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Week 6

Mila wrinkled her broad nose and stared at the back of the Commander’s head. What did he think of her, really? If he thought of her at all.

“I will go with him if you order it,” she said evenly. “I have never failed to do whatever you ask.”

“Russia is grateful,” the Commander said blandly, exhaling cigarette smoke. “I follow YOUR orders,” Mila snapped, “but HE asks too much!”

The Commander turned to look at her, one eyebrow raised. “He wants me to do things …” Mila’s voice shook. She stopped to compose herself.

“There are … things … he wants me to do … he forces me to do … in the marriage bed …” She stopped again. The Commander said nothing.

“He wants me to … snuffle! And grunt! Like an animal!” The Commander saw that Mila was near tears.

“There are worse things a KGB chief could demand of you,” he said, taking another drag of his cigarette.

“You mustn’t take it too personally,” he added finally, as she said nothing more. “You’ve seen his file.”

“I’ve seen what’s open to an agent of my security clearance,” Mila replied angrily, “but I am his wife! Thanks to you, I am married to him!”

“As I recall, you volunteered for the assignment,” the Commander growled, crushing the butt of his cigarette in a Grozny souvenir ashtray.

“I was young, “ she said, “and ambitious. I didn’t understand …” “Yes,” he interrupted, “You were young, ambitious … and you were our best.

“We needed someone to watch him carefully, someone who could detect the slightest change …” his voice trailed off.

Mila stared at him reproachfully. At last she sighed. “Fine,” she said. “Then I am here to tell you that I have detected a change.”

“What?” The Commander looked startled. “Finally,” Mila thought, “finally I have your attention, you old pig.” She smiled grimly.

“He is going to the country more and more often; he longs for it as if it were his mistress. After work he walks through the zoo.

“At night he calls out for carnivora in his sleep. Last week I caught him looking at a map of Krasnoyarky Kray.” “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that his memory is returning.” “Impossible!” snapped the Commander. “No man could go through that and …” “Exactly!”

They realized they’d been shouting. “Exactly,” Mila repeated softly. “No man could endure what they put him through.

“The White Room, the drugs … erasing his memory, personality, his very self … No man could endure it. But he is NOT a man: He is Putin!”

Mila and the Commander stared at each other for a long moment. Then she turned, unlocked the door, and left.

Week 7

Putin pulled the yellow Lada into the drive next to the dacha and cut the engine. He sprang out, grabbed his bag, and hurried to the door.

He stepped inside just long enough to drop his things and tear off his shirt; he couldn’t wait to go fishing again.

As he hurried down the forest trail to the nearby brook, the sight of the mighty trees towering around him filled him with joy.

He reached the bank of the fast-moving stream and waded in without even slowing down. The icy water came almost to his waist.

Putin stood in the rushing water, staring down intently. Suddenly his hand pierced the surface and reappeared clutching a wriggling salmon.

A slight smile crossed his lips as he waded to shore with his prize. He gripped the fish in his teeth as he clambered up the slippery rocks.

Completely alone in the wilderness, the half-naked KGB chief sat down on a log and bit into the gasping salmon. This was true happiness!

Two perfect days passed quickly; Putin was blissfully content, unaware that this was the last time he would ever spend at the dacha.

He arrived back in Moscow late at night. Luckily, Mila had already gone to bed and was snoring heavily when he crept in.

He decided it would be better not to wake her, so he lay down on the sofa with his pet poodle, C4, and slept there until morning.

When Mila awoke, Putin was already packing a suitcase. “Where are you going now?” she asked sourly. “You just got home.”

“An assignment,” he replied. “They’re sending me to northern Ukraine, to assist with an interrogation.” He could see she wasn’t pleased.

Mila couldn’t believe the Commander would send Putin on assignment after her report on his fragile state. “But why?” she asked.

“You know I can’t tell you the details of my work,” he began, but Mila interrupted. “I mean, why you? Why not someone else?” she demanded.

Putin looked surprised at her vehemence. “I … I worry about your safety, my Husband,” Mila stammered unconvincingly.

Putin raised one eyebrow; he realized that he didn’t believe her. “Nonsense,” he replied. “Nowhere is safer than Pryp’yat.”

Putin steeled himself as he approached her. He closed his eyes and thought of a flopping wet salmon as he touched his lips to hers.

“Goodbye, Husband,” she called as he hurried away down the stairs. She pushed C4 back inside with her foot and shut the door.

Furious, Mila rushed to take the encrypted cell phone from its hiding place beneath the potatoes. She punched in the number and waited.

The phone rang many times. There was no answer.

Week 8

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.”

Week 9

Out the Lada’s dingy window, Putin watched the dark wall of old-growth fir blur past. Despite the bucolic landscape, he felt ill at ease.

“Well, Comrade,” said the doctor, glancing over at his passenger, “let me welcome you to Moscow’s best-kept secret.” He simulated a smile.

As Putin watched the massive nuclear complex come into view, Antonosky chattered on. “This facility is actually a secret military base.

“The nuclear plant is merely a ruse—chicken wire and papier-mâché.” The doctor chuckled. “Beneath it, however, we are building the future.”

Still the looming plant grew larger, dwarfing the yellow Lada as it approached. Antonosky gestured toward the seemingly solid structure.

“Deep below that husk, we have technology you cannot imagine. Our experiments will change the world … once our subjects stop dying.”

Both men laughed. “How does our subject fit into this?” Putin asked. “Well,” Antonosky replied, “he survived. And we want to know why.”

“The subject, he is … different now. Yes, different.” The doctor showed his credentials to a guard and they drove into the complex.

Antonosky maneuvered the Lada into a lift that could hold a cargo plane, and they began to descend. He lit a Sobranie. “Soon you will see.”

Putin said nothing; he disliked the doctor’s evasiveness. Minutes passed in silence, and then the lift settled and its doors creaked open.

They exited the Lada and walked down a long, white hallway. Through glass panels in thick metal doors, they could see scientists working.

Suddenly, Putin stumbled and put a hand to his head. He tasted metal, and the hallway seemed to tilt. “Where … is the subject?” he gasped.

Dr. Antonosky froze. “Are you all right, Comrade?” Putin turned, eyes blazing. “Where is the particle accelerator, Doctor?!”

The doctor stepped back, away from the reeling KGB chief. How could this be? How could Putin know about the particle accelerator, unless …

Not waiting for an answer, Putin spun away and ran down the hall. Antonosky hesitated, still in shock, then slapped the panic alarm.

Klaxons echoed through the subterranean corridor as Putin raced past bewildered workers, heading straight for a massive door marked DANGER!

He charged into the particle accelerator’s control room like a blinded bull. Circuit boards shorted out as he passed. Flames. Screams.

Putin spun in the center of the room. The terrified cries and blaring sirens were only a distant murmur. This place … so familiar …

Driven by an unknown power, the particles flew at velocities the facility could not contain. A violent white flash preceded the shockwave.

As far away as Homyel, the earth groaned and shuddered. The blast was seen by Cosmonauts aboard the Mir. Surely nothing could survive.

Week 10

Within moments of Putin entering the plant, the polarities of the superconducting electromagnets within the accelerator began to vacillate.

The accelerated particles were no longer confined to narrow beams, and began striking the copper-tubing walls with great force.

Apparently, the operating staff believed the instrument readings to be a malfunction, since such events were thought to be impossible.

They overrode the automatic systems, ignored the alarms, and failed to take action to shut down the accelerator until it was much too late.

The off-site centralized monitoring system recorded the initial stages of the catastrophe, such as the increasing power of the klystrons.

The wave generators were operating well beyond theoretical limits even before the recording instruments failed.

As the cooling system began to shut down, the electromagnets heated to unprecedented levels. Finally, emergency procedures were begun.

At 1:23:40, the vacuum was breached, but whether as a result of the uncontrolled atomic acceleration, or by Putin himself, is unknown.

The subsequent course of events was not registered by instruments, and can be surmised only by mathematical simulations.

The first explosion occurred at 1:23:52, and released high levels of radiation, too high to be measured on plant dosimeters.

At 1:24:00 the second, much larger, explosion released more radiation and vaporized all life forms within 10 kilometres … all but one.

Firefighters arrived at 1:28, unaware that radiation levels were 5.6 R/s. Within weeks, all would die of acute radiation sickness.

Later, several firefighters spoke of seeing a glowing human form striding boldly from within the burning plant, but these were dying men.

Accounts of the lone survivor, his shirt blown off by the explosions, were omitted from all official reports.

In the immediate chaos of the disaster, no one challenged the survivor as he strode through the flames and out into the surrounding forest.

Xenon radioisotopes made him strong! His memory was restored, he knew what he had to do, he knew who he was: He was Putin!

Late the next day, authorities began the “temporary” evacuation of Pryp’yat. Residents piled onto buses, leaving most of their belongings.

Once the city was empty, Putin began assembling supplies from the abandoned property. He would be travelling with just the bare necessities.

First, of course, the vehicle: He was drawn to a yellow Lada with low mileage, but decided a motorcycle would be even more badass.

He quickly settled on a police-equipped IZH Yunker, left behind by the patrols who were supposed to be guarding the city.

Putin smiled with satisfaction as he felt the Yunker throbbing between his legs. He gave it some gas, and began the long ride northward.