Mila was deep in Hive Mind when she became aware of a minute disturbance in the connection.
Not Putin: Now that he was living in one of the Official Residences, he rarely came to their apartment.
Living alone allowed her to spend entire days sitting on the sofa, connected to Hive, even when she was not reporting to the Green Mother.
She was living alone, yet more than ever she felt she belonged; for the first time in her life, she truly belonged.
But there it was again: A slight break, like a crackle of static, again and again. What could it be?
Mila detached reluctantly from Hive, scattering the swarming cockroaches that had completely covered her body.
What was that odor? As she opened her eyes, her old KGB training was the only thing that prevented her from crying out in alarm.
Looming over her stood the Commander, calmly crunching on the roaches he had plucked off her body. “Good!” he said.
“You always make best food. Selyodka pod shuboy—yours is best. Best cook, best agent.”
Shocked, Mila said nothing. The Commander had caught her with Hive! What if he knew about Mantis? What if he knew she’d been a double agent?
But he merely stood, staring blankly, chewing placidly on a carapace. Did he even recall that she’d retired? How his stroke had changed him!
She remembered what he’d been when she first met him—a KGB Commander! His tailored suits, his Sobranie cigarettes … he’d seemed so worldly.
Now she wished she’d taken back his key to the apartment, so many years ago … He’d never used it again, until now. Why was he here?
For news of Putin, of course. Mila tried to think of something to say. She hadn’t seen the President in weeks, except on television.
And after all their years together, Putin had not even invited her to his Inaugural Celebration! True, their marriage was a sham, and yet …
Your assignment,” the Commander said, as if reading her mind.
“Yes, yes, I know!” Mila turned away and walked toward the side table where the vodka was. “Our marriage was just my undercover assignment.
“But, still …” her voice trailed off as she filled two glasses. Still, she had fulfilled all the duties of his wife … for years …
“No,” the Commander said. “Your assignment now. The …” He paused to shape the difficult word. “In-aug-ur-al … party. Not an accident.”
“No circus accident … an attack. You find out who, why. You are best agent, you will find out. Tell no one else, tell only me.”
Mila blinked, then raised a glass in salute to her former Commander and downed the fiery liquid. “Da,” she said. “I will find out. For you.”