The Commander stepped out of his office, looked carefully around to make sure no one was watching, and entered the elevator.
Instead of pushing the button for the lobby, he stabbed his finger at several buttons in a seemingly random sequence.
He winced as a second set of inner doors slid silently across and locked him in. Then the elevator began dropping quickly.
He hated the sensation of falling in a metal box—he never got used to it. The elevator continued to descend for several minutes.
Finally the cab slowed, then stopped with a slight bounce. Both sets of doors opened, revealing a large, dark room far below the basement.
Dim lights glowed in sconces set into walls covered with strange symbols, barely illuminating a heavy wooden table.
At the far end a single, cloaked figure, its face obscured in shadow, sat in a massive, elaborately carved wooden chair.
Immediately, the Commander began to chant the ritual greeting. “Enough!” the figure interrupted. The Commander stopped, confused.
“We are alone,” the figure said, “and time is short. Come, sit at my right hand.” Warily, the Commander approached and sat on a low bench.
The figure began to speak again, its voice emerging from the dark space beneath the hood of its cloak. “We know Putin is on the move.”
The Commander nodded, as the figure continued. “He has already recruited his War Bear, and the Tiger, and soon there will be others.”
The Commander barely suppressed a shudder, but the figure went on as if it hadn’t noticed. “Now he is beginning his campaign.”
“Campaign?” the Commander interjected, surprised. Immediately, he wished he had held his tongue. “Yes,” the figure said, after a pause.
“Vladimir Vladmirovich will become President of Russia.”
At this, the Commander burst out laughing. “Putin?! President? President Putin? Hahaha!” “SILENCE!” shouted the figure, rising abruptly.
The figure’s sudden movement was accompanied by a wafting odor of formaldehyde, plastic, and cadaverous putrescence.
The Commander sat trembling as the figure loomed above. “You know nothing,” it hissed. “President, yes! It is the fulfillment of Prophesy!
“We shall assist him, without his knowledge. His way will be made clear. He will rise to the heights. And then …”
The figure stopped speaking, as if lost in thought. The Commander remained perfectly still, waiting, but there was nothing more.
Finally he rose and walked carefully to the elevator. As the double doors shut, the Commander realized he felt nauseated with dread.