Putin was grateful to be astride his Yunker again. Enveloped by the icy air and the mighty two-stroke’s roar, he found sanctuary.
These last weeks had been hard. He felt betrayed by all those closest to him. But his motorcycle, the steadfast, Yunker, would never falter.
Would never falter … unlike his protege at the most dire hour. The doubt in Snowy’s eyes had hurt more than Orso’s crushing grip.
Putin rode past an old billboard for the Kharkiv Zoo. The illustration, yellowed with age, showed a little boy hugging a giant polar bear.
Putin looked away quickly, refocusing on the horizon and the task ahead. He flexed his fingers to relieve his aching throttle hand.
Betrayal, followed by disobedience. Pulpo Paul gave the order, then told him it was the only way. But what did he know?
Putin paused for a moment at that thought, then stopped himself from thinking too hard about it. Now was the time to be quiet and ride.
Mile after mile of the Ukrainian countryside passed in a blur while Putin gently hummed his favorite somber Lyube songs, like Davay Za.
“Heaven is covered by grey clouds/Nerves shake like guitar strings … They kill us, but we survive/And again move ourselves to a fight.”
He passed endless fields of wheat and barley, humble thatched-roofed farmhouses slouching upon them. The wind made his eyes blur with tears.
Putin began to sing the ballad Tam, Za Tumanami. “Blue sea, nothing but sea astern/Blue sea and we’re far from home,” then stopped.
The sign was gone in a flicker, but Putin knew what it said: Vvedennya Chornobylʹsʹkoyi Zony Vidchuzhennya.
More amber smudges of Ukranian countryside, more soul-stirring lyrics from the People’s Artist, Nikolay Rastorguyev. Grimly, Putin rode on.
He saw a small shack, its wooden siding turning grey and black, its corrugated metal roof rusting. Outside, a babushka slaughtered chickens.
Putin had heard of these defiant old crows, stubborn peasants who had refused to abandon their homes after the meltdown.
He’d read about one who told Soviet officials, “Shoot us and dig the grave; otherwise we’re staying.” Putin chuckled at such obstinacy.
He thought of his grandmother, stooped but still strong, generous with both the whipping switch and the candied potatoes, she …
Putin’s reminiscing collapsed as he realized his memories were lies. His childhood was merely the product of Dr. Antonosky’s mind control.
He felt a burst of rage, and then a wave of calm. He’d arrived. The Yunker idled before a rusting metal gate: Beyond it lay answers.
Beyond the gate was the sarcophagus encasing the Chernobyl reactor; somewhere within was the White Room, and the truth of Putin’s origins.