Mila glanced again at the Phenom’s instrument panel; they were nearing the coordinates the Order had given her to pass on to Mantis.
It had been a long flight, at the very limit of the jet’s range. She looked wearily at the mountains stretching below—and then she saw it.
On the edge of a valley with a lake in the center was a strange plateau with a gigantic drawing of an insect—a preying mantis.
Mila stared at the image in awe. She’d seen photos of the Nazca lines, high in the mountains of Peru, images visible only from the air.
Clearly, Mantis had created these drawings as signals for their landing parties, thousands of years ago—the last time they’d invaded Earth.
They’d constructed this plateau as a landing pad. It would be easy to put down the Phenom here … But then what? Mila sighed.
She had to face the one fact she’d been avoiding the entire flight: She had no plan. She had no plan, and she had no allies.
The Order was finished with her; if they captured her, they’d torture her again—or worse. With a shudder, she remembered the Commander.
Then she thought regretfully of George Takei. He had been kind … but only in service of the Order, she reminded herself bitterly.
Now she’d betrayed Mantis by leading them here, right where the Order wanted them—and Mantis had never been merciful.
Putin would be following her, too, along with that damned menagerie of his. His Excellency, President of the Federation! Mila frowned.
But she was a trained KGB agent, one of the best! Always she’d thought of something, whenever she’d been in a bad situation, always…
She felt an odd sensation, and looked down. C-4 was bumping her cold dog nose against Mila’s ankle, trying to get her attention.
“What?! What do you want?” she snarled. “Yip yap! Yap yap yap!” C-4 barked, happy to see Mila looking at her.
The wretched thing was probably hungry. Or thirsty. Or wanted a walk. Or wanted to play. What the hell did Putin see in Poodles?
Mila flicked her foot and sent C-4 tumbling across the cockpit. The little dog rolled to her feet, wagging happily, as if it were a game.
The Order’s Ixion floated in for a landing, a speck on the plateau below. Mila continued circling in the Phenom; she was nearly out of fuel.
She thought back to her early training, trying to remember something that could help her, but without any sense of urgency.
She felt a curious sense of detachment; she felt nothing, really, except for a slight annoyance as Putin’s Poodle began yapping again.
High in the sky above, she heard a deep humming that became a deafening roar: Putin’s K-7 was approaching. C-4 yapped more excitedly.
“Fuck it,” Mila said.