Authors: Peter Cawdron
All rights reserved
The right of Peter Cawdron to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
First published as an eBook by Peter Cawdron at Smashwords
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental
Twenty years ago, a UFO crashed into the Yellow Sea off the Korean Peninsula. The only survivor was a young English-speaking child, captured by the North Koreans. Two decades later, a physics student watches his girlfriend disappear before his eyes, abducted from the streets of New York by what appears to be the same UFO.
will carry you from the desolate, windswept coastline of North Korea to the bustling streets of New York and on into the depths of space as you journey to the outer edge of our solar system looking for answers.
Rain lashed the windows of the aging Sea King helicopter. The wipers on the windscreen rocked back and forth, vainly trying to clear the sea spray whipped up by the helicopter’s rotor blades. The craft flew barely thirty feet above the choppy ocean, its searchlight illuminating the darkness. White capped waves stretched into the night. The swell of the ocean rose and fell beneath the fuselage, rolling beneath the aging helicopter, making Captain John Lee feel small in the darkness.
“We’re not normally this far north,” Lee said, turning sideways and glancing at the US Navy SEAL leaning into the cockpit.
Lieutenant Andrews wore a nondescript black wetsuit with the skintight hood hanging down his back, ready to be pulled over his head to seal him off from the ocean below. A small red light on the side of his headphones added to the muted hues within the cockpit, allowing Andrews to read from a high-contrast map as he replied to Lee.
“Get us as close as you can, Captain. We’ll take it from there.”
Lee understood why the Navy SEAL was so nervous. Being South Korean, Lee could hear the radio chatter with the North Koreans in Sunwi-do, but for Andrews, hearing the harsh, clipped words in a language he didn’t understand must have been unnerving.
Lightning rippled through the storm clouds.
Co-pilot Josh Park was seated next to Lee. He set the microphone in his helmet to transmit externally and spoke in Korean, saying, “
We are Search and Rescue Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero out of Incheon, responding to a Mayday call from a downed Piper Cub LAJ 357, that is Lima Alpha Juliet Three Five Seven. We are Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero, conducting a grid search south of Pup’o-ri. Over
The North Korean response crackled through the headphones set in Lee’s helmet.
Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero you have entered our airspace. You do not have permission to pass through the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Change heading immediately or you will be fired upon. Over.
Technically, both sides of the 38th Parallel North spoke Korean. In practice, they spoke separate languages. Both Lee and Park had to concentrate carefully to distinguish the North Korean's intent. Years of training drills had them prepared for such interactions, but even then it took considerable focus to understand what the North Koreans were saying. The possibility of miscommunication added to the tension of the moment.
Lee checked his channel, being particularly careful to ensure he was not broadcasting externally as he spoke to the Navy SEAL.
“They’re not buying it, they’re calling our bluff. It’s the usual bluster. Go home or we’ll send you home in a coffin.”
“How long before they escalate?”
“Usually, we turn around about now,” Lee replied. “But we’ve probably got a good five to ten minutes before they start targeting us. And in this weather, it will take them longer to respond. If we turn east and make like we’re starting a long, slow arc to the south we can get you and your men a little closer, but I doubt we’ll get you within less than a couple of kilometers of shore. Sorry, boys, it’s going to be a long swim.”
“Roger that,” Lieutenant Andrews replied.
American servicemen were a mixed bag, Lee thought. Lee had run into every conceivable type, from the John Waynes of the world to those with blistering intelligence. Sometimes they could be condescending to a civilian pilot like Lee, but Andrews was a good man. Lee had been on several training runs with Andrews and always found him balanced and considerate. Whether US or South Korean, Lee's experience had been that most commanders abused their power, wielding it like a club, but not Andrews. If ever Lee went to war, he would want to serve under someone like Andrews. The Lieutenant exuded competence without being cocky.
Park took his cue from Lee. Using a combination of his foot pedals and the cyclic control rising up between his legs, he eased the helicopter around to a new heading, one which took advantage of the rugged, irregular coastline hidden in the darkness, bringing them closer to land while ostensibly turning back toward South Korea.
Lee keyed his microphone to transmit externally and spoke in Korean, saying, “
This is Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero to Sunwi-do. Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero is complying with instructions from Sunwi-do, conducting one last sweep to the south and returning to Incheon. Over
Strangely, there was no reply. Lee barely registered the silence, he was focused intently on the instruments before him.
Park fought to keep the Sea King steady as they struggled through the storm. Gusts buffeted the craft. The cyclic control was a steel rod set into the floor of the cockpit, controlling the direction in which the helicopter faced. The control stick shook in his hand as the storm raged around them.
Lee double checked his instrumentation. He understood the concept of target fixation and the tendency for pilots to drift into anything they stared at for too long. Although he could see the breaking caps of the waves rushing beneath them, to focus on the ocean would be a mistake. The wave height was misleading. In the dark of night, all either pilot could rely on was their instruments. Night flights were particularly taxing, and with the weather, Lee couldn’t afford to let his concentration drift. He switched from external coms to internal.
“Bring us up to fifty meters and take us to a hundred knots,” he said to the co-pilot, looking at the radar and the fluorescent green outline that marked the shore several kilometers off in the distance. “They know we’re here. There's no point in trying to hide anymore. Let’s hope they buy our course correction as legit.”
Lee was speaking in English as a courtesy to the Navy SEALs listening in on the cockpit chatter. English was the de facto norm for aviation, and should have been the accepted language for communication with Sunwi-do, but the North Koreans were nothing if not belligerent. International standards were of no concern to them. They preferred forcing the South Koreans to use Korean over the airwaves.
The churning ocean may as well have been featureless. The flashing strobe lights on the chopper reflected off the waves, breaking through the night briefly every few seconds. Their searchlight lit up a patch of sea out in front of the helicopter, but the light was for show. They weren’t looking for anyone.
Although the Sea King was carrying eight US Navy SEALs, this flight would be logged as a search and rescue mission, with the manifest noting only four South Koreans onboard: Lee, Park, the loadmaster and a rescue swimmer.
Lee knew well enough not to ask about the purpose of the American military operation. The South Korean Coast Guard had been used for several other unofficial missions in the past few years. Their regular patrols and the occasional rescue of fishermen aboard a swamped trawler or the need to ferry medicines to merchant ships gave them a veneer of credibility with the North Koreans. The Coast Guard was a known entity, nothing out of the usual even at the most unusual of times, but somehow the North Koreans smelled a rat on this cold, dark night.
The Sea King helicopter had a pronounced radar profile, but that didn’t seem to bother the Americans. They could have used one of their stealth helicopters, but even within the restricted zone inside their military base, keeping a top secret helicopter under wraps was no easy feat. It might have been invisible in the dark of night, but on the ground such a helicopter attracted too much attention. There were too many curious civilians and service personnel. The potential for compromising a mission was too great, and the US military had long known the simple options were often the best. Paranoia was rampant within the North Korean military. All it took was a few loose words in a bar or a leak to a reporter and tensions could escalate. Piggybacking off the coast guard was a natural fit. There was nothing out of the ordinary about their daily ops.
The coast guard was the first resident at the new international airport outside of Incheon. For the most part, it was little more than a construction zone, with the airport's completion not due for years to come. Construction work made it easy for the SEALs to come and go as US engineering contractors without attracting unwanted attention. There was no official policy of course, but the US Navy SEALs liked hitching a ride with the South Korean Coast Guard, as their presence with the Guard was unnoticed.
The SEALs were dressed in civilian wetsuits, which Lee knew was to give them deniability should they be caught during whatever clandestine activity they were undertaking. He didn’t want to know. He just wanted to fly. He and his crew got a monthly stipend for being on standby for these supposed training runs, and performing an actual training run brought a bonus that doubled their monthly salaries. Besides, it felt good to be needed, to be surreptitiously part of the team.
Lee kept his mind in the present.
“Lieutenant. We are five minutes out from our closest approach to the coast, approximately three kilometers south by southwest of the original drop point.”
“Roger that,” came the reply from Lieutenant Andrews. “We’ll be fine. We are ready to drop.”
A warning light flashed on the cluttered instrument panel.
“The storm’s really screwing with the radar,” Park said. “But there’s definitely something out there. We’re not alone.”
“Another chopper?” Lee asked.
“Negative. Moving too fast.”
Lee was about to suggest the blip was a radar ghost, an artifact of the storm misleading their instruments, when Park called out, “It’s coming straight at us.”
“Heading?” Lee asked, trying to remain calm. His mouth ran dry. Adrenaline surged through his veins.
“From due north, our nine o’clock.”
“Can we drop below radar?” Andrews asked.
“You’re not helping,” Lee replied tersely, already bringing the Sea King lower as they raced along, dropping to barely thirty feet above the crest of the rolling swell. “If that’s a MIG, we’ll never get low enough because he’s got look-down radar. We might be able to play hide and seek with land-based radar, but he’s going to light us up like a goddamn Christmas tree.”
“I’ve lost him,” Park cried. Seconds later, Park slammed his hand against the upper windscreen, pulling against his five-point harness as he watched a dark shape streak by overhead. “FUCK!”
Lee struggled with the control stick as the wash from the jet rocked the helicopter, causing the Sea King to skew sideways and twist in the air. He fought with his foot pedals to correct the yaw introduced by the buffeting winds from the MIG, fighting to keep the helicopter on course.
Park cried, “Damn that was close. I could see his fucking flight lights.”
“His radar is probably as fucked up as ours is in this weather,” Lee said. “I doubt if he saw us until he was right on top of us. Probably scared him as much as us.”
Lee keyed his microphone to broadcast and spoke rapidly in Korean, saying, “
Sunwi-do. This is Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero. We are an unarmed civilian aircraft complying with instruction to leave North Korean airspace. Over.
There was no reply.
Sunwi-do. This is Foxtrot Echo Sierra Four Zero. We are Search and Rescue helicopter returning to Incheon. Over
“Will he be back?” the Navy SEAL asked.
“He’ll be back,” Lee replied grimly. “His turning circle is worse than a destroyer, it will take him out a couple of miles, and that will buy us some time, but he’s got the smell of blood, he’ll be back.”
Lee applied steady pressure to the rudder with his foot, watching as the compass heading turned to due south.
“We need to get that little girl,” Andrews said. “Drop us anywhere you can.”
Girl? That was the first time Lee heard the SEALs mention their target that night. In the years to come, he would look back on that moment as a pivotal point in his life. From then on, everything had been about that mysterious child. Even then, in his mind’s eye, he struggled to understand why the US military would be interested in a young North Korean girl. Was she really worth risking the lives of a dozen SEALs and aircrew? Was the life of one little girl worth the risk of provoking war?
Lee was rattled. As he leveled the Sea King, he wondered about the girl. Who was she? What had she done? Why was she so important to the US government? Did she even know about the maelstrom of covert activity unfolding around her?
As a rescue pilot, Lee risked his life for complete strangers several times a month, but he’d only ever rescued a child on one occasion. A yacht had capsized in heavy weather. The GPS distress beacon had guided his team to the stricken vessel. When they arrived on the scene, all Lee could see were bodies floating face down in the water. It had been the loadmaster that spotted the child, a young girl of eight clinging to a large cushion that had been washed overboard.
The rescue swimmer had gone down on the winch to effect the rescue. He’d grabbed her on the first try, bundling her into a recovery basket.
After spending four hours in the water, the young girl was in shock. Once she was onboard, the loadmaster wrapped her in a thermal blanket, coaxing her body temperature back to normal while the rescue swimmer continued to retrieve the bodies. The chopper remained at the scene for several grueling hours, recovering the bodies of her father, her mother, her brother, her sister and her grandmother.
The rescue helicopter touched down at the airport a little after midnight the following morning. Lee could still remember the look on her face, her cold clammy skin and dilated pupils. She lunged for him as he reached out to help her down from the chopper. The girl threw herself into his arms and clung fiercely, as if she were still in danger of dying alone in the water instead of safe on dry land. He’d tried to comfort her, but there was no comfort to give.
It was four in the morning before Child Services arrived to take her away, and in the intervening time she never spoke a word. She cried as she left. It was the first time he’d seen her cry since they fished her out of the ocean. The elderly lady from Child Services was kind and soft spoken, but that didn’t matter. The young girl reached out for Lee. Her eyes flooded with tears, and Lee found himself crestfallen as she was pulled away.