WEEK 63

Meanwhile, Putin brooded in his stateroom in the Fortress of Opulence below the Kara Sea. The magnificence of his quarters was unfathomable.

He stood before a massive window onto the sea, thick gold latticework connecting huge glass triangles. The floor was meteorite-shard mosaic.

Putin stared out into the icy depths of the Kara, the water lit by the Fortress’ spotlights, inky blue quickly fading to impenetrable black.

His mood was as dark as the abyss before him. The Pals’ victory over Orso’s forces meant nothing compared to the pain of Snowy’s betrayal.

Of course, Putin did not believe he’d actually needed her help to defeat the Bear King, but still it troubled him that Snowy had hesitated.

It was Black Ops who assisted him. “The goat!” Putin thought. Not his war bear, not his protégé; in the end, it was the little pygmy goat.

Putin’s stomach tightened as he thought of the look in Snowy’s eyes while she vacillated between helping her father, Orso, or her master.

He was angry: He’d failed as a sensei, a general, even a foster parent … a father. The word stuck in his mind like a bone in the throat.

Yes, a father! Did he not serve in loco parentis to all the Pals? Snowy was his child, as much as the others were … or, perhaps … more?

No. Snowy was Orso’s progeny, not his. It was the Bear King’s greatest advantage, perhaps his only advantage. And yet …

Putin turned from the window and gazed at a picture attached by magnets to one of the French doors of his Meneghini La Cambusa refrigerator.

It was a pastel drawing of Snowy tending to his wounds after the Kaiju attack, drawn by the war bear herself. “Yours always,” she’d written.

Putin’s hands balled in rage and he swung around, slamming his fist into the four-inch–thick tempered glass window. A small crack appeared.

“Damn!” Putin thought when he saw the fracture. They’d have to replace the whole pane. He should not have lost control like that.

What to do? What to do? It was a rare moment of confusion. All he knew was that, despite his frustrations, he did not want to lose Snowy.

Even if Snowy still had some loyalty to Orso, it mattered little. Orso was an annoyance, but not an adversary. There were greater threats.

Putin did not know exactly what the threat was, but he saw portents in his dreams: Dark cavernous spaces, ghoulish incubators, scurrying.

No, Putin needed Snowy for battles ahead. Still, there would have to be consequences. Mercy could be useful, but discipline was essential

He’d remove Snowy from active duty. There was still finish work to do on the Fortress; when it was done, she could fight again.

“Completing all the planting in the grotto and then building the hockey rink will take a couple weeks, at least.” he thought.

Nodding to himself, Putin strode to the door. He’d tell the Pals at once: It was time to prepare for their next mission.

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