Week 81

Fifty-nine minutes later, all the Pals were assembled in the briefing room. One minute after that, Putin entered and took his seat.

The air was tense. The last time they sat here, many had feared Putin would disband the team. Everyone waited for the leader to speak.

For agonizingly long minutes he simply looked over a stack of papers in his hands. He carefully read and reread a number of them.

Snowy nervously picked fuzz from her fur, Black Ops stared at Pulpo Paul with his weird goat eyes, and C-4 gnawed on a tiny rubber clown.

Finally Putin looked up. He scanned the room, making eye contact with each Pal, and then began his briefing. “The end is near.”

“As you know, I formed this team without knowing the specifics of the threat we faced. The situation is clearer now.

“We face not one enemy but three: a secret cabal of the world’s elite, an alien empire both vast and ancient, and, finally, …” *THUD*

Everyone turned to the source of the interruption: C-4 had been so excitedly chewing her clown toy, she’d rolled off her chair!

The little pup yapped happily when she saw all the Pals looking at her. Murder Cat gently plucked her up and set her back in her place.

Putin stifled a smile. For a moment, C-4’s playful antics had provided a respite from the terrible gravity of the Putin Pals’ situation.

“As I was saying,” Putin continued, “Our first threat is the Order, an organization thousands of years old and unimaginably powerful.

“Its members are some of the most powerful people on earth—titans of industry, finance, and media—wealthy, ruthless masters of dark arts.”

As he spoke, Putin clicked through slides in a PowerPoint presentation projected behind him. Each one showed a known member of the Order.

A photo of Dick Cheney, then a star wipe transition, then a photo of robot scorpion Walt Disney, then a glitter transition, then Kanye West.

Finally, a giant question mark appeared on the screen. “Their leader’s identity is unknown. I’ve only seen references to ‘The Fetid Lord.’”

Putin paused, and Black Ops raised a hoof to ask a question. “What is the goal of the Order? What do they want?” Putin nodded.

“They want the same thing all powerful men want: more power. They long to see the Earth burned black, and all its creatures in chains.”

His words hung in the air like the sweet aroma of toilet bowl cleaner; the Order was both revolting and enticing to Putin’s brave warriors.

“I’ll pick my teeth with their bones!” Murder Cat growled. “I’ll eat them like tin cans!” retorted Black Ops. “Yap! Yap!” yapped C-4 gaily.

“So you will,” said Putin, proud of his fearless team. “But they were not always evil. In the beginning, the Order were liberators.

“I will tell you of their origin, and also the nature of the other threats we face.” He turned off the projector and began his story.

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