cw: mature subject matter, violence
The most dangerous weapons to the world are the ones that live and breathe.
Welding sparks flew off Kang Choi-ri’s skin. A wire surgeon worked to fuse a speaker into his shoulder, binding the device against Kang’s steel-laced bones. He replaced patches of skin with pale-colored plates, switched to a solder, and wired the speaker into his muscle system.
A radio played century-old rap music throughout the basement. Neon-lit posters on the wall showed men with mechanical arms, and women with color-changing lips. Oil and bloodstained rags lined an automatic sink.
“Last one, man,” the wire surgeon said. He shut off the solder and lifted his mask. His eyes—enhanced and optimized—clicked as they zoomed out, dials on his iris turning clockwise. “Any more and your blood won’t pump.”
Kang stood and brushed off steel filings. He tensed his right shoulder. A shock ran through his central battery system—a new cybernetic running for the first time. Plates over his shoulder blade split open and revealed a compact speaker. Small, but it’d be loud enough to get the job done.
“You want to test it out?” the wire surgeon asked.
He ignored the question, throwing him a card loaded with cryptocurrency.
“What are you doing with a speaker, anyways, man?” The wire surgeon pushed the card aside and brought out a cigarette. “I mean, you’re loaded with cybernetics. Bionic lungs, a blade in your arm, a dozen other illegal parts. You shouldn’t be able to stand, and you risk it for some music? Why?”
“Watch the news tomorrow,” Kang said.
“Alright,” he exhaled a cloud of smoke, “whatever happens, you don’t know me. Leave through the back door.”
He stepped out onto the midnight streets of downtown Seoul. His cybernetic eyes, smuggled in from China, adjusted to the darkness in an instant. The eyes outlined figures lying against the alleyway walls. One brought an inhaler up to their mouth and huffed in a breath full of hallucinogens. Another stood, swept dirt from his sides, then entered the wire surgeon's clinic, the building masked as an auto-shop.
South Korea’s worldwide bullet train sped by above. A gust of wind followed its blur. Kang’s eyes read the speed, typing it out in the corner of his vision as 1,207.008 kilometers per hour and increasing. Streetlights emitted a blue glow.
He walked for hours into the countryside, to an abandoned mine that served as a tunnel system to Pakyong, North Korea. Kang climbed down into the caverns—he’d led many North Korean defectors through them to safety and knew them well.
He was going back to his country for the last time.
On the opposite side, he climbed up into the ruins of Pakyong. Burnt to the ground, the people either sent to live out their lives in labor camps or sentenced to death by firing squads. All for practicing Christianity. The destruction a country-wide reminder from their dictator that no religion could take place—other than worshiping him.
A 162.64 kilometer distance separated Pakyong from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
Kang started running.
Biomechanical connective tissue supported his leg muscles, allowing long strides to be as easy as breathing. His bionic lungs, built of artificial tissue fibers, filtered air throughout his body. Blood vessels lined with nanofibers circulated blood flow. An adrenaline injector in his circulatory system prevented him from tiring. He could run for days at a time.
Storm clouds amassed. He passed by labor camps, shut off with high concrete walls, topped with claret red laser wire. The wire glowed in the night, waiting to burn anyone who’d attempt to escape. Machinery worked to build another.
No matter how many people Kang freed, no matter how many camps he shut down, there would always be more. Prisoners being starved and tortured. Eating rotting food that pigs wouldn’t touch. Hunting and chewing on snakes and rats dwelling in the prison fields.
It had been him once.
Being picked apart by flies as he slept. Guard dogs ripping apart the other children. His mother forced to stand the entire night, or she’d get beaten.
He would free all of them for good.
5 kilometers. The toll gates to Pyongyang lay ahead, patrolled by soldiers with poor cybernetic enhancements. Years behind their competitors. Airborne drones outfitted with automatic weapons hovered, buzzing. Kang charged them. He raised his left elbow and flexed his bicep. One guard shouted and aimed his rifle.
Plates clicked and split open beneath Kang’s triceps—a steel tube extending out, coated in a mix of nano-weaved blood vessels and wiring, widening to the size of a baseball. A laser sight along the tube ticked, aimed at the North Korean’s feet. Before he could fire his rifle, Kang launched a rocket from his projectile system. The toll gates exploded into rubble. The remains of drone parts rained down.
He sprinted into the outskirts of Pyongyang, a city of tall buildings and propaganda. Daily military parades, and people brainwashed by a malevolent dictator. Empty, lifeless streets. Homes without power.
Watch your words or it’s life in prison.
A group of soldiers kneeled ahead, aiming down their rifles. More rushed into position. Riot shields—almost holographic—beamed with a vibrating red light, sturdy enough to protect them from another rocket. His eyes counted out eight of them.
Kang bent his knees, letting his enhanced ankles build up a charge, and leaped twenty feet into the air. High-powered rifles rang out. Bullets scraped skin off his face, arms, and legs, only denting the titanium layering beneath.
He landed in the middle of them. The gunfire ceased. The soldiers jabbed their stun batons, fluctuating with red electricity, meant to shut down his cybernetics. They struck his chest; the inductors wired into his nervous system absorbed the shock and routed it through his central battery.
A curved blade shot out from his forearm. He decapitated the first soldier with one quick swing—the micro-rotors lining his bones allowing him to strike at break-neck speeds. The second, third, and fourth soldiers dropped before they could cry out, arms cut off at their shoulders, their helmets rolling down the asphalt roads.
Riot shields approached him. The soldiers behind them trembled, yelling for him to surrender.
Kang’s adrenaline injector pumped his glands full of the hormone. He brought back his left arm, the rotors in his shoulder charging up, and punched.
The weights embedded into his knuckles shattered the glowing shield into shards. His blade arm, a blur, ripped the soldier’s head off his neck. The others backed up. Helicopters thrummed overhead, snipers taking their mark. His ears pinpointed more North Korean soldiers a block away.
Kang ran to the closest high-rise apartment, running up the side of the structure, the Grip Spikes in his feet shooting out and puncturing the concrete to keep him stable. Steam blew out from his feet with each step.
A sniper shot at him from aboard a helicopter.
His cybernetic eyes, Shanghai MK4s, detected the bullet, moving at a speed of 306.04 meters per second. The Reflex Tuner wired into his nervous system, an illegal piece from the South Korean city of Daegu, took over. Kang’s body twisted—micro-rotors whirring within. His blade arm raised. The sniper bullet deflected off the steel and broke his weapon in two. The shattered part fell to the ground below.
He jumped from the side of the building, tensing his left hand, plates over the backside opening to reveal a thin luminescent wire. He aimed his wrist at the helicopter and flexed. The wire shot, untangled, flew, and hooked onto the helicopter’s underside, acting as a grappling hook. Kang swung beneath. He gained momentum and flew forward.
Soldiers below shot at him. The pain resistors in his body numbed the impact of each bullet. Hover tanks in the streets worked to line up shells, uncaring of the collateral damage it would cause.
Sniper shots sounded. Kang’s Reflex Tuner took control, spinning him midair, dodging the bullets. His vision blackened at the edges. His breaths drew short, nausea clouding his thoughts. He lost control of his arms and legs, free falling into a fifty-foot drop.
His heart gave out.
The frail human heart.
It would’ve happened, eventually.
His central battery system powered his second, mechanical, heart. He blinked, and his vision returned. Kang aimed his grappling hook at the nearest apartment. He latched to the side, his Grip Spikes breaking into the concrete. Drones fired gas-filled pellets, and Kang ran up through the clouds of smoke—the Detoxifier in his lungs rendering him immune to the poison.
He reached the top, running, leaping from one building to the next. The Mansu Hill Grand Monument came into sight. Three tall bronze statues. A center of worship for three men who ruled as gods. Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, and Kim-Jong Un. Bow and pray or face execution.
Rain pelted his skin.
Kang hit the ground, his reinforced tendons absorbing the fall. He ran over a stone walkway, up steps, and stood before the three statues as North Korean soldiers amassed behind him.
He raised his elbow, switched the ordinance in his projectile system from rockets to an experimental breaching explosive, and shot it at the statue’s base.
It’d blow the landmark to ruins. The Царь Бомба Мини - Tsar Bomba mini, the Russians called it. He bought it from their black market.
It stuck to the bronze feet of Kim-Jong Il. A blue light on it blinked on and off. Kang held the detonator in his hand—he raised it high for the snipers, helicopters, and enhanced soldiers to see.
“Drop the device!” An officer called. “Your family is in our custody!”
A bluff. They had killed his family long ago.
Kang tensed his right shoulder. A shock ran through his battery system—his cybernetics struggling in the rain. Plates over his shoulder blade split open to reveal a compact speaker.
The United States National Anthem, glitching, played out.
He stood in the downpour as the anthem played. They would believe the Americans sent him, and it would spark a war that should’ve happened a century ago.
He would liberate his people by any means necessary.
Kang Choi-ri hit the detonator.
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So - more generally: Great opening and great ending to a great story. You really do have a talent for writing action sequences. And your descriptions of the technology are really convincing. I especially like the surprise second heart kicking in just when you think he's had it. Nice touch. I wonder if the whole thing might have more of a sense of urgency if it was written in present tense - but that would be a massive edit to do this close to the deadline so I'm not really suggesting it as a realistic option - just a thought. Maybe you c...
Thank you for the kind words - I always enjoy writing about Korea. It's nice to hear you enjoyed reading through it. I had fun planning out all the cybernetic parts in this story, and I'll look into adding a few more sentences on the backstreet wire surgeon. All your feedback is really great here to polish up the story, and I'm going to implement a lot of it. I'm blind to my own repetition at times and I'm glad you pointed it out. The immune/nervous system catches are great. As for writing an action story in first person - I've never real...
Hi Alex, if I get chance I'll read your story through again today but I may not have time. For clarification, you could write something in first person and it would have a different feel, but more suggesting present tense, as if the action is taking place "now" as the story unfolds. You could still do this in third person if you wanted to. Good luck in the contest this week!
Thank you. I hope it does well too - and I meant present tense, not first person. Just a typo.
Hi Alex, I really enjoyed this story. Good opening line. Loved the details, cybernetic eyes from China, worldwide bullet train, nanofibers etc. Great pacing, building nicely to a fast, epic ending. One critique, "Being picked apart by flies as he slept" - is this his memory? It confused me and I had to stop and go back. Which was a shame as I was lost in the flow. Maybe a tiny clarification? Great story. If you have time, I'd appreciate feedback on my latest shory "Rain Queen".
Thank you, Rachel, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had fun planning and writing the tech for this world. Your critique is great here and I'll implement it for the final draft - thank you for pointing it out. When I get the chance, I'll read over your story and leave my notes :)
short author's note, I didn't intend for any of this to be political, it's just fiction mixed with some real-life research. 저는 남한을 존경하며 제가 가장 좋아하는 나라 중 하나에 경의를 표하고 싶었습니다 :)
Alex, of all the cyber-technology Kang is enhanced with, I thought the speaker was the most plausible. Does the war he spark free the world of North Korean despotism, American capitalism, or both? How does it affect Canadians living in the 22nd century? Just some questions I need to ask as a concerned world citizen who believes that writers of science fiction often lay a foundation for the future.
Thank you for reading! This story will always strike me as one of my best earlier works. I always look back at it and think I really outdid myself. If I ever do continue it and write another cyber-punk style story, there is so much I can do with the politics of it. All around the world - endless possibilites. I appreciate the comment.
I like how you left the setting as well as some of the action sequences open for us to imagine. I also enjoyed how you left eh grand plan to the end to reveal itself and the short glimpse into Kang's backstory was also appreciated. This is definitely a story I was lucky to read. Keep up the great work!
Thank you, Lennox! I always look back at this story as one of my best - definitely my best thriller - I'm really glad you decided to read it and enjoyed doing so. I really like how it turned out(Adding the backstory was not intended in the original plot, and came through as I wrote). Thanks again, and I appreciate the kind words.
Nicely built up Alex. Very gripping. I loved the cybertronic details :)
Thank you, Kalesh. I appreciate you reading through this one! I had a lot of fun planning out the cybernetics, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Loved the story it was very engaging.
Thank you, Aman. No matter what I write, I always come back to this one and look at it as my best thriller. I appreciate you reading it :)
Your openings are always great and the flow of action is breathtaking. A treat! Congratulations!
감사합니다! I'm glad this made it. Second shortlist with many more to come 🥳
You are obviously getting something right! Well done 👍
Great story! Topical! It's scary that his plan might actually work. Loved the tech and there was so much of it - it must have taken a lot of work to think that all up believably, which it was, kinda. Riveting!
Thank you. Coming up with all the tech for this story, and what body parts/systems they'd impact was a highlight for me. I had a lot of fun with it. I'm glad you enjoyed reading through it!
Regarding this para: “Last one, man,” the wire surgeon said. He shut off the solder and lifted his mask. His eyes—enhanced and optimized—clicked as they zoomed out, dials on his iris turning clockwise. “Any more and your blood won’t pump.” A little confusing. The first sentence is the wire surgeon. The third is Kang. The fourth is the wire surgeon again.
Thanks for the feedback and kind words, Bruce. I'm glad you read through and enjoyed the story. For the paragraph you've mentioned, it was meant to be the wire surgeon all the way through - his eyes are enhanced so he can perform such precise surgery under the welding mask. I would clear it up now, but the story has been approved. Thank you, tho. When I get the chance, I'll read through your latest story and leave my feedback.
Thanks for your response. You have a very imaginative mind. I was in the Army in Korea in 1971 and visited Panmunjom. Was able to glance into North Korea at that time. You made North Korea visible for me in a dramatic way.
Just brilliant. Wow! Great work.
Totally captivating story!
Right - the cake is in the oven so here goes... Welding sparks flew off Kang Choi-Ri’s skin. A wire surgeon worked to fuse a speaker into his shoulder, welding the device against Kang’s steel laced bones. - repetition of welding. I'd cut the first one: Sparks flew off Kang Choi-Ri’s skin. A wire surgeon worked to fuse a speaker into his shoulder, welding the device against Kang’s steel laced bones. Or maybe add an adjective before "sparks". Kang stood and brushed off steel fibers. - fibers feels wrong. Maybe filings? shrapnel? Fibers soun...
This is awesome! Fast-paced action. Cool tech. Love the descriptions of the cybernetic parts, and the interplay with his living body. Great story!
Thank you, Jon. I spent an hour just planning out Kang's cybernetic parts and how'd they work, and I like how it turned out. Thanks for reading!
Hi Alex, I just had a quick read through this morning. It's good. I have to go to work now, and bake a cake when I get back, so will pick up comment tonight. I have a few suggestions for you.