/// *OPS: The Death Tree of Life
*OPS is a series of posts possibly about my experiences as a (former) covert operative. Edited, altered, fictional and or true accounts of events.
The following sequences of words may or may not describe actual events. Places, names, timelines and other details may have been modified, omitted or added in part or as a whole if inspired by events and actions that may or may not have actually occurred and people that may or may not have existed. Verifiably unverifiable but with the core narrative intact.-NOTICE #637BAU
[ OBJECTIVE ] Access a presumed cult compound in an undisclosed region of North Korea. Identify the leader and retrieve samples of the “divine” tree.
0001 Located in the middle of nowhere far from anywhere. This so-called ranch has the facade of a commune, the layout of a prison but the structure of a military base. Hard to get in, easy to stay in and harder to get out. I’m in, hiding in the great tree.
0002 Literally translated from Korean, “The Death Tree of Life” is this cult’s idol and is worshiped like a god. From the little we were able to verify, this massive and seemingly ancient tree is apparently their source of life energy to themselves and their crops. When a member dies, their bodies are buried between the tree’s many protruding gigantic roots, their version of the “circle of life”. Hence, The Death Tree of Life.
0003 I’ve set myself about half way up this 70 meter tall tree. It’s spring so the tree is in full blossom, no one can see me but I can see out, plus the 3 fiber optic cameras I hid on ground level. The compound is a perfect circle, with all buildings and structures within it part of smaller and smaller inner circles like layers of an onion. The tree is the center, naturally.
0004 According to my source, only the residing high priest may touch the tree above the roots. According to legend, anyone else touching the tree will die instantly. I may be wearing gloves but I feel fine. So all I have to do is wait for the nightly prayers and take a photo of the person who touches the tree.
0005 Using rope and branches, I’ve made a comfortable but secure hammock-like seat for myself while I wait for nightfall. It’s quite peaceful up here, despite the madness going on below and all around.
0006 Perhaps I’m being judgmental when I say “madness”. Because from my 360 degree view from 120 feet high, this place looks like an ordinary rural Korean village. But a closer look reveals a restricted way of living, armed guards and the fact that this tree serves as a mass grave.
0007 A bell rings twice, must be dinner time. Moments later, everyone walks towards the cafeteria in near perfect sync, as if they were an army of drones. Might as well eat my rations. Prayers should be soon.
0008 Instead of worshiping in a temple or having sermon at a church, these people pray directly in front of the tree. Looking down, I see about 120 of them lining up back to back and side by side getting on their knees, again in layers of circles around the tree. Those who are near, grasp any exposed roots they can but not a soul reaches for the actual tree. As they are all dressed alike, there’s no telling who the leader is.
0010 Like clockwork, the 120 are back under the tree, praying. Same routine but again, no one touches the tree. I need to wait another 24 hours, in this tree.
0011 It’s now day 4 of being in this tree with no identification of the cult leader. I’m out of rations but have emergency Powerbars and enough water for maybe 36 hours, thanks to the downpour last night. Today is Sunday so I’m hopeful that has some significance to their religion and maybe the prayer ceremony will be different.
0012 It’s time. Tonight it seems like everyone in the commune is here, roughly 300 devout followers circled around the tree. Despite how odd their religion seems, I feel sacrilegious hiding in the very tree they’re worshiping.
0013 Like every other night, everyone is dressed the exact same, but finally, something different happens… A small bald man gets off his knees and walks closer towards the tree, puts both his hands on it as if trying to push it away and starts chanting. I activate the cameras from my remote. Finally.
0014 Every night the compound generators are shut off at 1 in the morning. I’ll make my exit at 3.
0015 After 4 straight days of being in this tree, my balance on solid ground feels unnatural, like walking on land after being on a boat for too long. I grab the cameras and make my way towards the garage.
0016 I pick the garage door lock with Bogotas. I fill up a motorbike with gas and take a spare tank as we’re in the middle of nowhere. Then I place a wet towel over the break / rear lights so I can smash the bulbs without making noise. I open the door to where it leads to the outside compound and walk the motorbike out with me.
0017 After I get a few hundred meters from the compound, I start the engine and drive away.