Week 29

Still inwardly fuming, Mila lowered her babushka-clad head and slowly pushed the heavy wooden potato wagon back to the cart barn.

She knew—and the Commander knew—she was the best undercover agent the KGB had; even Putin himself had never realized her true status.

Yet she was forced to endure these indignities, again and again. Someday they would see who she really was; someday they would be sorry.

Dwelling on such thoughts, Mila finally arrived at the “barn,” the central garage from which all potato carts were dispatched.

It was a legitimate business, but the owner was a retired Lubyanka custodian who knew when he was expected to “assist” the Commander.

Mila returned her cart and smiled bitterly as she received the single kopeck that was her commission for the potato she had sold.

Then she went to the women’s locker room and changed back into her own clothes: sturdy shoes, tailored woolen suit, and furry ushanka.

Although she knew she was supposed to take a roundabout route, she walked directly from the cart barn to the flat.

Once inside the apartment, Mila began to relax. She took off her hat, went to the kitchen, and stared at the potato bin.

No, she decided, this was not such a dire emergency. She did not need to use the communicator for this report.

Instead, she poured herself a tumbler of vodka and walked into the living room. She settled into the comfy chair and closed her eyes.

Slowly, slowly every cockroach in the apartment began to emerge.

Carefully they came, from under the stove and the refrigerator and the sink, from behind the walls, from behind the toilet.

Warily at first, then faster and faster, more and more cockroaches scuttled across the apartment floor toward Mila’s chair.

Mila sat perfectly still, eyes closed, as the cockroaches climbed her legs, climbed the chair, began to completely cover her body.

Soon she could barely breathe through her nose, as the cockroaches covered her face. Gradually she felt herself becoming one with the…

Inside the Hive Mind, Mila made her report to Mantis—not with words or sounds or even images, but with complete Knowing.

Her entire body appeared to glisten and shimmer as the roaches trembled. All were one: Mantis knew all, Mila knew all, the roaches knew all.

Suddenly the roaches fled from her with alarm, racing across the apartment and back to their hiding places.

Seconds later, Putin opened the door to the flat and stopped; surely he’d heard something, detected movement from the corner of his eye.

Glancing into the living room, Putin saw Mila, eyes closed, sitting next to a glass of vodka. He snorted and turned into the bedroom.