Illya Kuryakin woke with a start and looked about the small room without immediately recognizing the interior. He remembered being in a THRUSH ambush a few moments previously and then he convulsively clutched his chest. He'd taken a direct hit to his heart. The blood on his hand confirmed it. With trembling fingers, he unbuttoned his shirt and looked down. There was a good sized bullet hole right where there should be, but strangely enough, he felt no pain, no weakness and no loss of faculties.
What was he doing here? he thought as he recognized the cell he had escaped from just an hour earlier. He should be dead, just like Napoleon.
At the thought, Illya felt a lump in his throat rise and he leaned against the wall, waiting for it to pass. He'd finally found Napoleon, but not in time to save him. THRUSH's doctors had administered a fatal amount of truth serum in their futile struggle to break Napoleon's will. Illya remembered his frantic attempts to revive his partner with CPR before realizing he was too late. Then, reluctantly, he'd had to abandon Napoleon, duty winning out over friendship. Mr. Waverly and the world needed to be warned that THRUSH had a nuclear...
The door opened and Illya stood, flattening himself against the rough cement of the wall. If this was all some part of a bizarre THRUSH experiment, he'd be damned if he'd go down without a fight.
A familiar shape entered and Illya felt his knees weaken as he recognized his partner. "But, Napoleon," he gasped finally. "You're...you're dead. I know..."
Napoleon Solo glanced down at himself and nodded. "As a doornail," he verified.
"But if you're dead, then...suddenly, I don't feel very well." Illya sat with a thump and Napoleon crossed the small space with an even step to squat beside the Russian and pull open his shirt to look at the damage.
"Direct hit. I walked right into it."
"At least it didn't make a mess exiting. It must have lodged in your backbone. Look at it this way, even if you'd survived, you'd probably have been paralyzed from the neck down. Well, my friend, I would say you're in about the same condition as I am. Welcome to the Hereafter." Solo sat down beside him.
"In a THRUSH satrapy? Thanks, but no thanks." Illya brushed his hair back and sighed, studying his partner with serious blue eyes. "Let me guess, we didn't make the grade to get into heaven."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Napoleon countered, pulling a book from his jacket pocket. "It says here that our parameters are pre-determined, either through desire, duty or destiny. Maybe we haven't finished what we started yet." He flipped over a few pages. "At least, I think that's what it means. I'm glad you're here to interpret this."
"What is that?" Illya asked as his partner held it up for inspection. "Handbook for the Recently Decreased."
"Your thumb was in the way," Illya accused as he got to his feet and walked to the open cell door. Several THRUSH ran past him, but didn't even acknowledge him.
"How do you like that? A few minutes ago I couldn't keep them off me. Now they don't care. It is truly amazing how fickle some people are."
"I don't think they can see us, Illya," Napoleon said, laughing. "We're ghosts and I suspect they have more important things on their mind at the moment than worrying about spooks. Like whether you got a message off to warn Waverly. How much did you tell him? Did you give an exact location?"
"I... I can't remember. I'd just gotten to the communication center and gotten the channel open. There wasn't enough time for anyone to get a fix... at least, I don't think there was."
"See? You're not even sure. Just imagine how nervous they are, especially the ones that were supposed to be guarding you."
"One of them isn't worrying about anything anymore." Kuryakin stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Napoleon, I'm sorry I had to leave you. I didn't want to."
"You were doing your job, Illya. I can't begrudge you that. Besides, it was too late anyhow and I knew it. Contrary to what you might have thought, I can think of worse ways to die, like taking a bullet in the heart."
Illya smiled faintly and ventured out into the corridor. "Great, so we just wander around here?" He planted his hands on his hips.
"I'd advise against an attempt to leave the building. I tried." Napoleon joined him. "It's kinda hostile outside, sort of like a patrolled gate to keep us here. There are these big worm-like things, purple, pink and really ugly. Reminded me of a diner I ate in once." He went to replace the book and a scrap of paper fell to the ground. Napoleon bent to retrieve it, pausing to read it aloud. "Living getting to you? Is Death not the answer you want? Then call Beetle... juice? Say it once, twice, and the third time's the charm. Hereafter's leading bio-exorcist."
"Wonderful, even here we're not safe from the clutches of Madison Avenue. What's a bio-exorcist? What did you say that name was?"
"Ah... Beetlejuice...?" and Napoleon could have sworn he heard a chuckle. "How odd."
"This whole thing reeks of it. Can we go to the Control Room? I'd like to see what sort of shape I left it in."
"As long as it's inside the base." Napoleon stuffed the ad into a pocket and glanced around. "I think it's that way."
"I don't see what good this is going to do anyone." Illya grumbled as they walked through the tile and steel corridor, occasionally being passed by a rushing THRUSH, without receiving even so much as a backward glance. "I mean, how are we supposed to stop them? Jump around corners and yell 'Boo'?" Illya suddenly found himself nose to nose with a timid looking man. The THRUSH gasped, paled and backed away.
"But....but you're dead! I saw you shot," he stammered before turning tail and fleeing.
"I thought you said no one could see us?" Illya swung around to accuse his partner.
"According to this book, they can't." The book came out again and he thumbed through a few pages. "Read it for yourself." Solo handed the book over, staring after the frightened man.
"Except for the 'bizarre and unusual' according to this. Which would you say our little friend qualifies as?"
"A bit of each, I imagine. The control room is right around the corner. Let's go."
Illya continued to read as he trailed behind, "Okay. Hey, listen to this, Napoleon...Napoleon?" The blond realized the man was well into the nerve center of the THRUSH satrapy, which they were now a part of, brushing past uninterested men and women.
Illya joined Napoleon just as he came to the door of the head THRUSH's office. "And we don't even have to knock," the dark-haired man quipped as he walked through the wall.
"But I saw them, plain as day! Solo and Kuryakin both," pleaded a whining voice. "They were standing in the corridor."
"Bradner, we killed them both. Their bodies are in the morgue and I suggest you go take a look. Kuryakin took it right in the chest and Solo is still strapped to the gurney he died on."
"But I saw them... You know how sensitive I am about these things."
"Just because you're my brother-in-law, it doesn't mean I have to keep listening to this ghost stuff. We spent five months in Scotland because of you and your damn spook theories." The man stopped as an intercom signaled. "What is it?"
"Good news, sir. Kuryakin apparently did not, repeat, did not get any message off. UNCLE is none the wiser at the moment."
"Wonderful, then we continue the countdown."
"So much for that slim hope," Napoleon said, turning back to the equipment-strewn room, glancing at his watch. "I figure we have just about five hours. How are you at defusing nuclear weapons?"
"Been awhile and besides they don't keep it in this building. It's housed about four miles down the road. This place," he gestured, "is just back-up, in case the initial launching machine malfunctions."
"Not likely. What do we do now? Can we get a message off? Even just a homing signal?"
"Already tried. I opt to haunt the place. Watch this." Napoleon flexed his arms, then took his top lip and proceeded to pull it back over his face. The result was gruesome and yet all Kuryakin could do was chuckle and shake his head.
"Death has made you really strange, Napoleon. What good is it if no one..." he looked over to the still quaking Bradner. "... who matters can see you?"
"Parlor trick. Is there anything in the book about calling in reserves or are we on our own?" Solo reorganized his face and gave Kuryakin a superior look.
"Ah, it says something about a social worker, but recommends against it except in extreme emergencies, as we only receive five class one interventions." Illya suddenly snapped his fingers. "What about that Beetle guy?"
Napoleon was confused for a moment and then Illya's question made sense and he dug the ad from his pocket. "If we are going to try this guy, let's go some place a little more private."
"Okay, I saw a room on the way in. Follow me."
"Illya, this is the morgue," Napoleon protested, disgusted at the prospect. "I suppose those are our bodies under those sheets over there."
"Probably, but where better to find some quiet? We're not going to bother us." He reached for one of the shrouded figures, then stopped. "I'd better not. I could be under there. So, what does that ad say?"
Solo repeated the earlier message and looked expectantly over at the Russian. "Say what three times? His name?"
"Try it." Illya hefted himself up onto the table.
"Here goes. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice." Suddenly the floor started to shake and Illya jumped from his perch, diving beneath the table.
"Damn, they must have sped up the count. They're launching."
"No, look, it's the floor." Napoleon pointed at the cracking and buckling linoleum before joining Kuryakin. With a sharp crack, the floor split and a casket was pushed out. "Nice entrance," Napoleon murmured.
The lid opened and a man jumped out. He'd obviously been dead much longer than either Napoleon or Illya for his skin was ashen and half of his face was covered with a thin layer of green lichen. His suit was moldy and falling apart, but that didn't seem to bother its owner. He ran up to the two with a huge grin splitting his face. Cautiously, both UNCLE agents emerged from their refuge.
"I just knew you guys were gonna do it. Here's my card." Soil-encrusted fingers handed over thin white business cards that read 'Betelgeuse—Hereafter's Leading Bio-exorcist. I'm what you're here after.'
"What exactly is a bio-exorcist?" Illya was wary, but interested.
"I'm glad you asked, amigo." The man floated through the air to land at Illya's side and draped an arm over his shoulders. "Think of me as an exterminator—I get rid of those pesky little bugs you've got crawling all over your house—in your case, the living."
"I can't think of a better word to describe THRUSH than bugs." Napoleon agreed. "What do you charge?"
"Let's not talk about that at a time like this. We should be learning about each other. Do you like Chinese food?" He smiled into Illya's face and the Russian grimaced.
"What are your terms of contract, Mr. Bee..." Napoleon started only to be cut off as the ghost suddenly extended a hand to clap over the American's mouth.
"Uh huh, nobody says the 'B' word. Okay, the price varies. Are there any babes involved?" Beetlejuice abandoned Napoleon for Illya.
"Babes?" Illya puzzled. "You mean children?"
"I mean babes, chicks, sex on the hoof." Beetlejuice was disgusted and turned back to Napoleon while shaking his head. He hooked a thumb over his shoulders. "Where did you pick up this guy? A monastery? Hmm, nice suit—Italian?" Slim fingers toyed with a lapel.
Napoleon was distracted by the movement. "Ah, yes, hand stitched."
"Don't make them like that anymore." Beetlejuice took a step away and clapped his hands together. "So, who do you want killed?"
"Well, no one actually..."
"Speak for yourself, Napoleon. I can think of a couple of guys..." Illya threatened.
"Yeah, Napoleon, how come nobody?" Beetlejuice imitated Illya's voice exactly. "That's my best feature. I had them rolling in the aisles during the Inquisition...literally."
"Wel-l-l-l, there could be a couple of doctors," Napoleon admitted, frowning at the ghost as he returned to fingering the American's jacket. "Mostly, we have to disrupt things here enough to keep them from launching a nuclear weapon. How you chose to do that is really up to you. We're sort of new at this."
Beetlejuice smiled, "Yes, I should say you are. Nuclear weapon, huh? That could bring in a lot of new business. I might have to think about this first." He paced away, muttering to himself. "What should I do? If I say no, then I bolster my business, but there wouldn't be anybody left to get rid of. If I say yes, then I don't have to wait in line for the john or the phone...decisions, decisions." He spun and grinned again. "You got yourself a deal. Now, what exactly are these THRUSH?"
The door opened and a timid Bradner cautiously stuck his head in. Beetlejuice threw open his arms and raced through the air towards the man. Halfway there, he converted from his barely human shape to that of a slime-covered reptile of some sort.
"Amigo, weren't you taught to knock first?" he hissed at the wide-eyed, gape-mouthed Bradner. A huge forked tongue came out and gave the man a lap from head to toe. With a shriek, the THRUSH turned and fled. Instantaneously, Beetlejuice reverted to normal and he dropped to his knees, beseechingly opening his arms to the two UNCLEs. "How'd I do?"
Napoleon nodded, still a bit unsettled even from his position as an observer. "I'm impressed. Now what?"
Beetlejuice laughed and clapped his hands together. "Leave that to me." He ran out of the room with a bellowing, "Go ahead, make my millennium."
"Why am I reminded of a bull in a china shop?" Illya returned to his perch on the table and crossed his arms.
"All we need to do is buy enough time for UNCLE to get a second string of agents in here and stop that launch." He stopped as a distant screaming increased in volume. "And I think Beetlejuice has achieved that for us. Would you like to join him?" Napoleon reached for his top lip.
"Why not? I'm always ready to watch an expert at work. After you, my dear Alphonse."
"Quiet around here, isn't it?" Illya was working on his floating, while reading the handbook. "It's sort of a shame that we gave this satrapy such a quick reputation for being haunted. I am so bored. Not that I mind being holed up with you for eternity, of course." He glanced over at his partner and grinned.
"What are you looking at?" Napoleon growled, crossing his arms.
"It wasn't my fault, Napoleon. You should have gotten him to agree to a price before he started," Illya said, studying the man with a twinkle in his eye. "At least it was only your suit he was interested in. Mine is rather stained." He brushed at the dried blood and smiled. "And you do look rather beguiling with your shirt tail hanging to your knees."
"One more crack, Kuryakin." The warning was soft, but the threat was there. "I swear I'll take you down."
"I mean, it's not like you lost your shirt in the deal." Illya discovered that the floor still hurt when brought down to it in a flying tackle.