The man stood on the edge of the porch and looked out over the island. Even though it was a good ten degrees cooler up here, it was still hot. He was used to spending his time in that damned cave, not out here in the glorious abundance that was tropical Bora Bora. Before him, the island stretched out welcoming arms to the sea and the blue, green and near invisible waters of the Pacific rushed into them. He lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and studied the coast line. Not far from Vaitape, the large white cruise ship sat safely anchored beyond the reefs.
Christophe Pescadou was a man who knew what he wanted out of life and was prepared to pay whatever price it asked. He wanted to live in Paradise, that had been as easy as catching a freighter to the Society Islands. Who would notice one more Frenchman among the thousands already here? Pescadou wanted to be a rich man, that took a bit more doing, but thanks to his knack for survival, he'd become an expert at living. Pescadou wanted to become powerful, a general controlling the world, bending it to his particular brand of freedom He lit a cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs. Success was now a mere cigarette pack away.
Hot, sticky and damp, that's how Security Chief Ben Macdui would sum up his time in Tahiti. When he'd first been approached with this assignment, it had seemed like a dream come true. To bask in the warm sands and tropical breezes that the island afforded, not to mention being paid to do it -- well, who in their right mind would have said no? Now, he wondered, who in their right mind would have said yes. He swatted a mosquito that landed upon his neck.
His radio crackled to life and he stepped down the dock a few feet away from the shade cover to take the call. No use disturbing the few passengers that were waiting for the tender.
"Chief, is there any sign of that last tour? The Captain's getting itchy to depart."
"I radioed the driver, but didn't get a response. I sent Davey and Jeff after them, just to make sure they weren't in an accident and we've lost contact with them as well. I'm thinking it has something to do with that downed cell tower from the typhoon yesterday."
"Listen, the minute you hear from them, let us know."
"Roger that," he said, clicking the radio's switch off.
A noise drew Pescadou's attention from the cruise ship back towards the cave. A lab-coated scientist approached, clipboard in hand, his step slowed by the humidity and heat of the air outside the cave. His gasmask hung loosely about his neck and he looked slightly flushed at the sight of the ever present lit cigarette in Pescadou's fingers
"Are you through with the latest volunteers?" He dropped the cigarette to the plank flooring of the porch and snuffed it out with the toe of his flip flop. Whoever would imagine you could be poised for world domination and still be wearing casual footwear? It was just proof, yet again, that God has a wicked sense of humor.
"We are, sir, but most of them are pretty much wiped clean, especially the Professor. He's just this side of being a vegetable now. Still, it was worth it for what we retrieved. What should we do with them?"
"Put them back on their bus and send them back to the ship. I have a little something arranged that will take care of the problem." The lab tech started to leave, but the voice of his superior stayed his foot steps. "And those two security officers - what about them?"
"We're just about to start testing, sir. You might want to avoid the cave for the next couple of hours - it will likely get loud."
"Thank you, Murdock, I will do just that."
"You're welcome, Mr. Pescadou."
Even though Macdui loathed to admit it, he was starting to get concerned about his security detachment. Usually those guys were pretty Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to reporting in. The fact that they'd been gone for nearly two hours was screaming volumes to him. Maybe they'd stopped off at Bloody Mary's again.
The sound of an arriving tender brought his attention back around. Because it was one of the last tenders of the day, it was empty except for a few ship's personnel.
"We're here to pack up, Chief," said Billie Price as she stepped from the small boat. She'd been with the cruise line for years, worked her way up to full fledged cruise director and yet always managed to make each one seem like her first. Full of laughter, joie de vivre and good cheer, she could make any burden twice as light and Macdui grinned, glad to have her on deck.
"You're singing me a love song, Billie, me girl."
Pescadou lifted the binoculars back to his eyes and smiled tightly. A small boat, what did they call them...tenders...was on it way from the ship to the shore. As the day grew later, the little boats grew less and less frequent. He knew that the captain would soon be eager to get away. It was time to move.
Without dropping the binoculars, he felt for and then brought a small walkie talkie to his mouth. "Blue team, stand by, the boat is about to make land."
Some sort of nonsense crackled back to him, but he didn't waste the energy to decipher it. His men knew what to do and the consequences if they failed.
"And they won't fail, will they, Angel?" He looked over at the woman in the wheelchair, her breath wheezing as air was pumped in and out of her failing lungs. Her eyes, usually distant and cloudy, flicked at him and grew fearful as he lit yet another cigarette. "For they shall learn, just as you did, what it means to disappoint me."
His eye caught movement upon the road and a rumbling announced the arrival of the missing tour vehicle. Macdui took a deep calming breath and muttered a prayer in his native Gallic. "Finally, that thing is overdue by two hours."
He watched as the passengers struggled stiffly from the vehicle and grimaced in agreement. Any amount of time on that torture device, affectionately known as Le Truck, usually rendered the same reaction. A combination between a truck and a jitney, long benches ran down the length in the middle of the rear beds of the vehicles, rock hard and with no suspension, it guaranteed a teeth-jolting ride. Still it was cheap, fairly reliable and definitely colorful, just what most cruise passengers were looking for in local color.
"Tell you what, instead of making these passengers wait, go ahead and take them over. Send a last tender for us and we'll have everything packed and ready to load by then."
"Gottcha, boss," The Filipino saluted and grinned from his position at the pilot's seat. How he managed to still be of good humor always amazed Macdui. No matter how many trips he made back and forth at the wheel of the ship tender, he was always ready with a smile and good natured joke for passenger or crew.
"Cruise cards, out and ready, ladies and gentlemen," requested Macdui as the group lumbered onto the dock. He spotted one of his favorite passengers among them and wandered over to him. "Have a nice day, professor?"
"Hmmph." The man fairly well ignored him, but that didn't put Macdui off any more than to move away from the man and leave him in peace. Not surprisingly, the entire group seemed exhausted beyond words. They moved like automatons through the line. He'd seen that look before - one tour too many, one tour too long or both. The cruise would be over soon and these folks looked like they were going to need another just to rest up from this one.
The last passenger boarded, along with a couple more returning crew men headed back to the ship, and Macdui threw the tether lines off and watched as the boat moved away from the dock.
Pescadou watched the small boat pull free from the dock and start its ten minute journey back to the cruise ship. Even though the tenders could travel much faster, this one was puttering along as a slow 10 knots or so he estimated. After all, it wouldn't do to unsettle the passengers.
"Give them five more minutes and then detonate.
"Now, we just have to find our missing security detail before the last tender gets here," Macdui muttered as he hefted a nearly empty water jug from the table down to rest on the dock. He reached for his radio and tried again. "Security dispatch 5, report. We have the missing tour group. If you are receiving this, please return to base. Repeat, Dispatch 5, return to base." \
Around him, other crew personnel were gathering up chairs, tables, stands, everything they needed to make sure their passengers were as comfortable as possible. They had done this so many times that it was merely rote by now. Every port it was the same routine coming and going. Just once, he wished something exciting would happen to break up the monotony.
"Whoever thought that I would start to find Tahiti monotonous?" He asked the woman beside him and Billie laughed at his comment.
"You forget, mate, for us it's just work and no matter where you go or by what name you refer to it, work is work."
"Aye, isn't that the truth?"
He'd barely gotten the last word out when a sizable explosion split the air, sending a cascade of sea water and debris up into the air that then rained down upon the dock. Where the tender had been, there was nothing but churning water. The entire boat had exploded.
On the dock, people scrambled for safety to avoid being hit. Billie shrieked as a sizable chunk of something knocked her from her feet. When she realized it was a leg, her screaming became louder.
Macdui pushed the limb away from her and huddled over her while more god-knows-what fell from the sky. He fumbled with his radio and in his haste, he nearly dropped it. "Attention, Valkyrie, there's been an accident, repeat, there's been an accident." Even as the plastic seat hit him, severing his spine, he had to think that accident was the wrong word - this was murder.
New York City
January in New York City, what a bleak time it was. The excitement of the holidays had given way to the depression of the lack of parties and the abundance of over-due credit card bills. The city was gray, slushy, bitterly cold and seemingly angry at itself. It didn't surprise Napoleon Solo that the crime rate always seemed to escalate in January. He was feeling rather aggressive and prone to violence himself these dark days, although he'd admit that it might have more to do with the pile of paperwork upon his desk than the actual month of the year.
He was wandering down the hot line in the cafeteria and glanced around the room as he waited his turn to be served. There were a scattering of people at various tables, but no one that he particularly felt like facing at the moment. Even his normally sagacious mood was dampened by the dreariness outside.
"Are you going to be eating here, Mr.Solo?" The woman's voice cut its way into his thought and Napoleon shook his head.
"No I'd better take it back to my desk, Betty, my treasure. If I don't get those reports filed soon, the Old Man will have me planting explosive tulips in the Antarctic."
"Now there's a mental picture that I shall relish." Napoleon glanced behind him to see his partner walking up to him and Napoleon grinned. "Good morning, Napoleon, or rather, should I say, good afternoon?"
"How about saying hello instead? Where have you been all morning?"
"I had to go down to the range and qualify and then have a couple upgrades performed on my equipment." Illya frowned at the selections before him. "What's good today, Betty?"
"The sole if you're feeling brave, the chicken and stew if you're not, but for you, I'd recommend the curry, the kidney pie or the hot pot."
"Which will it be then?
"All three, of course."
"Illya, if your metabolism ever catches up with you, it'll beat you senseless." Napoleon glanced down at the rather meager portions on his own platter. He, unlike his partner, had to be mindful what he ate these days. Too much of anything went right to his waist if he wasn't careful and Napoleon Solo was a very careful man.
"Then I shall simply keep outrunning it." Illya accepted the food-laden tray and lead the way to a small table. As he was reaching for the pepper, Napoleon caught a whiff of something different about his partner, a strange scent that seemed out of place.
"Don't take this the wrong way, my friend, but you smell...different this morning."
"Durhum coerced me into testing one of their newest inventions - hallucinogenic shampoo. It was quite the experience." He ran a hand through his hair. "I don't care much for the scent though - a little too spicy for my taste."
"And is that why there's a bruise on your neck?"
"They didn't know it would be equally effective upon both the tester and subject." Illya began to season his curry. "Check this out." He put down the pepper shaker and offered Napoleon his communicator. "Let me have yours."
Napoleon obligingly passed his over while accepting his partner's. Illya twisted open the instrument and pressed a button.
"Now, watch this." Instead of the usual on/off blat, the communicator began to vibrate in Napoleon's hand. He looked at Kuryakin and then back down at the instrument. "It's just what you need when that beeping signal is awkward. Now you have a choice. It takes about ten minutes to upgrade." He offered Napoleon's back to him and after a long moment, the communicators exchanged hands once again.
Illya had just lifted a forkful of curry to his mouth when the loudspeaker above his head crackled to life. The sudden silence in the room was deafening as everyone listened, breath held in anticipation.
"Agents Hawthorne, Jenkins, and McDonald report to Medical."
Immediately, conversation started up again and both agents returned to their food, eating rapidly, not so much due to hunger as necessity. A dainty agent often was a hungry one. True to form, they were just finishing up when the loudspeaker crackled to life again.
"Agents Solo and Kuryakin report to Mr. Waverly's office."
"Saved by the bell," Illya said, rising. At Napoleon's questioning look, he continued. "I was scheduled for a bout of mental conditioning this afternoon. Always unpleasant at best, but Bennett's still a bit angry about the last go round we had together. I didn't mean to punch him. Well, I did, but I most sincerely didn't mean to break his nose. He should know better than to grab an agent at this point in the game"
"It's not me you have to convince, but a word to the wise. They are not good folks to have annoyed with you." Napoleon led the way from the cafeteria to Waverly's office, a matter of just a few minutes. "They can make life very unpleasant."
"Don't I know it," Illya muttered as they approached Waverly's secretary.
"How is he, Carol?" Napoleon asked and she shook her head slowly.
"Pretty grim today, I'd play it close to the cuff if I were you. There may be trouble at home and we just lost a field office." She handed Illya his jacket, not even garnering the bat of an eye from the Russian as to how it found its way to her. "Your tie, Napoleon, it's crooked." She studied them for a long moment. "And he has a guest, so be on your best behavior, Mr. Solo."
"Notice how she never had to warn me," Illya murmured quietly as he adjusted the collar of his shirt and tie.
"Yes, but who wants to die a gentleman," Napoleon answered back, his hands doing a quick inspection of the rest of his suit.
A few adjustments and they walked determinedly into the office of UNCLE's No, 1 Section 1. Waverly saw them enter and gestured towards the large circular table that took up so much of the room.
A woman already was seated at it and looked as if she was suffering a mixture of confusion, shock and disbelief. Napoleon immediately smiled at her and held her eyes for a long moment. Under his gaze, she started to visibly relax and Napoleon vowed that he would never use his power to the detriment of mankind.
Illya merely nodded tightly in her direction and, sitting, immediately reached for the file folder before him, his reading glasses already perched upon his nose to start prepping for this assignment.
To Napoleon, however, that was like reading the end of a murder mystery first. He wanted to savor that moment of the unknown until Waverly shared it with them. He also knew that whatever was in the folder, they couldn't hold a candle to this woman. It wasn't that she was exceptionally handsome, more commonplace. Brunette hair cut into a page boy style closely hugged mahogany skin, a minimum of makeup enhanced rather than distracted from her natural beauty, and a quiet air of reservation enveloped her. That was Napoleon Solo's favorite type of woman to romance.
The sound of Waverly's voice, gruff and harsh, brought him away from the woman to his superior. "I don't care how you do it, Mr. Slade, just do it! And be good enough to bring Miss Dancer back in one piece as well." Waverly toggled the switch off and reached for his pipe. He stuffed it and lit it, taking several calming puffs before looking up and seeing Napoleon and Kuryakin as if for the first time. For a moment, it looked as if the man was confused as to why they were even there and then it was gone. He took his place at the table and spun it. Napoleon snatched up his copy of the file at the last minute, several cruise brochures taking its place before him.
"Planning on taking the missus upon a cruise, sir?" Napoleon asked. He might as well get the obvious out of the way first.
"She'd like that," Waverly said, as if the idea had never occurred to him before Napoleon mentioned it. "However that will have to wait until after this nastiness is dealt with. Miss Hanna Kenward was good enough to bring this issue to our attention."
Napoleon picked up the top brochure and began to flip through the pages. He loved the water, always had, even to the point of keeping a small sail boat. He didn't get to sail as much as he'd like, mostly due to his job and position with the organization, but it didn't diminish the pleasure when he did.
"Have either of you hear of Goddess Cruise Lines?"
Napoleon glanced over at his partner who had pulled his glasses off and now held them in his hands. He shook his head at Napoleon, an oddity in itself. There was very little the Russian didn't know about, but this was really not an every day request of them. 'Not really, sir," Napoleon answered for them both. "Cruises are a little out of my price range."
"The screen, if you will, gentlemen?"
A large cruise ship, gleaming white, filled the black void, obviously a promo shot with brilliant blue skies and crystal seas surrounding it.
"This is the Norwegian Valkyrie. It's registered in Bermuda and was recently purchased by the Goddess Cruise Company. Prior to this, she was the Birmingham registered to P & O out of Australia. She's been commissioned for ten years, making her still fairly young in ship terms." Waverly hit a toggle and the slide changed. It was the same ship, but a different angle, this time anchored outside a tropical port.
"Papeete, Tahiti, gentlemen, is where she is currently assigned. She is approximately halfway through her contract and is due to sail there for another three years exclusively in the region." Waverly abandoned the controller for a file folder. "Everything was normal up until about six months ago when some unexplained incidents started occurring that have escalated into nothing short of horrific. The first incident was a young woman, on her honeymoon, who apparently went overboard during the ship's passage from one island to the next. It appeared to be nothing more than a regrettable misfortune, a combination of too much alcohol and overwrought emotions.
"Two weeks later, a family of five went missing while on shore at Bora Bora. Only the youngest member of the group, a six-month child, was ever recovered still alive, in a drainage ditch by the side of a road. Then, a month ago, a tour bus went through a guard rail. All 14 passengers, some locals and some ship passengers, were killed in the resulting crash. Upon investigation, it was learned that the driver had had his license revoked due to alcohol, but had failed to disclose that fact to the tour company or the cruise line. He was also killed in the accident.
"Finally, most recently and perhaps the most sobering, one of the ship's tenders exploded while en route to the ship, a total of 47 people lost."
"Pardon me for interrupting, sir, but hasn't the cruise line investigated these occurrences? While the loss of life is always regrettable, I am uncertain as to our involvement in all of this." Illya dropped his glasses onto his copy of the report. His brow furrowed in thought, he obviously was trying and failing to make connections.
"Indeed they have, Mr. Kuryakin, as have the local agencies, the maritime authorities and the FBI. In each case, the cruise line has come through in the clear. Each incident was attributed to something other than negligence of equipment or duty. The incidents have nothing in common with each other except the cruise line and their occurrence upon Bora Bora."
"It might not be the cruise line that is the culprit in this, but someone using them as a convenient cover," Napoleon suggested. "Have the local authorities confronted the local authorities?'
"Very succulently put, Mr. Solo and they are reluctantly cooperating."
"Why reluctantly, sir?"
"They're French, Napoleon, do they need another reason?" Illya asked, reaching for a brochure. "The French government is notorious for keeping things to themselves and the fact that these accidents happened within their jurisdiction means they would prefer to not answer anyone else's questions or adhere to anyone else's rules."
"I was under the impression that Tahiti had seceded from French rule a few years ago."
"The French government is still pouring billions into their economy. Any country with that sort of dependency is not free, Napoleon." Illya turned his attention from his partner back to Waverly as the older man started to speak again.
"It wasn't until Miss Kenward was approached by a company, offering her considerable compensation if she would let the matter drop."
For the first time, the woman actually spoke, her voice soft. "I wanted to know more than the usual, 'gee we're sorry he's dead' story that all the victims' survivors were being given, so I started to poke around a little. I uncovered that stuff that Mr. Waverly told you about and then I started getting these strange phone calls, advising me that for my health, it would be good to drop the matter. I was about to go to the police when I received this." She placed a sheet of paper upon the table and Waverly spun the top until it sat in front of Napoleon. Illya rose to look over his partner's shoulder as he read the paper.
"Needless to say, she contacted us immediately," Waverly said, leaning back in his chair to puff quietly upon his pipe.
"The Homeopathic Remedy Unit of Social Health wishes to take this opportunity to offer its sincerest condolences upon the death of your brother," Napoleon read aloud. "He was an intricate part of our company and his presence will be keenly missed. We would, at this point like to present to you what we feel is a most generous gift of...whoo, how many zeros is that? Eight?"
"Too many. This is a rather heavy-handed attempt at bribery," Illya said softly, squinting slightly, rather than putting his glasses back on.
"I was going to throw it out, thinking it was one of those gimmicks that you get in the mail. I mean who mails that kind of check in regular first class mail? Registered, I might have thought more about it. My mom called and we started talking and I was doodling." Indeed, the paper was decorated with doodles, drawings, scribbles made while waiting upon the phone. Each capital letter had been colored in and they spoke louder than words - THRUSH. "When I saw that, it reminded me of something that I'd read. A little more digging and I'd found out as much about THRUSH as I could stomach. There is no way that Malcolm would have had anything to do with that organization. He drove a tender for a cruise line and loved it. Why would someone do this?"
"If we are to take this at face value, it would appear that our friends have decided to branch out into the pharmaceutical field once again. However, this strikes me as oddly out of character for them." Illya took the paper from Napoleon and studied it more closely, finally succumbing to need and putting on his glasses for a second time. "This has been dusted for prints?"
"Of course, but Section 3 could find nothing except for Miss Kenward's. That in itself is suspicious. If this was indeed a legitimate company, that sheet of paper would likely have been handled by a half dozen people at least."
"Agreed," Illya muttered and removed the paper from its protective plastic sleeve. He then sniffed the paper and started coughing. "Excuse me," he half said, half coughed, digging out a handkerchief from a pocket. He wiped his nose and then his eyes.
Napoleon took the sheet from him and sniffed. The paper did have a strange smell to it that immediately conjured up race cars in his mind. However, it didn't have the same effect upon him as if did his partner, who was rubbing his eyes and clearing his throat.
"Are you all right, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly watched the younger man carefully as Kuryakin nodded.
"Has that paper has been tested thoroughly by the labs?" Illya held up his hand as Napoleon offered it back to him. "Within the plastic sheet, if you will please, Napoleon, and seal it."
"Perhaps it would behoove the labs to go over the paper more completely, sir." Napoleon slid the paper back into its protective sheet and taped it shut. Even then, the Russian took it with reluctance.
"See to it, Mr. Kuryakin. Babysit it if you feel the need until you are certain that all has been done to your satisfaction." He gestured toward the sheet of paper. "According to our sources, there is no direct THRUSH involvement. Some of this information has been gathered at tremendous loss of life and must therefore be taken at face value. There is nothing to directly connect THRUSH to this operation, yet at the same time, we have that."
"That makes absolutely no sense, sir," Napoleon said, lowering his gaze to the table, thinking furiously, his forefinger tapping a staccato beat on the table top. "Why implicate THRUSH if they aren't involved. I refuse to believe it's an accident. An attempt to gain their attention like this could have deadly results. Why raise a red flag like that unless it's an attempt to draw us in as well?"
"This conversation has suddenly taken a nasty turn," Illya said. "This is a deliberate act of counter espionage, to drag us into a THRUSH confrontation? That can't end well for any party involved. And there's still the matter of the cruise line. If you want pit to UNCLE against THRUSH, why wage your war with innocents? We do battle with them on every continent almost continuously. All one has to do is be patient." He gave the woman an uneasy smile. "The hazards of our job, as it were." She nodded back to him.
"Perhaps because they know to what ends we'll go to protect said innocents," Napoleon suggested. "THRUSH might not have a problem with it, but I most certainly do."
Mr. Waverly cleared his throat and leaned forward, toggling up a switch. Immediately, his secretary appeared.
"Would you be so good as to escort Miss Kenward to Reception 3 please?"
"Of course, this way please." The woman rose, as did all three of the men, and started to leave the room.
"I just want to say thank you for trying to help, Mr. Waverly. Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated."
She left quietly and both men returned their focus to their superior. "What I failed to mention, gentlemen, was this, There were very few survivors upon the dock, but one woman reported that the passengers were extremely late reporting back and when they did return, they were in a dazed state. When two missing security guards were found later that day, they were also in a similar trance like state. Nothing has been able to penetrate that condition."
"Mind control? Now that's more to THRUSH's style."
"We can't be sure, Mr. Solo, but this has gone beyond mind control. These men have had their minds wiped clean. They do not eat, they do not drink, and they do not even appear to have anything but the most basic of bodily functions. At this time, it is impossible for us to determine if that is the intent of THRUSH's plot or simply a side effect. You can well understand the severity of the situation. The cruise line is currently preparing to have a major crew transfer. Some 20 new staff members will be brought on board. You and Mr. Kuryakin will be among them. Your nautical expertise has made you both the most likely candidates for this assignment, I'm sorry."
"Quite right," Napoleon said. If he was in Waverly's shoes, he'd not have wanted anyone else on this and he certainly wouldn't want to go into something like this without his partner at his back. That would be suicide.
"Miss Kenward has been booked upon the next cruise, traveling as a wealthy socialite. Mr. Kuryakin, we have secured a position for you as an assistant to the entertainment director. You, Mr. Solo will work as an assistant to the cruise director. These positions will permit you the greatest amount of freedom on board the ship and will allow you to mix with freely both passengers and crew. While the cruise line will be aware of your presence, it is of the utmost imperative that you remain well entrenched. Trust no one but yourselves. And, Mr. Solo, it will be wise for you to remember that there is a strict no romance policy between crew and passengers."
"Poor Napoleon, all those lovely tropical ladies and you with your motor out of the water - what is the world coming to?" Illya barely managed to repress his smile as he tucked his glasses back into his jacket pocket.
"Your plane leaves in two days time, gentleman, please see that you are in attendance. The necessary materials are being delivered to your offices as we speak. Review them and be efficient in your new capacities. You will not only find, but eliminate any THRUSH connection and defuse the situation. Mr. Kuryakin, I will expect a complete lab report from you as well, after your visit with Section 6, of course."
Illya barely managed to suppress a groan and Napoleon grinned over at his partner. "All work..."
"Dismissed, gentlemen." Waverly turned his back to them and reached for a stack of file folders. He waited until his office was clear and after a moment, he leaned forward and picked up a telephone. "Section 6 please, Dr. Bennett, please." There was a brief pause and then the necessary exchange of pleasantries. "Dr. Bennett, I believe that Mr. Kuryakin is scheduled to undergo a routine mental conditioning this afternoon. Am I safe to assume that Mr.Solo has already been given level Twelve clearance, Doctor? Then perhaps it is time to take Mr. Kuryakin to level Twelve as well, Doctor. Yes, I will take all the necessary responsibility. Thank you."
En route Papeete to Huahine
Napoleon Solo waltzed easily with Hanna Kenward, despite the shifting dance floor beneath his feet. The dance floor wasn't large, but it was well attended at the moment. An hour or so before the scheduled show started, the ship provided dance music and Napoleon was delighted to discover that one of his jobs was to act as a partner for any lone woman who wanted to take a turn upon the floor. As he spun the woman, he glanced towards the back of the ship and spotted his partner. The Russian was sitting behind a spot light, substituting for a sick crew member tonight. He had a headset dangling around his neck, awaiting the signal that the show was ready to start. He appeared to be lost in thought. Napoleon knew it was the furthest thing from the truth and that Illya, like himself, was studying the show room and cataloging the passengers and any crew present.
Initially, Napoleon was more than a little concerned about the condition of his partner than any of the actual duties that he was to perform in his new role as assistant cruise director. The Russian had looked definitely unwell when he'd stumbled back into their shared office after his go round with Bennett. He didn't look much improved the following morning when he turned up for his appointment with the Section 6 undercover wizards. However, Illya had remained tight lipped about the experience and Napoleon knew that to push harder would make the Russian clam up even further. If Illya wanted to talk, it would be on his own terms in his own time.
Napoleon knew from personal experience that the necessity of mental conditioning involved an unpleasant stripping of self-control and self-placed barriers, leaving one feeling exposed and compromised. It was harder for the Russian, as private a man as he was, to suffer these humiliations and he frequently dealt with them by shutting down completely. Yet, even with that accepted, the man seemed oddly disturbed, almost stunned in Napoleon's opinion. Had time not been of the essence, he'd have had a little chat with Bennett.
However, by the time the plane touched down in Tahiti, Illya appeared back to normal or as normal as they both could be in their present situation. To be undercover meant to purposefully let go of regular habits and routines. Napoleon had noted that Illya had switched to using his left hand to write with and was a bit more gregarious than usual. Napoleon reined in his natural proclivities towards the opposite sex and tried to appear more reserved and serious, a very difficult task for the normally loquacious agent.
Their first few hours on board the ship had been a whirlwind of activity as they were shifted from one orientation meeting to the next in an attempt to bring all of them up to speed for their jobs. There had been a flurry of paper signing, material gathering and a hurried attempt to unpack before rushing to their first on-board assignment.
The ship was, in spite of its previous record, sailing full and there was just about every class, race and background stuffed into the cabins. Naturally, he'd been on the look out for Hanna Kenward, but it had proved an impossible task. Instead he'd found her in the main lounge after the first dinner seating, looking sad and a little alone until he'd swept her off her feet literally and onto the dance floor.
"You're a lovely dancer, Mr... um," Hanna pulled back a little to read the name tag Napoleon wore on his uniform jacket. "Lee from Canada. Is that short for something?"
"Napoleon," he whispered softly and the reaction was immediate. She'd stiffened in his arms as she realized this was one of the two men responsible for keeping her safe. "Keep dancing, you're not supposed to know me."
"I didn't, I don't. Boy, do you look different from when we met in New York."
"Tell me about it," he dipped her gently and pulled her back up with a practiced motion. "If you think I'm bad, wait until you see Illya."
"He's here? I've been looking all day for the two of you."
"Check out the spot light on your left."
She swirled in his arms and glanced towards the back of the room. With the lights still up in the lounge, the area in front of the sound booth was easy to see.
"No, it can't be. That guy doesn't even remotely look like him and I'm pretty good with faces."
"He's part chameleon, didn't they tell you that?"
The dance ended and he escorted her back to her seat as the band cranked up with "In the Mood." He settled back into his position to one side of the dance floor, hoping that his respite was just a little more than a few seconds long this time. Once a woman had found out there was a single and decidedly handsome young man ready and willing to dance with her, his time off the dance floor was measured in mere moments.
There was a clearing of a throat and Napoleon glanced over and into the face of his cruise director and immediate boss, Billie Price.
"I trust you haven't been bored this evening, Lee" she said, pleasantly enough. Since they couldn't very well go sailing onto the ship with their own names, Napoleon had fallen back upon one of his childhood nicknames. It was taking a bit of effort to remember his new moniker and even more to remember Illya's.
"I am never bored when there are beautiful women in attendance." He offered his arm to Price and she took it with a laugh. "Ms. Price, shall we show them how it's done?"
Napoleon trudged back towards the cabin to which they'd been assigned. When he'd first seen it, he was aghast. He had a closet back in his penthouse apartment that was larger than the entirety of the room. He was about to complain when Illya pointed out that first, the amount of time that they would be there at the same time would be limited to mostly sleeping and, secondly, most of the crew had to deal with four to a cabin, not just two.
Napoleon walked into the tiny bathroom and nearly jumped at the reflection in the mirror. He still wasn't used to the new look he was sporting, but he did know one thing. He reached for the small contact lens holder. It was going to feel great to get the colored lenses out of his eyes. A few moments and a pair of hazel irises replaced the blue ones of a few minutes ago. His hair was cut short on the sides, longer on the top and lightened considerably - he ran a hand through it and sighed. It always developed a mind of its own when exposed to sea air and he resigned himself to the more casual look.
He ran a hand over the stubble on his face, his fingers lingering for just a moment upon his chin, no longer cleft, but smooth and more square, thanks to an injection that Section 6 assured him was harmless and not permanent. It felt like he had a rock in there now. With just these few changes, he looked an entirely different man.
He was standing in front of an impossibly small sink, brushing his teeth, when he heard the cabin door being wrestled opened. He froze until he identified the figure trudging by as that of his partner and then went back to the business at hand.
Like Napoleon, the Russian had suffered through his own series of make-over changes, the foremost being the loss of much of his hair. It was cut very short, even shorter than when Illya had first joined UNCLE, and darkened until it was almost black. His skin tone had been darkened slightly and like Napoleon, he'd not been able to keep his own eye color. They were dark brown now. It was disconcerting for them both when they had locked eyes for the first time.
The Russian didn't move from his narrow bunk as Napoleon stepped carefully over the bathroom door's threshold and back into the main body of the cabin, such as it was. With anyone else, it would have felt claustrophobic, but he was so attuned to Illya's presence that it was if he was still alone.
"All yours," Napoleon said, turning down the blanket and top sheet of his own bunk. He moved back to the tiny closet to remove and hang his uniform pants. Unlike his partner, whose outfit consisted of a dark blue polo shirt and loose fitting khaki shorts, Napoleon's was more traditional, white slacks, a uniform shirt and jacket. Thankfully, unlike his partner, he was mostly regulated to interior venues and could take advantage of the air conditioning.
"Yes, but what I lack is motivation." He yawned hugely. "...well, motivation and strength...well, motivation, strength and sheer will. Did you make contact with our dear Miss Kenward?"
"She danced with me for about half an hour before I finally told her who I was."
"She asked me directions to that main dining room and there was not a hint of recognition. Perhaps this will be worth the indignities that we are suffering." His hand went to his head and he grimaced. "Or maybe not."
"Speaking of such, you can't sleep with those lenses in, you know."
"I know." Illya managed to sit up after a second attempt and dropped his feet to the floor. "I have been all over this ship today, both officially and unofficially. Word to the wise, they don't like non-engineers down in engineering."
"Nothing I couldn't handle." Illya set his communicator and watch upon the tiny nightstand they shared. "From experience, I know that's usually a good place to start looking for trouble, but I'm going to need to get in good with them first down there. Do we have any sort of time frame to work with on this?"
"Waverly said as long as it took, but considering how the incidents have been accelerating, I'm thinking it might be sooner rather than later since we have added our delightful Miss Kenward into the mix."
"That's the sense I've been getting as well, although whoever is behind this might also want to lay low for a time. It will all depend upon how anxious they are to achieve whatever they are attempting to achieve." Illya stripped off his shirt and tossed towards a spot they'd designated for dirty laundry. Shirtless, he headed for the bathroom.
"So besides tired, how are you feeling?"
"The headache's gone, if that's what you mean." The sharpness of the response meant he had no intention of allowing Napoleon to pursue that line of questioning and Napoleon let it drop. Illya disappeared into the restroom and Napoleon listened to the rumble of the engines, letting it lull him into a near trance-like state. Sleep was just a moment away when suddenly Illya was back into the cabin and rooting through his partially-unpacked suitcase. The movement snapped Napoleon out of his languid state and back into focus. "Problem?"
"I knew there was something I was forgetting." He pulled something out from beneath his socks and moved to Napoleon's side, switching on the small reading lamp there. "Here. Section 8 sends their regards." He offered him a gold ring, the tiger eye topaz set in its center catching the light as he passed it over.
Napoleon had to squint in the low light to see the detail of the ring. "What's this? Are we formally engaged?"
"Section 8 whipped up a little something for us to keep track of each other. That ring is tuned to my communicator, just as yours is tuned to this. " He held up a small medallion dangling against the dark hair upon his chest and regarded it for minute. "It's St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes - I'm sure that gave them a good chuckle down there."
"You have to forgive them; they don't get out much." Napoleon removed his usual ring and replaced it with the new one. "Why two different pieces?"
"They thought it would attract less attention if we were captured. Two men bunking together and wearing the same piece of jewelry might be misconstrued, but we should be okay with these." Illya striped off the rest of the way, slid into his bunk and turned off the light - immediately the room was plunged into absolute darkness. If Kuryakin said anything to him after that, Napoleon was unaware of it - he was already asleep.
Napoleon blinked sleepily for a moment and tried to figure out what woke him. It took a full minute for him to realize he wasn't in his apartment, but in a cramped cabin on board the Norwegian Valkyrie. And then it dawned upon him that the engines were quiet. They must be at anchor. A quick check of his watch told him that he had almost three more minutes before the alarm was due to go off. He canceled it and glanced over to his right in the dim light that their tiny porthole allowed in. His partner was sprawled out upon his stomach, breathing deeply and evenly, still very much asleep. As much as he'd have loved to drift back to sleep himself, Napoleon knew that the day ahead was calling to him, as was Nature.
There was no way to be quiet in this small space, so he went about business as usual. When he came out of the bathroom, still toweling his damp hair, Illya had managed to roll over, but that was the extent of it.
"Wakey, wakey, sweet Prince." Napoleon shook a foot as he passed. The Russian muttered something in French that was physically impossible and Napoleon grinned. He looked out the port hole and shook his head. "Looks like there is going to be a ship load of very unhappy passengers this morning."
"Meaning?" Illya's voice was still thick with sleep.
"As they used to say back home, it's raining cats and dogs out." Napoleon dressed quickly. "When does your shift start?
"Four more hours," Illya said, running his hand through his hair and frowning, remembering recent events. "Why did they have to cut it this short? I had more hair when I was born than I do now. What about you?"
"I'm on in," Napoleon quickly checked his watch, "45 minutes, so I'll see you around the ship, providing I remember what you look like." He grabbed his jacket and paused by the door. "Oh, by the way, watch the shower curtain in there. It would give Roxanne of the Thousand Hands a run for her money." Behind him, Illya was already drifting back to sleep.
The next time Napoleon saw his partner; the Russian was carrying a ladder and wearing a tool belt slung low across his hips. Illya dumped the ladder behind the baby grand where Napoleon was setting up in the casino lounge. Because they were in port, the casino was closed, but it hadn't stopped people from wandering through to check for themselves and then lingering for a drink or two as they waited for the storm clouds outside to pass. The captain had announced earlier that due to the weather, they wouldn't even be attempting to tender in until the afternoon. It was all the same to Napoleon. As two of the new kids, they were not likely to be seeing any shore leave immediately.
Napoleon had been picked to lead this morning's trivia contest, not really his cup of tea, but anything that put him in contact with the passengers gave him that much more opportunity to find something out. Normally, there would only be two or three people playing as most would have gone ashore. With the rain, people were anxious to pass time in comfort and nearly 20 had assembled before him, jockeying from group to group as they formed teams of four each.
"Are we all here?" Napoleon asked, picking up his clipboard and scanning the questions. A smattering of affirmative responses gave him cause to press forward. "Okay, first off, my name is Lee, if you need anything, except the answers, I'm here to help. The rules are pretty straight forward - teams play teams and it looks like we've got five teams. At the end, we exchange answers and the best team wins and in case of a tie, there's a tie breaker. The winner will receive... will receive... a lovely parting gift of some sort depending upon what I can find in the box of goodies. Those are the rules, are there any questions?"
There was some polite conversation and then all attention turned to him.
"Okay, first question - we'll start off with an easy one. Of all the potatoes grown in the U.S., what is the percentage used to make potato chips? Eight, twenty or forty five%? Again, that's percentage of potatoes to chips.
"Say again the percentages," asked a heavy set man, not far from Napoleon's elbow
"Eight, twenty or forty five." Napoleon repeated, checking off the question. There was a minimum of debate and the passengers all refocused upon him. "Ready for the next one? Next question - what animal has the largest brain in proportion to body size - an ant, man or an elephant?"
"How about a woman," asked a well dressed, matronly-looking lady. She'd been well into her third Bloody Mary when Napoleon had arrived, but it wasn't his job to make that sort of judgment. "Women are twice as smart as men."
"How do you figure that," asked Hanna. Now that she knew what the two looked like, she was obviously making sure she was going to keep tabs upon one, if not both of them.
"Easy, if God had gotten it right the first time, he would have stopped there. Instead, he had to try again."
Napoleon had to chuckle at that one. "Okay how about rephrasing to an ant, a human or an elephant?"
"Molto bene," Hanna muttered and returned to her group. Napoleon grinned, he was starting to warm to the woman.
He glanced around the small lounge, cataloging, searching, and memorizing every detail that he could while his guests were busy. The radio on his belt crackled to life, but it wasn't for him, so he left it alone.
"On to the world of television - which actor on the TV show, M*A*S*H* actually served in the Korean War?"
"Do you need the actor's name or just the character's name?" Hanna asked this time, pencil in her mouth.
"A consensus from the group, would either suffice?" Everyone seemed to agree, so Napoleon forged ahead.
"This is a fill in the blank. "Fred Allen was attributed with saying: A gentleman is a man who would never hit a woman with his blank on. Fill in the blank please." As he waited for each team to signal their readiness, he stared out of the large plate glass windows. Under the shelter provided by the deck above, several folks were huddled, smoking, drinking, laughing and obviously determined to have a good day even with the horrific weather.
"Okay, Number Five, what is a human being's largest organ?"
"Real or imagined?" Hanna asked and there was a splattering of laughter across the group. "Hey, it's a valid question."
"Real and note I used the phrase human being, not man or woman, so you should expect the answer to be something we both share in common."
"Can't be what I was thinking then... regrettably," the Matron said, smiling back at him and then over at Hanna.
"What country is the world's largest consumer of ketchup?" Napoleon couldn't help but cast a glance in the Russian's direction. Considering Illya had almost drowned in a vat of the stuff, he found himself wondering about his partner's reaction, but the man appeared oblivious to everything except the task at hand.
Illya stood upon the top rung; his glasses perched on the end of his nose, affecting a repair to something inside a small lighting instrument. Two women passengers paused at the base of the ladder, giving his partner's backside a very thorough ogling, but Illya either was ignoring them or, more likely, was not even aware they were there. Illya stretched up to his fullest height to reach a cable tie just beyond his grasp. Napoleon swore one of the passengers was going to drop her teeth as the Russian's shirt pulled free from his shorts, exposing a trim stomach.
Napoleon grinned and turned his attention back to his trivia players who had mostly finished and were watching him expectantly.
"Okay, here's a head scratcher for the lot of you - What is the first known stone monument - the Great Wall of China, the Step Pyramid of Egypt, or the Longmen Caves of the Henan Providence of China?"
"Where did you get these questions?" grumbled one man, casting a baleful look in Napoleon's direction. "No one could know all these facts."
"Right here, off my sheet - all screened and approved thought provokers for cruise passengers. Actually, I think they get them out of Trivia Pursuit, but I could be wrong. After all, you are world travelers." He waited for conversation to lull. Okay, No. Eight - we're nearly done now. And this is for you out-of-the-world travelers, what does the word galaxy mean?" Another groan met him and he chuckled. "Just think about what I'm asking and don't over analyze it."
"That would be next to impossible." The first woman took a long pull on her Bloody Mary as her group tilted their heads together. There was a long debate, but finally something was written down. The other groups were tight on their heels.
"Let's try an easy one then - how many grooves on the outside of a U.S. quarter - 58, 119 or 203?"
"Oi, I'm a Brit - that's not fair," protested another passenger.
"I'll make it up to you next time around, I promise," Napoleon said. "Okay last question - what was Henry Ford obsessed with...besides the obvious, of course?"
Napoleon repeated the questions as queried and slapped his hands together. "Okay let's exchange team papers and see what we got." Behind him, Illya had apparently finished with his task and was folding up the ladder. "Just a minute, Nick?" For a moment, he wondering if the Russian would remember his current moniker, but Illya had been trained well.
He leaned the ladder against one shoulder and tucked his shirt back in, asking, "Yes, did you need something?"
"Billie mentioned that the microphone in the sports bar is crackling again and that she needs to get the sound system set up for the line dancing class this afternoon. Apparently, whoever set it up last messed with the balances, so it needs to be recalibrated - I have no idea what that means."
"Anyhow, she wanted me to mention it to you if I saw you and that she'd say something to Nuiwin about it. I'm guessing from the conversation she had with me that the last time she did the class, the only thing they had available was disco music and she was afraid the passengers would 'do themselves a mischief,' in her words, so she wanted to make sure the proper tapes are loaded."
"I didn't think those would be likely to be yours. I'll take care of it, thanks, and by the way: eight, ant, the cross-dresser, hat, skin, Sweden, step, milky, 119 and soy beans. I'll see you tonight." He hefted up the ladder again and walked from the lounge.
"What's all that supposed to mean, Lee," asked Hanna. It took Napoleon a minute to realize the woman was speaking to him and then he chuckled.
"Smart Russian, I didn't think he was paying any attention. Those were the correct answers to our trivia game. Let's go over them again shall we - a bit slower for us mere mortals?"
En route Huahine to Rangiroa
Napoleon walked into the staff lounge and waved to a couple of people he recognized from orientation. There were probably about 30 staff and the same number of races and cultures were present in the room. There was a fast and furious ping pong game going on and, though he didn't immediately recognize him, he wasn't surprised to see one of the participants to be his partner. The other looked to be a member of Engineering from his uniform. There weren't many places for staff to hang out after their shift was over, so Napoleon had followed his instincts and come here. This is where he would have the best chances to pick up shipboard gossip and inside info.
He slid onto a stool at the bar and nodded to the bartender. He'd seen her earlier tending bar outside the main dining room. "Don't you ever get time off?"
"I don't mind. What can I get you?"
"What do you have that's good and very cold?" Immediately, a bottle of beer and a frosted mug appeared before him. "Okay, how about good, very cold that isn't beer?"
"Non alcoholic, you mean? Soda, water, last night's coffee..."
"How about scotch?"
"You got it." She quickly put the drink together and reached to take the beer away.
"I'll keep that too." He laughed as she made a face and he passed his crew card over for it to be charged. "No, I don't intend it as a chaser, but it looks like my friend over there is working up a thirst."
"It's nice to have someone to keep Boyd out of our hair. He makes everyone crazy with that stupid ping pong crap. Even better than that, it looks like the new guy is really giving him a go for his money."
"About time too."
Napoleon sensed a presence at his elbow and he glanced over to see Billie, the cruise director, scooting onto the stool beside him. Napoleon lifted his glass to her. "Evening, Ms. Price. Shift over?"
"Thankfully, that second show tonight just didn't want to end. And please call me Billie. Ms. Price is my mother." She pointed to the Russian, who was bobbing back and forth after the little white ball. "Wasn't he on one of the spots tonight?" Napoleon nodded. "I don't know where some people get their energy." A beer magically appeared in front of her. She poured it slowly in her glass, studying the foam as it inched higher up towards the top.
"Frivolous youth, it's wasted on the young." Napoleon lifted his glass to hers in a salute and drank.
"Well, we have a sea day tomorrow and that's always twice the work, so let's see how he fares after that, shall we?"
"Are you going ashore in Rangiroa?"
"Not on your life - the last time I rode a tender I ended up trapped beneath a dead friend." She took a long pull on her own drink and shuddered at the memory. "The stuff of nightmares, I can tell you that."
Napoleon had lost count of the number of dead bodies he'd danced with over the years, but something needed to be said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"It's okay, just still a bit fresh, if you know what I mean?"
There was suddenly a splattering of cheers, claps and general noise from across the room. It had obviously been a hard won victory on the engineer's part and the man looked exhausted, but exhilarated. Illya put down the paddle and shook the man's hand before walking away to join Napoleon. As he neared, Napoleon pushed the beer towards him and Illya took it gratefully, ignoring the mug and brought the bottle to his mouth. He took a long swallow and sighed.
"That guy is a killer player," he admitted, taking a seat beside Napoleon. "And I am not as young as I used to be."
"Nick, this is Billie." Napoleon leaned back so the two could shake hands across him. "Billie, this self-professed old man is my friend and roomie, Nick."
"I remember you from orientation - you're the CD." Illya took another drink and suppressed a burp. "And his boss." He nodded towards his partner.
"That's right. How are you finding working with Nuiwin?"
"He's a good man, straight forward and a hard worker and makes my job that much easier."
"Why is that then?"
"I usually work with this guy," Illya punched Napoleon lightly in the shoulder. "...and have to end up pulling his weight and mine too." Illya grinned at Napoleon's grimace. They were suddenly joined by the engineer, who said something in Korean to Kuryakin. Illya held up his hands in mock surrender and answered him back in the same language. The conversation went back and forth until Illya finally nodded and stood.
"What's going on?" Napoleon didn't make a pretense of knowing what the two had been saying.
"I promised him a rematch if he'd take me on a tour of engineering tomorrow. Don't wait up, I may be late." He finished his beer and slid off the stool, heading back to the ping pong table.
"What was that, Cambodian?" Billie asked, signaling the bartender for one more round. "Isn't he from the Ukraine? That's what his tag says."
"Korean, I think. I've given up counting the languages Nick speaks, although I do know he doesn't speak Swahili. We lost a pub contest because of that."
"Speaking of such, I heard about the trivia game this morning - your friend blew the passengers' socks away. He was quite the topic at bridge this afternoon. I had to remind one lady that crew members, even smart ones, were off limits."
Behind them, the ping pong game had started up again and there was good natured cheering and ribbing as people chose sides. Napoleon glanced in their direction and shook his head. "I have a feeling as hard as it was for him to win that first game, that poor engineer is going to be hard pressed to even get a point this time around. Once Nick gets cued into a pattern, it's all over. Wait until that poor guy realizes that Nick was on the Russian Olympic table tennis team not that many years ago."
On Shore - Bora Bora
Christophe Pescadou drummed the fingers of one hand against the polished trunk of hibiscus wood and rolled the cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other. In his other hand, the phone receiver hung forgotten. His contact on the ship had been certain - several new crew people had come on board and UNCLE agents were among them. The conversation had taken place very quietly upon the bridge between the captain and first officer, but his friend had overheard. Photos were being studied even as he stood there and would be forwarded the next time the ship made port, along with fingerprints of the top agents.
So UNCLE had decided to play, that was all fine. Pescadou was fairly certain that they would be as easily manipulated as most people, but it gave him a thrill to think they might resist. He'd yet to have anyone offer any real resistance to his mind control. Imagine all the secrets that would come pouring out once he'd cracked that vessel. That the person would be a vegetable was of no consequence to him. Still, it would probably behoove him to try and keep them alive when he did take them. THRUSH would be contacting him soon, of that he had no doubt, but it wouldn't hurt to sweeten the prize a bit. If he could show THRUSH just how easy it was to break an UNCLE agent, well, then one of his life goals would soon be recognized.
"So what do you think, dear?" He asked the wheelchair bound woman. "Just how quickly do you think an UNCLE agent will break? As quickly as your little friend did last month?" He blew a mouthful of smoke in her direction and the wheelchair retreated from the smoke's path. "Or maybe faster or slower? I wonder if he'll scream - I always like it when they scream, it gives me a sense of accomplishment."
He hung up the phone for a moment and then brought the receiver back to his mouth. "Lab, you need to get facilities ready for very special guests. We are going to be entertaining relatives."
En Route Huahine to Rangiroa - Sea Day
Illya Kuryakin walked along the swaying deck and tried to keep from totally losing his balance. He still hadn't quite gotten his sea legs beneath him. At least this early in the morning, the halls were empty of both passengers and housekeeping carts. Thankfully the meds that Section 4 had fixed him up with helped keep his nausea at bay, so he could function. They made him a little sleepy, but it was an equitable trade off as far as he was concerned. Having spent most of his time in the Russian Navy in submarines, the experience had left him ill equipped to deal with the open seas topside.
He stopped before a nondescript door that said nothing more than 'Crew Personnel Only' across it and checked the number he'd jotted down. He shoved the bulkhead door open and stepped into a white sterile hallway of metal. Away from the passengers, the crew dealt with barren, non-carpeted stairwells and ladders, no elevators, no frills, just naked unadorned steel. This was the reality of cruising for the working men and women of the ship. He moved quickly down the hall to a door marked 'audio storage' and stepped inside. Like nearly everything on this side of the door, the soft white light of passenger areas was replaced by harsh fluorescent lamps, giving everything a jaundiced yellow appearance.
It took him a moment to locate the microphone cabinet, next to racks of electrical cabling. It hung row upon row, each section neatly labeled as to its length. Someone obviously took tremendous pride in maintaining this collection.
He set the cordless mic pack he'd been carrying down upon the repair table and started to unlock the cabinet. A whisper of a warning preceded the attack by the briefest of seconds; not giving him time to do any more than realize the attack was imminent and prepare his body for it.
His arm was grabbed, twisted backwards as his face was pressed forward into a vertical space between the heavy black cables and against the wall. They cushioned his face, but also effectively blocked off either side of his peripheral vision. He let out a cry, mostly as window dressing. The pressure on his arm was well at the bottom of his pain threshold, but by letting his attacker think otherwise he might avoid being seriously injured.
"Listen and listen good, we know who you are and what you're trying to do. It's a fool's mission. Break it off now and go home before you end up like those guys on the dock. This will kill you." The whispered voice could have been male or female, Illya couldn't tell. It was close to his ear, but he couldn't get any leverage to launch an attack.
"If you truly know who I am, then you would know that nothing stops me ever. Whatever is happening and whoever is doing it - this stops now." That garnered him more pressure against his back and tension on his shoulder as his arm inched further up between his shoulder blades.
"You can't win against this - it's too big; it's too important. They won't let you win - you will die."
"Then I will die and there will be another right behind me and another behind him. We won't stop until this is over." Illya gritted his teeth as his arm hitched upward, his breath catching in his throat. Now he wasn't play acting, his shoulder joint was stressed nearly to its limit.
"Then you're a dead fool." Something slammed into Illya's left kidney and he cried out for real this time - the pain seared across his back and radiated down into his legs leaving him breathless and weak. Abruptly, his support was gone and he half collapsed before being able to catch himself on the cables, but before he turned around, he was alone again. Wincing, he reached behind with his good hand and massaged his back. Whatever hit him wasn't flesh and bone he knew that from experience. He limped forward to lean against the worktable and then his eye caught something on the floor, not far from where he was attacked.
Grimacing he straightened and walked over to it, kneeling to pick the pack of cigarettes up. He knew they weren't there when he came in; he'd have noticed that, but had they been dropped by mistake or on purpose? His pain momentarily forgotten, he sniffed at the pack and began to cough, his eyes watering. He tossed the pack down upon the table.
Wiping his eyes upon the sleeve of his shirt, Illya frantically searched the repair table until he found a plastic bag. He slipped the pack in and sealed it firmly closed with tape. Still coughing, he grabbed the necessary mic packs out the equipment locker and returned to the relative safety of the corridor. It stood just as empty as when he'd entered - curiouser and curiouser.
Napoleon sprawled out on his bunk, engrossed in the historical non-fiction book he'd picked up in the library and relaxed back into his pillow. Illya had pulled an early shift today and Napoleon was enjoying the brief time alone before he had to head out for the last four hours of his shift. He'd had a chance to connect with Hanna several times through the day and she seemed to be having a good enough time, but it was hard to tell. Necessity kept their meetings to brief moments.
A noise drew his attention from his book and he watched his partner slip into the cabin. He wasn't supposed to be off for another two hours and there was something marked about the Russian's appearance that immediately put Napoleon on alert.
"Illya, what's wrong?"
"I just had a little tête-à-tête with someone who definitely was unhappy about us being here." Illya pulled up the hem of his shirt. "He left me a little present." He turned to let Napoleon see the bruise starting to form across the bottom left of his back.
Napoleon rose and moved to him, examining the area. "Ouch, looks like brass knuckles, old friend. I can even see the outline." He followed an imaginary arch with his arm down to touch the area gently with the palm of his hand; it was hot to the touch. . "A rightie and tall, at least six feet, I'd have to say. Is it as painful as it looks?"
"Most definitely," Illya said, wincing at even his partner's gentle probing.
"Do you want to check into sick bay?"
"No, if I do that, then this gets reported and there will be more questions than either of us wants to answer. Good bye, low profile, hello, blown cover and Mr. Waverly's wrath."
"But if this person said he knows you, it's already too late."
"I don't think he does, not really. There was something he said. That I'd end up like those guys on the dock. As far as I know, none of the incidents we're investigating took place on a dock. There was just the one death due to the boat explosion."
"It's a possibility. My friend also left these behind, but I have not yet ascertained as to why." Illya pulled the plastic bag with the pack of cigarettes out of the back pocket of his shorts. "Smell these," he tossed the pack to Napoleon who caught it and sniffed at the contents.
"They smell a little funny..." Something played at Napoleon's memory and Illya nodded.
"You recognize it. It's the same smell as the paper. There's something strange about them and I'm going to find out what it is... just as soon as I'm off shift of course," he amended.
Because of the lack of any serious storage space, luggage was stored either beneath the bunks or in individual lockers. While they'd sent most of their suitcases onto the storage, Illya had held one back. Now he knelt and pulled it from beneath his bunk, unlocked it and opened it. To the causal observer, it looked empty, but careful depression of hidden switches revealed a false bottom and a compact but efficient lab set up.
Pulling a single cigarette from the pack, he dropped it into a glass tube, locked the suitcase back up and shoved it back away. The rest of the pack he resealed back into the bag and left on the table top. "I just wanted to drop those off for safe keeping." He tucked his shirt back into his shorts, wincing at his own touch.
"I'm off at ten tonight, so I'll meet up with you back here." As the man started to leave, Napoleon continued, "Illya, if you start urinating blood..."
"Napoleon, I may appear reckless at times, but I am not a fool. If that happens, I will immediately check into sick bay. You might want to check in with home though and let them know that contact has been made."
On shore Bora Bora
Christophe Pescadou stared out over the open seas. From his front porch, he could see beyond the motus, the reefs and into the ocean itself. This morning, it seemed restless, like himself. While he longed for isolation and privacy, his inner child cried out for adventure and excitement. Perhaps once he had gotten THRUSH under his tender mercies, it would be time to abandon this island and all its accouterments and move on. It certainly was time for a new lover.
His phone rang and out of habit, he lit a cigarette before answering. He loved to make people wait.
"I did as you said. I paid a visit to one of our friends and left him with a little gift."
"Did it hurt?
"Yes, sir, it seemed to very much. I used brass knuckles. He won't forget the incident quickly."
"Excellent, now that's what I like to hear." There was hesitation on the other end of the call and immediately Pescadou's ire began to build. "What is it? What did you do?"
"I...umm...dropped my cigarettes on the way out. I'm sure he spotted them."
The rage Pescadou had felt unfurling in his stomach eased slightly. "That's not untoward - we do want him to know we are here. We want him to investigate. In fact, it is imperative that we get him, his partner or both on shore. Will you arrange that?"
"I'll make the necessary arrangements, boss!" The caller's relief was apparent, but any other words that might have been shared were cut off by Pescadou abrupt breaking of the connection.
"So we start the balls in motion...excellent." Even though he couldn't see her, he knew she was lurking in the shadows, hidden from the world's view. "We take them, we break them and then we start anew. But where do we go next? Pairs, Rome, London, New York, so many choices, so many people crying out for someone to lead them, to guide them." He glanced back into the shadows. "To kill them...soon the world will bow to me and you with it." He flicked his cigarette butt in her direction and calmly walked out into the night.
En Route Huahine to Rangiroa
"Hey, Lee, I have a problem." Billie's voice stopped Napoleon's fork in mid arch and he returned it to his plate, the food untried. However, it didn't matter - the one thing he had to say about this ship was that the food was varied and exceptionally good.
"I can't believe a lovely lady like you could have a problem. Can I help?"
"Actually, yes you could, if you're up to it. Because of all the trouble we've been having, we're started sending a ship rep along on all the various tours, just to keep an eye open for our guests. I was supposed to take the 4x4 tour when we hit Bora Bora, but my heart and, more importantly, my back just aren't in it. Would you be willing?"
"What would I need to do?"
"Nothing really, just baby sitting more than anything else. We give you a radio so that you are in constant contact with the ship. Do you know anything about World War II and the American presence here?"
"My major in school was history and I'm fairly well versed in the time period."
"Then it should be a walk in the park." She patted his arm. "I'd really, really appreciate it."
"Not to worry. It'll be nice to get off the ship and see the island in the daylight. So, is there any night life to be had there on Bora Bora?"
"Depends upon what you mean by nightlife. There's Bloody Mary's - the food's good and there's usually some kind of band on the weekend. The ship runs a shuttle back and forth. There's a bocce ball court and there's usually a game on. Are you thinking of checking things out on shore?"
"Nick and I, well, we sort of had a bet going and now it appears that I owe him a night out. Never make a bet with a Russian, no matter how drunk he seems. Of course, I haven't checked with him. The chances of our schedules matching up are pretty slim at this point in the game, but I just thought I'd ask, just in case."
"I'll remember that. Tell you what, how about I make sure you're both off that night - in exchange for doing that tour the next day?"
"You have a deal." Napoleon offered his hand to her and she shook it firmly before rising and hurrying off. She was always in a hurry, going or coming. Napoleon wasn't quite sure where she got her energy as she never seemed to run down. Movement across the table drew his attention to his partner as Illya slid cautiously down into a plastic chair and put down his tray. It was obvious, at least to Napoleon, that his lower back was bothering him, but he was doing his best to not let on.
"I have to say the food's a marked improvement here over that at home," Illya said casually.
"I was just thinking the same thing before Billie interrupted me. She wants me to take over a tour and, in exchange, we get a night off ...on Bora Bora."
"How convenient, - our own little hot spot of activity," Illya murmured unfolding his napkin from around the silverware. He set the utensils aside and picked out a pair of paper-wrapped chopsticks instead from the jar from the center of the table.
"You have a hot spot of activity," asked a man as he sat down beside Illya. "And you weren't going to tell me?"
"Lee, this is Nuiwin. Nuiwin, this is Lee." Illya moved his right hand randomly in the air in the general direction of the newcomer as his other started poking at the food upon his tray with his chopsticks. The way he welded them, the average person would never know that the Russian was normally right handed. In this business, it paid to be ambidextrous.
"So tell me about the hot spot," Nuiwin pressed on. "I've yet to find one...on any of the islands. Closest to anything even remotely exciting is in Papeete and only on the weekends."
"It will be more one of personal making than of an actual place of existence, if you know what I mean?" Napoleon offered the only explanation that came immediately to mind. It took Nuiwin a moment to work it out and he shook his head.
"I never would have guessed it. You both do a good job of keeping it quiet."
Illya, unseen, rolled his eyes and concentrated upon his food. He smoothly changed topics, "So we arrive in Rangiroa this afternoon - what is this island's claim to fame, Nuiwin?"
"Not much of anything actually, it's the largest archipelago outside of the Marshall Islands. The whole island subsided eons ago and left this ring of coral reefs around it. Now they've built up into these nice little motus that allows us to tender into a nice usually pretty quiet lagoon, albeit 26 miles wide and abut 50 miles long. The cruise line just got tired of been shut out of our other choice of Rarotonga. It used to be we had one of 100 chances of actually making port, now it's more like one in three." The man stopped to chew a mouthful of food and swallow. "There's a couple of really nice resorts on it and one even rents out this little motu - ten people at a time, no electricity, no phones, just peace and quiet."
"Sounds great." Napoleon sipped his coffee and tried to imagine what peace and quiet must be like. He never seemed to have much of either in any abundance in his life
"Sounds boring," Illya corrected. "There's plenty of time for peace and quiet after you're dead. What is there for the living to do?"
"Usual water sports, some modest shopping, biking, not much more than that. It runs from sea level to about Twelve feet above, so there's not much variation. The bar at the hotel near where we tender is nice, but pricey. Hirano is pretty cheap though and it stays open into the wee hours so a few of us usually head over after our shift if either of you're interested." He stopped, ate a few more mouthfuls and patted his jacket pocket. "Nick, is everything set up for the lecture this afternoon?"
"No audio problems once I re-routed that cable. It was just too close to a power source," Illya responded as the man abandoned one pocket for another. "Is something wrong?"
"Yes, I seem to have misplaced my cigarettes." He checked his watch. "Oh well, I'll get more from the ship's stores, there's still time. They aren't my brand, but who cares? A man's got to have his puff." He rose and gathered his tray up. "It was nice meeting you, Lee." He walked away hurriedly.
"That's a little too much of a coincidence for me. That almost seemed engineered."
"Only problem being, I know exactly where Nuiwin was when I was attacked. He was running an hour-long slide show in the main lounge. There when I left and there when I got back. He couldn't have left without attracting attention. Besides, in case you didn't notice, he's about five inches too short and a leftie. Unless someone took his cigarettes for a reason and dropped them for me to find, it couldn't have been him. Sure wish they would make the rules a bit easier to follow."
"What did you think about his invitation?"
"Self interest would seem to dictate an alternative path. Thankfully, I've never been one to listen to my own advice. I'll see you in the lounge."
"No, running the sound this time and I hope the comedian is funnier than the magician was magical. Those tricks were pretty much out of the 101 class."
"You just know how it's done. Listen, I haven't seen Hanna all day, have you?"
"No, but I was running cable most of the afternoon. Do you want me to check up on her? I have a three hour break before I'm back on."
"Can you do that without attracting attention?"
Illya pulled out a small hand tool and smiled slightly. "Always going above and beyond, that's the hallmark of a good agent."
Glancing up and down the corridor, Illya Kuryakin stopped in front of Hanna Kenward's cabin and knocked. At this time of night, she would be most likely to be in her cabin, as it was too early for dinner and she didn't strike him as one of the cocktail set.
"Hello?" Her voice just managed to get through the door.
"Miss Kenward, I have come to see about your problem," Illya kept the request vague just in case anyone could hear him. The door cracked open and when she realized who it was, she opened it fully and allowed him access. He waited for it to close before saying another word.
"Napoleon was worried about you. He said he hadn't seen you today."
"I was feeling a little under the weather. Sea's a little rocky. It's better now that we're inside the reef."
Illya reached into his pocket and pulled out a small container. "Take these, one every Twelve hours. It should help."
"What is this?"
"It is the seasickness medication that I was prescribed. I have more back in my cabin, but they seem to do the trick for me. As Napoleon is quick to point out, I am not a good sailor." Illya glanced around her cabin, filing it away for future reference and barely kept from whistling. It was easily three times the size of the cabin he shared with Napoleon. "Have you been approached by anyone on the ship? Has anyone suspicious or out of the ordinary tried to make contact with you?"
"No, not really, a really sleazy guy keeps hitting on me, but that's nothing new." She took the container and poured a bit more tonic water into her glass. She swallowed one of the pills and sighed. "A lady traveling alone seems to be fair game, I suppose."
"If he bothers you again, let me know and I will take care of it." Illya went to her TV and pulled it away from the wall. "I am sorry, but I need to break this, so that I can repair it. It was the only way I could get into your cabin without attracting attention."
"And here I thought you were just coming to keep me company," she said it in such a way that Illya paused in what he was doing and glanced over at her.
"I would think a beautiful woman such as you would have no trouble with that."
"Beautiful woman of color, you mean and that's just the problem. I'm also practically the only black on the ship, Nick...I mean, Illya. They treat me like I have some sort of disease or something."
"Then it is their loss, madam." He returned to the TV, pulling out the plug before removing the back. This was going to take some creativity on his part to break it just enough to make it look like a malfunction without sabotage. He felt her behind him rather than hearing her approach and she looked over his shoulder at the jumble of components inside, her body pressed against his.
He turned his head in her direction and he was practically nose-to-nose with her. He could feel her breath soft upon his neck and a recent conversation about off-limit passengers played again through his mind just as his body was beginning to point out just how long it had been since he'd attended to certain bodily functions.
Illya took a calming breath and then gritted his teeth as her hand innocently brushed against the bruise on his lower back. The pain helped him to refocus his attention back to the problem at hand.
"It sure looks complicated in there." She rested her chin on his shoulder.
"Not so much so," Illya murmured back, smiling. "It's all done with components now. I just need to know which is...ah, now there's something that will do it." With a quick twist of his pliers, he carefully broke off a bit of soldered wire. "That should provide enough of a cover story for me." He turned his head and glanced out of the corner of his eye at her.
"What do you need a cover story for? Isn't it enough to say that I was having trouble with my TV?"
"There are very few things that can be fixed by someone other than a trained technician these days. I have to make sure that the damage is both complete, but substantial enough to have my presence here justified." He set the back of the TV aside and made sure it wouldn't slide. "I will call and have it replaced." Illya turned to face her and smiled. "With any luck, they will have another tomorrow. Until then, you always have the one in your bedroom."
She moved away from him and sank down onto the small sofa. "Do you have to go so soon?" The question was so plaintively made that it made Illya pause in his step.
"I could spare more time, is there something wrong?" He joined her on the sofa, reaching out to take one of her hands in both of his.
"It would be nice just to talk to someone I know for a few minutes. Being on a cruise alone isn't any fun at all."
"I would imagine not and I do apologize that we have seemingly been ignoring you. Between trying to maintain our cover and uncover whatever little diabolical plot is afoot, there has been little time for anything else."
"You haven't, it's just everyone else who has. Your hands are rough." She brushed a finger against the calluses on his palms and traced a lazy design over his skin.
"An unfortunate necessity in my business, I'm afraid," he murmured, watching her fingers trace a pattern upon one of his palms and then she brought the hand to her mouth to retrace the path with just the tip of her tongue.
"Are there any other unfortunate necessities that you'd like to tell me about," she murmured, kissing it softly. Illya's mouth moved for a moment and then he sighed, throwing caution to the wind and pulled her up towards him and kissing her deeply. He pulled away and rested his forehead against hers.
"Um, do you think you could break my other TV too?"
"It will be my pleasure."
The bar of the Kia Ora was mostly wood, a warm golden hibiscus, and tropical prints - subdued but also unmistakably Polynesian. Large sections of the floor were glass, and underwater lights kept them illuminated, allowing customer to watch the fish swimming by in the crystal clear water. At this time of night, the bar was mostly empty except for ship personnel and a few passengers. Most of the hotel guests were up in the dining room eating or watching the local dance troupe perform.
Napoleon and Kuryakin sat with six of their contemporaries, drinking, eating cocktail snacks and making small talk. They hadn't been on the ship long enough to really become part of the crew family, but this was a start.
Like their crewmates, both were out of uniform. Napoleon's tropical print shirt was muted and loose enough to keep the air flowing. He just couldn't relax enough for shorts, but his poplin slacks were comfortable enough. Illya's polo shirt was just the opposite, tight enough to allow muscle definition, but not straining at the seams. He'd swapped one pair of shorts for another and slumped back against the cushion as if he didn't have a care in the world. In fact, if Napoleon didn't know better, he'd have sworn that his partner was carrying a post coitus glow that was making his movements languid.
"So, um did you manage to get Hanna taken care of this afternoon?" Napoleon kept his words soft, but chose them with care. The man smiled and nodded
"She was suffering from a bit of the mal de mer. I gave her some of the pills that Section 8 gave me and she seemed infinitely more comfortable when I left."
"I'll bet she was."
A cocktail hostess carried their tray of drinks over and murmured something soft to one of their crewmates in French, who responded in kind and she walked away, her movements liquid and inviting.
Napoleon felt his libido take a hitch up as he watched her slide away and he smiled as he lifted his glass to his partner's. He sipped his martini and smiled again. It was very dry and crisp, well worth the exorbitant rate he was paying.
"What was that all about," asked Nuiwin as he grabbed a handful of olives.
"She was letting me know what time she got off from work, just in case I was interested." Boyd, the ping pong playing engineer grinned widely, still staring longingly after her. "I cannot tell you how interested I am. It has been months since I've seen any action."
"You do know that was a guy, right," Nuiwin asked, before taking a long swig of his Hirano beer.
"That's a guy? Impossible," protested the man, who openly ogled their server.
"A mahu, the third sex," Illya murmured and then touched his throat. "Look for the Adam's apple; it's the hardest thing to camouflage." He spoke softly, so as to not attract attention. "Young men here are given the choice to either live as a man or a woman. If they chose the role of a mahu, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are homosexual, but many are. They take on traditional women's chores, like the cooking, housework and laundry, along with their dress. They can also take on traditional women's jobs, like professional dancers, maids and waitresses. I don't mean to sound sexist or anything, but I've found that the best-looking women here are usually men. This can be a boon in certain circles." He glanced over at Napoleon and amended quickly. "Not that I'm in the market, of course." He returned to his beer, rolling the bottle between his hands. "Did you ever find your cigarettes, Nuiwin?"
"Yes, left on the console in the light booth. Good thing none of the officers saw them or there would have been hell to pay. Why?"
"Can I bum one?"
"Sure," Nuiwin dug out the pack and tapped it upon his finger. Illya took one just as an officer from the ship stuck her head into the bar, "We're heading back to the ship? Anyone interested in sharing a taxi?"
Illya nodded, tucked the cigarette into the breast pocket of his shirt and finished his beer. "I got an early tour tomorrow. Are you coming, Lee?"
"Guess that's my exit cue." Napoleon drained the rest of the contents of his glass and tossed some bills down upon the bar table, more than enough to pay for their drinks as well as a generous tip. "Have a good night, guys."
Illya made small talk with the three other crew members, mostly in a strange mixture of English and other languages, as they puttered along the narrow road to the small dock at Tiputa. As was the case of most of the islands, there was only one road around it. The small commuter dock was acting as their temporary port while the Norwegian Valkyrie was anchored off shore.
Even at this late hour, the air was still warm and Napoleon felt sweat prickling upon his brow. Air conditioning was nonexistent here and the air that blew through the open windows of the taxi was as hot as the night itself. He'd given up trying to follow what Illya was talking about, knowing that if the Russian had anything pertinent to say, he'd switch to a language Napoleon knew and could easily follow.
"So we head to Bora Bora after this," Napoleon asked the communications officer, a rather sullen looking Filipino who sat just to the left of him.
"Not exactly, there's another sea day, then Raiatea and then Bora Bora. Last stop is Moorea and then it's back to Papeete to start all over again."
"Thanks, I don't have the schedule right in my head. I'm just concentrating on showing up on time right now."
"After a few more weeks of doing exactly the same routine again and again, you'll be able to recite it in your sleep. I'm just hoping we don't have any more trouble in Bora Bora. That last dose was more than enough."
"There's trouble there?" Napoleon carefully kept the question casual.
"Not really," interrupted the officer, glaring at the crewman. "Let's not go spreading rumors. We had some excitement, but nothing that the cruise line couldn't handle."
"What sort of excitement?"
"One of our tenders was sabotaged," the crew man, a waiter from the main dining room said, ignoring the officer's obvious downplaying.
"I heard about that. Some sort of malfunction, wasn't it?"
"We don't know and until we do, I suggest that we drop the subject unless someone wants to take it up with the Captain personally."
"Not me, "Napoleon admitted, holding onto the seat back with one hand as the vehicle bounced roughly along the road. He didn't even want to think of what his partner's back was going to feel like after this.
Napoleon led the way into their cabin through mostly empty hallways. At this time of night, most of the passengers were in the various bars or lounges spread through the ship, dancing, drinking, laughing or back in their cabins dreaming of the adventures awaiting them the next day. It would be another sea day for them and that meant a flurry of activity for the crew to make sure their cargo was happy and well entertained. He pushed open the door to their cabin and shook his head. There was no way two people could share such a small space and have any sense of organization within. The room bulged at the seams and Napoleon found himself wondering how the regular crew lived like this for months on end.
"With the exception of a couple of well mixed drinks, that was a bust," Napoleon said, sitting down upon his bunk to untie his shoes. Even in the tropics he still adhered to his strong honed fashion sense and he knew these were going to need a fast polish before he'd wear them again.
"Not exactly," Illya said, holding up the cigarette. "Whether this matches or not, we will at least have some answers. Where did you put that other pack?"
"Left it on the night stand - hiding in plain sight."
"Too plain, it appears to be gone."
"Someone broke into our cabin?"
"Not possible, not those doors. Someone with a key entered our cabin. Could have been maintenance, housekeeping, anyone with a master. Good thing I kept a control one aside. Let's see what we can find out, shall we?"
En Route Rangiroa to Raiatea - at sea
"Napoleon, wake up." The voice was close to his ear and begrudgingly, he opened his eyes. Dim light was beginning to filter through the small porthole that was their only view of the world from their cabin. He yawned and stretched before paying attention to his partner.
From the stubble on his face and his bleary blue eyes, the Russian had obviously worked through the night. "Good morning."
"If you say so," Illya muttered. "I haven't gotten to the good night part yet." He checked the watch upon his wrist. "And I'm on in two hours, so I'm going to make this fast. Are you awake enough to hear this?"
"Yes," Napoleon sat up and focused his full attention onto his partner.
"Okay, currently the FDA has approved about 600 chemical addictives that can be mixed with tobacco. These can range form alfalfa extract to chocolate to about 31 different Ethyl compounds. However, to my knowledge, they have yet to approve toluene."
"Toluene? Isn't that present in glues and industrial cleaners, that sort of thing?" He snapped his fingers. "That's why I thought of airplanes. I used to build model airplanes with glue that smelled like that."
"Exactly, and apparently I, like a small percent of the population, am severely allergic to it. You have a higher tolerance level for it than I do, but even you would have a problem if exposed long enough to it. It creates light headedness, dizziness, and if the exposure is long enough, hallucinations and eventually death." He sat up and arched his back. "Nuiwin's, however, was a regular cigarette." He rubbed his eyes and blinked. "Do you think they'd notice if I went without the colored lenses today?"
"Sorry, but yes, they would. So this means that Nuiwin isn't implicated."
"Not necessarily, but it does seem to tip the scale in his direction, if this sample was indeed his cigarette from this morning and not a replacement pack that he purchased at lunch." He rubbed his eyes again and yawned, his jaw cracking from exertion. "This whole thing leads us nowhere except that we have a doctored cigarette on board a ship full of smokers. Have you noticed how just about everyone on the ship smokes?"
"Talk about the proverbial needle in a haystack." Napoleon stood and stretched. "And what's the tie in with Bora Bora?"
"One miracle at a time, please." Illya flopped back upon his bunk and draped an arm over his eyes. It seemed as if within three breaths, the Russian was down for the count.
Napoleon watched him for a long moment to make sure he wasn't going to resurface, but it became quite apparent that the Russian had simply shut down. It was a helpful technique when there was too much to do and not much time left over for sleeping. It was, at best, a short-term patch, but it worked for awhile. The price was usually a day spent sleeping the clock around in an effort to catch up, but that couldn't be helped now.
Instead, Napoleon stood, stretched again and headed for the bathroom.
The day was too bright by half, in Illya Kuryakin's opinion. Even his dark glasses weren't really helping much. Two hours of sleep just wasn't much to go on and he looked forward to his shift being over so that he could crash and burn before their arrival in Raiatea.
He was working on one of the show lights for the pool deck. There was a small stage set up at one end of the pool area for various parties and events. Just four lights, but they were totally exposed to the elements and the salt. It did a number on the wiring inside, so every few cruises, they had to be cleaned and repaired. Since the company had no desire to replace these with new instruments, the same four were kept in rotation as long as possible. These also needed to be up and running for the Polynesian Dance troupe that would be performing there tomorrow night. So Illya sat astride a ladder, concentrating upon the instrument and keeping his balance as the swells moved the ship gently up and down. It was almost akin to the rhythm of horseback riding.
Music blared as dozens of bodies sprawled out on deck chairs, paying homage to the sun, cigarette smoke drifting up from at least a dozen spots on the deck. Other passengers splashed in the pool, the hot tub or simply lounged around and drank. Attendants rushed from one passenger to the next, reminding Illya of honey bees, making sure that anyone who wanted a beverage had one. Even with the constant breeze provided by the ship in motion, it was still hot.
Illya wiped the sweat off his face with a shirt sleeve and pushed his glasses back up into place. The dark blue polo shirt that made up part of his uniform was only making a hot job even worse and it clung to him like a frightened child. A bead of sweat tickled its way down his spine and only seemed to amplify his sense of weariness. He truly felt as if they were spinning their wheels here.
"You ask him," he heard a woman's voice below him, but he paid it little attention, other than noting he probably shouldn't drop a tool now.
"You do it - you're the one who knows him. Go on, ask him."
There was a pause and then a delicate throat clearing. "Excuse me, Nick?"
Illya glanced down over the top of his glasses at the two women, each providing an excellent view of their cleavage. "Had I but money and time," he murmured to himself. Louder, "Miss Kenward, how may I help you?"
"We sort of have something to ask you." She indicated the red head standing beside her. "This is Sam and I thought you might be able to help us."
"Of course, just a moment, please." He tucked his glasses away in his shirt pocket, made sure the light was locked off and he easily dismounted the ladder and climbed down. "Would you mind if we moved this into the shade?" Wiping his hands on a work rag, he smiled at them politely as he stepped into the relief provided by the overhang. It was immediately ten degrees cooler. "That's better," he said resisting the urge to wipe his face upon his uniform sleeve in front of passengers.
"Nick, we're part of this scavenger hunt and we need a coin that's not from the region we're sailing in or where we're from, which is the U.S. Is there any place you can think of to look besides raiding that large jar by the purser's desk?"
Illya dug into his left front pocket of his shorts and held up a handful of coins. He poked through it with a stiff forefinger, "I see Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese - take your pick."
"What's the big wavy sided one?" Sam had finally gotten up her courage to talk, but she couldn't meet his eyes. That was fine with him as he was having all he could do to keep his gaze steady under Hanna's. Brown eyes locked and held each other for a long moment before his mind actually registered the words and he pulled his eyes from Hanna's face and back down to his hand.
"That is a two dollar coin from Hong Kong." He pulled it out and passed it over to them, his fingers lingering against Hanna's palm. "With my compliments."
"Thank you so much, Nick" She pocketed the coin and pulled out a list. "Okay, now we have to find some Smarties candy." They hurried away, back towards the library and Illya shook his head. As they passed, an older gentleman sucked in his stomach, but neither woman seemed to notice. Illya grinned and headed back up the ladder.
He'd no sooner settled himself down on the ladder and started back to work than a half familiar smell curled up towards him. He sneezed twice and looked around then down at the man standing at the base of his ladder.
"How's it going up there, Nick?" Nuiwin squinted up at him, a cigarette burning between his fingers. It was odd to see the man smoking, but Illya wasn't going to question him about it. It was entirely possible that the man was on his break.
"Almost finished, is there a problem?"
We're having a meeting down in the main lounge in 20 minutes. Captain has indicated that he wanted as full a staff as possible."
Illya checked his watch. "Twenty minutes, I'll be there."
The room was already crowded when he slid in. He saw Napoleon standing off to one side, but didn't make the effort to fight his way over to him. It was far too crowded in here for any interaction with his partner anyhow.
The captain, a robust Portuguese, lifted a microphone to his mouth and began to speak in passable English.
"As many of you know, we have been having some trouble with our stop in Bora Bora. I have called this meeting to beg that all and anyone of you keep your ears and eyes open. I don't have to mention to you the urgency in which the Goddess line is dealing with our recent loss. For anyone going on tour, our acting security office asks that you maintain radio contact every five to ten minutes. If you are going ashore, he asks that you stay in the approved areas around Vaitape and don't go wandering off. If you see any of our passengers in trouble, help them or get help for them. It is of the utmost urgency that we make this stop accident free. For our newest crew members, I would like you to remain after this meeting is dismissed for further briefings."
He then repeated the same message in French and Spanish, all the while studying the crowd. Once he seemed certain that the bulk of the crew had received and understood the message he dismissed the crew.
Now that the room was free of most of its occupants, Illya wandered over to where Napoleon perched upon the back of a chair.
"I won't keep you but for a moment longer. You're all new and I'm sure the rumors have been flying, as they are wont to do in situations like this. First off, please know that your safety is paramount to me and to this company. If at any time you feel threatened or concerned for your safety on shore, return immediately to the ship. Do not attempt acts of bravado to impress anyone. Likewise, if anyone sees someone that they feel is acting in an unsafe manner, be it crew of passenger, you are to immediately report them to security. Thank you for the job you have been doing and I hope that you will continue to give our ship the loyalty and dedication that she deserves. Dismissed."
"So how did the scavenger hunt turn out for you?" Illya asked Napoleon as the remaining crew started filtering out of the room. He had nowhere else to be but here for the next lecture and he welcomed a chance to be in air conditioning if even for a short while.
"Hanna found you, did she? One of my trivia ladies was playing and she went on and on about how you answered all the questions that first day. I wasn't expecting you to have a pocket full of change though."
"Don't I always?"
"Usually," Napoleon said, laughing and slapping him on the shoulder. "I'm due back topside, but I will check with you later tonight." He snapped a finger and reached into the pocket of his slacks, fishing around for a moment. He pulled out the $2 Hong Kong piece and tossed it back towards his partner. "I thought you'd want this back. Never know where you're going to end up in Hong Kong again."
Illya caught it mid air and slipped it back into his pocket, nodding. "Thanks."
Napoleon Solo ran the electric razor over his face and down his neck and then followed the path with his hand to make sure nothing had missed his ministrations. He was doing his best to maintain the illusion of being fair haired and that meant keeping his whiskers under control.
Behind him, he could hear the shower running and occasional outburst of Russian as the shower curtain danced in to clutch at the wet body inside. Napoleon smiled and reached for his aftershave. He was sure that he'd dated the flesh and blood version of that shower curtain not that long ago. It had taken all his skill to wrangle his way out of that relationship. Not that Napoleon Solo had anything against relationships - they were wonderful, for other people. Just not for him. While he appreciated the female form, welcomed it into his arms and bed, it always had to be on his terms, no one else's. And it was always finished when he decided it was over.
It was funny because everyone at HQ always pegged his partner as the lone wolf, but Napoleon was equally inclined to keep his distance from anything that lasted more than a few hours. He had the reputation of being a ladies man, even a bit of a cad and he could live with that. What he couldn't live with was someone depending upon him to be there day after day, night after night. It was something he couldn't promise, not to himself, not to anyone else. With the exception of Illya, no one was allowed to get that close to him. Two lone wolves stuck together out of necessity, Napoleon couldn't help but wonder if it made them a pack.
He stepped out of the bathroom when he heard the shower cut off. The bathroom was too small for two people, hell it was too small for one person in Napoleon's opinion. He moved to the equally tiny closet and pulled out a shirt. He was getting tired of tropical prints, but it was what he needed to blend in and tonight both of them needed to be able to hide in plain view if they were going to be able to see anything at all. Hopefully, that would work a bit better than the cigarette fiasco had.
It had felt a little odd to walk away from the lounge tonight, to have his shift be over without the dancing, the laughing, holding women close to him if for just a few minutes. For a little while, he could flirt with what it meant to be just a regular guy - to not have to watch his back, to not have to worry about death, killing or violence. To not have to worry about finding his partner's body crumbled in some dark alley, oozing blood. Or be in that condition himself. For just a brief time, he could be normal and not a trained killer.
'And just where did that thought come from , Mr. Solo?' Napoleon asked himself as he selected between his last two pairs of slacks. He and Illya were going to have to come to some understanding about laundry within the next day or so.
The Russian moved out of the bathroom, towel around his waist and Napoleon felt a stab of envy. The towels provided to them were too small for him to use like that, but Illya had material to spare. Life just wasn't fair at times.
"Are we headed any place in particular tonight?" Illya went about selecting his own wardrobe, a lightweight polo shirt and shorts. Without the ability to carry a weapon, he was free of the need to hide his shoulder holster and relished that freedom. At the same time, the solid weight of his Walther would not have been unwelcome.
"Thought we'd start at Bloody Mary's and work our way from there. That will give us access to crew and locals and is still within the safety frame that the Captain mentioned, so we won't attract any attention. Maybe if you play your cards right, I could arrange a romantic walk along the beach in the moonlight."
Illya snorted as he sat to pull on his socks and his shoes. "You'd have to use a better pick up line than that on me, Napoleon."
"Okay, how about the next tender leaves in five minutes." Napoleon patted the pockets of his pants to make sure he had all that he would be likely to need. Illya stood and moved back into the bathroom, leaving his towel on the bunk. "You could take this with you, you know," Napoleon called after him. He leaned against the door frame and watched the Russian root around in his shaving kit. Finally he pulled out a small vial of something and tossed it to the agent.
"What is this?"
"Remember I was telling you about that experimental shampoo?"
"Yes, this is it?" He held the vial up to the light and stared at the light yellow contents. "Doesn't look like much." He opened the cap and smelt it.
"Well, like that very popular hair cream claims, just a little dab goes a very long way. The effects are rather immediate, but not tremendously long lasting once rinsed off, be that as it may. I felt that if worse comes to worse...."
"I can wash that man or woman right out of my hair."
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Come, my friend, Bali Hai is calling us."
At this time of night, the line to get to the tender was short and passing security, mere routine for the two men. As employees of the line, their id cards were quickly scanned and they walked down the short flight of stairs to the small boat, which sat bouncing upon the waves. Illya steps faltered as he grew closer.
"Something wrong?" A voice from behind him made him glance over his shoulder and he smiled ruefully at his immediate ship supervisor.
"I'm not crazy about small crafts, Nuiwin."
"You're not crazy about big ones, either." Napoleon pointed out from in front of the Russian.
"And yet you work on a cruise ship. You have got to get your priorities straight."
Illya smiled and nodded back to Napoleon. "I have."
There was a sudden flash of a familiar face and Illya locked eyes with Hanna. She was moving down the stairs and smiled when she saw him. His eyes flicked to Nuiwin, then back and Illya shook his head slowly, hoping that she understood. Any interaction of a personal kind with the crew would mean instant dismissal and Illya wouldn't be of much help to his partner if he was sitting in the brig or confined to his cabin.
Hanna's face grew somber and she nodded just once and directed her attention to the metal steps of the gangway.
Napoleon stepped onto the small boat and slipped inside easily, but Illya balked as the craft bobbed wildly up and down. Nuiwin chuckled and moved past him, timed his step and climbed on board. Illya took a deep breath and took a leap, or rather a step, of faith. The tender bobbed up to meet his foot and he pulled himself on board. He paused, trying to find his center of gravity on the rocking vessel. Hanna stepped on board just as the boat suddenly buckled as a powerful pleasure craft threw its wake in their direction.
Without thinking, Illya reached out and caught her, pulling her against his body as he struggled to steady both of them against the rocking. Immediately, there were two more uniformed crew men on either side of them to keep them upright.
"Are you all right," Illya asked Hanna as she clutched at a metal upright bar.
"Those pills are going to have their work cut out for them," she muttered, still not inclined to release the pole. Illya stepped past her and slid down onto the hard fiberglass bench step beside Napoleon, who was grinning wickedly at his partner.
Hanna let go and reached for the back of the bench seat as another wave hit and she tumbled, Illya thought, rather fortuitously, down onto his lap.
"And we meet yet again," he murmured, easily moving her to the bench before his body could react in a less-than-professional manner. His shorts weren't that tight, but he wasn't going to take the chance.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Hanna's blush made her skin even darker. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"He's tougher than he looks," Napoleon quipped. "So what brings you on board, Miss Kenward?"
"I thought it would be nice to get off the ship and have dinner on shore, some place. I'm a little tired of the dining room and being ignored by my table mates."
"Hopefully not unescorted," from across the aisle, Nuiwin spoke up. Hanna dropped her gaze to the floor of the tender as it started to pull away from the ship. "You should join us. We're all going to Bloody Mary's right?" He glanced over at the two agents and nodded. "You should join us - there's safety in numbers, you know."
"I wouldn't want to intrude," She glanced up back at Illya, then at Napoleon. "Could I?"
As much as Napoleon wanted to scream at her to run and hide, to climb back on board the ship and not open her door for the rest of the cruise, he simply smiled and patted her hand. If she was going ashore, the best they could do would be to keep her out of harm's way. "I don't see why not." Illya could see why not and his eyes tried to frantically broadcast that message to his partner. "After all, seeing as you've already used and abused my poor friend here, the least we could do would be make it up to you."
From the outside, Napoleon wasn't exactly sure what to expect from a bar called Bloody Mary's. There was a large bulletin board outside, listing all the so-called famous folks who had visited. Napoleon didn't know half of them, but that was not important. Tourists milled about, taking photos, buying over-priced souvenirs and drinks. The front of the place was crowded, but back behind the bar, several small, largely ignored, tables were set up, chunks of polished wood for tables, smaller pieces for seats on a sand floor. It was to one of them that Nuiwin guided them.
"This is my favorite spot," he shouted over the clamor over seemingly a hundred voices. "You can see the whole room from here."
Hanna's eyes were large as she took in all the sights and sounds that the bar had to offer. The sides of the bar were covered with a loose woven type of bark, allowing air to pass through easily. Wooden shutters stood at the ready in case the weather got bad or the wind started to blow.
"What will you have?" Napoleon asked, close to her ear.
"Have?" She looked confused as if not understanding the man's question.
"Oh, a bloody Mary, I guess."
"Got it, Nuiwin, a beer?" At the man's nod, Napoleon pulled away and made his way to the bar.
"He didn't ask you what you wanted," Hanna said, looking over at the dark-haired Russian as Illya reached for a preplaced menu.
"He doesn't need to," Illya assured her with a smile. "When you've spent as much time together as we have, it's a given." The only light in the large room was provided by overhead lanterns that swung in the cooling breezes that filtered though. A moment later, Napoleon returned.
"On their way," he announced reseating himself and smiling graciously at the women. "I was told that the snapper is particularly good tonight."
A band was setting up at the far end of the room, but appeared neither in a hurry nor particularly anxious to get started.
They were into the fourth round and Hanna was definitely beginning to look like she was starting to feel the burn, so much so that Napoleon replaced her drink with a soda and she never even noticed. She watched the people circling on the small dance floor with a mixture of envy and sadness.
"Would you like to dance, Hanna," Napoleon leaned close to her and shouted. Even then, his words could barely be heard. She looked over at Illya, but the Russian's attention was focused upon someone at the bar. When it became apparent that the Russian wasn't going to offer, she took Napoleon's hand and he led her to the dance floor.
"Hey, Nick, you gotta see the men's room in here. C'mon." Nuiwin punched him lightly in the arm.
"You just do, it's great." With a shrug of his shoulders, Illya stood and followed the man towards the restroom. "Go and look in - you aren't going to believe it." Nor did Illya believe the sensation of a needle slipping easily into the back of his neck. He slapped at it, spun and stared at Nuiwin for a long second before his legs buckled and he slid down onto the sand of the floor.
"Oops," Nuiwin said, loudly, in case anyone nearby was paying attention. "I think it's time to get you back to the ship." He hefted the smaller man up and half dragged, half carried him outside towards the side of the road. Car lights flashed and a vehicle drove up. When the car door opened, Nuiwin shoved the man roughly inside. "Take him to Mr. Pescadou."
Hanna and Napoleon walked back to the table and immediately, Napoleon frowned. "Where's Illya?" Since it was just the two of them, there was no reason to keep up the façade.
"I thought I heard Nuiwin say something about the restroom just as we were leaving the table." Hanna finished her soda and signaled to the passing waitress. "Would you like something else?"
"No, you just sit tight for a minute." Napoleon patted her arm and stood, wandering towards the bathrooms. A quick check revealed a very interesting waterfall urinal, but not a sign of his partner. He came back out and glanced about, recognized a fellow crew mate and walked over to him.
"Did you happen to see a short dark-haired man and a Filipino here just a minute ago?"
"Nuiwin was here, had some guy with him who was drunker than a skunk. Couldn't even stand up. Nuiwin said they were going back to the ship."
"Alright, thank you."
He made his way back to the table and grabbed Hanna's elbow. "We need to get out of here fast."
"I think Illya's been kidnapped." He led her towards the door in a hurried, but calm manner so as to not to alert anyone who might be watching them. Once away from the bar, Napoleon flagged down one of the buses which were acting as shuttles back and forth to the ship.
"According to a crew man, Nuiwin said he was taking Illya back to the ship because he was falling over drunk."
"He wasn't drunk. I'm a little bit drunk, but not him. How does he do that?"
"Amazing resolve and an even larger capacity for vodka." Napoleon stood and walked to the front of the bus. In flawless French, he asked, "Did you take anyone back to the ship in the last few minutes?"
"Not me, but I'm only one of three shuttles running. Not much business this time in the evening. It'll pick up again in a couple of hours when Mary's shuts down."
"How would you like to make a little extra cash, my good man," Napoleon asked, reaching in to his pocket for his money clip.
The man's eyes opened widely at the 10,000 CFP notes there. "Doing what? I'm not going to break the law." Greedy, but cautious.
Napoleon reached into his pant pocket and pulled out his communicator. Twisting the cap, he swung the instrument in a wide arch, a sudden steady beeping began. A beeping that pointed away from the ship. "Follow that pen," he instructed.
Napoleon let his head hang forward, the pounding in it threatening to take the top clean off. As long as he kept his eyes shut, he didn't have to face the reality that he'd been taken captive. It seemed almost ludicrous now that he thought back, the bus so conveniently pulling up, the driver so conveniently ready and able to acquiesce to his demands. He'd walked into that set up like some rank amateur. There would be no living with his partner after this, on the condition that one or both of them made it out alive. He'd not even smelled or heard the gas until it was far too late to make good any type of escape.
He could tell that they'd been taken captive simply by the way his wrists and ankles were bound, metal upon metal, against a wall. His shoulders ached from having supported his weight for too long, so he got his feet under him. Finally he could put it off no longer and he cracked them open, blinking painfully in the artificial light. The colored lenses made his eyes feel gummy and scratchy.
The room was small, white and empty of anything except the still unconscious form of Hanna Kenward. The fact that Kuryakin wasn't there meant he'd either escaped, which would be par for the course for his lucky partner, or he was being held elsewhere, not so lucky for either of them. His hands were manacled together and attached to the wall by a short length of chain, but his feet remained individually shackled to the wall. At least he could stand with a minimum of pain now.
A groan drew his attention and he glanced over at the young woman. She struggled to sit upright, still not really conscious of the fact that she was bound in a similar fashion to Napoleon.
"Oh my head," she muttered. "What happened?"
"You were drugged. Take deep breaths, Hanna, it helps," Napoleon advised. He'd helped her scoot up and then noticed his communicator in his shirt pocket. He's been taken hostage, but not stripped of the most basic of his equipment. That made no sense whatsoever.
"I'm not exactly sure at the moment, but I have a bad feeling that we will find out all too soon."
"How very perceptive of you, Mr.Solo." A voice from above their heads made both wince. The door opened and a man walked in, half dragging, half pushing Kuryakin ahead of him. "And look what I have, just in case you had some sick hope that he'd escaped my attentions." The Russian stumbled as he tried to walk with the manacles on his ankles. He glared over his shoulder at his captor. Somewhere along the trip, he'd either lost or taken out the contract lenses and the blue eyes were crackling with anger.
"Are you alright, Napoleon? Hanna?"
"We're just peachy, thanks, and yourself?"
"Never better." Illya coughed out the words. "Sorry, seem to have picked up a cold along with everything else." He coughed again, bringing a manacled hand up to cover his mouth.
"I am Christophe Pescadou, your lord and master." He bowed to the chained couple. "Mr. Kuryakin and I are already acquainted as he came via the direct route."
"Would you just like to explain what we're doing here?" Hanna tugged against her restraints, making them rattle harmlessly.
"You are, unfortunately, baggage, my dear. It's these two gentlemen that I was so anxiously seeking. Does it surprise you that I caught you so neatly and so easily? Everything on the islands is easy, if you know who to pay and where to look." He smiled and took a long drag on his cigarette. "It is amazing how much you can accomplish when money is of no object."
He left Kuryakin to wander over to Napoleon's side. "You are no doubt here in active quest of my little invention."
"We just wanted a night off the ship and a threesome away from prying eyes, nothing more than that."
"Don't insult me! I know who you are, Mr.Solo, and what you and your partner represent. Had UNCLE but the financial resources behind it that your competitors, shall we call them, have behind them, they might be in your shoes."
"They can have them - they haven't fit right for a week," Napoleon muttered, still playing for time. "Since you are going to kill us, presumably, are you going to be one of those charming villains who obligingly runs off at the mouth and tells us everything we need to know?"
The blow Pescadou unleashed knocked Napoleon from his feet and Illya took a step in the direction of his partner as Pescadou's arm pulled back. "You take one more step and she gets the next one, Kuryakin." Immediately, Illya froze in mid stride. "That's better. That will soon be behind you, Mr. Kuryakin. Now don't tell me that you aren't a little surprised that I figured out who you were, although it did take a bit of digging to be sure. Now I can be assured of THRUSH's attention."
"Mind controlling cigarettes, why would THRUSH bother," Napoleon asked struggling back upright. "They have much more effective ways of dealing with things."
"Well, if that's your opinion, you're certain entitled to it. Come along, Mr. Kuryakin. You are about to get an up close and personal account of just how bad smoking can be for you. Then we'll see what your partner thinks of my new product."
"Since I have a feeling this is going to end badly for me, can I at least say good bye?" Illya's voice was wistful.
The man stared at him for a moment and then shrugged. "Sure why not? It's not like any of you are going anywhere."
Illya moved first to Napoleon. "It's been a helluva ride, old friend and I for one wouldn't have missed a day of it." He brought his manacled hands up to squeeze the man's shoulder affectionately and then he moved to Hanna.
"As for you," he said, caressing her cheek and smiling softly. "I'm sorry there's no way out of this for you. If I had the choice, you would not die today. He clapped his hands onto either side of the woman's face and kissed her. She was obviously surprised, but then relaxed as the Russian deepened the kiss, jaw and lips moving. Napoleon dropped his gaze down to the floor in an attempt to give his partner a little privacy.
"All right, break it up or I'll get a fire hose." Pescadou yanked Kuryakin back towards the door and Hanna fell back against the wall. Napoleon jangled his chains, struggling to free himself, but Pescadou merely smiled. "Don't worry, Napoleon, you're next." He gave Kuryakin a push and they were out the door.
"Well, that was some display," Napoleon said, softly, just in case the room was bugged. "Illya's usually a little more reserved than that."
"I just have one question, Napoleon," Hanna said, without moving her teeth. She smiled to reveal a thin lock pick. "Do you know what to do with this?"
It took more than a few minutes to get it transferred from her mouth to Napoleon's fingers, but eventually he got one cuff and then the other free. Each consecutive one surrendered that much faster. Napoleon slipped the pick into the collar of his shirt and moved swiftly to the door.
"Okay, I can either use the pick Illya left us, use the incendiary device in my shirt button or..." To his surprise, the knob yielded easily and he eased it open just the fraction of a hair's breath. "Just open the door."
"He didn't even bother to lock the door?" Hanna whispered to him.
"Nor did he bother to disarm me other than to take my gun. It's as if he knows of us, but nothing about us or he'd never have allowed Illya to get that close. You never ever leave either of us with anything that might be fashioned into some sort of tool."
"Once I saw Illya stripped naked and placed into an empty cell, yet five minutes later he walked out fully clothed and armed. We're still trying to figure that one out. At any one time, we have weapons hidden all over our bodies and apparently I was never even been searched. Know thy enemy, it's a basic rule." Napoleon eased the door shut. "Apparently, he didn't think it was necessary as there is a rather large and formidable looking gentleman right outside."
He grabbed Hanna by the forearms. "Hanna, do you trust me." She nodded and he smiled at her warmly. "Trust me now and when I tell you to, scream as loud as you can and don't stop until I tell you to." The woman stared at him for a moment and took a deep breath. Napoleon tucked himself against the wall and nodded, "Now."
She let out the loudest, most blood cuddling scream she could muster. When that produced nothing, she tried again. The door swung open and the guard took one step into the room. It was his first and last mistake. Within a moment, he was face down upon the floor, neck broken and life trickling from his body.
"Did you kill him?" she asked, staring at the fallen man
"I have no time for niceties, not until I find my partner." He held up the communicator and made a sweep. It beeped softly to his right. "We go this way."
Illya grunted as he was thrown into a straight back chair and his hands were securely fastened to the arms with leather straps. They were barely buckled before he was working his wrists against them, testing the give in the leather. A third strap went around his chest and was pulled as tight as it could go. One last strap went around his neck. Of the four, it was the loosest, but still snug enough that swallowing was a challenge.
Christophe Pescadou watched the man struggle without wasting much concern. The man might loosen the straps a little, but not enough to escape. He'd already tested them considerably on his other guests. The man could resist all that he liked - it wouldn't do him any good at all. So, instead of letting it bother him, Pescadou lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, letting the smoke trickle out his nose.
"A long time ago, Mr. Kuryakin, I discovered that life wasn't fair. For example, I have never worked a day in my life and yet I'm one of the richest men in the world. I smoke almost three packs of cigarettes a day and yet it's my wife who is dying from emphysema." He gestured behind him towards the shadows. "Have you met her? She's always skulking about, staring at me with those ugly google eyes. She was once quite attractive, you know, until she had to be taught a lesson. She had a roving eye, you see, but not any more. Nothing on her roves unless I make it so. Isn't that right, dear?"
Illya turned his head at the sound of a soft whirl. The wheelchair disentangled itself from the shadow and moved forward, closer to the agent. The woman in it was slight, merely a skeleton, kept alive by the barest of means and the miracles of modern science. She stared at him, her eyes searching, her mouth moving in silent words. Illya tried to lip read, but he couldn't make out what she was mouthing.
"You won't want to get any nearer, dearest. He's not to be trusted," Pescadou warned and immediately the wheelchair retreated. She was obviously being ruled by an iron hand. "As I was saying, life just isn't fair, Mr. Kuryakin."
"If it were, our positions would be exchanged," Illya muttered, still working against the straps. Pescadou blew a mouthful of smoke into the man's face and he coughed. "Do you mind? I'm breathing here."
"You see, that's something everyone does. Breathe, such a simple thing that most people don't even think about it. Smell is the least recognized of the senses, Mr. Kuryakin. Folks go on and on about how terrible it is to lose your sense of sight or hearing, the miracle of touch, but what about smell? At an early age, in another example of life's cruel nature, I was robbed of that sense and always felt just a little slighted by the exchange. No one ever showered me with pity because I couldn't smell a rose or appreciate a delicate perfume. It could have made me a bitter man, but instead I chose to let it inspire me." He shifted the cigarette from one corner of his mouth and reached into a shirt pocket to pull out a second one. "Do you know what this is?"
"One of your toluene-improved cigarettes, I should imagine."
"That's very good, Mr. Kuryakin. You're very bright. That's going to make what happens next all that more tragic. Do you know what happens when I light this?"
"No, nor do I really care as I am sure my health will not benefit from it."
"Oh, indeed not, sir, for just a few puffs of this smoke and it's good-bye will power. You'll just be waiting to do my biding, emptying your mind at my request. Sadly, once you do that, it can't be undone. You'll be a vegetable for the rest of your life, not that you'll know it - a good thing, perhaps."
"That's providing I would agree to smoke it," Illya coughed again and sniffed as his nose started to plug up. Even without the cigarette being lit, his over sensitivity to the chemical was making it hard for him to breathe.
"See, that's the glory of it. Everyone has to breathe. Sooner or later, you'll have no choice." Pescadou touched the cigarette to the tip of his own lit stick. "And you see the glory of it is that I'll remain blissfully unaffected." Pescadou snapped his fingers and two men stepped forward, both wearing gas masks. "Hold him."
They followed the communicator signal up to an unmarked door and Napoleon capped the pen. He was about to tuck it away when he had a thought and held it out to Hanna. The woman looked at it as if it were a poisonous snake.
"Take this. If for some reason I can't get Illya or myself out of here, you need to get clear. It won't have any range inside, but once you're in the open, twist the top like that and pull up the antennae. Then say, and it's important that you use this phrase exactly, "Open Channel D, emergency protocol No. Five. Then run like hell."
"Why? What's emergency protocol Five?"
"It means we're dead or dying and that UNCLE needs to destroy this place. You don't want to be anywhere close when they do. It's sort of like having the last word, UNCLE style. Do you understand?"
"Yes, but you are going to find Illya, right?" Her eyes searched his face intently, studying the man's features for some indication.
"That is my intention, Hanna, but we need to be prepared for the worse."
Pescadou started at the catatonic UNCLE agent, a mixture of confusion and anger clouding his features. Drawing a hand back, he slapped the man as hard as he could, but the eyes only blinked once, more out of need than in reaction to the stimulus of the pain.
"What did you do to him?" He turned his fury upon the closest guard.
"Nothing, boss, just like you said. I just brought him here after Nuiwin dropped him on me."
There was a sharp rap on the door and Pescadou snatched it open, making the man on the other side jump back in alarm. "What is it now?"
"Teputi's dead. His neck was snapped."
"Well it would appear that the partner has escaped and is on his way here. Perhaps he will be able to shed a little light onto what's going on. Gentlemen, there is a time for action and a time for patience. Let us wait just a bit and see if that is rewarded. It's obvious that he's not going anywhere."
Napoleon Solo eased the door open a crack and then pushed it wide. The room was apparently empty except for a chair in which his partner was strapped. The Russian stared straight ahead, unmoving and unseeing. After making sure that there were indeed no traps between him and his partner, Napoleon led the way in and then closed the door behind him. Hanna walked straight to Illya and smiled at him, then stopped.
"What's wrong with him, Napoleon? He looks like some kind of brain eaten zombie."
"Looks like some sort of trance." Napoleon snapped his fingers in front of the Russian's face, but there was no acknowledgment, just that continued blank stare. "Illya, Illya, wake up, partner." He slapped a cheek, but still no reaction. "What did they do to you, old friend?"
"That was the question I was hoping to put to you, Mr. Solo, but imagine my surprise when I went back to your cell and found you gone and Mr. Teputi dead. I commend you, that was good clean work." He leveled a gun at the pair. "Now what's wrong with him?"
"That's what I was going to ask you," Napoleon said, shaking his head. "I've never seen anything like this. I thought it was something you did." He let his gaze wander back to Kuryakin, but the man was unresponsive, even to the trickle of blood that was dribbling from the corner of his mouth.
"He should be babbling like an idiot now, telling me anything and everything I want to know. Instead, he completely shuts down. Maybe I should shoot him and see if that helps."
"Okay, but I doubt it; you've already proven that this goes deeper than pain." Napoleon kept his voice causal, hoping that Pescadou wouldn't call his bluff. He lifted the man's chin and started into the vacant blue eyes. "Not UNCLE, maybe something KGB we overlooked. I thought he was pretty well deprogrammed when he came to us though." Napoleon shrugged his shoulders. "Oh well, you win some, you lose some." He turned away from his partner completely. "This is like one of those china stores - you break it, you buy it. Well, you broke him, he's all yours. You can explain it to the Russian government. He was just on loan, you know. They are going to love you for this."
Hanna's eyes darted from one man to the next, her mouth ajar.
"I can't believe you talk like that, Napoleon!" She finally found her voice. "He's your partner!"
"He's damaged goods now. He isn't of any use to UNCLE or anyone else."
Pescadou shifted the gun from Kuryakin back to Napoleon. "And you think I'm going to let you walk out of here just like that? You must think me a fool, an idiot or both. That isn't going to happen, Mr. Solo."
There was a gunshot and Napoleon convulsed, before realizing he hadn't been shot. With a look of profound surprise, Pescadou crumpled to the floor, the victim of the wheelchair-bound woman holding Illya's gun. It was as if that action took all her strength and the gun fell to one side. Immediately, Napoleon was at her side, removing the weapon from her limp grasp and scooping up Pescadou's as well.
"Thank you," Hanna whispered, squatting next to her. The woman, eyes shiny with tears, looked fearfully at her and then down at the crumbled man. Her mouth moved in silent words and Napoleon stared at her for a long moment and finally nodded. He walked to the back of the chair and manipulated a series of switches. The woman gave a large sigh and settled back in the chair. Her head toppled forward and her shoulders sagged. "Napoleon, what did you do?"
"Exactly what she asked me to do. I let her go. I have a suspicion she'd been trying to escape from him for a long time." Napoleon knelt by Pescadou and probed his neck with a stiff finger. "And it doesn't look like he fared much better."
"You seem to leave a path of dead bodies behind you," Hanna muttered, stepping over Pescadou's limp form.
"Well, they're easier to spot than bread crumbs and you don't have to worry about the birds eating them." Napoleon tucked the guns into the waistband of his pants and returned to his partner, still sitting unmoving. "I was hoping he was playing possum, but I guess not...what...oh my god, it can't be." Napoleon knelt by Kuryakin and unbuckled the straps holding him upright. He grasped the man by his shoulders and shook him. "Illya...Kuryakin... UNCLE...Napoleon...Waverly...no, too common, it couldn't be any of those, what could it be?"
"Napoleon, you're babbling," Hanna protested.
"What are you talking about?"
"This is a level Twelve programming. I've heard of it, but I've never actually seen anyone under its influence."
"And I say again, what?"
"It's a type of thought control, reserved for the situation of top security. There's a trigger word or phrase, something that will snap him out of it. Something I would know and use, but what?"
"Can't you call someone back at headquarters?"
"Nope, that's never-to-be-released information. It would have to be something I say all the time, yet isn't something anyone else would be likely to." Then Napoleon snapped his fingers and grinned at the woman. Looking directly into Illya's unseeing eyes, Napoleon said, "Smart Russian."
Slowly the eyes blinked and then Illya's head tipped forward, his body following. Only his partner's grip kept him upright. "Bingo."
"Okay, now what?"
"We give him a few minutes. He's going to have a headache the size of all outdoors when he comes to." Napoleon said, grinning. He pushed the man back into the chair and glanced over at the woman. "And then we...why are you holding a gun, Hanna?"
"Like you said, dear Napoleon, know thy enemy." She gestured with the tip of the gun away from the still unconscious Russian. "Let's give him a little air, shall we? I don't know what sort of state his mind will be in when he wakes up."
"THRUSH...I should have known." Napoleon backed away from his partner, carefully manipulating her to stand with her back to Illya.
"Yes, you really should have, but you boys never think quite that far in advance, do you? I just couldn't believe that UNCLE bought my cover story quite so completely. You really are trusting fools." She gestured again with the gun. "And I suppose THRUSH owes UNCLE a world of thanks for doing our dirty work for us."
"Don't we always? And what about Nuiwin? Your partner?"
"Don't be silly, Mr. Solo. We'd never plant anyone on that ship - too many variables. He must have been one of Pescadou's boys. Our men are here and probably storming the outside of this compound as we speak. You see, you took all the chances and we reap all the benefits. Not only do we take out the middle man, we get the lab, the cigarettes and UNCLE's two top agents...well, one top, one not so top anymore." She smiled warmly at the man. "I'm sensing a big promotion coming my way."
Apparently what she wasn't sensing was the roundhouse Kuryakin threw in her direction. The blow took her off her feet and halfway across the room to land flat onto her back, dazing her momentarily.
"And do note I am not wearing a hat." Illya murmured, sinking back down into the chair. "Wow, what a party," he grumbled, holding his temples. "Did I have a good time?" he asked as Napoleon collected yet another gun. This one he passed to his partner.
"You'll have to tell me," Napoleon said. "All I've been doing is counting the bodies."
Illya struggled to get his legs back beneath him. "What is that all about?" He pointed to the still stunned Hanna.
"THRUSH." The Russian nodded and took a stumbling step. He stopped, shook his head and tried again, this time, more in control. He hauled her to her feet and smiled blearily. "I can't believe you fell for that," he said. "You THRUSH will believe anything. Level Twelevebrainwashing, that went out with bamboo slivers under the fingernails."
Hanna pushed his hands off of her and scowled. "You were so out of it."
"Right, of course, thank you for suggesting he shoot me, Napoleon. I shall one day have to repay the kindness."
Napoleon walked over to the woman and held his hand out. "My communicator?" She dug the slender communicator out of her pocket and passed it over. Immediately, Napoleon brought the instrument up to his mouth. "This has been on since I handed it to you, Hanna. I didn't get to be this old by not having a few tricks of my own. Open Channel D, please."
"Channel D is open, Mr. Solo." Waverly's voice was like an old overcoat, familiar and comforting. "Might I surmise that the problem has been resolved?"
"Yes, sir, THRUSH involvement has been confirmed and severed. The third party has been neutralized and the threat identified and contained. You can send in the clean up crew in at any time."
The door to the room opened to reveal Waverly standing there, tropical shirt replacing his usual Herringbone tweed jacket, the UNCLE special steady in his hand. "We are already here, thanks to you opening up that channel for us. And Mr. Kuryakin, how are you feeling?"
"Nothing I can't handle, sir," Illya said, wiping the blood from his mouth.
"Excellent, then I suggest we repair to the ship and let them know of your well being. The Captain was quite concerned. Good man, that Captain, reminds me of a lad I served with in Greece."
En route - Bora Bora to Moorea - Epilogue
They were back on the cruise ship, as guests now, instead of working crew members. Due to a lack of space, they were still in the same cabin, but at least they were no longer on call or on the ship's payroll.
"So what was it like, Illya?" Napoleon looked over at the man as he lounged upon his bunk.
"What was what like?"
"Level Twelve programming"
"Strange. I could hear and pretty much see everything around me, but couldn't move a muscle. Surely you know all of that. Haven't you've been through it as part of being UNCLE's CEA?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
"I don't suppose I would have ever figured it out if it wasn't for the toluene. It shut down my sinuses, so the chemical wasn't effective enough to brain wash me, but strong enough to trigger the programming."
"Kinda makes me wonder what else they have done to us - doesn't it, you?"
"As long as I'm not drooling upon myself and have some semblance of eye/hand coordination, I am content." He rolled over onto his side and studied the American for a long moment. "I am sorry about Hanna though. You have to hand it to THRUSH though, neither of us suspected her."
"Some of us less than others. Of course, now I expect to hear a lot less about my occasional phone calls from Angelique."
"I don't intend regular dalliances with known THRUSH agents, Napoleon. This was a fluke - a one time occurrence."
"Well, more than once, if you wish to put that fine a point upon it."
"Oh, I wish. Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
"Methinks the lady didn't protest at all. That should have been my cue right there," Illya corrected and fell back to his bunk. "I can't believe that all took place within 24 hours. Nuiwin was certainly surprised at our return."
"It makes sense that if we were sending ringers onto the ship, Pescadou would as well. Sort of took the cruise line by surprise though. They lost three other people due to our cleaning house."
"At least they knew about us," Illya said. "There will be a chartered plane waiting for us on Moorea?"
"No, we actually get to finish out the cruise. We will have a whole day off tomorrow to enjoy upon the sun-drenched beaches of Moorea."
"There's a fruit juice factory I intend to check out instead," Illya interrupted, without shifting from his sprawl.
"From what I understand, that's euphuism for rum. They make various fruit based rums."
"Yo, ho, ho and all that," Napoleon muttered and smiled again. "Smart Russian..." There was a knock at the cabin door and Napoleon exchanged a wary glance with his partner. Gun at the ready, he rose and wrestled the door open to reveal Mr. Waverly.
"Sir, do come in?" Napoleon gestured back towards the cabin and Waverly made a face as Illya was sitting up.
"My word, this is more befitting a closet than a room."
"The trials of the working class, sir," Illya said, dragging an armful of dirty laundry off the only chair in the cabin and depositing it upon the floor.
"Is everything cleaned up at the lab?" Napoleon returned to his bunk.
"Indeed, Mr.Solo. The chemical compound and the affected cigarettes have been destroyed and Mr. Pescadou's notes are being taken back to UNCLE HQ for study. His henchmen and the THRUSH that we captured are being returned to the main land as we speak via a specially chartered plane."
"And our next assignment, sir?"
"Correct me if I am wrong, gentlemen, but you are both overdue for vacation time, isn't that right?
"Well, yes sir," Napoleon answered.
"I decided to take you up on your very excellent suggestion. My wife will be joining me in Papeete. I would be most obliged if the two of you would stay on as a bit of added precaution, as it were."
"Well, it's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, sir, but I've just about had as much together time with Illya in this cabin as I can stand. Frankly, I'm about to go stir crazy...sir."
"Agreed, Mr.Solo, and you would be of no help to me at all down here, should an emergency occur. You would both be moved to cabins adjoining ours. The cruise line was more than willing to allow us a bit of flexibility in gratitude for clearing their name. Once we dock, you will be given your new cabin assignment. Good day, gentleman."
"Well, look at it this way, Napoleon," Illya said, grinning. "You will no longer have to worry about Roxanne of 1,000 hands."
"Worse than that, it means we get to spend our only day off tomorrow doing laundry," Napoleon said, holding up an article of clothing carefully. "I don't have enough to make it another ten days."
"Unless we pay to have it done or...we do it now." Illya held up a set of keys. "I got these from Nuiwin last night when he wasn't looking. I could unlock the laundry room one deck up."
Napoleon grinned at his partner, "Mr. Christian, I like the cut of your jib."
"Aye, aye, Captain Bligh, avast ya swabbies, let's keel haul to crow's nest and pip up the poop deck." Illya stopped and laughed. "I have no idea what any of that means."
"It means I can dress you up, but I can't take you out." Napoleon said, sighing. Yet he could already feel the January darkness fading and being replaced with the promise of spring.