Week 23

Outside, Putin waited as a yellow Lada puttered by, then briskly crossed Pl. Novaya towards the Lubyanka building—KGB headquarters.

He stared up at the squat, dingy yellow brick façade, and considered how it contrasted with the grandeur of the Siberian wilderness.

High above the public square, the Commander looked down from his office but failed to notice Putin calmly weaving through the crowd.

At the building’s front doors, Putin grasped the handles and then paused for a moment, considering the step he was taking.

In the forest, he’d had a chance to be free again, to start over in the place he loved, with a new companion—Snowy.

The giant Kaiju mosquito had destroyed that dream, and whoever sent it had forced Putin’s hand: Now he was on a mission.

He set his jaw, and the office’s front doors groaned as he pulled them open. The sound echoed through the cavernous wooden entranceway.

Putin crossed the floor casually, as if he were beginning an average day at the office, and passed the guard station with only a nod.

Upon recognizing the long-absent section chief, Private Zangief simply froze, feeling slightly nauseous as Putin passed.

Putin ignored the door marked “Tyur’ma” and headed for the elevator bank. He entered a vacant car and pressed the button for 9.

Eight floors above, the Commander thought he smelled a hint of ozone in the air, and then heard the familiar chime of the elevator arriving.

Instead of the timid knocks he was used to hearing, however, the Commander was startled to see his door swing open.

In stepped Putin, giving an almost sarcastic salute before closing the door. The Commander, to his credit, did not show his fear.

“Hello Commander. I apologize for my absence. I will be submitting a full report, of course, but the explanation is quite simple.

“While driving from the airport to Chernobyl, Dr. Antonosky struck an elk and lost control of our vehicle.

“We drove off the road, crashing into the Pryp’yat River. My last memory is exiting the car and grasping for an old tire drifting past.

“I awoke many weeks later in a hospital in Kiev. Apparently I’d floated unconscious on that tire until some fishermen picked me up.

“As soon as I could walk, I returned to Moscow, and now I am here. But if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work.”

With that, Putin saluted again, and turned to leave, reaching the door before the Commander could even speak.

“Putin,” he said, a trickle of cold sweat dribbling down his neck. Putin paused. “I … I expect that report by day’s end.”

Without looking back, Putin replied, “Yes, sir,” and left the office. In the hall, he admired a bull’s-eye pattern in the parquet floor.