My troops,Red Saviour thought. My people. Have I lost their respect as well? They do not look me in the eye.
As she gazed at the anxious members of CCCP, those furthest down the corridor sprang to attention, saluting a new arrival. Boryets himself: Worker’s Champion, Hero of the Russian People.
He’d marched in the October Revolution, fought in the Great Patriotic War, counseled Lenin, enforced Stalin’s directives, founded CCCP itself, and watched the birth and death of the Soviet Union. “Natalya Nikolaevna,” he said, discarding her honorific. “I have been summoned to appear before the FSO to deliver my opinion on your competency. Is this how you repay my advocacy?”
Years receded as she braced against his withering glare. She was a child again, intimidated beyond words by “Uncle Boryets.”
She straightened her back. “Did you read my report?”
“Of course. You write with the impatience of a schoolgirl. Perhaps if you took more than five minutes to explain your evidence against Triganov, the council wouldn’t jump to assumptions.”
“They jump”—anger clouded his already dour countenance—“when you rampage through the countryside like a Cossack!”
Natalya winced. Her fearlessness dwindled in the face of this man, as always. “Comrade, Triganov looted government funds for his own purposes! I followed the trail of bribes right to his front door. My contacts—”
“Your contacts are not material witnesses. We are no longer Soviets, you foolish girl.”
She flushed. “But, sir, if I’d waited for—”
He cut her off with a curt wave. “Save it for the Director.” He turned away to look out the window at the square full of angry Muscovites.
The double doors of the council chamber swung open. Lieutenant Cestimir Romanov ducked his head unconsciously as he slumped out of the chamber, followed by several of the council. He shook his head, avoiding her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, pushing past her.
“Sorry for what?” she said to his retreating back.
“He is sorry for telling us the truth,” a voice dripping with assurance said at her side. Arkady Levich Korovin, Undersecretary of Intelligence for FSO, favored Red Saviour with a patronizing smile. “Your friend tried to paint as pretty a picture as he could of your antics, but facts are facts.”
“Triganov is a criminal,” she said. “That is a fact.”
“Perhaps, but the facts can interfere with the truth.” Korovin was a few inches shorter than Natalya, but he spoke with a confidence won from years of bureaucratic battles. “We’re taking a brief recess. May I have a word with you?” Without waiting for a response, he lightly took her by the arm and guided her to a foyer away from the gathered metas.
“I have little stomach for this nonsense, Arkady Levich. I am a soldier, not a politician. How many speeches must I tolerate?”
Korovin sighed, still holding her arm. “How did we become so antagonistic towards each other? We both serve the FSO, Natalya Nikolaevna. Our duties are clear-cut.”
“Your duty is to boss around a staff of train conductors to evacuate Kremlin officials,” she said with scorn. “CCCP shouldn’t even be under your purview.”
“We shouldn’t argue, my friend.” He paused, daring her to question the familiarity. “You and I both know Triganov belongs in prison.”
“Da!” Red Saviour grinned at him. “Finally, someone sees reason.”
“But this is not 1980. We are no longer a totalitarian state. Triganov is a powerful—and very popular—figure in Russia right now. We must tread very carefully with the likes of him.”
“You can smooth out the ruffled feathers, Arkady Levich. Talk to Molotok. He has many friends in GRU.”
“I will of course do my best. But how will we save you?”
“I need no saving. I am doing my job.” She pursed her lips. “The council will lecture me about due process then let me go.”
“Not this time.” Korovin moved closer. “You’ve stepped on too many toes. Triganov has allies throughout the government, and they’re all screaming for blood. The council may sacrifice you to save CCCP.”
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Detective Ramona Ferrari and the girls hushed when Mercurye strolled into the Echo cafeteria. “He walks like he really is a god,” Sheryl the researcher whispered with a smirk—but Ramona’s thoughts were strictly in the gutter. How could they not be? Staring at his broad shoulders and muscular chest—on display because he notoriously spurned shirts—one would have guessed him to be taller than his actual height. Blond curls peeked out from under a winged helmet straight out of an FTD florist logo. To complete the picture, a steel caduceus hung from his hand. His pants, however, were standard issue Echo nanoweave, as was the Echo caseless-round pistol strapped around his waist.