You come home late at night, after a hard day. The message light on the answering machine is blinking. You press play and listen….
…You have the promotion, and the raise, but you will have to relocate to Nome, Alaska (or Ulan Bator, Mongolia, or some other equally remote, inhospitable, and inaccessible place).
Your finger trembles above the answering machine’s play button in the aftermath of the message. You’re still, frozen, fumbling between shock and elation, and the rain that soaked your blouse and now chills you is forgotten in the rush. A droplet of water runs down your aquiline nose, splashes onto the cheap plastic appliance.
“If you would like to save this message, press one…”
You hadn’t recognized the voice extending the invitation in sing-song Cantonese, but that meant nothing. He had still used the right words, mentioned the right things: You knew it was authentic, you knew what it meant.
It meant a promotion, a raise, acclaim and acceptance from your peers. It was the accumulation of your years of training and long hours at work. It was the Mohe County of China, an area with one of the most extreme–but still hospitable–climates on earth.
“If you would like to delete this message, press two…”
You exhale, heavily. The release drops your shoulders, which were as rigid as steel supports, and returns your mind to your body. Despite all the honor this assignment imparts, and the trust in you it implies, your stomach is still in knots. Mohe, China, a remote area thousands and thousands of miles from McLean, Virginia, with as many fewer people. What exactly awaits a junior core collection officer from the CIA has remained classified information to those aware of the opportunity, tantalizing the recruits salivating at the bits to prove themselves.
But, subarctic temperatures? Minimal human contact? A cruel request. The reason for such a request would have to be interesting.
You could turn it down. You could choose a different assignment. No harm, no foul in the Agency’s book.
“If you would like to hear more options, please press three,” the machine requests.
You stare at it for too long, unmoving, and it repeats itself. “If you would like to hear more options, please press–“
You press the button.