I was a fool for ever thinking I could brave the Russian winter. I skittered over the snow, slipping and sliding and barely standing up but crunching through it. I had walked four blocks already and only had three more to go, but my fingers, toes, nose, and ears were already numb. I wished I could hail a car, but I couldn’t risk having my identity or route recorded on any system, so I pushed forth. Thinking about secrecy, I wondered for a second if my speed might be suspicious, but everyone else was either inside or hurrying inside with their heads bowed against the wind, so I was safe.
I shuffled and slid through most of downtown without trouble until I reached The Press. They were the headquarters of the local news online, on TV and on printed paper. The televisions outside were flashing the news. I stopped short. There was a large crowd of people there as there always were. In what the Russians insisted on calling summer, people would stand in shorts and t-shirts and eat ice-cream and drink lemonade with their dogs and watch the news. In the winter, people would stop for a minute between heated buildings, bundled in their fourteen layers, pull their coats tighter around themselves and see what was going on in the world. It had been that way since the beginning of the Second Cold War two years prior. I knew this even though I’d only been there for six months. I often stood to watch too, when I had a second.
But that day wasn’t like that. I had somewhere to be and no one could know where I was. Even though the crowd was large, and something important was probably happening, I couldn’t be seen there. I knew I could find out later, and besides, it was always something important these days. I had started to turn around carefully without losing my balance when I overheard something that piqued my interest.
“We’ve caught a spy!”
I stopped, my heart pounded so loudly I could hear it in my ears, even over the traffic and crunching of snow and blaring TVs. For a second I thought It’s over, they found me out, but then I realized they were speaking in English. That only calmed me a bit. Sure, it wasn’t me this time, but it was almost certainly one of Us. Fear continued to prickle at my body, and a fire started in my stomach that burned worse than the cold on my ears and fingers. So I turned and ran towards the danger.
Sliding over the frosted sidewalk, I pushed my way toward the crowd, trying to see the screen. It’s Hope I told myself. They found her. Or they found her a long time ago, and they're telling us about it now. I told myself that mostly out of reassurance. She’d disappeared a month ago. If they had caught her and killed her, then we’d already mourned. If they caught and held her prisoner, then we knew she was alive. If it was anyone else we would have lost two. I couldn’t think past that. I didn’t let myself imagine. I didn’t let myself feel the horror and grief. I just told myself it was Hope till I couldn’t any longer. I told myself it was Hope till I recognized the voice. Oh, please, I told myself even then, don’t let it be Lady. I told myself I was making things up till I had pushed through the crowd to the very front and could see for myself what I had refused to believe. They had Lady.
The Americans had caught Lady. They had caught our liar. They had our manipulator. Our trouble. Our ringleader and our plotter. They had our ambition and our bravery. I’m sure we all watched the news that day. All other twelve of us. Where ever Hope was, I’m sure there was a TV set with this on. There was news everywhere during The War. And everyone knew about the spy that was caught that day. The others must have looked how I had looked. Shocked and horrified. We all must have been scared. If you can catch Lady, you can catch anybody. Lady was sneak and she was shadow. Lady was a web of lied so pretty, you used the other door so you wouldn’t break it. Lady was a manipulation so gentle, yet so strong and bold like a rescue dog pulling on you. And there she stood.
The president addressed the people and she stood behind. There were handcuffs on her wrists and a bodyguard on either side. The vice president stood next to the president and a little bit behind. He looked at Lady out of the corner of his eye like he was scared of her. He probably was. If you looked closer, you could see everyone there was at least a little bit, even the guards holding their huge guns and wearing their armor. Of course, they were. No one can beat Lady. But I guess they had. The president yelled to the American people in English, and Russian subtitles flashed at the bottom. I didn’t bother to pretend not to know English and have to read the subtitles. The adrenaline I had spent years learning to control, now just made me stupid and glued me to the spot, so I let it wash over me.
“This is a direct attack on the American homeland,” the president spat with his face flushed red. “This is proof of the dirty tactics used in this war. Countries will stoop so low as to put a spy, not only in our country, not near our government but in it. She,” he pointed a large finger, shaking with anger straight at Lady, “has been sitting in our Congress, making decisions for our people, for the past six months!” There were gasps and murmurs, not only from the audience in America but from the people around me. “But don’t just take my word for it; let’s ask the spy.” He turned halfway to address her while still speaking into the microphone. “You have been accused of spying on this good country, corrupting our government and being a spy and traitor. How do you plead?” The vice president walked up to her and held a microphone up to her face.
Silence. The President looked completely caught off guard. You could tell he had his next few lines planned out. She was going to say innocent, and he was going to say, “well what about this,” and pull out the evidence and she would be caught. He struggled to come up with something to say next.
“What are you trying to pull!” The murmuring was now so loud I had to read the captions to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
“I answered your question,” she responded in her dead voice that made you look at her face to know what she was thinking. “Do you want me to swear it on a Bible?”
The President was completely off script now and shaking and fuming worse than before. “Your oath would mean nothing! Nothing! You are a liar and a spy and a worthless waste of human flesh!” He breathed for a moment before turning back to the crowd. “My American people, we have been corrupted by this spy. This war has gone too far to continue without violence. Some other country has been so underhanded as to try to control our own people. My people, please listen to—”
The president, for the third time in this speech at a loss for words. Everything he had planned on was a loss. He was no longer in control of the situation. If he was smart he’d then figured out that he never was. Even if he wasn’t, it had only taken him a little longer.
“Maybe you were, but now that you have betrayed us, you are no more.”
Until that moment, Lady had been looking him in the eye. But then she turned. Her head turned allowing her to look people in the audience two hundred feet away in the eye, her voice dead as ever, her face the calm before the storm.
“American people who belong to no one, do you really want this to end in violence. Will your paranoia and fear really cease one people are dying? Do you ga comfort from the secrets your government keeps? I am working for no one. Not a foreign agent, not a resistance, no one. I work only for freedom, for what we all supposedly stand for. I work for America and America only. Not for her government and not for her president. But solely for you and for me, for the real America.”
Maybe that was when the president realized she was in charge because chaos broke out. She spoke and bodyguards prepared their weapons, expecting her to make a physical attack, the kind they had been trained for, the kind they knew how to defend from. They could not stop words. The president yelled orders that the subtitles didn’t translate, I strained my ears, but people around me were too loud, the television was too quiet and the chaos was to scattered and mashed for me to make out words. I couldn’t even hear her exact words at that point. Then the someone must have given an exact order because we all heard the gunshot loud and clear.
The rest was all a blur. There was quiet on both ends. I threw up. People recognized me. “It’s her,” they said. Someone called him. He came and took me home. I never got where I was going. I didn’t check in that week. I pretended to be in shock. Really I was morning. Really I was scared.
I’m sure all twelve of us were. After all. One of us was caught. We lost a sister. We lost a friend. We lost a fellow spy. We’d lost our liar. We’d lost our manipulator. We’d lost our trouble. We’d lost our ringleader and plotter. We’d lost our ambition and bravery. We’d lost our Lady. But somehow, we had to keep going. We had a war to end.