The cube sat on the pedestal, tendrils stretching from either end leading to the mass of computer banks that clustered about it. Several people crowded into the little space that remained to get a good look at it. A woman, dressed in a lab jacket, sat at a terminal screen and positioned her fingers over the keys. "If anyone knows a prayer, now might be a good time." She punched in a series of numbers into the machine and hit 'Send."
Slowly at first, then picking up speed, the clear crystal cube began to change first to a milky white, then a sky blue and finally vivid robin's egg blue. A cheer broke out and the people engaged in several moments of good-natured back slapping. The woman rested her head against the terminal and rubbed an aching side.
"This is what I get for getting pregnant by a musician. Your father had to be a drummer. Why couldn't he have played an oboe?" She spoke directly to her distended abdomen. "Next time, I'll have to ask beforehand." Though her words were light, she was experiencing a mixture of emotions - delight at having the machine work so well in its preliminary stages, depressed at having nearly finished a part of her life that had lasted over four years and a mingled feeling of dread at having to perfect the machine for mass production. Those buyers from Japan had really been pestering the hell out of her for the rights.
Her attention was drawn by a tall, lanky man in his early twenties. The man bent down towards her and rubbed a shoulder. "You feeling okay, Les?"
She sat back and shook the auburn hair from her face, smiling at her step-son. "I'm fine, Yotus, just relieved that it's all over."
"Is it? All over, I mean?" Yotus shifted his weight, a spark of something in his eyes that she'd never seen before.
"Except for some modifications so I can get those Japanese buyers off my ass, it's finished."
"What happens when it fills?" asked another lab-coated tech.
"It'll stop and sound an alarm to allow the operator to remove it and replace it with a fresh cube, but that will take a while." She rose and walked around the pedestal. "I think I'll dump it after it fills and start again. Why don't the rest of you take the evening off? I want to babysit it for a bit. Go celebrate for me."
She was reading through an alert bulletin when she heard the footsteps of someone approaching. It was the middle of the night, but she was in a locked room in a secured building. There was very little that could get to her in here. Still, a chill ran down her spine and she unconsciously placed a hand on her stomach.
"Who's there?" she asked shakily, looking around for a potential weapon. She nearly gasped with relief as Yotus stepped from the shadows into view. "God, you scared me, sweetie. What are you doing here? You should go home and get some rest. You've been doing enough to help me with this."
"Just curious and too excited to sleep. Do you want me to stay with for a bit? I don't mind. I had dinner and all. How's it running? "
She smiled at his enthusiasm. Not too many stepmothers could top the relationship she had with her stepson. They made a great team in the lab and she found herself relying more and more upon his help as her pregnancy went on. The reality was that this project would still be on the drawing board if Yotus hadn't stepped in when he had. "It couldn't be going better. Once we stabilize the memory, we'll be home free."
"Oh, Leslie, I was so hoping you'd say that. If I had to spend one more day sucking up to you, I think I'd barf."
Startled by his tone, she looked around. "What did you say?" That was when she saw the bar as it arched towards her head.
"Exactly where is Mr. Kuryakin?"
Napoleon Solo pulled the redhead closer to him, nestling his face against her fragrant hair. In his arms, the woman sighed, urging him on with her body. He turned her face up to his and kissed her, relishing her taste, smell and touch. Surrounded by pleasure, the knock on the door surprised him more than it normally would.
"Oh, Napoleon, you promised..." The woman pouted prettily, pulling a pillow up against her chest. "You said we wouldn't be disturbed."
"But Illya's not even in town," Napoleon murmured, reassuring himself as well. "I put him on the plane myself." He played with ignoring the door, pretending he wasn't home, but the lights and music would claim otherwise.
Reluctantly, Napoleon stood, patting her knee. "Why don't you trot into the bedroom? I'll get rid of whoever it is and join you there."
She smiled and wet her lips with just the tip of her tongue, pausing to wipe a smudge of lipstick from Napoleon's mouth. "I'll be waiting -- and ready, Napoleon."
"Me, too," Napoleon whispered, the motion of her retreating figure kicked his blood pressure up a couple more points.
He readjusted the blue blazer and brushed the wrinkles from his pants. Just before opening the door, he glanced into a hall mirror, making sure his appearance was nothing less than its usual perfection.
"All right, Illya, what's your problem? And I'm warning you, this had better be good," he said through the door. He was about to check out the peep hole, but a familiar voice answered him.
"Not Mr. Kuryakin, I'm afraid, Mr. Solo" Napoleon immediately tugged open the door to reveal an elderly man wearing a baggy Harris tweed suit and holding a black briar pipe.
Napoleon recovered his momentarily shaken confidence. "It's a pleasure, sir. Won't you come in and sit down? It's rather drafty in that hall." The Section Two bodyguards took their position on either side of the door way as the older man stepped through and into Napoleon's apartment - its design, styling, mood all broadcasting one unshakable message.
"Thank you, Mr. Solo, and I do apologize for having to interrupt your evening. I promise to be brief."
"What makes you think you're disturbing me, sir?" Napoleon ran a hand over and around his mouth, checking for any trace of lipstick.
Waverly took off his hat and gloves before gesturing to the glasses of champagne and the caviar. "Soft music, dimmed lights? Mr. Solo, you forget I was young once also. These are hardly the trappings of one intent upon a night of proposed television watching or the reading of a good book."
Napoleon smiled at the man - the fox wasn't getting any older, just slyer. "So, what may I do for you, sir?"
Waverly reached into an inner pocket of his suit jacket and withdrew a set of photographs. "Do you recognize these?"
Napoleon gestured him to a seat on the couch before taking the photos to a nearby desk and switching on the light. He studied them for a long moment before taking a seat beside Waverly. "Looks like the new computer terminal that IBM is pushing right now. I remember Illya talking about it and the limitations. If you really want specific information, he's the one to ask."
"Are you familiar with the various ways there are to store memory on a computer?"
Napoleon closed his eyes in thought, wishing that the Russian had been in town and on hand to answer the questions and permit him to proceed with his night of romance. Instead, his friend's voice filtered through to him.
"Remember, Napoleon, there are eight bits to a byte. Think of it as eight bits to bite off - that should help you. Now, remembering that, a disc pack can hold up to 150 million bytes of information, a tape can handle fifty, and the punch cards only about ten. Those are the permanent ways. Now, with the temporaries..."
However, Napoleon had silenced him at that point and was now wishing he had allowed the man to continue. He repeated the numbers to Waverly and watched as the old man's eyebrows rose. Obviously he didn't think Napoleon would know this much.
"Very good, Mr. Solo. What would you say if I told you there was a machine about to come on the market that could handle upwards of a trillion bytes?"
"I'm afraid not... and it currently resides in the hands of THRUSH." He began to fumble with his pipe.
Napoleon shook his head in disbelief while reaching for a lighter. "How, I mean, who?"
"A computer expert by the name of Lesley Hester. She's been working on an alternative memory storage device for several years now. The 'cube,' as she refers to it, is a latticed crystal box that has the ability to handle that information. The only problem with it is that the cube is very delicate. One jar and all existing memory in it is jumbled."
Despite his best attempts, Napoleon found himself growing more and more intrigued by the older man's words. "And THRUSH has it?"
"We suppose... or rather, hope, that they do." Waverly finished packing his pipe and accepted the light.
"Why, sir?" He patiently waited for Waverly to send up fragrant billows of bluish grey smoke before expecting an answer.
"The logical thing for them to do is to use it to store the memory that currently is stored in the Ultimate Computer. Now, should UNCLE be able to get their hands on it after the transfer has taken place..."
"... it would severely cripple, even destroy, the entire THRUSH organization." He lifted the photos again. "Sure wish Illya was here to explain all of this."
"Exactly where is Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Vacation, sir...in Mexico."
Illya Kuryakin stretched out on the deck lounge, permitting the sun to both caress and torture him with its warmth. Normally he'd object to just lying in the sun, wasting precious time, but he felt the need to relax completely. To bring back some balance of restfulness to his abraded nerves. UNCLE had been getting particularly raggedy-Andy lately and Personnel had been dogging him to take some vacation time, so he dropped out of sight for a week or two, with the intent of doing nothing but waste time at his leisure and catch up on missed sleep.
And where better than Mexico? It was easy for a man to get lost here, to change his name and face to become someone he wasn't. Even this hotel was geared for total seclusion and privacy, actually going so far as to furnish each room with its own pool, good for doing laps or taking midnight dips with a date after an evening of sex.
Yes, Illya thought, smiling to himself as he ran a hand over his tanned, trim stomach. Napoleon would be pleased with the rampant promiscuity I've been displaying as of late. It is amazing what a lack of identity can do to a man's morals. He continued the thought and, closing his eyes, dozed off.
Illya wasn't sure what woke him, but he could tell even without opening his eyes that it was dark. There was a sense that he wasn't alone and he reached for the gun that was tucked beneath his back, moving as if still asleep. He whipped it out, aimed and recognized his partner. He flopped back onto the chaise lounge with a groan.
"Napoleon, it's not that I'm not delighted to see you, but I will hazard a guess that your presence heralds an end to my vacation."
Napoleon grinned down at the blond. To have sneaked up so successfully on Illya told him that the Russian had lost some of the edginess that had caused the need for this 'escape.' He sat down on a nearby lounge and began to work on the cork out of the bottle of champagne he'd brought as a peace offering.
"Mr. Waverly has a little something for us to look into."
"Out of thousands of other field agents, he couldn't get someone else?"
"This requires your special talents."
Illya let out a sigh of Russian surrender and closed his eyes. "I'm on vacation, Napoleon. Surely I'm entitled to that, despite my heritage."
"THRUSH has stolen the prototype for a massive storage device for computer information. At this very moment, they're quite probably emptying the memory of the Ultimate Computer into it." Napoleon popped the cork and held the mouth of the bottle away from his crisp, white shirt.
One vivid blue eye opened, its expression curious, but guarded. "So?"
"So... what say we wait until afterwards, then we remove it from them and take it back to Waverly? We could crush THRUSH with one blow."
The other eye opened, interest making it shine. "Who's responsible for this miracle device?" He accepted the champagne flute Napoleon offered him.
"One Dr. Lesley Hester. She has her lab in California, but she's currently in Baja, recuperating from an attack by her stepson, who we suspect to be working for THRUSH." Napoleon lifted his glass to Illya's. "And she's been told to expect us."
"Mr. Waverly must have really trusted to your ability to persuade me."
"It's a gift."
"I shall remember to brush up on my subversiveness when we return to New York." Illya emptied the glass in two swallows.
"Sip it, Illya. You don't want people to think you're uncultured.'
Illya reached for the bottle. "I don't really care what people think, Napoleon, as long as they don't bother me with their opinions." He poured out more wine and leaned back. "So, when to we have to get going?"
There was a knock on the door and a voice shouted, "You sent for a porter, Senor?
"With Two UNCLES in the Room?"
The two agents stood at the top of a long flight of stairs, looking down at the far-off house built into a cliff.
"Are you sure this is the place, Napoleon?"
Napoleon checked the slip of paper in his hand and then squinted. "Well, I can't quite make out the house number, but from the directions we've received, this looks like the one."
"I don't want to have to climb these stairs for a case of mistaken identity," Illya grumbled, following Napoleon down.
Napoleon glanced over his shoulder at the slender man, his mouth playing with a smile. "Surely if an old man like me can make the climb, a young thing like..."
"Enough," Illya surrendered, pushing strands of blond hair from his eyes. "You're such an old man. You're what - all of seven months older than me?" He pushed his sunglasses back up the bridge of his sweaty nose.
They approached the cabin casually and Napoleon rapped on the weathered door.
"Yeah?" questioned a voice from behind it.
"Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, from UNCLE. We'd like to talk with you."
The door opened a crack to reveal the barrel of a very steady shotgun. "Let me see your ID."
The muzzle pointed at Napoleon's stomach and carefully he brought out his wallet, holding it up for verification.
"Okay, now you." Illya apparently reached for his a touch too fast and the gun swung about to point at his abdomen. "Slowly, friend, or you'll have to call out for a new set of intestines."
Illya checked his gesture, easing it considerably. As he held up the gold card, the gun didn't waver.
"Off with the shades. I want to see your whole face."
Illya pulled the sunglasses from his face and tucked them into the breast pocket of his jacket.
"Okay." The gun lowered and the door opened fully, revealing an extremely pregnant woman.
"Hello," Napoleon said politely, as if the whole interrogation hadn't happened. "We're here to see Dr. Hester."
"Then look away, 'cause I'm her."
"But you're pregnant," Illya protested.
"I am?" Horrified, Hester looked down at her swollen stomach. "And I thought it was the chili I had for lunch. Your friend's got a quick grasp of the obvious, Mister...?"
"Napoleon, Napoleon Solo."
"I got a call that I should expect you two, but I was anticipating some big muscle-bound apes. Always thought that's what made it into this sort of work." She looked them up and down. "Apparently I was mistaken. I've seen more intimidating school crossing guards." She lowered herself into an armchair. "Sorry about the heat at the door, but ever since Yotus beaned me, I've been understandably concerned about who comes knocking."
"Yotus?" Illya glanced nervously about at the semi-nudes that decorated the wall, not sure where to look.
"Hungarian god of microchips," she explained dryly, shaking her head slowly. "Why don't you have a seat?"
"Thank you." Napoleon sat gratefully, but Illya remained standing, peering out a nearby window. Napoleon watched his partner for a moment. "Illya, something wrong?"
"I don't know. I saw a couple of people on the beach when we were approaching."
"Those would be the prospectors," Hester interrupted. "They've been here since I have and they haven't made any threatening moves. If they had, they'd be past tense."
"I'm certain they would be," Napoleon responded easily, crossing his legs. "Now, Doctor, perhaps you could give us an idea of what exactly we're looking for?"
"Well, it's a crystal cube - clear when it's empty, blue when it's filled. It's about fifteen pounds and the size of a bread box. You know..." She made the appropriate gestures with her hands.
"That big and it weighs fifteen pounds?"
"The crystal we grew for it had a fairly high molecular weight," she explained, sipping at some tepid tea. "We had the thing working, but only with our computers. The access plugs would have to be modified if you were planning on using it with something else. Also, you'd probably have to fiddle with the BID rate and the 'and/or' function to make it dump properly. I don't know; we hadn't gotten that far with the research. Just about anyone who knows what they're doing could get it to work... Yotus doesn't. He thinks you just plug it in."
"What do you mean you can't get it to work?" The man jumped down from the desk top on which he'd been perched. "You're telling me that we've attacked a pregnant lady for something you can't operate? Jumping Jiminy Crickets, what a pile of worm jelly you are!" He ran a hand through his wavy brown hair and rubbed at his moustache. "Well, I suppose I should be delighted that you didn't splatter her head all over the floor."
"I don't know what happened." Yotus shifted nervously, worried at the man's outburst. "I could just kill myself."
"You're just trying to make me feel better. But you don't have to worry, when it's time, you can rely on me to do it... right." Tory Cerino pursed his lips in thought and then hooked a finger over his shoulder at a nearby tech. "Get me Base Five."
Yotus moved uncomfortably. "What are you going to do?"
"I've always been fond of family reunions. I thought you might like to see your mom again - and then she'll get the machine to work - I hope."
"No, I mean, what are you going to do with me?"
"Oh, Yotus, I don't know. I heard the Antarctic is nice this time of year. Or maybe Siberia."
"That's not fair! I came in halfway through the project. Maybe she put a tamper-proof check on it."
"My dear Yotus, I don't want to hear any of your lame excuses. Now, shut up or I'll rip your tonsils out through your ear. That's a good boy."
"Base Five on the speaker, Boss."
Tory slid into a chair and swung his feet up onto his desk. "Hey, hey, youse guys, how's it going?"
"A couple of guys went in about thirty minutes ago," responded a tinny voice.
"What did they look like?" Tory reached for a can of Mr. Pibb.
"One looked like he'd been plucked from Wall Street - almost six foot, three piece suit, dark hair. The other guy looked like a punk ."
Tory choked on his mouthful of soda and coughed while the tech thumped on his back. He sniffed and rubbed the tears from his eyes. "The punk, is he short, skinny, really blond and has a look about him?"
"That would be him. Looks like a good wind will blow him over, but he'd go down fighting."
"Better believe it, guy. Sounds like you got Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin from the UNCLE on the prowl."
"What should we do with them?"
"Whatever springs to your twisted little mind. I need you to bring me back the doctor."
"Say again?" The voice was confused. "I thought we had what we needed."
"Our brainchild here doesn't know AC from DC. We need her to hitch up the device for us."
"With two UNCLEs in the same room?" The voice was incredulous. "You have got to be kidding me."
"It's easy, man. You kill them and bring me her. Mess up and you'll be gopher bait. Ciao."
He flipped the microphone shut and reached for a powdered doughnut. "It should take them all of ten minutes."
"That's when he hit you?" Napoleon leaned back in his chair, resting his clasped hands loosely on his knees.
"You got it. I woke up in the hospital and checked out as soon as they'd let me. That's when I came here and discovered the scourge of the desert out there. So far they've kept their noses clean."
"Keeping an eye on you, I'll wager." Napoleon rubbed a fingertip over his mouth and then hooked a finger at the Russian. "Illya, why don't you go check them out? You've always had a propensity for scourge."
Illya straightened from where he'd been leaning against the wall and reached for his gun. "Do you have a back door?"
"Then I'll use a window."
He disappeared into the bathroom and the doctor shook her head. "He can't squeeze through that. It hasn't been opened in years."
"It's amazing what Illya can get in and out of," Napoleon admitted, a bit of jealously tingeing his voice. "This I know from experience. He's exceptional in tight places."
He was interrupted by a knock and he rose, drawing his gun. Quickly, he crossed the small area and flattened himself against the wall behind the door. Checking the firing mechanism of his P-38, he nodded and she struggled to get out of the chair.
Just as Napoleon was ready to help her, she obtained a vertical position and waddled to the door, pausing to scoop up her shotgun.
"Who is it?"
She positioned the gun and started to crack open the door. It was kicked from her grasp, knocking the gun from her hands.
Napoleon, ready for trouble, wasn't prepared for a noseful of wood. The knob caught him in the stomach and as he involuntarily buckled, the frame caught his forehead.
With a protesting gurgle, he collapsed on the floor, dazed, and the woman knelt beside him.
"Never know what's lurking about in the woodwork, do you, Chuck?"
"Lovely bit of nasty. The other one's likely hiding out in the kitchen or somewhere."
A sharp whistle brought both of them about barely in time to see Illya swing over the edge of the roof, planting a foot in each man's face.
After receiving the bottom of a size ten, neither man put up much resistance against Illya. Illya watched as the second slumped on the floor and bent to relieve them of their weapons. Then he noticed Napoleon.
"Hey, Napoleon." He propped the man up against him and gently slapped his face. "Wake up." He felt the man stir and jerk into a hazy awareness. "Calm down, it's just me."
"Did you get the number of that tank?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?" He displayed three.
"Seven," Napoleon answered, not looking, but touching his forehead with a grimace.
"I told you that if you picked on tanks, sooner or later, one would turn on you." Illya rested a hand on his partner's muscular shoulder and turned toward Dr. Hester. "Could I have something for his head? Some ice perhaps?"
"I'm not a medical doctor, but I do have a certain experience with headaches." She went to a small sink and pushed aside the dirty crockery to reach the faucet. Soaking a dishcloth, she wrung it out and tossed it to Illya.
"Try this, Napoleon." Illya held the cloth gently to the other man's head. "Now, how many fingers?" This time he tried four.
"Nine." Napoleon cupped the hand holding the coolness against the throb more firmly against his forehead.
"You're fine." Illya propped the man up and reached into the pocket of his black tee shirt, withdrawing a slender, pen-like device. "Open Channel D."
"Channel D is open, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly's gravelly voice responded.
"Progress report sir. We seem to be in the proper place. We were just attacked by two THRUSH agents. Obviously, the machine isn't working for them and we were able to thwart the kidnap attempt."
"What do you mean, 'thwart,' man?" came the gruff answer. "We want the machine to be working before we appropriate it, Mr. Kuryakin."
"But the doctor's in a rather delicate condition, sir. Surely one of our technicians could handle it."
"Knocked up," Hester spoke into the communicator. "You know, Goodyear blimp, bun in the oven, el prego, with child..."
"I see... then we seem to have a small problem. Can she travel?"
"Of course I can. I'm pregnant, not dying of terminal cancer."
Illya glared over at her, putting it closer to his mouth. "Yes, sir, I rather think she can."
"Then take her to the Los Angeles office, Mr. Kuryakin, and have her placed under protective custody."
"Yes, sir. Out."
"You didn't mention we had prisoners." She gestured to the two prone figures on the floor.
"Well," Illya rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Our interrogators are very skilled, but even they can't make dead men talk."
"What? There are two dead men on my carpet! Oh, crap... you snapped their necks?"
"Occupational hazard on occasion, but no, I merely closed their mouths too hard. It must have broken open their mercy capsules. THRUSH agents carry small bit of cyanide in one of their molars. Can't you smell it?" He tucked away the pen and stood. "If one wants to dance, one occasionally has to pay the piper. Open Channel A please."
"Channel A open, go ahead, please."
"This is Illya. Triangulate on this signal. I need a clean-up crew."
"Property or organic?"
"Organic, or so rumor would have it. And alert the Los Angeles office that we're bringing in a guest."
"You seemed to be needing one"
"Oh, I don't know." Illya shifted his briefcase from one hand to the other. "I think it's rather dashing."
"A black eye is never dashing!" Napoleon Solo argued, resisting the urge to pull his suit jacket over his head. "I feel like a common bar brawler."
Illya smiled jovially at the man. "It's all right, Napoleon, I still love you." He tugged open the glass doors and allowed his partner to precede him.
A young blonde glanced up from her typewriter as they approached.
"Good afternoon." Napoleon did his best to feel at ease with his facial decorations. "We have an appointment with Mr. Dawson. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin."
"He's expecting you, please go right in." She gestured to a nearby frosted glass door.
"Thank you." Napoleon, grateful for the brevity of the meeting, walked away with Illya trailing behind. As soon as they both entered the office, there was a click from behind them, the portal automatically locking, and a bookcase swung wide, permitting them to enter the headquarters of the Los Angeles branch of UNCLE.
"It always amazes me how all those places look alike on the inside," Illya commented as they stepped into the reception area. "Same cold steel walls, same concrete floors. Never any variation on the theme."
The receptionist looked up and her face blanked. "Good lord, Napoleon, what happened to your face?" She held out badges.
"She noticed. You said no one would," Napoleon chastised Illya as he clipped his onto his pocket.
"Sue me. It's what you Americans do." Illya shrugged off his windbreaker and attached his badge to the pocket of his tee shirt, now unconcerned that his gun was visible.
"Mr. Dawson is ready for you."
"They always are. Thank you." Illya gave Napoleon a shove towards the elevators, away from the obvious charms of the woman.
They entered into a near duplicate, but slightly smaller, version of Waverly's New York office. The bespectacled man at the desk glanced up, removing his glasses as he recognized the men.
"Napoleon, Illya, welcome back!"
"Gordon, how are you doing?" Napoleon reached out as the man dropped his left hand to a leg that ended at his knee.
"Certainly can't complain about corns on this foot." He shook hands with the dark-haired agent and added teasingly, "Looks like you're up to your old tricks. One of your female conquests bless you with that shiner?"
"Rather a mean door with evil intentions." Illya, in turn, accepted the hand before continuing. "Actually, he got it from tangling with a couple of THRUSH who will, no doubt, be sorely missed by their confederates."
"I see, well, good for you then."
"Do you have anything for us?" Napoleon asked, attempting to regain control of the conversation.
"Only a biggie, gentlemen." Gordon stood and hopped over to a console. "We checked with some of our friends who work with computers and asked them if they had heard anything about that device coming onto the market. They hadn't, so I inquired as to whether they had stumbled across an interesting article or two. This is what I got."
He punched a button and a television monitor snapped into life, emitting a high-pitched scream. The cursor raced back and forth across the screen, leaving behind characters in its wake until at last the picture of a bird, its wings raised in defiance against the world, filled it, along with 'Pass Word?'
"Hmm, your contacts find fun stuff." Napoleon studied the picture. "Any idea of where they got it?"
"We contacted our friends at AT&T. They were able to trace the signal to an office in the warehouse district of... Los Angeles."
"Convenient," Napoleon said, glancing over at his partner.
"Isn't it just?" Illya agreed. "But is it the site of the Ultimate Computer or just a check-in point?" Illya folded his hands together thoughtfully.
"That's what we want you to find out tonight," Dawson said.
"You feel up to it, Napoleon? That was quite a whang you took." Illya's concern was genuine. There was a time to give his partner grief, but they both knew the difficulties of working with a head injury.
"Oh, I think I can manage. I'm not that beat up."
"Good." Dawson shut off the screen. "Then I shall leave you and Illya to work out the small details. I'll arrange for a second back-up unit, in case we walk into a hornet's nest.
A lone man walked down the dark street, the blackness of his clothes making him a part of the night. Pausing, he lit a cigarette and let it dangle from his lips before walking on. A rustle from an alley froze him, but only for a moment.
Stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pea coat, the figure moved closer to the building.
As he passed through the last bit of light cast by a remaining street light, Illya Kuryakin tried to relax his tense muscles. If this actually was the center of the Ultimate Computer, he should, by all rights, have been challenged by now. Or, perhaps, that would arouse suspicions among the resident drunks and low-lifes who called these docks home.
The only sure fire way would be to charge into the building and find out for himself.
He took long last drag on the cigarette and then tossed it to the ground, crushing it out slowly, deliberately, with the toe of his boot.
Beginning to walk again, he drew closer to the warehouse and let himself become invisible in the dark shadows. Locating his target, he stood by the door for a long moment, waiting for a hint of action, hostile or otherwise.
Satisfied that he was unopposed, Illya pulled off his belt and slipped out a narrow strip of material - a heat bomb - and wrapped it carefully around the lock. It actually took mere seconds for the powerful heat to eat through the metal, melting it into an unidentifiable blob, but for Illya, time passed at a snail's pace. The back of his neck itched with the tickling sensation of possible hidden danger.
Still there were no alarms, no muscle-bound goons threatening his right to be here. This was almost too easy. He pushed on the cold metal door and it swung open. He peered into the black, allowing his eyes to readjust from the light of the bomb to the dark before venturing into it.
Slowly, he eased in and closed the door behind him. Drawing his gun, he squinted about.
At the far end of the huge stockroom, there was a door with a thin beam of light escaping below it.
That should be where they keep the thing, Illya thought, just before a shout racked the still night air.
His gun hand was hit with a flat object, slamming the P-38 UNCLE Special from his grasp. He cried out involuntarily and spun in the direction of the blow.
The room was so abruptly flooded with light that it nearly drove Illya mad with the brilliance. He rubbed at his tearing eyes and blinked to clear them.
Before him stood a samurai warrior in full battle dress, both hands clutching the hilt of a sword. Thank the Powers Above that he was holding a Kendo shinai, a bamboo practice sword or Illya's hand would have been sent flying along with his gun. The warrior smiled and slid the bamboo sword in his belt and drew forth a Daitsuki katana. These swords were reputed to be able to cut thought a six inch roll of bamboo mat as easily as warm butter.
Illya swallowed audibly, falling into a defensive posture, his weight balanced so he could head in whatever direction the sword didn't take, although the way the man spun the sword, he wasn't sure that would be enough.
The warrior shouted challenges at Illya, probably unaware that the Russian understood every word, but of a nature that Illya chose to ignore. He charged, Illya feinted and ducked beneath the blade, then leapt into the air and rammed a foot into the warrior's back, staggering him.
Furious, the man turned and lashed out. This time Illya's carefully honed instincts were not enough, they betrayed him at the last minute and the sword's razor sharp edge nipped into a bicep.
Because of the swiftness of the strike, the sharpness of the blade and the adrenalin pumping through his body, Illya didn't really feel the blow. However, the force of the attack made him falter, confused as to his next move. Blood ran freely from the wound and began to flow onto the smooth concrete floor, staining it a bright scarlet.
Through sheer determination, Illya forced himself aside, avoiding another, more potentially damaging blow.
His foot hit a puddle of his own blood and he slipped, the injured arm caught between him and the floor as he fell. The pain was so fierce now that he groaned and was forced to lie still, hoping the pain would pass before the samurai could recover.
Through it all, he saw the warrior, a red haze surrounding him, pause above him and raising his sword for one last strike.
Napoleon Solo rubbed at a temple and studied the night. A flash of light from a match lit his partner's face and he tensed.
"Okay, Illya's about ready to go in. Let's move into position." He signaled the four dark-clothed men and they branched out, each man to a wall and Napoleon following Illya, a few minutes behind him.
When he heard the yell, Napoleon hit the floor fast, flattening himself against the cold cement. He spotted one of his men as the lights flashed on, but the others remained hidden.
It didn't however, seem to make much difference to the man who screamed - he was only intent on the blond Russian.
Napoleon waited until the man's back was to him and ducked behind the safety of a pile of crates. He saw the samurai make contact with Illya, then watched Illya fall, moaning with the pain of impact.
Enough was enough. Napoleon aimed the P-38 and unloaded one shot at the warrior, catching him neatly between the eyes as he raised his sword for the killing blow.
Napoleon gestured the agents forward as he dashed to the fallen Illya.
"Another timely arrival, Napoleon," Illya mumbled as Napoleon gently lifted the edges of the pea coat's sleeve to survey the damage, wincing at the sight of white bone in the red.
"You seemed to be needing one." Napoleon quickly unsheathed his knife and tore the dangling cloth loose. Despite the cry that followed, he wrapped the material about the wound and tied it tight. "That'll keep you from bleeding to death while we continue our little raid. We'll get you to a doctor as soon as we can."
"Your concern is overwhelming," Illya muttered, trying to make his way up to his feet. Napoleon caught the swaying body before Illya collapsed back to the floor.
A black-clad agent raced up to Napoleon. "Not much, sir, just a phone on a desk. If there were any other guards, they've all flown the coop."
"Okay, go ahead and close up shop and send for an ambulance. We don't want Mr. Kuryakin bleeding all over the inside of a rented vehicle.
"Again , I'm touched by your concern," Illya murmured, still slumped on the floor.
"Pass out, Illya. That's an order." And obediently Illya slumped against him
"You are chintzy, Illya"
Napoleon Solo woke from a sound sleep to the feeling of warmth and comfort. He lay there with his eyes closed, reluctant to relinquish the last bit of a hold he had on sleep.
Stretching, he opened his eyes and looked around the hotel room. The bed beside him showed all the signs of having been slept in, but the Russian was nowhere in sight.
"Illya?" Napoleon called softly, concerned. The man had certainly been in no condition last night to be out of bed this morning. It had taken some fast talking to avoid hospitalization, but Waverly had been adamant.
"Out here, Napoleon," came the answering call from beyond the curtains.
Napoleon swung his legs over the bed's edge and reached for his robe. Knotting it securely shut, he picked his way through the obstacle course left behind by his partner's clothes. He drew the curtains aside to reveal a typical Los Angeles day - sunny but smoggy. Sitting at the wrought iron table, Illya gestured to the chair across from his with his good arm. The other was securely wrapped in a complex mass of belts and cloth, immobilizing the limb completely.
"It's nearly one, Napoleon. I had no intention of sleeping the day away. Want some coffee?"
"Thanks." Napoleon watched as Illya awkwardly poured the hot liquid from the carafe. "How's the arm?"
"Okay, as long as I don't think about it."
"Why don't you take one of your pain killers?"
"No thanks; I'll deal with reality today."
"You... were flying a little high last night." Napoleon grinned at the memory. "You even proposed to the nurse. Said she had skilled fingers and you had just the thing for her to practice on."
"I did?" Illya dropped his head in embarrassment. "She didn't accept, did she?"
Napoleon regarded the plaintive face for a moment before breaking into a smile and reaching for the sugar. "No, but you have a lovely singing voice. Relax; your Russian virtue is still safe. What are you looking at?"
Illya laughed softly. "I thought you were asleep. I had a whole conversation with you about this earlier this morning. You don't remember?"
"Memory's not as spry as it used to be." Napoleon tilted his head sideways. " It looks Japanese."
"A book on samurai, actually." Illya closed the book, mentally marking his place, so that Napoleon could see the cover and then flipped it back open. "I saw a design on that warrior's garb and I thought I could track it down, we might be able to pinpoint the region he belongs to. It's not much. A long shot."
"It's the best we got when the alternative is nothing."
There was a knock on the door and Illya darted a look at his watch. "Good, lunch is right on time."
"Certainly nothing wrong with your appetite, I see."
"Doctor's orders - I have to make up for all the blood I lost." Illya got to his feet, favoring his left side slightly, and, pursing his bottom lip, slipped his gun out of the sling. "Who is it?"
"Room service, sir, and I want to hear you explain this to the Great White Chief."
Illya grinned at the voice and went to open the door, slowly at first, then faster. "Moonlighting, Gordon?"
Before him stood Gordon Dawson, leaning on a cart.
"Met the man on the way up. One look at the amount of food and I knew it had to be for you." The green eyes twinkled their amusement at him.
"Terrific; you saved me a tip."
"You are chintzy, Illya. Good day, Napoleon." He waved to the man. "How's the arm and face, respectively?"
"They'll do," Napoleon answered for them both.
"Gordon, come out and sit down. I'm sure there will be enough for three."
Dawson wheeled the cart out onto the balcony and began setting dishes on the table. Along with them, he flopped down a folder.
"An appetizer?" Napoleon lifted it.
"We got hold of our friends at Pacific Telephone to see if they could help us out with our latest problem. First, they put a disconnect recording on that phone number..."
"Disconnected?" Tory Cerino crumpled the can in his hands and lobbed it towards a nearby trash can. "Well, doesn't that just fry your grits?" He cradled the phone and thought for a long moment before snapping his fingers. "Okay, this time we bring the chick in and no screw ups!"
"Gotcha, boss. Anything else? A sandwich, mass execution of an innocent village? Steal the Eiffel Tower? Draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa?"
"You're just saying that to make me feel better." Tory reached for a note pad. "You can take our 'computer whiz' for a tour of Hong Kong harbor. Let him start at the bottom. He'll appreciate it more when he gets to the top, but make sure that doesn't happen any time soon." He jotted down a memo to himself before fastening his piercing dark eyes on his minion. "Whatever you do, I want Hester by tomorrow night."
"One Move and the Broad Gets It."
Illya Kuryakin kept a minimum of attention on his surroundings and concentrated on preventing anyone from jostling his bad arm. Napoleon Solo glanced around and suddenly pointed out a small, secluded park. "What say we take ten and sift through our thoughts?"
"Fine; I just wish the Chinese could learn how to give directions. I've never been so hopelessly confused in my life - and I've lived here."
"What about the time you tried to find your way out of that lighthouse in Newfoundland?"
"You always remember, don't you?" Illya grumbled, but with the hint of a smile on his lips. He followed Napoleon off the street. Napoleon found a bench and settled back on it, working the toes of one foot and regarding the serenity of the green foliage.
"I thought samurai were Japanese."
"But we're in Hong Kong."
"Yes. This is where our people traced the signal to...eventually."
"It's odd that, in a city with so many people, they still have parks. It would seem a dreadful waste of precious space," he ventured as Illya joined him.
"You have to remember that many of these people are Buddhists, as well as communists. All life forms are sacred to them, Napoleon, including trees, grass, bushes. This is their way of acknowledging the importance of something that is almost non-existent today - serenity and the necessity of achieving an inner peace. You can just sit here and meditate, allowing your mind to become pregnant with thought."
"Speaking of such, do you happen to recognize the lady walking towards us?"
"What is she doing here?" Illya stood a split second behind Napoleon. "I thought we left her under Gordon's watchful eye."
"Doctor Hester." Napoleon placed a casual arm around her shoulders. "This is a surprise."
"It shouldn't be." She shrugged his arm off. "I overheard my bodyguard saying that the organization holding my cube was here, so I left him at my Lamaze class and caught a slow boat to China...well, Hong Kong, actually."
"We'd better tell Gordon we found her." Illya withdrew his communicator and began speaking quietly into it.
"Dr. Hester, whether you like it or not, you've just picked yourself up two bodyguards... traveling companions, as it were."
"Thanks, but I prefer to travel alone, such as it is. I'd only slow you down."
"Good, it'll be a wonderful change of pace. Illya's exhausting me." Napoleon carefully, but forcefully, guided her back to the bench just as Illya was returning the silver instrument to his breast pocket.
"He's not overly enthusiastic about her being here." He spoke directly to Napoleon.
"Neither am I." Napoleon locked his hazel eyes upon her. 'Now, Doctor, I don't care whether or not you're worried about your safety or that of your unborn child, but you will not jeopardize this assignment, capice?
"Sure, why not? I mean, since it's not important for you guys to get that cube working, I'm certainly not sweating it. I can build another one, but unless you can get that thing working, it's all over for you." She smiled sweetly.
"So, all three of them are now here in Hong Kong?" Tory's head nodded at the news. "That's blissful, absolute and total bliss. Since the rest of you melon heads screwed it up, I'll bring her in tonight - myself. Shall I keep the UNCLEs for our torturers? All right, torturers, interrogators, potato, po'taw'to... Right. I'll put a bag on them. Hey, do you know what you get when you cross six epileptics and a head of lettuce? Hello? Oh, hello, party?" He frowned down at the phone receiver. "That's the trouble with THRUSH Central. They've got no sense of humor."
"Just remember that it was your wit that got you stuck up in the North Pole for six months," warned a fellow agent who sat across from him. "By the way, you get a seizure salad. So, now what's the game plan?"
Tory steepled his fingers, drumming the tips together as he thought. "Oh, I don't know... what would be nice?"
Napoleon peered over the desk at the Russian, who was lounging lazily on the nearby bed. "Are you sure that Madam X isn't going to check herself out?"
"Positive. I jammed her door closed from the hall. The only way out is through our room... or the window and since we on the 28th floor..."
"You don't think...?"
"Ledge isn't even wide enough for me, and she's top heavy. She'd have to fly."
Hester tugged uselessly at the door and swore. The baby shifted and began a steady tattoo against her right side. She slapped her stomach gently. "Knock it off, Jose. You'll get out when I'm ready, not before."
She leaned against the door. "Well, unless I want to go over the top of those two, a thing I wouldn't appreciate even if I wasn't el blimpo, I guess I should take a hot bath and go to bed. How ya like that idea, kid?"
A noise drew her attention to the window as a pair of camouflaged men came in through the patio door.
"I'll say one thing for you, you're persistent. Let me guess, the bell hop didn't care for my tip," she said as she eased her way to the interconnecting door. She jerked it open and began to pound on the second, still closed, door.
"Oh, oh, now what?" Napoleon ran to the noise and had barely turned the knob when it slammed open, clipping him smartly in the face.
Illya rolled off the bed and grabbed for the gun hidden in his sling as Hester ran in, the THRUSH henchmen close behind. "All right, gentlemen, that's far enough." He aimed the gun steadily at them and, obligingly, they froze. "Over here, Doctor, quickly, to me." Illya gestured with his head.
Groggy, Napoleon was grapping his way to his feet and the nearest THRUSH grabbed him and heaved him at Illya. He slammed into his partner and dropped both of them to the floor.
Hester was already out the door. Panicked, she ran into the hall and slammed the door shut behind her - clutching at her side. Nearly sobbing with relief, she raced up to a man who had started with surprise as she burst from the room. "Please, you've got to help me. There are two men in there - they're trying to kidnap me!"
"Take it easy, ma'am; don't get excited. In your condition, it's not wise." The mustached man made calming noises. "Now, slowly, what happened?"
Behind her, the door opened and Napoleon staggered out, blood streaming from his nose. Illya followed, clutching his arm. The man grabbed Hester by the wrist and spun her around, held a forefinger to her temple. "One move and the broad gets it."
"With your finger?" Illya asked dubiously, taking a step forward. The bullet hit between his feet and Illya stared, mouth agape, at the man.
"I've heard of people shooting off their mouths, or being loaded, but this is too much." Nothing could surprise Napoleon now.
"When I give someone the finger, I really give it to them... heh, heh, heh."
"I should imagine, Mister...?"
"Cerino. Tory Cerino. Head of the local satrap, chief troublemaker in Hong Kong, suffering stand-up comedian and current possessor of a crystal cube."
"Well," Napoleon sniffed, attempting to stifle the blood flow. "At least we have that matter settled."
"But I'm planning on doing much, much more. I'm going to let the doctor actually see it and then she's going to be so grateful that she's going to adapt it for our use... aren't you, Doc?"
The THRUSH agents staggered from the room and made for Napoleon and Illya. "Doctor, unless you want to see my men make worm jelly out of your friends there, you're supposed to answer yes now." At her brief nod, he smiled charmingly. "Excellent! Bring them along, but first get rid of their hardware."
"Sure thing, boss. Against the wall, creep." The nearest THRUSH jerked his gun in Napoleon's direction.
He was professionally patted down and the usual assortment of weapons, various explosive and escape devices were removed from his person.
"Now you, Bunky. Spread it!" The THRUSH agent pushed Napoleon out of the way and pointed to Illya.
"Might be a bit awkward." Illya wiggled his sling-encased fingers at him.
The man grabbed him by the left bicep and Illya let out a cry of pain, his knees buckling.
A man clad in a robe and pajamas stuck his head out a door. "Shut your noise or I'm calling Security!"
"Right." Tory held up a finger. "Gently, Jake, be careful."
Illya was hauled back up to his feet and patted down, his sling detoured around when it because obvious that any contact with it would bring a repeat performance.
Napoleon watched his partner, the hazel eyes visibly worried. He hadn't thought Illya in that much pain - sure, he'd been rather quiet all day, but Napoleon had chalked it up to Illya being Illya. Maybe the fight pulled the stitches or something. The thought trailed off as they gradually removed Illya's hardware, but never bothered to check his sling.
"Ye gods, you guys are certainly well-equipped. I'd hate to play poker with you." Tory moved the finger-gun to the middle of the woman's back. "Okay, youse guys, we're going to take a trip downtown and if you so much as sneeze, I'll part the kid's hair." He gestured to his nearest accomplice. "Will one of you guys get something for his nose? And Kuryakin, don't cringe like that; we're going to leave your arm alone. Well, shall we?"
The two agents were shoved into a cell, leaving them alone for the first time since their capture. Illya was still protective of his arm, keeping it cradled tightly against his body, and Napoleon expected to see blood penetrate the sleeve of his white turtleneck, but it remained clear, if a bit smudged. He'd finished his sweep of the cell and was confident that it was bug free. He knelt beside Illya as he huddled on the cot.
"Illya, are you okay?" If you're in that much pain, I can put you to sleep for a while." Napoleon offered a fist.
"Personally, I prefer sleeping pills that don't bruise," Illya said, whispering. He straightened up and began to unbuckle the sling, pulling off a clasp and tossing it to Napoleon.
"Enough to remove most of the wall I should think." He pulled at a loose thread. "Your fuse, monsieur, and lastly," he removed a second buckle, "your detonator; don't get them mixed up."
"That's why you were being so protective of your arm. I like the way you operate, Illya."
"I go into these things expecting trouble."
"So do I" responded a voice from beyond the door. "But I didn't want to seriously hurt you if I didn't have to. My compassionate nature, doncha know?"
The cell was opened and Tory, flanked by guards, walked in. "Take the sling and send up a doctor. I want every stitch removed and replaced, as well as a complete exchange of their clothes as well. Now, I'm taking no chances."
"I thought you checked for bugs?" Illya's voice carried an accusatory edge to it.
"I did." Napoleon was obviously astonished.
Tory grinned and leaned in closer to pull a small device from the lapel of Napoleon's jacket. "But you didn't check each other. I was a really good boy scout..."
"No, he's into percussion."
"So then a turtle watches the snail's car go racing by and he shakes his head, saying, 'Wow, did you see that 'S' car go!' Get it?"
"Oh, God, Tory, enough! I'm fixing your damn machine, what more do you want? Besides a captive audience, I mean?" Hester looked up from her terminal, a grimace on her face. "By the way, where is Yotus? I was sort of expecting him to be hovering over me - and I'd love to see him again."
"His was a watery fate." Tory hoisted himself up onto a nearby desk and reached for a can of Mr. Pibb. "He wasn't of any use to us and struck me as having the loyalty of Benedict Arnold, so we decided to take him swimming. Pity he couldn't float while holding all that chain."
"Yea, that's a real shame. I hope he burns in hell." The baby punctuated the comment with a rollicking kick to her ribs. "Hey, quiet down in there! No loud parties after ten!"
"I don't know what you're bitter about." Tory was checking through various pens he had stuffed in his shirt pocket. "Yotus simply introduced your product to an interesting party. Thrush will pay you very well for its exclusivity. Plus, I'm certain they'll be delighted to throw in your own lab and whatever else you need to keep you happy. They can be so generous."
"In the meantime, they'll be using my device to control the world? No, thanks."
Tory grinned, raising a finger to her. "Think of the alternative and, besides, you don't have much choice." He uncovered a letter opener and twisted it between his fingers. "Do you know how much damage one of these can do to an unborn child?"
"That's where you're wrong, my dear. I would, if I needed to." He continued to grin at her. "I don't want you to end up like those two UNCLE chaps."
"What do you mean?" She abandoned her terminal as the blood drained from her face. "What have you done with them?"
He laughed openly at her concern. "We haven't killed them, if that's what you're worried about - it would be to their benefit if we did. No, they will be tor... examined by our people at THRUSH Central. Those boys have a way of picking clean the strongest of minds. Then, whatever is left of them will be given back to their poor Uncle Alex, probably in a bucket."
"You sadistic son of a..."
"Female dog, yes, I know. It is rather nice, isn't it? So, while you're still alive and whole, why don't we take you to them?" He slid off the desktop. "Besides, I'm getting tired of arguing with you." He gestured onward with the letter opener.
As they wandered back through the hall, he shook his head sadly. "Too bad you're not cooperating. I know this great little place here that serves seafood that's so fresh it practically crawls off your plate."
"Sorry, I prefer my food dead."
"Just like your friends. You would have been a riot on the Donner Party, Doctor."
He led her down the bare, echoing corridor to a heavily guarded door. "Inside, me lovely. I shall be down to see how you're doing after dinner for I have no intentions of letting your barbaric practice of burning food disturb my eating habits."
He shoved her in and laughed. "To your UNCLEs, my dear."
She slipped, catching herself at the last minute. "Your eating habits aren't the only things disturbing about you." The door clanged with a metallic ring, indicating he either didn't hear or didn't care.
She looked around the cell at the few bits of furniture and raised a hand at the dark-haired agent. "Hi... how are you?"
"Fine." Napoleon stood, gracious despite the situation. "We're both well."
"Speak for yourself, Napoleon," Illya grumbled from the second cot.
"What's wrong with him?"
"A small problem with a minor arsenal in his sling. Our Feathered Host took the precaution of going so far as to pulling his stitches out and putting new ones in. Cerino also thought it might be a good time to see if our Russian friend over there felt like talking and waived the local."
"That's torture!" She crossed the small space and sat down beside him.
"That's right." Illya, his arm freshly bandaged and in a simple cloth sling, winced as she sat.
"He says he's going to turn you over to the big boys."
"We suspected as much, providing we don't think of a way out beforehand." Napoleon collapsed back down onto the narrow, uncomfortable mattress. "Don't worry; we'll think of something."
Napoleon leaned against the wall, thinking. It was quiet, both Hester and Illya asleep, and he reflected upon the events of his life. Was it all as good as he thought it was - now that he was going to die for it? He was giving the best years of his life for his career, with the chance that in a few years or even minutes it could all be over. His friends were either UNCLE or they weren't - no gray areas. His only problem was deciding which he preferred.
Their door slammed open and Cerino stood there, his face hard and set. "All right, how'd ya do it?" He crossed his arms. "Trick mirror, doubles, what's your secret?"
"Do what?" Napoleon stood as Illya sat up and the doctor beside him stirred.
"What's he talking about?" she asked Illya, who shrugged.
"Don't know; I just got here myself. Napoleon?"
"Oh, knock it off!" Tory yelled at him. "The cube is gone, vanished, nothing but a memory and we were right in the middle of dumping memory into it! Doctor, will that damage the material in it?"
"Not unless it's dropped down the stairs on the way out."
"I'll have to pray for a butterfingered thief. But who took it? You're all here!"
Napoleon hunched his shoulder, noncommittal.
"Oh, playing hard nose, huh?" Tory stalked over to Illya and grabbed the injured arm in an iron, vice-like grip.
Illya clamped his teeth together, refusing to give his pain a voice and Napoleon was halfway across the room, but the guards' guns stopped him. "Okay, Mr. Solo, now again; how did you get it?"
"Don't say anything, Napoleon," Illya ground out, his face losing its color. His eyes pleaded with Napoleon's as Cerino increased the pressure.
Napoleon turned and sat back down on his cot. "It wasn't us; we have orders not to move until you were finished. Then we were to signal Waverly and the whole complex would be stormed."
"You didn't need to tell him that, Napoleon," Illya whispered as Cerino released him. He cradled the arm in his other as red blossomed against the bandage.
Tory smiled at Napoleon as if the whole incident hadn't happened. "That's a good point. Okay, if it wasn't you, then who did it?"
"That's your problem, not ours."
Tory grinned, stalked to the door and snapped his fingers, then walked from the room.
"Illya, are you okay?" Napoleon came to kneel beside him.
"He has a point. We need to find out who did take it if it wasn't us."
"I know who has it," Hester whispered to the two. "I'll bet it's those grungy little Japs who kept trying to steal it from us at the lab. Yotus nearly wrapped a steel bar around the head of one of their heads before they realized we were serious about not being interested."
"And you thought not to mention this until now for what reason?
"Didn't think it important?"
Illya muttered something softly in his mother tongue and Napoleon smiled slightly.
"I think in her condition that would be physically impossible, Illya," Napoleon said, standing and pacing the tiny room. "It might not be the best of solution, but at least it's bought us some time. With that on his mind, he'll probably put off dealing with us directly. It'll give us a while to play with an escape out of this box."
"Good luck." Illya lay back down. "Wake me when you're ready to leave."
Two days trickled by, each one leaving Napoleon just a bit more frustrated than the one before. He'd tried several times to get out, only to receive a severe reprimand from Tory at the attempts.
Still, he couldn't complain about being poorly treated, the cell was comfortable - as far as temperature went. A doctor stopped in daily to check on Illya's arm, although Napoleon wasn't so sure it was with Tory's blessing. The food was bland but plentiful. All in all, he'd been in worse prisons.
Napoleon was idly tracing circles on his blanket when the cell door clanged open and Tory swaggered in, a huge smile spreading warmth and good cheer about his face.
"You've found it," Illya ventured, his knees drawn up and his arms resting on them.
"How can you tell? I might have just gotten news that UNCLE collapsed or that the next guy in the chain of command croaked and I was getting his spot. But you're right, of course." He waggled his fingers at Hester. "And how's the charming doctor and her musical companion?"
"Heart burn, bloating, indigestion, headaches, constipation, dizziness, bleeding gums, nasal congestion, leg cramps, back ache, swollen ankles, hemorrhoids and varicose veins, I'm great."
Napoleon exchanged a grimace with his partner. "The next time I complain that my feet hurt, shoot me."
"Probably just voicing his distress at not having the proper father he so desires. Think again about my offer, Lesley. You could do a lot worse," Tory said, patting his hair down.
"That's why I keep refusing."
Tory laughed and snapped his fingers, pausing as the door swung wide for him. "Well, don't think it's been a pleasure, 'cause it hasn't."
Napoleon waited until the man left before going to Hester. "Lesley, do you remember the name of the Japanese who were interested in your machine?"
"Sure, they read like a menu - Toshi Yagami and Yojiro Futanabi."
"Let's hope our office can track them down a lot faster than our THRUSH friends." He handed Illya his shoes. "I don't think I like the accommodation any longer. Let's leave, shall we?"
Casually, he walked to the door and snapped his fingers. One of the guards pushed the door open before he thought. Otherwise, he'd have recalled that his boss was just departed. Unfortunately, Napoleon's reactions were so quick that the thought didn't have much time to register itself in either man's mind before unconsciousness set in. "Are you two going to join me?"
"You never cease to amaze me, Napoleon." Illya tugged his second shoe on and stood. "Any reason why you waited this long to try that?"
"I thought it would be a lot easier if we could pick up THRUSH and the cube all at the same time. You know how I hate duplicated effort."
"Do We Have a Choice?"
The men stood watch outside a warehouse on the Japanese wharf, both bored and less than alert. "Hey, Gene, whatcha wanna do tonight?"
"I don't know; got any good movie houses you want checked out?"
There was only silence that followed and Gene looked anxiously toward the shadows. "Dillon? Hey, Dillon, what's going on?"
Illya's fist caught Gene in the mouth with the force of a sledge hammer. "Okay, he's down," he stage-whispered to Napoleon.
Napoleon dropped the man he'd been propping up and hurried to the Russian's side.
"Do you think we can hold them off long enough until Lesley gets the cops here?"
"We'll have to do our best. How's the arm?"
Illya took it from the sling and threw the cloth to the ground, flexing the arm slowly and wincing. "Serviceable if I don't get too aggressive with it. We'll have to see if that THRUSH doctor knows his business. Ready?"
Napoleon nodded and unwrapped a length of rope and a grappling hook from his belt. After three tries, he anchored it over a solid-feeling object and tested it with his weight. Looking at his fellow agent for a nod of encouragement, he scaled the wall gingerly, pausing at the top to steady it and to offer a hand to Illya.
"Now where, oh gallant leader?"
"Let's try the skylight."
"But that's so old hat. Who leaves their skylight unlocked in these days of rampant crime?" Illya argued, keeping low.
Napoleon twisted the lever and yanked. It held fast. From his pocket, he removed a bit of putty and fixed it to the window pane. From a breast pocket, he found a piece of string and anchored it into the sticky putty. Then, using his ring as a cutting edge, he drew a fist-sized circle onto the window pane. A sharp blow and the glass gave, falling inward. Illya started to reach for the glass, but Napoleon pulled it carefully out still attached to the putty. Then he reached up and fiddled with the lock until it gave to his skilled fingers and he yanked the skylight open.
"And I was reflecting upon crime these days," Illya commented as Napoleon eased himself through before offering a hand for Illya to step into. Together, they found a pile of crates and examined the large, quiet room.
"Maybe we're a bit early or late."
"Maybe you're right on time, Mr. Solo," a familiar voice said. The room grew light and, now a very obvious Tory sat atop a crate, flanked on either side by burly Samurai warriors. "Would you care to come down or shall I shave a couple years off your lives by sending my boys up?"
"Word of warning," Illya murmured to Napoleon. "Don't disagree with those swords. They have a nasty temper when cornered."
"Definitely, unless you have some argument against it."
"I'll take that as being from someone who knows those swords intimately." Napoleon raised his hands and began a slow walk towards the small group, just as an additional two warriors pushed three more men, all humble looking, non-violent Japanese men before them.
"Really, youse guys, this is Hong Kong, electronic capital of the world."
"The window?" Illya asked.
"Must wreak havoc when a flock of pigeons roost."
"Very good, Mr. Kuryakin, I shall have to remember that. And, now that we have our pigeons back, what am I going to do with you?"
"Why are you using samurai warriors?"
"I thought it might throw folks off. Besides I love their outfits and they are loyal. They're much better than most THRUSH ops these days."
"May I make a final request?" Illya lifted a finger. "Before you kill us, could I please see what all the fuss is about?"
"That's fair enough." Tory reached behind him and held out a small half-blue, half-clear crystal cube. "This is what all the hassle is about. About fifteen pounds of priceless information. Do you know that if you got hold of this, you could put out most of THRUSH's western hemisphere?" He lowered his gun. "Pity you won't have the chance."
Illya winced and shook his head. "I'm surprised that you weren't sentenced to one of those outposts in the North Pole for your sense of humor. As I recall, THRUSH doesn't prize it very highly."
'Oh, they did, but the men got together a petition and got me out. Kindly chaps."
"Probably just couldn't stand your jokes anymore."
"Bingo, Mr. Solo, but this, gentlemen, isn't a joke. Belly down on the floor."
"You're going to shoot us in the back?" Illya demanded, incredulous.
"Head, please, unless you'd like to have one of these burly chaps remove it for you. I think you'd prefer to not be alive when I torch this place."
"How considerate." Illya lay down awkwardly.
"Do we have any choice in the matter?" Napoleon joined him.
"I didn't really think so. Well, Illya, it's been a life time knowing you."
"Right." Illya rolled over and shot the nearest samurai with the gun he'd holstered up his sleeve. The man fell and he aimed at Cerino. "One move and you're as dead as he is."
"Oh, worm jelly, you guys don't play fair. Now I know why they have you listed as 'shoot on sight' rather than allowing you to roam the dank dark corridors of THRUSH Central."
"We'll take that cube now." Napoleon stood, brushing dust from his clothes and unconsciously patting his hair into place.
"If you insist." Tory held out the cube to Napoleon, allowing it to slip from his fingers before Napoleon could get a firm grasp on it.
"Napoleon; don't let it fall!" Illya's attention was immediately on the object and the small gun was kicked from his fingers.
Napoleon dove for the falling device, grunting as he put himself between the floor and it. Tory grabbed for the cube and Napoleon used a basic jujitsu throw to propel the man up over his head and into the unsuspecting arms of a samurai, who had been ready to add a permanent wave to Illya's face.
Thankful for the reprieve, Illya rolled over and, from a crouching start, launched himself into the stomach of an oncoming foe. They toppled down and into Napoleon, who pitched forward, twisting just in time to avoid landing on the one object he was doing his utmost to protect.
"Get Kuryakin!!" Tory shouted from behind a crate. "Get him and you'll have Solo."
Immediately the three remaining fighters concentrated their attention upon the slender blond. Illya, panting, backed up against a box of resistors.
"Napoleon, run while you have the chance!"
Napoleon tried to rush to the aid of his partner, but Cerino proved to be more than a handful. Napoleon took a tentative step towards Illya, then staggered back after a powerful blow to his stomach. He grappled with Cerino for a moment, finally knocking the man from his feet and took a tentative step toward his partner before stopping and raising his hands.
Illya stood, his arms pinned, his head held back by his bangs, and a long blade resting against his Adam's apple, blood trickling down from the merest of touches against the tender skin.
"Okay, Solo, that's enough from you." Tory straightened from his crouch, catching his breath.
"Correction, sir; that's enough from all of you."
Half the Hong Kong police force had entered during the last few minutes of the fight and now crowded the room. "You will release both of them."
"Oh, gopher guts. Guess this just proves that life is a female dog."
Napoleon smiled gratefully at Dr. Hester as she pushed her way forward through the police. "Talk about the proverbial cavalry." She dabbed the edge of her handkerchief at the trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth. "Just in time, too."
"One more second, and Illya would have been a stand-in for the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow."
"Who?" Illya pushed the blade away from his neck and shrugged the hands from him.
"Ichabod Crane, Illya, don't you know anything about American folk heroes?"
"Is he another one of those Paul Banyon characters"
"Bunyan, Illya," Hester and Napoleon chorused, then smiled at each other.
"Well, at least the cube came through unscathed. Would you hand me that, please?" Napoleon asked of one of the police. The man reached for the object, but instead hit it, sending it crashing to the ground and splintering into jagged fragments. "Easy come..." Napoleon looked down at the remains with a sorrowful expression.
"Please." One of the Japanese computer people came forward, quietly, hesitantly. "Not to worry about that. We have whole warehouse full with the same information on them. We could not get the memory to erase itself, so we had to reproduce it with memory intact.'
Hester began to laugh and then noticed a dark stain growing on the sleeve of Illya's jumpsuit. "Well, since we're headed in that direction anyhow, we might as well drop you off at the hospital, too."
"What do you mean too?" Napoleon bent to pick up a piece of the cube.
"I started my labor pains on the way over, but be damned if I was going to miss out on all the fun. Like I said, when I'm ready..." She grimaced in pain. "And I think it's now."
"What?" Napoleon suddenly became the epitome of nervousness and panic. "We've got to get you to the hospital on the double." He grabbed an arm and spun, having a full half second to register the metal pole before plowing into it.
"Napoleon, not again." Illya groaned, kneeling down beside the unconscious agent. "Come on, old friend, you'd better join us."
"And that's how it all happened. At least Lesley had a healthy and beautiful baby girl, for all that took place. I swear Jan, some days you can catch an even break." Napoleon Solo, making his best attempt to feel suave and debonair with a ton and a half of plaster on his face, smiled at the woman.
"Broke your nose, huh?" The receptionist calmly regarded the blackened eyes and swollen face as if they were a common occurrence. "That's all right, although I was getting used to you with just the one black eye. Men with straight noses are boring."
Illya glanced up from his spot on the corner of her desk, where he perched reading a report of their latest affair. "Remind me to dash out right after I'm finished here."
"Funny guy," Napoleon groaned. "This could ruin a wonderful career."
"As an UNCLE agent?" Jan was dubious.
"As a conqueror of the fairer sex, I should imagine," Illya corrected, pushing his glasses back up and returning to the report.
"Ha, ha," Napoleon replied flatly. "So, tell me, charming lady, would you be interested in getting together tonight for some social medicine?"
"Socialized, Napoleon, and I'm afraid I'm already booked. I promised Illya I'd show him the Griffith Park Observatory after work. Maybe the next time you're in Los Angeles."
"Some friend..." Napoleon straightened. "All right, I'll just go back to our hotel room and sulk... alone."
He marched away and into the elevator, turning just in time to hear Illya quip, "So tell me, who was that masked man?"
The elevator doors closed with a thud and both Illya and Jan grimaced.