Week 65

Dr. Antonosky smiled as he walked down the hall of the building’s most secure wing. It had been years since he’d been inside a hospital.

He’d been surprised it was so easy to get in. Of course, he was a doctor, but the “security officer” had barely glanced at his credentials.

Security! Perhaps he’d report the man when this was over. Zangief, his name tag said. Ridiculous! What kind of name was that?

Antonosky smiled blandly at a nurse bustling past him, pushing a cart of meds. “Excuse me, doctor,” the old buffalo murmured as she went by.

Ah, the nurses hadn’t changed a bit! Still shockingly ugly, every one of them. Why did this sort of work attract only that sort of person?

Why did attractive blondes become only gymnasts, who then moved on to the Duma? He should see if he could get funding for a study of it.

For a moment, he felt a little nostalgic. This place, this very wing, was where he’d begun his experiments. His entire career started here.

“In the secret security wing of a Soviet psychiatric hospital, no one can hear you scream,” he thought, remembering the past with pleasure.

Now, of course, things were different. Now this was the secure ICU, a place where the President’s “special friends” were held for treatment.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Antonosky thought with a chuckle. He glanced at the clipboard he carried.

He’d arrived at the room he wanted, the room where Gerard Depardieu was being treated for injuries he’d suffered at Putin’s inaugural party.

Odd that he would be here, and not at one of the luxurious private hospitals where celebrities and oligarchs usually were taken for care.

Antonosky shrugged and entered the room, where Depardieu lay wrapped in bandages that covered most of his body.

The fixtures were spare, but functional: a single bed, a nightstand, a privacy curtain, a chair, the door to the WC, and a window with bars.

A nurse was standing with her back to the door, fiddling with the patient’s IV line. Her figure was not bad, Antonosky thought approvingly.

Except she seemed to be covered with hair. These nurses! He snorted and approached the patient. “Good day, Mr. Depardieu,” he said briskly.

The actor did not reply. Antonosky reached for the chart hanging at the foot of the bed. “Let’s see what we have here …” he murmured.

The chart was blank. Antonosky blinked in surprise, then replaced it. “So, Gerard,” he said in a friendly tone, “how are you feeling today?”

The actor loudly passed wind. “I’m sorry,” Antonosky replied, “I don’t speak Belgian.” He waited in vain for a laugh at this joke.

Just then, the large nurse rolled her cart into the room. “Time for your meds, Mr. Depardieu,” she said cheerfully.

Week 66

Mila took a clipboard from a hook on the side of the cart and rattled some of the little cups of pills, as if looking for the correct one.

She imagined very hard that she was a nurse, willing herself to become believable in the role. Still, she had no idea what these pills were.

Suppose she gave Depardieu the wrong ones—she might kill him! Although that wouldn’t matter, once she had the information she sought.

“Ah, Nurse,” Dr. Antonosky smiled unctuously, “update me on Mr. Depardieu’s medications. I don’t see any recent notations on his chart.”

“Yes, Doctor,” she replied, thinking quickly. “Antibiotics … something for pain, of course …” “Pain, yes,” Antonosky nodded.

Not only ugly, but stupid, too! He wanted names, dosages … in the old days, someone like her would never have been hired.

He picked up the patient’s chart again, pretending to study it. “Yes, I see …” he said thoughtfully. “His injuries are rather serious.”

Tell me, Gerard,” the doctor said, “how did you sustain these injuries? You were attacked at the Inaugural, yes? But who attacked you?”

Mila looked down at her clipboard again; the nurse in the corner stopped fussing with the IV line and stood still, as if listening.

Suddenly the door to the WC banged open and Kanye West sprang across the room, grabbed Depardieu’s head, and placed a machete to his throat.

Talk!” he shouted. “Then you can’t tell me nothin’? Excuse me, was you sayin’ somethin’?” Depardieu squirmed beneath the blade.

Then Kanye glanced up. “Doctor!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” Antonosky’s eyes widened as he shook his head no.

“You two know each other?” Mila asked, too eagerly. “No!” Antonosky shouted. “Yes!” Yeezy said. A faint click broke the silence.

The other nurse wheeled back around quickly, attempting in vain to hide her camera—and the fact that her face was not human.

“You!” Antonosky barked. “We saw you! Turn around.” Slowly, the nurse did as she was told. The others gasped: a Siberian tiger!

Quickly, MurderCat growled a greeting to Depardieu. Luckily Snowy had taught him some Bear, although his accent was not perfect.

“Who are these people? Who do the Bears work for?” “I do not know them,” Depardieu growled, “but the Bears are for the Bears. We hate Putin!

“He brought death to us, he took our King’s betrothed, he turned Snowy against us, her own kind!” The bear squirmed under Kanye’s blade.

“You speak Belgian!” Antonosky cried. “Tell us what he is saying!” “Certainly, Doctor,” Murder Cat grinned.

“You are wrong,” the Tiger growled to Depardieu. “Snowy still loves her own, she fights with Putin to protect them. Tell Orso his daughter…”

“Ha!” Depadieu snorted. “You believe that too? We Bears know the truth. Orso is not Snowy’s father! Her father is …”

Week 67

A loud crash! One entire side of the room seemed to splinter and burst, shattering the window and the wall, forcing the bars inward.

Murder Cat leapt over the bed, out of the way of shards of flying glass. Antonosky and Mila ducked, turning away and shielding their faces.

Kanye West screamed and cut Gerard Depardieu’s throat as a gigantic Kaiju mosquito as big as a LiAZ bus forced its way through the wall.

Yeezy dropped his blade and scrambled across the floor on all fours. “Kanye, you idiot!” Antonosky cried. “You DO know him,” Mila thought.

The Kaiju stuck its proboscis deep into Gerard Depardieu’s still-warm body and began to feed, while the others huddled in the corner.

Alarms began to go off throughout the hospital. In the distance there were sirens and, closer, the chop-chop-chop of helicopter rotors.

A nursing supervisor stuck her head in the doorway, saw the sucking Kaiju, blanched, and ran away back down the hall.

“Wait! Mrs. Kuryakin! Wait!” Mila called, using the name of her middle-school teacher to sound as if she knew the woman.

She pushed past the doctor, the assassin, and the tiger, and escaped. It did not occur to them to try to stop her: She was just a nurse.

The Pals’ Krokodil hovered outside the shattered wall, but the sucking Kaiju blocked all but a sliver of space between the broken bars.

Murder Cat realized the only chance of escape was while the giant mosquito was distracted by Gerard Depardieu’s body fluids.

Quickly the lithe cat sprang back across the bed, contracting the muscles in his hind legs and launching himself through the tiny opening.

His body stretched, long and lean, as he flew threw the gap and into the air, where the Krokodil waited—just out of reach!

As the tiger began to fall, he saw a familiar form leap from the helicopter: Snowy! The war bear plunged, tethered to the Krokodil.

She reached out a giant paw and grasped Murder Cat as they fell. The helicopter tilted precariously from their combined weight, but held.

As Peaches and Herb gunned the Krokodil’s engine, Black Ops winched in the dangling Pals, until all were safely inside the copter.

“Thanks,” Murder Cat grinned. “When he hears how you saved me … “ Snowy nodded and looked up into the distance over the tiger’s head.

“Our Leader told me to stand down and I disobeyed,” the war bear said softly. “There will be consequences—for all of us. But …”

She lowered her gaze and looked into his eyes. “I couldn’t leave a comrade behind.” Murder Cat nodded, then sprang to the copter’s controls.

“Let me take her!” he cried, as Peaches and Herb scrambled out of his way. He revved the rotors and swung the Krokodil into a tight arc.

As they swooped downward, the rotors cut into the Kaiju, severing its head and sending bloody mosquito bits all over the street below.

Week 68

Murder Cat gave the controls back to Peaches and Herb for the long flight to the Kara Sea. He, Snowy, and Black Ops had much to discuss.

Hours later, the twin narwhals made a perfect landing on the faux oil rig that served as the Krokodil’s base.

The Pals jumped out of the helicopter and entered the submersible for the last leg of their journey to the Fortress of Opulence.

Disembarking in the airlock, they were surprised to see Pulpo Paul waiting for them, instead of Putin himself. This was serious.

“He’s expecting you in the debriefing room,” the psychic cephalopod thought to them, without so much as a greeting.

The octopus turned and the others followed him down the hallway. His walking suit made progress agonizingly slow, but no one was in a hurry.

Finally they reached the debriefing room, where Putin sat at the head of a long conference table, petting C-4 and staring straight ahead.

The Pals exchanged nervous glances and sat down, while Pulpo Paul stood near the door. “I will have your report now,” Putin said.

Briefly, Murder Cat described how he had been able to disguise himself as a nurse and gain access to Gerard Depardieu’s hospital room.

He had stolen the actor’s chart and was filling his IV with sodium pentathol when a doctor had unexpectedly appeared.

“You have photos,” Putin said. It was a statement, not a question. “Yes,” the tiger replied, “but there is more. Someone sent an assassin.

“He was hiding in the WC until the doctor began questioning the patient.” Putin deigned to glance at the tiger, but said nothing.

“The killer and the doctor seemed to know each other, but were surprised by each other’s presence. Then a huge Kaiju broke through the wall.

“The assassin panicked and killed Depardieu before he could tell them about the Bears. In the confusion, I made my escape.”

“Show me the photos,” Putin said. Murder Cat touched a button on his camera and projected the first picture on the debriefing room’s screen.

Putin’s face froze completely, and his eyes went totally blank, like the eyes of a shark. The Pals glanced at each other in alarm.

In that moment, their beloved master had become a terrifying, inhuman dealer of death. “Do you know them?” Pulpo Paul thought softly.

Of course, the psychic octopus was already aware of the answer, but he wanted Putin to tell the others.

“The doctor is Anton Antonovich Antonosky, responsible for torturing me and destroying my personality, and for luring me to Chernobyl.

“And the nurse …” Murder Cat started and looked at Putin in alarm. He had not given the nurse a second thought. “The nurse is my wife.”

“You’re married?” Snowy blurted. “I am betrayed by everyone,” Putin said as he stood and left the room.

Week 69

After Putin left the briefing room, the Pals sat frozen in glum silence. No one knew what to say or do.

“I will go to him,” Pulpo Paul thought finally. He heard the others thinking it was useless, but no one spoke the words aloud.

The psychic octopus turned and began the long journey to Putin’s quarters in the far wing of the Fortress of Opulence.

It would be a brisk 15-minute walk for most of the Pals, but Paul, in his walking suit, took more than an hour before he reached the door.

Putin’s angry thoughts were like a physical presence battering him as he stood in the hallway, but he knew he must not give up.

“Open the door,” he thought. “It’s me.” He felt his thoughts failing to penetrate Putin’s rage and tried again. “I must speak with you.”

The psychic cephalopod felt that Putin had some awareness of him standing there. “It is urgent!” he thought, more emphatically.

“It is urgent that you speak with me now. Open the door, or your Great Mission will surely fail!” He detected Putin hesitating.

“Without the Pals, you cannot succeed. You know this.” Paul could feel Putin standing on the other side of the door, waiting.

“Speak to me now, or lose them all forever!” Pulpo Paul thought, putting all the urgency he could into his psychic transmission.

“I will not open the door,” Putin thought. “But tell me what you have to say.” The octopus breathed a sigh of relief.

“I understand why you are angry,” Paul began. “You believe Snowy disobeyed you.” “I do NOT ‘believe’ it,” Putin interrupted, “it is true!

“I ordered her to stay behind! They all knew this. It was not only Snowy—they ALL disobeyed by taking her on the mission against Depardieu!”

“Then I must tell you,” Pulpo Paul thought grimly, “they did not so much disobey you as they obeyed ME.” He waited, but Putin did not reply.

“I told Snowy to go. I told the others to take her. I looked into the future and saw the death of Murder Cat if she was not there.

You have carefully recruited every one of your agents, and you know you will need them all if you are to prevail against the Great Threat.

“Without Snowy, Murder Cat would have plunged to his death; without Murder Cat, we would all be doomed.” Pulpo Paul paused.

You wish to punish them for their disobedience, to take out your anger on them in painful ways. But if you must punish someone, punish me.

“I am the one who is to blame. But do not destroy your team—do not do harm to the Putin Pals! They are our only hope.”

Pulpo Paul stood in the hallway, waiting for a reply from Putin, but there was none. The octopus floated patiently in his walking suit.

It was many hours before he gave up and began the long trek back to his aquarium quarters.