Week 97

Gradually, Pulpo Paul guided his consciousness away from the Astral Plane and back into his material form on Earth.

He opened one cephalopod eye and was not surprised to find Putin in a diving suit, standing there in his aquarium quarters.

“Good, you’re back,” Putin thought to the psychic octopus. “Tell me what you learned—time is short.” Paul nodded, composing his thoughts.

“The Order meets on the Astral Plane to avoid detection,” he began, “but detection by whom? By Mantis, yes, but perhaps by someone else.”

“Say what you mean, don’t be so opaque,” Putin thought brusquely. At that, Paul used his octopus camouflage ability to turn inky black.

Putin frowned. “This is not the time for cephalopodic lulz. The very existence of the world is at stake!” Paul sighed and began again.

“I heard them speaking of a plan to lure Mantis to the mountains of Tian Shan,” Paul thought slowly. “They did not say why.

“But it is a remote location, and apparently they are planning a massive battle—the Final Battle, in their minds.”

“Final, yes—final for them. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to defeat Mantis again, no matter where the battle takes place,” Putin thought.

“You should not discount their power, Sir,” Paul replied. “The Order’s sorcery is a link between this world and that of the Elder Gods.”

“Yes,” Putin thought, “but surely the alien technology of Mantis has evolved since their defeat, millennia ago; the Order is unchanged.”

“I gather,” Paul continued, ”the Order will not act alone. They spoke of a Great Weapon they intend to deploy.”

Putin nodded. “The pieces of this puzzle are starting to come together. Soon we will know how the Putin Pals fit into the picture.

“Let’s assemble the Pals for a briefing, and we can discuss our next move.”

“There is one thing more, Sir … “ Putin caught the hesitation in the psychic cephalopod’s thought, and waited for him to continue.

“They are holding your ex-wife prisoner.” “What? Do you mean Mila? What on earth for?” Inside his diving suit, Putin glowed bright green.

“I don’t know, Sir, but it appears she has a central role in the Order’s plan.” “But how?” Putin grimaced at the thought of his ex-wife.

And yet … she had been a trained agent. Putin thought of the last time he’d seen her, cutting up the Commander in their bathtub.

Surely Mila could not be the Order’s “Great Weapon!” Mila! The very thought was laughable. But if she were not, then …

Putin began to see the outline of the Order’s plan. “Assemble the Pals in the briefing room!” he snapped, as he turned to go.


Before Putin was gone, Paul had contacted the other Pals and relayed the message. Then he began the laborious donning of his walking suit.

One hour and fifty-six minutes later, Pulpo Paul arrived in the briefing room to find all the other Pals assembled and waiting.

Putin nodded, and began the briefing. “The time of our Great Test draws near. Let’s review what we know. Murder Cat—the lights.”

The Tiger flipped the switch, the projection screen came down, and Putin began a PowerPoint presentation: He loved PowerPoint.

“It doesn’t matter,” Snowy said gently. “We understand the situation, we know what’s happening.” Murder Cat turned on the lights.

Putin sulked for a moment, then continued. “There is one further, complicating factor. The Order has captured my ex-wife.”

“Ex?” Snowy asked. Putin sighed. “They think I will try to rescue her, although I see no reason to do so. Our marriage was a sham.”

For someone facing the possible extinction of the Earth, the War Bear looked remarkably cheerful. “Our team is strong,” Putin continued.

“We are stronger than when we fought the Giant Kaiju Peacock Mantis Shrimp. You have trained well, and I am proud of you.

“But, realistically, we are not strong enough to defeat both Mantis or the Order by ourselves. And so, I have a plan.”

Week 99

The Pals waited solemnly to hear what Putin would say. Pulpo Paul looked from one to the other, foreseeing their roles in the future battle.

There were Peaches and Herb, the twin narwhals; Murder Cat—Paul smiled, thinking of the big Siberian Tiger as the Happy Warrior;

Black Ops, the pygmy goat munitions expert; C-4, the inexplicable apricot Toy Poodle, now flea-free and back from her banishment;

and finally, Snowy, the white War Bear, first among equals, proud of having given an eye in the service of Putin’s quest to save the Earth.

Paul nodded. Putin was right, they were an elite fighting force—but how could they hope to defeat the forces arrayed against them?

Only one thing gave them an edge in the Final Battle that was fast approaching, and that was Putin himself.

But Paul knew the odds, and he also knew that not all of them would survive the coming cataclysm. The knowledge brought him great sorrow.

He sometimes wondered whether his psychic abilities were a gift, or a curse. Seeing the future was a tricky business.

It was not like opening a book and simply reading the text of what was to be. No, it was more like tuning in an old Zvezda-54 radio set.

Sometimes the impressions came in clearly, but sometimes there was a lot of static, which he did his best to interpret. Paul sighed.

If only he had stayed in England! Weymouth was a perfectly nice aquarium; probably they would have had some attractive female octopuses.

Paul looked sadly at his atrophying hectocotylus. But he had always known he was different, that family life was not for him.

He had never known his parents. His mother died shortly after he was hatched, his father was just an anonymous spermatophore in her oviduct.

There was nothing to keep him in Weymouth, and so he’d moved on, to the Continent, to Oberhausen—also a nice place.

But life in the tank was not enough for him, he was too intelligent, he was bored. He was too smart for his own good, as it turned out.

Paul reviewed those painful episodes—the gambling, the involvement with the Galician mobsters, the celebrity, the death threats.

What could be simpler for someone like him than picking winners in football? They’d set it up so carefully, preparing for their big score.

He threw a couple of Euro 2008 results to make it more believable, then hit every winner of the 2010 World Cup—up until the final.

He was supposed to pick the Netherlands. His partners would have made millions—and celebrated with a pulpo gallego dinner.

Instead, he picked Spain. He had nothing to lose, and there was a chance that Putin would get to him before either the mob or the Order did.

That’s what happened, of course. Now here he was, a criminal gone straight, an octopus helping to save the world: He owed it all to Putin.

Week 100

With a start, Paul realized Putin had been explaining his plan. “… help. Currently, we are a dish of dressed herring without mayonnaise.”

The Pals looked puzzled. They were not familiar with the intricacies of Russian cuisine, but Putin merely continued his metaphor.

“The herring is paramount, of course, and everyone loves boiled beets, but without mayo it would be hard to swallow,” he said solemnly.

Snowy spoke first. “Sensei, have you found us a new warrior?” “No,” Putin replied, “I have made you one—or, more precisely, Black Ops has.”

At that, the Putin Pals’ pygmy goat inventor pressed a button on a remote he held in one diminutive hoof. Putin smiled with satisfaction.

After a brief pause, a gentle, rhythmic, metal-on-metal tapping was heard in the hallway outside. Murder Cat looked wary.

The vexing sound grew louder and louder, until into the room walked the newest member of the Putin Pals: a robotic Japanese macaque!

The robo-monkey stood just over a meter high—slightly taller than its biological counterpart—and was the color of gunmetal.

It leapt effortlessly onto the conference table. Clearly Black Ops had learned much since developing Paul’s clunky walking suit.

Putin picked a bit of fuzz off the robo-monkey’s grey faux-fur vest, then turned to the group. “Pals, meet Toki. Toki, meet the Putin Pals.”

Toki rose onto his hind legs for a moment, then bent into a low bow. “Dōmo arigatō, Sensei. It is an honor to join your team.”

Putin smiled again and leaned back in his chair. “Please tell us a little about yourself,” he said. “Gladly,” the metallic macaque replied.

“I am from the lineage of Yamabushi mountain robo-hermits, and am proficient in the arts of kenjutsu, kyujutsu, jujutsu, and aikido.

“In my free time, I enjoy calligraphy, playing the shamisen, soaking in hot springs, and washing my yams in the salty seawater.”

The Pals looked impressed; Putin was pleased. “Very good, Toki. Take a seat.” The robo-monkey sprang into the chair next to Murder Cat.

“Now,” Putin began, “I shall explain how Toki fits into my plan to defeat our many foes and save the Earth from annihilation.”

Putin was reaching for the remote to begin part two of his PowerPoint, when Pulpo Paul suddenly slumped over inside his walking suit.

Seated beside him, Snowy sprang from her chair and grabbed the suit. She peered through the facemask at the octopus’s listless form.

“Paul!” she cried, as the psychic cephalopod began to stir. A subtle pulse rippled though his mantle, and his body turned bright orange.

Though he looked straight at Putin, everyone heard his telepathic message clearly: “The Order is attacking Stalin’s grave!”

Putin leapt to his feet, a fire burning in his eyes. His command was simple: “Get to the chopper!” The Pals did not hesitate.

WEEK 101

Within minutes, the team was seated in the Krokodil, with Snowy at the helm and Putin in the copilot’s chair behind her.

As Snowy ran through the pre-flight checklist, giant hydraulic pistons drove the Krokodil’s hanger toward the surface of the Kara Sea.

The hanger’s roof clamshelled open, breaching the frothing arctic waves just as Snowy snapped on the Hind’s massive rotor.

“Hang on!” the war bear shouted into her helmet mic as she pulled back on the control stick and drove the old Soviet gunship skyward.

A thousand miles away, great black clouds were gathering over Red Square. Muscovites and tourists alike felt an ominous chill in the air.

The attack on Stalin’s Grave was about to begin.

Near Spasskaya Tower sat a thin, stylishly dressed Japanese man. On the other end of Red Square, an old woman slowly pushed a potato cart.

She paused and ran her hands along the cart’s handle. How much simpler things had been when she used to meet the Commander in this disguise.

Then she’d simply been a double agent. Now what was she? A quadruple agent? She’d deceived the Order into believing she was on their side.

She was using that deception to betray Putin, and Mantis, and she’d already killed her connection to the FSB. Mila felt very alone.

Then she thought of all the ways she’d been betrayed, abandoned, abused. She tightened her grip on the cart’s handle: She wanted revenge!

A fat American asked her for a potato in halting Russian. Mila sneered at him and kept walking slowly toward Lenin’s Tomb.

George Takei looked up from his copy of Madame Bovary to see Mila’s progress. He glanced around, noting Byan Khan and Arianna Huffington.

The Order’s plan was relatively simple: Attack Lenin’s Tomb with great drama, and use that diversion as cover to unearth Stalin’s grave.

Takei checked his watch: They were just minutes away. He looked at the ground and saw a pair of Air Yeezy Red Octobers standing before him.

“Go take your position, Kanye,” Takei said without looking up. Kanye opened his mouth to protest. “Now!” Takei said, before he could speak.

Takei looked at his watch again: 3… 2…1… A deafening peal of thunder crashed through the air, but there was no lightning to be seen.

Some of the crowd looked up for the sound’s origin, and saw the silhouette of a massive arachnid falling toward the earth.

BOOOM! Robot scorpion Walt Disney crashed into the center of Red Square, cratering the pavement and launching a geyser of asphalt chunks.

Women screamed in terror, babies and children wept, and everyone fled in panic. Walt’s maniacal cackle boomed out from his telson speakers.

In the commotion, no one noticed the steady thump-thump-thump of a Krokodil helicopter racing towards Red Square.