Week 87

Putin sat in the briefing room, surrounded by monitors, watching videos from every angle of the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp’s attack.

He was glad to focus on such a demanding task, instead of dwelling on yet another betrayal. C4! C4 had led Mantis straight to them!

“Technically, it was her fleas,” thought Pulpo Paul as he entered in his walking suit. Putin glowered and continued watching the videos.

“We should assemble the others for a debrief,” Paul thought. “They’ve received medical attention and a little rest.”

Putin did not look up from the monitor in front of him. “Snowy … .” He could not bring himself to think about her injuries.

“The War Bear has shown you her fighting spirit,” the octopus thought sternly. “She is a great warrior, who serves you and your Cause.

“Do not treat her like a pet.”

Putin winced, but he knew the octopus was right. “Fine,” he thought brusquely. “Call them for the debrief. Assemble here in thirty minutes.”

Singly or in pairs, the Pals made their way to the briefing room. Putin barely glanced up as they entered. The last to arrive was Snowy.

Putin looked at her, then quickly turned his head away. Naturally, she wore an eye patch now—as had Orso, the last time they met.

“She resembles her father even more now,” Putin thought bitterly. “But Orso …” Paul began, then stopped himself.

As they waited for the debrief to begin, the Pals noticed that C4 was not in the room. Murder Cat and Black Ops exchanged a glance.

Sending his thoughts out to the group, Pulpo Paul called the meeting to order. Putin cleared his throat and looked up at the assembled Pals.

“I’ll make this quick,” he said. “You have fought with great valor. You have defended the Fortress of Opulence from a surprise attack.

“You defeated the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp. But you did not defeat our real foe—Mantis. And now Mantis knows where to find us.

“I believe the kaiju was sent to test us, to gauge our strength. You fought bravely … but not well. Our casualties are unacceptably high.”

The Pals shifted uncomfortably in their seats, glancing uneasily at each other. They had done their best; what more could Putin want?

“I have studied the videos and identified each point of weakness. Starting tomorrow morning, we will redouble our training.

“We can have no vulnerabilities—not one! If Mantis is on the move, the Order will surely follow. And there is the Other, the Old One …

“Never again will Mantis and the Order join forces to fight this Great Terror—it is up to us, and us alone!

“When the Final Battle is over, it won’t matter if you fought with ‘heart’—the only thing that will matter is whether or not we have won.”

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