Even in the grainy, black and white video image, the old man's constant tics and shudders were clearly visible. His wrists were manacled to the table in front of him and he tugged at them repeatedly, making him look even more piteous.
"You must let me go," he implored. "The Master calls. He must be obeyed."
His clothes suggested a man of station, probably a scientist in the upper ranks of Thrush, but he currently presented a disheveled wreck of a creature, white hair and beard disordered and his clothes torn and dirty..
"And who is this master of yours?" the UNCLE interrogator pressed. The prisoner shook his head wildly.
"Can't… Mustn't… not His Unspeakable Name… no! Not that! Anything but that!" He voice ascended to a near shriek in the last syllables and his eyes rolled. The UNCLE interrogator sighed and tried a different line of questioning.
"What were you doing there, in Chillicothe? What were you doing for Thrush?"
"For my old masters?" the old man answered, calming somewhat. "Foolish, foolish men, to think to control the Master. Thought they could use Him to control others…. Thought they could use Him… " He burst into hysterical laughter, which continued for a disturbingly long time.
Napoleon recognised the interrogator, now sitting back and frowning at the deranged captive, as agent and Guide Mark Slate. His Sentinel, agent April Dancer, leaned against the wall behind him, looking as cool as a cucumber, though Napoleon knew she could leap into action at the first sign of danger.
"So," Mark began again once the prisoner had settled somewhat. "It was some sort of mind control scheme you lot were after?"
"Oh yes, so very foolish, what they wanted," the captive said, almost lucid sounding now.
"And why was that?" Mark probed.
"Why, the Master does not control us," the old man said, as though speaking to children. "He loves us, so very much that we cannot help but feel it. To be so loved, of course we would do anything for the Master. Anything he desires." He began to weep as he said this, large tears rolling down his stubbled cheeks.
Mark now turned to address someone off screen. "And you're absolutely sure he hasn't been drugged?" he asked.
"Tox screens all came back negative, Agent Slate," came the answer. Mark shook his head, glancing over at the prisoner with an expression of distaste.
"I honestly don't think we're going to get any more out of this fellow," he said. "He's either high on something or he's completely off his nut."
"What if we remove him from the influence of this 'master' for a few days," April suggested. "Maybe he'll 'come down' eventually."
This their captive seemed to have understood, for he suddenly began to struggle frantically in his bonds. "No!" he cried. "Please! I must return to the Master. He needs me; he loves me. I must return to serve him. Please!"
"Then tell us!" Mark demanded. "Who is your master? What does he want?"
"What does he want?" the old man's demeanor changed again, like a switch being thrown. "What does he want? He wants the home he left so long ago; millennia, eons ago. He dreams of it…" Now the man's speech became unintelligible gibberish, a weird sing-song recitation of nonsense words and sounds which he delivered while swaying back and forth in his chair.
Normally, television images don't project anything for an empath to pick up, but listening to the weird words and chants coming from the tinny speakers in Waverly's office monitor made Napoleon's skin crawl. A sidelong glance at his partner revealed that Illya felt the same.
"Stop that this instant!" Mark commanded, using his Guide voice, Napoleon was sure, for the man simmered down after only a few more seconds. April gave her Guide an appreciative glance.
"That home is no more," the prisoner continued, as if he'd never left off answering Mark's question. "But we can help him recreate it here, on Earth. It is what he wants more than anything, and there is nothing we will not do to please him. Praise him! Praise his Unspeakable Name!"
"That's it," said Mark, standing. "We're done for today. Take him back to his cell and we'll arrange for transport to the psych center. He's right off his nut for sure."
"Nooo!!" the old man wailed as April came around to unfasten his cuffs from the table top. "No! Do not let them take me from you! Help me I beg you… Save me! Your servant calls upon you, Oh…"
If the bizarre syllables the old man had uttered before had set Napoleon's skin to crawling, the 'words' he spoke now had every hair on his head standing straight up. He had no idea how a human voice could be made to produce such contortions of sound, though there was an audible pattern to them which the old man repeated several times before they evolved into a piercing shriek.
He lurched to his feet as he wailed, clutching at his head, and blood began to run from his nose and mouth. His eyes bulged and rolled in their sockets and he collapsed onto the floor, convulsing. His body twitched for a few moments, then fell still, and it seemed pretty clear to Napoleon that he was dead.
In the silence that followed Mark could be heard saying something blisteringly profane, then Waverly leaned forward to switch the television off.
"I'll have you know that that was every bit as disturbing to watch the second time as it was the first," he said. "I don't suppose either of you need to see anything again?"
"Absolutely not, sir," Illya said, sounding as shaken as Napoleon had ever heard him.
"How on Earth did Mark and April happen across this character?" Napoleon asked.
"Agents Slate and Dancer are in southern Ohio," Waverly answered, sitting back to refill and light his pipe, "investigating rumors of a Thrush operation in the vicinity. This… late unfortunate was found wandering along the road by a couple of local lads. They couldn't get anything coherent out of him so they turned him over to the Chillicothe police, and they, to their credit, noticed that the lab coat he was wearing had Thrush insignia on it, so they called UNCLE."
"So he probably was a scientist," Napoleon said. "And now just another victim of something gone horribly wrong on account of Thrush meddling where they oughtn't."
"Have they learned anything else about the man?" Illya asked. "Or where he was working?"
"We're running his photo through our identity bank now," Waverly said. "As for where he was based, the Chillicothe police tell us that they had reports of a disturbance with shots fired in the vicinity of the Mound City Group National Monument. They found no evidence of any disturbance when they responded, save for the mysterious appearance of this scientist the next day."
"Mound City Group?" Napoleon asked.
"Ancient Indian ruins or some such," Waverly said. "It's in your briefing." He handed each of the agents a short stack of file folders. "You can read them on the train to Columbus which leaves at two o'clock. Agents Dancer and Slate will meet you at the station with a car."
~*~ ~*~ ~*~