Office #44 (#44호)
Who They Are
At the centre of the criminal-governmental networks that support and maintain the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, an effort to exploit ancient shamanistic practices has led to the growth of a witch cult at the heart of the rogue state. Their goals are the acquisition and deployment of so-called “unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style” in order to amass asymmetrical power to maintain state and regime survival. Once answering directly to Kim Jong-il, following his death in December 2011 they have remained afloat thanks the political patronage of Chang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-il’s brother in law who is often described as the regent of the country, but whose political position is dependent on the continued health of his wife, Kim Kyong-hui. Occult experimentation by Office #44 has yielded access to amazing powers and possibilities. The caste system that defines North Korean society has allowed Office #44 access to the vast population defined as members of the “hostile” class (largely those descended from “anti-revolutionary” backgrounds) who can be used as the basis for experimentation and sacrifice to Outer Horrors.
Office #44 has access to the governmental and criminal networks that have been created by the North Korean state, and have significant resources within the country. However, like the state itself, it lacks funds and often must come up with its own ways to fund its activities. This has forced the group to create front companies in foreign countries, getting involved in drug trafficking, restaurants and weapons. This places it in some competition with other groups in the North Korean government, such as Office #38 and some military organs. What gives Office #44 an edge is its access to “unprecedented peculiar means and methods”, in other words magic. Its interest in the occult and its access to unorthodox means of smuggling have seen the
organization become involved in the trading of occult items and texts throughout the East Asian region. They make use of a variety of methods, including exploitation of the North Korean merchant navy and diplomatic corps, to smuggle Mythos and occult items throughout Asia. They often utilize front companies in Southeast Asia and China, as well as pro-DPRK groups in Japan.
Office #44 is paradoxically powerful and weak. While it would be extremely difficult to strike at the center without causing a potentially disastrous escalation of events, the various tendrils of the organization extending internationally can be struck at or neutralized. This can be done in ways both violent and non-violent, with potential to use legal means sanctions to shut down Fourth Floor operations in third countries or bar their agents from entering countries. Dealing with Park Kum-ae in North Korea itself would be another mission entirely.
Office #44 exists to explore “unprecedented peculiar means and methods”, which means ancient magical and occult techniques, as well as some so far unpromising research into psychic powers. This refers both to ancient shamanistic and Taoist techniques that have long existed on the Korean peninsula, but as time has passed there has been increased interest in foreign sources of magical power. Office #44 has expanded its area of interest to cover the dark traditions found throughout the Asian continent, and have even begun to explore elements of the Western occult traditions as well. The purpose is to amass an understanding of these powers, and bring them to the use of the North Korean state. Mythos texts and artifacts are highly sought after by Office #44 agents, but they are limited by the difficulty of access generated by the sanctions imposed on the rogue state. Their agents have had more success in countries that maintain cordial relations with Pyongyang, such as Syria, Myanmar, Belarus and a number of countries in Africa. Much of the smuggling is organized by a front company based in Macau, Zonsong Trading.
The Unyakmun Publishing House (은약문 출판소) is in charge of collecting various Mythos texts sourced by Fourth Floor agents domestically and abroad and translating them into Korean-language texts (complete with sycophantic prefaces praising the Kim family). These Korean-text summaries are intended for dissemination within the country’s universities and government organizations, as well as DPRK-run bookstores in China, Japan and Europe. While many of these have been simply occult texts with little innate power, a handful of legitimate Mythos texts have been smuggled in as well (though these are often restricted). Office #44 has agents in dozens of countries seeking Mythos texts under the guise of academic study, and have even penetrated the United States, where a North Korean diplomat for the United Nations has been seen at Club Apocalypse in New York, and an agent under the guise of a South Korean student is seeking to gain access to the closed stacks at Miskatonic University.
What “unprecedented means and methods” have been learned by Office #44 are the subjects of a rather large degree of experimentation, led by the shaman witch Paek Kŭm-ae, a devotee of a Korean avatar of Nyarlathotep. What Keziah Mason was to uncanny angles, Paek is to possession and astral traveling, having spent centuries sending her foul mind into the dark recesses of time and space. Her shaman cadres are specifically chosen for their ideological purity and their aptitude for occult tasks. These cadres are well-indoctrinated, but they have a tendency towards heavy rates of overturn due to insanity or misadventure with Mythos forces. So far, the central government is reasonably pleased with Paek, as she has succeeded in acquiring information on the South Korean government and US military that would be impossible to gain through conventional espionage. As long as she keeps feeding them useful information, they are content for her to continue with her other activities. She has made a lot of bold claims regarding the use of these means and methods in a military setting, which pleases the government: they don’t really understand that summoning Azathoth to lay waste to Seoul would have some unavoidable side effects for Pyongyang.
Office #44 also oversees what is known as the Gumiho Sadan (구미호 사단), or Fox Spirit Brigade. The discovery of ghouls in the starving period of the 1990s led to an experiment in which expendable but loyal Korean People’s Army veterans were deliberately fed a diet of human corpses over a period of time to facilitate their transformation into ghouls. These ghouls, removed from traditional ghoul society, maintain their original indoctrination into the Juche cult that glorifies the founder of the North Korean state Kim Il-sung. The objective is to use the skills of the ghouls to penetrate South Korea, by tunnel or by consumed likeness, to run espionage operations there. As the South Korean government remains ignorant of the Mythos, these have been remarkably successful so far. The top generals of the North Korean military, however, find the experiments appalling, and are pushing for their cessation and the liquidation of those involved.
North Korean maintains an official state ban on religion (the fake churches and temples in Pyongyang and environs built and maintained largely for the purposes of propaganda towards foreign visitors) and adheres to the state cult of Juche. Juche is based on the concept that human beings are the owners of the revolution, but that revolution can only be achieved through the sacred leadership of the Leader (and those of his line). Despite this, the regime has adopted some religious elements, co-opting elements of traditional Confucian morality in a Communist guise. Shamanism also remains popular despite repression, and the government maintained its own official shamans for the purposes of the spiritual protection of historical landmarks. A shaman was even reported to have saved the life of Kim Jong-il on one occasion by predicting a bomb threat on the train that the leader was meant to have been travelling on.
The Office #44 concept posits that these shaman cadres became the nucleus of research into ancient shamanistic and Taoist techniques by the North Korean government, for the ostensible purposes of life-extension for the leadership. These eventually saw some successes, and the recruitment of a powerful shamaness witch into the organization, a North Korean equivalent of Keziah Mason, who was led to the organization after possession by a local avatar of Nyarlathotep. Office #44 began as a small research group adjacent to other state organs, but has now been expanded into its own organization answering directly to the political center. The discovery of ghouls in North Korea following the mass famine in the mid 1990’s fell under their bailiwick as well.
Over two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final destruction of the geo-political system that saw massive ideological blocs locked in a frozen war with the fate of humanity at stake, there is only one area in the world where you can still feel the palpable tension of the Cold War. At Panmunjeom, you can still see the cold stares across the line and stand a heartbeat away from apocalyptic war. North Korea represents a threat that should have been consigned to the history books, but against all odds and predictions remains standing, a pool of blackness among the glittering lights of a rising Asia. Despite the 60 years of relative peace on the peninsula, the two countries have never signed a peace agreement and remain technically in a state of war (not that you could tell standing in the high-tech metropolis of Seoul with Gangnam Style blaring from every convenience store). So perhaps the theme of Office #44 could be unfinished business, if the Karotechia hadn’t taken it first.
But North Korea is not the same as it was when it was merely a strident black sheep in the global socialist bloc. The end of the Soviet Union left the United States supreme as the global hyperpower, a position in which in basked in the self-confidence and introspection of the Clinton Years, largely preoccupied with its own affairs with the occasional missile or gunship sent to Bosnia or Iraq. But what military strategists searched for in those years was a new enemy, a way to justify continued investment in the most powerful military-industrial machine the world has ever known. The new threat became the Rogue State. Those nations who, despite the fact that final victory for the forces of Liberal Democracy and Market Capitalism was a fait accompli, refused to get with the program and remained behind their walls of guns and ideology. These were less geopolitical foes and more along the lines of international criminals, or the disgruntled malcontents of global society. They were irrational, unpredictable and a danger to the New World Order that George H.W. Bush had once so proudly proclaimed.
North Korea is a country that has not so much held strong with the Marxist-Leninist line as replaced it entirely with Juche Thought, an ideology designed for the glorification and the deification of Kim Il Sung and his successors. The population is under strict and over-whelming control by a bewildering network of surveillance and repression, and indoctrination in the Kim cult begins at birth. While their former allies have given in to market capitalism, the former Stalinist economy of North Korea has degraded into a state akin to a feudal kingdom, where the elite of Pyongyang strip the land of wealth to maintain their lifestyles and one of the largest militaries on the planet. It is a place with a fundamentally alien mindset from that West in how it views itself and the world, and it possesses the military force to have a much greater effect than its relatively small size should allow. It is the most alienated Other to the powers that be in the modern world system.
It is a nation-state that is willing to let its own people starve in order to maintain its military, refuse reform and build nuclear weapons. It tortures and executes its citizens in concentration camps, stockpiles chemical and biological weapons, maintains embedded artillery that could turn Seoul to burning rubble, and uses state organs to engage in counterfeiting, weapons trafficking and drug manufacture. If there is any single state on the planet that would be ripe for tampering with the Mythos for its own national gain, without anyone knowing, it would be North Korea. What Office #44 represents is a clear and present danger of a kind that should have died out at the end of WW2. It is a second-rate Karotechia for the 21st century, but it is tampering with forces that could destroy itself and take humanity screaming into the void with it.
Paek Kŭm-ae, Witch-Shaman and Department Director of Office #44
Jong Man-il, CEO of Zonsong Trading and occult artifact smuggler
Ŏ Tong-il, DPRK UN Delegate and Office #44 agent in New York
Ryu Tok-hun, Resentful Head of Unyakmun Publishing Company
Ri Mae-hwa, Translator of occult texts and agent of the Crawling Chaos.
Kaettong, Paek Kŭm-ae's Rat Thing Familiar
Hong Hak-rim, an Office #44 Ghoul sleeper in Seoul.