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Week 58

The steady thump of a massive rotor grew louder until it was just overhead. Putin looked up to see a Soviet Krokodil gunship hovering above.

The fuselage door slid open and heavy black ropes cascaded down, slapping onto the Bolshoi’s floor. The silhouette of a tiger appeared.

There was a flash of movement in the chopper’s side door, and then the Putin Pals were down and the Krokodil was flying away.

Putin and Snowy made eye contact, but then Snowy looked behind him and saw Orso—her father. She froze, and Putin cursed under his breath.

There was no time for this! Leonardo DiCaprio was clinging to the top of a silken banner, trapped between snarling pandas above and below.

“Snowy!” Putin bellowed. Her attention snapped back. “Lead the attack! Save the guests!” She paused for only an instant before obeying.

As the Pals dove into the fray, Putin turned his attention back to Orso. The Bear King was watching his daughter with a pained expression.

Putin, seeing his foe distracted, whipped a silver chandelier at his face. It smashed into Orso’s head, the flames scorching his fur.

The great bear cried out in pain, his gaze snapping back to his mortal enemy. Seeing Snowy obey Putin enraged him even more.

Putin heard a groaning, and turned to see Depardieu rising slowly. He walked over and kicked the French thespian in the head.

Looking up, Putin saw the rock band he’d hired cowering at stage left. “Start playing!” he shouted, and they launched into “Hot Blooded.”

Meanwhile, the Pals were making quick work of their task: Bears who weren’t dead or seriously wounded were making panicked retreats.

Murder Cat slashed a grizzly’s throat before diving off a balcony to crash down on another ursine assaulter. C-4 gaily yapped and pranced.

Sensing imminent defeat, Orso grew desperate. Gasoline squirted from a nozzle between his legs, dousing the floor, and he set it ablaze.

Flames spread through the theatre and terrified guests screamed and ran, knocking each other down as they raced for the exits.

Orso charged at Putin, who braced himself for a judo flip, but at the last moment Depardieu rose up and slashed at Putin’s back.

He reeled forward, and Orso’s steel claw clamped around his neck. The pressure could have crushed a tree trunk, and Putin’s eyes bulged.

Gasping, Putin saw Snowy watching the scene, mouth agape, unmoving. He felt betrayed, furious, saddened. The strength drained from his body.

Depardieu bit into Putin’s shoulder, but then released, screaming. Murder Cat was upon him, savagely flaying his shaven face.

Putin’s vision faded as he glimpsed Snowy starting to move forward, but before she could act, Black Ops slammed into Orso, toppling him.

As he fell, Orso released Putin; then, accepting his failure, he fled. The Krokodil reappeared, and the Putin Pals escaped the flames.


Week 59

Antonosky rustled his copy of Izvestia with irritation and tossed it onto the café table. “Such stupidity!” he thought.

Clearly, there had been some sort of attack on President Putin’s inaugural celebration, but that’s not what the media were reporting.

They said a circus helicopter had crashed into the Bolshoi Theatre in a tragic accident, and a number of frightened animals had escaped.

Putin himself had bravely rounded up the animals and saved many lives, although a few blond gymnasts from the Duma had been eaten.

But all the celebrity guests had survived—although Gerard Depardieu was in isolation in an intensive care hospital somewhere.

Antonosky made a mental note: He would use his medical credentials to try to trace Depardieu and get access to him, or to his records.

But really … did anyone believe anything the Russian media reported any more? Well, if not, so what? What could anyone do about it?

More troubling, to Antonosky, was the apparent failure of the Order to anticipate the attack. And who were the attackers?

Was the Red Tsar not omniscient? Antonosky shivered as a shadow of doubt flickered across his consciousness; he put it out of his mind.

Just then the door to the café banged open and the Commander entered. He still had some trouble controlling the muscles in his limbs.

His gait was stiff, his movements jerky, but in many ways the Commander appeared more “normal” than when he was first reanimated.

His speech was clearer, and he hardly drooled at all. He had developed an unfortunate taste for dung beetles, but was otherwise presentable.

Most people just assumed the Commander had had a stroke, and that was fine with Dr. Antonosky.

If The Order found out he’d reanimated someone without authorization … Antonosky shuddered again. At least Kanye West owed him a solid now.

The Commander yanked out the chair across from Antonosky, collapsed into it, and stared at the Doctor without speaking.

“Thank you for coming,” Antonosky began. The Commander grinned hideously. Ignoring him, the Doctor continued. “I have a job for you.

“I want to know who attacked Putin’s inaugural celebration. Of course, you don’t have the … uh … resources you once had at the KGB …”

The Commander grunted. Antonosky waited a moment, then continued. “But I expect you are still in contact with some operatives … “

The Commander stood and looked down at the Doctor with his mouth agape. A thin strand of spittle leaked from the corner of his lips.

“Mila!” he said, as he turned and staggered toward the door. “Mila.”

Week 60

Mila was deep in Hive Mind when she became aware of a minute disturbance in the connection.

Not Putin: Now that he was living in one of the Official Residences, he rarely came to their apartment.

Living alone allowed her to spend entire days sitting on the sofa, connected to Hive, even when she was not reporting to the Green Mother.

She was living alone, yet more than ever she felt she belonged; for the first time in her life, she truly belonged.

But there it was again: A slight break, like a crackle of static, again and again. What could it be?

Mila detached reluctantly from Hive, scattering the swarming cockroaches that had completely covered her body.

What was that odor? As she opened her eyes, her old KGB training was the only thing that prevented her from crying out in alarm.

Looming over her stood the Commander, calmly crunching on the roaches he had plucked off her body. “Good!” he said.

“You always make best food. Selyodka pod shuboy—yours is best. Best cook, best agent.”

Shocked, Mila said nothing. The Commander had caught her with Hive! What if he knew about Mantis? What if he knew she’d been a double agent?

But he merely stood, staring blankly, chewing placidly on a carapace. Did he even recall that she’d retired? How his stroke had changed him!

She remembered what he’d been when she first met him—a KGB Commander! His tailored suits, his Sobranie cigarettes … he’d seemed so worldly.

Now she wished she’d taken back his key to the apartment, so many years ago … He’d never used it again, until now. Why was he here?

For news of Putin, of course. Mila tried to think of something to say. She hadn’t seen the President in weeks, except on television.

And after all their years together, Putin had not even invited her to his Inaugural Celebration! True, their marriage was a sham, and yet …

Your assignment,” the Commander said, as if reading her mind.

“Yes, yes, I know!” Mila turned away and walked toward the side table where the vodka was. “Our marriage was just my undercover assignment.

“But, still …” her voice trailed off as she filled two glasses. Still, she had fulfilled all the duties of his wife … for years …

“No,” the Commander said. “Your assignment now. The …” He paused to shape the difficult word. “In-aug-ur-al … party. Not an accident.”

“No circus accident … an attack. You find out who, why. You are best agent, you will find out. Tell no one else, tell only me.”

Mila blinked, then raised a glass in salute to her former Commander and downed the fiery liquid. “Da,” she said. “I will find out. For you.”



Meanwhile, in a secret palace deep below the Forte di Belvedere, Kanye West was arguing with a group of the most powerful men in the world.

As he spoke, Kanye looked urgently at each of his fellow Order members in turn. He was pleading the case against Cheney and Kissinger.

“We’re led by the least noble, least talented, least respected, least respectful people—politicians. Period.” He jabbed a finger at Cheney.

Cheney sneered like a scolded camel and gently rocked in time with the many pumps and motors that kept him “alive.”

Kanye was warming up, getting into the rhythm of his oration. “How, Sway? You ain’t got the answers. I’ve been doin’ this more than you.

“You ain’t been doing the education. You tryna give me advice, but you ain’t spend 13 million of your own money to try to empower yourself.”

Cheney scowled at the insult, but he knew West had spent 13 million US dollars of his own fortune to clean up after the Inaugural disaster.

Cheney and Kissinger, as Lords of Surveillance, had failed to anticipate the attack, or to identify the assailants. It was a major failure.

Kanye paused for dramatic effect. He was making his move, trying to seize power from the old guard, boldly challenging the Politicians.

“What I care about is if you’re an artist and you work hard as fuck and the streets say that you deserve that shit.”

Kanye’s theatrics were more than Cheney could bear. “Go fuck yourself,” he barked, interrupting the Louis Vuitton Don’s speech.

Cheney wanted retaliation, he wanted revenge to cover his shame, and he didn’t care who the target was: It was time to feed Moloch.

“The Order does not require the love of the common man, the Order requires respect. I’m not sure Mr. West understands that.

“I think you all, increasingly, will realize that what we have here is a group of barbarians, and that they threaten all of us.

“We have intelligence that Gerard Depardieu initiated the attack on Putin. He’s currently being held under police watch at Botkin Hospital.”

Cheney turned to face the Red Tzar, lowering his eyes as he spoke. “My Lord, we should retrieve Mr. Depardieu and find out what he knows.”

The Red Tzar turned away from Cheney, towards Kanye. “Important public men like yourself are not ‘common men.’

Of course, history alone can show how important a public man has been. It is not heroes that make history, but history that makes heroes.”

The Fetid Lord turned to face the other members of the Order. “Now is not the time for petty rivalries. This will not alter our plans.

“The Politicians will be punished for their failures. Kanye West, you tell Mr. Depardieu I’d like to have a word with him.”

“So sayeth the Fetid Lord!” cried robot scorpion Walt Disney and in unison all the members of The Order responded: “So sayeth the Red Tzar!”