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Week 51

It was long ago V saw the blue dot on the screen and knew it might be beyond the pod’s range. Still, it was the nearest viable planet.

He acknowledged the difficulty as a fact, careful to keep any doubt or fear from his thoughts, careful to avoid the Hive Mind.

He did not so much make the decision as recognize and accept the decision he’d already made. He pressed the launch button.

The pod separated from the Queen’s Mothership and hurtled through Deep Space toward the blue dot.

Of course, they would not simply allow him to leave; of course, there would be pursuit. But the other pods were not the worst of it.

The worst was the Queen, inserting her thoughts into his brain, tenderly coaxing him, trying to lure him back into the Hive.

Once she realized he did not intend to return, she began furiously shooting wave after wave of pain directly into his somatosensory cortex.

It was all he could do to remind himself that the pain was not “real”: His legs were still intact, his skin had not peeled off in sheets.

The pod hurtled toward the planet. He slowed it as it approached the gravitational field, not wanting to burn as he entered the atmosphere.

The other pods did not decelerate, since their Insektile pilots were heedless of personal survival.

One by one, they caught up to him, bursting into flame even as they rammed his rapidly disintegrating transport.

He realized he would have to abandon ship; he would have to fall.

The last thing he saw on the view screen was a green mass, the top of a large forest, far below. Then he was falling, streaking downward …

Falling, glowing as if on fire, falling, falling, closer and closer to the tops of the trees—he was going to … the impact …

Putin jerked up into a sitting position, gasping for air in the darkness. What had happened? What place was this?

Gradually the darkness resolved into a dark grey dimness, the lights of Moscow outside the curtained window, a snore from the other room.

That damned recurring nightmare! What did it mean?

The space ship, the Hive Mind, the escape, the falling … He always woke just before he hit the earth.

But he was here, in Moscow, in the bedroom of his apartment, his awful wife Mila snoring loudly out on the living room sofa.

Unfortunately, to be a successful politician he needed a wife. He punched his pillow a few times and turned it over to the cool side.

He had to get more sleep, because tomorrow would be a busy day. Tomorrow he would begin his quest for the presidency.




Week 52

Putin was already gone when Mila awoke the next morning. She sighed wearily, rolled over, and stood up.

Everything about their “arrangement” suited her, except having to sleep on the sofa.

A real wife wouldn’t stand for it, she thought. But as an undercover agent, there were many things she had to endure.

At least she no longer had to share the marital bed with him! The furs … the grunting and snuffling … . She shuddered at the memory.

Mila padded into the kitchen and started the water for tea. Then she dug into the potato bin and pulled out a hidden cell phone.

She punched in the encryption code and dialed the Commander’s number. She hadn’t seen him in some time, and she needed new intel for Mantis.

It was too dangerous to go to FSB headquarters now that Putin was chief; luckily, he thought too little of her to bother having her watched.

The fool! Well, someday he would learn. Mila frowned as the phone rang and rang. Finally someone picked up, but said nothing.

“Hello?” she said cautiously. There was only breathing on the other end of the line. “It’s me,” she said at last.

“Ahhh,” said a voice on the other end. Was it the Commander? Perhaps. But maybe someone else was there, too?

“I need to see you,” she said. The sound of breathing was the only reply. Obviously someone else was in his office.

“Meet me at the usual place,” she said quickly, “same time as always. Do you agree?”

“Yaaa,” said the voice, and Mila disconnected. “Odd,” she thought as she made her tea. Who else would be in the Commander’s office so early?

After breakfast, Mila bathed and dressed with care. She always wanted to look her best when going out to meet the Commander in disguise.

Partly it was to emphasize the contrast between her usual appearance and the false identity, the better to fool anyone who saw her.

And partly it was to reassure herself that, no matter how demeaning her disguise, she really was Mila, THE Mila, star agent of the KGB.

It was the FSB now, of course; she was no longer an active undercover agent, and received a secret pension deposited to a Swiss bank.

But the Commander knew she was available for freelance work. She smiled as she locked the apartment door and walked outside.

An hour later she was transformed into an old woman selling potatoes from a cart in the park. The Commander was late, which annoyed her.

Even worse, there was a creep standing and staring at her, open-mouthed and almost drooling. And yet, there was something familiar….