December 25th 1988.
I had slept peacefully that night because I knew it the next day was Christmas. At that time open observation of religious holidays was only slowly creeping back into Soviet life, but at the monastery it had always been an annual event. As had every American holiday including Thanksgiving, Halloween, and the 4th of July.
It wasn't a holiday for us. They called it 'cultural training' on days like that. We were supposed to take part in the festivities, but we all knew that it was not free time. We were being evaluated. Still...being evaluated while opening presents, baking cookies, and singing along to Christmas carols was much more relaxing than drills or lessons, so we looked forward to these days just the same.
That morning, however, I was yanked out of my bed with no warning and punched repeatedly in the face until my jaw dislocated.
I knew immediately this was a test, so I ignored the fear and the pain, and set my mind to passing it.
They dragged me outside where a helicopter was waiting, and lifted me on board. I was treated by a doctor during the trip, and fought the urge to fall asleep again all the way to Moscow.
Orlov was waiting when we landed. I was so relieved to see him. I wanted to run to him, but I knew better.
The edge of his mouth twitched when I stood in front of him cautiously, and I knew he was pleased. That was the closest he ever came to smiling.
He told me it was alright. That I had been activated. My mission was officially beginning. I was going to America.
That was when I became truly scared. Even with everything I'd been through, the prospect of being sent away from the monastery and Orlov terrified me. Little did I know it was probably the first strike of luck in my entire life, but it was all I'd ever known.
In the hospital he drilled me on my mission and my new identity. I answered his questions mechanically, all the while holding down the urge to beg him not to make me leave.
I spent the first night at the American embassy, and the next day boarded a train west. We went as far as East Germany, and then boarded another train that would take us to Paris. There I was met by a man and a woman who said they were my aunt and uncle.
Before I knew it I was living with my aunt and uncle in a penthouse apartment in New York City, and attending an American private school. The most surreal part was how much was familiar. There were so many times when it felt just like being back in Russia, and I had to look out the window to remind myself I really was half-a-world away. Orlov trained us well.
One huge difference was the amount of freedom I now had. I was, of course, 12 years old, but compared to how I lived back in Russia it was like the entire world was open to me. I was allowed eat, shower, sleep, and go outside when I wanted for the first time in my life. It was so temping to just forget about the mission. After all, what was Orlov going to do about it when he was back in Russia? How would he even know?
But, as I said, he trained us well. Too well, I soon found out.
Whenever I was did something I wasn't supposed to, if I got a B instead of an A on a test, if I went to the movies with friends instead of doing my homework, I would hear his voice inside my head telling me I was a disgrace to Mother Russia.
At first I believed it. I believed in my mission. I learned things which, even our extensive training in American culture, didn't quite get across. Mostly the sense of optimism that pervaded American culture. Everyone seemed to believe that they deserved happiness just by virtue of being themselves. I saw this as the selfish entitlement we'd been taught to expect.
Things changed after the fall and winter of 1991 though. When the Soviet Union dissolved and Russia was internationally recognized.
I wasn't sure what this meant for my mission. Orlov might have seen this as a bad thing or a good thing. Of course, for all I knew Orlov might be in prison now or even dead. I was 15 and had been undercover for 3 years, how was I to know what I should do?
In the end, there was nothing I could do. My mission, I'd always been taught, was to retain my cover until I was reactivated.
It wasn't until I was 17 that I started considering the possibility that might never happen. At that point I also let myself wonder whether or not I wanted it to happen. I didn't miss Russia or Orlov. One because I'd basically never seen it apart from the fortified monastery/training camp/prison I grew up in, and other because he was my constant companion inside my head.
That's not to say I was happy in the United States. I wasn't unhappy either. That was another way I noticed I differed from Americans. They felt everything, where as I felt nothing. Not even when I tried to. I didn't cry over sad movies like other girls my age. Running past the point of exhaustion didn't work. I even beat my inner thighs with a belt so hard bruises showed up, and all that came was Orlov's voice reminding me not to let anyone find out because self-harm would definitely cause me to fail the psychiatric evaluation when it came time to apply at the CIA.
I hadn't before, but I realized later that I was jealous of the Americans and how they could feel. Was this a result of the American entitlement we were taught to hate? If so, was it really something to hate? Something I wanted to be a part of bringing down from the inside out?
I had no choice though. Orlov reminded me of that everyday.
His creations. He'd called us, and that's what we were. Even as I was questioning my entire perception of the world, I kept with my mission.
Even standing when I was standing on the rooftop of my residence hall Orlov kept me from stepping off the edge. Eventhough by that point all I wanted was to be free of him, I still couldn't fight him. I was as unbreakable as he'd always bragged we were. It was January, but standing in the snow in Princeton, New Jersey can't compare to doing so in Siberia. It was only Orlov's voice that reminded me I had to get inside before hypothermia became a serious possibility.
That wasn't the last time I considered offing myself. Not by far. Heck even the first time I was issued a gun by the CIA, I got the sudden urge to shoot everyone in the room and then myself.
I considered homicide a lot too. I didn't hate America anymore. It was far from as perfect as most Americans wanted to believe, but the country and it's principles were not bad. I'd concluded that. The thing was it didn't matter how I felt about America or anything else. It didn't matter if I was never reactivated or not. It didn't matter if I was spying for America or against it.
I just was what I was. A robot. Programmed since birth to do what I was told, and I couldn't fight that. I'd tried. Many times, and always failed, so I finally gave up and did nothing besides work at establishing myself at the Central Intelligence Agency, and I maintaining my cover.
That was my mission. Integrate myself into the American intelligence community, and maintain my cover. Neither were a problem. I'd been trained to be a spy all my life, and as for my cover, I completely thought of myself as Evelyn Salt after just a couple years.
It was part of our training. The reason I'd never been told my first name. As a child, I was only 'Comrade Chenkov.' I didn't even know if I'd ever had another name. That way it was so much easier to accept my cover identity.
Yes, even as I learned through my training at the CIA to recognize the brainwashing tactics Orlov had used, I still couldn't overcome them.
In an instant, however, that all changed.
I'd been dating Michael as a cover to get into North Korea. He was a kind man, actually pleasant to be with, and, I realized, the physical chemistry between us actually real, not just a part of the cover. However, I can't say I was in love with him before my imprisonment. Not for any reason besides the fact that I wasn't capable of feeling that sort of emotion.
I knew I would eventually die when I was captured. The Koreans didn't believe my cover story, and when they realized I wasn't going to break I would no longer be useful to them.
So when they dragged me down to the infirmary to get me cleaned up and prepared for prisoner exchange I was confused and bewildered.
Then Ted told me how it came to happen.
Even with his explanation, what happened shouldn't have happened. The Central Intelligence Agency gave up a prisoner to North Korea for the life of a respected and talented, but, ultimately, replaceable, officer. Even for a white, female, pretty, blond officer all the bad publicity in the world shouldn't have been enough to get the United States government to bend it's principles that much. To this day I still don't know how he did it.
What Michael did for me was, literally, impossible.
Right then, for the first time ever, I felt love, pain and guilt all in an instant. He valued me enough to make the impossible happen in order to save my life, and I'd been lying to him from the moment we met.
In the back of the SUV, I discovered he'd done far more than that, though. I was so overwhelmed I opened my mouth to tell him everything, it was only at the last minute that I remembered the driver was a CIA employee so I couldn't truly tell him everything. Orlov didn't remind me. I never heard his voice again after that day.
Between my second chance at life, my freedom from Orlov, and Michael's acceptance of me even after I told him who "really" was, my heart felt like I was going to burst, but I relished the pain. It was the sort of pain I didn't think I would ever be capable of feeling.
I was supposed to have been reborn as Evelyn Salt in Moscow in 1988, but, instead, it happened 20 years later in North Korea.
After that I was truly her. Maybe she was who I was always meant to be. I laughed at myself the first time I had the thought, because I'd always been taught to hold nothing but disdain for such romantic nonsense.
It was a new world, though, or so I let myself blissfully believe for those two years in between Korea and when Orlov walked in to our office.
The day when my old world and my new one crashed violently together, and the man who made my new life possible became collateral damage.
Now, I have nothing.
I told Peabody the truth. They took everything from me. A family I never knew anything about until Orlov told me in the interrogation room. My childhood. The life I managed to gain in spite of all the time they spent poisoning my perception of my own worth.
I'll kill them all. I swear it.