Niko handed Natasja with an envelope, telling her to read its content and then destroy it. He also gave her an umbrella, saying it was raining a lot in Vladivostok. He finally wished her a nice trip and promised to see her in two months on a plane to Japan, if all went well.
Natasja then boarded the train and looked for her seat. To make things less suspicious, she had bought a seat in a four-seat cabin. Getting to know other passengers and playing cards with them would make her less of a target for people watching, looking for odd behavior.
She found her seat and realized the compartment was still empty so she took the seat by the window and looked at all the faces outside: family members of the travelers, the travelers themselves giving advice about unimportant things, police officers and station guards, providing weak security to the building and even tourists. It wasn’t uncommon to see them, especially in the summer, but people around these parts noticed them always.
Sure enough, a tourist couple sat in front of Natasja and an older woman besides her. About fifteen minutes after her finding her seat, the train began to leave the station. The young woman leaned back, clutching hard on her envelope, thinking this should be her last assignment. She was so fed up with this job, always moving from one point to the next, never really having a place to call home or someone to actually care for her.
The older woman pointed something through the window and the tourists smiled and talked to her. Natasja then remembered she had to do exactly the same, blending in and trying not to look too strange among the fairly common passengers of the train.
She proposed a game of card, which they all eagerly joined. They played for well over an hour, laughing and learning each other’s name.
The couple was composed of Marisa and Tommen. She was French and he was German. They had boarded the Trans-Siberian in order to get to Lake Baikal, a place they had always wanted to visit because of its landscape and fishing possibilities. Every couple of minutes, they would say something about a fish or some sea creature they had captured while fishing. They could get annoying if Natasja or the older lady didn’t change the subject.
The older lady’s name was Katya. She had been visiting a sister in Moscow for a month or so but now she needed to go back to her home in Irkutsk. When asked why she lived in such a harsh city, especially during winter, she answered her father had been one of the first colonists to exploit oil in the region, by settling near the city. And she had always loved it there so there was no way she would leave, even if her old bones couldn’t cope with the cold as well as they did before.
Natasja introduced herself and told her cabin companions that she had been attending a specialist in Moscow. When asked if she was sick, she answered she had been attending chemotherapy, because of an odd tumor the doctors had found in her lungs. She had lived in Moscow for the time being but now that she had being deemed healthy enough, she had decided to travel to her family in Vladivostok.
She learned the story so well; she had started believing in it. She even gave precise details about the procedure, her family at the end of the line, her house and a dog named Flo, who she claimed was waiting for her in the Vladivostok train station.
But the truth was far from that nice story, which had nothing to do with her. After playing for some more, Natasja excused herself and told everyone she had to go to the ladies room and to get a drink of water. She even asked everyone if they need something: Katya asked her to buy a water bottle to drink her pills with. She agreed and exited the compartment calmly.
Outside, however, she was impatient. She had to get to the nearest bathroom and read the documents Niko had given her in the station. No one, or so she thought, had seen her come out of the cabin with the envelope. She walked for a while until she found the restaurant wagon. There, she asked for a bathroom, which she found easily.
In there, she read all the papers. They were only two, detailing what she had to guard so carefully and instructions about what to do if the object in her possession became lost or was destroyed. This last thing was preferable than see it taken by someone else. In any case, it was imperative she got it safe to the Pacific and gave it to another person in the train station, at her arrival.
When she finished reading, Natasja soaked the papers in the toilet and then saw the ink falling, as it was made of some strange liquid. After a couple of minutes, all the letters had “melted” from the two sheets of paper. She threw the two empty papers into a trash bin and then came out of the bathroom. An annoyed tall woman was waiting outside. Natasja excused herself but the woman didn’t even care.
She went back to the restaurant wagon and bought the water bottle for Katya who was very happy to see it when Natasja got back to the cabin. They were all fed up with cards so they just started talking until they all fell asleep. The first day of seven had finished.
The next two days were all the same: playing cards and seating all together for breakfast and lunch. Natasja excused herself from eating dinner, as she had never really liked to eat at night. Her body never responded kindly so she preferred to stay in the cabin and read one of the books a kind lady rented every passenger for a couple of pennies.
The truth was that Natasja didn’t want to get too far from the cabin. The object was there, and it would be madness to leave it alone but also to take her with her everywhere. It would make her too suspicious and, somehow, she knew someone watched her everyday.
She felt it first during lunch in the second day, when she stared a little bit too long at the window and suddenly she felt everyone in the restaurant was looking at her. She was probably being paranoid but it was better to be paranoid than not to be careful.
Sure enough, her cabin companions had asked about her papers and she suddenly faked she had no idea where they were. They even called one of the train’s guards to help them look for the envelope but it was all in vane, of course. Natasja told her new friends they were only the results of the last blood test, affirming she was now well and free of any cancer cells. She just wanted her parents to see it, to make them happy.
This, somehow, made Natasja the subject of unwanted attention all over the train. She couldn’t go the to panoramic wagon or to the restaurant without people telling her how brave she was and how young and beautiful they thought she was. The young woman started having a problem with it, because some people even broke in tears and confessed they had suffered from cancer too. After all she was human and it was disheartening to see people open like that, for no real reason.
On the fourth day, at night, the train arrived in Irkutsk. So she had to say goodbye to her cabin companions. They even hugged and Katya shed a tear, handing Natasja a bottle of lemon juice she had bought in the restaurant. She said it was good for the cells and that it was the only thing she could have bought as a present. That little present made Natasja actually happy, as friends were not easy to be found, not for her at least.
They all exchanged phone numbers and then parted ways. The next day, just one more day or so to her final destination, Natasja went alone to lunch and thought of her life. She had never known a real family, having been abandoned by her parents in an orphanage. From very little she had to fend for herself and there was no space for love or animosity with anyone, not in the streets. When she got older, she was recruited by an intelligence agency from abroad in order to work inside of Russia, dealing with different kinds of jobs.
But she was tired of it. At night, alone in the cabin, she decided that this time it was her time to be herself. Not Natasja, or anyone else but only her. After handing the umbrella to the agent in Vladivostok, she would leave that world of secrecy behind.
When the train finally arrived to the Pacific coast of the Russian Federation, the police found Natasja’s body lying right in the spot she had decided to be free. After thorough investigation, they deemed her death a murder by poison, probably related to a bottle of juice found besides her. She had no possessions with her as nothing was found on the cabin besides the bottle.
Someone extracted the umbrella, just after she had died or fell asleep. But the identity of that person remains a mystery to this day and it’s very likely we will never now who called agent Natasja.