There is such a thing as a deafening silence, Napoleon had learned that in Korea. After the bombs and the mortar and the rifles had stopped, it pressed down on the battlefield, an unwholesome weight of dread and relief. Working for UNCLE, it had become familiar, always the same frought quiet and drifting smoke for a few seconds after the gunplay stopped.
He became aware of his own ragged breathing. And a moment later, of a low roar that echoed below him, then receded into the distance. He felt the rock wall behind his back, and the texture of the metal mesh platform he was half sitting, half lying on. He blinked, and through the mesh he saw the faint beam of a flashlight moving through a room filled with machines, a room built into one of the caves that the water had spent aeons hollowing out of the rocks. The light skimmed over a body on the ground, blood pooling under it. A few seconds later the eerie roar returned, and this time he heard the sound of water that accompanied it.
The clatter of boots on the metal stairs coming up from below made him turn quickly and reach for a gun that was long gone. Pain shot through his arm, and everything came back to him in a rush.
"The tide is coming in," the blond head of the Russian, along with the beam of his flashlight, appeared at the top of the stairs. "The sea gates have been breached."
Napoleon held his left arm to his body as he tried to sit up a bit farther. He could feel the blood from the gunshot wound start to soak through his jacket sleeve. "Is the chamber going to flood?" he managed to ask.
"It's likely, but I can assure you Mr. Solo, you will not drown today."
"I suppose that's some relief," Napoleon said as he tried to push himself upright with his right hand.
"The whole compound will blow up long before then" Kuryakin added, his voice dry as an arctic wind.
"You know," Napoleon grumbled into the darkness, "this is not exactly how I expected this rescue to go."
"I have General Malinin on the line, sir."
Waverly reached for the switch on the speaker, then changed his mind and picked up the handset instead. He pushed the button that closed his office door and took a quick look at the wall clock. "Dima. You're working early today," he said in fluent Russian.
"Good morning Alex. Or should I say good evening to you? You're working late," the familiar deep voice boomed in his ear.
"Yes, it seems to be getting worse every year. But it also seems to be the only time we can talk these days."
"Things aren't much better here. I don't think I remember my last full day at home."
Waverly paused. "You need to take care of yourself Dima."
He could hear a faint sigh on the other end. "Thank you my friend, but there's too much left to do. We both know it. You know why I'm calling Alex. The agreement with UNCLE is due for renewal next year; have you given any thought to what we discussed last month?"
"I'm going to have to repeat what I said at the time. UNCLE is not in the habit of allowing the member countries to interfere in internal personnel matters."
"Neither one of us is naive Alex," Malinin said impatiently. "This isn't about a person. We sent you a valuable resource, not so much in himself, though of course that's worth something, but in what he represents. I have to demonstrate to the Committee that our contribution is playing a meaningful role at your organization."
"I admit that the first few years in London were not what either of us wanted, but Lieutenant Kuryakin has settled in well in Berlin. I believe Harry is tapping his talents to their full potential. He's still under thirty Dima; I fully expect that in two or three years he'll be offered the position of Chief Enforcement Agent, Northeast.
"Too much can happen in two or three years, I'm dealing with politicians. They won't accept vague promises." Malinin snorted. "They reserve those for themselves. "
"We agreed last time that Northeast would be the most suitable place for a Russian agent," Waverly said carefully, noting the hint of weariness in the General's voice.
"It made sense then, especially with the year left to go at Cambridge. We were lucky last time Alex, we both know it. Krushchev's thaw hadn't faltered yet and when Thrush was brazen enough to shown their hand at Yakutsk it scared the Committee. Conditions have changed; the incident in May was a disaster. The situation in Berlin is deteriorating, the alliance won't hold. I'm worried that we're running out of time . If we don't sign the new agreement quickly, we'll be caught in the backlash. Our experiment will be over. "
"More reason for having our best people in Berlin; instability is always the most fertile breeding ground for Thrush."
"Beldon is in Berlin, stablility is not the word I associate with him," Malinin said dismissively. "No, no," he forestalled Waverly's objection. "I understand the arguments. I understand his value to UNCLE. But the reason he's able to do what he does is because he walks so close to the edge. If he falls off one day, I can't afford to have him drag Kuryakin with him."
"None of us are choirboys, Dima. Harry is no better or worse then the rest of us. There are five us us leading UNCLE after all, there are checks and balances. Don't let personal dislike color your judgement. Has Kuryakin complained?"
"You know better than that."
"The young man seems quite capable of taking care of himself."
"Ach, you know I'm not talking about that." Malinin said almost angrily. "We ask a lot of our young men you and I. You and I and all those like us. We ask before they're old enough to understand what they're giving up. What is our responsibility to them?"
"We give them a cause, something more important than any one individual. This is not like you Dima."
There was another pause. "I envy you your cause Alex."
"It has been your cause too," Waverly voice was gentle.
Malinin shook off his mood. "I don't believe in regrets. We did what we could when we could. Beldon's volatility is a danger. I won't be here long enough to protect my country's asset if it becomes necessary. I'm depending on you."
Waverly blinked, grateful his friend couldn't see the shock on his face. "The news from the doctors is not good?"
"No worse than I expected" Malinin said. "We have enough time to get this done, I promise you that. But you will have to give me something convincing Alex. I will listen, but you will have to convince me."
"Yo, Ivan," the words were accompanied by a hand banging on the metal desk.
Illya looked up squinting, then pushed his glasses up his nose. "Oh, it's you Sam."
"Ricky, genius, Ricky."
"Ee-lee-yah, " he said playing the game, rolling his eyes and pointing to himself.
"Listen kid, you're a Russkie, and all Russkies are Ivan as far as I'm concerned."
"And you, tovarisch, will always be Sam to me."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. " Ricky grinned, he was too fond of his own jokes to pay much attention to others'. "Listen, I'm making a run to Bornholm. If you want to pick up some of that contraband hooch of yours, here's your chance."
"I thought you were not going until next week."
"The replacements for Kurtz and the Finn finally arrived. I gotta pick them up."
Illya looked at his watch. "Give me half an hour, yes? I have to wait for this calculation to finish."
"Kloppen's got you working on your day off does he?"
"Special project," he shrugged.
"Alright Ivan, half an hour. And maybe you can get a little something extra for me while you're at the old man's."
"You know there's no drinking at the lab Sam," Illya winked and went back to his papers.
"Hey Solo, get your butt out of my chair."
Napoleon looked up from the file he was studying and grinned. "Amol. I thought you were still in Beirut."
Amol d'Souza moved into the room as Napoleon got up to shake his hand. "The whole trip was a wild good chase. We flushed out two local Thrush stringers, neither knew much more than their own names and where to get the best local hashish."
"Ah, I'm sorry to hear it."
D'Souza shrugged and claimed his chair. "At least the food was good and the women in Beirut are as beautiful as ever." He looked at the file still open on the desk.
Napoleon leaned over, closed the folder and picked it up. "You got to know him when he was here in London. What did you think?"
"I didn't get to know him well, I doubt that anyone did; he never really trusted any of us. Cold son of a bitch. Chip on his shoulder; thinks he's smarter than everyone else. He didn't get along with Sir Richard either."
"Beldon seems to like him."
"Beldon likes him all right. But then Beldon likes Russians."
Napoleon's eyebrows rose. "Is that supposed to tell me something?"
D'Souza looked surprised. "I didn't mean anything in particular. Harry's always had his favorites. It's just that his first partner was Russian."
'I thought Kuryakin was the first Russian in Uncle."
"Oh, not a Soviet. Orlov was an ex-pat. The family made it out in the 20's. He met Beldon in Paris, they worked together during the war then the first few years at UNCLE. He was killed in '50, some cock-up in Estonia or Russia or some such, Thrush got him before Harry could get there. I never met him, didn't start here till '52."
"I never heard anything about him."
"You know how it is Napoleon, dead agents are old news." D'Souza shrugged with casual cynicism.
"Would that really affect Beldon's view of Kuryakin?" Napoleon was doubtful.
"Beldon's always been a contrarian, he brought Strothers in too. Brrr. Talk about cold comfort in Berlin."
"You don't think he was a good choice for Northeast then."
"Not at all. Beldon's brilliant in his own way. Energetic; we needed someone like him--Northeast was stagnating under Sir Richard; you men were running rings around us."
Napoleon raised his eyebrows. "Come on Amol, we all have the same goals."
"Yes, but there's still the question of who gets there first; you're hardly the person to pretend it doesn't matter, Napoleon. Why the interest in Kuryakin?"
"Curiosity. I'm going to Berlin with Talbott after the meetings here. Waverly suggested I introduce myself."
"The Grand Tour, eh? So it's true? You're getting Section Two when Talbott retires next year?"
"You'll have to ask Waverly," Napoleon said. "All I know is that I'm going to Berlin."
It was cold and damp in the potting shed, but the old walls kept out the wind that swept off the ocean and whistled through the streets and yards of Gudhjem, while its small dirty window gave him enough light to assemble his equipment--as well as a good view of the path leading to the back door of the house.
"Illya!" Harry's Beldon's voice rang through the small earpiece, at the same pitch it so often rang through the halls in Berlin. "Right on time. Any news?"
Illya adjusted the volume on his hand set. "It looks like they're close to finishing the prototype guidance system."
"How long do you think we have?"
"Another month maybe. I'm hearing rumors that some high-level Thrush are coming this way, a demonstration of some sort I think."
"Can you stay in the clear that long? The more we know about who's involved the better."
Illya rubbed his forehead. "Ito is watching me but he doesn't trust anyone so it may not mean much. He's in charge of the guidance system. I got a good look at it, it's not much more than a few refinements on the plans they stole from the Americans last year. Kloppen is working on something much more interesting and he and I get along." He hesitated before he went on. "Kloppen is no fool, but all he cares about is his work. We're developing a chess playing program in off hours, he's quite enthusiastic, so he's given me more access to the computer. It's an incredible piece of equipment, very advanced technology. Integrated circuits, Harry. He calls it his Ultimate Computer."
He could hear the hiss of the open channel as Beldon absorbed the information. In the silence he traced the cracks in the wooden walls of the shed with his eyes; knowing exactly what Harry was thinking. He hunched his shoulders and waited.
"It's what we've been looking for," excitement coursed through Harry's voice. "We can learn a lot in one month Illya, not just information to use against Thrush, but if this Ultimate Computer of theirs is the real thing, information we can use to help UNCLE."
"I'm not sure I can get much closer than I have without arousing suspicion. I may have reached the point of diminishing returns," Illya said keeping his voice neutral.
Harry considered this. "First sign of a problem, we'll pull you out and close the place down. But I hate to lose this chance, think what we can do with this knowledge."
Illya moved his eyes upward to look out through the window, the lowering clouds promised a rainy night. "They've been clamping down on security. I can't get past the jamming umbrella when I'm back on the island."
"But you have a way out."
"I do," Illya said. "If I can stay a step ahead of them."
"This is important Illya. Vitally important."
"Yes, " Illya agreed. "I know it is."
He signed off, pulled in the antenna wire and coiled it neatly away. He put it, and the small transmitter, back into their hiding place. He had no need to go back to the house with the small bar where everyone knew he picked up his smuggled vodka. He adjusted his rucksack to make sure the bottles he was bringing back to the island were secure. An easy way to make friends, an easy way to divert suspicion. Everyone knows that Russians drink too much. He sighed. There were days he was tempted to prove them right. But he wouldn't, he'd learned long ago that would not be his way.
The door swished closed behind Philip Talbott as he crossed the threshhold into the conference room. The sound still startled him at times, it hadn't been that long since he'd made his way to Waverly's office through drab painted hallways lined with frosted glass doors. All was steel and automation now; the only glass was in the windows of the conference room where Alexander Waverly looked up as he entered.
"Carlo sends his greetings," Talbott said, sitting down at the round table. "And a case of Acquitane. I'll have one of the men bring it up."
"Ahh." Waverly's eyebrows rose. "Do I need to test it for poison?"
"Well, Carlo's not happy. But he's decided to play elder statesman and Harry's smart enough to let him. For what it's worth, the rest of them seem to think Beldon was the right choice."
"I take it the meetings went well then. "
"Well enough; I've written up the report. Heather will have it on your desk by this afternoon." He watched Waverly reach for his pipe and waited for the question he knew was coming.
"So tell me Philip, what is it that's not in the report?"
Talbott hesitated a moment. "I went to Berlin with Harry after the meetings as you suggested. I tell you Alex, I was impressed. What his technical people are doing in terms of electronic information gathering and processing beats us by a mile. "
Waverly frowned at the empty pipe and reached for the humidor. Talbott pushed it towards him. " I haven't seen much about it in Simpson's monthly Section Eight reports," Waverly said.
"Go over yourself and take a look. You know this isn't my field , but Harry's building a first class technical team. Say what you want about Strothers, in this area he knows his stuff. I hear Neumann is top notch, and now he's got Kuryakin. Northwest and the other sectors need to keep up."
Waverly filled his pipe carefully, seemingly giving the task all his attention. Talbott waited patiently for the next question.
"I take it Kuryakin is fitting in well then, better than in London."
"I would say so. We weren't there that long, but Harry was fulsome. Happy enough to take full credit for bringing him up to potential. In a way it sounded like..." Talbott paused, wondering if he should continue.
Waverly gave him a sharp look.
"...I think he reminds Harry of Mischa."
Waverly looked thoughtful, then frowned as the pipe in his hand refused to stay lit. "I haven't seen much of Kuryakin, but he never struck me as being like Mischa at all."
"No," Talbott said slowly. "No, he's not. It was just an impression, it's probably just Harry's possessive streak. He certainly has none of Mischa's charm. He strikes me as a bit remote. He seems oblivious to the situation."
Waverly busied himself with another match. "I'll be in London for the year end meetings. I'll take some extra time to visit Berlin. I hadn't realized it's been over a year."
"Well if you go, make Harry share some of his Armangnac. Best I've had in a long time."
This time the tobacco caught fire and Waverly took a satisfied puff. "How did Mr. Kurayakin and Mr. Solo get along?"
"I don't think they exchanged more than two words. Solo started butting heads with Strothers as soon as he arrived, and Kuryakin left on an assignment almost immediately," Talbott said with a small smile.
"Yet you keep assuring me that Mr. Solo is maturing."
"He is Alex. But surface matters to young men. There's real steel under there, you know that. And frankly, Strothers could send anyone over the edge."
The ocean was restless , and the replacement guards had no conversation to recommend them. Bulgarians he thought, and judging from their faces as the trawler heaved through the waves, not accustomed to the sea. He took the magazines he'd picked up and his rucksack, braced himself against the the stiff wind, and made his way up to the wheelhouse where Ricky was steering their course back to Fugl.
He stowed one of the bottles in the small cabinet underneath the maps, then joined Ricky at the wheel. "Your passengers are not sailors."
Ricky snorted. "They're lucky. It can get a lot worse this time of year."
"You'd think they'd just ferry them over in the copter."
"That copter is for Kloppen and the muckety-mucks." Ricky elbowed him in the side. "Whadda ya think this is Ivan, a commune of some kind?"
"I've never seen Kloppen use it either," Illya said.
"Who's gonna fly it? Only the Finn was crazy enough. And you shoulda heard him complain about the windshear when they open that dome. Stupid place to put a landing pad, one strong gust of wind and you're on the rocks. First time Kloppen and Ito came in they were both white as sheets. Always take the boat since then. The bird just sits there under the dome."
They both fell silent and watched the waves, rough enough for whitecaps to gleam through the early dusk.
"You know your way around a boat." Ricky broke the silence.
Illya shrugged. "An unfortunate stint in the Navy."
"I'm not one to judge," Ricky said. "We all have reasons we're here instead of there."
"I found the life... uninviting." Illya said.
"And being stuck on Fugl isn't?"
"I like the work. And the pay is much better."
"It is at that." Ricky admitted. "So what are you gonna do with all that money you're making Ivan?"
Illya pulled up his collar and crossed his arms in front of him; it had gotten dark enough for the light on the island tower to start its nightly beat, and the chill mist had turned into the promised rain. He stared out at the water, caught in the present, the glib answer he should have ready, forgotten on his tongue.
Ricky gave him a quizzical look. "Me, I'm going to a place in the Keys where the sun shines all day and there's a hammock with my name on it. Get a boat maybe, take the tourists fishing now and then."
"Warm weather would be nice," Illya agreed as the wind picked up and now seemed to penetrate even the wheelhouse. "But the way you lose money to Stavros every night, he'll be the one sleeping in that hammock , not you."
"You drink your money away kid, I gamble mine; what are ya gonna do. Maybe that's the reason we're here instead of there."
"You're a real philosopher, Sam." Illya shot him a sideways glance. "Ever think about learning to count cards?"
"You're all right Ivan," Ricky laughed. " For a Russkie, you're all right."
As much as he appreciated the security of his steel hallways, Alexander Waverly had insisted on windows in his own office, a privilege of rank. He stood there now, looking out over the East River, the late night lights still burning at the United Nations, the incongruous red Pepsi sign on the other bank. He had been thinking of Dima often over the last few months. It was more than 30 years now since they'd met through one of the long forgotten working groups that that led to the World Peace Act. No more wars to end all wars was the hope, though by '28 they both knew how unlikely that was. They had understood each other, both were practical men, practical idealists, they had laughed together as they acknowledged it. He put his hands over his eyes for a moment. Had that much time really passed? How could it already be time to say goodbye.
His thoughts turned irresolutely to Harry Beldon, the conversation with Dima a weight on his mind. UNCLE had taken a chance giving him the top spot in Northeast. He was one of their best strategists, he had a nose for what Thrush was up to, sometimes it seemed even before they themselves did. But there was no doubt he was volatile, often wanted to fly too high. He had almost forgotten how unsure he had been of Harry after Mischa's death. Harry had burned with anger, an anger that took a long time to subside. Anger was not always a simple emotion, a substitute often for uncertaintly, for grief... for guilt. He saw a brittleness in Harry then; but Beldon had pulled himself together and dedicated himself to UNCLE with spectacular results. There were five of them after all, they could clip his wings if they had to.
His musings were interrupted by an insistent buzz from the communications console. He shook himself and walked back to his desk, the call was coming from Philip's office; he wasn't the only one still here tonight. He flicked the speaker switch on.
"I just got off the phone with Solo, Alex. It looks like we have a situation on our hands. You know he's been following a lead on our old friend Tyson Peters after we found he's been channeling funds to Fugl Island. That "Oceanographic Institute" that Harry's got Kuryakin keeping an eye on. He's just overheard that Rodchenko is on his way there."
The rain drumming against the windows was on the verge of turning to sleet, the rawness of the day pervasive, even here in the Canteen; the desolation of the rock the lab was built on never more apparent than on a day like this. Illya's book was open on the table before him, his hands were cradling his mug of tea when he saw that Ito's guest had stopped in the dining room's doorway, forcing the Director to halt as well. He'd watched out the window as the two men had struggled up the stairway from the dock through the driving rain; Ito had gone to Bornholm this morning to escort this guest to Fugl personally. Illya had seen them and wondered.
"Let's hold up on the tour a minute doc," the visitor's voice was loud and American, carrying through the room. "That was some nasty boatride. I could use a little pick me up."
The man bent down to listen to Ito's unintelligible reply, but Illya noted the sharp eyes kept roaming through the room. He casually raised his cup closer to his mouth, glanced lightly in their direction then away as everyone else was doing, tilted his head to make sure the shadows from the overhead light smudged his features just enough. Just one of the crowd, part of the furniture.
"You gotta be kiddin' doc," the visitor's voice rose, then he patted his jacket pocket. "Good thing I carry my own. Let's go sit down somewhere and you can give me the lay of the land."
Illya waited a few minutes after they'd left, then went to the small sleeping quarters he'd been assigned. He took the pieces of the Makarov he'd smuggled in out of hiding, and carefully reassembled them; tucked the pistol into his belt, and covered it with his lab coat. He looked at his watch. His shift was about to start. He went to the tower elevator and pushed the down button, thinking furiously the whole time.
"Solo?" Strothers voice rose in disbelief.
Harry Beldon looked over his half frames and waited for him to continue.
"You could as easily send me, Fugl is within our purview," Strothers said, then pinched his lips together and fell silent.
"Kloppen is expecting an American." Harry said. "You're a good man Gerald, but no one will ever mistake you for an American. It's a stroke of luck Northwest intercepted Peters and found out about Rodchenko. Solo can take Peters' place and get Illya out before Rodchenko arrives. " He drummed his fingers on the table. "I should have pulled him out earlier, dammit. But the chance to find out more about that computer..." his voice drifted off.
"It's one thing to get Solo in, how do we get the two of them out?" Strother's unhappiness was unabated.
"Illya will have an escape route planned, I'm counting on it. They're two resourceful men, between them they'll manage. In any case I'm leaving for Copenhagen immediately to see what I can do from that end. Rodchenko! " he shook his head again. "We thought he was dead and buried. If we'd had just a little more time... Keep monitoring the transmissions; any word from either one and you jump."
"Yes, sir." Strothers grumbled, not hiding his displeasure.
...and back to the Present
"That should stop the bleeding, it's a deep gouge, but the bullet scored the arm, it didn't enter." Kuryakin had managed to improvise a bandage, sacrificing Napoleon's tie and shirt sleeves in the process.
Napoleon watched the Russian's face moving in and out of the beam of light; he'd dragged a stool up to the platform to prop up the flashlight as he worked. Napoeon had studied the photographs, he'd met Kuryakin in Berlin, just a quick handshake perhaps, but he should have been able to pick him out of a haystack; the eyes, the hair, the face were unmistakable. The heavy, ugly glasses, stowed in the breast pocket of the white lab coat Kuryakin still wore, were hardly sufficient disguise. Perhaps the pain was making him irritable, but the puzzle rankled more than it should; he knew Kuryakin had spotted him immediately. "You recognized me" he said, breaking the silence as the Russian tied off the bandage.
"I wasn't the only one was I. A bow tie and extra brilliantine are hardly sufficient disguise. You're a famous man Mr. Solo." Kuryakin said sitting back on his heels.
"Don't forget the Southern accent," Napoleon said peevishly, then winced as he tried to reach up to feel the lump over his ear.
"Ah, that's what it was. I wondered."
"I didn't recognize you," Napoleon accused.
Kuryakin looked vaguely amused. "You weren't meant to."
"You didn't identify yourself."
"I hardly had time to, did I."
Napoleon narrowed his eyes as he looked at him. "You were there when I first came in, I don't know why I didn't notice it. You could have made an effort then. "
There was a pause before Kuryakin answered. "I wasn't sure why you were at Fugl."
Napoleon though that over. "You didn't trust me," he said taken aback.
"I didn't know why you were here." Illya repeated. "I was just being careful."
"But then you saved my life."
"Well... when the guard held that gun to your head, the chances that you were legitimate increased exponentially. "
Napoleon blinked, not sure if the Russian was serious.
"And I still don't know why you're here," Kuryakin added a bit testy now.
Napoleon had a sharp report on his tongue, then in spite of himself he felt his lips twitch. For some reason, perhaps he was lightheaded from loss of blood, he was finding the squabble entertaining than he should. "I'm here to retrieve you, of course," he said.
"Retrieve me? " It was Kuryakin's turn to blink. "And the plan was that you'd get yourself spotted so that I would have to break cover and rescue you? Whose brilliant idea was that. Yours?"
"I was improvising," Napoleon said. "The fact that that some musclehead I ran into three years ago would recognize me wasn't exactly part of the plan. "
"That still doesn't explain anything. I'm not due to check in till next week. Perhaps it's that UNCLE doesn't trust me," the Russian said , unappeased.
"You were to check in next week, yes. Rodchenko however, will be here in three days."
"Sergei Ivanovich." Kuryakin rocked back on his heels and expelled his breath. "So he's still alive. That would be awkward."
"He knows you."
"Oh yes," Illya said, "he knows me. "
Napoleon waited in vain for more. Kuryakin remained sitting on his haunches, silent, his arms wrapped around his knees. As he waited, Napoleon became aware again of the rhythmic roar each time the water sluiced underneath the metal floors below. For the first time he noticed the weak glow from two emergency lights by the far wall, not enough light to penetrate, simply two hazy circles in the darkness. The beam from the flashlight bounced off the rocks next to him, casting looming shadows each time he leaned in its direction. Time was disjointed here, he fought to bring some urgency back to their situation.
"Are we going to sit here in the dark and wait to be blown up then, or do we have a plan?"
Kuryakin got up, took the flashlight off the chair and slid down the wall next to Napoleon before he turned it off.
"We have a chance," he said dispassionately. "The elevator you came down in goes up into the main tower. There's a helicopter there, most likely unguarded. If we can get there without attracting too much attention...."
"A helicopter? I didn't see anything that looked like a landing pad.
"The dome retracts. But we can't do anything until the power comes back on."
"Right," Napoleon said. "I like a simple plan. And when do the lights come back on?"
"The generators will be at full power again in approximately eighteen minutes."
"I almost hesitate to ask, but when are we scheduled to blow up?"
"In thirty seven minutes and," Kuryakin turned on the flashlight to look at his watch, "twenty three seconds."
"Can we defuse the bomb?"
There was a faint sigh. "I don't even know where it is; I do know there's no fail-safe, Kloppen made sure of that. It was his insurance policy. He was smart enough not to trust Thrush, anything happened to him and he'd take the whole place with him."
Napoleon remembered a tall thin man turning around with a wild look on his face. "He was in the lab with us when the guard spotted me."
"When Ito panicked and started shooting in all directions, he didn't just hit you, he hit Kloppen and he hit the power control panel before I could get to him. I'm not sure if Kloppen was more upset about getting shot, or about the power surge that fried the computers. Whichever it was, he managed to arm his bomb."
"Well," Napoleon said. "We do have twenty minutes to fight our way through a Thrush stronghold, find a helicopter, liberate it and take off," he paused. " I suppose we can't leave early and take the stairs?"
"You may have noticed we're in a cavern, Mr. Solo. There are no stairs. There's only a vertical airshaft and I don't think you're in any shape to climb that."
Napoleon thought for a moment. "You are though."
"Possibly." Kuryakin agreed. "But the chances are better with the elevator."
It was Napoleon's turn to sigh. "Let's hope it's not a particularly crowded elevator then, and for the record, Mr. Kuryakin, I always insist that anyone who's saved my life call me Napoleon."
"Napoleon." The Russian casually wrapped his voice around every syllable. "Then in anticipation that you will do the same for me, please call me Illya."
"Illya," Napoleon tested the pronounciation. In the darkness he missed Kuryakin's slight wince.
Napoleon wondered if he wanted to ask again how much time was left, he knew only a minute or two had passed since the last time he'd done so. He tried to make himself comfortable against the rock wall, but the last traces of numbness in his arm had worn off and it joined his head in throbbing painfully. After he bumped the Russian's shoulder several times trying to find relief; the flashlight went on and Kuryakin took off the lab coat, bundled it up and placed it behind Napoleon's back. "You can lean against me to take pressure off that shoulder," he said matter of factly. "Rest while you can because we're going to be running hard when we go."
"Running hard is one of my specialities," Napoleon said, then grimaced when he leaned back too quickly against the wall. He decided that in the dark he wasn't too proud to take advantage of Kuryakin's offer and settled in, half leaning on the other man. He'd need the energy when the time came.
Afterwards, Napoleon was never sure if it was the darkness and search for distraction from pain that made him talkative, or if, without fully realizing it, he felt some need to strengthen the tenuous connection between them. Then again, perhaps he just wanted the comfort of hearing that unexpectedly rich, deep voice cutting through the dark.
"You'll have to teach me how to do that trick," he said conversationally.
"Disappear from plain sight when someone is looking at you."
Kuryakin chuckled. "I don't know if you would be a successful student, from what I hear you prefer to be noticed."
Don't believe everything you hear." Napoleon shifted his position a bit. "Though I have to say it is a bit lowering to wait here on some godforsaken rock to either drown or be blown to bits. My plan has always been to go out in a blaze of glory. What about you?"
"I've never thought about it. In this line of work it hardly pays to do so," Illya said dismissively.
"Nevertheless" Napoleon went on, "I would prefer an ending impressive enough for people to remember me."
"I have no doubt you'll be remembered Napoleon. Everyone knows Waverly's golden boy. The Secretarial Pool at UNCLE will be wearing black underwear for at least a week." The tone was dry but Napoleon heard the underlying amusement.
"Like the whores of Paris when Victor Hugo died."
"You recognize the reference." There was a discernible smile in Illya's voice now.
"Despite what you may have heard, I've been known to read a book or two. Of course from what they say about you, I assume you read your Hugo in French."
"What better way to learn a language than wanting to find out what happens next?"
"I can assure you comrade," Napoleon said, "there are more interesting ways to become, uh, intimate with a language."
Illya snorted. "I see your reputation is well earned."
"Well, I suppose the ladies might miss me for a week or so. And even Mr. Waverly could probably manage a ruefultsk as he taps the ashes from his pipe."
"And Mr. Cutter will drape a black ribbon on the Solo shrine."
"Solo shrine? Let's not exaggerate."
"What do you call the little gallery with your photo and your final scores that he keeps on his bulletin board."
"He doesn't," Napoleon said, startled.
"You are the poster boy for the success of his methods."
"Huh." Napoleon paused. " Remind me not to go back there anytime soon. And didn't you beat some of those scores? "
Mr. Cutter and I did not always see eye to eye." Illya voice was bland.
"Cutter's not that hard to handle."
Illya huffed in reply.
"Beldon seems fond enough of you."
"Beldon's wunderkind after all."
Illya's voice grew cool. "Harry has calculated my usefulness to him to the last decimal point. Whether he likes me or not is hardly material."
"Surely that's a bit harsh... to both of you." Napoleon ventured.
"Harsh?" Illya said, taken aback. "You don't think Waverly has done the same for you?"
"Of course he has, but that's not the sum of his calculations."
"Well, even Harry has moments of uncalculated geniality in which he pretends I am something that I am not."
"You're very cynical."
He felt Illya's shrug.
"And yet you joined UNCLE."
Illya laughed out loud. "My commanding officer suggested it would be a good idea to volunteer."
Napoleon winced, he should have remembered. But he heard no resentment in the Russian's voice. "Do you regret it?"
"No," Illya said slowly. "That was unfair of me. I was interested. I have no regrets; it seems I like making a difference. Perhaps you and I are not so different after all."
"You know, you're not at all what I was led to expect," Napoleon surprised himself by saying.
"You on the other hand are exactly what I expected... but I'm beginning to see there's a charm in that," was Illya's unexpected response.
Just then the lights crackled and came back on, and suddenly the cavern was filled again with noise and harsh shadows. But in the darkness, a spark had been lit. A spark that had touched both men, moving lightly from one to the other and back again; connecting them with threads that would multiply over the years and in the end weave the fabric of their lives.
For now though, what they felt as they moved into action was anticipation and the rush of adrenaline--and an unexpected trust in the man at their side. Twenty minutes was all they had; they grinned at each other as the doors of the elevator creaked open; twenty minutes is all they would need.
As Illya admitted years later, he could have had no more effective introduction to Napoleon's luck, as the corridor the elevator opened onto was empty; the base evacuated by the sirens that had just enough time to blare a warning when the sea gates were breached.
If anyone were left, they showed no interest in the two men running across the catwalk to the deserted dome where the helicopter was held. As Illya, as though he had all the time in the world, calmly and methodically keyed in the code that would open the roof, Napoleon without second thought moved to release the cables that held the bird fast. The two halves of the dome opened with a grinding screech, then slowly began to retract into the grooves that circled the floor. Both men picked up their speed; Illya, a little less calm after a glance at his watch, shoved Napoleon into the copter and slammed the door, ran across to the pilot's side and climbed in, a frown on his face as he started up the engines and felt the strength of the winds that swirled around the now unprotected machine.
The next few moments were some of the longest of Napoleon's life, as caught in the sudden crosswinds the tail of the helicopter slewed sideways and the nose dipped towards the ground; disaster threatening before they even took off. Illya adjusted the rotor speed, fighting to keep the bird steady; he was listening intently, and at a slight diminution in the howl of the wind, managed to get the copter straight off the ground, then caught an updraft and finally maneuvered them away from the rocks and toward the open water--towards what Napoleon sincerely hoped was land. It was still raining lightly, the clouds hung gray and low, the wind whipped at them with erratic gusts. He counted down grimly, with each second of time away from the island he allowed his body to unclench a little bit more.
Just as he reached twelve, the sky came ablaze with a roar, a blinding light streamed across the bottom of the clouds until it dissipated in the distance. A split second later, the shockwave hit them, the helicopter was flung forward, the rotors lost their grip on the air, coughed... and then found their rhythm again as Illya managed to level the machine and adjust their speed one more time.
"Good work, my friend," Napoleon slapped the Russian on the back in relief; then raised his eyebrows as Illya unexpectedly banked the copter to give them a view of what was left of the compound, the smoldering mass of the main buildings visible through the rain, flames coming from the lighthouse tower.
They both stared at the destruction silently, then Illya turned to him, his eyes alight with the reflection of the flames, mouth quirked up in a half smile. Napoleon knew his eyes showed the same light, he tilted his head in acknowledgement ; then the copter banked again, and this time turned towards land.
The steel walls of UNCLE's corridors and public areas might all look the same, but in all the stations, the office of the chief remained a reflection of its tenant. Beldon's office was as flamboyant as he was, from the blast of heat that greeted visitors when they opened the door, to the rose velvet chairs and the oriental divan where he preferred to lounge while reading reports. Only the desk was resolutely modern, with its blinking communications panels and the steel drawers that snicked open and closed at the lightest touch. Much like Harry, Waverly thought as he looked around; and woe to anyone who saw no farther than the fur collars and silk waistcoats.
Harry's greeting was effusive. "Sit down Alex, sit down. I trust my young men took good care of you during the tour. I'm sure you agree they explained the new computer system much better than I ever could. Now what can I get you? I have some Levantine brandy that's really quite exceptional."
Waverly chose one of the two velvet chairs. "Philip tells me I should insist on the Armagnac."
"The Armagnac, yes, perhaps that would be more to your taste," Beldon said with a laugh and busied himself at the credenza.
"Mr. Kuryakin and Mr. Strothers were exceedingly helpful; very patient with the questions of an uninformed old man. Thank you," he took the glass Harry held out to him.
"Only a fool woud dare think you an uninformed old man Alex," Beldon said settling into the chair opposite him.
Waverly swirled the liquor in his glass, gave an appreciative sniff, and then took the first sip. "Ah, I detect a touch of cedar. Excellent Harry, excellent." He leaned back comfortably. "The modified equipment and the new data programs are much more sophisticated than I would ever have guessed from the monthly technical summaries."
"We are still in the testing phase," Harry said casually.
"Of course. Though Mr. Kuryakin tells me he's been preparing extensive updates."
"He has indeed, and they'll be part of the technical documentation when the testing is finished," Harry answered a little less casual now.
"I would think the process would be quicker if several of the other offices were involved in the tests."
"You saw that we've made special modifications to our equipment, no one else can run these tests."
"Yes, all very advanced, even I could see that. But I think you'll agree it's unusual for any one UNCLE office to work with proprietary technology," Waverly's voice was unexpectedly sharp.
Beldon frowned, then leaned forward to make his point. "You read the report on Fugl Island. Thrush has jumped ahead of us in computer technology. I have an expert development team in place, I don't want to bog them down with Section Eight bureaucracy. We're in a scientifc battle with Thrush, not just a political and a moral one."
"Indeed." Waverly paused. " You're quite right. It's becoming clear that we need to upgrade our technological capacities across the board instead of engaging in ad hoc experimentation. I will bring it up at the Summit Five meeting in March, I would very much appreciate it, if you could second me there. Give the rest of the Sector Chiefs a presentation perhaps, your ideas on where our weaknesses lie." Waverly finished his glass and put it down. "A very good Armagnac indeed Harry."
"It will of course be my pleasure to support any technical initiatives you present next March, " Beldon said, his voice conveying a warmth missing from his eyes.
Harry Beldon had taken over half the Dynastie dining room in honor of his colleagues from Northwest. He sat at the center table with Alexander Waverly, in his element as he ordered the food, the wine and charmed his guests with a casual bonhomie. Waverly allowed himself to be entertained, but he was thinking hard about what he'd seen that afternoon. Not so much the laboratories, that situation he could keep under control with results that would benefit UNCLE overall. But he had seen Harry's possessiveness when dealing with Kuryakin, had seen the young man's detached withrawal. He'd noted Strother's resentment, unformed but clear enough.
It was the eyes, he thought. Kuryakin was nothing like Mischa except for the eyes. The same endless blue, the same Russian darkness behind it. He watched him now with Solo. They had commandeered a corner booth leaving the center of the room to the old men. Solo was less tightly would than usual, laughingly dividing his time between two blondes, he vaguely remembered seeing one of them in Berlin's Communications Center earlier. Such a gleaming, hard young man; he hoped the steel underneath would temper the way he and Philip were counting on. A third young lady had insinuated, that was the only word, herself next to a Kuryakin who surprised him by looking downright relaxed. Waverly had never considered himself a fanciful man, but for a moment he saw the future. He trusted his instincts; there was something there, something to build on. He would call Dima when he returned to New York. He'd have to lay the groudwork quietly, carefully. Harry would not be happy; but nothing came without cost. Perhaps an expansion in Helsinki or Vienna to take away some of the sting... he turned back to his dinner and made his plans.
Beldon watched Waverly eyeing the young men. He too had noticed the unexpected bond the two had formed, detached Russian and flashy American; he'd noticed and he'd tucked the fact away. It could be of use one day. Solo and Waverly would return to New York tomorrow, Kuryakin was his. Illya would be the lynchpin of his enforcement section, one to rival New York's. Thrush was moving east, burrowing into the cracks where the old world bled into the new, and Harry knew he could negotiate that border better than anyone.
... as for the future
The two men were between assignments, moored in a cove near Far de la Mola, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the narrow deck of the sloop, bare feet propped up on the low railing. Their conversation was desultory, both were dazed by sun and water and pleasantly loose after several beers. Illya raised his hand to push his hair back off his face, Napoleon watched the familiar gesture, the sharp profile it revealed. "You know you never did teach me how to do that disappearing in plain sight thing," he said.
Illya's eyes were half closed. "I've been telling you for years, it only works if you're willing to disappear." He placed a large warm hand on Napoleon's bare thigh.
Napoleon felt the heat in the places their bodies touched, Illya's presence beside him so vivid, it ached. "I was always able to find you after that first time," he said and covered Illya's hand with his own.
I am as all men, the sunless sea,
the alien Thule, mystery,
a fleeing wisp of light,
a fleeing wisp of light.
But I must look for friends and brothers;
I want to show myself to others
that seeing they will see,
that seeing they will see.