No Country for Old Bears

From the Story Arc: Homecoming

Next Story in the Arc: Make-A-Wish by Re-Bear (Monday, June 24, 2019)

(posted Friday, May 24, 2019)

“And so our new turkey de-boning machine can process forty-two turkeys per minute, and only require two hours of downtime per day for maintenance, allowing for processing to go on for two-and-one-half shifts per day. Combined with our new “Talking Turkey” AI and automated feeder system, Vexman ProProcesors.”

The salesman stopped and smiled, waiting a beat before dropping his closing line. “I’m sure you have no workers that can match that kind of pace.”

Slam dunk. Jackpot.

A balding head and unfashionable glasses looked up from the product brochure. “Actually, we have one. He does forty-five chickens a minute and works eighteen hour days.” His boredom was palpable. “I’m not really sure if it’s worth spending…. How much was this again?”

The salesman looked uncomfortable, fumbling with the cap of his water bottle and taking a nervous swig. “The VPP 1572 with ‘Talking Turkey’ and the feeder system starts at 1.8 million per unit.”

The wood paneled conference room at McDaniel Poultry Processing went completely still. The salesman reached further into his bag of tricks. “But these units don’t sleep! Or eat! Or require benefits.”

The man in glasses smiled, yellow teeth gleaming in the fluorescent lights. “Or sexually harrass anyone?”

The salesman looked confused. “In all my years of B2B sales, I have never had a VPP 1572, or any other industrial machine we have produced, sexually harass anyone….”

Old grey heads around the table perked up, finally seeing where their president was going.

The tired man in glasses spoke once more, “We’ll take two. Mr. Deavers, please inform the forman that Pavel Polohkov’s services are no longer required.”

“The investors will be unhappy with the capital outlay,” he thought, “but it will be worth it to rid ourselves of that… man…”

***
Connie’s Place, just off Highway 212 in Paskow, Minnesota, looked like a stock photo of a country dive bar. In a vibrant city, a Spuds Mackenzie poster proclaiming him ‘the Original Party Animal’ would be a cute hipster touch, but at Connie’s it was part of the architecture, melded to the walls from the sweat and sadness .Forlorn men sat at their usual tables, despite it being eleven in the morning. At the end of the bar, in his usual stool, sat the most forlorn man in town.

Connie the bartender, owner, and bouncer of this establishment, dried and racked freshly washed pint glasses. She was average height, with dirty blond hair, and the tough skin of someone fond of tanning beds and Newport menthols. She would have been considered pretty once , but now she would best be described as ‘worn’. In fact, as she would tell anyone who would listen, she was the Soybean Princess of Red Eagle county in her youth, a bit of trivia never confirmed by the incurious residents of Paskow, but she kept a clean bar and didn’t take shit from anybody, which made her a de facto civic institution looking after the town’s sad sacks.

The man who had her attention that day was solidly built, with a good head of brown hair and a mustache that reminded her of a state trooper. He was usually boisterous, speaking in a loud funny accent from some godforsaken place in Eastern Europe. Even though Paskow was becoming a town of immigrants, it was still supremely foreign to hear his Slavic accent mix with the Spanish and Sudanese that were the standard in town.

“You seem rather down today, Pavel,” Connie rasped in her gravelly smoker’s wheeze, “you haven’t tried to make a pass at me yet, and you’re two beers in.”

“Connie,” Pavel said, baying like a hound, “It’s over! My life is over! I was let go from McDaniel’s today! They are replacing me with a machine! Sure it will work as hard as I do, but I gave that place life! Character!”

Connie smirked to herself. Character is probably what got the machines purchased. “Well Pavel,” she said in her soothingest voice, which, given the damage to her vocal cords over the decades, made her sound like an old vinyl record that skips, “I wouldn’t fight with the machines. John Henry did it for a day and it killed him.”

“Was he from Paskow or Red Eagle?”

Connie chuckled, “He was from out of state.”

“So what now, Connie? What can a man of my age and skills do? Can I work at your bar?”

Connie grimaced at the thought of the losses she would take having a booze sponge working the bar. “Well Pavel, I think you should go home and think really hard about what you love doing. If you love your job… If it gives you purpose and meaning... “

“Do you love your job, Connie? All you do is serve drinks to chronic alcoholics and get hit on by all the creeps here?”

“Well Pavel, first of all, you hit on me most of all, so don’t throw stones at other people. Second, Ever since Doc Olsen moved his clinic to Mankato, there really hasn’t been any mental health professionals in Paskow. I’m kind of an unlicensed therapist. And that makes me feel useful.”

Pavel nodded glumly.

She leaned over the bar, the top of her cleavage wrinkling like olld parchment. “You deserve to be happy Pavel. Be free. Try and do what you love above all else.”

***

Dear Pornhub,

My name is Pavel Polohkov and I want to get into your industry. I have admired your fine website for a number of years (sometimes admiring it several times a day!), I am very passionate about your company mission and values, and I am willing to do anything required to get my ‘foot in the door’.

I am not interested in being ‘on screen’ talent, but I believe I could be an excellent Pornograph Technician. I am unsure what kind of machine a Pornograph is (and I could not find any diagrams or usage manuals online), but in my previous job at McDaniel Turkey Processing, I was an assistant third-shift sanitary technician when we had to clean the de-boining machines.

My skills would be very applicable to your company:
-Can lift 800 lbs multiple times an hour
-Can type 5-10 words a minute
-Can butcher hogs, turkeys, and lambs by hand
-Can pass most drug tests

I hope you read my enclosed resume and reach out. You would never have a more dedicated employee working at your smuthouse.

-Pavel Polohkov
Paskow, MN

***
“Hey Pavel, you still look pretty glum.” Connie had never seen a sadder face walking into her bar. Every day Pavel seemed to be shrinking a little, shoulders slumped, face longer. She had some news that day that should cheer him up. “There was a lady in here looking for you earlier.”

Pavel perked up, his eyes alight with rakish delight. “Oh?” he asked expectantly.

“Yeah, said she was your daughter, but that can’t be right. She’s about the same age as you.”

“Oh….” Pavel turned as white as a sheet and seemed to deflate into the floor. “It’s a long story.”

“Anyway, I told her where your trailer is. She’s probably waiting for you.”
“Thanks, Connie…” Pavel’s voice trailed off as he turned around and headed back out the door.

“What does she want?” Pavel thought, rushing home at a pained leisurely pace. “If she wants to kill me, that’s fine. I’m done anyway. I have nothing: no job, no friends, no life. I should have just went down swinging when Paragon City got shut down. At least I was living then. Now.. Now… what am I?”

He approached his front door carefully, growing a single poison-tipped spine from his had. He had been cautious around his neighbors, never revealing he was an undocumented metahuman. However, if his daughter came to rumble, he’d at least take her out too.

Pavel pushed to door in quitely, and it screeched and scraped at its maximum possible volume. Stealth was no longer an option. “Sveta, by god, if you’re here to kill me, I will end you!”

“Oh please, if I was going to kill you I wouldn’t have introduced myself to half the town in your ramshackle bar looking for you.”

Her voice purred with energy, and the hair on Pavel’s arms stood on end. She hadn’t changed a bit: jet-black hair cut into a neat bob, round glasses, pencil skit and heels. The only obvious flaw were the three deep scars on her face from their first confrontation a decade ago, after the old Soviet Bear was murdered and Pavel woke up in a Crey cloning chamber.

“I came here,” she cooed, “to give you an opportunity.”

Pavel struggled to maintain his composure, but he had little else to lose. “I’m listening”

“How would you like to go back to Paragon City? To the old days?”

“Paragon has been decommissioned? Even if we got past the military, it’s a ghost town.”

Svetlana Pavlova Polohkova smiled. “I mean the old days in the most literal sense. 2012.”

“What are you getting at Sveta?”

“For the past ten years as a documented Meta, I have been working for uncle sam killing goat herders and nomads across the Middle East to make rich people, much richer than I, even more wealthy. There’s no challenge in that; the collective fist of America’s metahumans destroyed the handful of Muslim metas during the invasion of Iran. After that, it’s just breaking arms to break arms. I have done well for myself, financially, but I don’t want to be killing busloads of civilians until I die.

I found a former Portal Co scientist, built him a secret base under Aleppo and managed to smuggle a portal out of Peregrine Island. He has spent the last six years searching for a dimension that met my requirements. Last week he found one.”

Pavel staggered and leaned on his kitchen counter. His heart raced. “What requirements?”

“One where we were either dead or never born.”

“We?”

“Yes, I couldn’t let my arch nemesis rot in a moldy trailer while I relived the good old days. I’m this dimension I was never created by the Soviet government, Old Bear fell in the shower without his life alert bracelet, and you died of a fentanyl overdose during a drug lab explosion. I’m a new quantity and you, contrary to your sad, miserable life, were actually well remembered by people.”

“I’m in.”

“Plane leaves tomorrow from Souix Falls. Your ticket and a forged passport are on the kitchen table. We land in Baghdad, travel to Aleppo by rebel Jeep, you step on through while I clean up loose ends and we’re back where we belong. Good night, Father.”

Bejouled hovered on a pad of static electricity and brushed by Pavel, eager to leave the confines of his cheap trailer. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at the ticket and passport. He only had one more thing to do.

***

“Connie,

The good news is I found a new job, and it is something I love. I had to leave early without saying goodbye. For that I am sorry.

Thank you for being my only friend during this phase of my life, even though you were only doing it for the tips.

XOXOXO
Pavel”

Connie smiled and chuckled as she read it aloud. “You cheap asshole! You never tipped me!”

***

The Gorman Diner in King’s Row hadn’t changed a bit, probably because it was still 2012 in this particular dimension. Pavel walked back to his old booth, where a familiar “BEAR” was crudely carved into the side, an offense that got him banned for a month. Totally worth it. Made him feel like Fonzie.

“I would have liked to go to place with Chef Boyardee! He is famous chef! This is swill.” An old hoarse voice was shouting from his booth, thick with the accent of his old country.

“Try something new for a change…. Me… You… I’m so confused.”

It was Pavel’s voice! But younger. And weaker, like that puny nerd Eurkel! Pavel rushed to his booth. There he saw the aged body of his former self, encased in a metallic suit to keep the slow fission that powered his heart contained. Across from him was a funhouse reflection of himself: gaunt in the face, slender frame…. Glasses.

“Greetings?....” Pavel interjected, and both faces snapped to look at him.

“A curse on Lenin’s tomb! Now there’s three of us.” Old Bear pounded the table with his fist. “I am Pavel Andreivich Polohkov, Marshall of the Soviet Army, Hero of the Battle of Stalingrad!”

“And I am Igor Andreivich Polokhov... “ the Nerdy Bear said, “I am a clone of this… man.”

“And I am also Pavel Andreivich Polohkov!” Pavel thundered, “ But you can call me Re-Bear.” He muscled next to Igor and sat down.

“Well if he’s Bear and you’re Re-Bear, that makes me…”

“Pre-Bear. You’re the youngest one here.” Old Bear said, nodding sagely.

Igor bristled. “Wouldn’t the prefix ‘pre’ mean ‘come before’. Couldn’t I be Post-Bear?”

Old Bear’s eyes glowed with radioactive fury. “You could be Punched-In-Face-At-Diner-Bear.”

“Pre-Bear works fine, I guess.”

“So…” Pavel said, trying to cut the tension, “Are either of you from this dimension?”

“Nyet,” huffed Old Bear, “My daughter Svetlana told me about this place. Told me my containment field was failing, and she was worried her husband and kids were going to glow like Chernobyl if I didn’t go. So I went. Her cooking was terrible anyway.”

“And I,” piped up Igor, “was recommended I come here by my sister, Svetlana. I am a mutagen researcher, but most of my discoveries were patented before 2014. So an alternate dimension that can make my work relevant? Paradise! What about you… Re-Bear?”

“My daughter Svetlana told me to come here so she could murder me in single combat.”

There was an awkward silence at the table.

“So,” Igor sputtered, “Where are we going to live. I was thinking that since we’re the same person and all, it wouldn’t really be lying if one of us got a lease on an apartment and we all split the costs as roommates.”

“Sounds good, I have no money”

“And my Social Security checks are not coming in this dimension yet.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Pavel, reborn again as the Remarkable Re-Bear, proclaimed. “Sounds like a plan.