March 14th, 1943
Somewhere on the Trans-Siberian Railway, USSR
Wheels pounding on rails echoed outside the small coach seat as 340 kept pouring over again and again at the case files, as ordered by the Lieutenant Colonel. Everything she needed for this mission was printed on these papers labeled TOP SECRET and with the warning DO NOT DISTRIBUTE. Everything there was to know about the target was found in her files. Well…almost everything.
She brushed aside her light-colored hair from her eyes as she gleaned what necessary information she could from the profile of the target. As typical of strictly confidential case files, there was not much about the boy. Rather, it was more about where he came from, what he did, and why he was so important not just to the Red Army but to the nation as a whole.
Captain Peter Ivanovich Daniels
Date of birth: 3rd June, 1926
Place of birth: Greenbrae, California USA
Hair color: blonde
Eye color: green
Status: Missing In Action
Father is currently serving overseas with the United States Marine Corps in the Pacific. Mother is deceased. Has one sibling, William, age 20.
Little is known about Peter's life before his first visit to the Soviet Union. He was born the second son in a Californian farming family, but lost his farm after the death of his mother. He settled with his father and older brother in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, where he has made his home ever since.
Peter first traveled to the Soviet Union in July 1938 as part of a continental tour with his father. He visited the city of Moscow for a week and furloughed in Stalingrad for a month. While there, he established contact with the family of General Pyotr Nikolaevich Koslov, who offered their home to him and his father when their scheduled ship to New York was delayed for technical reasons. On 22 August 1938, Peter and his father left Stalingrad via the Trans-Siberian Railway and returned to San Francisco on 4 September. They kept contact with the Koslovs by letter.
On 30 November 1942, Peter left for Vladivostok by Lend-Lease ship from San Francisco, and arrived in Stalingrad on 14 December. The reasons for his return are unknown, but it is believed he wished to reestablish contact with the Koslov family. After displaying superb combat and command skills, word came down from High Command for him to serve as an officer in the 150th Infantry Battalion, 12th Guards Division, 62nd Army. He accepted the offer. However, after spending five days on the frontlines, he was discharged by the battalion commander for reasons of combat fatigue and concerns of mental health. He was decorated for his service by Lieutenant General Vasili Chuikov with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. After the end of his combat stint on 19 December 1942, he has been reported as missing in action.
Admittedly, the bio didn't give her much information to go on, other than his last known whereabouts. 340 still pondered in her head why on earth this hero of the people would be targeted for such a thing like assassination. Perhaps when she met with her officer in Vladivostok, she would receive a bit more detail. However, what little story the bio told gave her food for thought about just what kind of boy she was dealing with. Truthfully, he didn't seem like a formidable opponent at all, if he only fought in Stalingrad for a mere five days. Yet his actions warranted decoration by a high-ranking officer! It seemed surreal, like out of a horror novel, to hear of this mild-mannered boy of humble background to be subjected to the terrors of battle and be forced to face the darkness of the world.
Her blue eyes turned to the profile photograph of the target. He looked quite young, with his hair unkempt and hanging in his face and his eyes having a strong, piercing quality about them. He seemed forlorn and weighed down by something, as if the entire earth and all its ugliness stood on his frail shoulders. 340 ran her hand over the photograph, tracing the curves in his face with her fingers, veiled by pristine white gloves.
"He's only 16," she mused to no one in particular, "and yet he has suffered so much. It's cruel."
"A boy with a grudge against the world that shunned him," said an unknown feminine voice.
340 turned to see a dark-haired girl her age with a tanned complexion and grey eyes looking over her shoulder at the case files. She wore a uniform of the NKVD, with her shoulder insignia indicating she was a junior officer. 340 jumped, and immediately hid away the case files from this fellow officer's view.
"Don't just sneak up like that, comrade officer! This is classified material!"
"Calm yourself, comrade sergeant," she said with a smile. "I have the same case file as you."
340 raised an eyebrow in surprise. She was under the impression she had been the only one assigned this mission, and the only other person she'd be working with was her handler in Vladivostok. If this spritely girl was on the same mission as her, why didn't the lieutenant colonel tell her? And who else was briefed on this mission?
"The same?" she repeated with curiosity.
"Yes. Here, let me show you."
The girl came to the adjacent seat and sat down beside her, showing a manila envelope filled with duplicates. The known home town of Peter Daniels, his bio, his profile, everything. How was it possible this girl was given the same mission as she, and she had known nothing about it? The lieutenant colonel never said anything about working as part of a team.
"You were given the mission to locate and kill this boy as well?" 340 asked.
"Yes, I was," the girl replied plainly.
The girl said nothing, but only looked again over the bio picture of their target. In truth, he was really an unresisting impulsive child, who had been prematurely subjected the horrors of the cruel, unforgiving world.
"I still am at a loss as to why this boy needs to be assassinated," 340 confessed. "Did the lieutenant colonel tell you why?"
"He couldn't give me clearance. I suppose our operational CO will tell us, though."
"That reminds me," 340 remembered, forgetting the proper etiquette required, "what unit are you from? What's your code number?"
The girl blushed in embarrassment.
"Oh, where are my manners? I'm Agent 271."
271 offered her hand to 340, which she shook lightly with a note of uncertainty in her eyes. For all she knew, this girl could be a spy rather than a team member.
"What oblast1 are you from?" 340 asked.
"Alma-Ata Oblast. Kazakh Republic. And you, comrade?"
340's pupils contracted in suspicion that a provincial agent would be assigned such a high-order job as this. She felt something amiss, but thought nothing of it as 271 continued to engage her in innocent conversation between officers.
"How did you get the job?"
"I was given a call by the Red Army. They said they had a new assignment for me and I was to report to the lieutenant colonel in Stalingrad. How about you?"
"I was already in Stalingrad when the call came down," 340 recounted. "To tell you the truth, I was hoping for going back to my policeman's duty, but they would not have that, it seems. No matter."
271 and 340 both looked to the small photograph of the boy, pouring again over the innocence and repressed sorrow evident in his face. To think that this young lad who did not even hail from their country would rise to the status as a hero of the people, the symbol of Western support, and the inspiration to continue the struggle against the fascists. To think that even after all his great contributions to the national cause, he was fated to die. It seemed far too surreal for 340 to contemplate. That is when she turned to 271 in remembrance of her words.
"You said he was a boy with a grudge," 340 noted with inquisitive blue eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I heard from some officer that he didn't come to fight and help the cause," 271 replied. "Or rather, that wasn't his primary motivation."
"What was his motivation?"
271 looked around, searching for any prying eyes or ears that may be privy to their sensitive conversation. Once she knew it was safe, she whispered gently the sensitive information that immediately changed everything.
"Word has it that he came back for a girl he met in Stalingrad."
340's eyes widened in surprise. There was never any mention of a girl anywhere in the reports or by word of her comrades. It was assumed that he came for altruistic reasons, to help his comrades in arms when they needed it, and disappeared from the stage when his job was done. That he would come back for something like a girl changed the entire picture of how he was a hero of the people. 340 pressed on the matter, desperate to know more about her target. Perhaps this girl may give a clue about why the Lieutenant Colonel wanted him dead so badly.
"A girl? A girl he knew?"
"So the rumor goes. I don't know much about it either, but I heard the girl was someone he knew from his first visit to the Soviet Union."
"It must be a member of the Koslov family, then," 340 concluded, seeing pieces fit together. "The case files say he made contact with them during his first visit."
"Yes, that's it!" 271 chimed, armed with that revelation. "The girl was the youngest daughter of General Koslov. They spent a lot of time together as children during his first visit."
"If he came back for her, he must have taken her with him."
"So the rumor says. Perhaps that is why he's been targeted."
340 shook her head. No, simply helping someone escape from a warzone was not enough to earn death. True, he broke the law and illegally helped a girl cross the border, but at most it deserved a prison sentence, or an international tribunal. Then again, such a move would be unwise for public relations, especially since they still had an alliance to keep with the United States. War made things so utterly complicated.
"If he really was targeted because of something like illegal immigration, he wouldn't get a death sentence. That just makes this all the more mysterious."
"Well, 340," 271 quipped, "perhaps our CO will give us the details of why. We're arriving in Vladivostok now! Look!"
Both agents looked out the window and saw the station platform approaching. Finally their long journey was over, and not a moment too soon. 340 was getting tired of spending days upon days on the train. The station looked to be something out of a season's greeting card, as the snow had still not melted in Vladivostok, unsurprisingly to the both of them. Spring was approaching, and yet it still appeared as if winter was in full swing. The tempo of the engine's chuffing slowed as the train eased through the yard, and approached the station. 271 and 340 took that as their cue to gather their things and prepare to disembark. Soon, 340 reasoned, they would meet their commanding officer. Perhaps, she might also get some answers to why this boy had to be targeted.
271 retrieved from her seat a dark brown overcoat which she immediately threw on her person, covering her uniform. 340 in the meantime dressed lighter, draping over her shoulders a blue waterproof hooded cape, buckled with the emblem of the NKVD: a sword with a hammer and sickle superimposed in the center of the blade. She instinctively pulled the hood down over her head, covering her face from the view of any person who might threaten their mission. One could never be sure if there were spies anywhere.
As they passed through the railway yard, 340 could swear she heard the distant singing of children through the open windows. As she passed, she saw a troop of Pioneers, red neckerchiefs evident standing out against the crisp white snow, loading boxes onto a boxcar. No doubt, they were filled with munitions, food and water for the men fighting across the Siberian steppes and far away. The song she heard them sing was a common marching tune that had been struck up in the days since the war began.
Apple and pear trees were blooming.
O'er the river the fog merrily rolled.
On the steep banks walked Katyusha,
On the high bank she slowly strode.
As she walked, she sang a sweet song
Of her silver eagle of the steppe,
Of the one she loved so dearly,
And the one whose letters she had kept.
Oh you song! Little song of a young girl,
Fly over the river and in the sunlight, go.
And fly to my hero far from me,
From his Katyusha bring him a sweet hello.
Let him remember this plain young girl,
And her sweet song like a dove,
As he stands guarding his proud nation,
So Katyusha will guard their love.
340 couldn't help but smile as she listened to the song fade away with the passing of the train. They were now going at less than 5 kilometers an hour as she gathered her necessities from her compartment. It was simply one change of clothes to better blend in with the civilian population, as well as her nightgown. Not much, but one had to travel light, lest they be weighed down from completing the mission. After 271 gathered her things, they met together in the vestibule, waiting for the train to stop.
"Did the lieutenant colonel tell you anything about our CO?" 271 asked.
"He did not," 340 replied in a unsmiling tone. "He gave me no details other than the target and where I had to go. Did he not give you any details?"
"Nothing. He only told me there would be others with me on this mission."
"Others?" 340 repeated with curiosity. "The lieutenant colonel never said anything about there being…others."
With that, the train gave a quick jolt as it ground to a halt. It almost thrashed them to the floor, but 340 and 271 managed to hold their stance by grabbing the walls of the car. Upon the train reaching a full stop, the doors to the outside opened, and revealed three girls, all in their early 20s, and all wearing uniforms of the NKVD.
The one in the center, who appeared to be the oldest of the three, had strange red eyes and her black hair held up behind her with a series of hairclips. She had a dark complexion, and her facial features made her look to be from Central Asia, much like 271. On her left was a girl with short orange-tinged hair done up in a double bun beneath her peaked cap, which cast a slight shade over her face and illuminated her hazel eyes that stared at the two of them with expectancy. Her complexion was lighter, looking to be of more European origin like 340. The girl on the right, who looked to be the youngest and subsequently least experienced, had her red hair cut short in bangs. In fact, one would say too short, as the hair was barely to her ears. She had short thick eyebrows of a matching color, with eyes of strong silver and a pale complexion, looking of Siberian origin.
The team, it seemed to 340, was quite diverse, even if they were all female.
"Agents 271 and 340?" the black-haired girl asked.
"Yes?" 271 and 340 said in unison.
"I am Agent 12 and these are Agents 909 and 578. I assume you are here for the mission briefing regarding the assassination of Peter Daniels, da?"
"That is correct," 340 replied. "How do you know about this?"
She fully expected the answer that came from the two agents on either side of 12.
"We have been assigned to this mission by the Lieutenant Colonel as well," the orange-haired girl, 909, said plainly.
"We all were," the red-haired girl, 578, added. "It appears we are to be part of a squad to accomplish this."
"So I see," 271 noted as she and 340 stepped down from the passenger car.
340 turned to 12 and gazed at her with hard blue eyes. God only knew how many others were involved in this mission as well. Was the lieutenant colonel thinking of starting a war over this boy?
"Are there other agents involved in this operation, Agent 12?"
"Besides our commanding officer, no. Just the five of us."
"Good," she said with relief in her voice. "Any more, and we would have our own private army."
All the agents laughed as they headed out of the cold and into the warmth of the stationhouse, anxious to meet the commanding officer. They did not have to search far to find him upon entering. It was a young man with wild brown hair and eyes of dark chocolate that seemed to crave for power. He sat waiting on a bench, covered in a dark brown overcoat which hid his uniform: he was from the Red Army, and looked to be a decorated veteran judging from the medals pinned on his chest. The shoulder boards on his coat and the insignia on his collar denoted the rank of an officer, and glowed with a bright polish, as if they were brand new. The young officer looked up and saw them coming, and smiled expectedly.
"So, these are the agents the Lieutenant Colonel spoke of!" the officer said knowingly.
As the five girls approached him, he raised a hand, indicating for them to halt. They did so, and formed a line for review and inspection. As the officer rose, 340 suddenly realized how young the officer actually was: a mere child, no older than 18. Undoubtedly, a young man like this would have only risen to officer status in the direst of circumstances, much like how her situation turned out in the battle for Stalingrad herself. Officers suffered such high casualties that young men, sometimes inexperienced and ill-suited for combat, were thrust into high positions out of desperation.
As the young man reviewed each of them, 340 was now seriously questioning whether this officer had the tools or the will to lead. The Lieutenant Colonel could not seriously entrust the safe and efficient execution of the mission to this boy, barely older than the target! Was the Motherland really so desperate for officers it would turn to this boy for leadership? It was at that moment as she pondered these questions that the officer came to her, and she immediately felt weak in the knees.
The gaze from the boy's decadent chocolate brown eyes felt overwhelming, as if he could see right through her and peer into her soul. As she feared for her life in the dimly lit cellar in Stalingrad, being briefed by an officer who could have easily struck her down with the vodka bottle, here stood a boy that made her shake in her boots just from one long glare. The officer spoke.
"Recite to me your names, if you could, comrades."
"Comrade," 340 countered, "we are only authorized to give you our code numbers, sir."
"Very well then," the officer retorted with agitation. "What are your code numbers then?"
Each agent stepped forward and recited before retreating back into formation.
"I am Agent 340 Internal Affairs, formerly of the 10th Rifle Division."
"Agent 12 of Internal Affairs, South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, Georgian Republic."
"Agent 271 of Internal Affairs, Alma-Ata Oblast, Kazakhstan Republic."
"Agent 909 of Internal Affairs, Novosibirsk Oblast."
"Agent 578 of Internal Affairs, Samara Oblast."
The officer nodded in understanding, and the proceeded with his next question.
"Which one of you is the highest ranking?"
Silence possessed all five of them, as if each was afraid to subject herself to the officer's scrutiny.
"Come on, now! How am I to have a second-in-command if I don't know which one of you is highest ranking?"
340 cautiously stepped forward, not sure if wind or fear of retribution filled her cape as it flowed behind her.
"I am, sir. I hold the rank of Sergeant of State Security."
The officer turned to her and she once again was struck by the hard stare of his brown eyes. How this boy had risen to such a position as this, and how the Lieutenant Colonel could entrust the mission to him, was beyond her means of discernment.
"Eta tak?2" he said with an ounce of arrogance. "Where are you from?"
"I came from the Stalingrad Oblast."
The officer laughed and the light reflected off his eyes.
"Stalingrad, you say? I am from there myself. Very well, you may attend upon me. If anything should happen to me, you will take charge of the mission. Tochna?"
"Tak tochna, sir."
The officer nodded, and returned to all five of the agents. Before doing so, however, he removed his fur hat and fixed his matted brown hair. So young, she thought. It was all she could think of as he opened his mouth to speak.
"Allow me to introduce myself, comrades. My name is Chertov…"
He pointed to the shoulder boards on his coat, indicating his rank.
"…Junior Lieutenant Chertov. I am your commanding officer for this operation. The Lieutenant Colonel has chosen you all based on your individual skills and abilities, which will aid us in our cause. I trust he gave all of you the details of the mission. We are to infiltrate the United States and find and kill the boy known as the American Russian: Peter Ivanovich Daniels. Now, I know that many of you may have personal feelings about assassinating a hero of the people…"
He paused, and 340 instinctively knew why. Surely every agent beside her had reservations about an undertaking that seemed counterintuitive, if not downright treasonous. Who would think that ordering the death of a hero, an inspiration to the people to continue the struggle against fascism, a symbol of Western support and Allied solidarity, and such a young boy at that, was even remotely a good idea? What purpose would his death serve, other than martyrdom? What would be gained from losing their champion?
"…however," Chertov continued, "you will all have to put that aside for now. What happens on this mission is of great importance to the Motherland, and our future after the end of this war. Believe me when I say your actions will not go unnoted, and that is regardless of your origin, gender, or creed. We cannot afford failure. Not anymore. Do I make myself clear, comrades?"
"Yes, sir," they all returned in unison.
Silence gripped them, but it was short-lived, as now 340 saw this opportunity to speak her mind, for once in her career as a servant of the state.
"Comrade Lieutenant?" she asked quietly.
Chertov turned to her, his gaze stabbing through her being.
"What about Daniels makes him so dangerous that he has to die?"
The officer stepped closer, and 340 feared her very career on the line with the determined stare of Chertov.
"Speak up," he said. "I couldn't hear you."
"I said," she repeated, "there has to be a reason for why the Lieutenant Colonel, or anyone else for that matter, would want him dead."
"I am not at liberty to give you that information right now, 340. But you must trust me when I say he is a dangerous young boy. And he must die. In time, you will come to know everything. All of you will."
340 said nothing, and tacitly accepted that she wasn't going to get any information as to why this boy had to die. At least, not now. Evidently the Lieutenant Colonel did not trust anyone with such knowledge. No matter, she thought. Perhaps after the deed was done, she could get what she needed to know. Chertov returned to the rest of them and looked to see if any more questions were to be answered.
"Vaprosov nyet5, sir," 271 said abruptly.
"Ochen' kharasho6," Chertov said smiling. "Then come, comrades. Our ship is waiting."
The five agents followed Chertov out the door and into the city, heading in the direction of the wharf. There, a ship would carry them over the seas and bring a start to the mission that would be the most defining moment in their lives. 340 still felt reservations as a cold wind immediately struck her in the face, and filled her cape that flowed behind her. Now that she saw their officer was a mere child, no older than the target, it only raised more questions than answers. However, the fact she had companions backing her in this mission picked her spirits up slightly. If anything went wrong, she might convince the others to leave with her. It was a long shot, but so was this mission.
1 Oblast: An administrative division in most Slavic countries, including some of the Soviet Union, usually translated as "province" or "zone," depending on the context.
2 Is that so?
4 Any other questions?
5 No questions, sir.
6 Very well.