It was just one of those days. There was no other way to describe it. Illya Kuryakin stared into his coffee cup and sighed. Outside, the city was struggling with spring and the rain was coming down in a torrent. His cuffs still hung limply from having been thoroughly drenched upon his mad dash from the cab to Del Floria's. His badge hadn't worked properly and he'd had to fight through the inevitable red tape just to get it reinstated. It amazed him that, although he was second in command for Section Two, many of his fellow agents didn't recognize him at all. It had taken Waverly to vouch for him to get his badge issue resolved.
Their secretary was on vacation and he was forced to deal with her replacement, a nice enough young woman, but she was unaccustomed to how he liked his reports done. Then there was the inevitable pile of expense account items. He remembered when being an agent was all he had to contend with. Now there just seemed to be so much paperwork, so much red tape to untangle, especially with having taken over temporarily for the chief enforcement officer, Napoleon Solo. The American was still out on medical leave and Illya hadn't even had a chance to talk to him in person since his return. He'd gone to Medical to visit his partner, only to find out he'd been released and was currently 'at large' in UNCLE HQ.
Illya didn't mind being sent on back-to-back assignments, forced to live on the edge of civilization for weeks on end, but he despised the routine aspects of Napoleon's job. The agendas, the assignments, the meetings and the never-ending memos from this or that department made him ready to eat a bullet. He didn't know how his partner managed to balance both that and his own field assignments.
It was hard for Illya, a man who had learned rely upon just himself, to admit that he looked forward to his job in part because of the interaction he had with his partner. Napoleon certainly proved a worthy addition to the organization and Illya valued him as a trusted friend and reliable partner. Two loners, they now shared confidences, experiences, even thoughts, at times. It had been a little uncomfortable at first until he came to realize the depth of trust and dependency that he had in Napoleon. Now Illya counted upon that, needed that, hell, he craved it.
He stood, prepared to track down the man, when suddenly, as though unconsciously called, Napoleon was standing there, a warm smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes. "I thought I'd heard you were back stateside." Napoleon said, clapping a hand to the man's shoulder. "When did you get in? How did the mission go? Are you well?"
"Late last night and it didn't go well. We lost three good agents and another turned, taking the X-4 code with him. THRUSH has gotten its hands on it and we have to start learning a new code all over again. I, however, got out uninjured, for a change." Illya gestured to the chairs and they sat, Napoleon a bit awkwardly. "How's the...umm...?"
"Fine and the less said about it the better. People are all ready to be sympathetic until they find out exactly where the injury is, and then it's simply a case of schadenfreude."
"Well, you have to admit, getting shot in the ass is pretty funny." Illya purposefully kept from smirking. He knew his co-workers and they had gotten serious mileage out of Napoleon's injury, He refused to lower himself to their level...too much.
"Not from where I'm sitting, old friend. There are several muscle groups in that region that take affront to being wounded."
"I can well imagine..."
"So what's the news from the front? I've been holed up in Medical for so long as if feels like a year since I've heard anything."
"And I'm more than ready for you to take back over the reins. Field assignments are dicey at the moment. We are seriously understaffed in South America and Germany. It'll be worse now that we'll have to reissue a new code and wait for everyone to get up to speed. There should be an international rule that each side gets to have one code that the other will not touch."
"That would take all the fun out of it. Besides, that's why operatives have different codes from everyone else - to limit the exposure and keep the damage from going too deep. Who crossed?"
"No great damage then, he'd have only have that one access, so we don't have to worry about safe houses for Section 1."
"So you say. As for me, I'm not so sure." Illya took a sip from his coffee cup. It was cold and pretty unappealing, but it was still caffeine and his body needed the boost right now. "From what I understand, Research and Development have a bit of a problem on their hands."
"Oh, do tell."
"According to the specs Mr. Waverly sent me, it was supposed to have started life as a molecular imploder."
"And that would be?"
"I don't name them, I just read about them," Illya answered with a shrug. "Problems started when all it wants to do is explode. You turn it on and it blows up. They've trashed three labs so far trying to perfect it. The Old Man sent me calculations to see if I could help, but damned if I know what to do. I've worked the math and the science a dozen times and it makes no difference what variables you plug into it - you turn it on and it blows up."
"It's a shame we couldn't get THRUSH to steal a dozen of them. It would make things nice and peaceful around here."
"Peace is greatly over-valued." Illya looked up from scribbling circles on a pad of paper.
"You're an adrenaline junkie, you know."
"I've been called much worse in my time - occasionally by my own family. At this point, I've recommended that they shelf it until a time when a self-imploding machine will benefit the organization. I can't see them spending on more money on it. Their budget is already too tight as it is." He saw Napoleon glance at his watch. "So where are you off to?"
"I've got to go see Dr. Morris to get my stitches pulled and then you know the drill. One of the shrinks will talk to me to make sure this hasn't caused lasting psychological damage. I'll go down to the range and re-qualify and then hopefully my acting superior will allow me back into the field. I can't take much more of being holed up here. You will clear me, Mr. Kuryakin, won't you?"
"I can't think of any good reason not to. Hey, do you have plans for tonight?"
"I'm still not quite ready for any kind of horizontal action, if you follow my drift. I'd hate to have to explain to one of my charming lady friends why our evening would have to be curtailed with an affectionate hand shake."
"I understand. That could be quite the blow to both your egos. Why don't you come over tonight? You bring the food and I'll provide the liquid refreshment. I can fill you in on all the other stuff that's been happening."
"Best offer I've had all week. I'm about to kill for something other than hospital food. Is Thai okay? And can we make it my place? Nothing personal, Illya, but your furniture leaves something to be desired for a man in my...um...condition."
They had just polished off the last of the food and Illya had settled in with his vodka while Napoleon nursed a scotch. It had been a quiet, but enjoyable evening of camaraderie and as the hour grew later, the talk had dwindled until they sat in companionable silence. It was nice to be so comfortable with someone that you didn't need to engage in conversation constantly.
"You know, I've been having this crazy idea forming in my head, Mr. K." Napoleon toyed with his glass, watching ribbons of condensation trail down the side.
"Speak, I am bound to hear." The Russian voice was a bit bleary, but Napoleon could attribute that to jet lag and the alcohol. He knew he had just minutes to get this out before the Russian stood to leave or fell asleep on the couch, whichever came first.
"You recall our conversation this afternoon - the one about the molecular whatsit?"
"Molecular imploder - such a waste of time. Such a waste of talent. One of our most gifted scientist is completely blind now. It just doesn't seem fair."
"I got to thinking. What if we could get THRUSH to steal it?"
"Hanage o nuku, you mean?"
"Exactly...what?" I hate it when you stop speaking English."
"It's Japanese. Literally translated it means pull their hair out of their nostrils."
"That's a colorful picture. I liked it better when I didn't know."
"It means to dupe someone, to play them for a fool."
"I'm thinking more along the lines of a white elephant and who better than THRUSH?"
"Wait, we are talking about the imploder, yes?" Illya shifted his attention from his glass to that of his partner. "Not an animal?"
"A white elephant is a gift you give someone that you received as a gift, but it's so useless you don't want to keep it. THRUSH has given us a lot over the years, you know. A steady income, regular medical check ups...."
"Frequent bed rest." The agent grinned widely, the alcohol lowering his natural reserve. "Perhaps this is the alcohol talking, Napoleon, but that's one of the most brilliant ideas you've ever had."
"And that's going some." Napoleon sipped the amber liquid in his glass. "Now we just have to convince Mr. Waverly that it's a good idea."
"That shouldn't be too hard. He has already been briefed as to the weapon's ineffectiveness. I'm just worried about convincing him to spend the extra funds."
"Cross-charge it to weapons - they always get the lion's share of the budget and it is a weapon after all. All we would have to do is leak word out over X-4 and let THRUSH do the rest. Let's drink to it."
"Hell, yes, I'll drink to it. To your brilliant idea, Mr. Solo and its successful completion."
"And to you for not being able to fix something for a change." They clicked glasses and Illya tossed the vodka back. "Mmm, that was just what I needed. It's like an electric jolt to your stomach - makes you know you're alive."
That thought came back to Napoleon Solo as he took a deep breath, preparing his body for the next onslaught of electricity. It had all seemed like sure a great idea when they had pitched it to Waverly. Of course, it took a little creative bookkeeping, but the details were agreed upon. The necessary messages went out and then next thing Napoleon knew, he had a dozen THRUSH in hot pursuit. Even with the knowledge that he was wired and his partner was but an ear shot away, it didn't help.
He barely suppressed a strangled groan as the next jolt of electricity went right through him. Illya had warned him about Dr. Gilbrailti's propensity for torture. It hadn't helped that Napoleon had had to pull rank on his partner to keep him off the mission. Napoleon knew if the information was tortured out of him, it would be more highly regarded, more likely to be believed. Plus there was history between Gilbrailti and Illya. The reality was that the man was highly likely to kill Illya on the spot as opposed to trying to get any information out of him. No, it had to be Napoleon and it had taken quite a battle to convince his pig-headed partner of that.
Napoleon fought against his bonds, knowing it was what was expected of him. The movement cut into his already bruised and rope-burned wrists, but he had to make them think he was truly panicking and that they were that much closer to breaking him.
"Talk, Mr. Solo." Dr. Gilbrailti's face drifted in, close to him. This THRUSH had been a pain in UNCLE's side for a considerable amount of time and it wasn't a surprise to him when he was brought before the good doctor. The doctor had spent time with his partner earlier in the year and had apparently healed from the damage inflicted by the Russian. It hadn't, however, warmed him up to UNCLE or its agents. "We just want to know about Project Kaboom." He waited for a long moment, staring at Napoleon's sweat matted hair, his heaving chest. "You will tell us, Mr. Solo, eventually. Go easy on yourself, Mr. Solo. UNCLE will never have to know. It can be our little secret, just the two of us. Well, until we steal it and then, well, you could always come and work for us."
At Napoleon's continued silence, he waved a hand and another jolt of electricity seared through the UNCLE agent.
Napoleon's head tilted back as his back arched off the table, his handsome features distorted. "Illya! Where are you?"
"Are you speaking to your partner, Mr. Solo? He can't help you, I'm afraid for all we know, he's probably already dead. Ticker is very good at his job. He loves to blow things up. Things, that unfortunately for you, include your partner." Dr. Gilbrailti scowled for a moment. "That is not to say that I wasn't anticipating meeting him again. He and I have...had certain matters to discuss." He rubbed the scar tissue where his ear had been. "I can only hope he suffered before he died."
Illya tore off his headphones and threw them down on the bed with as much force as he could muster. He resumed his pacing with a vengeance. From the second twin bed, Tony Del Vecceo watched and calmly ate his sandwich. He continued to listen to what Illya could not.
"What the hell is he trying to prove?" Illya finally spoke, anger tingeing the Russian-accented voice. "I thought we agreed there'd be no heroics, no shows of strength. Why the hell isn't he talking yet?"
Tony paused in his chewing for a long moment and then swallowed. "Face it, Illya; if he spilled the information the minute they hit him with the juice, they probably wouldn't believe him. We have to make sure they bite, hook, line and sinker. That doctor guy sure loves you though. What did you do to him?"
"Nothing, he slipped and I didn't help." The Russian scowled. "And they have already bitten; otherwise they'd never be asking him about Project Kaboom. We've got them - all Napoleon has to do is give them the date of the testing and we can get him out of there."
"And we have to make sure they want it bad enough to try for it. We can't take a chance that they'll give the project a pass - not now." The Section 2, No. 1 man from the Italy office regardedIllya coolly. "Perhaps you should talk to Napoleon about pairing you up with a new partner. You and he are getting too close. You could always ask to be reassigned to our office."
"That's easy for you to say. It's not your partner on the hot seat. I know what he's going through, I've been there. He had no right to pull rank on me."
"To the contrary, he had every right and you know it. Besides, if I know you, you'd be holding out just as much as he is, probably more so given your stubbornness." His face was bland, but Napoleon's screams were echoing in his headphones. The Russian's temper tantrum had been exactly the diversion he'd been searching for to get the Russian off the headset and away from his partner's anguish.
Del Vecceo knew partners had to be this close in order to do their job. Illya was right in that he would have been equally disturbed if it was his partner on the other end of the headphones. He wouldn't change positions with either of them at the moment.
Illya walked to the window and gazed out towards the mansion where they knew Napoleon was being held. The assault team was ready to go in at a moment's notice. Soon, it would be over, but for the moment, fury tore at his insides - anger at Waverly for having suggested this path to begin with and at Napoleon for not letting him go in instead. However most of the anger he directed at himself for not having the strength to not care, for letting his personal feelings for Napoleon get in the way, for permitting his partner's cries to claw at him until he was ready to start screaming too.
'Del Vecceo is right, Illya Nichovetch, Napoleon has to make it convincing. You would do the same thing." Perhaps it is time to ask for a new partner or even for a desk assignment,' Illya thought as he heaved a sigh. This affair was starting to drag him down now and he was weary. Weary of this assignment and of the one he knew was coming on its heels.
"Hey, Illya," the Italian's voice filtered through his thoughts. "Napoleon's starting to talk. You can alert the primary attack squad."
"Finally," Illya muttered. He took out his communicator, speaking into it as he reached for the headphones. "Hawthorne, get ready. I'll be there in five minutes to lead you in."
"Let me speak to Carlo." Del Vecceo held out his hand for the instrument and Illya passed it over.
"Explosives - a lot of them. When we get the signal, I want that place to go sky high. Hell, more than that, I want them to see it back in Venice. It's my little boys' birthday and I promised him something special."
"Understood. Out." He passed the communicator back to the Russian, who raised an eyebrow in question. "A father does what a father can do."
"With any luck, one day I will find out."
"For what it's worth, Illya, I think you'd make a great dad. Let's go!"
"All right! Enough!" Napoleon spoke with as much force as he could muster, but his voice came out a feeble squeak. "What do you want to know?" Even knowing that he was supposed to talk didn't make the feelings of betrayal any easier to face, but he knew he couldn't handle much more without passing out - the last jolt had been very bad and he hoped that Del Vecceo had managed to keep Illya from hearing it.
"That's a very wise move on your part, Mr. Solo. The next jolt would have been enough to stop your heart and we wouldn't want that now, would we? Well at least not too soon." The THRUSH walked up to him and patted a sweat-damp shoulder. He blew a cloud of smoke in Napoleon's face and crushed the cigarette out against the UCNLE agent's shoulder, grinding the tip into the sensitive flesh. Napoleon clamped his lips together to keep from crying out at the pain, but it was obvious that the THRUSH agent liked what he saw in his captive's face. "Now, what is Project Kaboom?"
"Ah..." Napoleon closed his eyes, his head dipping as his neck refused to support it. "It's..um...wait a minute, let me catch my breath."
"Of course, Mr. Solo, you aren't going anywhere. No passing out now, not when we're so close." The doctor slapped his cheek hard and it was just what Napoleon needed to get his eyes to focus. He could see why the Russian hated this man so much.
Napoleon forced his head back up, his hazel eyes locking with those of the THRUSH agent. "Project Kaboom is the code name for UNCLE's latest secret weapon."
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure, really. Illya said it's a molecular imploder or something like that."
"It's a shame we can't ask him personally. I would have loved to have...entertained him for a few hours. Is it ready, Mr. Solo? When will UNCLE start to use it?"
"It's due to be tested on the Flamingo Dam the morning of the 7th. The dam is being taken out to make way for another project and the government agreed to let us use it as a target."
"Excellent, I do believe that THRUSH Central should have a front seat at that little demonstration. If it is indeed perfected, we should borrow it to use it for our purposes, not UNCLE's good intentions. You did very well, Mr. Solo. Now I wonder how many other little secrets you have that you're just dying to tell me."
The near silence of the room was split by the loud blare of a warning siren, causing the doctor to jump. A moment later, a loudspeaker came to life. "We are under attack . Repeat, we are under attack. Evacuate the building. Repeat, we are under attack. Evacuate the building."
"Your friends from UNCLE must be here for you, Mr. Solo. Well, I hate to disappoint them, but all they'll find is a corpse." He pulled a gun from beneath his jacket and tossed it to the technician. "Kill him."
The tech's face whitened as he watched his superior disappear from the room and he turned back to Napoleon.
"Sorry, Mr. Solo, but orders are orders." He placed the gun against Napoleon's temple. "Please don't move. I've never killed anyone before, so I'd appreciate it if you'd not make it any harder than need be."
Napoleon closed his eyes at the pressure of the cold metal. Since the guy was using a .22, there was a good chance he wouldn't make it out of this one.
"FREEZE! DROP THE GUN!"
Even Napoleon jumped at the sound of Illya's voice, not having seen the Russian storm in. The technician spun and fired once before Illya's bullet dropped him. The THRUSH bullet went wild, then reflected off a steel beam and caught Illya in the bicep. The tech, however, missed the satisfaction of the moment as he crumpled to the floor in an unconscious heap.
Napoleon saw the amazement in Illya's face as he looked down at his arm, then over at the beam, then back to his blood-stained sleeve. He shook his head and stuffed his gun into his belt. "Incredible," he muttered as he crossed the room to Napoleon's side. "I'm my own worst enemy."
"You have your safety on?" Napoleon asked as Illya undid the straps holding him. "With your luck today, you'll shoot yourself in the foot or someplace... worse."
"I should leave you here," Illya muttered, wrapping an arm under Napoleon as he got him into a sitting position. "Sometimes, you really are more trouble than it's worth." Napoleon managed a weak grin as he slid off the end of the table. Only his partner's arms kept him from going all the way to the floor as his legs buckled. "Breathe, Napoleon, focus on me."
"That's part of the attraction. Legs feel kinda funny, Illya," Napoleon murmured into Illya's neck as he leaned on the Russian, grateful for the support. "How did I do?"
"If the Academy doesn't give you an Oscar for over-acting, I certainly shall." He took a step forward, grimacing under Napoleon's weight and his own injury. "Let's get out of here before the whole place goes up. Del Vecceo's got somebody planting a ton of explosives under the building at this very moment. You know how he loves to blow things to Kingdom come."
"Almost as much as you... I'd like to thank my mother, my father, my dog..." Napoleon abruptly stopped and collapsed and the Russian readjusted his grip to keep from dropping him.
"Figures, you thank everyone but me and I end up having to carry you out of here. Maybe I should go for Best Supporting."
Two more UNCLE agents appeared in the doorway and ran to his side.
"Very much, but we need to get him some medical attention."
"You too?" The man pointed to the blood staining the Russian's sleeve.
Alexander Waverly regarded the men in the two beds before him. They had performed well, but this was no time to tell them that. In fact, if he didn't talk fast, he was going to lose Kuryakin to the pain killer before he could make his point.
Both agents had been very fortunate, although he felt certain that the Russian wouldn't think so, once the medication that was glazing his eyes wore off and he began to feel again. Still, it could have been much worse than a few stitches, an inch more and it would have been a shattered humerus and weeks of physical therapy before being assigned to several weeks of desk work. Instead, they simply pumped the wound full of antibiotics, stitched it up, gave him something for pain and tucked him into bed.
Napoleon, on the other hand, looked the picture of health. He was attentive, the hazel eyes bright and eager to discuss their mission.
"Your restraint was admirable, Mr. Solo, but you could have done yourself grave harm by resisting for so long. The last agent who indulged Professor Gilbrailti's love of torture is still under Bellevue's careful supervision."
"Yes sir, but Illya gave me an idea of how far I could go without any permanent harm." Napoleon smiled over at Illya, who didn't seem to be paying either of them much attention. "Besides, if I didn't put on a good show, THRUSH might have been wary."
"So, THRUSH knows of our plans to blow up the Flamingo Dam. Where does that leave us, Mr. Kuryakin?"
At the sound of his name, Illya blinked, his forehead wrinkled with thought. After a long moment, he spoke slowly "Before we sent Napoleon into THRUSH's clutches, we planted approximately seven tons of explosives at the dam site. All of it is wired to a common detonator. THRUSH will just see just a tiny beam and then the resulting explosion." Illya made an appropriate gesture with one hand. "Hopefully, THRUSH will buy it lock, stock, and basket."
"Barrel, Illya." Napoleon corrected automatically. "I'm still worried, sir. What if THRUSH tries something before the morning of the 7th?"
"Impossible," Illya muttered and began an intense study of his blanket.
When it became obvious that Illya wasn't going to add anything himself, Napoleon prompted him, "Why would that be impossible, Illya?"
Napoleon grinned and repeated himself. "Why wouldn't THRUSH try to steal the device from us earlier than expected?"
"Well , first, there's the matter of testing it. Why steal something if it doesn't work? Why go to the expense and effort of doing your own testing when someone else is going to do all the work for you and finally, we haven't built a working model yet." Illya said, blinked slowly. "You can't steal what doesn't exist. We won't even have one ready by the morning of the test. We blow the dam first and then construct our decoy." The Russian's head bowed and he sighed sleepily. "Um... the one we want THRUSH to take will be made up after we return here. Don't want them to steal the wrong box..." Illya trailed off again.
"What do we do until then, Mr. Waverly?" Napoleon gave Illya up as a lost cause.
"We... bait, Mr. Solo. We know that THRUSH has broken our X-4 code, so we shall broadcast in that to various points."
"Perhaps we should have a few members of Section 1 join us that morning,, Sir, just for show."
"Excellent suggestion, Mr. Solo, I'll see to the security arrangements."
"What about us, Sir... ah... me?" Napoleon realized that Illya had finally stopped fighting the drug and fallen asleep. "Illya's going to be sidelined for a couple of days."
"You're free to leave whenever you are ready, but I would suggest that you follow Mr. Kuryakin's example and get some rest, Mr. Solo. We shall need you both in top form for the 7th. That's only a few days away."
Illya Kuryakin held the binoculars with one hand and used the other for his communicator. Beside him in the heavy brush, Napoleon Solo squatted, intent on a distant hillside, studying it with his own binoculars. In their camouflage outfits, they were practically impossible to pick out, but he wasn't taking any chances.
"Open Channel D please," Illya murmured into his communicator.
"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin," responded Waverly's gravelly voice. "What is it?"
"We've got company, sir. We have two..." He trailed off as Napoleon shook his head and held up a three fingers. "... No, correction, three scouting parties, obviously THRUSH. They're all focused on the dam."
"Excellent, Mr. Kuryakin. Stand by."
Napoleon let his binoculars drop to dangle from the neck strap. "Hope they like the fireworks."
"After what we went through to get them out here? They'll be ingrates if they don't. I just wonder if they'll be impressed enough to try and pinch it."
"Pinch it? Illya, you've been hanging around Mark too much." He ran a hand down a nearby tree trunk and watched Illya rub insistently at his arm. "You okay?"
Illya smiled sheepishly and stopped. "Stitches itch. I'm supposed to get them out tomorrow."
"They'll itch a lot less in a few minutes, I suspect. What time is it, by the way?"
"Ah...14:28. They should be on the final countdown. You may want to take refuge behind that tree, Napoleon. When this thing goes..."
"I know," Napoleon interrupted grinning. "Boom!"
Even though he'd been warned, Napoleon wasn't quite prepared for the rocking explosion that followed Illya's "Heads!" It knocked Napoleon to his knees and made his ears ring like the bells of Notre Dame. He remained still for a long moment, waiting for the dust to settle. Only his communicator with its on-off blat roused him.
"Report, Mr. Solo." Waverly demanded the moment he opened the channel. Of course, from his end, the explosion had been a faint rumble.
Napoleon shook the dirt from his jacket and used a handkerchief to brush the fine sand from the binocular lenses. Illya, coughing, slowly came to life.
"Well," Napoleon murmured as he surveyed the hillsides. "It would appear that we made quite an impression, sir. One group has a tree on them." He grinned over at Illya. "The others seem unharmed, but very awed. I think that they went overboard on the explosives again, sir."
"Very good, Mr. Solo. Keep monitoring them and alert us should they try to move before we have the bogus weapon prepared. Out."
Napoleon tucked the communicator away and began to brush debris from his pants. "So what's the game plan from here?"
"We have a team standing by. They'll dismantle everything back into components. If THRUSH stops the van, they'll only find a harmless laser generator and some bits of wire. The lab tried to keep it simple."
"And that will keep THRUSH at bay until we have the real one for them to steal? When do we let them have it - literally?"
"Don't know. Waverly hasn't said yet. I'm sure he'll want an equally elaborate show when he does..." Illya dropped his binoculars and fell silent until Napoleon found himself growing concerned.
"Illya? Is something wrong? Is your arm hurt?"
"Huh? No, I was just thinking."
"Napoleon, you don't suppose Mr. Waverly would actually send Section Twos into a set up to get killed, do you?"
"I don't understand, Illya."
"Well, if we make this thing look realistic, we'll have guards posted, but since it's important not to deter the THRUSH, they'll either have blanks or sleeper bullets. THRUSH, however, will be playing for keeps."
"Yes, I suppose so." Napoleon trained his glasses off into the distance. "Perhaps they'll rig up some sort of alarm device, but they'll still need men around there. Do you have a better suggestion?"
"I guess we weren't exactly trained to let THRUSH win either." Illya pointed towards the THRUSH group that was still struggling with the tree. "Even our explosives hate them." He grunted and then turned back to Napoleon. "We will, of course, be there."
"You'll be up to it?"
"Of course. The last thing I intend to do is have this all messed up by a well meaning Section 2. And I have no intention of letting someone else have all the fun..."
Illya looked up from his drumming fingers to the face of his partner.
"Sure is quiet," he ventured to Napoleon before resting his chin on the palm of a hand and sighing. Maybe they didn't take the bait after all."
"Maybe your impatience is showing." Napoleon tried to an itch on his side. "I didn't know bullet-proof vests were so uncomfortable."
"They're designed to stop bullets, Napoleon, not be fashionable."
Napoleon half smiled at him and reached for his communicator.
"Open Channel G. Are you there, Tony?"
"Here and ready to take up knitting." Del Vecceo answered, his strong Italian accent distorted.
"There's so much nothing that it's deafening. We just finished checking in with the outer fringes. They report the same."
"Where did we go wrong, Tony?"
"Maybe we should have let them torture you longer."
Illya scowled and then looked away in disgust. He rose and climbed out of the car to scan the horizon, as Napoleon added, "I don't think Illya would share that thought."
"Can he hear me, Napoleon?"
"You need to have a little chat with him. The strain is starting to show."
"Agreed and your thoughts are as same as mine. I take him out of the field and we lose one of our best agents and my partner. Do nothing and watch him slowly implode."
"Not so slowly, I think. He's tired, Napoleon, and tired agents make mistakes, sometimes fatal ones. Try talking him into a vacation - a nice quiet, long one."
The car door opened and Napoleon quickly changed the subject, answering, "Well, if it's all the same to you, Tony, I'm fairly happy with the way that part of it turned out."
"Hold on, I've got someone reporting in. Maybe they heard gunfire. I'll get back to you."
"With our luck, it'll be a pack of deer hunters," Illya grumbled, as he climbed back in.
"Deer hunters? On the docks of New York Harbor?"
"Rat hunters, excuse me. I forgot where I was."
"A bit of faith, Mr. Kuryakin, please." Napoleon sat up, stretching as he did. "Tell me something, smart Russian."
"Sure." Illya paused.
"What's to prevent THRUSH from turning that thing on," Napoleon pointed to a footlocker sized trunk - "The minute they get it and take half of New York with them?"
"About a fourth of an inch of steel all the way around and we sealed the locks with some state of the art bonding agent. It took us an hour to get the damn cap off the tube, so it must be pretty good," he said, grinning at his partner.
"They'd need at least a sledge hammer and a crowbar to even budge the lid. Besides, they've probably got orders to take it back home without trying it. Protocol and all that being so important to THRUSH, the big wigs will want to be present for the formal unveiling."
"Or so Mr. Waverly hopes." Napoleon's communicator chirped and he opened the channel with a little flair. "Solo."
"Napoleon, the party has just arrived. We've had a couple of men go down for show. If you're ready in there, we'll send them on through to you."
Napoleon paused for Illya's curt nod and grinned at the blond. "Give us about four minutes to set up and then let them come in, Tony."
They climbed from the car and took up lounging positions near the crate and, despite the excitement churning through their stomachs, did their best to appear bored.
At the sound of gunfire, they sprang up, looking around into the night. Illya took the first hit. Despite the vest, the sheer impact of the bullet knocked the wind from him and he crumbled to the cement floor.
A couple more half-hearted convulsions and Illya lay still, the plastic bag of fake blood spreading its contents out beneath him. "Illya? Illya! Wake up! Stay with me." Even though he knew his partner was play acting, Napoleon was surprised at how real it felt.
"Hello, Mr. Solo." Dr. Gilbrailti approached, surrounded by a group of rifle welding THRUSH agents. He smiled at the dark-haired agent's obvious grief at losing his partner. "So we meet again."
Napoleon did his best to appear distracted at the 'death' of Illya, a reaction that they were all taught not to respond to until after the fighting was done. This, however, was not exactly a textbook case. He permitted his weapon to drop as he gathered Illya's disturbingly limp body in his arms, holding him close. He rocked him gently even as the two drew up alongside him.
"This one's gone to the Spy's happy hunting grounds."
Napoleon turned on Gilbrailti as he started to laugh.
"And what a treat. I got to kill Kuryakin with Mr. Solo watching. Such fun. Well, Mr. Solo, we appear to have won this round - all the way." He gestured to the trunk. "Take that."
"You dirty, lousy THRUSH son of a..." Napoleon charged him and was rewarded by a gun blast in the chest that knocked him backwards. He collapsed and grunted as a second round caught him, again, in the vest. As with Illya, the plastic balloon holding fake blood broke, sending red all over him and the immediate area.
He made a half hearted attempt, then collapsed, his arm still protectively around Illya.
"This will teach those UNCLE dogs to try and match minds with THRUSH. Not only do we break into a 'top security' warehouse and steal their latest project without any loss of personnel, but we take out two of their top agents in the process. This is going to look very good in my file. Now, there's only one thing left. Even dead, I owe you this one, Kuryakin."
Napoleon felt himself pulled roughly aside and he dared to crack open on eye just a slit. Gilbrailti pulled out a thin silver tube and snapped it open. A long thin blade popped out and Napoleon felt a surge of panic.
"An eye for an eye and an ear for an ear... sort of. I'm going to have his balls as a door knocker." He started to unbuckle Illya's belt.
Napoleon bit a lip. There would be no way Illya would be able to take that and still play a convincing 'possum'.
"Come on, Doc. He's dead. He'll never feel a thing. Another few seconds and there will be UNCLEs crawling all over this place."
Gilbrailti sighed, lowering the knife. "You're right. I'd have a helluva time trying to explain to THRUSH Central how I lost everything to a corpse. Had he only been a little bit alive though..." He stood, drew his foot back and kicked Illya in the ribs.
"We've got company coming in the back door!" shouted one of the guards and his escort gave Gilbrailti a protective shove.
"We have to move now, Doc."
Both UNCLE agents lay quietly for several minutes after the THRUSH had cleared the area, then Illya let out a long breath.
"That was close." Napoleon squatted back onto his heels.
"Too close. I was afraid I was going to have to give up my plans of someday being a family man." Illya sat up and rubbed his side.
"I hear that adoption can be just as fulfilling, if in another way." Napoleon began to struggle out of the dye-stained jacket.
"Thanks a lot...friend."
Napoleon Solo toyed with the wooden stirrer in his coffee. He was bored, just sitting here with nothing to occupy his time, yet not quite ready to make the trek back to his office and the mound of paper that awaited his less-than-eager attention. Had he but the nerve and the matches, he'd torch the whole thing. Until then, he was content to camp out in the canteen and hope no one would track him down.
"Hey, Napoleon!" Illya's voice jarred him from his reverie and he looked up as his partner walked across the floor to him. "Denise told me you'd be down here."
"Remind me not to recommend her for a raise. I'm trying to fly under the radar" Napoleon gestured to the chair across from him and pulled his legs back into the space beneath his own seat. Illya sat and dropped a newspaper down on the table, narrowly missing Napoleon's cold coffee. He pulled out a pair of reading glasses and began to flip through the first section of the New York Times.
Napoleon watched him for a long time in silence as Illya scanned down each page and abandoned it. Finally, Napoleon cleared his throat, catching Illya's attention as he did.
"Illya, I'm honored that you should seek out my company among that of everyone else's here, but do you have something to tell me or are you going to read?" Napoleon was used to his partner going in seven different directions at once. He was equally practiced in bringing the Russian back to his primary topic. This time, he received a scowl and a shake of the blond head.
"Honestly, Napoleon, and you say I have no patience. I had something here that I thought might interest you, but if I'm annoying you, I can of course leave." Illya made a motion to rise and Napoleon held up his arms. "My plane is due to fly out in a couple of hours, but I can go earlier."
"I surrender, plead guilty and convict myself. What is it you wanted to tell me?"
Illya turned another page and smiled. "Here we go. Listen to this. Date line May 13, Rawlings, WY. Scientists are coming from all parts of the country to visit this small rural community to attempt to explain the earthquake that rumbled through the sleepy town of Rawlings and the Steamboat Mountain area. So far, they have not been able to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why this previously geologically stable area should experience earthquakes. They have, however, been able to predict that there is no cause for alarm in the surrounding area, as was previously feared. One victim of the quake reported that it was like a massive underground eruption." He stopped and glanced over his glasses at Napoleon. "What do you think?"
Napoleon took a drink of his coffee and swallowed it, making a bitter face before shaking his head. "Rawlings, Wyoming, huh?"
"That's what it says."
"THRUSHes are so-o-o stupid."