Week 91

It had been five days since Arianna Huffington had first used her powers on Mila. Or five weeks. Mila could no longer keep track of time.

She had been trained by the KGB to withstand the worst torture imaginable, but they had never imagined the Order.

Kanye, Dick Cheney, and Arianna all focused their efforts on Mila, while Dr. Antonosky kept close watch to ensure she stayed alive.

The Red Tsar was mildly curious as to what Mila knew about the Hive, but the interrogation was not primarily about discovering information.

No, Mila was being tortured to stoke her resentment. The Red Tsar wanted her to hate the Order, and to lust for their destruction.

It was with this goal in mind that Kanye had spent hours frying bacon while reciting dialogue from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Questions, when they were asked, were often nonsensical. Cheney liked to blast “Who Let the Dogs Out” and then demand an answer from Mila.

Mila understood brutal treatment in pursuit of valuable facts, or sadism for sadism’s sake, but her captors’ behavior baffled her.

Why had she been forced to read so many end-user license agreements? Why was the TV always showing “Good Morning America”?

One day, when Kanye was making Mila read YouTube comments at gunpoint, he abruptly turned off the computer and left the room.

Moments later, the cell door creaked open and George Takei entered. “Hello, Mila,” he said politely. “The Red Tsar requests your presence.”

Mila, still hunched over the keyboard, looked up through her greasy hair. Takei was smiling warmly. “Please follow me to your bath.”

Mila was too numb to resist or to question what was happening. She took a long bubble bath in a gleaming pink-marble, candle-lit bathroom.

The relaxing soak brought back her wits, and by the time she’d dressed in clean clothes, Mila again felt like an indomitable black widow.

When she was ready, Takei led her to the Red Tsar’s private dining room, a pentagonal stone chamber with tapestries on the walls.

The Fetid Lord was seated at the table, facing the door. “Ah, Mila. Thank you for joining me,” he said. “Sit. We have much to discuss.”

Mila gasped; the nauseating stench wafting off her captor seemed to make the air between them shimmer. She braced herself and sat.

Though she was nearly starving, Mila found it almost impossible to eat amid the horrid odor. Warily, she noted that her host ate nothing.

Yet he was amiable and well-read. They discussed Harold Robbins until her curiosity got the better of her. “Why have you brought me here?”

A chuckle emanated from beneath the hood. “It’s really quite simple, my little genatsvale—we need your assistance. We want you to join us!”

Week 92

Mila stared at the Red Tsar, trying to read his face, but was thwarted by the large cowl that obscured everything above his mouth.

Her instinct was to mistrust everyone. Her years as a spy had taught Mila to see the world as so many onionskin layers of deception.

“Really?” she said, gripping the edge of her chair to keep from showing her rage. “Then why have you been torturing me since my arrival?”

At this, the Red Tsar burst out laughing. “Torture? You thought that was torture? No, my dear, you misunderstand—that was just initiation.”

“We had to be sure you were of high enough quality to join us—and you passed every trial splendidly!”

Mila did not believe this, but decided to play along. “And if I did join your organization, what kind of help could I give you?”

Her host raised his goblet and pretended to sip some wine. Then he told Mila the history of the Order and their rebellion against the Hive.

“When the Insekts fled our planet, they left behind technology. For millennia, however, our scientists have failed to unlock its secrets.

“But you have been inside the Hive mind, and some of us believe that may allow you to understand the alien machines.”

Mila froze. She hadn’t realized the Order knew she was a servant of the Hive. The Fetid Lord saw her stiffen in surprise.

“Of course we know your past, my dear. Though you weren’t aware of it, there is much you revealed during your … initiation.”

Mila frowned; she was sure she’d told them nothing. “But if you know I serve Mantis, why do you want me to join you? How can you trust me?”

Yellow, rotting teeth flashed beneath the dark cowl as the Fetid Lord grinned at her. “We also know that you have been exiled from the Hive.

“Mantis saw what we see: You’re no cockroach, no blind servant. You’re a rat, devoid of honor, eating from whatever hand holds the cheese!”

Mila felt her face redden, and her host showed his teeth again, either pleased with himself or mocking her. “Am I mistaken? Tell me.

“The Hive, the KGB, the Commander, Putin—you’ve betrayed them all! You have no loyalty, Mila, none. You scurry about, protecting yourself.

“But don’t be ashamed. You’re a survivor, and right now, to survive, you must help us: Join the Order, or die—painfully. It’s that simple.”

At this, the Red Tsar lifted his goblet to his nose, inhaled deeply, and pretended to drink again. Waves of putrescence rolled off him.

Mila had never felt so insulted in her life! A rat! She surveyed the room looking for a weapon she could use to murder the Fetid Lord.

But no—she would wait. She’d let her emotions get the better of her when she attacked the Commander, and she’d not repeat that mistake.

“All right,” Mila said. “Of course I’ll join you.” She nodded politely, and then began plotting her bloody revenge against the Order.

Week 93

The Red Tsar lifted a small bell; immediately, the tinkling sound brought George Takei. “Yes, sir?” he asked, bowing slightly.

“Mila has wisely decided to join us; escort her to her chamber.” “At once, sir,” Takei replied, gesturing for Mila to stand and follow him.

Her beautifully appointed new quarters were a far cry from the slimy cell where Mila had previously been kept.

Besides the bedroom and private bath, there was a spacious sitting room with a small gas fire and a comfy chair.

“A computer? Oh, my!” Takei thought for a moment. “Certainly, I can bring you one, although we have no wi-fi here, under the sea.”

“Under the sea?” Mila repeated. “What do you mean?” Takei smiled. “Of course, you were not very attentive when we first brought you in …

“Notice there are no windows here. We are thousands of leagues beneath the surface of an uncharted inland sea—it’s a wonderful hideaway!

“You’ll see from those maps there,” Takei went on, gesturing at the papers on the desk. “You may want to study them, once you get settled.

“Well, I’ll go see about your computer now. If there’s anything else you want, just use this intercom. I should be back shortly.”

Mila walked warily through the suite; she was certain the “intercom” was a listening device, probably with a camera to watch her movements.

She was momentarily pleased to see a Russian translation of “Decent from Xanadu” on the bedside table; she hadn’t read that one yet.

But of course they knew that. She frowned. And there was something else … something about the windows … Stained glass!

When she first arrived, she had seen the history of the Order’s rebellion against the Hive in a series of stained glass windows!

True, they could have been set in a false wall, lit from behind, but more likely the Order was just lying to her about their location. Why?

Why tell her they were miles underwater? To prevent her from trying to escape? Perhaps. She walked to the desk and rifled through the maps.

They were very explicit, showing the topography of mountains surrounding a plain, with the exact coordinates of longitude and latitude.

The other papers appeared to be blueprints of an alien technology—What was she supposed to know about this? She was a spy, not an engineer!

Just then, there was a gentle tapping at her door. “I’m back with your laptop!” George Takei announced. “All right,” she replied.

Mila opened the door and was surprised to find no sign of Takei. But there was a package, wrapped in a greasy paper grocery bag. Odd.

She was pulling the computer out of the dirty wrapping when she saw it: a cockroach, dropping from the bag onto the carpet.

Week 94

Mila slept soundly that night, having read herself to sleep with “Descent from Xanadu.” When she awoke, she enjoyed a long, hot shower.

Glancing in the full-length mirror, she was surprised to see she’d lost at least two stone during her torture. “Not bad!” she thought.

If only Putin could see her—Wait! NO! Why would she even think of him now? They were finished! And she had other problems to worry about.

Apparently this “Order” expected her to explain Hive technology to them; she would have to come up with something to tell them about that.

She would have to figure out where she was actually being held, and how she was going to escape.

And she would have to bring down destruction and painful, lingering death on these assholes, who tortured her and called her a “rat”!

Still wrapped in a towel, Mila slid open a closet door, hoping the prison uniform the Order provided would at least be clean this time.

Instead, she found a few beautifully tailored dresses, all cut to exactly fit her new figure. She ran her hands over the luxurious fabrics.

So this was how the Order tried to buy her loyalty! But still … She selected a simple blue silk sheath and finished dressing.

Just then there was a tapping at her door. She opened it to find George Takei with a breakfast tray: blini, sour cream, caviar, and tea.

“Good morning!” he said cheerfully as he entered and set the tray on the table. “How do you like the dresses? I selected them myself!”

Mila blushed. Did Takei fancy her? He had certainly been kind. And she did look good, for a thick-waisted, middle-aged Russian woman.

Mila smiled coquettishly. “They are very nice,” she said, “and this one fits me perfectly!” “Oh my, yes!” Takei replied admiringly.

“I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to look at those blueprints yet?” he asked. Why was he changing the subject! “No,” she said, “not yet.”

“The Red Tsar is most anxious to have your report. The Order wish to understand how the Insekt technology works.”

Mila thought longingly of the potato bin and the communicator she had used before being accepted into Hive Mind.

“Perhaps it would be easier if you just brought me the actual devices,” she suggested. “I might be able to show you how to operate them.”

“Regrettably, the devices no longer exist. All we have are these plans, drawn by our Founders after they defeated the Insekts.”

“What?” Mila exclaimed. “But that means these are many hundreds of years old!” “Thousands of years,” Takei answered cheerfully.

“Surely you realize Insekt technology has improved since then! These plans are of no use to you.” “Oh, my!” Takei said. He looked concerned.

Mila hoped he would not notice the cockroach crawling across the table toward her blini.

Week 95

Of course, Takei did see the cockroach, for it was he who had put it in the bag. It was his task to ensure Mila could communicate with Hive.

He pretended to be oblivious, however, and quickly excused himself, for he was due at a meeting on the Astral Plane.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, another mystic traveller also was preparing to enter that mysterious realm. Pulpo Paul exhaled deeply.

Since the first time Paul visited the Astral Plane, while faking his death to escape the Oberhausen aquarium, he had returned many times.

The Astral Plane was a place of profound mysteries, a dojo for honing his psychic skills. He closed his eyes, and felt himself ascending.

Paul awoke on a towering sea cliff, sharp black stone capped with emerald grass, thrusting up out of the white froth of sapphire waves.

Though he could float anywhere in his natural form, Paul preferred to travel incognito. He pondered his options for a moment, then chose.

The cephalopod disappeared in a puff of smoke; when it cleared, he stood as Yubaba from the movie “Spirited Away.” Paul loved that movie.

He examined himself for a moment, admiring his comically oversized proportions, then floated into the air and over the landscape.

First, Paul traveled to a great swamp, where he had befriended a six-dimensional sentient slime that was teaching him about time travel.

After a lesson about the McFly Paradox, Paul said goodbye to his teacher and floated away to explore a distant corner of the Plane.

Beyond a vast desert stood mountains of unfathomable height and a valley forever in shadow. Paul felt compelled to see that gloomy place.

He flew for what felt like days, but time was different on the Plane. At last he came to the valley’s edge and saw a distant light.

It was a bonfire, and as Paul moved cautiously closer, he saw figures gathered around it. A knot tightened in his digestive organ.

Paul changed form again, becoming a harmless balloon drifting in the wind. Such sights were common on the Plane because of the clown herds.

He flew closer to the group, straining to hear the faint voices carried on the wind. The figures around the fire were clearly visible now.

Paul saw a man holding a halberd astride a horse, a large bird, and a figure ten feet tall glinting in the firelight as if made of gold.

Paul froze: He’d found the Order. He had not known they’d be here, but somehow his instinct had led him to this place.

He was in great danger, but this was also a great opportunity. Octopuses are cunning hunters, and Paul felt the thrill of stalking his prey.

The voices grew louder … “The time is near…” “… never expect our attack …” “The animals will die, and the Vessel will be ours!”

No one noticed the red balloon drifting gently overhead, silently observing, listening closely to their every word.