Into the zone

A short story

Into the zone

“Welcome to Bugwi 38 do National Park, the world’s most dangerous and most amazing nature reserve!” Colonel Kung Jeong barks as the tourists disembark from the hoverbus that had taken them to today’s destination. Kung stands at attention in his full Korean Army dress uniform, his prostetic legs being hardly visible through the pants legs. Extending his robotic eyes to the amazement of the audience, colonel Kung looks at the group in front of him.

“I see we have an international gathering of rare animal lovers here!” Everyone chuckles. While the National Park did indeed act as a haven for hundreds of unique wildlife, its more lethal occupants were the real attraction, of course.

“Let’s be clear. This place is the most dangerous place on earth. In the years leading up to the Reunification War, both the North and the South deployed large numbers of autonomous combat units in this area. Most of them are still in operation, and will remain so for probably a decade or more. The Army is almost convinced the units have hardwired geofencing to prevent them from leaving the designated area, but we cannot be sure. Therefore you are required to remain in this area and to only observe through the bulletproof glass.”

The group quickly walks over to the large fence and tries to spot the famous autonomous warfare units that had been deployed en masse after the latest border clashes between North and South Korea some ten years ago.

With their bulky frames mounted on platforms, the Hanwha SGR sentry guns are easiest to spot. Tougher are the Starlight roving units, with their camouflaged patterns and crab-like slow but deliberate movement doing almost nothing to give enemy spotters any hint of their approach. A soft whirring-clacking sound is the only detectable sign before it shoot out a projectile at enormous velocity towards its target.

“Look!” Seo-yeon pulls her boyfriend Chris’s arm and pointed excitedly at an area of rocky ground. “There’s a red-crowned crane coming down, with a salamander in its beak! Maybe it’ll get shot!” The crane had indeed intended to have its meal right there, but the salamander has different plans, and manages to wiggle out from the large beak. With a large *thud* it lands on a patch of sand.

*whirr-clack* *phhhfft*

Before it has any chance of getting away, the salamander gets hit by a small rock fired by a Starlight that had been triggered by the sudden movement and sound. The crane lets out a startled cry, causing a SGR to whirr and tilt towards this apparent threat. Without ammunition however, the SGR only produces a series of mechanical clicks.

The crowd is amazed with the spectacle. “How come that thing could still fire its gun?” a woman asks. “They’ve been in operation for decades!”

“Good question”, says Kung. “First of all, incidents here are rare and these units were programmed conservatively. And second, the Starlights operate by kinetic energy: they take pellets from the ground and accelerate them to high speeds. No ammunition necessary. There are even some autonomous pellet factories scurrying around here, although I haven’t seen one in ages myself.

“Now, if you’ll follow me to the left, we can go up into the museum and learn some of this area’s history.”

* * * * *

“Chris, this is boring.” Seo-yeon says. “Let’s go find a cool place to take a picture together. I want one that no one else could possibly have.” She uses the voice that Chris can never say no to. She knows it, and he knows it.

Chris is hesitant to break the rules here, this isn’t like the time they ducked under a chain at the Vatican or when they pretended to boost each other the Kremlin walls; people died here. “I don’t think that’s a good idea Seo-yeon, but that museum sounded cool… right?”

“I guess. Ok, fine.” Still using that voice, with a little more pout to really dig into him.

Seo-yeon starts to follow the group, expecting any moment for Chris to stop her. The ever-attentive boyfriend doesn’t disappoint and jumps in front of Seo-yeon, “Stop, no. It’s ok. It’ll be fine, if we just hop over and get a quick picture.”

“YOU MEAN IT? Oh my god, you’re the best!” She hugs him tightly, heaping affection on him.

They make their way down the concrete path along the fence, away from the tour group. Chris boosts his petite girlfriend over the wall, like in the posed photo at the Kremlin, only very much real this time. He climbs up and drops down on the other side, landing on his feet, next to Seo-yeon. They both look back up and realize that the ground is much lower on this side.

Seo-yeon breaks, already regretting this adventure. She tries to hide this from Chis, who looks equally concerned.

“How are we going to get back up?” Her eyes glass over, preparing for tears.

“It’s okay,” Chris says, “We’ll find a hill up that way and climb back over, after the picture. Come on, it’s fine.” He takes her hand and guides her into the valley to find the perfect photoscape.

* * * * *

They follow a small stream to a small waterfall. It’s perfect – an Instagram moment, her grandmother would say. Seo-yeon selects a sturdy rock outcropping that protrudes over the lip of falls and lays on her belly, striking an adorable pose. Chris captures the moment in a photographic resolution, considered by some,  to rival the human eye.

“Okay. You look beautiful babe, we’ve got a pic that no one’s gonna have anything close to, we should head back.”

“Wait. One more? With us.”

“All right.” Chris agrees, and props his phone on a branch. He sets the timer and hustles to sit with Seo-yeon. To make room, Seo-yeon scoots a little farther out on the rock. A little too far, the addition of Chris’ weight shifts the stones supporting their rock and they topple over the stony waterfall.

* * * * *

In pain, Seo-yeon opens her eyes. She stares upward toward the sky, looking through a thick, invasive canopy of trees, the brilliant blue Korean sky that she had grown up underneath, was mostly blotted from sight. One thought on her mind, Chris. She shoots up from her back and looks around.

Chris is only a few feet away, but he’s facedown on the riverbank.

“Chris!” Seo-yeon yells as she wobbles to her legs. Nothing seems broken or out of place, so she takes a step and slowly puts her weight down. Her soaked shoes squish into a light mud and, she feels no pain. Five more steps and she’s at Chris’ side, rolling him onto his side.

Oh god, is he breathing? What do you do when someone… drowns? Hits their head? What do you do when someone falls down a damn waterfall? All legitimate questions to ask one’s self in a situation, in which time is not of dire importance. Seo-yeon being in a situation in which time was of dire importance realized, did the one thing she could think to do. She drew back her arm and slapped, Chris’ back, right about where she thought his lungs would be, as hard as she could.

It worked! Chris coughs up a lung’s worth of river water and looks into Seo-yeon’s eyes with a deep appreciation, she didn’t have to recount the incident, he knew what she had done. Chris looks up the hill they just traveled down, “Oh man. That. Was insane.” Chris drops his head back to the ground, happy to be alive.

Somewhere in the jungle a parrot shrieks, the shrill cry pierces the muggy air, then dies off, leaving a precision silence in place of birds, monkeys, and insects. Seo-yeon is the first to clue back into the danger of being alone in the DMZ, “Baby, I think we’re in trouble.”

“Yeah, that nerd Major is going to be pissed.” Chris jokes as he checks his ability to walk, just as Seo-yeon had.

“No, I think, like. Bad.”

Seo-yeon helps support Chris while he tests his legs, one doesn’t seem to have fared as well as hers.

“Put me down over there.” Chris winces in pain and is helped over to a rock he can sit on. He thoroughly tests the seat before allowing it to support the entirety of his weight. “They have teams that come in and find people. I bet this happens all the time. We’ll just wait here.”

Seo-yeon’s eyes aren’t on Chris’ face. She knows the face he puts on when he wants to be reassuring, he’d have it on now and she’d seen it before. What she hadn’t seen before, was the treeline. Every shadow, every shimmer of water, and every branch brushed by the wind, was a potential killer robot. Her eyes darted back and forth with a fear and intensity that Chris had never seen in her.

“Babe. Would you look at me?” He asks, looking for any kind of reassurance from her, but she never takes her eyes off the trees. He reaches up and tries to take her hand, she bats away any attempts.

“Seo-yeon, baby…” She notices that his voice is finally almost as hushed as it should be.

She whispers back, at the appropriate level, “I think we should move somewhere else. We’re kind of, out in the open here.”

“I don’t think so, when you’re lost, you stay where you are, so you’re easier to find.”

Seo-yeon checks her pockets for her phone, but doesn’t find it, it must have fallen out while tumbling down the hill. Chris tries the samething, also unsuccessful.

“Chris, we’re not lost. We’re in enemy territory and we shouldn’t be at our crash site.”

* * * * *

Chris looks up at Seo-yeon, who finally locks eyes with him, to punctuate the gravity of their situation, which has finally dawned on Chris.

Chris tries to say something in such a low tone that Seo-yeon can’t hear him at all.

Before she asks him to repeat himself, they both hear a tremendous crash from the jungle, followed by a rusty chittering of metallic legs.

They didn’t have to see it to know what it was. Some kind of robot was running through the jungle to kill them, and they didn’t have time to talk about it.

Seo-yeon looks to Chris, face white with panic.

Seo-yeon surveys her surroundings, a small clearing on the valley floor and the end of their small waterfall, seeing nothing worth trying to use as a weapon and nothing sturdy enough to hide behind–The Waterfall!

“Come on!” Seo-yeon shouts and yanks Chris off his stoop, she drags him into the water and under the rushing water from the fall.

The falls are shallow, so Chris and Seo-yeon have to stand directly in the cascading water to hide their bodies. But it does a superb job of obscuring them from the approaching starlight drone’s motion sensors. Its chittering legs, badly in need of oiling and a good over-all tune up, stopped in the clearing. Its mechanical body camouflaged, just as hidden from view as the targets scans the area for. The last long range scan detected human vocal activity in the area, which had allowed the drone to alter its assigned patrol protocol.

* * * * *

Switching an autonomous drone from patrol protocols to search protocols means a number of things. The drone become much more autonomous and conducts systematic investigations of suspected targets. Given an infinite amount of “clues” a starlight will search for a target for an infinite amount of time, the perfect hunter.

Following up on the first clue, the starlight scans the area for aborational sounds sounds that are not programmed into a database specific for locations of starlight deployments. For example, a starlight programmed for long term deployment to a desert in Jordan would try to investigate every sound if placed on deployment in a Brazillian rainforest.

The machine’s camouflage is so effective that Chris doesn’t see it, until it moves deeper into the clearing. He watches it stand on the area where he and Seo-yeon just recovered from their fall down the hill. It just stands over the small puddle created by Chris’ lungs. What’s it doing? Is it looking for us?

The starlight’s scanners read negative, no targets detected, initiate search protocol, initiative II. before beginning a spiral-out search pattern, the drone decides to follow up on the only available clue. The only source of sound and motion that could cover two potential targets was, the waterfall. Perfectly machine reasoning.

The hunter makes its way toward the waterfall. Chris and Seo-yeon don’t know how it figured out their hiding place, but it didn’t matter now. We have to run, they both think at the same time. Where? The only place to go is blocked by the robot. Like soldiers charging a machine gun nest, they silently prepare for one last desperate attempt. They they take hands firmly and squeeze, letting the other know they are going togther.

Their muscles tense and they prepare to propel themselves out of the waterfall past the nearing robot—from out of sight, they hear a strange, but familiar noise. It’s obscured by the falling water, but to both is instantly recognizable as a human voice.

* * * * *


The starlight bot ceases all search protocols and accesses its defense files. Having identified an aberrational sound as an incoming threat, the hull lurches back to allow the camera distance to crane upward and scan for motion, but the bot is too slow.

The battle cry was exactly the distraction Minjae needed. After sneaking down the hill on his belly, he needed the bot to back up, just a little, if he was going to make his throw. Minjae jumped to his feet, shouted the Japanese war cry, and hurled the heavy RFID net as far as he could. Fortunately, the drone backed into the right spot and was caught squarely in the signal blocking net.

Seo-yeon watched the robot back up and aim it’s weapons up the hill. She wished she could look past the lip of the waterfall and see what the bot saw.

It almost didn’t matter, some kind of a net fell over the bot and it instantly went dormant. The aggressive posture of the machine instantly replaced by a vacant stupor.

For a moment, there is silence in the jungle again.

“It’s alright, you can come out now it’s safe” The unfamiliar voice beckoned from on top of the gurgling falls.

Seo-yeon and Chris peek their heads out of the water and crane their necks upward. Though not too out of the ordinary, the man they saw, was not anything like what they expected. A chubby Korean man, in a filthy North Korean military uniform.

“Do you speak English? I speak English.” The man says shakily. He climbs down the rocks to stand level with Seo-yeon and Chris, “My name is Liutenant Minjae Jin. You are not safe here.”

Chris is the first to reply, “Yeah, we speak English, and we found that out pretty quick.”

“Be nice!” Seo-yeon smacks Chris in the arm and accepts an extended hand from Minjae, “Thank you. I am Seo-yeon and this is Chris. We are lost. Can you help us get to the border?”

Minjae replies with a confused stare, Maybe his English isn’t so good…

Catching the anxiety growing behind Seo-yeon’s eyes Minjae corrects his confusion, “Please forgive me. Border… which one?” Not remembering the word worth North or South, Minjae points in the directions that as best anyone could guess were North and South.

“Oh!” Seo-yeon clicks and understands, “South.”

“Sow-Ow-thh, good. Very close. Follow me.” Minjae says. He turns toward the vacant drone and kicks it over with a powerful blow. He chuckles softly, then mutters something under his breath in Korean that neither Chris nor Seo-yeon catch.

The strange man whistles, as if he were summoning a dog.

Immediately a tiny six legged robot springs from a hidden position and rans over to the belly of the starlight.

The tiny robot used its two front legs to tear off the armored access panel. The little thing, no larger than a box of tissues, was incredibly strong. The armored plate didn’t look like it was designed to come off.

Minjae reaches in, with the grace only experience grants, removes a several components, then pulls out the heart. With the main processing unit for the autonomous starlight unplugged, the drone went dark, decommissioned, until the core or a replacement was installed. Which would not be anytime soon, Minjae immediately smashes his new core between two large river stones.

Satisfied that the core would never again resemble a piece of working hardware, Minjae goes to work, slowly, removing the RFID net from the body of the starlight. “This is my Fox. Say hello Fox.”

The tiny autonomous pellet factory robot chitters over to the soaking and Seo-yeon and Chris. Chris recoils, terrified of any mechanical critters. But Seo-yeon, sees at it like a kitten. She holds out her hand, showing acceptance and openness.
“Why do you call it Fox?” Seo-yeon asks.

“From my favorite TV show. X-Files. I want to believe.”

Chris, incredulous, you named your pet robot, “Fox Mulder?”

“Shut up Chris. It’s ok Fox. I’m not going to hurt you.”

At the mention of its name, Fox zeros in on Seo-yeon and approaches her hand. He extends a single forward facing arm and touches her outstretched fingertips.

“Wow” Seo-yeon is amazed when Fox mimics her motions, for something so strong, it was incredibly gentle. Seo-yeon smiles, and somehow Fox reacts to her, intelligently.

“Hurry! Come quickly please!” Minjae’s voice was strained and urgent, Chris and Seo-yeon nearly leapt the twenty feet to Minjae’s side without question. He had removed the net from the starlight and unfurled it over his own body. The net itself was a hodgepodge of wires criss crossing each other, with occasional bits of circuitry holding things together, all in all, just large enough to throw over and cover a standing person.

Minjae holds up and edge of the net and makes room for Chris and Seo-yeon.

“What?” Chris asks in a panicked whisper.

“Inside. Must please hurry. Starlights come. We hide.”

“Hide here? They’ll see us.” Chris’s panicked whisper burns with frustration.

Seo-yeon pushes Chris into Minjae’s waiting arms, “Shut up and trust him.” Minjae pulls them close to his nasty smelling uniform and he drapes what we can of the flimsy net over the three of them.

* * * * *

Fully exposed and now caught in a net, the three intruders stand on the river bank, awaiting some unknown danger. The first predator emerges from the jungle, another starlight autonomous weapon system, flanked by another.

Standing in the open, the trio has a perfect view of the walking weapons platforms emerging from the jungle.

Within full view of the bots, our group watches the four starlights search the area and inspect their slain comrade. However, without reason, the drones avoid the three netted humans standing in the open. When a drone seem to be headed straight for them, it veers off to the side.

Fox, also safe from detection, prowls around outside the net, equally ignored by the starlights.

Before long, they give up the search and return to the jungle. It is still three whole minutes before Minjae breaks his silence.

Everyone collapses to the ground, exhausted.

Minjae speaks first, “R-F-I-D. Blocks the signal. In the net, they can’t see in or out.”

“Wow” Chris remarks, “The tour guide never mentioned that.”

“Well, he wouldn’t now would he?” Minjae had a strange upbeat lilt in his voice and he always sounded excited to say what he was saying “Only North Korea was arrogant enough to try it. My unit was given experimental RFID bands that were supposed to shield us from the drones when we went to decommission them. But they failed.”

Minjae rolls the net into a tight bindle and hoists it onto his back. “Let’s go.”

Fox scuttles along the trail ahead of Minjae, presumably checking for drone activity.

“I’m going to take you to an extraction point. Because you wandered in here all, the drones have altered their patrol protocols.”
Chris and Seo-yeon exchange looks, expecting the other to know what this strange scientist soldier is talking about.

“The drones are all programmed with a patrol grid designed to maximize coverage of the DMZ. When a drone senses potential target activity it investigates, or if it doesn’t periodically sense the drone in the adjacent grid, they search for a reason why. Timing patrols hasn’t been hard, but I have been here for six years, but now that we’ve interrupted the grid, they’re hunting for us. So watch your step and keep your voices down. And you. No screaming.”

“Yea, Seo-yeon. No screaming.” Chris chides, trying to be cute.

Seo-yeon isn’t in the mood for jokes, and neither is Minjae, he stops in his tracks, and wheels around to address Chris eye to eye,“I meant you.”

They walk through the jungle, lead by Fox and Minjae, stopping periodically to duck off the trail and hid in Minjae’s RFID net.

* * * * *

Minjae explains that his team of engineers was attached to a Korean People’s Navy team tasked with entering the DMZ and starting the process of decommissioning the North’s drones. The RFID bands that his team was given had been faulty and upon insertion into the DMZ his entire team was wiped out. Minjae took it upon himself to complete the mission in the name of his fallen comrades. Shutting off drones one at a time.

The RFID blocking net that had sheltered the trion the river bank had been constructed with the faulty RFID bands.

“So how many have you taken out? Chris asked at a pause in the story.


“How many are there left?” Seo-yeon asked, hoping for a number in the double digits.

“About Thirty six… hundred.”

“Kind of a slow start.”

“They’re not as easy to kill as you might think. Fox helps track and distract them, I heave a net over them. It works, but it’s slow.”

THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. Above the trees a rapid beating and whirring sound, a helicopter!

“That’s your ride. That’s a South Korean rescue team. They can’t land here, They’re headed where we’re headed.” Minjae points halfway up a hill in the distance, the barren slopes of the hill, rising out of the jungle, looks like the only patch of clear ground for miles. If a helicopter was going to land, that’s where it would have to go.”

Seo-yeon, estimates the distance to the clearing, “That’s going to take hours to get to! Can’t they pick us up?”

“Sure baby, you just give them a call.”

“At least I didn’t leave my phone at the top of the waterfall.”

“I didn’t plan on being pulled down a waterfall, or else I might have kept it on me!” Feeling attacked, Chris lashes out at the only person he can hurt.

“I didn’t pull you, you jumped on the stupid rock!” Seo-yeon yells back.

The argument reaches a fever pitch, Chris and Seo-yeon are screaming at each other in the jungle.

Minjae chimes in, “Please please! You musn’t yell, sound is very-”

Crashing from the Jungle. Something large and heavy starts rushing toward them. They all hear it over the argument and peer together into the jungle. They see nothing.

Fox is at Seo-yeon’s leg, poking her rapidly, trying desperately to get her attention. His pointed leg pierces the loose fabric of her pants and he pokes her.
“Oww. Stop it.” Seo-yeon bends over to pick up or shoo away the tiny robot.

Whoosh A heavy projectile sails right pash her bowing head, barely missing her.

Minjae pulls the rolled RFID net off his back and holds it in front of himself, like a bullfighter trying to hide from a bull. Using the net and his body as shields, he blocks the starlight’s sight of Chris and Seo-yeon. “Slowly, back up. Left 1-2. Right 1-2. Left 1-2. Good, just like that. Keep going.”

They coordinate their steps and slowly move backward, careful not to trip on any roots or stones, one faulty step could be a disaster. The bot moves back and forth in semi circles, like an owl bobbing its head, attempting to change its perspective and find its target again.

From the jungle behind the trio hears, CLICK CLICK. A Starlight materializes out of the jungle. It tries to fire but fortunately has run out of ammunition.

Access ammunition request. The Starlight’s program detects the presence of another starlight and sends a request for resupply of ammunition.  Because Starlights are designed to be autonomous, when they are within close enough proximity to another unit, they have limited communication, but it never hurts to have a helping hand and sharing ammunition is a great asset to have in the battlefield.

Ammunition request approved for 1 concussive pellet. Relay request to proximal drones.

With the request approved and relayed to any nearby drones, the Starlight fires a concussive pellet at ¼ velocity toward the requesting drone. The pellet, no larger than a tennis ball, lands in the sand just ahead of the drone, which walks over, drops a tubular probe to the ground and sucks up the pellet. The pellet fits perfectly in the tube and is fed into the loading hooper. Activate targeting protocol.

Minjae whirls around to conceal the group from the newly armed Starlight, exposing his back to the first drone. “Be ready to drop.”

“Huh?” Both Chris and Seo-yeon ask simultaneously.

“Now!” Minjae drops the net and drops to the ground as flat as he can.
Without Minjae supporting the net, it’s too heavy and pulls Chris and Seo-yeon down to the jungle floor.

Chris this time feels the wake of air following the kinetic projectile fired at his head. This one misses by even a smaller distance than the first pellet fired at Seo-yeon. The pellet flies over the grounded group and straight into the sensor panel of the first starlight, smashing the instruments, and  effectively returning the borrowed pellet.

The bot staggers back, having sustained catastrophic damage to its sensors, the drone activates its insurance protocol. The drone falls to his back, and opens an external panel. Dozens of kinetic pellets spill from the hopper. A fail safe, ensuring that any nearby drones will have ammunition to sustain a prolonged fight.

Fox doesn’t waste time, he rushes over the tennis ball sized pellets before any approaching drones can scoop them up. He uses his two front legs to till up some soil from the jungle floor and a biological glue, the processes it in the same way he would if he were making ammunition for the drones, but instead. He adds diameter to the spheres, making them bigger by only a fraction of an inch.

“What’s he doing?” Seo-yeon asks.

“The drones fire precisely shaped stone balls, made by autonomous pellet factories like Fox. The drones don’t check for diameter, they just load anything that is perfectly spherical, because nothing in nature is a perfect sphere. If they aren’t just the right size, they jam. It takes them hours to perform the maintenance on themselves, that’s how I sneak up on them.”

The first drone pops through the jungle wall, and rushes over to the fallen bot. The probe drops to the ground and sucks up a modified pellet. The ball never makes it to the hopper, it’s stuck in the tube. If robots are capable of looking confused, this drone looked more confused than any robot in history.

With no way to clear the obstruction, the drone resorts to its last available form of combat. It charges toward the three targets, ready to crush them. Minjae shoves his new companions out of the way, right, then dives left. For his efforts, he receives a swift kick in the chest, he feels several of his ribs pop as he is propelled through the air, hits a tree, and comes to rest among its roots. Excruciating pain paralyzes his body when he tries to move.

The big starlight drone redirects course to finish the attack on the wounded target. It poises to strike a final blow on the target sprawled out on the ground, then, System fail–

Gunfire erupts from the jungle, heavy machine gun fire tears into the side of the starlight’s hull, drilling in one side and emerging on the other, parts and fluids spray from the hull and stain the jungle floor.

The three humans freeze, not sure where the life saving gun fire had come from. Chris and Seo-yeon look to the trees for their rescuer. The recovery team found us! But not wanting to startle the armed rescuers, they stay put, and look to check on Minjae. Minjae tries not to breathe heavily, as any motion reignites the pain in his chest. But the look that Seo-yeon discoveres in his eyes is not what she expected to see, it’s pure fear.

She turns her head just in time to see a hulking black boxy robot emerge from the tree line, dual machine guns mounted on either side of its enormous frame. A North Korean flag adorns the front of the drone as well as the words, “GAKGUNG ” in bold red font.

The Gakgung moves silently through the clearing toward Minjae, ignoring Chris and Seo-yeon. He hovers over Minjae, observing him through sensors. Minjae stares right back into the drones cold sensor face, definitely, as if these two individual, thinking, entities have a long history.

Before either contender can make a move, Seo-yeon is on her feet. She grabs as many kinetic pellets as she can and hurls them at the massive Gakgung. CLANG. A stone ball connects with the armored hull, the sound rings and echoes through the jungle for miles.

The Gakgung pivots, detecting the threat, it side steps the next incoming projectile and spots the assailant. With a target acquired, it points the twin .30 caliber machine guns at Seo-yeon and prepares to fire.

WHIRRRR. The weapons cycle, feeding ammunition into the twin chambers, the firing pins actuate, but land on nothing, no ammunition was hit by the firing pin, because none was fed into the chamber, no bullets had been cycled into the guns themselves, Fox had made sure of that.

Seo-yeon watches the very small pest, climbing around the hull of the Gakgung. Fox! The little critter just finished rendering the machine guns useless, by disconnecting the belt fed ammunition from the guns. Next he clamps himself onto the sensor panel of the Gakgung and uses the bio glue, used to hold the pellets together, to gum up the perception inputs of the Gakgung.

“Way to go Fox!” Seo-yeon shouts, realizing how close she came to finding the end of her adventure.

Disarmed and blind, the Gakgung’s best option is to retreat to safety and attempt to get repairs. He bumps into trees and rocks on its way out of the clearing, moving as quickly as it can.

Fox dismounts and runs back to Seo-yeon, already at Minjae’s side. He looks bad, blood has begun to creep from the corners of his mouth.

Chris runs to Seo-yeon’s side, “Oh God. You don’t look… so good.”

“Funny.” He coughs up blood, “I feel like dancing.”

Chris and Seo-yeon smile.

Minjae tells them, “Take the net, stay hidden. Get to the chopper. Follow the river, the recovery team will find you.”

Suddenly, voices from the jungle, “SEO-YEON! CHRIS!”

The rescue! “They’re here!” Chris says, “Hang on Minjae, we’re almost out of here. You’re not going to die in this screwed up jungle.”

Chris looks into the jungle and sees flashlights bouncing in the distance. He shouts to them, “HERE! We’re here!”

“Chris” Seo-yeon’s voice is low, but not whispered.

Chris looks at her, her eyes cast down at Minjae. Chris follows her gaze and finds Minjae’s lifeless face. They are both overcome with sadness. Chris starts to cry for their savior.

The South Korean rescue team approaches from behind. “Seo-Yeon? Chris? We’re here to get you home.” Immediately the rescue team strap a much more advanced RFID blocking band to their wrists. “These are-”

“RFID blocking bands. We know.” Interrupts Seo-yeon.

As the team help Seo-yeon and Chris to their feet, Fox pokes his head out from behind Minjae’s body and is spotted by a member of the recovery team. He immediately pulls out his pistol and aims.

He pulls the trigger, but his arm is pushed skyward by Chris, the gun goes off startling everyone.

“Don’t touch Fox.”

The soldier can tell this is not a request and decides not to challenge Chris’s resolve.

The soldiers guide Chris and Seo-yeon, Fox perched on her shoulder.

The recovery team squad leader, taps Chris on the shoulder, “We found this. Thought you might want it back.” The soldier reaches into a pouch and hands Chris his phone in perfect condition, just as he had left it posed for the photo. It’s a hell of a thing.














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