as to the soldier’s claims.  If Tom was a criminal with a hostage, why would the young lady have defended him with such vigor?  For that matter, why was Tom so willing to accept his original proposal of sleeping arrangements last night?  If the girl truly was a defector, this could be an elaborate ruse to return her back to North Korea.  While he pondered this, the soldier gave him a questioning look.

“Have you seen him?” he asked again.

As Myung-dae looked up, he at last saw it: the patch on his shoulder which indicated his rank. Myung-dae had served in the army in his younger days.  He remembered well the strict regulations they had for displaying one’s rank, and number one was that each soldier had to personally stitch the patch to their uniform to ensure optimal neatness and lasting strength.  But this patch looked as though it had been tacked on in haste, perhaps even secured with tape on the backside.  Such a shoddy display would never be tolerated from a real soldier.

“No, I have not seen him, but I will remain on the lookout,” Myung-dae replied.

The soldier at first pursed his lips in frustration, but his eyes then flickered as he noticed movement behind Myung-dae.  When Scott Erickson came into view, he knew he was close to accomplishing his mission.

“Wrong answer, old man.”

In one fluid motion, Song drew a silenced pistol from his side and pointed it at Myung-dae’s face. Before the man could even think to react, Song had pulled the trigger and placed a bullet in his forehead.  The light left his eyes in an instant and he fell backward, hitting the floor with a thud.

“NOOOOOO!” Scott screamed in rage.

Song turned to aim for Scott, but the American was already charging his position.  Song did manage to squeeze off a shot, but Scott had already lowered his head for a tackle, causing the bullet to fly over his head. Normally, Scott would have drawn his own pistol to match the North Korean, but with Myung-dae in the way, he had hesitated.  Now, Song had the clear advantage with a weapon at the ready, forcing Scott to get in close and get him off-balance.  Song grunted in pain as Scott slammed the full force of his body against him, pinning him against the doorframe.  Before Song could get his weapon in position to execute the American, Scott had already latched his hand around Song’s wrist.  Scott then began banging Song’s hand against the wall as hard as he could until the gun at last dropped from his hand.  To Scott’s good fortune, the weapon clattered to the ground and fell into an air vent sitting open for repairs on the floor.

Sekki ya!  You will die today!” Song growled in pain.

“Bring it on, bitch!” Scott sneered.

Though Scott had control of Song’s wrists, the Korean had the presence of mind to kick his knee up into Scott’s gut.  This knocked the wind out of him, forcing Scott to retreat a step or two.  Now with an opening, Song assumed a traditional Tae-kwon-do fighting stance and stared into Scott’s eyes.  One might have thought this was for intimidation purposes, but it was actually a means of reading one’s opponent.  After a moment, Scott’s eyes flickered down and to his right, indicating he was reaching for something.  As soon as Scott had pulled his own silenced pistol from his jacket pocket, Song was already in motion.  His spin kick was so fast and so precise that Scott never knew what happened. One moment, he had a gun in his hand. The next, it was on the ground between the two men.

Both dived to the floor at once, but Song was a hair faster.  Knowing he wouldn’t be able to get control of the weapon just yet, Song swiped it with his hand and sent it sliding across the floor and into the kitchen. He then swung at Scott’s face in an attempt to stun him before leaping to his feet turning toward the gun. Scott wasn’t fazed by this, however, and immediately lunged forward to wrap his arms around Song’s ankles.  The Korean yelped in surprise as he fell face first to the floor mere feet short of the gun.  By this time, the commotion had alerted Chin-sun in the bathroom.

“Scott?” she called out.

“Chin-sun, it’s Song! He found us!” he shouted, struggling to restrain Song’s crawl towards the pistol.

Just as Song was about to reach the pistol, Chin-sun appeared from the hallway and saw them entangled with each other.  Not knowing what else to do, she kicked the gun away and under the refrigerator, out of reach of both Scott and Song.

Ssi-bal nyeon!” Song swore.

“Haven’t I already warned you about that word?!” Scott scolded him.

As Scott tried to get on top of Song to pin him and end his, the Korean managed to get one leg free and kick him in the face.  Scott soon got to his feet, but Song was already charging and tackled him as Scott had done to him before.  Scott landed hard against the dishwasher, which Song used as a workbench as he began to pound on Scott.  He lashed out with punch after punch to Scott’s face, his anger and frustration apparent in each and every blow.  Scott managed to defend himself for a few seconds, but he knew he would need way out. He could hear a terrified Chin-sun whimpering in the corner, and a thousand thoughts began rattling through is mind.

Is this really it?  Am I really going to die here?  No… no, I can’t let that happen!  Chin-sun needs me, she’s counting on me.  I love her… and I won’t let her down!

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott spotted the steaming pot of rice.  After blocking one of Song’s punches, he found a small opening reach for the pot with his free hand.  By the time Song realized what Scott was up to, he already had the pot ready.

“Breakfast is served, asshole!”

Scott flipped the pot over and emptied its contents onto Song, causing him to cry out in pain from the hot food.  A bit of it landed on Scott, though, and he knew right away that the rice wasn’t hot enough to end the fight altogether.  As Song staggered back a couple of steps, Scott reengaged him, attacking with targeted punches to his ribs, stomach, and kidneys. Unfortunately, the hot food had done little more than make the North Korean angry.  Song recovered from Scott’s offensive and forced him back with a chop to his neck.  He then launched himself at Scott, enraged at the turn the fight had taken, and tackled him to the floor.

“This is where you die,” he growled, wrapping his hands around Scott’s throat.

On the other side of the kitchen, Chin-sun looked on in horror as Scott struggled against Song. As strong as her hero was, it was clear he would not be able to make it out of this; Song was draining his strength bit-by-bit.  She was scared out of her mind, but she knew all that was meaningless at this point. Scott had saved her before, now it was her turn to help him.  Collecting her courage, she untied the long ribbon in her hair and ran up behind Song.

“Release him!” she commanded.

Before Song knew what was happening, Chin-sun had wrapped her ribbon around his throat and pulled with all her strength.  With the element of surprise, she had enough leverage to yank him off of Scott, who coughed and heaved in an attempt to catch his breath.  Shaking his head a few times to clear his vision, Scott then saw Chin-sun struggling with Song.  She might have had enough strength to pull Song away from him, but there was no way she could hold him for long.  As Scott rose to his feet, Song had already broken free and was turning to take out his anger on Chin-sun.  Thinking fast, he suddenly remembered Leon’s combat knife hidden in his boot and withdrew it in one swift motion.

“LEAVE HER ALONE!” Scott screamed.

Song’s head whirled around, but all too late.  Scott charged forward with knife in hand, piercing the Korean right below his ribcage. Song’s eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open as he attempted a scream of pain, but no sound came out.  Scott caught him as he fell on his back to the floor; there was one matter of business to attend to.

“Song, stay with me,” Scott said.  “Don’t die, not yet.  I need to know where you got the uniform.  Who gave you a South Korean uniform?”

Song only glared at him in reply.  Feeling the last of his strength slipping away, he drew in a breath and spat what little fluid he had remaining in Scott’s face.  A moment later, Song’s body fell limp.

“Fucking bastard…”

“Scott!” Chin-sun cried, rushing up to him.  “Are you hurt?”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her.  “Come on, we need to leave.”

“Leave?  But… what about Myung-dae?”

“Chin-sun, we don’t know if Song was alone or not!  We have to leave now, or Myung-dae’s sacrifice will be for nothing!  Come on!”

A quick search of a bowl in the entryway netted Scott a car key belonging to the Kia K3 parked in the carport.  He made sure to take a good look around before they climbed in; the last thing they needed was a nosey neighbor reporting them for theft.  Thankfully, the coast was clear; most of the residents were still asleep in their beds.  After starting up the car and getting his bearings, they were off to Yangyang International Airport.

*****

“You ready for this?” Scott asked.

“I think so,” replied Chin-sun.

“We’ll be fine.  Just stick close to me and don’t speak to anyone unless necessary.”

The pair made their way into the terminal, trying to appear as inconspicuous as they could. Thankfully, there were still a large number of Americans traveling back home that day, so Scott didn’t draw any extra attention.  After a quick stop in the restroom, they purchased their tickets for the first available flight back to the United States.  As they approached security, the crowds surrounding them grew more and more dense, which Scott hoped would help them make it through to the concourse without further issue.  But just as they had passed through the scanners, a trio of security officers surrounded them.

“Young lady, your passport has been flagged.  We will need to screen you further.  Please come with us,” the man in charge said.

“Don’t worry, Chin-sun. I thought this might happen,” Scott reassured her, seeing the panic in Chin-sun’s eyes.  “That will be fine, officers, but I have to stay with her at all times.”

“Sir, do not tell us how to do our jobs,” the officer reprimanded him.

“Of course not, officer,” Scott said politely.  “But consider that she is a young woman alone in a busy airport and three men she does not know are ordering her to come with them.  If she were she your own daughter, wouldn’t you want a man she trusted to stay with her?”

All three officers glanced at each other upon hearing this; they understood and agreed with Scott’s logic. They soon led the pair down a nearby hallway and opened a door at the end, depositing them in a darkened room. The guards and their detainees waited in silence for a few moments until the door opened once more.  A man flipped the lights on and Scott gritted his teeth at seeing who it was.

“Yoon Suck-chin,” he muttered under his breath.

“Leave us,” Suck-chin said to the officers.  Once they were alone, he turned to the pair with a wry smile, clapping his hands in a slow and melodramatic fashion.  “Quite an impressive effort, I must say.  You almost got away with it, Scott.”

Scott stared back at him and replied, “I’m not sure what you mean, sir.  My name is Tom, as you can see on my passport.”

“Right,” he snorted.

Suck-chin then walked over to the security camera in the corner and pulled the power cord out from the back of it.  Chin-sun was sweating bullets at this point; she knew they were going to die at this man’s hand.  Yet Scott seemed completely calm, as he had through the entire encounter with the security officers.  How could he not be afraid of this?  Did he know something she didn’t?  In spite of every logical thought that entered her mind, her instincts told her to remain calm and trust him.

“Let us not insult each other’s intelligence,” Suck-chin continued.  “We both know who you really are, Scott Erickson.”

“I’ve told you the truth, whether or not you choose to believe it is your business,” Scott reiterated. “Why are we here?”

“Because you have violated international law, kidnapping this young woman and denying her reentry to her homeland.  I am here to ensure she returns home safe and sound,” Suck-chin said, continuing his pleasant demeanor.

“He did not kidnap me!” Chin-sun insisted.  “I am defecting!  He saved my life!”

“Save your pleas, Ms. Park,” Suck-chin waved her off.  “In the spirit of the Olympics, we are not accepting your defection.”

“The Olympics are over,” Chin-sun growled in anger.

“Irrelevant.  I have my orders.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you do,” Scott grinned.

Suck-chin turned to face Scott once more.  “Something to say, Mr. Erickson?”

“You’re working for the North Koreans, aren’t you?”

Suck-chin studied Scott’s face for several moments before a broad smile spread across his own face. “You Americans think you know everything, don’t you?”

“It only makes sense. Everyone else I’ve talked to during my time here would welcome any defector with open arms.  But you?  You’re actively fighting it at every turn.  Why else would you go to such great lengths to stop a single girl from defecting?”

“Because she betrays her homeland and her culture!” Suck-chin spat, pulling a pistol from his coat. Now knowing he was found out, he continued, “You are right.  I have been a spy from the beginning.  I was born in the North, groomed from birth in the ways of espionage, even back to Kim Jong-il’s reign.  I am the first of a new breed of spies meant to promote reconciliation between the North and South.”

“Were you the one that gave Kim Yo-jong the South Korean uniform?” Scott pressed.

“I am.  Just a little insurance policy.”

“Why are you doing this?” Chin-sun pleaded.  “Why can I not leave?”

“It is quite simple,” Suck-chin replied.  “Dear Leader now sees that the path to at last regaining control of the peninsula lies not in war, but in peace.  The people of the South have become lazy and complacent.  None except the oldest among them remember the beginning of the war, and more of them are dying every day.  Among those our age, it is far more common for them to place the blame of the war on Japan, not the North!  Not that they are incorrect, but they still chose the wrong side when the fighting broke out… ah, but I digress.  Sentiments here in the South have shifted as such that, if they will but make a few concessions to the North, such as disallowing defections, Dear Leader will have all the leverage he needs to reunify the land under his rule.  An era that you, sadly, will not live to see…”

All of a sudden, the door burst open and Leon Parker entered the room with his weapon drawn, followed by the same three security officers from before.

“Yoon Suck-chin, drop the weapon!  You are under arrest for espionage!” Leon barked.

Yoon Suck-chin, miguleul beolyeo!  Gancheob hyeom-uilo chepodoebnida!” one of the officers repeated in Korean.

Suck-chin’s eyes went wide at how the tables had turned.  He had a fleeting thought of shooting Scott and avoiding a lengthy interrogation and trial, but his cowardice won out in the end.  After placing the gun on the table, he placed his hands behind his head and one of the officers placed him in handcuffs.

“How is this happening?” Suck-chin seethed.

“Nice sting, Leon,” said Scott, pulling a recording device from his shirt pocket.  “Oldest trick in the book: if something sneaky needs to be done, there are no cameras in the restroom.”

“Well, we owe it to these officers,” Leon chuckled.  “We wouldn’t have been able to get the recorder through security without their cooperation.”

As Suck-chin was led swearing and cursing from the room, a man of about sixty entered with a pleasant smile on his face.

“It seems you were right, Major Parker.  I must apologize for lecturing you before.”

“I’m just glad we got him before he did any real damage,” Leon replied, shaking the man’s hand. “I’d like you to meet the man that made this operation possible.  This is Sco… er, Tom Erickson.  Tom, this is Moon Yoo-jin, director of the KIS.”

“Erickson Ssi, you have my deepest thanks,” Yoo-jin said with a slight bow.  “My people could have been in grave danger if this spy had been allowed to go about his work for much longer.”

“It was my pleasure, sir,” Scott answered, beaming with pride.

“Forgive me, but you share a certain similarity to one of the medalists from America, do you not?”

“I should hope so,” Scott chuckled.  “Scott Erickson is my much uglier twin brother.”

“Twin brother… I see. And how do we know for sure who is who?” Yoo-jin asked with a knowing grin.

“Mr. Moon, I’ve known the Erickson boys for several years and I can assure you they are both men of outstanding moral fiber.  They can be trusted,” Leon cut in.

“Of course.  Ah, and you must be the famous Park Chin-sun,” Yoo-jin continued.  “I must offer you my apologies, young lady.  When I first heard of Yoon’s decision to deny your defection request, I thought it merely a young man holding to the rules without question.  I never would have imagined anything more sinister at work.”

“No apology is necessary,” Chin-sun said.  “I suppose I can understand my defection not being accepted during the Olympics…”

“Yes, but I do believe the Olympics are now over, yes?” Yoo-jin continued.  “Park Chin-sun, the Republic of Korea is happy to welcome you as a free woman.  I will contact the right people that will help with your paperwork.  You will be allowed to build your new life here if you wish.”

“Moon Ssi, you are very kind!  But I must be honest… my wishes have changed.”

“What do you mean young lady?”

“You see… I no longer wish to live here in the South,” Chin-sun explained, linking her arm in Scott’s. “Rather, I wish to travel across the seas to America and live with my hero.  He and I have fallen in love during our adventure together, and I can no longer imagine my life without him in it.”

Yoo-jin raised his eyebrows at this.  “Are you certain?  I feel I should warn you that the culture shock will be even greater in America than it would be here.  I would not want you to become overwhelmed.”

“As long as my beloved is by my side, I can face anything,” she answered with a smile.  Scott said nothing but squeezed her hand with affectionate approval.

After a nod from Leon, Yoo-jin said, “Then we will stamp your passports and send you off on the next available flight to America.  My men here will escort you through customs so you will encounter no further delays.”

“And I’ll contact U.S. customs and notify them of your arrival,” Leon chimed in.  “They’ll let you through no problem.”

Once the last of their business was taken care of, Scott and Chin-sun said their goodbyes to Leon and Yoo-jin before being escorted from the room.  Now alone with his counterpart from America, Yoo-jin slumped down in a chair with a heavy sigh.

“I will be lucky to keep my job after this near miss…”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Leon encouraged him.  “Yoon said it himself: he was bred to be a spy.  I’d say the fact that we caught him before he managed to do any lasting damage is accomplishment enough.”

“I suppose you are right.”

“And if you need someone to vouch for you, give me a call.  You do good work, Yoo-jin.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, Tom mentioned to me that he and Chin-sun holed up in a little village near the border last night. The nice old man who gave them shelter was killed by Chin-sun’s handler who had come for her; I believe Tom killed the handler in retaliation.”

“Thank you for making me aware.  I will find the case you speak of and take over the investigation.  Now, is there any connection between Tom and the incident I received word of near the DMZ last night?  It seems a car exploded.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” Leon replied.

“Of course, it is,” Yoo-jin smirked.  Feeling his cellphone buzz, Yoo-jin answered, “Yes?  Ah… how very interesting… yes, I am in detainment room four.  Please patch her through.”

“What’s going on?” Leon asked.

“We have a priority communication incoming from North Korea.  Kim Yo-jong wishes to speak with me directly,” Yoo-jin replied, trying to contain his laughter.

“That crazy bitch doesn’t know when to quit, does she?”

Yoo-jin flipped a switch and Kim’s face appeared on the TV on the wall.  “Good morning, Ms. Kim,” he said.  “I trust you had a safe journey home?”

“Director Moon.  And… Major Parker,” Yo-jong replied, narrowing her eyes.  “What luck.  This will save me an additional phone call.”

“What can we do for you?” Leon asked with a smile.

“Please, let us skip the pleasantries.  Where is Park Chin-sun?”

Leon scrunched his face at this.  “Park Chin-sun?  The last time I saw her was two nights ago when we returned her to you.”

“Do not think me a fool, Major Parker.  Our convoy was attacked by two men last night.  They fired upon us and kidnapped Chin-sun.”

“How terrible!  Was anyone in your convoy injured?” Yoo-jin asked.

“Let me worry about that.  My only concern is for Chin-sun.  I know these men acted on your orders, Major Parker.”

“That is a serious accusation, Ms. Kim, and one you will find untrue,” Leon replied.  “I can assure you I have no knowledge of any operation like the one you describe.  All my men are accounted for.”

“What about that athlete that resisted when we took Chin-sun back with us?  Scott Erickson, I believe his name was?”

Yoo-jin chuckled. “Surely you are not suggesting that an Olympic gold medalist engaged in some military-style attack mere hours after the Closing Ceremony.”

“And besides, Scott Erickson couldn’t have attacked you,” Leon agreed.

“And how do you know this?”

“Because Scott Erickson was at Yangyang International Airport last night after the ceremony. He even gave a live television interview,” Leon replied with a smirk.

Kim Yo-jong was clearly flustered by this.  She looked away from the camera for a few moments to look up the interview Leon had mentioned.  When she found it, her face scrunched into an expression of pure frustration.

“Be that as it may, we are ignoring the primary issue,” she continued, her voice becoming angrier.  “Where is Chin-sun?  I know she intended to betray us and seek asylum with you.”

“As Director of the Korean Immigration Service, I can say with certainty that no asylum has been granted to anyone since before the Olympics,” Yoo-jin replied.  “However, it is possible that the young lady knew she would not be accepted here and decided instead to leave the country.”

Leon continued, “And if, in theory, she was to arrive safely on U.S. soil, I do believe my government would be more than happy to grant her asylum.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“We would.  After all, we signed no treaty to disallow defectors,” Leon countered.

Yo-jong’s eyes went wide with crazed anger at this.  She leaned close to the camera and spoke in a trembling voice, “This is a pointless exercise Major Parker.  The girl is a stupid little whore.  She knows nothing of value, she can tell you nothing you could use against us.  Protecting her will gain you nothing!  She IS nothing!!!  And she is unworthy of your charity.”

Leon grinned.  “And that, Ms. Kim, highlights the key difference between our peoples.  In any case, I do hope you enjoyed your Olympic experience.”

Leon made a slashing motion across his throat, and the feed was cut.

*****

Once Scott returned home to his family in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, the predictable chaos ensued upon introducing them to Chin-sun.  There was so much Scott couldn’t tell them for their own protection, but that didn’t stop his parents from prying.  It was only because of Tom’s passionate defense of his brother that they calmed down… at least for the moment.  Their anxieties bubbled back to the surface when they learned that Scott and Chin-sun planned to marry as soon as possible.  That was when Scott’s grandmother, Mae, stepped in.

The matriarch of the Erickson family was quite skeptical of Chin-sun at first, but after hearing the girl’s story of her own grandmother’s history, Mae began to realize that her reasons for defecting were genuine.  And after Chin-sun recounted her harrowing experiences with Scott in Korea, she understood precisely how they had fallen in love so quickly.  After all, it was during a similarly dangerous time that she had fallen in love with Scott’s grandfather all those many years ago. Once they had finished their talk in Korean, Mae turned to the rest of the family and said that Scott and Chin-sun would be married as soon as they wished.  There were no further objections.

Chin-sun soon developed a fast friendship with her new grandmother-in-law.  The two women saw so much of themselves in each other, and Mae certainly sympathized with the things Chin-sun’s grandmother had experienced in her younger days.  Mae knew well that she was fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to meet her own husband; things could have ended far differently for her.  The two women soon became nigh inseparable, spending much of their days together.  As one who had already been through these experiences, Mae took it upon herself to help acclimate Chin-sun to the unfamiliar things she would encounter in America.  With Chin-sun being as intelligent as she was, it didn’t take long for her to start to become a true American woman.  After a few years, she even decided to take an American name: Charity.  Of course, Scott would call her Chin-sun until the day he died.

Two weeks after their arrival from Korea, Scott and Chin-sun were married in a private ceremony in his backyard.  Only Scott’s family was there, although Leon did Skype in at one point to offer his congratulations.  The ceremony itself was a brilliant meeting of East and West.  Mae served as both Matron of Honor and wedding planner, bringing in the minister from their local Lutheran church to officiate.  She also incorporated many Korean traditions in the ceremony, such as having carvings of Mandarin ducks, commonly believed to mate for life, and having the minister read a passage from Confucius in addition to the traditional Bible verses.

Chin-sun was stunning in her traditional attire, consisting of a jeogori, which was a long-sleeved short jacket, and a chima, a long wrap-around skirt that extended down to her feet.  She specifically chose the colors of red and navy blue to show her commitment to the country that had given her a new home.  A white silk belt wrapped around her waist to complete the outfit, adorned with a beautiful stitching of a swan to symbolize long life, and a tiny American flag tucked into the belt.  Scott, wearing his favorite black suit, was utterly speechless at the sight of her, so much so that Tom, his Best Man, had to slap him on the back of the head once or twice.

After considering her options, Chin-sun decided to take her husband’s advice and use his benefits from the G.I. Bill to attend college.  She chose to major in Counseling with the hope that she could one day meet other defectors and refugees from abroad and be of help and comfort to them in this unfamiliar land.  Scott continued to skate for fun and enjoyment, but he decided it was time to retire to a quiet life and take a job in his dad’s company, especially with the large family his wife wanted to have.  Many in the U.S. were unhappy when he decided not to return for the next Olympics, but Scott couldn’t have cared less.  He had never been happier in his life…

*****

It was about a month after they returned from Korea that Scott saw it.  He was relaxing on the sofa with the TV on for background noise when a news story came on that made mention of his wife.

“Chin-sun!  Come see this, they’re talking about you on TV,” he called out.

“Really?  What are they saying?” she asked as she entered the room.

“And in international news, we have a rare public video released online today from North Korea,” said Lester Holt.  “The subject of the video is a young lady named Chin-sun Park, who apparently defected during the recent Olympics and is living here in America, according to the video.  In it, her family has a message they want her to hear.”

The couple held each other close as Chin-sun teared up at seeing her mother and father once more. They seemed distraught, heartbroken that she had run away from home on a whim and begged her to return.  Her father spoke of assurances that the State had given him, that she would be regarded as a returning hero, given a large sum of money, and have an appearance on public television.  In spite of her tears, Chin-sun was not fooled. She had heard the rumors of what really happened to defectors when they returned.  They would be paraded around in public as a sign of the State’s superiority to the rest of the world in securing their return, but once the celebration was done, they were often sent to maximum security labor camps.  Then, Chin-sun’s grandmother appeared on the screen.

Halmeoni…” Chin-sun whispered.

Her grandmother spoke for several minutes, reminiscing on all the wonderful times she and Chin-sun had shared together over the years.  She put on a convincing act, to be sure, but it sounded to Scott as if she was forcing the words from her mouth.  As she came to the end of her plea, she concluded with a few simple words.

Nabineun hangsang gajang yeppeun kkoch-e nal-aganda.

At this point, Chin-sun fell to her knees in front of the TV, bawling her eyes out and touching the image of her grandmother on the screen.  Scott was at a loss for what to do; he hadn’t completely understood what her grandmother had said, let alone why it would elicit this reaction. Nonetheless, he placed a comforting hand on Chin-sun’s shoulder and helped her to her feet.

“Chin-sun, what did that mean?” Scott asked.

“It means… the butterfly always flies to the prettiest flowers.  It is the moral of a story my grandmother would always tell me growing up,” she explained.  “In the story, a group of butterflies have their flowers that they feed on and have fed on for generations.  But one of the butterflies can see that they are smaller and sicklier than the butterflies in the field.  When he mentions this, his fellow butterflies berate him for daring to be different and remind him that they have survived this long by staying true to what they know. This is where the story ends for most North Koreans.  But my grandmother continued the story to tell of the butterfly sneaking away every night to try the other flowers frequented by the prettier and healthier butterflies.  After a week of this, he had grown to be the most beautiful butterfly in the field and led the rest of his friends to do the same, saving their dying group.  The moral translates to never settling for less than the best.”

“And why would your grandmother mention that?  To try and draw you back home?”

Chin-sun laughed. “Never!  My grandmother is the one who convinced me to defect in the first place! No, I believe this to be a message. She wants me to know that I have found the best and that she and my family are pleased with this.  In spite of what the State forces them to say, they wish for me to make a new life here and never return to North Korea.”

Scott wrapped his wife in a tight hug and kissed her on the cheek.  “You’re very lucky, Chin-sun.  Your family loves you very much to want this for you.”

“I know.”

Chin-sun sighed happily, feeling her husband’s strong arms around her.  Here, she was safe and loved without condition.  She knew this to be right.  This was her place.  If there was a God, no words could express her gratitude for her deliverance from certain death at the hands of her former countrymen.  Now was the time.  Chin-sun had been harboring a secret for over a week now, and she was finally ready to tell her husband.

“Scott, there is something wonderful I must tell you.”

“You can tell me anything,” he replied.

Placing her lips next to his ear, Chin-sun took a deep breath and tried her best to still her trembling hands before whispering to him those fateful words.

“We are pregnant.”

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