Putin left his room and marched down the gleaming white hallway. It was 13:00 hours, and the Pals would be finishing up in the dojo.
He stepped up to the elevator and pressed the button. Tiny sensors on the panel detected his Putinescence, confirming his identity.
Putin smiled as the doors opened. The Fortress of Opulence had the same Otis elevator model as Vegas’ Luxor Hotel: Nothing but the best.
Silently, the car descended. The dojo—as big as a college gymnasium—was deep below the seafloor. The elevator chimed softly and stopped.
Putin removed his Bruno Magli shoes in the entranceway and padded into the main room. The sounds of combat grew louder as he approached.
For a moment, he watched his troops: Snowy and Murder Cat sparring in a corner, Black Ops headbutting a post repeatedly, C4 dozing adorably.
For two days, Putin had remained in his room. But the Pals were well-trained, and had gone about their routine despite the master’s absence.
Putin put two fingers to his lips and blasted the air with a whistle. Immediately, the Pals trotted over to sit before their leader.
They knew how serious the situation was, and were ready to hear Putin’s judgment. Snowy already sat in seiza, staring at the ground.
“I will keep this brief, for we have work to do.” Putin looked off into the distance for a moment, carefully considering his next words.
“Snowy, you failed at a critical moment, and you must redeem yourself. I revoke your command until you prove yourself worthy of it.”
The war bear looked up briefly, meeting Putin’s eyes, and then quickly dropped her head again. She bowed in assent.
Putin opened his mouth to continue, but was interrupted by the whooshing sound of the doors sliding open behind him. He turned.
Pulpo Paul entered the room, wearing his walking suit. He floated in a water-filled globe that made up the body of a large, robotic octopus.
The animatronic suit allowed the psychic cephalopod to roam the Fortress at will, but it was slow and he was frequently late to meetings.
He quietly telecommunicated a short “Hello,” and ambled across to hover next to Murder Cat. Putin continued with his speech.
“The attack on my inauguration party no doubt drew the attention of our enemies. They’ll want to know who was responsible.
“The shaved bear known as Gerard Depardieu is under watch at a hospital in Moscow. Spies or assassins are likely on their way to him now.
“We must get there first, and be waiting when our enemies arrive. Observe, but don’t intervene. This is our chance to learn more about them.
“Peaches and Herb are waiting in the Krokodil. They’ll fly you to Moscow. Murder Cat, you’re in charge,” Putin commanded.
All the Pals except Snowy stood, bowed, and jogged out of the dojo. She stayed in seiza, staring at the floor, wondering what to do.