Mila stared at the Red Tsar, trying to read his face, but was thwarted by the large cowl that obscured everything above his mouth.
Her instinct was to mistrust everyone. Her years as a spy had taught Mila to see the world as so many onionskin layers of deception.
“Really?” she said, gripping the edge of her chair to keep from showing her rage. “Then why have you been torturing me since my arrival?”
At this, the Red Tsar burst out laughing. “Torture? You thought that was torture? No, my dear, you misunderstand—that was just initiation.”
“We had to be sure you were of high enough quality to join us—and you passed every trial splendidly!”
Mila did not believe this, but decided to play along. “And if I did join your organization, what kind of help could I give you?”
Her host raised his goblet and pretended to sip some wine. Then he told Mila the history of the Order and their rebellion against the Hive.
“When the Insekts fled our planet, they left behind technology. For millennia, however, our scientists have failed to unlock its secrets.
“But you have been inside the Hive mind, and some of us believe that may allow you to understand the alien machines.”
Mila froze. She hadn’t realized the Order knew she was a servant of the Hive. The Fetid Lord saw her stiffen in surprise.
“Of course we know your past, my dear. Though you weren’t aware of it, there is much you revealed during your … initiation.”
Mila frowned; she was sure she’d told them nothing. “But if you know I serve Mantis, why do you want me to join you? How can you trust me?”
Yellow, rotting teeth flashed beneath the dark cowl as the Fetid Lord grinned at her. “We also know that you have been exiled from the Hive.
“Mantis saw what we see: You’re no cockroach, no blind servant. You’re a rat, devoid of honor, eating from whatever hand holds the cheese!”
Mila felt her face redden, and her host showed his teeth again, either pleased with himself or mocking her. “Am I mistaken? Tell me.
“The Hive, the KGB, the Commander, Putin—you’ve betrayed them all! You have no loyalty, Mila, none. You scurry about, protecting yourself.
“But don’t be ashamed. You’re a survivor, and right now, to survive, you must help us: Join the Order, or die—painfully. It’s that simple.”
At this, the Red Tsar lifted his goblet to his nose, inhaled deeply, and pretended to drink again. Waves of putrescence rolled off him.
Mila had never felt so insulted in her life! A rat! She surveyed the room looking for a weapon she could use to murder the Fetid Lord.
But no—she would wait. She’d let her emotions get the better of her when she attacked the Commander, and she’d not repeat that mistake.
“All right,” Mila said. “Of course I’ll join you.” She nodded politely, and then began plotting her bloody revenge against the Order.