Putin rode north, stopping only to fill the Yunker with petrol. Gradually, he stilled his mind until the ride became meditation.
The fields of Ukrainian winter wheat stretched endlessly on either side of the highway, glowing golden in the setting sun.
“Nice place, the Ukraine,” thought Putin. “It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.” Again he stilled his mind, and rode on.
The lone figure on a motorcycle was the only one on the highway for hundreds of miles, but traffic picked up as he approached the Kara Sea.
He was pleased to see Gazprom company trucks coming and going as if the faux drilling platform—the entrance to his fortress— were real.
He parked the Yunker amid a rank of fake workers’ vehicles, climbed into the submersible, and began the descent.
When he emerged from the airlock below, he found Pulpo Paul waiting for him. Of course the psychic octopus had anticipated his arrival.
Paul saluted as smartly as his exoskeleton “walking suit” would allow. “Greetings, Sir,” he thought.
“War Bear Snowy is waiting in sick bay, and is prepared to tend to your wounds.”
Putin looked down at the gash on his arm where the old babushka had hit him with her scythe. The cut was still seeping a little green blood.
Other than that, the five old women had not done much damage. Putin looked about the receiving bay, and nearly smiled.
The Fortress of Opulence was finally complete, and it was perfect, in the way that things can be perfect. The Putin Pals, however …
The Pals had been disobedient—almost mutinous—but they were still his team, his agents, his troops for the Great Battle to come.
Perhaps perfection was too much to ask of them. Perhaps it was only he, Putin, who could achieve that high standard.
They would have to be punished—discipline was essential in any fighting force—but perhaps … suddenly he realized the octopus was listening.
“Thank you, Pulpo Paul,” Putin thought, addressing the psychic cephalopod formally, careful to keep his thoughts neutral.
“The wound is minor; it can wait. There are important things we must discuss. Assemble the team in the briefing room at once.”
“Aye, Sir!” the octopus thought, saluting again before moving off down the hallway to gather the Pals, creeping along in his walking suit.
Putin watched the cephalopod’s progress, and estimated he had an hour before the briefing: time to wash up and change his clothes.
As he walked to his quarters, thinking of the battle to come, he felt a calm assurance settle over him: The Putin Pals were ready.