Colonel Vlasov looked up at the night sky. The huge, vaguely humanoid figure towered over the ruptured roof of what had been the containment dome, blocking out many of the stars. It turned and looked at him. At least Vlasov thought it was looking at him.
Major Dorogin ran towards him, his uniform half-buttoned and his hat missing. "What were you thinking?" he screamed. "Who gave you the release order? How did you do it without my key?"
"I didn't release anything," the colonel replied calmly. "It knew. The stars are right, and it knew it was time to waken."
"What are you raving about?"
"You should have read your briefing materials on the Project, comrade. It was all there, in the interrogation transcripts. The Fascist madmen could only put it to sleep; they knew there was no way to keep it asleep."
Above them, the giant figure turned to the west. Around its mouth, the tentacles writhed randomly; Vlasov turned away with a shudder.
Major Dorogin looked up at the massive figure. "What is it going to do?"
Colonel Vlasov shrugged. "I don't know. Even the Germans never figured out how to command it." He said nothing about his dreams to Dorogin; the political officer was clearly on the edge of madness as it was.
"What are the Americans going to do?" Dorogin asked, the fear obvious in his voice.
Vlasov shrugged again. "I know what they have said they would do. However, even the latest models of the NB-73 cannot reach the launch zone for at least six hours, even if their satellites warned them the minute Koschei actvated. This is why I dismissed the PVO troops and the guards."
"Are you mad? They'll have you shot!"
Vlasov laughed humorlessly. "Comrade Dorogin, now that Koschei is loose, I don't think I'll have to wait for Moscow's orders for that."
The political officer calmed himself with a visible effort. "We must call for instructions."
"Whom shall we call, Comrade?" Again Vlasov laughed, and this time Dorogin flinched. "Shall we call Marshal Zhukov? Or Minister Suslov? Neither of them could possibly contribute anything useful in the way of suggestions, because there is nothing either of us can do. I have already done my best to see that nobody else is killed as a result of this madness."
"Then why are we still here?"
"This is my duty station, Comrade Major. You can follow the troops if you wish." Even as he spoke, he saw the alien form turn and reach down. Effortlessly, its paw seized the political officer and lifted him into the air. Dorogin screamed - like a little girl, Vlasov thought disgustedly - but the scream was cut off abruptly as Vlasov raised his pistol and put two rounds into the helpless major's head. There was a sensation of distant rage in Vlasov's head as Dorogin's body fell silently past the catwalk.
One round remained in the pistol's magazine. He had learned that much in Afghanistan. As the enormous paw reached for him, he put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He hoped that God would understand.