Category Archives: IV: SIBERIA

Week 14

Putin turned back to the Yunker. Best to hide it, to prevent anyone from discovering that he was here … and he might need it again, later.

Working quickly, he grabbed handfuls of brown leaves and downfall branches from the ground and began covering the machine.

Before the motorcycle was fully obscured, the leaves burst into flame. The machine was hot from days of contact with Putin’s radioactivity.

He stomped out the fire, then knelt and placed his hands on the Yunker’s scorching tailpipe, drawing the radioactivity back inside himself.

In seconds all the heat was withdrawn, and the bike was covered with frost. He would have to learn a more delicate control of his powers.

Putin finished covering the Yunker, then turned back to the edge of the forest. He stared ahead into thick underbrush and trees without end.

He felt this was the right place, yet nothing looked familiar. He shrugged and began walking, relying on instinct to take him to his goal.

Often he thought he had found a familiar landmark, but it was never quite as he remembered. Remembering …

Did he really remember anything? How could he know? Perhaps all his memories were false, implanted during his time in the White Room.

Everything was the same, yet different. It was disorienting. How long had he been gone?

He came to a stream with a log across it. His memory said he had placed a log in this spot as a bridge, but this one was rotted and useless.

Putin waded across the stream, looking for salmon. He had to take care not to cause the water to boil with his radioactive Putinessence.

At last he made his way to where the Great Den used to be. There was a cave, but it looked small and sad to him now, and appeared abandoned.

Suddenly he heard a snuffling noise from inside! His heart leapt up … but then, silence.

Gradually, he detected the sounds of something very large, moving slowly as if trying to be stealthy but not succeeding very well.

After an agonizing pause, a large, disheveled bear wearing an eye patch stepped out into the sunlight and squinted at him.

They stood facing each other for many minutes before the bear uttered just one word: “Putin.”

Putin could not conceal his surprise. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, trying to access some memory of this creature, but failing.

“Ah … yes, it has been a long time. I have changed, everything has changed … Even you: You did not used to glow like a firefly.”

Quickly, he tamped down his radioactivity. The bear continued to stare at him. Putin waited.

Week 15

Finally, the one-eyed creature spoke again. “I am the King of Bears now, Putin. I am … Orso.”

As he pronounced his name, the bear puffed out his chest and lifted his chin. Clearly, in his mind a fanfare accompanied this revelation.

Putin gazed back blankly. The bear’s sense of drama confused him. “All right … uh, Ordo, nice seeing you again.”

“Ha! Well played, Putin, you old snake. We both know you’re not glad to see m– Wait. Did you just call me Ordo?”

“I’m sorry, isn’t that your name? Perhaps I misheard. The hilarious idea of shearing a pig popped into my head while you were speaking.”

A snarl curled the bear’s lip: His old foe was mocking him. “Or-so. I am Orso, King of Bears.” He rose up on his haunches, roaring, “ORSO!”

Putin remained unimpressed by this bluster. “All right, big fellow, no need to shout, I have it now: You’re Orso. A fine name.”

At this, the bear relaxed a bit. “But I still have no memory of our history,” Putin said. “Did I help you out of a jam, perhaps?”

The bear’s unpatched eye grew wide with disbelief. “Help me? Help me?! You are my sworn enemy! We are bound by bitter rivalry!”

A wry smile crept across Putin’s face. “Oh, come now. Surely you exaggerate. My memory is not so deficient that I’d forget a sworn enemy.”

“We probably just had a misunderstanding, a brief quarrel. All’s forgiven, though, Otto. I wish you no ill will. Give me your paw, comrade.”

“How dare you, Putin?!” the bear bellowed. “It was no misunderstanding! We are enemies now and for-… Wait. Did you just call me Otto?”

Putin felt his patience waning; this mosquito was quite persistent. “All right, if we are enemies, perhaps you could remind me why.”

The bear’s eye narrowed as he peered at Putin. Was this trickery, or did he truly not remember? “You’ve forgotten King Medved? His Clan?”

“Well, of course I remember all that,” Putin laughed. “Did you know the Bear Clan? Did you live in a neighboring cave?”

“Old fool! Do you really not remember?” roared Orso. “I was Medved’s heir! You and I fought once and … uh … I bested you, actually.”

Putin cocked an eyebrow quizzically. “Unlikely. But to answer your question, no. I remember the Bear Clan quite well, but not you.”

“I have waited all these years for revenge, and you will not deny me satisfaction! You WILL remember me, Putin! Years ago you feared me!”

Putin pursed his lips. “Listen, Arseho–” he began. “ORSO!” howled the bear. “Fine, whatever. This bores me, little friend. I’m leaving.”

Orso could not believe it. He had waited years for this confrontation, and it had not gone at all as he’d imagined. Putin MUST remember!

Leaning forward, the grizzled bear said softly, “Ursa. She was mine before you came, and she was mine after you left!”

Week 16

Finally, the awful memories returned: Orso’s treason, the carnage, his capture. “You! It was you!” Enraged, Putin threw himself at the bear.

The combatants crashed together, but Putin used his judo skills and threw Orso to the ground. He pinned the bear down and choked him.

“You!” Putin screamed. “It was you! You led them here! You are to blame for everything!” He began to glow dangerously green with rage.

Desperate, Orso scooped a pawful of dust and threw it in Putin’s eyes, sending him sprawling backwards. The bear rolled over onto his feet.

“No, you are to blame!” Orso roared, as he readied to charge. “It was you who ruined my betrothed, my Ursa!”

“Your Ursa? You’re delusional!” Putin grunted as he wiped dirt from his eyes. He looked up just as Orso’s paw crashed into his face.

Putin staggered back, the Bear King’s punch landing like the bumper of a speeding Lada. On his hands and knees, he spat blood and coughed.

He looked up as Orso charged again, but this time Putin grabbed tufts of fur, rolling onto his back and flinging the bear against a tree.

Orso crashed into the mighty oak hard enough to shatter its great trunk, and Putin smiled at the sight. How he’d missed combat!

“I will destroy you, swine,” he said, marching slowly toward his fallen foe. “King of Bears? You are king of a graveyard you have created.”

His skin glowing ever brighter green, Putin stood over the lump of fur with labored breath. Suddenly, Orso spun his head around.

Clenched between his teeth was a massive splinter of wood. He drove its tip deep into Putin’s calf and heard his foe cry out in pain.

Releasing the splinter, Orso reared up, slashing with his great claws. “We were a proud and mighty clan before you infected us!”

Putin dodged the teeth, fetid ursine spittle splashing hot on his face. He drove his fist into Orso’s gut; the bear gasped and sank down.

In his mind, Putin heard again the words that had sparked this battle. “She was mine after you left,” Orso had said.

Putin recalled the attack of the humans, felt the bullets tearing into his flesh, saw his Ursa fleeing into the forest. Where had she gone?

Orso lay helpless on the ground, and Putin snatched the bear’s head, yanking it skyward. Their eyes locked as Putin glowered.

“Where is she?” he cried desperately. “Where is Ursa?!”

Orso twisted and sank his teeth into Putin’s thigh, but quickly let go, screaming, as the radioactivity seared his mouth and tongue.

Putin tightened his grip and began wrenching the bear’s head, preparing to break his neck. “Answer my question or die,” he hissed.

Suddenly a voice cried out from the edge of the clearing: “Father!”

Week 17

Without releasing his grip on the bear’s head, Putin turned toward the voice.

At the edge of the clearing stood a sturdy young she-bear, her snow-white fur highlighted against the dark forest behind her. “Father?”

Putin kept his grip on Orso’s head. “AY ACK!” the bear bellowed, doing his best to warn the she-bear in spite of his burns.

Putin and the white bear stared at each other in shock, without moving, barely daring to breathe.

The young bear was baffled and terrified at the sight of the mighty Orso, the Bear King—her father!—so near defeat and death.

Why … What are you doing to my father?” she gasped. Putin looked from the she-bear to Orso and back. “Your father,” he repeated quietly.

Putin tightened his grip on Orso’s head. “Stay back!” he barked. “This bear, your … king … has committed atrocious crimes. He must die.”

“YOooo!” howled Orso, furiously. The she-bear stepped toward them. “Get back!” Putin shouted. “Go into the woods! This is not your battle!”

The white she-bear continued moving deliberately toward them. “You must not hurt my father,” she growled.

Did she mean to attack him? Putin had no doubt that he could dispatch them both, but he had no desire to kill the younger bear.

“Stop where you are!” Putin commanded, as the she-bear moved closer. She stopped, then spoke again: “I invoke the Great Law.”

Putin blanched. “The Great Law … A life for a life. I had forgotten …” “Yes,” replied the she-bear “I offer myself as your slave forever.”

“In exchange for my life of servitude you will release King Orso without further harm.” The she-bear stood silently, awaiting Putin’s reply.

Again, Putin felt the green anger growing inside. How easy it would be to snap his foe’s neck! How easy … and how dishonorable.

Once the Great Law was invoked, only the beneficiary could rescind it. By opting to die, Orso could save the she-bear. But Orso was silent.

The coward! Putin grew hot with rage. How he longed to rip the Bear King’s head from his body! Allowing his daughter to become a slave!

Yet … would this not be the perfect revenge, to take the noble she-bear from Orso, just as he had taken Ursa? Putin smiled at the thought.

Gradually, he relaxed his grip on the bear’s head. “If my foe has no objection, then I accept your offer,” he replied. Orso said nothing.

The white she-bear stepped forward and knelt before Putin. “I am yours now, Master,” she said. “I am the daughter of Orso, I am called—”

“I do not care what you have been called,” Putin interrupted. “You are mine now, and you shall be called Snowy. Snowy is your name, slave.”

“Come!” Putin spat. “Leave this poor excuse for a ‘King’ alone to consider his crimes.” Together Putin and Snowy walked out of the clearing.

Week 18

Putin strode deeper into the forest, glowing green with rage. He was followed by the white bear—his bear, his “Snowy.”

The idea of a bear in slavery disgusted him, yet he realized it was the best revenge possible against Orso. The so-called Bear King!

Orso! That weak, cowardly sack of garbage wrapped in a bearskin! The very idea of him with the noble Ursa … Putin stopped short. Ursa!

He still did not know where Ursa was. What had become of her? Where had she gone after he took the bullets meant for her?

Clearly, Orso would have died rather than tell him anything. Putin smiled grimly: So Orso did have some slight shred of courage.

Courage, or more likely extreme hatred—either one was fine with Putin. Perhaps the bear was a worthy foe after all.

On Putin went, lost in his thoughts, until the young she-bear behind him suddenly spoke. “Master, where are we going?”

Putin wheeled around, furious. “How dare you question me!” he shouted. If he expected the bear to cower, he was disappointed.

He snatched up a fallen fir branch and set it aflame with his radioactivity. “This is what I will do to you if you ever question me again!”

The bear blinked, but stood her ground. Putin had to admire the way in which Snowy withstood a bear’s natural fear of fire.

Naturally, Putin would not admit that he did not know where they were going. He had no plan, no purpose. He had acquired a bear: Now what?

The branch was consumed and the embers fell to the ground. “Dig a hole,” Putin ordered. The bear did so, then covered the ashes with dirt.

It might be useful to have a bear. This one seemed to have heart, bravery, intelligence—not qualities he would expect in Orso’s spawn.

“Permission to speak, Master?” Snowy interrupted his reverie. “All right,” Putin grudgingly allowed. “What is it?”

“We are deep into the forest now, far off the trail, and night is coming. I know a spot where we could safely rest; it is not far.”

“Do you think I care where I sleep?” Putin replied irritably. The bear bowed her head: “As you wish, Sir.”

Putin studied the beast with interest. Was it a trick, a trap, a way to lure him into danger? If he were to die, the she-bear would be free.

“All right,” he said. “You may lead me to this place you know.” The bear nodded and began moving swiftly through the trees, Putin following.

Soon they arrived at a fine camp at the base of a cliff, with a small rock overhang for shelter and a clear view downhill into the trees.

With Putin’s radioactive warmth, they had no need for a fire. Snowy brought fir branches for his bed and he lay down, pretending to sleep.

After several hours, he heard the familiar snore of a she-bear. “I believe I trust this one,” he thought, and closed his eyes.