The Tides of Earth – Chapter 3 – A Thump in the Night

Prelude The Expanding Sea of Earth cover 1

At 1:06 AM all was quiet. The lights outside the Kangdong palace shone brightly, making the surrounding countryside seem even darker. A moment later those lights went out, leaving the palace in deep darkness. Guards at the surrounding gates grabbed their portable radios, but found them just as dead. A van approached the main gate, but its lights went out too. It rolled to an unexpected stop short of the gate. A moment passed, and emergency lights began flickering on about the palace. Security teams sprang to alert. A blackout here wasn’t normal. Their Valishnikovs were held at ready as they approached the van.

Neither Seo-Yeon Koh nor her companions knew why the van had died. It was less a question than why the palace and perimeter lights had failed. That was serious. Moments later, the gate guard’s nervous approach was also serious. Mistakes are made when circumstances are unexpected. Cautiously, she announced her name before stepping out of the van “I am Leiutenant Seo Yeon Koh, Command Security Guard. We are returning for duty! I am stepping out of the van.”

She was the nearest to the door, and climbed out slowly. But she was sure they would recognize her… she was bodyguard to the Supreme Leader’s wife.

Recognition came quickly. The gate guard even seemed relieved, though still cautious. “Why did you stop and turn off your lights?” He asked.

Seo-Yeon quickly realized the palace lights, the perimeter lights, and the van’s dying were all connected. Bad! “Our car died when the palace lights went out. Do you have power at your post?”

“No!” The guard shook his head.

“Then we are under attack. Do you have a radio? We must contact the palace!”

“It is not working! We tried!” He looked at her, his dark sunken eyes imploring for answers.

Everyone had climbed out of the van now. They were the reliefs for the CSGs within the palace. Immediately, she knew they must get there. She turned to her companions. “It is an attack. We must get to the palace!” 

She saw the determination on their faces. They’d trained for this, though never dreaming it would happen. Then their expressions changed. No longer looking at her… looking behind her. She turned, only to see the palace lights again go off, replaced by an eerie and silent darkness. Then came the rumble. It was low and muted, but steady–like something unstoppable.

“Do you have your car?” She asked the now frightened gatekeeper. She remembered seeing an old one–a GAZ. Decrepit compared to the UAZ Hunter. Decrepit enough? She hoped. 

Seo-Yeon had been well educated, so she recognized the EMP attack quickly enough. And EMPs played hell with most electronic and electrical systems. But an old Russian GAZ might not have an electronic ignition. As long as it wasn’t in use, it might still run.

She turned to her companions. “Quick! Push the van to block the entrance gate. Then we go to the palace.” She faced the gate guard again. “You! Start your vehicle. We will need it. And if your radios begin to work, call the palace. Inform them we are coming. We do not want to be shot by our own comrades.”

She entered the guard post and picked up the phone. Habit! She knew it’d be dead. An engine roared to order behind the shed. Good!  The palace was over a kilometer down the road. It’d be tight, but they could all fit in the GAZ.

There was an explosion in the distance. She froze, then looked toward the palace–still a dark shadow. But to the South, there was light in the sky above the tree line. She knew immediately what happened. There was a small armory back near their barracks. She guessed it was gone now. 

As the GAZ took off, it bounced down the road uncomfortably under their weight. Another explosion, but this time up by the palace. The helipad lit up in flames. And now there was a new noise–a harsh thumping sound coming directly from the palace. A second later they could see the new menace, silhouetted by the growing flames. One by one, impossibly, all the vehicles in front of the palace seemed to disappear. The thumping was accompanied by an unpleasant, almost groaning sound. And Seo-Yeon realized they were being crushed, ground into the dirt. The GAZ lost power. Two of the cars by the palace exploded.

“Stop! Out of the car!” She ordered. Now she felt mild panic. “Get away from the car!”

They obeyed. And in a panicked moment later, with a heart-wrenching crunch there was no GAZ… only the tailgate and rear bumper remained, partly embedded in the roadway. Now terror seized her. She saw it too in her comrades eyes. She couldn’t–could not afford to–imagine what could ever have done this. If she did, she’d freeze “On foot,” she ordered and led them on.

Ahead she saw the flames reflecting off the palace windows. But after another twenty meters she could see another obstacle. A long row of freshly turned earth blocked their path. Unexpected, this! It looked as though a giant plow had dug a deep gash into the ground… the rumbling sound! It had been the earth being split open.

Dirt was piled over a meter high on either side of the ditch, which looked over two meters deep. It extended East and curved North around the palace grounds. And it extended West… toward the park and the great pond. But she still heard the rumble. Why? The roads were clearly cut off. She listened. Then she heard it. Another low rumble, not quite in sync with the first. There were two invisible plows!  And then there was only one. The nearer one had stopped.

Her companions were looking at her, wondering–she guessed–what she was thinking. Why she hadn’t just led them across the ditch? It took another moment, and then she knew. Not just the roads! She thought of the great pond. “Hurry! We’ve got to get across! Quickly! And stay together!”

They scrambled over the top and slid down the soft earth into the ditch. Climbing up the other side was more difficult. Clumps of dirt came off in their hands as they clawed their way back up. When the second roar stopped, they heard a new noise. Seo-Yeon screamed, “Help each other. Quickly, over the top!” The first ones helped pull the next ones up. As the wall of water rushed past the spot where they’d just been, it tugged at the pants legs of the last to make the climb. But his companions held strong–a human ladder pulling him to safety.

“What the hell!” One of them said. 

“The escape tunnels,” she explained, out of breath herself. “They have flooded the escape tunnels so no one can leave.” She made a mental calculation. From the time their car had died until now… really it wasn’t much more than a few minutes. Not enough time to unlock and enter the tunnels, unless that was the first choice made. Unlikely. “Come, our leader needs us, and he is waiting.”

***

Outside the entrance to the palace seemed like controlled chaos. Now Seo-Yeon could see the thin remains of the vehicles that’d been crushed. Flames raged across the driveway where the cars spilled their fuel, and it burned higher over by the helipad. The palace guards were evenly spread out and armed, expecting the worst, and trained to defend until death. She could see their tension in their stance, and see it change when they recognized her team… walking in slowly, hands over heads. The palace itself was still dark. Only the flames illuminated the exterior.

Inside the massive lobby, Gun Gyeong Lee, leader of the palace guard, met her. It was immediately clear he had as many questions for her about what they’d seen on the outside, as she had about what he’d seen on the inside. 

“Any troops on the roads?”

“No, it all started just as we arrived at the gate…. Was the palace able to order reinforcements?”

“No. The radios worked for a few minutes… the signal was jammed! Does anyone outside know what’s going on here?”

Seo Yeon frowned helplessly. “Does anyone here know what’s going on outside?

Their eyes embraced each other in silent understanding. No one knew…

***

At 1:07 AM, Ryu Yong Sook’s barracks shook from the shock of an explosion. He jumped from his bed amidst a confusion of arms, legs, and shouting–as his fellow pilots grabbed their flight suits and gear to ready for battle. Where the battle was coming from didn’t matter. It was already here. Ryu looked furtively out the window and could see flames engulfing a jet far across the field. A loud hammering noise ruptured the night and punctuated the urgency. Getting their planes in the air to meet the aggressor was first order of business.

Shoving his feet into his shoes, he raced out the door and toward the tarmac. There was another explosion on the field. Clearly their planes were being targeted. He was the fastest and sprinted past other pilots in his wing. He had almost run past it, when he came across the first truck. He tripped and stumbled in a depression in the ground, but caught himself. It took a moment for him to realize what he was looking at. The vehicle had literally been squashed, as though some giant had crushed it under its foot. The pavement around it was also compressed–he’d tripped over its lip. He paused, stunned, then knew he must get to his plane. 

The hammering got louder. Now there was another explosion–this time at the head of the flight line. As new flames leapt up, he saw the silhouette of the next plane in line… for a moment. Then another loud clap, and its entire tail section disappeared. Yet the cockpit and wings were still there. Another clap, and the next tail section was gone. He remembered the truck… then remembered his plane.

He had to save it. It was the greatest freedom he’d ever had. His honor and his privilege. He raced blindly toward it, ignoring the thunderclaps, ignoring the hollering and growing warnings of his comrades. 

One of his ground crewmen caught up to him and shouted “Too late! Too late,” and pulled at his shoulder. Ryu Yong shook him off and ordered him to release the tie-downs. Ryu grabbed and pulled the wheel chocks. He needed to get into the air. Fast!

Everyone was shouting now, his fellow pilots imploring him to stop. As he mounted the pilot ladder to climb into the cockpit, they grabbed and pulled desperately at his legs to stop him. Another loud clap, closer, louder! Now they gave up and ran. He climbed into the cockpit. 

Now the loudest clap. The nose of the plane next to him momentarily reared up into the air then crashed to the ground. It was all surreal. He tried ignition… nothing!

The next clap deafened his ears. Ryu felt his plane buck up, then sink back, and he knew he would never fly again. Another clap, and the plane to his right did the same. No one will fly tonight, he now knew. 

He sat in his cockpit, unafraid. Any fear he may have felt before had been drowned in adrenalin. Any fear he felt now was buried deep in his future. For certain, he would never know the freedom of flight again…. 

Across all North Koryo, military bases, villages, and cities had blinked into darkness. Nothing new for most– blackouts were common. But efforts of soldiers and technicians couldn’t restore power.

And at 1:07 AM–in earshot of anyone living or working near a military facility–came the sound of explosions. Military armories combusted. Missile sites collapsed into rubble. Roads to secret labs were rendered impassable. Destruction of even the largest of military installations took little more than minutes. Yet all personnel were accounted for, with only a few cuts and scratches. And within two hours the unseen aggressor ran out of targets. 

But here and there emergency lights, once flickering back to life, stayed lit. Hospitals were minimally affected. Their generators still worked. Commercial flights were unaffected–international flights through Koryo airspace were too risky, so virtually non-existent. A single Koryo military flight lost all power, yet miraculously set down–fully intact–in the middle of a potato field. An amazed pilot reported that after he departed unhurt, its tail section was totally destroyed. And along its southern border, military outposts later reported what they thought to be a systematic carpet-bombing of the mine fields separating the demilitarized zones to the North and South. Even so, in a most significant night, no communications leaked across North Koryo’s border.

***

Seo Yeon’s details about her dash to the palace made one thing clear to Gun Gyeong Lee. All exits had been cut off. He would send guards to check the tunnels, but doubted she was wrong. Outside was a disaster. Yet there were still no aggressors to fight. No way even for the Supreme Leader to order a counter-strike.

He wondered briefly about the Moon message–the mysterious warning all had seen mere days ago. Official news said it was another American capitalist ploy–a Hollywood style trick. Unofficially, he’d read a translation from the Chinese a friend had given him. But if that were true, there should be years before any attack. This attack is right now, and real! He worried. Do the Americans now have this technology? If so, all could be lost. He sent Seo Yeon to guard the Supreme Leader’s wife, and ordered her companions to relieve their counterparts. He doubted anyone would be going anywhere for a while. Now, all he could do was wait.

***

At 3:00 AM Kangdong time a phone unexpectedly rang–the hard line to China’s Premier Chou. Supreme Leader hurried to take the call, his wife by his side. Seo Yeon obediently followed, and listened quietly at a discreet distance while the Supreme Leader. 

The Supreme Leader was angry, and insisted this was the American’s fault. He wanted to immediately counter-attack. Then he became very silent. The longer the Supreme Leader listened, the more color drained from his face. Twice he tried to interrupt. Twice he fell back silent. This was strange… and this frightened Seo Yeon.

After an interminable time, the Supreme Leader of North Koryo–Chairman of the Worker’s Party, Chairman of State Affairs, and Supreme Commander of the People’s Army–slowly, submissively nodded and agreed to whatever it was Premier Chou had said. Then he hung up. 

“Our great ally, Premier Chou,” he intoned–half authoritative, half subdued– “has negotiated safe passage to Beijing… until this immediate crisis is ended. A helicopter will be here in five hours. Only family and six staff will go. Transport will be arranged for all other when needed.”

Seo Yeon Koh knew immediately she would only go on the later transport….

What she did not know is that later transport would never come. 

Chou’s words to her Supreme Leader had been far more specific. North Koryo’s military power had been thoroughly gutted. The mine fields separating them from South Koryo now lay waste. The military could no longer protect him or his family.

But the danger wouldn’t come from the Americans or even the South Koryo forces. They had been ordered to stand down. The danger would come from the disaffected… the North Koryoan people and military who’d soon see the world in unfiltered clarity. When this happened they’d hold him responsible for their long suffering. No palace guard would stop them from seeking revenge.

So the compromise–Chou would give Supreme Leader and his family political asylum–permanent exile. The Americans would agree to a substantial demilitarization of the Koryo peninsula. Both the Americans and the Chinese would share the responsibility and expense for mending North and South Koryo. The re-united nation would remain independent of both. And, as was most important to the Terran Council, Koryo’s participation in the world vote would be guaranteed… an elaborate horse-trade, but a little something for everyone.

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