"I don't like this."
"You said that before," Napoleon Solo pointed out, glancing at his partner.
"And I'll say it again. I don't like this."
Napoleon sighed, shifting uneasily as he looked out the large observation window, eyeing Thrush's latest device again.
It was huge, about two stories tall, and its bulk added a menacing air to the apparently innocuous scene visible from the window. According to the information Section Five had managed to glean from intercepted Thrush communiqués, the device was supposed to allow Thrush to override communications between the American and Soviet spy satellites and their control centres on the ground. That would, in turn, allow them to seize control of the satellites and relay false information to the monitoring centres.
Truth to tell, he didn't like this part of the assignment any more than Illya did. Yes, they had to take care of this thing; but ever since they'd entered the lab complex, they'd both been feeling the subliminal hum of the generators powering the device, and it was very definitely getting on his nerves.
Added to that the fact that this was a Thrush laboratory... Napoleon grimaced. Last time he'd been in a Thrush lab, he'd spent almost a week in the infirmary recovering from their 'experiments'. "I don't either," he admitted.
"Then why are we doing this?" his partner demanded. Despite the question, he bent down to affix the last of the time-delay charges they'd been given underneath the monitoring console just next to the window. The others had been carefully planted throughout the main lab as they'd walked through on their way to the observation booth.
"Because we have no choice?" Napoleon asked rhetorically. "This thing needs to be destroyed before it becomes fully operational."
Illya sighed, his shoulders slumping as he stood up. "That would explain it, then."
Both of them turned back to watch the bustle on the main floor.
"Tell me again how this thing is supposed to work," Napoleon said. The silence was really beginning to unnerve him.
Illya looked exasperated. "I've told you, Napoleon, I don't understand it entirely myself. Dr. Jacobs is a genius in the field of quantum physics. All I do know is that it has something to do with probing the fourth dimen--"
The Russian broke off abruptly as an alarm started ringing loudly throughout the complex.
The partners looked at each other in concern.
"Do you think they discovered the guards?" Napoleon asked.
Illya glanced out the observation window. "I would say that's a good guess, and quite probably accurate," he returned, using the Thrush-issue gun he held in one hand to point to the commotion on the laboratory floor.
Following his partner's gaze, Napoleon recognized the two guards they'd knocked out earlier, both dressed only in black turtlenecks and shorts, the U.N.C.L.E. agents having taken their uniforms. "Uh oh," he muttered.
"You can say that again," Illya mumbled, making a quick adjustment to the timer. "We'd better get out of here."
"The back?" Napoleon asked, unlimbering his own gun.
Illya nodded in agreement. "It is still clear at the moment," he said, gesturing to the bank of monitors. There was no sign of anyone in the corridors leading out of the booth.
"Then let's go!"
They both slipped out the back door of the observation booth only moments before the group of Thrush guards climbed up from the main floor.
Ten minutes later, the alarm sirens were still ringing, and Napoleon and Illya were both starting to feel more than a little desperate. It was obvious that Thrush knew not only that U.N.C.L.E. agents had infiltrated the lab, but also that the agents were Solo and Kuryakin. It was pure luck, they both felt, that they hadn't yet actually encountered a patrol.
They stopped at a cross-corridor that - according to the blueprints they'd studied of the complex before the mission had started - should lead them to the exit just above the creek near where they'd hidden their car.
"How much time do we have left?" Napoleon asked, taking a quick look at his watch. 11:00am.
Illya also looked at his watch, his expression sober. "Five minutes, ten seconds," he replied grimly. "And I do not think we want to be here when the charges go off."
"No, I don't think so either," Napoleon agreed. "Come on."
The two of them hurried down the side corridor, but they hadn't gone more than two yards when a voice came from behind them.
The agents froze, and Illya shot a quick glance at Napoleon. Bluff? he asked silently.
Napoleon gave an almost imperceptible nod of assent.
Spinning around, thankful that the Thrush beret covered his distinctive thatch of blond hair, Illya pointed down the corridor and snapped, "They went that way! The U.N.C.L.E. agents!"
Most of the six-man patrol seemed to accept this, and started past Napoleon. The leader of the patrol, however, frowned. "You are certain?" he demanded.
"Of course I am!" Illya half-snarled. "We're going to lose them if we don't hurry!"
"True," the leader started, when one of the men happened to glance at Napoleon.
"Hey, you're--" he started, but Napoleon was already aiming his gun and fired a burst in the direction of the patrol before the Thrush could finish his sentence.
The leader of the patrol gaped at the scene for just a second, which was enough time for Illya to knock him out with a chop to the neck. Then, knowing they didn't have the time to try to be quiet, he fired at the two Thrushes still standing, killing them both.
Illya glanced at the bodies on the floor, and then looked back up at Napoleon, his expression rueful.
"Well," Napoleon said with a shrug, "so much for a quiet exit. Let's get a move on."
They took off at a run.
"Well, here we are," Napoleon said, pushing open the heavy steel door at the end of the corridor a few minutes later, relieved that they'd finally reached the exit. "So far, so good..."
"Napoleon..." Illya began.
Alarmed by the tone of his partner's voice, Napoleon turned back to look at him. "What is it?"
"We have a small problem... it's 11:05."
It took Napoleon a moment to realize exactly what Illya was telling him.
The blast shook the network of subterranean corridors, and Napoleon found himself staggering backward, toward the long drop from the ledge to the creek. He saw Illya launch himself forward, and felt his partner's hand grab his arm just before everything dissolved into a rainbow of colours, and from there into blackness.
Mickey Kostmayer swore under his breath as the man he was tailing dashed across the street. The way this guy is moving, you'd almost think he was trying to lose me! he thought irritably. What is his problem?
Things all over the world had gone crazy over the past few weeks. With the Berlin Wall down, and East and West Germany preparing to reunite, the entire political climate of Europe seemed to be racing towards a change of epic proportions. And, being with the Company, Mickey sometimes felt as if he was in the middle of it all.
Of course, if he was, he would undoubtedly know what the hell Schwartz thought he was doing. If Control was right about the contents of the microdot the German intelligence officer had promised them, then the man should be looking forward to getting it out of his hands, not trying to lose Mickey in a wild-goose chase through the Parisian streets.
The other man had ducked into a small café. Mickey strolled casually up to it and glanced in the window, smiling in satisfaction when he saw Schwartz sitting at a table near the back.
He opened the door and went in, giving Schwartz a grin as he slid into the seat opposite the German.
"You've gotten better, Schwartz," he said, trying to keep his tone as bland as possible, though he was unable to resist the sarcastic dig. No use letting the other man know just how irritated the two hours of dodging through the busy streets of Paris had made him.
"You shouldn't be here," Schwartz hissed.
Mickey gave him a look of innocent surprise. "Why not? You asked for someone to take the microdot off your hands. As I recall, we were supposed to meet at your hotel two hours ago."
"You have no idea what's going on here, Kostmayer. Just tell Control the information isn't what we thought it was."
"Then what is it?" Mickey demanded.
"That's none of your concern," Schwartz hissed.
Mickey frowned ever-so-slightly. Schwartz looked nervous - very nervous. Too much so. Hell, Schwartz was a trained espionage agent - one of Robert's and Control's contemporaries, in fact. So why on earth was he so bothered? Schwartz had always thrived on the game.
"Why don't you just give me the microdot, like we agreed, and then you can relax?" Mickey suggested easily.
Schwartz shook his head. "You don't understand, Kostmayer," he snapped, almost whispering. "This isn't something that you - or Control - can deal with. You don't know how. It's--"
Before the German could finish whatever he was trying to say, there was the sudden, surprising sound of gunfire from the street outside. Mickey half-whirled, dropping automatically into a crouch as one hand reached for the gun tucked into the back of his jeans. A figure appeared in the doorway of the café, wearing a dark jumpsuit, with a patch just over the left chest pocket. Mickey squinted - the sun in his eyes - but he didn't get a chance to see the emblem on the patch properly, as the figure pointed the gun he was holding in Mickey's direction and fired.
Mickey flung himself down flat on the floor and rolled behind an unoccupied table, getting ready to turn it over as a barricade. To his surprise, however, the figure spun and hurried back out of the café.
He was about to get up and follow when he heard a soft moan from nearby. Turning, he saw that Schwartz was down; judging from the way the blood was bubbling on his lips, the other man had been hit in the lung.
"Schwartz!" he hissed, scooting over to the German. "What--?"
Schwartz grabbed weakly for his arm. "Wallet... micro... driver's li--" He coughed, spitting up more blood. "Tell... uncle... Drossel..." His eyes rolled back, and Mickey didn't have to feel his pulse to know that Schwartz was dead.
And what the hell did he mean, tell his uncle 'Drossel'? Uh... Drossel; that's German for a type of bird, I think. What's a bird got to do with any of this? Mickey thought for a moment, shrugged to himself, and then reached into Schwartz's coat and pulled out his wallet, flipping it open to find the other man's driver's license. Now all I've got to do, he reflected, slipping the wallet into the pocket of his jacket, is get out of here without any problems with the gendarmes... Control'll be pissed off enough that Schwartz's dead, and that I can't identify who killed him; I don't want to have to need him to get my butt out of jail...
Illya opened his eyes slowly.
The last thing he could remember was frantically grabbing for Napoleon's arm to prevent him from falling off the ledge. Then... something - debris from the explosion, most likely - must have hit him on the head, because the scene in front of his eyes had exploded into a rainbow of colours, and then he'd blacked out.
Now... He was lying on something soft, probably a bed. To one side of him was a wall made of what appeared to be wood. Based on the angle of the light coming through the window, it was either mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
He sat up carefully, alert to any aches or pains he might have, and was surprised to find that aside from being a bit chilly, he felt perfectly fine. The chill could be explained by the fact that he was wearing only a dressing robe.
Having discovered that nothing else appeared wrong, he then looked around the room, and was relieved to see Napoleon lying on another bed by the opposite wall.
Standing up, however, took more energy than he had available, and he sat back down, feeling dizzy.
All right... the Russian thought to himself, running one hand through his hair. First of all, what happened? Did we manage to destroy the base? Second, where are we? Still in the Catskills? Did Thrush manage to capture us?
Before he could wonder about anything else, the door at the far end of the room opened, and a tall, stocky man entered. He didn't particularly look like a Thrush agent, Kuryakin thought warily, but one could never tell. And it was too late to pretend that he was still unconscious.
"Oh good," the man declared, a smile crossing his face, "you're awake. Feeling all right?"
Illya thought for a moment. The man was an American; from his accent, Illya guessed that he either came from or lived in Brooklyn. Not that it necessarily meant anything, but...
"Yes, I am. Thank you." The agent paused for a moment, and then added, "I'm afraid that I don't quite remember what happened to my friend and I; do you know?" If the man was Thrush, his answer would probably make that clear.
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea," the man replied. "Oh, my name's James Freeman, by the way. I hauled you and your friend out of the river early this morning.
"You're both pretty lucky I was here," Freeman continued. "You were in the first stages of hypothermia, and your friend appeared to have swallowed half the river, as well as having a nasty bump on his noggin. I'd guess that you fell out of your canoe, or something like that."
Illya frowned slightly. "I guess it must have been something like that," he replied, when he realized that Freeman was waiting for a response. "As I said, I don't really remember. I--" Abruptly, his stomach growled, and Illya flushed bright red in embarassment.
Freeman gave him a reassuring grin. "Hungry, huh? Well, that's a good sign. I've got some Campbell's soup on the stove; I've been keeping it warmed up for when you and your friend woke up. I'll bring some right on in." He started for the door, and then stopped and turned back to Illya. "By the way, just so I know... what are your names?"
Well, if Freeman was a Thrush agent he would already know; and if he wasn't, there most likely wouldn't be a problem with telling him. "I am Illya Kuryakin; my friend is Napoleon Solo."
Freeman looked curious. "Like in Star Wars?" he inquired.
Star Wars? "Sorry?"
"You know, Han Solo?"
Illya just looked at him in confusion.
Freeman looked puzzled by Illya's incomprehension, but shrugged, dismissing it as unimportant. "Well, I'll be right back in with the soup," he said. He walked out, and Illya noticed with interest that he didn't close the door behind him. Whether that was a good or a bad sign, however...
Half an hour later, after finishing a bowl of vegetable soup and checking Napoleon - who was simply asleep, with no signs of a concussion - Illya walked out of the room to find Freeman crouching by a stone fireplace in the middle of what appeared to be a sitting room, laying a fire. Illya glanced around curiously, and then the scene outside a large picture window caught his eye. He stared in confusion as he noticed that the ground was covered in snow. It certainly hadn't been that snowy when they'd arrived in the area... what had happened?
He took a step forward, intentionally letting the wooden floorboards creak as he moved, and Freeman looked up at him.
"I must say, Mr. Kuryakin, you're looking a lot better now that you've had a hot meal," he commented. "How's your friend?"
"He's still asleep," Illya replied. He then took a deep breath. "When you pulled us out of the river... did you happen to see our boat anywhere nearby?"
Freeman shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not," he said. "There was no sign of anything except the two of you." He shook his head. "Not the smartest time of the year to go camping, I hope you realize. I was packing my van - I'm closing the cabin down for the winter and heading back to NYC - when I saw movement in the river. I hurried down there and found the two of you."
Winter?! Illya thought in absolute shock. What does he mean, closing down for winter? It's April! He managed to keep the shock off his face, however, and merely said, "Well, I certainly thank you for taking the time to look."
"No problem; I'm happy to be of help. I've got until Sunday before I have to get back to the city, which gives you and your friend a day and a half to recuperate from your dunking. I presume most of your equipment and clothes were lost with your canoe - and I've put the clothes you were wearing to the wash, since they were soaked and dirty - so I can lend you some dry clothes until yours are clean. They'll be too big for you, but at least they'll keep you warm."
"Thank you again," Illya returned. "If you don't mind," he added, "everything that has happened has left me rather tired. I think I would like to get some more sleep now."
"Go right ahead," Freeman said expansively. "You and your friend are in the spare bedroom, so you're not putting me out. Get all the rest you need. Oh, and your things..." there was a slight pause, and Illya realized that the other man was presumably referring to their guns - he'd have to come up with a plausible story to explain them - "are on the bookshelf by the window."
"All right." Illya started back to the bedroom, and then paused as a sudden thought occurred to him. "Mr. Freeman--"
"Please, call me Jim."
"Jim... what day is it? I'm a bit muddled, I'm afraid."
"Not much of a surprise, that," Freeman declared reassuringly. "It's Friday the 24th."
"Thank you," Illya repeated, and walked into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Sinking onto the bed, Kuryakin tried to put his thoughts in order. It was difficult, especially considering what he was contemplating, but if he was right... No wonder Waverly had wanted Dr. Jacobs' machine destroyed!
"Here you go; he said the microdot was on the license itself," Mickey said, handing the small leather wallet over to Control.
"Good," Control replied. He opened the wallet, took a look at the license, and then slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat.
"He was kind of nervous, though. Babbling - not making much sense," Mickey continued, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans and leaning against the wall.
"Babbling?" Robert McCall repeated, looking surprised. "Rudolf Schwartz? That doesn't sound like him. What happened?" He handed Control a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch next to his friend.
Mickey shrugged. "I spent two hours following him around Paris; he kept trying to lose me. When I finally caught up with him, he was telling me that the information on the 'dot wasn't what we thought it was, and that we didn't know how to deal with it. He seemed really nervous - rightly, I suppose, considering what happened to him."
"Yes, well, what else did he say, Mickey?" McCall demanded.
"Well, after he got shot, he told me where the microdot was, and then asked me to tell his uncle: 'Drossel'," Mickey replied, looking confused. "I have no idea what he was talking about; like I said, he was babbling."
"Babbling is right," Control muttered in disgust. "Schwartz doesn't have an uncle. Both his parents were only children."
"And 'Drossel'?" McCall asked.
"It's German for a type of bird," Mickey commented.
"I know that, Mickey." McCall looked exasperated. "It means 'thrush'. But is it some sort of code phrase?" he continued, looking at Control again.
"If it is, it's not one that Iım aware of," Control replied, his expression irritated. "Kostmayer, you said that Schwartz told you that the information on the microdot isn't what he told us it was?"
"That's what he said. Or, at least, he said, 'tell Control the information isn't what we thought it was'. And then he told me that the information was none of my concern, and that neither of us can deal with it, that we don't know how. He wasn't going to give it to me. Then we heard the gunfire from the street, and next thing I know, there's this guy in the door of the café, pointing a gun at us. I got out of the way as he fired, and then he ran away. I was about to go after him, and then I heard Schwartz moan. That's when he told me where the 'dot was and gave me the message for his uncle."
"And you couldn't see the shooter's face?" McCall prodded.
Mickey shook his head. "It was mid-afternoon, and the café faces west. He was backlit by the sun. All I got was an impression of a dark jumpsuit - probably dark green or black - with a patch on the front that I couldn't make out; a beret on the guy's head; and that he was about 6', give or take an inch."
"Caucasian?" Control inquired.
"Yeah," Mickey replied. "I think he had dark hair, but I couldn't swear to it."
"Well, looks like that's probably a dead end," Control said sourly. "Still, it sounds like Schwartz thought the microdot was pretty important. And somebody else seems to have thought it important enough to kill him for it. I'd better go get it enlarged and take a look."
Standing up, he picked his coat up from the back of the sofa and slipped it on. "I'll talk to you later, Robert, Mickey," he said, and left.
"Tell me a bit more about Schwartz's behaviour," McCall said, as soon as Control was gone. "From what you've said, it was very... unusual."
"No kidding," Mickey declared. "I mean, I've worked with Schwartz before, on some pretty nasty missions, but I've never seen him as nervous as he was yesterday. As soon as he saw me in the lobby of his hotel, he took off. He kept trying to lose me, but he was so rattled that he wasn't doing too well."
"So, what was supposed to be on that microdot?" Robert demanded.
Mickey wandered over to a chair and sat down. He contemplated putting his feet up on the table for a moment, but knew that it would only irritate Robert... and while it would be fun, it still wouldn't get him off the hook.
"From what I know," he said carefully, "it was supposed to contain a copy of emergency GRU plans for starting a coup."
Robert stared at him in shock. "A coup?" he repeated.
Mickey shrugged. "Apparently, between perestroika and what's been happening in Germany, some of the upper level GRU people are starting to get a bit nervous about their jobs."
Robert shook his head. "I don't believe it." He paused. "Then again, this is one of Control's missions... maybe I do believe it." He sighed. "Well, would you like another cup of coffee?"
Control frowned as he picked up the first page of the report from the microdot. This certainly didn't look like a GRU - or a KGB - outline...
Then a word jumped out at him, and he stiffened. Tell his uncle: 'Drossel'... of course! Why didn't I realize that in the first place...?
He took his cellular phone out of his pocket and dialed a number he had memorized quite some time ago.
The phone rang twice, and then was picked up.
"Yes?" came a strong, familiar voice.
"It's me," Control said. "Something's come up that I think you should be aware of."
"I'm listening," the man on the other end of the line prodded.
There was a pause, and then, "What about him?"
"Was he one of yours?"
There was another pause, longer this time, before the reply came. "Yes. Why?"
Control heard the other's startled intake of breath. "Are you certain?"
"I have a microdot here. Schwartz transferred it to one of my people before he died. Right now, I'm looking at its contents. Yes, I'm certain."
"And you intend to...?" came the prompt.
"I'll bring it over to you."
"I'll have someone meet you at the regular entrance," came the reply, and then there was a click as the line was disconnected.
Control picked up the report, attached the microdot to the first page, and slipped it into a brown envelope which he then put into the inside pocket of his coat. Then, after making sure that he had left no clues as to what he'd been doing - just in case - he left the building, hailing a taxi.
Napoleon woke up instantly as he heard a creak from nearby. Staying as still as possible, he tried to take in his surroundings without showing that he was awake.
He was lying on something soft - a mattress, most likely. His hands and feet weren't bound - a pleasant surprise - and he could smell pine... and... chicken soup?
"You can open your eyes, Napoleon."
Illya. Wherever he was, his partner was there as well; which was good. Better than he had hoped, once he'd realized that he was no longer in the Thrush laboratory.
Opening his eyes, he saw Illya sitting on a chair beside the bed, with a table to his left.
"Wha' happened?" he mumbled.
Illya's eyes flickered around the room for a moment. Following his partner's gaze, Napoleon noticed that the room they were in was reasonably large, with another bed on the opposite side, just under a window; the walls appeared to be wood; and, surprising him, the door was wide open.
"Illya?" Napoleon slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, studying his friend carefully. Illya's expression was blank, stony; something had upset him. Either that, or they were under observation; it had been a very long time since Napoleon had seen Illya's 'Russian mask' when they were alone together. "Is something wrong?"
The light blue eyes met his, and Napoleon had no trouble reading the message in them. I'll explain later; just follow my lead. He nodded in acknowledgment.
"No... well, yes. It seems our canoe and all our supplies have gone missing," Illya replied. Looking at him again, Napoleon suddenly realized that the slight blond was dressed in clothes that were much too large for him. They made him look even younger than he was.
"Oh?" he prodded. Canoe? What is he talking about? Are we under observation?
"It appears that we had some sort of accident," Illya continued carefully. "The owner of this cabin, Jim Freeman, found us in the river yesterday morning. You had a bad bump on your head, and - to hear Mr. Freeman tell it - you had swallowed half the water in the river. No sign of a concussion, just a bump. I was apparently in the beginning stages of hypothermia."
Napoleon blinked in surprise. "How could that have happened? I mean, I can understand how I got a bump to the head, everything considered, but hypothermia? Surely it's not sti--"
Kuryakin held one finger up in an urgent signal for silence. "As it happens, the river is quite cold. And the jumpsuits we were wearing were ripped to shreds."
"But we're not scratched up," Napoleon protested.
Illya shrugged. "I don't know how it happened - it was only the jumpsuits that were destroyed," he said, but Napoleon could tell that the younger agent wasn't quite telling the truth. Kuryakin might not know, but he did have an idea. However, he had promised to follow Illya's lead, so he didn't protest the statement.
"All right... well, we're obviously better now, so..."
"It's four o'clock in the afternoon, too late to head back to New York City," Illya told him. "Mr. Freeman doesn't have to leave until tomorrow, so we have an opportunity to get our strength back. He's going to drive us in."
"That's very kind of him. A good Samaritan?"
Illya shrugged, understanding precisely what his partner meant by the comment. "So it appears. He is correct about our canoe and supplies having disappeared; I checked." The Russian shifted uneasily, casting a quick glance toward the door. "Would you like some soup? It's quite good, and you haven't eaten anything for at least the past thirty-six hours."
At the thought of food, Napoleon felt his mouth begin to water. "I'd love some," he replied.
Illya nodded and got up. "Stay there; don't try to stand up," he ordered. "You'll get dizzy. I'll be right back." He disappeared out the open door, and a moment later Napoleon heard him talking to someone else.
All right, Solo, think, Napoleon ordered himself. Illya keeps saying 'canoe' rather than 'car'; obviously this Jim Freeman doesn't know who we are - unless he's a Thrush agent, of course, but Illya seems to be pretty certain that he isn't. From what Illya's said, it sounds like we're supposed to be campers - that works, I suppose.
But there's obviously a very definite problem,
But there's obviously a very definite problem,he added, shifting his pillow up and leaning back against it. They'd been partners too long - and knew each other too well - for Illya to hide that from him. Something having to do with the explosion, I wonder? And what about that strange flash of colours...
Illya appeared in the doorway with another man - from his size, most likely the one who had lent Illya the clothes he was wearing. "Napoleon," the Russian said, coming in and placing the bowl he held down on the table, "this is Jim Freeman. Jim, this is Napoleon Solo."
"Pleased to meet you," Napoleon said politely. "I understand we have you to thank for saving us."
Freeman nodded. "I just did what I could to help," he replied. "I understand from Illya here that all your supplies and stuff were in your canoe."
Oh, damn it... Napoleon thought, suddenly realizing what that meant. They'd left everything but the time-delay charges, their pen/transceivers and their Specials with the car. "Yeah, that's right," he replied, shooting a glance at Illya. The Specials and our tranceivers? he asked silently.
Illya tilted his head in the direction of the other bed. Safe.
Yes; I'll tell you later.
Wonderful. So their host had seen the U.N.C.L.E. Specials. Napoleon found himself wondering just how Illya had explained their presence. Of course, this meant that it was much more likely that Freeman wasn't a Thrush agent; if he was, he'd have recognized the Specials for what they were.
"Listen," Freeman was saying, oblivious to the direction of Napoleon's thoughts, "I've just got to do a final check of the grounds. I'll be about three-quarters of an hour to an hour. You finish up your soup, and get some more rest; we'll leave at about ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
"All right," Illya said, and then sat down in the chair again as Freeman disappeared.
As soon as they heard the sound of a door closing, Napoleon turned to his partner. "How did you explain..."
"I told him that they were tranquilizing guns," Illya replied, leaning back in his seat. He suddenly looked exhausted, the 'Russian mask' vanishing as though it had never been. "That we were doing a study of the wildlife in the area."
"So we're still in the Catskills," Napoleon concluded.
"I... ah... in a... sense, I suppose," Illya said, rubbing his forehead with one hand. "You'd better get started on your soup; if you're feeling anything like the way I was feeling yesterday, you'll be asleep again within the hour."
Napoleon frowned, even as he reached for the spoon and started in on the bowl of soup. Illya had been right, it was quite good. However, he wasn't about to let the food distract him from his questions. "What do you mean, 'in a sense'?" he demanded.
Placing his own bowl of soup back on the table, Illya took a deep breath. "Do you remember asking me about how Dr. Jacobs' machine worked?"
Napoleon nodded, remembering quite clearly. "You started to answer, but the alarm cut you off. I gather it's relevant?"
"Very much so." Illya slumped a bit further into his chair. "As I started to tell you while we were in the lab, it had something to do with probing the fourth dimension. His work was very abstruse; almost entirely made up of high-level quantum mechanics and mathematical theories. I was under the impression that Mr. Waverly was mainly concerned about the effect it was supposed to have on the spy satellites."
"But now you've changed your mind?" Napoleon prodded.
His partner swallowed. "Do you know what the fourth dimension is?"
"Time," Napoleon replied immediately, and grinned at the momentary look of surprise that crossed Illya's face. "I may not have your degrees in physics and quantum mechanics, but I do know that much." Then his grin slowly faded as the return of Illya's grim expression stirred an uneasy feeling in the back of his mind. "What is it, Illya?"
"The device was already in partial operation when we arrived at the laboratory," Kuryakin said slowly. He seemed to be struggling a bit to get his thoughts into a logical order, which worried Napoleon - it was very unlike his partner. "I think... I think that the detonation of those explosives did something to the device - which did something to us."
"Why?" Napoleon asked, fighting back a yawn as he started to feel the exhaustion Kuryakin had warned him of.
Illya frowned. "I'm not sure, but I think that they must have been starting a test run, or perhaps--"
"No, not why did the explosion affect the machine; why do you think it did something to us?"
"You're not going to believe it," Illya warned.
"Well, try me," Napoleon said firmly.
His friend took another deep breath. "Today's date is Saturday, November the twenty-fifth, 1989."
Napoleon stared at him blankly for a moment.
"You're right," he said finally. "I don't believe it."
Illya shrugged helplessly. "Nonetheless, it is true. According to what was said on the radio this morning, it is November the twenty-fifth, a Saturday. The calendar in Freeman's kitchen is for the year 1989. His car is like no car I have seen before - but it is a Ford. And, as I told you, I went to look for our car this morning - I told Freeman I was looking for the canoe - and I found what was left of the Thrush lab after the explosion. Judging from the erosion, at least one and a half to two decades have passed since it was destroyed.
"And..." he added slowly, "no one has responded to my attempt to open Channel D, but the transceivers are not being jammed; I took mine with me to the lab site, and then came back here by homing in on the signal from yours. I do not wish to believe it either, but Thrush does not - or did not - have the resources to construct something this elaborate on this scale, so I am forced to believe the evidence of my senses. And all that evidence suggests that we have somehow been moved forward in time."
Napoleon buried his face in his hands. "I don't know if I can handle this, Illya," he said slowly. "If you're right - and for the moment, we might as well assume that you are - then we've 'come forward' over 21 years. The number of changes... do you think that we'll be able to handle it?" He looked back up at his partner.
Illya met his eyes. "We are still together," he declared. "The two of us have been able to deal with the impossible before. If we look on this as being another assignment..."
Napoleon nodded slowly. It wouldn't be easy, of course. They'd have to be very careful, and very clever. But then, as Illya had pointed out, they were the top two of Section Two. They would cope. They had always done so before. They could - and would - do so now.
It was ten-thirty pm when Control finally arrived at O'Phelan's. Both McCall and Mickey were already starting to get impatient by the time the Company official walked through the door.
"Well?" McCall demanded as soon as Control sat down.
McCall looked exasperated. "Was the information on the microdot what you expected it to be?"
Control rubbed his forehead with one hand as Pete came over and put a single malt down in front of him. He gave her a nod of thanks, and then took a sip as she headed back to the bar.
"Schwartz was right," he said after a long moment of silence. "It wasn't at all what I expected." There was another pause, and then he turned to Mickey. "Kostmayer... what were Schwartz's exact last words?"
"Exact last words?" Mickey repeated.
"Yes, exact. Don't insert anything; just tell me the words he said to you," Control ordered.
Mickey thought for a moment, recalling the scene, and then said, "Tell uncle Drossel."
"There, you see, that's what got us confused, Robert!" Control exclaimed. "Schwartz didn't mean to tell his uncle; he meant to tell U.N.C.L.E."
"Huh?" Mickey said, completely confused.
"He meant the U-N-C-L-E," Control explained, spelling it out. "The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement."
"The United what?" Mickey asked, still confused.
At the same time, McCall protested, "U.N.C.L.E. disappeared in 1969, Control. You can't seriously mean that Rudolf expected you to contact an organization that's been defunct for 20 years, can you?"
"Hey, McCall, Control, what exactly is this U.N.C.L.E.?" Mickey demanded again.
McCall turned to face him. "It was a semi-covert organization that was founded just after World War II - by a group of five men known as Section One - to deal with threats to global security and stability. It fell under the umbrella of the United Nations."
"One of U.N.C.L.E.'s most persistent and dangerous foes was a highly sophisticated criminal organization known as 'Thrush'," Control added.
Mickey's eyes widened in comprehension. "Drossel!" he exclaimed.
Control nodded. "After I got a look at the information the microdot contains, I did some digging around. It turns out that Rudolf Schwartz was an U.N.C.L.E. Section Two agent - Operations and Enforcement," he explained at Mickey's puzzled look - "in Europe during the sixties. He joined the BND* in '69 when U.N.C.L.E. disbanded. It was believed at the time that Thrush had been destroyed, and between that and Vietnam, U.N.C.L.E. lost the support of both the Americans and the Soviets.
"As for the microdot... well, it appears that Thrush is not dead," Control said, sighing. "I don't know how Schwartz got a hold of it, but the information it contains certainly proves that Thrush is once again a threat to global security."
Mickey and McCall looked at each other. "Oh?" McCall said warily.
"And what exactly are you expecting us to do about it?" McCall demanded.
Control relaxed slightly. "I was hoping you'd offer to help, Robert," he said. "And yes, I could definitely use some. I didn't understand all the information that was on the 'dot, but what I did get is the fact that Thrush apparently has people in the Company, which means that we have to deal with this unofficially."
"What exactly is 'this'?" McCall demanded, glaring at him. "And that wasn't an offer."
Control leaned back in his seat, ignoring McCall's protest. "Thrush apparently has a base here in New York. The microdot didn't say exactly where it was located, but it did provide the names of some personnel that have been assigned there." He took a brown envelope out of the inner pocket of his coat and handed it to McCall. "Names and pictures, as well as what information we have on them. I want you and Mickey to use that information to locate the base, and then we'll move on to the next stage."
McCall frowned. "Just what are you up to, Control? What do you mean, 'the next stage'? I haven't yet agreed to help you on this..."
"Thrush has to be stopped, Robert," Control replied emphatically. "And since, as you said, U.N.C.L.E.'s been defunct for 20 years, that leaves the problem to us. I'd appreciate it if you could get started tomorrow morning, first thing."
"In other words, you want us to take on an international criminal organization, just the three of us," McCall said sardonically.
"Well," Mickey commented, sotto voce, as they waited for Control's response, "that's one impossible thing before breakfast..."
"I'd say that about covers it," Control replied calmly. "And cheer up, Mickey; at least I'm not expecting you to do six impossible things."
Napoleon Solo leaned wearily against the utility pole, staring blankly at the building in front of him. 21-1/2 years ago - or, to his mind, four days ago - it had been Del Floria's Tailor Shop. Now, it was a magazine store, and Napoleon had the sneaking suspicion that there was no longer a door that led to U.N.C.L.E.'s New York Headquarters in the back.
He sighed. We're in New York City with no identification, one pair of clothes each, no knowledge of the year - much less the past two decades - and about $3000 in cash, in a year where that doesn't go anywhere near as far as it did in 1968.
It was pure luck that they had even that much money. He'd only been carrying about $400; he had absolutely no idea why his partner had been carrying so much more than that in the middle of the Catskills, and he didn't think that he wanted to know.
"We have even more problems than we thought," Illya's voice said from behind him, and Napoleon turned to see his partner standing on the sidewalk, as a cab pulled away. He wasn't surprised that Illya had known exactly what he was thinking; it had been that way since the beginning of their partnership, and had saved their lives more times than Napoleon cared to think about.
"Yes, I know," he replied, and gestured to the magazine store. "Del Floria's is gone."
Illya didn't look at all surprised. "According to the historical files at the library, so are Thrush - and U.N.C.L.E."
Napoleon's eyes widened in shock. "What? Waverly would never..."
Illya shrugged. "I did not have time to do in-depth research," he said, coming over to stand next to Napoleon. "It took me a while to understand the new cataloguing systems, and I also wished to update myself on recent events." An expression of wry amusement crossed his face for a moment. "And there have been a number of very interesting recent events - the Berlin Wall was apparently taken down two weeks ago."
Napoleon's eyes widened in astonishment. "'Interesting' sounds like an understatement."
Kuryakin nodded. "Perhaps 'unbelievable' would be a more appropriate term... However," the Russian continued with a shrug, returning to the original topic of discussion, "I agree with you; I do not think that Mr. Waverly would permit U.N.C.L.E. to disappear. But - officially - it no longer exists."
"So we look for signs of it existing unofficially," Napoleon concluded, meeting his partner's eyes.
Illya nodded in agreement.
"But first, we'd better find someplace to stay," Napoleon continued. "And we're going to need a way of getting some more money; $3000 won't go very far, based on the prices we've seen."
"I've rented us a room at a motel, paid for two nights," Illya told him. "It's not the best part of town, but it will do for the moment."
"Good." Napoleon rubbed his forehead for a moment. "I don't want to rely on the offer Freeman made us; I'm still not sure I trust him."
Just before he'd dropped them off in front of the United Nations building, Freeman had handed Napoleon his card and told the two agents that if they had any problems, they could just give him a call.
"And I do not think that he could give us the sort of help we need," Illya agreed.
"So, let's find something to eat, and then go to this motel you've found us, and try to get a good night's sleep. And in the morning, we start looking for Waverly, or anyone else from U.N.C.L.E. who might be able to help us."
Mickey sighed, slumping a bit further down in the van's driver's seat. He'd spent most of the night here, in front of Andrew Brathe's house, waiting for him get up and go wherever he was going.
Despite Control's request that they start Sunday morning, it had taken all of Sunday and most of yesterday to just compile a list of addresses - it appeared that this 'Thrush' liked its people mobile, because there had been only one address on Control's list that had still been correct. The two of them had been all over the city, trying to trace these people down.
However, once they'd done that, they'd discovered a rather interesting fact.
Every single one of the names on the list was presently located in Manhattan. Most of them had moved from Queens in the past month. Everything considered, both he and McCall thought that it quite likely meant that the place they were looking for was located somewhere in Manhattan.
He sighed again. Mickey hated surveillance assignments. He'd much rather be doing something - anything - rather than just sitting here and waiting. Surveillance was Jimmy's specialty. But Control had been adamant; unless he deemed it absolutely necessary, no one aside from McCall and Mickey were to work on this.
The Company agent was just about to pour himself a fourth cup of lukewarm coffee - it kept him alert, at least - when the door of the house opened, and Brathe came out.
Slumping down further, Mickey watched as Brathe got into his car; he waited until the man had driven past the first stop sign before starting up the van and swinging in behind his quarry.
April Dancer scowled as she glanced down at her watch. 10:00. Where was Mark? He'd promised to be here twenty minutes ago.
Running her hand through her shoulder-length, silver-streaked hair, she glanced up and down the street. There was still no sign of her old partner, much less the bright yellow Porsche he'd bought himself last month as a retirement gift.
And, of course, no sooner does he retire from Computer World International when we get word that Thrush is back in business... I think even Illya would have been impressed by his command of Russian expletives.
Her mood became a touch melancholy as she considered the last thought. For some reason, she'd been thinking of Napoleon and Illya a great deal over the last couple of months; it was strange. Or, then again, maybe it's not, April thought after a moment. Considering what's been going on in global politics over the last several years - and months - maybe it isn't that strange. After all, their partnership gave the lie to the concept of the Cold War...
April was just about to head back into the house and call Mark's cell phone when she caught sight of a telephone repair van driving slowly up the street. Instincts honed by two and a half decades of covert operations started screaming at her, and she reached for her gun. Before she managed to draw it, however, the van stopped just past her house and two men - dressed in the familiar Thrush uniforms - jumped out of the back, guns already aimed straight at her.
April instinctively flung herself down and to the right, using the wooden fence surrounding her front garden as a shield while she grabbed her gun from the holster at the small of her back. It was loaded with sleep darts; hopefully, she'd be able to get all of them with what she had, since she'd gotten out of the habit of carrying a spare clip while she was at home.
Stupid, she thought bitterly, as bulletholes appeared in the fence just above her head. You should know better by now, Dancer! And even if you didn't think it necessary before, you should have changed that habit as soon as you heard Thrush was back in business... Carefully, she peered around the side of the fence, and managed to get off a shot that hit one of the goons firing at her. He went down, and April felt a touch of triumph. At least all those hours on the Company practice range have kept my marksmanship up...
Before she had time to congratulate herself any more, however, the other Thrush agent saw her, and aimed in her direction. Ducking back behind the fence, she shook her head, irritated with herself. She was in the middle of a firefight, for Christ's sake... it was no time for self-congratulation.
She crouched behind the fence for another moment, a frown crossing her face as she realized that the gunfire had stopped. Wondering what had happened - had a cop car shown up, or one of her neighbours? - she started to stand up enough to peer over the top of the fence; and then froze as she abruptly felt the muzzle of a gun press against her back.
"Put the weapon down, Dancer," said a vaguely familiar voice.
Carefully holding her finger off the trigger, April placed her Special on the ground. You're getting too old for this, April... she thought ruefully.
"Now turn around; slowly."
Standing up, April obeyed, turning to face her captor.
The hair had gone silver - much like her own - but the face was the same, and the ease with which the other woman held the dart gun said that, like April, she was still in practice.
"Lovely to see you again, darling," the woman said, and then fired. April felt the dart prick her skin, and then collapsed to the ground, her vision going black as the tranquilizer dragged her down into unconsciousness. The last thing she knew was the sound of police sirens approaching.
The Thrush agent looked down at the unconscious April Dancer, and smiled coldly before beckoning for the two men by the van who were still conscious to come and get her.
Two blocks away from their destination, Napoleon and Illya shared a look of concern as they saw a third police car turn the same corner they were going toward.
"There appears to be a problem," Illya commented. His tone was cool, but Napoleon could see the worry in his partner's eyes.
"Yes, it looks that way," he agreed. "Come on; the sooner we get there, the sooner we'll find out what's going on."
Four minutes later, they turned onto the street to see the three police cars parked haphazardly in front of one of the houses. Yellow crime scene tape was stretched around the sidewalk and fence, and there was a large crowd gathered just outside the blockade formed by the tape and the police cars.
"Let's see what happened," Napoleon said, glancing around worriedly. He hoped his fears were wrong, but...
Joining the crowd was easy. Trying to catch a glimpse of the scene, however, was more difficult - for Napoleon, at least. Illya managed to slip smoothly through the packed group of people. He stood by the yellow tape for a minute or two, and then headed back to Solo.
"Well?" Napoleon asked, as soon as Illya reached him.
His partner touched one arm. "Let's move away - I don't think we want this overheard," he said quietly.
"Right," the senior agent agreed. He trailed after Illya until they were out of earshot of both the police and the crowd. "So, is it...?" His voice trailed off.
"It's the same address," Illya replied grimly. "1714. However, although the fence has a number of bulletholes, there's no sign of any bodies. And..." Illya held his hand up to emphasize what he was about to say, "it appears that someone involved left some things behind."
"Oh?" Napoleon studied his friend's face. "And what sort of things would those be, pray tell?"
Illya took a deep breath. "A rifle and a beret. Both of them had emblazoned on them a very familiar symbol." The light blue eyes met his. "It appears that the information I found in the library yesterday is quite inaccurate. Thrush still exists, and it seems that they have kidnapped April."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Napoleon felt a thrill of anticipation. The world had changed a great deal... but this, he knew how to deal with. Looking at Illya, he could see that the Russian felt the same. "It looks like we now have something we know how to handle," he commented, feeling a tight smile tug at the corner of his mouth.
Illya nodded, meeting Napoleon's smile with one of his own. "Yes, it does."
April opened her eyes slowly, and found herself looking into the worried face of Mark Slate.
"You all right?" he asked quietly.
"Unh..." she mumbled in reply, pushing herself up.
They were in a small cell, with two cots, one of which April was on. Standing just outside was a guard, clad in the familiar black jumpsuit, reading what appeared to be a porno magazine.
"What happened to you?" April asked, returning her attention to Mark. He was developing a nasty bruise around his right eye, and looked as though his head was killing him.
"I drove into a gas station to fill up the Porsche's tank, and I got jumped," he replied, gingerly touching the black eye. "They punched me in the face, and then someone behind me knocked me out. What about you, luv?"
"I was waiting for you to show up, and got ambushed by a telephone repair van," April replied. "Two guys kept me busy by shooting at me while our favourite black widow* snuck up behind me, and shot me with a trank dart."
"Lovely..." Mark muttered sourly. He rubbed the back of his head. "So Angelique's involved? Looks like all the old guard's getting called up."
April nodded in agreement as Mark sat down on the other cot. "The question is, however, why grab us? I mean, it's not like we're in the field for U.N.C.L.E. any longer..."
"Ah, but that's not quite true, now, is it?" Angelique's voice asked. Turning around, the two agents saw her standing just outside the cell, an amused smile on her face.
"What do you mean?" April demanded, sounding confused - or, at least, she hoped she sounded confused. How much did Angelique - and therefore Thrush - know?
"Oh, come, Dancer," the Thrush woman said, shaking her head reprovingly. "You may be officially a member of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, but we all know that - despite what most of the world thinks - U.N.C.L.E. never actually disbanded. Even if we hadn't realized that before, Rudolf Schwartz made it obvious when he discovered the microdot."
"What are you talking about?" Mark asked.
Angelique looked almost disappointed. "Really, darlings, it won't do any good to pretend, you know. U.N.C.L.E. is not the only one to have infiltrated the various intelligence organizations. I must admit, the BND was harder to get into than the CIA or the KGB, but we managed. Schwartz made the mistake of mentioning the microdot in the presence of one of our people. And since we were already watching you, it became obvious when you were reactivated that despite Schwartz's unfortunate death, he managed to get the information through to U.N.C.L.E. And as for your position with U.N.C.L.E..." Angelique smiled.
She took a notepad out of her pocket and held it up. "Mark Slate. Cover: sales representative and software technician with Computer World International, retired last month. Rank: Number Three, Section One. April Dancer. Cover: covert operative in Langley's Operations Directorate. Rank: Number Five, Section One."
Mark and April looked at each other. Neither was particularly pleased by the fact that Angelique knew they were Section One, but it certainly explained why they'd been taken. Together, the two of them knew almost everything about U.N.C.L.E.'s present operating status.
"You see?" Angelique continued, her tone becoming more cheerful. "We do know these things.
"Now, I'm afraid I don't have time to explain the details of what will be happening to you right at the moment; there are some other things I need to deal with. A bit later, however, we'll sit down, and have a nice chat about the old days." With that, the Thrush agent turned and walked away, as graceful as ever.
The two U.N.C.L.E. agents exchanged another glance.
"We're in trouble," April commented.
Mark nodded. "I'd say that about sums it up, luv," he replied, lying down on the cot and staring up at the ceiling. "I'm going to try to get some rest; wake me up when you come up with a plan, will you?"
April rolled her eyes in mock exasperation as she settled back against the wall. Then she glanced at the guard. "Hey!" she called.
He turned around and looked at her for a moment.
"You have a pack of cards?" April asked. "Otherwise, I'm going to die of boredom."
The guard shook his head, and returned his attention to his magazine.
"Wonderful... if Angelique doesn't get back soon, whatever she has in mind might even begin to look good to me by the time she returns..." April muttered, and decided that Mark might just have the right idea. Lying down, she closed her eyes and tried to join her partner in sleep.
Mickey frowned as he studied the warehouse through the lens of the camera. Brathe had taken a long, very elaborate route to get here, and had apparently been satisfied that if he'd had anyone tailing him, they had been lost.
Why he might think that someone was tailing him was a question that Mickey couldn't answer, but he blessed the fact that he'd had the presence of mind to stick a tracker on the bumper of Brathe's car last night - as well as the fact that Brathe hadn't noticed it. His quarry was quite a skilled driver, and at least twice, the tracker was the only thing that had kept Mickey from losing him completely.
There were four other vehicles parked near Brathe's car: a telephone repair van, a blue four-door sedan, a black limo, and a very nice silver Ferrari. He took photos of all of them, including the license plates of the Ferrari and the limo; with luck, they'd be able to identify the owners of those two, at least. He also took a number of photos of the warehouse, from various angles.
He was just about to phone McCall when a silver-haired woman in a lovely blue dress came around the far corner, followed by two older men. He snapped a quick picture of the group - none of the three had been in the photos Control had gotten from the microdot, which meant that they were probably higher-ups - and then slipped on a pair of headphones and pointed the sensitive receiver at them.
"Don't worry," the woman was saying calmly as the receiver started picking up their conversation. "They were searched thoroughly while they were unconscious. Neither of them was carrying any sort of homing or tracking device, and the guards removed their communicators and guns."
"Are you absolutely certain?" one of the men demanded. "You know that we cannot afford to have U.N.C.L.E. locate this warehouse. We can't afford to underestimate U.N.C.L.E.'s resourcefulness, any more than we can afford to become overconfident in our own skills."
Huh? I thought McCall and Control said that U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to be dead! Mickey thought, confused.
"Believe me, our people know how to locate tracking devices, gentlemen. After all, many of them do come from your satrap. If there should be problems - which there won't - you will have only yourselves and your people to blame. And as for underestimating U.N.C.L.E. - I have fought them before, gentlemen. I know better than to discount their abilities. Nonetheless, even with the information from the microdot - assuming that they are successful in decoding it - U.N.C.L.E. is not prepared enough to stop us."
"Angelique, my dear," the other man said, shaking his head as Mickey made a mental note of the name, "you have just kidnapped two of U.N.C.L.E.'s Section One personnel. I do not believe that they will be willing to just write off Mr. Slate and Miss Dancer."
Mickey wasn't close enough to see properly without using the camera's telescopic lens - which he couldn't do while he was listening to the conversation - but he got the impression that the woman sneered. "Of course they won't. It's Section Two and Three agents that are expendable, not Section One. But as I said, they're not prepared enough to stop us - at least not yet. And by the time they are prepared, we'll be finished here. There won't be anything left for them to do but clean up the mess.
"Now, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, there are other duties that I must attend to. Make sure that our two guests receive a proper meal at noon; after all, we don't want them thinking that our hospitality is lacking, now, do we?"
The two men looked at each other, and then nodded in reluctant agreement.
"Good." The woman got into the Ferrari, and a moment later, took off. The two men didn't seem to be overly interested in talking as they returned to the building, so Mickey took the opportunity to get another picture of them, and then pulled out his cell phone and dialled McCall's number.
"McCall here," his friend answered.
"McCall, it's Mickey. I've located the base - a warehouse near the docks - but it seems that we have a few complications to deal with," Mickey said.
He had no trouble hearing the apprehension in Robert's voice when he answered. "What complications would those be, Mickey?"
"Well, first of all, it seems that these Thrush guys believe that U.N.C.L.E. still exists," Mickey started. "I managed to catch a conversation, and U.N.C.L.E. was mentioned as a potential threat. Secondly, they seem to believe that U.N.C.L.E. knows about whatever information was on that microdot Control has. And third, they've apparently kidnapped two people whom they believe to be U.N.C.L.E. agents."
There was a pause on the other end of the line before McCall answered. "All right, Mickey, I want you to come back to my apartment along with whatever information you've managed to get. I think Control has some explaining to do. And then we'll work on how to rescue those two people you mentioned."
"I'll be right there," Mickey replied, and hung up. He rapidly put his equipment back in the van, and then started back to McCall's place. He wasn't going to miss this confrontation between McCall and Control for anything.
McCall looked up as the door opened, not surprised to see Control walk in.
"You have something for me, Robert?" his friend inquired.
"We're just waiting for Kostmayer," McCall replied. "We think he's managed to find Thrush's present base of operations."
Control's eyes widened in surprise. "That's quick, even for the two of you," he commented, sitting down on the couch. "Where is it?"
McCall shrugged. "All I know so far is that it's a warehouse in Manhattan, somewhere near the docks. Mickey didn't tell me more than that." He paused. "You do realize that all the address information you gave us was out of date, don't you?"
Control shrugged. "I gave you all of what we had."
Oh, I doubt that. I doubt that most sincerely, McCall thought, but he didn't say it out loud. Instead, he reached into the cupboard and took out two mugs, putting them down on the counter next to his. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
His friend rubbed his forehead with one hand. "I would say no, but I have the feeling I'm going to need it," he replied.
He'd just finished pouring coffee in both mugs when there was a knock on the door. A moment later, it opened, revealing Mickey Kostmayer, his arms full of equipment.
"Mickey, come in," McCall said, giving him a tight smile. "Control's already here," he added, walking over to close the door behind the younger man.
Mickey nodded in understanding, a faint grin of anticipation crossing his face before he walked into the sitting room and dumped what he was carrying onto the table.
"So, what have you got?" Control demanded, as McCall went back into the kitchen to get the coffee.
"Surveillance pictures of the warehouse, the cars, and three people who weren't anywhere in the information you gave us," Mickey replied, handing him the roll of film. "I've also got a very interesting conversation on tape." He held up the cassette, and then slipped it into the tape player he'd also brought up.
"Oh?" Control queried. "Sounds like you've been busy."
Mickey shrugged as he raised the mug McCall handed him to his mouth and took a grateful sip, delighted to actually get hot coffee. "It seems like they've been even busier," he returned, as McCall sat down in a chair. "If you want to start listening to the tape, you'll see what I mean."
Then, as Control pushed the 'play' button, Mickey yawned and leaned back against the counter to watch the sparks fly.
Napoleon leaned back in his seat, surveying the area as he waited for his partner to finish getting his own lunch and come back to the table.
The past two days had been hectic; Illya had spent most of his time at the library, researching current events and technological changes, while Napoleon had been touring the city and looking for old associates of theirs from U.N.C.L.E. And then, when they'd found April, they'd discovered that she had been kidnapped by Thrush...
The two of them had agreed that the first thing they would need to do was to get some equipment; skilled they might be, but it would be difficult to mount a rescue operation against Thrush with only themselves and their guns - each of which had only two clips available. After a bit of discussion, they'd finally settled on going to one of the large shopping malls. They'd done about an hour's worth of shopping - Illya had written up a list of common items that would be useful - and then stopped for lunch at this 'food court'.
As Illya came back to the table, Napoleon glanced at his friend's tray, and his eyebrows went up in surprise at the contents.
Illya shrugged, flipping open the New York Times as he sat down. "It was reasonably priced, and I do not believe that it will be that bad," he answered the unspoken question. "And I do need to eat."
Napoleon nodded reluctantly as he unwrapped his sandwich. "I just wish--" he began, and then stopped as he saw Illya stiffen and raise the newspaper to shield his face. "What is it?" he asked quietly, recognizing the intense expression of focused interest.
"Remember that we have come forward 21 years," Illya replied, meeting his eyes, "and then turn around and tell me who that woman in front of the electronics store is."
Shifting in his seat, Napoleon glanced unobstrusively around, and then froze for a moment as he caught sight of the woman Illya had mentioned. Aside from the fact that her hair was now silver, she hadn't changed; she was still as beautiful as ever.
He turned back to Illya, feeling stunned. "Angelique."
Illya nodded. "And if Angelique is here in Manhattan..."
"...And we know that Thrush kidnapped April..."
"...Then it's likely that Angelique can lead us to where April is," Illya finished.
They looked at each other, sharing a sudden feeling of anticipation.
"Do you have everything you think we'll need?" Napoleon inquired, gesturing at the plastic bags strewn around their feet.
"If Angelique leads us to the Thrush base," his partner returned, "then yes - they will get us in, and then we will be able to use what resources are available there for the rescue. It would mean that we will not have to concern ourselves just yet with finding another source of ammunition for the Specials."
Napoleon grinned, his expression predatory. "Sounds like a plan to me," he replied.
Ten minutes later, as Angelique walked out of the mall and toward the silver Ferrari parked on the second level of the lot, she didn't notice the two men that trailed along after her. Nor did she see the trunk lid of her car rise several inches and then shut again as she paid the parking attendant. And as she drove out of the parking lot, she was oblivious to the fact that the weight of the items in the trunk had more than tripled.
Control slumped in the couch as the tape continued; the guarded expression on his face made it obvious that he wasn't entirely happy with the fact that Mickey and McCall were hearing it.
As the tape hissed, indicating that the recorded conversation was over, he reached out to press the 'stop' button.
"Well?" McCall said pointedly. "Are you going to tell us why these people seem to believe that U.N.C.L.E. is still active?"
"What makes you think I know that?" Control demanded.
"Perhaps it's the fact that they also seem to believe that U.N.C.L.E. has possession of the microdot," Mickey suggested from his position against the kitchen counter. "The one that Schwartz passed to me, and that I gave to you. They sounded fairly certain about it. And the two men were definitely worried that U.N.C.L.E. could pose a threat to them."
"So what you're suggesting is that I gave the microdot to U.N.C.L.E. - assuming the organization still exists, of course," Control added.
"Well, you were the one who had the microdot," McCall replied. "And the question of whether U.N.C.L.E. still exists is one that I would like an answer to."
Control looked at McCall for a minute. His eyes flickered to Mickey, and then went back to his friend, decision made. "Yes, U.N.C.L.E. still exists," he said slowly, taking a deep breath and letting it out in a sigh. "Aside from U.N.C.L.E. agents - and now, it seems, Thrush - you are only the eighth and ninth people in the world to discover this information. It must remain a secret."
"Why is that?" McCall demanded.
"Because U.N.C.L.E.'s mandate has never changed. They've got people infiltrated into almost every intelligence organization in the world; which means that the result of people - of governments - discovering this information could be absolute chaos. That's something that none of us can afford, Robert, especially with the political climate the way it is today. With the Cold War ending, and the definite possibility of the Communists going out of power in the Soviet Union, U.N.C.L.E. is needed now more than ever."
"So why didn't you just tell us about U.N.C.L.E. on Saturday, then?" Mickey asked. "You know, it would have been nice to have some backup at the warehouse, just in case things went sour."
"But they didn't," Control pointed out.
"They could have. If those three," Mickey gestured to the tape, "had been just a bit more careful in looking around, they might have spotted me. And if they had, I would have appreciated someone to help me get my butt out of there."
"Look, I shouldn't have even told you what I have," Control snapped out. "There are reasons why so few people know about U.N.C.L.E., and Section One likes it kept that way."
"I think it's reasonable that we should know," McCall countered, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his coffee. "After all, we're the ones who have found out where Thrush is hiding at the moment."
"Like I said, Robert, Section One believes very firmly in the policy that the less people who know that they exist, the better. Those of us who do know have been sworn to secrecy, and undergone conditioning; the only reason I'm able to confirm it is that this tape has essentially already told you."
McCall blinked in surprise. "You? You've undergone conditioning?" he exclaimed.
Control nodded. "I agreed with the necessity. I didn't like it, but as I said, there were some very sound reasons." He looked at McCall and Mickey.
"There's still the problem of the U.N.C.L.E. agents Thrush has captured," he continued. "Miss Dancer... that would be April."
Mickey started, taking a step forward. "April?" he repeated in surprise. "You mean April in the Soviet counter-intelligence division? That April?"
"Yes, that April." Control frowned. "I knew that she was an U.N.C.L.E. agent; I didn't realize that she was in Section One, however...
"And as for Mr. Slate... Mark Slate is Number Three of Section One - the second highest ranking U.N.C.L.E. official in the western hemisphere. They both have to be rescued; we simply cannot afford to let them stay in Thrush's hands."
"And I suppose that you expect us to rescue them?" McCall put in.
Control looked at them. "It shouldn't be as hard as you might think," he returned. "You've both worked with April; you know that she's field-rated. All you'll need to do is get her out of wherever they've got her and put a gun in her hands; she'll be able to help you from there."
"Assuming they haven't done anything to her, or to Mr. Slate," Mickey pointed out. "It's still long odds, Control. We don't even know how many people they've got in that warehouse; I only saw five cars, but that doesn't necessarily meant that there's only five to ten people there. I'd much prefer to get a better idea of the numbers before trying to pull this off."
For the first time in quite a while, McCall and Mickey saw Control's cool slip. "We don't have the time for that, Kostmayer! I'll put in a call to U.N.C.L.E. and try to get you some backup, but we need to rescue April and Slate ASAP. And the two of you have the best chance of anyone I know of pulling it off!"
McCall and Mickey exchanged a look.
"Not much choice, is there," Mickey commented. He raised his coffee mug in an ironic toast. "Here's to impossible thing #2," he added.
McCall shook his head, and then both men turned to look back at Control. "Well, I guess we do a rescue mission," McCall said.
In the parking lot of the warehouse, the video camera that Mickey had left running in the building across the street was the only thing that saw the lid of the Ferrari's trunk open. There was no other movement for a minute or two, while the men lying inside the trunk waited to see if the action had been noticed. When it became clear that no one was coming to investigate, the lid was pushed all the way up and Solo and Kuryakin climbed out.
"Either Angelique - and Thrush - are getting careless, or we're in more trouble than we think," Napoleon commented, looking around for any signs of a guard.
"Or, quite possibly, they have become overconfident," Illya suggested. "After all, as far as they are aware, no one knows that they still exist."
"Let's hope that that's it," Napoleon said. "I'll take the right, you take the left; we'll meet up in front."
Illya nodded in agreement, and they both started for the warehouse.
Five minutes later, Illya peered warily around the corner of the building, and a grim smile crossed his face. As they'd suspected, the warehouse's entrance was guarded; two Thrush agents, dressed in the familiar uniforms, were standing by the door. Both of them looked bored.
That won't last much longer, Illya thought to himself, a wicked grin crossing his face momentarily as he reached into one pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small plastic ball. By now, Napoleon would be in position...
Shooting another glance around the corner, he hefted the ball, and threw it onto the pavement just in front of the guards. The plastic broke, and clouds of smoke billowed out.
While the guards were distracted by the smoke, Illya crept up behind them, not surprised to see his partner doing the same thing from the other side. It took only a moment to knock them out, and Illya found himself battling a strange sense of déjà vu as he struggled into one of the uniforms. This was exactly how their last affair had started, knocking out a pair of guards and sneaking disguised into a Thrush base.
Looking up, he found Solo's brown eyes fixed on him; Napoleon was thinking the same thing.
"This time, let's make sure that they can't wake up and go running for security," his friend suggested.
Illya grinned as Napoleon motioned to the guards' feet, and the partners trussed the guards securely before gagging them with their own socks.
"Terrible hygiene," Illya commented, as he opened the door.
"Yes; they really should take the time to wash more often," Napoleon agreed, grinning. "Come on, let's go."
Neither of them thought that they'd be able to stay unnoticed for long, despite taking the precaution of tying the guards up; the best they could hope for was that no one would spot them before they actually freed April. They would have to move fast.
Just inside the door was a bank of security monitors, with another guard watching them; Napoleon shot him with a sleep dart before he even realized that they were there.
While Napoleon dragged the unconscious guard outside, Illya studied the security console, trying to figure out where April was being held.
It didn't take too much work; one of the monitors was labeled 'Cells', and was presently showing a small room occupied by two people: April, and a grey-haired man... Mark Slate!
"Napoleon!" he called softly.
"Find her?" his friend asked, coming back in.
"Found them," Illya replied, gesturing to the monitor. "Mark's there as well."
"Well, this is going to be quite the reunion... Where are the cells?"
"There's a set of stairs just around the corner," Illya said, pointing at the map displayed on one of the monitors. "We go up a flight, and they're just through the second door on the left."
"Right, then, let's get moving," Napoleon said, tossing Illya one of the guns he'd taken from the guards they'd knocked out. "We probably won't have that much time before someone learns that these guys aren't on duty any more..."
Illya raised his eyebrow, already starting for the stairs. "Then why are you standing around talking?" he inquired innocently.
They took the stairs at a careful run, but the Solo luck ran out as soon as they exited the stairwell. Peering along the corridor, Napoleon held up one hand to tell Illya to stay where he was.
"What is it?" Illya whispered, worried.
"There are two guards at the end of the corridor," his partner said quietly, over his shoulder. "They seem to be concerned about something."
Illya crept up next to him, and looked around the door.
As Napoleon had said, there were two guards in Thrush uniforms at the end of the corridor, standing in front of a security console that appeared to be a match for the one by the entrance - which meant that either way, they were going to have to be taken out. Then, as he listened for a moment, he heard what had alarmed Napoleon.
"Have any of the alarms been set off?" one of the guards was saying.
"No... but something's definitely wrong with the upper-level cameras," came the reply. "They seem to be on the fritz."
Upper-level? But we came in on the ground floor... Illya thought, confused. He frowned and looked at Napoleon, who appeared just as puzzled as he did. Could there be someone else here as well?
However, they didn't have time to worry about that. They hadn't yet been noticed, but that safety wouldn't last for more than another minute or two at most - and they would need to take as much advantage of that time-margin as possible.
Solo's eyes flickered around the corridor, and then he looked back at Illya. With the peculiar ability that had made them U.N.C.L.E.'s best field team, Illya knew exactly what his partner was thinking. I'll distract them; you get Mark and April out.
He gave Napoleon a quick nod of acknowledgment, and then, crouching low, made a run for the door leading to the cells.
He had gotten halfway there when one of the guards turned around and saw him. Yelling for his companion to sound the alarm, the guard started to raise his rifle to fire, and then fell back, dead, as Napoleon got him first. However, the time it took for Napoleon to fire was enough for the other guard to press whatever button triggered the alarm, and Illya muttered a Russian curse under his breath as he shoved open the door and hurried in, his gun drawn.
Unable to get back to sleep after their lunch - which neither had touched - had been delivered, April and Mark had resorted to playing a game called Botticelli that Napoleon and Illya had taught them.
Mark had won the last round and was leaning against the wall by his cot, whistling tunelessly, as April tried to decide on her next question. She was just opening her mouth to ask if he had written "Piano Man", hoping the popular music question would stump him, when they suddenly heard a muted burst of gunfire.
A second later, an alarm started ringing, and the door to the main room burst open, admitting another Thrush guard.
As he approached, April found herself frowning. The uniform beret, combined with the fact that she could only see him at an angle, managed to hide his features; but something about the way he moved seemed familiar - very familiar.
Their guard - Brathe, his name was - stood up as the other approached. "What's going on?" he demanded.
"It's time for a prisoner transfer," came the reply, in a sardonic tone.
April saw Mark's head jerk up at the voice, even as she stared in disbelief. It can't be... he's dead! Mr. Waverly declared them dead...
"Wha--?" Brathe started, and then collapsed as the other man shot him in the chest.
Bending down, the second man grabbed the keys from Brathe's belt, and then hurried toward their cell. "Come on," he said, shoving a key in the lock and absently pushing back the Thrush beret he wore, "we've got to get you out of here."
April sank down to her cot, staring at the man in front of her. "Oh my god..."
"Now, April!" snapped Illya Kuryakin, looking much the same as he had the last time she had seen him - 21-1/2 years ago. "I promise, you'll both get an explanation; but it's a long story, and Napoleon can't hold off everyone in this base alone. Move!"
He tossed Brathe's gun to Mark, who looked as shocked as April felt, and started for the door, only to stop as it opened and another man dressed in a Thrush uniform backed in, firing out into the corridor. Shoving the door closed, he spun around. "I hope you noticed another way out of here, Illya," Napoleon Solo said. He also looked no older than he had 21 years ago. "If not, we're going to be in real trouble. Hello, April, Mark," he added casually, nodding to them before turning back to his partner. "Well?"
"I'm afraid not, Napoleon; I haven't had the chance to look around yet."
Solo turned to look at the still staring Section One agents. "April? Mark? Did either of you happen to notice a way out of here? We may only have a moment or two before they get the idea of breaking the door down..."
April and Mark looked at each other for a moment. That's it; no doubt about it, April concluded. I've definitely gone through the Looking Glass... What happened to them? Then, pushing the thought out of her mind for the present, she gestured to the far end of the room of cells. Just visible from their position was a crack in the wall - most likely from a door. "Our lunch was brought in from that direction," she said.
"Good girl," Solo commented. "Come on, let's move; it would be rather embarrassing for the rescuers to need rescuing, don't you agree?"
"Definitely," Kuryakin replied, giving April a gentle push in the direction of the back door. They hurried down to the first floor.
Glancing out the door, Solo relaxed slightly. "Well, this corridor is empty," he murmured over his shoulder, and gestured for them to follow him out. "With luck, they haven't found the guards yet..."
"But we'd better hurry," Kuryakin continued, and April and Mark glanced at each other again. "The alarm is still going."
"Right... April, Mark, can you pretend to be prisoners for a few minutes? If anyone confronts us before we get out, we'll just tell them we're taking you to see Angelique," Solo suggested.
"How did you know--" Mark began.
"She gave us a drive here in her trunk," Solo replied.
"And she's got our guns and communicators somewhere around here," April added, shooting a pointed look at Mark. "We can't let Thrush keep the communicators - they're set to Section One frequencies."
This time, it was Napoleon and Illya who exchanged looks - April and Mark both recognized the familiar signs of the silent communication the other two agents had always shared. "Section One, huh?" Napoleon commented, one eyebrow going up. "Well, where do you think she would've hidden them? We really don't have much time before this place is crawling with guards, remember."
"I don't know," April replied, with a helpless shrug.
"Probably somewhere upstairs," Mark said at the same time. "She'd want to know if someone tried to contact us, and I got the impression when April was brought in that the second floor is where the main command area is."
Kuryakin nodded in agreement. "According to the map we saw at the security station by the entrance, you're right," he declared. "I'll meet you back down here in a few minutes."
Solo didn't look too pleased at that, but nodded. "All right... we'll start toward the entrance. And Illya... be careful," he added quietly, as the Russian went back into the stairwell. Then he turned back to April and Mark. "Well, there goes that plan; we'd better hurry, before they realize where we are."
April nodded in agreement. "Where is the entrance?" she asked quietly.
"Based on the way we came in, around that corner, down the corridor, and around another corner," Napoleon replied, pointing down the hall to their right. "Let's get going."
Illya dashed up the stairs as quickly as he could. They were really starting to run on borrowed time now; and he had the uncomfortable feeling - supported by an itch between his shoulderblades - that their rescue was going to be calling a great deal of attention to it shortly, if it hadn't already. After all, the alarm was still blaring...
Hoping for a goodly dose of his partner's famous luck, Illya carefully opened the door to the second floor.
Well, if anyone came in to check the cell area, they've been and gone, he decided, relieved that no one else was there.
Now, where would Angelique have put the communicators? Somehow, he doubted that they would be in the control centre itself; even if they'd disabled the homing signal - which had most likely been the first thing they had done, knowing Angelique - she wouldn't have wanted them that close to Thrush communications equipment, especially when it was unlikely that Thrush had a good idea of how sophisticated the communicators might have become.
The guard station. Of course.
Illya carefully opened the door leading to the corridor - and frowned when the action wasn't greeted with a hail of bullets. In fact, none of the Thrushes they'd been fighting were left there, except the ones they'd killed.
Which means that they're somewhere else - downstairs, most likely, Illya concluded. Which, in turn, means that I'm going to have to really hurry...
Darting out the door, he hurried over to the guard station, paying only enough attention to the bodies sprawled around to make certain that he didn't trip over them, and that they were indeed dead.
It took only a moment or two to find April and Mark's communicators - the silver pens were resting on top of one of the monitors. And their guns were sitting in an open drawer, which he found rather amusing. Illya grabbed them and hurried back to the stairs leading down from the cells - the sooner they got out of here, the better.
As soon as he entered the stairwell, he could hear the sound of gunfire from below. His guess had obviously been correct - Napoleon and the others were being attacked.
He took the stairs at a run, shoving the communicators into his pocket and swinging the Thrush rifle onto his shoulder as he cocked Mark's gun. Whoever had taken him had left the full clip in it - Thrush was getting careless.
Opening the door, Illya peered out and saw Napoleon and the others pressed up against the wall to his right. As he watched, Napoleon peered around the corner, firing his Thrush rifle, and then ducked back as a hail of bullets answered him.
Illya closed the stairwell door quietly and hurried over to the three of them. "How many?" he asked quietly.
"About twenty," Napoleon replied. "And they're right in the way of our escape route."
Illya sighed. "How do you always manage to get me into these messes?" he demanded, even as he handed Mark and April their Specials.
"It must be my charm," Napoleon returned. He ignored Illya's muttered, "What charm?" as he looked at the others. "We're going to have to think of something fast, partner," he added, returning his attention to the fight and firing another burst around the corner. "We don't want to end up surrounded."
Mickey parked the van in front of the building he'd been using as a surveillance post, and twisted around in the seat, frowning. "The silver Ferrari - the one that woman Angelique was driving - is back," he said.
Control, who was along under protest, frowned in irritation. "Angelique - I know I've heard that name before. Robert?"
McCall shrugged. "I don't remember anyone by that name," he replied. "And never mind that for now. We've got work to do. And Control... remember, you're supposed to call U.N.C.L.E. and get us some backup."
"I know, I know," Control grumbled - he sounded more irritated than usual, Mickey noticed with amusement. "And as you said, Robert, the two of you have work to do."
McCall and Mickey glanced at each other, and then McCall nodded and pulled a metal box containing their guns out from under his seat.
The phone repair van Mickey had mentioned - which was still parked in the warehouse lot across from the Ferrari - had given McCall an idea; the two of them were dressed as electricians. The warehouse wasn't owned by Thrush; a quick call before they had come out here had revealed that it was owned by a company called Anderson Manufacturing Ltd., and was presently being rented out. If they were seen, the idea was to pretend that they had been sent by Anderson Manufacturing to check out some possible electrical problems.
There were guards at the front door of the warehouse; Mickey had seen them when he had been driving back to McCall's apartment. As a result, their plan involved going in the back - through a third floor window.
Getting out of the van, Mickey pulled another metal case out from under his own seat - this one containing electronic scrambling devices, courtesy of Control, as well as a map of the warehouse itself. Hefting the case, he couldn't help but remember Control's warning that if any of the devices got damaged, it would be coming out of his paycheck. He had the feeling that Control was actually irritated enough to mean it.
Taking an expandable ladder from the back of the van, the two of them started casually toward the warehouse, keeping their eyes open for any sign of Thrush guards. Along with the case containing their guns, McCall carried a clipboard containing illegible sheets of paper that they could claim to be their orders, in case they were spotted and stopped.
However, no one appeared to challenge them - something that made McCall feel rather uneasy. If Thrush was as big a threat as Control claimed that it was, why wasn't the warehouse more carefully guarded? Did they really believe that U.N.C.L.E. was powerless against them at the moment?
Mickey leaned the ladder carefully against the warehouse, wincing slightly as it scraped against the ledge of the window he was aiming for. Giving the ladder an uneasy look* as Mickey got it steadied, McCall gritted his teeth and started climbing.
Control watched as McCall and Mickey slipped in through the third-storey window. Then, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he dialled rapidly.
After two rings, the phone was answered.
"International Marketing Corporation; how may I help you?" came a polite female voice.
Control took a deep breath. "I need to speak with your executive officer," he stated.
There was a pause, and then the woman said, "And whom may I say is calling?"
"Tell him it's Control. About Drossel."
That seemed to reach the woman. "Just one moment, please," she said rapidly.
Control heard a click, and then the head of U.N.C.L.E. came on the line. "You have something for me, Control?" he demanded instantly, not bothering with small talk.
"Yes. First of all, I'm not certain whether you're aware of this or not, but April Dancer and Mark Slate have been abducted by Thrush--"
"Yes, I know," came the reply. "We received that information two hours ago - we have contacts in the New York PD, Control. What I would like to know is how you discovered this, however."
"That's the other piece of information I need to tell you," Control replied, moving into the driver's seat of the van - just in case a quick getaway was needed. No telling what might happen in the warehouse over the next couple of minutes. "I set some of my... people to looking for Thrush; they found the base that Thrush is using, and one of them managed to overhear and tape a conversation between three high-level people. They mentioned both U.N.C.L.E. - which is how my people found out that your organization still exists - and your captured agents, by name. My people are now in the process of entering the Thrush base, in an effort to free your agents."
The man on the other end of the line paused momentarily before replying. "I see..." he said slowly. "Control, just how many of your people are there doing this?"
"Two," Control replied calmly.
"And where precisely is this base?"
"In Manhattan, near the docks. It's a three-storey warehouse owned by Anderson Manufacturing Limited, rented out to an organization that establishes and supports bird sanctuaries," Control explained.
There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. "Ah, yes, a perfect cover," the head of U.N.C.L.E. muttered sourly. "I assume you feel that they may need backup?"
"That might be a good assumption, yes," Control replied. He peered out the window, but couldn't see any sign of what might be happening in the warehouse. "We aren't really sure how many people are in the base right at the mo--"
Control broke off as a siren wail split the air. It was coming from the warehouse - which definitely didn't bode well.
"An alarm," Control replied, frowning as he studied the scene in front of him. There was still no sign of what was going on inside, aside from the earsplitting wail. "It sounds as though they've been spotted."
Mickey and McCall had just finished putting the electronic scramblers into place and activating them when the alarm went off.
Mickey glanced apprehensively at McCall. "Did we do something?"
McCall frowned. "I don't know. But if we tripped some sort of alarm, why is no one coming?"
Mickey glanced around, and then cocked his head slightly as he heard something else. "Do you hear that, McCall?" he demanded.
The older man nodded. "Gunfire."
After about a minute, the sound stopped - but they'd had enough time to identify where it was coming from: one of the lower floors.
The two men exchanged looks. "I guess it wasn't something we did after all," Mickey commented quietly. "Come on, let's go see what's going on."
McCall grabbed his arm. "Wait for a moment, Mickey," he returned. "We don't know what we'll be walking into."
Mickey blinked. "Has that ever stopped us before? Come on, let's head for the stairs, at least. That way, we won't be surprised if these Thrush guys come rushing up them. And besides, we've been all over this floor - they're not holding April and Mr. Slate up here."
McCall sighed as he acknowledged the younger man's point.
It didn't take more than a moment for them to decide that they would cover the back set of stairs - it was closer to their escape route, and so the chances of them getting cut off were much less than if they took the front stairs.
As they reached the stairs, Mickey carefully opened the door, keeping his gun ready. There didn't appear to be anyone there.
A moment later, however, they heard another door open below them, and then the sound of someone hurrying down the stairs. Another door opened - presumably the one on the first floor - and the sounds of more gunfire drifted up to the two men.
"Well, either our two targets have managed to rescue themselves, or there's a hell of a power struggle going on," McCall said thoughtfully.
"Well, we both know how good April is; it may be that she's managed to escape," Mickey agreed. "But if so, it sounds as though she could use a little help, don't you think?"
McCall nodded. "Yes, Mickey, I agree," he replied. "Shall we?"
They headed carefully down the stairs, keeping an ear and an eye open for any sign that they were about to be discovered. The sound of gunfire grew louder as they got closer to the first floor, but no one else appeared in the stairwell.
Mickey carefully advanced toward the door, pushed it slightly open, and peered out. His eyes widened in surprise at what he saw.
Standing against the wall to the right of the door were four people; three men and a woman. Mickey recognized the woman as April Dancer; she and the older of the three men were both dressed in business suits that looked a little the worse for wear.
The two younger men with them, however, were dressed in the same type of jumpsuit as the man in Paris, the one who'd killed Rudolf Schwartz.
Leaning over his shoulder, McCall also looked out. "What's going on?" he asked quietly.
"I'm not sure," Mickey replied, shrugging. "But the two guys by the corner," he added, motioning to the two younger men, "are wearing the same jumpsuits as the assassin in Paris."
McCall frowned. "Are you sure, Mickey?"
"Quite sure. They're also the same as the uniforms the guards on the main door of this place are wearing."
"Well--" McCall began.
"Napoleon, do you have a plan yet?" one of the younger men - the blond one - asked impatiently. Mickey cocked his head; the man had an accent, but it was one he couldn't quite place.
"I'm working on it; be patient!" the other uniformed man returned, pausing to shoot a burst of gunfire around the corner. A hail of bullets answered.
"Well, I suggest you hurry up. We're almost out of ammunition," the blond declared, taking his own turn at firing.
"There's got to be some kind of a back door. Thrush always has a back door. I think it's in their contract or something," the other replied. "If we can get there before they surround us..."
"While it's wonderful to hear the two of you bantering like this, we do need to get out of here," the older man - the one in the business suit - interrupted.
Looking at each other, McCall and Mickey silently agreed that this was the perfect cue.
"Perhaps we could be of some assistance," McCall said calmly, opening the stairwell door completely.
The two men wearing the Thrush uniforms immediately spun around, their guns coming up to cover Mickey and McCall. Before either of them could say anything, however, April stepped forward, staring at the two agents in surprise.
"McCall? Kostmayer? What are the two of you doing here?" she demanded.
"Rescuing you and Mr. Slate," Mickey replied, a grin crooking the corner of his mouth. "But it looks like you started without us."
"I presume that one of you," McCall added, looking at the three men, "is Mr. Mark Slate?"
"That would be me," the man in the business suit replied, stepping forward.
The man the blond had called 'Napoleon' - who appeared to be the leader - interrupted. "Let's save the introductions until we're out of here, all right, Mark?" Then, turning to McCall, he continued, "How did you get in here? And can we get out the same way before we're surrounded?"
"We climbed through a window on the third floor," McCall answered.
"Well," the blond said from his position back at the corner, "that would explain the upper-level cameras being on the fritz..." He paused to fire another volley around the corner.
He's Russian! Mickey realized suddenly, placing the light accent that flavoured the blond's words. Just who are these guys? They're obviously not Thrush agents, although they're dressed like them...
"Well, then," the leader said, "that's how we'll get out. Give them another burst, Illya, so they don't rush this position immediately, and let's run."
The blond Russian nodded, and started to raise the gun again.
"Oh, and Illya - do you have any of those smoke bombs left?"
The two men grinned at each other for a moment, in perfect understanding, and then the Russian pulled a plastic ball filled with some sort of white liquid from a pocket of his jumpsuit. "On your mark, Napoleon..."
Before McCall - or any of the others - could protest the plan, they were being urged back into the stairwell by the Napoleon guy. Mickey lagged behind, wanting to act as rearguard - Just in case, he told himself, still not certain about these two - and watched as the Russian poked his head around the corner, threw the ball, and then fired into the resultant billows of smoke.
Then he was running for the stairs, grabbing Mickey's arm and pulling him along as he went. "We have to hurry - that won't hold them for long," he declared.
"Will it hold them at all?" Mickey questioned, as they raced up the stairs.
"It will take them at least a minute or two to realize that we are not coming through the smoke," was the calm reply. "They will then decide that we must have fled by another way - but I am uncertain which one they will check first."
By this time they'd made it to the third floor, and the others heard the tail-end of what the Russian had been saying.
"Best to assume the worst in this case," the leader pointed out as McCall led them to their exit. "After all, these are Angeliqueıs people. And even considering the carelessness they've demonstrated so far, it's better not to take any chances.
"And speaking of Angelique..." he added thoughtfully. "Illya, have you seen any sign of her since we got here?"
"No," the Russian replied, a faint frown crossing his face. "I haven't. In fact, I believe the only ones we have encountered so far are lower level guards - no signs of anyone higher up in the hierarchy. April, Mark--"
"Here we are," McCall interrupted, as they arrived at the window. "The ladder, Mickey?"
Mickey nodded, opened a small supply closet on the opposite wall, and pulled out the folded ladder. They'd placed it there as soon as they'd gotten in, so as to avoid attracting attention from outside the warehouse.
"I'll go out first," McCall said, as Mickey unfolded the ladder and stuck it out the window. It would serve as a signal to Control that they were coming out. "April, you and Mr. Slate come next; then your friends; then Mickey."
"Right," the dark-haired young man said in acknowledgement.
McCall climbed out the window, and Mickey gave him a reassuring grin before splitting his attention between April's friends and the corridor leading to the stairwell, preparing himself for an attack from either direction.
"April, just who are these guys?" Napoleon asked quietly as they waited for the older man to reach the ground.
"They're CIA," April replied. "That's where I've been working for the past twenty years. Or, at least, Kostmayer," she gestured to the younger of the pair, who was keeping an eye on them as well as watching the hall, "is CIA. McCall used to be, but he got out and now he... um... helps the people of New York, essentially. He still does the occasional job for the Company, though."
Illya didn't appear overly happy at this news, but Napoleon could hardly blame him. The CIA had never cared for Illya, especially since U.N.C.L.E. had used its influence to get him dual citizenship - Soviet and American. And most of the Company agents the two of them had worked with had made a point of making their dislike of the situation very clear.
"Don't worry," April said quietly, glancing from one to the other. "Kostmayer is a bit of a loose cannon, but both he and Robert are good people. Not necessarily U.N.C.L.E. material, but good people nonetheless."
Illya looked only slightly reassured by her comment.
"It'll be fine, Illya," she repeated.
"April," Mark called from the window. "C'mon. It's time to get out of here."
"Right," she replied, heading over. Mark held the top of the ladder for her as she swung out the window.
Napoleon watched her for a moment before returning his attention to the corridor and the man April had called 'Kostmayer'.
He looked a bit scruffy, with light brown hair that was a bit too long, wearing jeans, an old green jacket, and a ski-cap; but his stance and the way he held the gun in his hand made it obvious that he was a professional, as did the fact that he continued to keep an eye on Napoleon and Illya as well as the corridor. In fact, appearance-wise, Kostmayer reminded Napoleon a bit of his partner.
"Napoleon, it is your turn," Illya interrupted his thoughts quietly. "I suggest you hurry - it is unlikely that they will stay away for much longer."
"Right, tovarisch," Napoleon replied, slinging the Thrush rifle onto his shoulder and heading for the window.
Mickey watched as the dark-haired man slipped carefully out the window, and then looked back at the blond, who was facing him and frowning.
"Something wrong?" he inquired.
"I think we are about to have another fight on our hands," came the calm reply. "I-- Look out!"
Just as the Russian shouted, Mickey felt a bullet pass right by his cheek. He flung himself to the ground, turning around to face in the direction the bullet had come from.
Obviously, the bad guys hadn't taken the back stairs.
Luckily, they appeared reluctant to provide Mickey and the Russian with targets, and so were firing around the corner at them.
"Go on," the Russian hissed, jerking his head toward the window. "I'll follow you."
Mickey frowned, reluctant to leave the other man there alone - he still wasn't sure that he trusted the two strangers.
Mickey shot a quick glare at the other man. "No, you go; McCall told me to go last... and Control will kill me if we lose our rescuees before they are properly rescued!"
"Control?" the Russian repeated, sounding puzzled, as he fired a burst toward the end of the hall.
"My boss," Mickey snapped. "Now go; we don't have time to argue! Do you want them to skin me alive for not doing my job?"
As if to back up his statement about not having the time, one of the Thrush agents, apparently feeling braver than the rest of them, came around the corner and started firing aimed bursts. Mickey raised his gun to return fire, but before he could press the trigger, the man fell back, dead.
"Thanks," he said quietly. "Now go! You're closer, damnit! And don't be surprised when I pass you on the way down!"
There was a pause, and then Mickey saw the other man glide over to the window, ducking under a new barrage of bullets, and slip out, cat-like. As soon as the blond head disappeared from view, Mickey started backing carefully toward the window himself, still firing at the far end of the corridor.
He had clambered out the window and gotten his feet placed on the ladder's rungs, and was just about to start climbing down when he heard the sound of a heavy door opening - the door to the back stairs, Mickey realized instantly.
Glancing down, he was relieved to see that the Russian had made it to the ground - it would have been unpleasant to bump into him. Taking a deep breath, he took his feet off the rungs and hooked them around the sides. Then, very thankful for the fact that it was November and he was therefore wearing gloves, he slid rapidly down the ladder.
McCall didn't waste any time; once Mickey's feet touched the ground, the older man hustled them all toward the van. Which was undoubtedly a good thing, since a moment later, someone began firing out the window at them.
The older man - McCall - led them to a large van idling on the street facing the warehouse parking lot as they dodged the bullets being fired at them. Whoever was firing was evidently not a good shot - Not Angelique, obviously, Napoleon thought - but even amateurs could get lucky sometimes.
Upon reaching the van, McCall pulled open the double doors at the back, and urged them all to get in and sit down around the surveillance equipment that filled the space.
"Get us out of here," he snapped at the driver, as he slipped into the passenger seat.
"Where are we going?" the driver demanded.
Napoleon saw April blink in surprise. "Control?" she exclaimed. Then, quickly re-focusing, she added, "I should have known it was you when McCall and Kostmayer showed up. Umm... I guess you had better take us to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters; there's a lot we need to do."
"U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters?" McCall repeated, turning around in his seat as the van started moving. "Where is that?"
Napoleon took the opportunity afforded by the start of the conversation to lean over and touch his partner gently on the shoulder. When Illya looked at him, Napoleon murmured, "Where were you hit?"
Illya didn't question how he had known - there was no need to. "My right thigh, and just below my ribcage, left side," he replied, just as quietly. "They are only flesh wounds, however - I will need a bandage or two, but that is all."
"Let me look," Napoleon demanded.
Illya's eyes narrowed slightly - for the Russian, it was the equivalent of an angry glare. "That is completely unnecessary, Napoleon. I will have them seen to when we reach Headquarters."
Napoleon frowned, but didn't argue - it wasn't worth it, not here. If the wounds were serious, Illya would have told him about them immediately, rather than waiting until he asked. Then, abruptly, another thought occurred to him.
"Illya... we might want to get out of these things," he said, gesturing to the Thrush uniforms they still wore. "After all, walking into Headquarters with them on..." Is hardly the wisest thing in the world to do when we might not be recognized, he finished silently.
Illya nodded in understanding and agreement, already unzipping the front of his jumpsuit.
As they wriggled out of the Thrush uniforms, Napoleon listened with half an ear as McCall and Kostmayer filled the driver of the van in on what had happened in the warehouse. Judging from the way they were interacting, the driver - what had April called him? Control? - was their superior - or Kostmayer's, at least.
Suddenly Mark, who was sitting on the floor opposite them, leaned forward, looking alarmed as his eyes fixed on the bloody hole in Illya's jeans. "Wait a minute... Illya, you've been shot!"
Instantly, everyone - except the driver - turned to the two of them, their expressions concerned.
Illya rolled his eyes. "Of course I have been shot," he stated impatiently. "I always get shot, Mark - remember? There is no need for concern, however; it is only a flesh wound - nothing serious.
"Just once, Napoleon," he continued, turning back to his partner, "I would like to go on an assignment where I am not the one who gets shot, burned, knocked unconscious, drugged, captured, bombed, tortured, or otherwise injured. It would be a pleasant vacation."
Mickey had to grin at that. The litany was familiar; practically every agent he knew had a variation on it. Which brings me to my next question...
"Look, I know that we're apparently on the same side, but we're out of there, so I think it's time for those introductions you mentioned," he said, looking to the dark-haired man - a fellow American, judging from his accent. "So, exactly who are you, and what were you doing wearing those uniforms?"
"The uniforms?" the dark-haired leader said, and then glanced down at the jumpsuit he had tossed on the floor. "Oh, right... They got us in there and up to the cells where they were holding April and Mark unnoticed until the last moment. And our plan for getting out - before we got interrupted on the first floor - was to pretend we had orders to take them to Angelique - she's the apparent leader of this satrapy - and just walk straight out."
"Satrapy?" McCall inquired.
"Oh, sorry... a satrap is a Thrush cell," the American replied. "Anyway, we got the uniforms by knocking out the guards out front." He shook his head, turning to April and Mr. Slate. "You should have seen them - they were unbelievably careless. Illya used one of those smoke bombs he concocted, and we rushed them - they hadn't even raised their guns by the time we knocked them out."
Both April and Slate looked surprised. "That doesn't sound like Angelique," April said slowly. "They certainly weren't careless when they grabbed me!"
"In fact, they were careless," the blond Russian commented, leaning against the recording equipment. "A rifle and a beret were dropped at the scene, both carrying the Thrush symbol."
"That could have been lack of time," April countered. "I hit one of them with a sleep dart before Angelique snuck up on me - by the time she shot me, I could already hear sirens. They would have needed to get out of there quickly."
"Excuse me for interrupting," Mickey said firmly, "but let's not get sidetracked, okay? I still don't know who you guys are."
The two men looked at each other for a moment, and Mickey got the impression that some form of silent communication passed between them. Then the dark-haired man turned back to Mickey. "My name is Napoleon Solo," he said calmly. "My partner is Illya Kuryakin."
"O-kay," Mickey said slowly. Not that that tells us anything, he thought to himself - except for confirming his guess about the blondıs nationality. He shot a quick glance at McCall, and then turned back to Solo and Kuryakin. "So, how do you know April and Mr. Slate? And how did you know that they were in that warehouse?"
"We..." the American hesitated for a moment, and then continued, "Illya and I work for U.N.C.L.E. And as for how we knew... well, we knew that April had been kidnapped. We were planning on how to rescue her when Illya happened to spot Angelique - we figured that she was probably involved and followed her."
"In the trunk of her car, as Napoleon said earlier," Kuryakin added.
Slate blinked. "And she didn't spot you?"
"No," Kuryakin said calmly.
"That really doesn't sound like Angelique," April said, frowning. "I mean, I know that she could hardly have been expecting the two of you to show up, everything considered, but it really isn't like her to be that lax."
"Overconfidence, perhaps?" Solo suggested. "I mean, she obviously knew that U.N.C.L.E. was still around, but she may have believed that the Network had gotten lax."
April shrugged. "I don't know; we haven't exactly been following Angelique since Thrush supposedly disappeared. It's been twenty years; she may have changed - she may not have."
Solo grinned. "Angelique - ever the mystery," he said, chuckling.
Kuryakin snorted. "She's a highly venomous black widow - there's nothing mysterious about that."
"Illya, Illya, Illya," Solo said, shaking his head. "She isn't that bad."
"And just how many times has she tried to kill you at last count? I think it was up to about thirty-four or so--" Kuryakin countered.
"Guys, guys," April interrupted. "We can figure out what's going on with Angelique later--"
Before she could continue, Control stopped the van. "We're here."
As they climbed out of the van, Illya gave Napoleon an uncertain look. They'd managed to deflect the barrage of questions that April and Mark undoubtedly had concerning their sudden appearance for the moment, but that wouldn't last for long. And they still hadn't had the opportunity to discuss exactly how to go about explaining the entire thing - especially now that more people were involved.
Napoleon gave him a slight shrug in response, a silent 'let's wait and see'.
That helps a great deal, Napoleon, Illya thought sardonically, but he couldn't argue. They had no idea of the conditions at Headquarters, nor what the reactions to their presence would be. April and Mark appeared to have taken their sudden reappearance very much in stride, but there was no guarantee that would continue once they had a chance to think about it; nor did their reaction give any hints as to what the rest of U.N.C.L.E. might think.
After all, they'd disappeared for over twenty years, and their reappearance apparently coincided with that of Thrush. If it had happened to someone else, Illya knew that he would be extremely suspicious of them.
"Relax," Napoleon said quietly as they followed April and Mark through the parking garage. "Everything will work out, I'm sure."
"How can you be so certain of that?" Illya demanded, keeping his own voice just as soft. No point in alerting the CIA men - whom he still distrusted, despite April's reassurances - that there was something unusual about the situation. "We return at the same time as Thrush - it does not sound entirely coincidental to me, and I am certain it will not to Section One."
"It'll all work out," Napoleon repeated confidently. He then frowned slightly. "How're your leg and ribs?"
Illya sighed silently. While he appreciated Napoleon's concern, it could be wearying at times. "As I said, they are merely grazes," he replied. "In fact, they have both stopped bleeding. I most likely will not require a trip to the infirmary after all."
Napoleon's frown deepened. "Illya..."
The younger man met his partner's eyes. "I promise you, Napoleon - if they get worse, I will go. At the moment, it is unnecessary, and might end up wasting valuable time."
Napoleon sighed and studied him for a moment, obviously trying to decide whether or not Illya was actually telling him the truth. Apparently satisfied, he returned to the previous topic of conversation. "Seriously, Illya, things will be fine. Everything's gone well so far, hasn't it?"
"Only if you consider April and Mark getting abducted by Thrush 'going well'," Illya returned.
"No, I don't, but we did manage to rescue them before Thrush could question them," Napoleon countered.
"And that in itself could be considered suspicious." Particularly in view of Thrush's unusual carelessness, Illya thought suddenly. Could they have wanted April and Mark to get rescued?
Before he could pursue that thought to its conclusion, April stopped in front of a section of cement wall and placed her hand against it. Illya watched McCall and Kostmayer's eyes widen with a certain amount of amusement as a section of the wall swung out, revealing a room behind it. He felt himself begin to relax at the familiar appearance of the U.N.C.L.E. entrance room, which looked no different from the security entrance accessible through Del Floria's - except for the fact that the receptionist was male, rather than female. Illya felt a touch of amusement at Napoleon's obvious - to him - surprise at that fact.
Mickey stared in surprise as a section of the cement wall swung open, revealing a metal room behind it, with a man seated at a desk. McCall, he noticed, appeared just as surprised as he felt, but everyone else, including Control, seemed to take it in stride - although he saw Solo do a double-take at the man behind the desk.
Well, guess it's down the rabbit-hole, he thought wryly, as he followed April in.
April nodded at the man seated at the metal desk. "I need five high-level visitor's badges," she told him, as the man reached up to pin a yellow triangular badge on her blouse. "Numbers two and eleven, and three others."
"Of course, Ms. Dancer," the man replied, as he pinned another badge on Slate's suit jacket.
"Badges?" Mickey asked Control quietly.
"An element of U.N.C.L.E.'s internal security system," Control replied. "If anyone without a badge enters the complex itself, it sets off the alarms. I don't know all the details, but that's why everyone who comes in here gets a badge."
"Here we go," the man at the desk said, pulling out five other yellow badges. He ran his fingers over them*, and then handed them to April. "Two, eleven, and three others."
"Thanks, Mike," April replied, and then turned to the rest of them. "Here you go, Napoleon, Illya," she said, handing a badge to each man. 11 and 2, Mickey noticed - the badges April had specifically requested.
But she called them 'visitor badges', Mickey realized suddenly. I thought Solo said that they work for U.N.C.L.E.!
Well, maybe they don't work out of New York...
Well, maybe they don't work out of New York...
Then she gave the rest of the badges to Mickey, McCall and Control. "Pin these on, and make sure you don't take them off," she ordered Mickey and McCall. "The last thing we need to have at the moment is a set of false alarms."
"Come on, April; the old man will be waiting to see us," Slate said, standing by a door on the other side of the desk.
April nodded, and the rest of them trailed after the two U.N.C.L.E. agents, through the door and into the main U.N.C.L.E. complex.
The entire complex seemed to be made of metal, Mickey noticed, as they walked through the halls. And for a supposedly dead organization, U.N.C.L.E. certainly had a lot of agents. There were a number of other people walking through the halls, their ages varying - he estimated - between mid-twenties and late fifties, all of them dressed in business clothes, and all of them with guns. And a number of the older ones, Mickey noted, seemed to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to their group.
Wondering why, Mickey glanced at the others. Maybe it was April and Mr. Slate; Control had said that U.N.C.L.E. knew they had been abducted. But if so, why was it only the older agents, the ones Mickey figured were in their forties and fifties, who were doing the staring? Why weren't the younger ones? And the same argument applied to the question of whether it was the fact that the U.N.C.L.E. agents had brought visitors that was causing the stares.
Which left Mickey feeling more confused than ever.
Then, from behind him, he heard Solo and Kuryakin speaking to each other softly. He was only able to catch a few words, but what he did hear was enough to worry him.
"...definitely being recognized..." Kuryakin murmured.
"More familiar faces... thought there would be," Solo returned quietly.
"This... awkward... can't explain..."
Solo's response to that was whispered, and Mickey missed it as Slate led the group through another door, into what appeared to be an anteroom. A woman who looked a bit older than April was there, and she raised her head to look at them as they came in
"Mark, April! You're all right?" she exclaimed.
"Aside from a nasty headache," Slate replied, smiling. "We'll be stopping by the labs after to see if they left us any nasty surprises while we were out, but we need to see the boss first."
"Of course," the woman replied. "Just--" She broke off with a gasp, her eyes widening in shock as she stared at the two men who had entered the room behind Mickey.
"Told you," Kuryakin muttered.
Solo ignored him, heading straight over to the woman and giving her a kiss on her cheek. "It's a long story, Heather - a very long one. For the moment, let's just say that we have quite a report for Mr. Waverly."
"And that's the other reason we came straight here, instead of going to the labs first," April added.
"Well, you'd definitely better head in, then," the woman declared, visibly pulling herself together. "I can't wait to hear it, Napoleon," she added.
"Neither can I," Kuryakin said, rolling his eyes.
Mickey looked between them, frowning. What's going on here? he wondered. The stares in the halls - had those been for Solo and Kuryakin? And why? Did it have anything to do with the badges?
The door opened as Slate approached it, and they walked into yet another metal room. I assume none of these guys are claustrophobic, Mickey thought, glaring at the walls. It was starting to get to be a bit much for him, and they'd only been here for about five minutes.
At least this room wasn't all metal; there was a round, thick wooden table in the center, and off to one side was a desk, also wooden.
Seated at the round table was an older man - Mickey estimated that he was probably in his seventies or eighties - smoking a pipe. He looked up as they entered, his expression one of casual interest.
"Ah, there you are. Have a seat, Control," the man said, gesturing to one of the chairs opposite his. "Miss Dancer, Mr. Slate, have you stopped by the labs yet?"
Slate shook his head. "No, sir, not yet..." he began.
"Well, then, I suggest you do so immediately," came the response. "No telling what sort of surprises Thrush might have left for you."
"Of course, sir," April replied. "However..."
The man ignored her, turning slightly to face the rest of them. "Welcome back, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin," he continued. "I must say, your timing is impeccable, as always."
Out of the corner of his eye, Mickey saw April and Slate look at each other with identical expressions of shocked surprise on their faces.
Okay... something really weird is going on...
He turned back to Solo and Kuryakin in time to catch the half-surprised, half-resigned look they gave each other.
Solo turned back to the man at the table with a smile. "We do our best, sir," he replied.
Kuryakin sighed. "Napoleon..." he muttered, his tone one of exasperation.
"Miss Dancer, Mr. Slate," the man said, looking pointedly at the two older agents, who were still standing to one side of the door. "The labs, please.
"Now, do sit down, gentlemen," he added to the group at large, gesturing with the stem of his pipe toward the other chairs around the table. Control was already sitting in the chair the man had waved him to a minute ago.
Solo and Kuryakin were the first ones to move, taking the chairs on either side of the elderly man; Solo to his right, and Kuryakin to his left.
Mickey glanced at McCall, feeling unexpectedly uncertain as April and Slate left the room. He wasn't too sure he liked this situation - particularly as he had no idea what was going on. But McCall nodded, and - imitating Solo and Kuryakin - they sat down on either side of Control.
"Well, Control, I assume that these are your two agents, the ones you mentioned in our phone conversation," the man continued, as soon as they were all seated.
"Yes. Robert McCall, and Mickey Kostmayer; two of my best," Control replied.
His best, huh? Mickey thought, filing the comment away in the back of his mind. It might just prove useful in getting a raise.
Beside him, Control winced slightly, and Mickey couldn't help but grin when he realized that his superior must have suddenly had the same thought.
"Robert, Kostmayer," Control continued, "this is Alexander Waverly, the head of U.N.C.L.E."
Waverly nodded, taking a puff of his pipe, and then leaned back in his chair. "Perhaps, Control, Mr. McCall, Mr. Kostmayer, you could tell me how you located Thrush's current headquarters, and your part in the rescue of Mr. Slate and Miss Dancer."
As the door to Waverly's office slid shut behind them, April and Mark exchanged glances. Their superior's reaction to the more... unusual aspects of this affair - namely, Napoleon and Illya's unusual reappearance - had been interesting, to say the least. He hadn't been the slightest bit surprised at the fact that the two agents looked the same as they had when they had disappeared over twenty-one years ago. Which meant that he had expected the possibility.
Noting a number of the sideways glances they were getting as they headed toward the labs, Mark sighed. "The rumour mill must be going nuts," he commented softly.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised," April concurred. "I mean, if there's one pair that all the old crew will recognize, whether they ever met them or not, it's Napoleon and Illya. And they haven't changed a bit..."
Mark nodded slightly, acknowledging the fact that April had finally spoken aloud the one thought that had been dominating their minds since they had first seen Illya in the warehouse. "I wonder what it has to do with that last assignment," he said thoughtfully.
All they knew about the affair Napoleon and Illya had been assigned to when they disappeared was that it involved the destruction of a Thrush lab in the middle of the Catskills. As soon as it had been confirmed that the lab had been destroyed - and that there was no sign whatsoever of Napoleon or Illya - Waverly had removed all files pertaining to that affair from U.N.C.L.E.'s records. Or, at least, from all records that April and Mark had access to - Mark had checked, when he'd been promoted to Section One. So there was no way of knowing what about the affair had resulted in the present... unusual situation.
Before they could start to speculate out loud, though, the partners arrived at the labs, and were greeted by Dr. Gary Powers, the head of the Technical Division of Section Five.
"Is it true?" he demanded, as he led them into the lab.
Mark and April glanced at each other in resignation - they had a fairly good idea what the question was about.
"Is what true?" April stalled.
"That Solo and Kuryakin are back," Dr. Iris Mantrell, U.N.C.L.E.-New York's Chief Medical Officer, put in as she walked toward them, a needle in one hand.
April gave a dramatic wince at the sight of the needle, and then nodded. "Yeah, they are. They rescued us, in fact."
"Is it really them, though?" Powers countered. "I mean, we all know that Thrush has some pretty sophisticated capabilities..."
"Waverly believes it's them," Mark replied.
That seemed to settle the matter, and Powers picked a frequency scanner off his lab table. "Okay, Mark, we'll start with you - shirt, please."
Mark pulled off his shirt with a sigh and handed it to Powers as he watched Iris take a blood sample from April. It looked like the next few hours were going to be long ones.
Mickey didn't pay much attention as Control and McCall explained their part in the rescue of April and Slate to Mr. Waverly. He was too busy watching the other three men in the room.
Alexander Waverly had an open file in front of him, and was writing something - presumably notes on Control's explanations - on the top sheet. In between that and taking puffs of his pipe, he asked questions to help clarify the explanation. It wasn't exactly the sort of debriefing Mickey was used to, but there could be no doubt that a debriefing was exactly what this was.
Solo and Kuryakin, on the other hand, were taking the seemingly casual atmosphere completely in stride. They had pushed their chairs back a bit from the table, and judging by the way that they kept looking at each other behind Waverly's back, they were carrying on a silent conversation about something.
What is it they're hiding? Mickey wondered. They were definitely hiding something, he knew; between the reactions the two men had gotten and the bits of conversation he'd overheard, that much was certain. And then, of course, there was Slate and April's surprise at the way Waverly had reacted to them...
The problem was that he didn't know enough to be able to even guess at what their secret was.
"Thank you, Control, Mr. McCall," Mr. Waverly said, interrupting his thoughts. "Now, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, perhaps you would be so good as to inform me how you located Thrush's present headquarters."
"It was Angelique, sir," Solo replied, as he and Kuryakin moved their chairs back to the table.
Mr. Waverly blinked - the first sign of surprise that Mickey had seen from the man since they'd walked into the room. "Angelique?" he repeated. "I presume that you mean Miss DuChien?"
"Did she see you?" Waverly demanded.
"Not as far as we are aware, sir," Kuryakin replied. "I doubt that she would have taken us directly to their headquarters - unimprisoned - if she had."
Waverly nodded slowly. "Well, that is good, at least."
Control shook his head. "Angelique... I swear I've heard that name before," he muttered, frowning.
"1972," Waverly put in. "Miss DuChien was responsible for helping Evan Mitchell escape your operation."
Control's expression darkened noticeably, and Mickey looked at him curiously, wondering what that was about. However, the look in his superior's eyes told him quite clearly not to ask.
"Was there any sign of her at the warehouse itself?" Waverly continued.
Solo shook his head. "No. And that's something that puzzles me. The alarms started ringing approximately fifteen minutes after she would have entered, and her car was still there when we left. But she would have responded to the alarm, and we saw no sign of her."
Before Waverly could continue his questions, there was a beep from the table. As Mickey watched in astonishment, the wooden section in front of Waverly slid in toward the centre of the table, revealing the metallic gleam of an inlaid console.
"Ingenious," Kuryakin murmured, a hint of interest in his expression.
"You may examine the mechanism later, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly said calmly. Then he pushed a button on the console. "Yes, Dr. Powers?"
"We've completed the examination of Dancer and Slate," came a voice. "Both guns contained homing devices, and Slate has a minor headache from the attack."
"Anything else?" Waverly demanded.
"How powerful are these homing devices?"
"They have an estimated range of two hundred miles, and are exceedingly powerful. However, the signals cannot penetrate the shielding on this building," came the response. "If Thrush has been monitoring the signals from the time Dancer and Slate escaped, it's probable that they know at least our general location. However, I think it highly unlikely that they were able to get a specific fix before the signals were smothered by the shielding."
"Thank you, Doctor. Please have Mr. Slate and Miss Dancer report to my office for debriefing." Not waiting for an answer, he flicked a small switch near the edge of the console, and the section of wood slid back, concealing the metal completely.
"Now, back to the matter of Miss DuChien..."
Angelique stepped carefully out of the limousine and looked around with a frown. There was nothing obvious that she could see, but she knew that something was wrong.
Eric Varner, the current head of Thrush's New York Satrapy, stepped out behind her and echoed her frown. "Where are the guards?" he demanded, his eyes focused on the main entrance.
That was it - there were no guards visible. Or, at least, that was part of it, Angelique thought, but there was something else. Something more. Her instincts were suddenly alert in a way that they hadn't been in years, not since the last time she had been seriously challenged.
It was a feeling that was both exciting and irritating. Exciting in that it meant that there was someone out there who could challenge her, really challenge her, not like the pitiful excuses for agents most countries had these days; and irritating, because it meant that it was unlikely that Dancer and Slate were still in their cell.
"Come on," she said firmly, striding toward the doors. Varner followed her timidly, and Angelique sneered silently at his reaction. It wasn't only the agents of various countries that had gotten soft; there were too many like Varner in Thrush these days, men - and women - who had been given higher rankings because of 'seniority', rather than skill.
Assuming I'm right, and Slate and Dancer have escaped, it's likely that that won't last, the silver-haired woman assured herself. Between the microdot and the two Section One agents, U.N.C.L.E. would be on high alert; and they would do a good job at pruning away the deadwood before they were defeated. It was almost enough to make her pleased that Schwartz had intercepted the 'dot.
Pushing open the door, Angelique walked in, and then stopped, looking around in disgust.
There were traces of smoke in the air, and over by the security station, Angelique could see the two door guards and the man who had been stationed at the station, bound and gagged - and unconscious. The door guards were dressed only in shirts and boxers; whoever had been responsible for this had stolen their uniforms.
U.N.C.L.E., Angelique thought in resignation. Probably some of the older agents; from what they'd been able to observe of U.N.C.L.E.'s younger agents, the ones recruited since both U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush had gone underground, this wasn't their style. They were more direct, less clever. Less flexible.
A noise came from around the corner, and Angelique's gun was instantly in her hand. It was possible that the U.N.C.L.E. agents were still here...
However, the man who came around the corner, his own gun held carefully in one hand, was not an U.N.C.L.E. agent. It was Victor Andreas, the head of security for this base. In Angelique's opinion, he wasn't all that much better than Varner.
Seeing Angelique and Varner, Andreas put the gun down with a sigh of relief. Angelique sneered again. Idiots, all of them.
"Where is everyone?" Varner demanded, coming out from behind Angelique, where he'd been hiding. Angelique was amused by the disgust on Andreas' face - after all, the security officer wasn't much better.
"Most of them are dead," the man replied.
"Why? What happened?"
"We were attacked--"
Incompetents, the both of them. We don't have time for this; whoever attacked will be able to lead U.N.C.L.E. right back here... "That much is obvious," Angelique said coldly. "Who was it, and did they rescue Slate and Dancer?"
"Yes, they did," Andreas replied. "We're not sure who it was; it was a two-prong attack, apparently..."
"'Apparently'? What do you mean, 'apparently'?" Angelique demanded.
"Well, one group came in here, as you can see, and stole the guards' uniforms; another group came in through a window on the third floor. We think the group that came in here were U.N.C.L.E. agents; the group on the third floor were from the CIA - we assume - since we've managed to find some of the devices that were used to disable the third floor cameras, and they seem to be CIA-issue."
Angelique glared narrowly at him, her eyes cold. "You 'think'? You 'assume'? They 'seem'? Don't you know anything?"
Andreas squirmed under her glare. "Well..."
"Have you thought to check the second and first floor security cameras?" Angelique continued mercilessly. "Whoever they were, they must have been on the second floor in order to free Slate and Dancer."
Andreas glanced hopefully toward Varner, but the other man wasn't about to interfere - smart of him, Angelique reflected. Pretty much the only thing he was smart about.
"Well, why don't we check them, hmm?" she suggested icily. "And show me the devices used on the third floor cameras," she added.
"Here," Andreas said, taking a small black box out of his pocket and handing it to Angelique. "And I'll go set things up to review the tapes..."
"Yes, do that," Angelique replied, as she studied the box.
At least Andreas wasn't a complete idiot; the device was indeed CIA-issue. Angelique had tangled with CIA agents enough to recognize their equipment when she saw it. So, U.N.C.L.E. is getting help from the Company... there should be a way to use that fact to my advantage. I'll have to get our mole in the DDO's* office to do some digging...
Andreas was fiddling with the security station console as Angelique turned to Varner. "Call Thrush Central," she ordered. "Inform them that Slate and Dancer have managed to escape... Andreas!"
"Did the U.N.C.L.E. agents at least take their guns with them when they escaped?" she demanded.
"Yes, Ma'am. We managed to track them for about twenty minutes, and then the signals dropped off the scanners."
"You did make a note of their location when the signal disappeared, I hope," Angelique said.
Andreas just nodded.
Angelique turned back to Varner. "And add that we have located the general area of the new U.N.C.L.E.-New York Headquarters," she ordered.
Varner nodded and hurried away.
Incompetent idiot... Let him deal with Thrush Central's reaction, Angelique thought scornfully. After all, this is his satrap...
"The tapes are ready," Andreas interrupted her thoughts.
"Good." Angelique walked over to the security station, ignoring the still-unconscious agents. "Let's see them."
Andreas pushed a button on the console, and one of the screens lit up, showing the view of Slate and Dancer's cell. The time-stamp at the bottom read 1:20 pm.
Dancer and Slate were sitting on the cots, chatting desultorily, when suddenly the sound of gunfire came clearly through the microphones. Both U.N.C.L.E. agents abruptly sat up, staring in the direction of the door.
A moment later, Angelique heard the voice of the guard who'd been set to watch them. "What's going on?"
The next voice caused her to frown as she tried to remember where she'd heard it before - it was familiar, but not instantly recognizable.
"Itıs time for a prisoner transfer."
On the screen, Dancer and Slate stared, their expressions shocked, as the intruder evidently shot the guard. Then he appeared on-screen, at the door of their cell, and as he spoke to them, he shoved off the beret he wore, revealing a shock of white-blond hair.
Angelique pressed the pause button, staring at the man on the screen in shocked disbelief. It can't be...
"Ma'am?" Andreas asked, his tone one of confusion.
Angelique stared at the screen for another moment, and then released the pause button, letting the tape continue.
A moment later, another man appeared, this one with dark hair, and Angelique stared, slamming down the pause button again. It's impossible...
"Ma'am?" Andreas repeated.
Angelique's eyes were fixed on the screen. It's impossible, but it is them... "Get a print of this," she ordered. "Send it to Thrush Central immediately."
"Do it!" she snapped. Things had just taken a definite turn for the worse.
Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin... alive.