Pyongyang

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

[Kim On-Suk is a squat woman, with a short bob-cut characteristic of women inside North Korea. We are meeting in her small apartment in Pyongyang, near the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. She sits on a low couch, and behind her is a triptych picture of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un.

During the conflict, she served as Captain of Border Section #14, the small and mountainous barrier between Communist Korea and the former Russian Federation. She is now a member of the National People's Assembly of the DPRK, representing Seutoku, formerly the Russian city of Vladivostok. We can speak openly due to the "Gaebang" or "Openness" initiative of the current Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un.]

You in the West mocked us for Songun* and Juche**. You derided us as insane followers of an insane leader. Now, you emulate our strategies and wish for our organisation! At the start of the second decade of the new millennium, after the death of General Kim Jong Il, our spy network was updated and expanded. We had nowhere near the capability of your CIA or the Russian FSB, but we had a good idea of the general situation of the world. When the outbreak began, in Southern China, we received reports of strange activities from our agents in Hong Kong and Macau. Both of the cities' "Special Administrative" privileges were stripped and PLA soldiers were garrisoned en masse. Martial law was instituted. The official reason was "national consolidation", but our agents knew something was wrong. Ministry of Health agents would sweep people off of the streets, asking strange questions and performing inspections and searches. Though the two cities were now "consolidated" with the rest of China, the bridges were closed off and the internal passport system was strictly enforced. No one could go to the Mainland except government officials and army personnel.

(* "Songun" is translated as "Military First". Instituted by Kim Jong Il shortly after his father's death, it gave the Korean People's Army the leading political role in the DPRK, as well as an expanded economic and cultural role.)

(** "Juche" is translated as "Self-Reliance". Early on in the reign of Kim Il Sung, he expounded the philosophy of an autarkic, self-sufficient Socialist Economy, as well as adapting Marxist-Leninism to the unique culture and situation of the Korean Peninsula)

Were you, as an officer in the Korean People's Army, informed of this or aware of it?

Well, I... uh, [She extracts a cigarette and lights it up, puffing away her nervousness.] I wasn't informed officially. I have relatives in the Information Ministry, and they discussed it with me on my R&R visits. In the DPRK at the time, information outside of the official state media was very much word-of-mouth. It depended on who you knew, and what they knew. Rumours and misinformation were a very big problem back then.

When did your government discover something was seriously wrong in China?

Well, in 2012 we had started the "Work-Share" programme with China. Our labourers could travel and work in factories in designated zones in Manchuria and send pay home to help their families here. Our poverty at that time was very shameful, and we were rather desperate for supplies and foreign currency reserves. Anyway, not long after the "national consolidation" was carried out in South China, the Chinese government stopped granting new work visas and refused to renew old ones. Our workers came trickling back home, more often than not unwillingly. The Dear General's administration had very bad policies and officials in the rank-and-file, and the trust in the state had been severely eroded. With our Glorious Leader Kim Jong Un's reforms, trust and morale were beginning to take root again, but the process was slow.

Anyway, with the first wave of labourers returning they brought the same stories we had heard out of Hong Kong and Macau: Heavy military presence, random "Health and Safety Sweeps", and a near total press blackout. The second wave to come home had even stranger reports. The Chinese, about four months into the crisis, shut off their civilian internet. Only state-sponsored sights and military communication networks remained online. But right before the shut-off, some of our workers had seen Weibo* block the terms "Walking Dead" "Zombie" "Reanimation" "Detention" "Emergency" and "Crisis". This of course aroused suspicion. But it was only with the final wave, when the Chinese gave the order to deport all DPRK nationals, that we got our first eyewitness accounts of the Plague.

(* A pre-war Chinese social network)

How seriously did you take these reports?

Well, when the first few rolled in, we assumed that some of our citizens had gone insane from culture shock in China, or perhaps improper ventilation in chemical factories. But they started coming by the hundreds as the Chinese suddenly deported all Korean-born nationals in the People's Republic to us! They even deported some newly infected, but thankfully all of them were stopped at the border and put in quarantine. It was only then that KPA soldiers and members of the Worker's Party* saw these creatures face-to-face. Reports also rolled in from our agents in Macau and Hong Kong that strange mobs of seemingly insane Chinese were attacking the bridges, and were not dying from bullets to the chest or the chemical weapons the Chinese were using.

(*The Worker's Party of Korea, the ruling party of the DPRK since 1949)

You had infected in quarantine at your borders?

Not for long. I remember, at my post at the Vladivostok crossing, that we had one, an old man that had fled into Russia but then had been deported. When he came in to us, he was shivering and feverish. The government had just sent down a new army protocol that struck all of us as bizarre. It said to detain all persons who appeared ill, as well as to strip-search any incoming persons and detain anyone with bite-marks or open wounds. The old man we put in a detention cell. We also were given orders not to provide medical attention, merely observe. Well, within about six hours he was dead. We could tell that the government was very concerned, so I telephoned for orders on how we were to dispose the corpse.

And?

"Burn it! That is an order, Captain Kim! As quickly as possible!" my regional commander told me. We took the body outside and dug a trench, filling it with wood and some lighter fluid.

Not gasoline?

Are you kidding me? We weren't a mechanized unit. It had been a month since our last oil shipment from the PRC, and all gas was rationed for the government and the tank forces. Anyway, we lit the fire and an older soldier said a Buddhist prayer for the dead, and that was when we got the surprise of our lives. The old bastard suddenly started writhing and moaning, and got to his feet!

What did you do?

Well, at first we tried to talk to him. He seemed oblivious of the fact he was on fire, and one soldier, Private Sun, rushed to help him out of the trench. He grabbed the boy and tried to bite him, but thankfully Sun was quick on his feet and tugged away before the thing could bite. We were all terrified by that point. This thing began to shuffle out of the trench, flesh smoking. It moaned and began to advance towards me, arms outstretched. I raised my pistol and shot it twice in the chest. It staggered, but just kept coming. Suddenly, there was another gunshot and a gaping hole appeared in the thing's forehead, and it fell back into the burning trench.

I turned around, and an APC* with a sniper on top drove towards us. My commanding officer jumped out and saluted me, and I saluted him shakily.

"Sir," I stuttered, "What the hell was that?"

"Captain, new orders have come from the Headquarters*. All border personnel are to be prepared to fire on anyone who approaches within range. They are to aim for the head. No one is to be allowed in."

"What the hell is going on?!" I demanded.

"Captain, that information is for officers only. Come with me."

We went into my command post and into my office. He sat down, looking more exhausted than I had ever seen him. During the famine in the 90s, he was one of our few true revolutionaries, who had reduced his rations severely to feed some peasants from his home village. He looked more haggard and sickly than he had back then.

"What is going on?"

"Captain Kim, based on the available information, the People's Republic of China is currently battling a new kind of pandemic. This disease spreads through direct contact, and is being spread by human beings who have died and... and come back to life. They feel no pain, no emotion, they do not think, they only seek to spread their illness and eat the flesh of still-living humans. They can only be killed by destruction of their brains. China's situation is dire, and the pandemic may be spreading beyond their borders. The Supreme Leader has given the orders to shut all the borders and guard the coasts, and the whole country is to go on a war footing."

"Shi-bal! What are my orders?"

"You are to prepare the 14th Border Area for continuous hostile attack. There cannot be a single square metre of space within rifle range of the border that does not have a soldier ready to shoot at it. These things are slow-moving, but they are drawn by sound and the mere presence of humans. If the Chinese can't bring their situation under control, we will have hundreds of thousands of them pressing themselves against our borders. Remain calm and remember your duty to the Party, People, and Nation."

"Yes, sir," I said. My head was spinning. I went back outside and was relieved to see that the old man was charred to the bone. I ordered my soldiers on constant patrol, and to fix any broken or weak portion of the border fence. Within two days, work-teams had arrived to move the barb-wire fence forward about a metre and erect concrete walls behind it. Our guard towers were fortified, and we built twice as many as were there before. All of our reservists were mobilized. Rationing was introduced, strict and equal for all citizens.

(* "The Headquarters" is one of the terms for Kim Jong Un. All three of the Kims have been designated as "The Headquarters of the Revolution")

This is the point at which Kim Jong Un ordered all government officials as well as himself on a smaller diet than the soldiers of the KPA?

Yes, it was. Our Supreme Leader showed his true revolutionary mettle by his sacrifice to our needs. Not long after the declaration of emergency, which official propaganda had initially announced was due to "the destabilising situations of decadent capitalist countries and the possibility of an imperialist war of aggression to ease social turmoil", the Supreme Leader appeared on Korea Central Television (KCTV) and announced that the DPRK was under quarantine due to the Walking Plague. KCTV then ran "Emergency Information" broadcasts every day at nine, noon, six, and ten. All citizens were ordered to train with rifles and Chang, which are very similar to your "Lobos".

What was the situation like at the border?

We had a very easy time defending our nation from the undead. All of our borders had been heavily fortified against imperialist aggression, especially the Southern Border, which you call the DMZ. Panmunjon, the only border crossing between Democratic Korea and the South, was demolished soon after the Quarantine was initiated. The South Koreans initially prepared for war, but then they had their own outbreak to worry about.

In the North, the Amnok (or Yalu) river separated China and Korea, and most of the undead were just swept down stream, where we had thought to string piano wire near the delta. It had to be cleaned out every day, often three or four times, but the eight strings of wire across the Amnok probably killed more zombies than the entire rest of the KPA. In my section of the border, steep mountains rose up and we had fenced along the peaks and ridges. The only real trouble spot was the coastal plain, where the swarms from Vladivostok eventually found their way, following hapless refugees. That was the hardest part of border duty.

Turning away refugees?

Ha! Turning away? No, killing refugees before the undead got to them. It was the only time we used our machine guns. They would try everything, holding aloft white flags, money, jewellery, supplies, or worst of all, children.

Did you-

We did what we had to do.

What about the DMZ?

The undead flowed towards the DMZ as Seoul and Inchon were overrun. The first swarms were blown to bits by the land mines, but within a month after the Southern Government had fled to Kamchatka with the Japanese Imperialists, the land-mines had all blown up, and the ghouls just kept coming. We kept up a steady fire rate, but there were definitely times that it looked like the undead would reach the border fence.

That's when Kim Jong Un decided to use the nuclear option?

We had no other choice. We initially were concerned that the US or another power might respond in kind, but we made it abundantly clear to the Southern Government that this was the only way to save the Korean peninsula. They refused to give approval, but made it tacitly clear they would not attempt a response nor ask the US to intervene in any way. We didn't nuke a single major urban centre, just the highways from Inchon and Seoul. All in all, we detonated four nuclear bombs, each about six times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb.

The eastern half of the South near our border was the least-populated province, and we only had small groups coming through the woodlands and mountains to hit those sectors, so we didn't nuke those areas at all.

When did the seizure of the Russian Maritime Territory occur?

Three years after the declaration of quarantine, we still had not a single outbreak occur within the borders. Our coasts are mostly cliffs, the harbours are easily guarded and the sea is rough, so more often than not undead coming from the sea were battered into immobile corpses that could easily be dispatched of. Our problems were purely material. Nearly a million and a half ethnic Koreans had been deported into the DPRK from Manchuria at the beginning of the Plague, and agricultural land is very hard to come by. It has to be winnowed from rocky slopes by back-breaking labour. We had public gardens everywhere, and we were farming every available scrap of land, but we still were not meeting the requirements of the population. Mandatory birth control had been instituted, and in the three years of quarantine a population of 25 million people had only had a little more than 80,000 children. Of these children, roughly 30,000 died due to a lack of appropriate nutrition.

What the Russian Maritime Territory had was arable land and saltpetre. Of course we needed more farmland, and we also needed saltpetre to produce ammunition, which were not making enough of to supply our troops properly. We prepared for the operation first by levelling Vladivostok and all other major urban areas with artillery fire.

The use of atomic weapons was ruled out?

What was the use of occupying the RMT for agricultural and re-settlement if we irradiated the whole damn thing? Anyway, we then landed special forces team by helicopter along the Sino-Russian border, to occupy the passes and search for surviving refugees. We found about eight thousand, mostly Chinese with a few Russians, hiding in the mountains. Then we sent the main force of the army, in a continuous line spanning from the old Sino-Russian border to the sea, to sweep and destroy any remaining ghouls. This was easier than it might sound, because most of them had already wandered down to my border section and had been killed. We went as far as the Ussuri River, and then stopped.

So you only occupied half of the Maritime Territory?

We survived as unscathed as we did thanks to our army and our position as one of the most defensible countries in the world. Extending to the old borders of the RMT would have meant ignoring good natural barriers and attempting to garrison an exposed plain. That was and still is against the Jihye* Ideal.

(* "Jihye" is Kim Jong Un's contribution to North Korea's ideology. It translates as "Wisdom" and emphasizes preparedness for disasters and a high level of awareness about the world. It is similar to "Songun", but it is adapted for the Zombie Age.)

How did Russia respond?

They didn't have any idea what we had done until more than a year later. By that time we had rebuilt most of Seutoku, or what the Russians called Vladivostok, and fortified all the borders as heavily as our others. At first they were very angry and threatened us, despite the fact most of their homeland was inundated with the undead. We counter-acted with an offer of reparations in the form of weapons, ammunition, and grain, which they quickly accepted.

With the Maritime Territory occupied, how did the DPRK's situation improve?

We could feed everyone, clothe everyone, and house everyone. Our defence was shored up, and we had the smallest casualty ratios in the whole war. Only the Vatican City and Liechtenstein had smaller percentages of population die, and even in terms of pure numbers dead we ranked the fourth-lowest. When the world started to fight back and go on the offensive, we provided industrial and material aid to the Chinese and our South Korean brothers, and we traded with the Americans and the remaining Latin American states. [She chuckles]

It was satisfying to see you imperialists using North Korean helicopters and computers, as well as our computer systems.

Did the KPA participate in any of the offensives?

No, that would have violated Jihye. We had one offensive operation in the whole war, and that was our most dangerous moment. Had a mega-swarm attacked the Sikhote Mountains or crossed the Ussuri before we reached it, we would have lost hundreds of thousands, and our defences may have even buckled. We provided air support for China and South Korea, but we consider it the best service to humanity to preserve and develop the Democratic People's Republic. We are conditioned to siege, loyal to the Supreme Leader and the party, and we will defend our country with the lives of every last man, woman, and child.

There was a motion in the National People's Assembly a few weeks ago to increase trade with Cuba, to introduce some foreign consumer goods into the economy. I took the floor and said:

"We cannot afford to relax our defences or our ideals! Does Juche mean nothing to you? Or Songun? Or Jihye? What the Korean People must always know is that we can only depend upon ourselves. No one else!"

[She looks at me sternly, stubbing out her cigarette.]

No one else.