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Week 53

Mila quickly averted her eyes and began peeling a potato when she realized the staring man was shuffling toward her.

After an agonizing length of time, the shuffling stopped. Mila could hear slow, rasping breaths above her head; it was quite disturbing.

She continued fumbling with the spud, hoping the creep would shamble away, but “Odin pozhaluysta,” came the halting voice from above.

It sounded like a rock was crushing his chest. Mila suppressed a shudder before looking up: First, no recognition, but then it came.

The Commander! But changed. His clothes hung from his wasted frame, his skin was ashen, his eyes blank like a shark’s.

“Sir,” said Mila. She looked down again quickly, trying to regain her composure as she prepared a potato. What had happened to him?

But she was no novice agent; she pushed her shock and disgust down deep inside, refocusing on the task at hand.

When she looked back up, the Commander did not seem quite as repulsive as before. “Here you are,” she said, handing him a warm potato.

He paused for a moment, took one labored breath, then reached out his hand for the spud without taking his eyes off Mila.

Still staring at her, the Commander took another slow breath, blew on the potato to cool it, and began coughing uncontrollably.

Mila had not the slightest idea what was going on, yet felt the meeting was a success: At least she’d have new intel for the Green Mother.

Eventually, the Commander stopped his retching cough, straightened up, and stared at Mila again.

He brushed a fleck of spittle from the corner of his mouth without taking his eyes off her, and finally opened his mouth to speak.

“A-gent Mmm … Your mission … go smoothly?” “There’s a slowness to him,” thought Mila, “like he’s had a stroke or something.”

“Da, Commander,” she said. “Putin is quite confident these days. He expects Yeltsin to appoint him to an even more important position soon.”

The Commander’s pupils drifted away from Mila like jellyfish in the tide. “He’s … right. Will become … key adviser. … prestigious.”

Mila nodded. “I’ll do everything I can to help him.” She knew she was supposed to say this. The Commander’s mouth turned up slightly.

Now she decided to press her luck. “Commander, if there’s anything else I can do to help you, personally, do not hesitate to ask.”

The Commander simply stared and respirated. Finally, he refocused his eyes. “Bring … scarabs … lots of … them. Dead or alive. … Many.”

Mila looked puzzled. “Scarabs, sir?” The Commander’s face contorted into a ghoulish mask. “Dung … beetles,” he replied.

“Delicacy … Kim Jong-il gave me … years ago. I want. Dead bugs rolled … in dried shit … .” He looked into the distance and drooled.

Week 54

Putin stopped just outside the door and took a deep breath. He always found these meetings with Yeltsin to be challenging.

The idea that the entire Federation was being helmed by an old tosspot … Though not in reality, of course.

Luckily, there were others—politicians, oligarchs—who controlled everything behind the scenes. Putin found them useful.

And there were certain advantages to the situation with Yeltsin: For one thing, no one ever asked him what the FSB was actually doing.

Having mentally prepared himself, Putin opened the door and stepped into Yeltsin’s office—which smelled like something had died in there.

He hesitated for only an instant, then strode across the room toward the President. Yeltsin sat at his desk, a security man behind him.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich!” Yeltsin smiled and attempted to stand, knocking over something that looked like a dog bowl sitting on his desk.

“Whoopsie!” Yeltsin laughed, and half fell back into his chair. “Worse than usual,” Putin thought, wrinkling his nose at the pervasive odor.

“So!” Yeltsin began, looking up through a fringe of white hair and smiling slyly. “So! Why have I called you here?”

Putin barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Mr. President, you said you had something important to tell me.”

“Yes! That’s right, yes!” Yeltsin agreed heartily. “I’m naming you President!” Putin blinked several times but said nothing.

The security man hurried forward and leaned over to whisper in Yeltsin’s ear. “Not a security man,” Putin thought, “but what, then?”

“Right, yes! Right!” Yeltsin agreed, tipping violently to one side and grabbing the edge of the desk to keep from sliding onto the floor.

“Today I, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, President, appoint Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as First Prime Minister! A toast!”

Yeltsin raised the dog bowl over his head like a trophy, then tipped it upside-down and looked up into it. “Empty,” he said sadly.

Putin managed to keep a straight face as he made a slight bow toward the President. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “This is a great honor.

“I shall fulfill these new duties to the best of m…” “Right, right, yes!” Yeltsin interrupted. “Just as I’m fulfilling mine!

“I’ve done just what they’ve told me, I…” The faux security man raced back to Yeltsin’s side, producing a bottle from under his jacket.

“A toast, sir,” he murmured as he filled the bowl. “Yes! Good!” the President agreed happily. “To the new First Prime Minister!”

But Putin was already considering how he would use his new power. First, he would find out who that “security man” was.

And second, he would hire a new State Exterminator—the stench of death in Yeltsin’s office was unbearable.

Week 55

After watching Yeltsin gulp down a few toasts, Putin left and went straight back to his flat. The phone was ringing as he walked in.

“The Duma has approved your appointment as First Prime Minster,” said a voice he didn’t recognize.

He didn’t bother to ask who was calling; he was sure it was the faux security man. “Fine. Thank you,” he said and prepared to hang up.

“President Yeltsin requests that you return at once,” the voice said quickly.

“I’m busy,” Putin replied. There was a pause. “President Yeltsin REQUESTS that you return AT ONCE,” the voice repeated slowly.

Putin hung up and stood, thinking. Finally he sighed, picked up his jacket, and headed back out the door. “More toasts,” he grumbled.

When he arrived back at Yeltsin’s office, he was glad to see that the President wasn’t appreciably worse off than when he’d left him.

The smell, however, was much worse. And the mysterious “security man” was still lurking just behind the President.

“Ah, Vladimir Vladimirovich, here you are again,” Yeltsin said rather solemnly. “Mister President,” Putin replied.

Yeltsin turned in his chair and looked back over his shoulder. The man gave a curt nod, and Yeltsin turned back with a sigh.

“So, the time has come,” he said glumly. “I, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, hereby resign the office of President of the Russian Federation.”

It took all of Putin’s self control to keep the surprise from showing on his face. He said nothing. There was a long, awkward pause.

“So, all right then,” Yeltsin said as he attempted to stand, “so I think I will go home now.” He picked up his dog bowl and sighed again.

“Sir,” Putin said, “I’m not sure you realize the significance of this action. Perhaps you should reconsider …”

“No no no no no,” Yeltsin grumbled, “This is right. First I name you Prime Minister, then I resign, then you are President. That’s right.”

“Indeed,” said the faux security man, taking Yeltsin by the elbow. The former President straightened himself and headed for the door.

“We will make the necessary announcements now,” the man murmured as they passed Putin. The new President did not reply.

“What will you do with your campaign funds, now that there will be no campaign?” asked the man, with a ghastly grin. Putin said nothing.

The door closed behind Yeltsin and his escort, and Putin realized it was true: He was now President of the Russian Federation!

The first order of business would be to inform the Putin Pals: This sudden turn of events would accelerate their plan a good deal.

And his second task would be to take his entire campaign war chest and spend it all on the most awesome inaugural celebration ever seen!

Week 56

Just hours after learning of his new post, Putin had finished planning his celebration. It would be unlike anything Russia had ever seen.

He told himself it was all part of the act, just one more necessary step in his grand plan, but deep, deep down, he felt almost giddy.

He flexed his new presidential muscle to make it happen, taking over the Bolshoi Theatre and flying in celebrities from around the world.

Putin drove himself to the big event, arriving fashionably late, of course. He swung left onto Teatralny Avenue, gunning the car’s engine.

He smiled as his tires squealed through the turn. The custom yellow metal-flake Lada muscle car was another perk of his presidency.

Van Halen’s classic “Atomic Punk” blasted from the stereo. Putin sang, “I am a victim of the science age/A child of the storm, whoa yes!”

He smiled as the theater came into view. Giant searchlights swept the sky, while red and blue fireworks burst overhead.

Putin skidded to a stop in front of the theatre and revved the Lada’s mighty 1.8-liter engine.

Through dark tinted windows and mirrored aviator sunglasses Putin cooly observed the adoring crowd surrounding him: Showtime.

The President swung open the car door like the new gunslinger in town entering the local saloon. Flashbulbs popped. A valet took his keys.

Putin strode down the red carpet, deftly tugging at his cuffs and straightening his tie. He waved to the crowd and entered the theatre.

As he neared the main hall, the lights dimmed and a sound like a siren filled the building. The timing was perfect.

Just as Putin entered through the center doors, the band on stage kicked into the 1978 smash hit, “Runnin’ With The Devil.”

Pyrotechnics exploded on either side of Putin and he pumped his fist in the air, bursting into a huge grin. The crowd loved it.

The next hours were a blur of shaking hands, dancing with diminutive blonde gymnasts, and posing for photos. It was repetitive, but fun.

Most guests were there from political or financial necessity—he’d paid dearly for some celebrities—but one he sincerely wanted to meet.

Finally, they came face to face. “Mr. President, it is an honor,” said the guest. “No Mr. Depardieu, the honor is mine,” Putin replied.

Putin loved French cinema, and was a huge fan of Gerard Depardieu’s work. That night, over several bottles of vodka, the two became friends.

“You speak Bear like a native,” Putin smiled. Depardieu looked shocked. “Bear?” he said, “No, no, I’m speaking Belgian!”

Putin leaned forward and noticed a number of cuts on Depardieu’s face. “Is your razor Belgian, too?” he asked. Depardieu chuckled nervously.

Suddenly, a rumble shook the theatre! Guests screamed, as a series of deafening explosions erupted above.

Week 57

Putin ducked as shattered glass and plaster rained down upon the hall. When he looked up, he saw Depardieu had torn off his clothes.

While the famed actor’s arms and face were hairless, the rest of his body was covered in thick brown fur. He was a shaved bear!

As Putin processed this shocking revelation, Depardieu unleashed a ferocious roar, dropped to all fours, and charged the President.

At the last second, instinct kicked in, and Putin tossed his attacker with a fluid judo flip. The movement snapped him back to reality.

Putin watched his assailant tumble across the floor and slam into a dessert table. Then he looked around at the horror surrounding him.

Angry bears were everywhere. Up in the theatre’s many balconies, bears chased party guests and devoured the ones they caught.

Mickey Rourke lay pinned beneath a giant paw, desperately trying to ward off a snarling grizzly. “Not in the face!” he screamed.

Crouched beneath a massive ice sculpture of a poodle, Goldie Hawn and a plump oligarch tried to defend themselves with fondue forks.

“Why is this happening?” Putin wondered. “Who would dare attack my party? How could anyone be so bold, so … stupid?” Then the answer came.

“PUTIN! This is the Bear King’s revenge!” As the President turned toward the voice, a savage blow struck his head.

He staggered, waves of pain clouding his vision, and blinked as a blurry image of a bear resolved into his old nemesis.

“Orso!” Putin growled, “You look terrible.” And he did. Their last battle had crippled the bear, and now crude technology animated him.

“There are few doctors in the wilderness,” Orso replied, “but there are loggers, and their machines.”

He opened and closed one paw made from the steel claw taken from a skidder and grinned, revealing a mouth full of chainsaw teeth.

Hydraulic hoses snaked from his limbs into a rusty, yellow metal box protruding from his back. “I’ll kill you for what you’ve made me!”

“I’ll kill you for fun,” Putin replied, tearing off his shirt to reveal rippling muscles glowing a faint green. The two enemies charged.

Orso threw a wild haymaker with his claw; Putin ducked and countered with a ferocious body blow. Orso gasped in pain and retreated.

Using his hydraulically augmented strength, he began ripping up theatre seats that were bolted to the floor, hurling them at Putin.

Putin dodged the first one, and watched it fly across the hall and crash into Sharon Stone. Then he began punching them out of mid-air.

Putin knew he could handle Orso, but he could not protect all his celebrity guests while fighting. He needed help.

He pressed a button on a small device in his pocket. Moments later, he heard the sound of an approaching helicopter: The Pals were coming!