Gradually, Pulpo Paul guided his consciousness away from the Astral Plane and back into his material form on Earth.
He opened one cephalopod eye and was not surprised to find Putin in a diving suit, standing there in his aquarium quarters.
“Good, you’re back,” Putin thought to the psychic octopus. “Tell me what you learned—time is short.” Paul nodded, composing his thoughts.
“The Order meets on the Astral Plane to avoid detection,” he began, “but detection by whom? By Mantis, yes, but perhaps by someone else.”
“Say what you mean, don’t be so opaque,” Putin thought brusquely. At that, Paul used his octopus camouflage ability to turn inky black.
Putin frowned. “This is not the time for cephalopodic lulz. The very existence of the world is at stake!” Paul sighed and began again.
“I heard them speaking of a plan to lure Mantis to the mountains of Tian Shan,” Paul thought slowly. “They did not say why.
“But it is a remote location, and apparently they are planning a massive battle—the Final Battle, in their minds.”
“Final, yes—final for them. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to defeat Mantis again, no matter where the battle takes place,” Putin thought.
“You should not discount their power, Sir,” Paul replied. “The Order’s sorcery is a link between this world and that of the Elder Gods.”
“Yes,” Putin thought, “but surely the alien technology of Mantis has evolved since their defeat, millennia ago; the Order is unchanged.”
“I gather,” Paul continued, ”the Order will not act alone. They spoke of a Great Weapon they intend to deploy.”
Putin nodded. “The pieces of this puzzle are starting to come together. Soon we will know how the Putin Pals fit into the picture.
“Let’s assemble the Pals for a briefing, and we can discuss our next move.”
“There is one thing more, Sir … “ Putin caught the hesitation in the psychic cephalopod’s thought, and waited for him to continue.
“They are holding your ex-wife prisoner.” “What? Do you mean Mila? What on earth for?” Inside his diving suit, Putin glowed bright green.
“I don’t know, Sir, but it appears she has a central role in the Order’s plan.” “But how?” Putin grimaced at the thought of his ex-wife.
And yet … she had been a trained agent. Putin thought of the last time he’d seen her, cutting up the Commander in their bathtub.
Surely Mila could not be the Order’s “Great Weapon!” Mila! The very thought was laughable. But if she were not, then …
Putin began to see the outline of the Order’s plan. “Assemble the Pals in the briefing room!” he snapped, as he turned to go.