Putin smiled. The interior of the creaking old Antonov was cold, like every other cargo plane he had ever flown in. He liked cold.
Even in Moscow’s brutal winters, buildings were far too hot and stuffy for him. He loved fresh air, and the old plane’s hull let in plenty.
While the other passengers around him huddled in their insulated flight suits, Putin sat casually, shirt off, reading a dog-eared dossier.
He was going to Prip’yat in the Ukraine, where the KGB was holding a high-value target in a secret interrogation cell beneath a power plant.
Putin hadn’t known about the secret base before seeing the case file, and he wondered what else his superiors were hiding from him.
Reading on, he learned that the base was run jointly by the Rosaviakosmos and the KGB—a science lab with a limitless supply of subjects.
Putin was assigned to “speak with” a subject who had reacted strangely to some tests. Details were vague, but involved nuclear energy.
It seemed to entail shooting subjects with narrowly focused super-accelerated electrons, and had something to do with a new type of rocket.
All the subjects except one had died quickly; the survivor was changed. “Subject 143-9 has become a …” The rest of the page was redacted.
Again, troubling that they’d keep such information from him, but Putin knew he’d have his answers soon enough. The plane began its descent.
On the ground, he disembarked onto a floodlit airstrip and found himself at a civilian commercial airport, not a remote military airfield.
It was curious, but before he could think much more about it, an elderly gentleman with a neatly trimmed beard approached. “Comrade Putin?
“I am Dr. Anton Antonovich Antonosky. I will take you to the base.” He turned and led Putin through the crowded terminal.
The two men pushed past the roiling mass of toothless old women in headscarves, through the dense cloud of onion fumes and out the far door.
Dr. Antonosky led Putin to one of the yellow Ladas lined up at the curb and opened the passenger door. Putin did not get in.
“Before we go any further, Doctor,” Putin frowned, “I must know if you were involved in any of the space program’s animal testing.”
Antonosky looked puzzled. “Specifically, did you know Laika? Did you murder any dogs by blasting them into space? Any Poodles?” he scowled.
“No!” the Doctor exclaimed. “The Poodle is a splendid hunter, hair clipped to keep warm his joints as he retrieves game from the icy water.
“Would I harm such a noble beast? Never! I assure you, I have never experimented on animals, only on humans!”
Putin nodded. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “the traditional Poodle cut is totally badass. The Scandinavian trim is nice, too.”
Putin tossed his bag into the back of the yellow Lada and climbed in. “Come, Anton Antonovich. You can fill me in on the way to the plant.”