MAY 14; 10:42 AM
Jeong Tak-Oh stepped out of the car. The immense parking lot was empty. The wind ruffled his hair. He sighed and lit a cigarette, leaning against his vehicle.
In the distance was the immense reptile, almost two hundred feet tall. He puffed on the cigarette, studying its scaled slate gray form, the rows of dorsal spikes on its back, the long tail, the grasping claws, and that remarkable, terrifying horn.
Surrounding it were Ferris wheels, roller coasters, carnival rides, museums and booths, shops and malls, amusements of every kind. Jeong wondered if he could get cotton candy on this trip. Probably not, he decided.
Yongary did not move, of course. It was a statue.
From the corner of his eye, he caught movement. He glanced in that direction. A white futuristic egg shaped vehicle was heading towards him. Try as he might, he couldn’t detect the sound of an engine. He sighed and stood, flinging his cigarette away.
The vehicle pulled up next to his car. A smartly dressed woman stepped out and gave him a crisp salute.
“Colonel Jeong Tak-Oh!” she announced, as if on a parade ground, “it is an honour to meet Korea’s last astronaut. My name is Doctor Song Mi-Yoh, I’m the -“
“Director, Science Division, I know,” he drawled. He didn’t bother to return the salute. “Shall we?”
He walked past her to the egg shaped vehicle, and settled in while she hurried to the driver’s seat. His eyes returned to the immense statue.
“I thought scientists all wore lab coats,” he said. He glanced at her. “It can’t be much of an emergency, if the Director herself comes to pick me up. Or is everyone else dealing with the ‘crisis.’”
“It’s not that kind of crisis,” she said, putting the vehicle in gear.
Again, he could detect no vibration. No electronics at all. He tried to remember his briefing. Powered by compressed air, as they did in mine shafts where electronic or combustion vehicles were too dangerous. Idly, he tapped the package of cigarettes in his vest pocket.
“No smoking,” she said.
He laughed. “I would not be rude. So tell me what kind of crisis it is.”
“When we arrive.”
She hesitated, “You inspired me, you know, I wanted to tell you that. It’s why I wanted to be the one to pick you up.”
“Me?” He chuckled softly, it was a sad song. “Inspired anyone? That’s a hard thought.”
“You were Korea’s last astronaut,” she said, “hero of the space program. I had your poster up in my bedroom. It’s because of you I went into science.”
“You know,” he told her, “it was all a sham. The United States wanted to keep missiles in Korea, to reach Siberia and China. But they were prohibited by arms limitation treaties. So they came to the Korean government, and they said, we’ll put missiles in under your flag. Well, we’ve got the North up there, everything is a hair trigger. We couldn’t just build a missile base, the fuelling, the launch systems, not without starting a war. So we called it a Space Program, launch a few satellites, send a few astronauts up there you go.”
They were driving towards the statue. He had to crane his neck now to see it.
“Gangnam Spaceport,” he said, “it was really built to destroy half of Asia. Then technology moves, intercontinental missiles in the United States can reach Russia from their home, there’s a new treaty, it’s no longer needed. Once the Americans are sure they can destroy Asia from Alaska and Turkey… End of the space program.”
“There are still launches,” she said quietly.
Another sad chuckle. “The infrastructure is still there, might as well throw up a satellite now and then.”
“At least it’s ours now, all ours, and it’s real.”
He glanced at her. Slowly, the corner of his mouth tilted up in a lopsided half smile. He looked back out the window.
“Memorial,” he said, staring up at the statue as they approached. “Did it ever strike you as tasteless, that our memorial for all those victims was a life sized statue of the monster that killed them?”
“Every single name of every person who died is inscribed in the maze around its feet,” she replied.
“And then we built a theme park around the whole thing,” he chuckled humourlessly, “that’s people for you.”
“It was a long time ago,” she said, “people remember in their own way. We mourned our losses. And we celebrated that it was dead.”
“And now it’s waking up…” he said.
MAY 14, 11:55 AM
Jeong bit into cotton candy. It was Yongary purple. The monster wasn’t purple of course, except in certain lights. But slate gray hadn’t been a popular colour for cotton candy.
They were in the maze, walking around the feet of the monster.
He paused to read from the endless list of names. So many. There was more information than just names – time of death, location, occupation, final words.
“The saddest ones are the ones that were simply names,” he said. “The ones who died and were never found, who had no loved ones to leave words for them, they just vanished away, leaving nothing but a name, already ghosts before they died.”
“Do you know the story?” she asked.
“1967?” he asked. “Everyone knows the story.”
“I find that’s not true,” she said. “Everyone knows about it, but the details get lost…”
“Are they relevant?”
“There’s so much we don’t know,” she said, “The first giant monster ever was detected only in 1953, up in the Canadian arctic. That was the beast that attacked New York.”
“Why?” she asked. “Why then? Why not 1945? Or 1933? Or 1890? But after 1953, we began to see them more and more. Denmark, England, Ireland, the United States, Japan… Korea.”
Jeong grunted noncommittally.
“In 1967, Yongary emerged from the Panmunjeon.”
“Everyone knows that,” Jeong said.
“But,” she said, “Panmunjeon was where they negotiated and signed the armistice, the cease-fire for the Korean War. Was that just a coincidence? Or is there some deeper meaning?”
“Where did it come from?” she asked. “How long had it been sleeping there. There are no extant historical records clearly describing the creature. It may have slept for thousands or tens of thousands of years. We do not know what woke it or why.”
“I thought it was a nuclear test in China or Russia.” Jeong said. “That’s what they taught in school”
“That’s the standard theory. But we’ve never been able to verify the test. Was it the vibration? An electromagnetic pulse? Maybe it was triggered by either an earthquake? Why then, and not before?”
“What we learn in school is that after waking up, Yongary emerged from the earth, and headed south, to Seoul, where it laid waste and killed thousands of people. Both the United States and Korean military forces confronted the creature, with tanks, artillery and missiles but were ineffective against it.”
“Yongary eventually left Seoul, moving up along the Han River, causing destruction. At this point a chemical attacks based on ammonia precipitates was able to knock it out. But it woke up, so we hit it again at Gongdon Bridge.”
“Where it died,” Jeong finished.
”That’s what everyone thinks,” she said, “the famous film footage of it falling and bleeding out into the river. But no, it recovered; it stumbled all the way over here where, where it buried itself in the ground. And then we thought it was dead.”
“Where was it going?” she asked. “Was Seoul just in the way? Or did it seek it out? For a time, there was a suspicion that the North Koreans had sent it. The Korean War almost began again in 1967, that’s not in the history books because of this creature. It was that close. We had a military government then, it was nonstop crisis.”
“I didn’t know that part,” Jeong conceded politely. “But how is it relevant?”
He tapped out a cigarette, lit it, and stared at her levelly, daring her to object.
“Passive site evaluation in 1973 established that it was not dead but dormant. That information was immediately classified. As far as Korea knew, Yongary was dead. A research complex was established in the area to monitor it. It’s been here ever since.”
“All of this should have been in your briefing. But I want to –“
He offered Song the cotton candy.
She shook her head.
“You must think me an ass,” he said, “so disrespectful. We cope in different ways. Tragedy makes us… strange.”
“No,” she said, “I respect you.”
“Thank you,” he said, “I do appreciate your taking the time out. I am hasty sometimes.”
“Whatever is happening, it’s not happening quickly. It will take days, if it wakes up at al. The panel’s not meeting until this afternoon,” she said, “we have time. I find that this place… gives perspective.”
He leaned back, craning his neck, looking up the sheer length of the creature. It was impossible. A living thing, a walking thing as big as a building. What must it have been like for the people who saw the real thing, who wept with blasted eyes and shattered minds, cradling the dead, as something too vast to conceive walked past?
“There’s a rumour that this is more than just a statue, it’s a defence system, in case it ever comes back.”
She nodded. “That is correct.”
“How so? Is it secretly a giant robot? Will it fight Yongary if he comes out of the ground?”
“We all wish!”
“Ah,” he said, “then you have a secret atom bomb tucked away in its belly.”
“We asked for one, but….”
“The Americans are stingy with their toys. Yes, I know. So then what?”
“It used to be packed,” she said, “Conventional explosives, chemical weapons, the Ammonia precipitate compound we used on it the first time. That knocked it out, at least, hurt it. We thought it may have even killed it, eventually.”
“We kept on thinking that,” he said, “it was a good thing to think.”
He looked up; he could make out the white tipped claws, far far far above him, and beyond that, the outline of its lower jaw.
“Shouldn’t the claws be red,” he asked. “It doesn’t look right.”
“You’re thinking of that 1995 Young Goo movie, Dinosaur Zsu Zsu,” she told him.
“Ah,” he said.
They stared at it.
“All you need is for him to walk up to it,” he said.
“That’s the whole point of the statue,” she said. “These creatures, these Kaiju, sometimes they seek each other out, they engage in territorial battles. That’s why the statue was built, as a lure, just in case he wasn’t dead.”
“The memorial,” he said, “that was another excuse, a cover, like our space program. Do you ever wonder how much we Koreans could accomplish if we were straight with each other? Or maybe not, maybe we couldn’t bear the shock.”
He chuckled dryly.
“And then we built a theme park around it,” he said. “We built a gigantic bomb and hid it in a theme park.”
“The park has been evacuated,” she replied. “Official story is a terrorist threat.”
“You’re sure he’s waking up?”
“No, we’re not. But it’s a real possibility. Even decades later, there’s so much we don’t know. We don’t even know if they’re alive, as we define life, so how can we be sure that they’re ever dead.”
“He is getting less dead now, though?”
“Yes. All indicators are showing steadily increasing activity.”
“Any chance he’ll go back to sleep?”
“Perhaps, we’ve seen this before. There have been periods when all our sensors – thermal, radiation, seismic start to trend up, but then after a while, it settles back down. But this….”
“It’s already exceeded all of the previous episodes, climbing faster and higher, no sign of settling back.”
“Days? Weeks? Months?”
He nodded, dumping the cotton candy into a trash bin.
“Do you mind if I smoke? You won’t think me disrespectful.”
“No,” she said, “go ahead.”
He pulled a cigarette from his pack. She held her hand out. He was mildly surprised, but gave her one of his crooked half smiles and offered the pack, watching as she daintily plucked a cigarette. He lit for her, cupping his hand over the flame as she leaned in, then set his own aflame.
He took a deep long drag. How many this time, he wondered. Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? More? Visions of Seoul in ruins, the hospitals overwhelmed with screaming wounded, the city in flames before they could stop it… if they could stop it. How long did they have? How long to make plans? Save lives? Prepare contingencies? So much to do, and it wouldn’t be enough.
He let out the smoke, watching it curl in the air.
“Why?” He asked finally. “Why is it waking up now? Just bad luck?”
“Our instruments registered a pulse, an external pulse,” she said. “An energy wave, detectable on our sensors. That’s what triggered it.”
“Hmm,” he said.
“We tried to triangulate it,” she said. “We were able to determine the source, broadly.”
The cigarette was done. He let it fall to the ground and crushed it out with his heel. Just the way it crushed out people, he thought, suddenly.
“Asia. No more specific than that. We don’t know what it was. We thought nuclear blast at first, but there’s no seismic record. Maybe the Chinese or Russians messing with some experimental energy. It might even be natural.”
“Plate tectonics, every now and then you get a strange piezoelectric effect. But no earthquake so far.”
“Maybe it’s deliberate,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe someone decided to wake it up.”
MAY 14, 1:36 PM
Jeong leaned against the white bubble car and thought about having another cigarette. He looked over at Doctor Song, who was fiddling with what looked like an electronic parking meter a few feet away.
“Hey,” he called softly, “do you mind if I smoke?”
Jeong found himself unable to speak loudly, his words hushed by the knowledge of proximity. They were on a low sloping hill, around which a nondescript dirt road wound back and forth, with its incongruous electronic parking meters. But the hill was a lie. A dozen meters of stone and earth beneath them, Yongary’s form slumbered. It was ridiculous to think a loud voice might wake it. But he didn’t want to take the chance.
“Certainly,” she replied, “as long as it’s outside the car.”
He thought it over some more and put his cigarettes away. She had only had one, and while she’d clearly enjoyed it, she apparently felt no need for more. It made him vaguely ashamed of his own craving.
He folded his arms and looked around.
“You’re sure he’s buried here?” he asked. “According to the maps, it’s supposed to be that hill off to the west.”
“The real location is confidential,” she said. “No one wants tourists, criminals or fanatics poking around an actual Kaiju site. They go somewhere safe, they collect their little samples – rocks, bits of soil, tourist trinkets from the gift shop. It’s all good.”
“So that’s why your sensor panels are all disguised to look like parking meters?”
Parking meters lining a dirt road. But no one seemed to pay attention.
She closed the instrument panel, and returned to the egg shaped car, getting into the driver’s seat. He heaved a small sigh for the cigarette he’d decided not to have and entered the passenger side.
“How is it?”
“Everything is reading properly. The sensors are functioning.”
“You couldn’t do that back at the base?”
“We get the data back at the base, but we have to come out here and check that the machinery is calibrated properly.”
She piloted the car smoothly back on to the dirt road. It was the smoothest ride Jeong had ever felt in his life. The car was so noiseless it was almost disturbing.
“What kind of vehicle is this?” he asked.
“Compressed air,” she said. “No electronics, no metals, just plastics, ceramics and an absolute minimum of moving parts.”
“Kaiju are known to be sensitive to electromagnetic fluctuations,” she told him. “We’re being very careful. Particularly with the current fluctuations.”
“I see,” Jeong stared out the passenger window, watching the scenery go by. Off in the distance, towards the theme park, he could see a lone bicyclist pedalling along. How had the quarantine missed that one, he wondered? Maybe it was part of base staff getting some exercise. He thought about mentioning it to Song.
A slight lurch distracted him, as she pulled up to the next sensor panel.
As he stepped out of the vehicle, he felt a slight tremor.
“Did you feel that?” He asked.
“Yes,” she said, but gave no sign of being disturbed.
“Should we be running for it?”
“No,” she replied, “it’s normal.”
The ground shook hard, the sensor display abruptly tilted. Song was almost thrown from her feet, but Jeong moved to catch her.
“This is normal?” he asked.
But before she could reply barely a few hundred yards ahead of them, a massive ivory spike broke through the ground. For a minute as the pale column rose, Jeong was crazily reminded of a rocket launch, a flaming pillar of brightness rising up into the air. Then the ground around it seemed to explode, trees and shrubs leaping into the air, as if desperate to escape what was coming. A monstrous slate gray head as large as a yacht rose up higher and higher.
“Yongary!” Jeong screamed. He could feel Song clutching him.
The head of the creature rose out of the ground. An eye the size of an automobile blinked, and for a second, it seemed as if it turned to stare at him. It went still for a moment, the tremors ceased. Immense jaws that could swallow a whale yawned open. Jeong stared at its teeth. It gave a great bellowing cry.
The ear splitting noise of it roused him. Frantically, Jeong dragged Song back to the vehicle. He threw open the driver’s door and pushed her in, then followed her in, falling into the driver’s seat as she scrambled passenger side. He stared at the controls uncomprehending for a moment.
“Come on Jeong,” he said aloud. “You piloted space ships.”
The tremors were starting up again. Simple, he thought. No electronics. Minimum moving parts. Steering wheel obviously, accelerator, gearbox. He pressed a stud, gratified to see a dial flicker. He wheeled the vehicle into reverse, and rammed the accelerator wide open, hurtling down the dirt road.
“What’s it doing?” he yelled at Song. She was kneeling in the passenger seat, staring out the back window.
“It’s activated!” she yelled. “Fully activated.”
“I already know that,” he yelled back at her. “What’s it doing? Is it standing there? Is it wandering off? Just tell me it’s not chasing us!”
“Yes,” she yelled.
He was pounding the steering wheel. Wasn’t there some way to make this thing go faster? Its noiselessness frustrated him, he needed to hear the roar of an engine. A surge of acceleration, of the vehicle leaping, not this steady climb.
“Yes,” she screamed, “it’s chasing us.”
The shock almost caused him to take his foot off the accelerator, the reaction caused him to redouble the pressure, almost forcing his foot through the floor. We’re the only moving thing in the landscape, of course it’s chasing us. We should have stayed put, he thought, and cursed himself.
“I see,” he said, suddenly calm. He’d made a terrible mistake, he’d reacted recklessly. He couldn’t afford to do that again.
“Watch it,” he said, “it’s chasing us. What I want to know, is whether it’s catching us.”
He thought of the old news footage. Flaming breath, lasers from its horn. What was the range of that? Assuming it tried to burn them, could this thing take evasive manoeuvres.
“Tell me everything it does, everything. If it blinks or wrinkles its nose, describe everything.
“It’s not moving very fast,” she said. “It’s sluggish.”
“No sign of fire breathing?”
He gunned the vehicle down the dirt roads, fishtailing and spraying gravel. Jeong’s heart skipped a beat. Then they made it to pavement, he could feel the vehicle’s tires gripping the road, and he allowed himself to relax. He dared glance at the rear-view mirror, and saw the creature full size in the distance. Even far behind, it was immense, a building was lumbering after them.
“Do you have a phone in this? Radio? For emergencies?”
Far up ahead, he could see the bicyclist, pedalling madly. He’d seen the creature as well.
“No metals or electronics remember?” Song said. “We didn’t want to chance waking it.”
“A little late for that,” Jeong said sarcastically.
They were approaching the cyclist, the vehicle closing in on the frantic pedaller.
Jeong pulled up to it. The cyclist glanced at him, his face white with terror. Behind them, Yongary roared. Jeong accelerated past the cyclist a few dozen yards, stopped and leaned over to throw open the passenger door.
“Get in, you idiot!” he screamed as the cyclist skidded to a stop bare feet away. He dove into the vehicle and Jeong peeled away. In the few seconds the vehicle had stopped, they felt the ground shaking from the monsters footsteps.
“I’m Ken See-Yun,” the man introduced himself, “journalist. You’re Colonel Jeong the astronaut, aren’t you? I had your poster in my bedroom growing up. What an amazing coincidence–“
“Shut up, Idiot!” Jeong yelled. “This isn’t time for introductions.”
Despite his attention focussed on the road, Jeong had the sense he’d hurt the man’s feelings. It irritated him. There was a fire breathing monster the size of a fifteen story building on their tail. They had other things to worry about. He could apologise later… if there was a later.
Jeong accelerated to an intersection, and then turned hard, the vehicle almost lifting on two wheels. Song and Ken were shoved hard together by the acceleration.
“Are we still ahead of it?” he asked.
“You should have turned left,” Song protested. “That’s where the command base is. We need to get back there.”
“Command base?” the Ken the journalist asked.
“What for?” Jeong said. “To warn them? They already know. Half an hour ago, it was important. Right now, it’s just a collection of people shitting their pants.”
“You’re heading for the theme park,” Ken said. “It’s closed, there’s no one there.”
“I’m heading for the statue,” Jeong said.
Ken gasped. “So it’s true!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jeong said reflexively. He needed to concentrate on his driving, and not on the idiot. “So shut up!”
Song put her hand on his, he felt her warm skin. From the corner of his eye, he saw her nod. He inclined his head slightly, suddenly very glad of her company.
Behind them, Yongary roared once again.