When the Commander’s elevator car reached the lobby floor, it did not make the ordinary chiming sound. Instead, he heard drums.
With the third beat, the Commander’s personalities switched, and he remembered nothing of his meeting with the Fetid Lord. He blinked.
The programming worked perfectly: One of the Commander’s selves was an agent for an ancient council, the other a faithful servant of Russia.
Though he consciously remembered nothing of his lord’s plan to help Putin attain office, the Commander had Putin on his mind.
As he stepped out of the elevator, he had a vague feeling that Putin deserved more responsibility. He wanted to help make that happen.
Shaking his head like an ox in the sun, the Commander made a brief snort of determination, lowered his head, and strode through the lobby.
As he walked past the guard post and out of the Lubyanka, the Commander nodded at young Zangief, for a moment wishing he was still a cadet.
But this was not the time for sentimentality, for he had an appointment with his most important—and most difficult—agent.
A short time later, the Commander was at the meeting spot, ordering his boiled potato from a stooped woman tending a small food cart.
“Commander, I do not understand why you insist we meet like this,” she grumbled as she handed over his steaming spud. “Why not the office?”
“This is much safer, Mila.” The Commander blew on his snack to cool it, and looked up expectantly. ”Tell me, how is Putin these days?”
Mila grimaced at the indignity of her disguise, and considered whether to report Putin’s political ambitions and their new “arrangement.”
“He seems fine, though he refuses to speak about his time in the hospital. He says it is too painful.” Mila shrugged, trying to seem casual.
She waited. The Commander looked at her, squinted for a moment, and then exclaimed, “He does not even try to hide his lies!
“We must take steps to protect ourselves, we must advance Putin into the public eye. Celebrity and public scrutiny will constrain him.”
Mila could not believe what she was hearing. Was it a trick? How much did the Commander know? “What are you suggesting?” she asked calmly.
Lost in thought, the Commander rubbed his tummy and stared into the distance., “Do you think Putin would consider politics?” he asked.
Mila’s heart raced. Had she been fooled? Was the Commander testing her to see if she was hiding anything, lying about Putin?
“Sir, are you saying we should help Putin gain political power?” Her fingers strangled the pushcart’s wooden handle. “How can you say that?”
The Commander waved his plastic fork and swallowed a mouthful of potato. “Do not question my judgment, agent M. You will assist this plan.”
Though seething inside, Mila merely bowed her head. She could not afford to endanger her cover: Mantis did not tolerate failure.