Some of the characters in this story are based on real people. I dedicate this story with love to the memory of Bambi.
Randy Kovac looked again at the badge on his lapel. A round cornered yellow triangle with 1 on it. He still couldn't believe it. He wasn't sure which he liked better, the yellow triangle with the 1, or the gold medal that resided in his top drawer. Both represented important parts of his life. He couldn't have had one without the other...or the other without the one.
His intercom chimed, "Napoleon Solo to see you sir."
"Send him in Kerry."
Napoleon came in, smiling warmly. His badge had 11 on it. His hairline was a little receded from when Randy had first known him, and there was some grey in it, but he still moved with that sprightly, confident step. He hadn't changed all that much.
"Mr Kovac, lovely to see you. Congratulations on your promotion," he put his hand into Randy's and shook it firmly.
Randy felt slightly bemused, "Mr Solo, you've called me Randy for too long to start with an honorary now. And I wouldn't be in this office if you hadn't put me here yourself. I still don't understand why you've taken a demotion on my account."
"Well, I haven't," said Napoleon, "I just missed my old number, and when it came up again, I thought I'd take advantage of the situation."
"We really need you here right now Mr Solo," said Randy.
"I made a command decision Randy. Oh, and if I use your first name, you use mine, okay?"
"The person we need in this office is the one who is physically and mentally best...and most appropriately equipped. The people we need in the field are those who are, likewise, physically and mentally best equipped for it."
Randy slumped back in his wheelchair and considered what Napoleon had just said. "Mr S...Napoleon, you are the one who should be here. You've been head of U.N.C.L.E. for...how long?"
"Longer than I care to think about. But you're missing my point here, Randy. Why do you think I made you my chief assistant while you were recuperating?"
Randy shrugged, "I don't know. I did wonder about it a lot. I was a pretty good field agent, I guess. I know a lot about Thrush. I sort of thought that part of it was to help me get my mind off the fact that I couldn't be a field agent any more, and part of it was that "getting back on the horse" thing. Put me back to work before I realise how much it hurts to be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Send me off to the Paralympics so I can build up my confidence as a disabled person."
"That was part of it," admitted Napoleon, "But you're missing the bigger picture. Not counting yourself, we've lost twelve agents in the past eighteen months. Twelve of our top field agents have been taken out by Thrush. We've got some young ones coming up, but we just don't have a whole lot of experienced people out there in the field any more. Right now we need old, experienced hands back in the field, and some really aggressive recruiting.
"Ah, well I've got..."
Solo raised a hand to silence him, "That's your job now. I leave the recruiting in your very capable hands. In the meantime there's the other matter."
The intercom signalled again, "Mr Kuryakin is here, Mr Kovac."
At Randy's signal the door slid open and Illya Kuryakin came in. He slipped his glasses into the pocket of his labcoat and brushed his mop of hair out of his eyes. Somehow, in defiance of the laws of aging, Illya seemed to have more hair now than he had thirty years ago. Napoleon still wasn't convinced his old partner didn't wear a wig. He still wore his monogrammed U.N.C.L.E. special in its shoulder holster. Napoleon had a suspicion that one of Illya's secret projects down in section 8 was a waterproof special that he could wear in the shower.
"Hello Napoleon, Mr Kovac."
"Oh, please," Randy waved his hand in a self-deprecating gesture.
"Call him Randy," said Napoleon in a loud stage whisper.
"Well, congratulations on your promotion, Randy. What's this I hear about you going back into the field, Napoleon?" There was a look on Illya's face, as if all Napoleon had to do was say the word, and he would be back in the field, by his partner's side.
"It was necessary," said Napoleon, "I'll be doing bodyguard duty. One of our agents is at risk."
"Who?" said Illya, already feeling the first prickle of suspicion.
Napoleon nodded a signal to Randy and a picture of a woman came up on the large computer screen on the wall. A woman of perhaps forty with a thick mop of dark blonde curls and blue eyes. She was slim and pretty. She was smiling and she held a glass of something sparkling as though she was toasting someone sitting to the left of the photographer.
"If you're going to insist that I use your first name, I think perhaps you should use mine."
"Illya, what can you tell us about this woman."
He stared at the picture for a very long time. He drew his glasses back out of his pocket and studied her carefully. Her hair was shot with grey, he could tell them she didn't have it artificially colored. The bubbles in the drink were too large for it to be really good champagne. She wasn't wearing a wedding ring, and there was no sign that she ever had worn one. From the list of meals written on the menu board behind her in the picture, and the brand of champagne on the table beside her, he was almost certain the picture was taken in Australia. All these things were too obvious though. Eventually he shrugged. "She's not wearing that vile green color that's come back from the sixties to haunt us."
Randy nodded. The picture on the computer screen changed to a black and white photo of a young woman. Illya looked surprised for a moment, "Magda," he said quietly, "Magda Gedo. I...God, it was a long time ago. I helped her get out of Hungary in nineteen fifty six. Took her to England. I lost track of her after that. There was some trouble."
"I understand there was quite a lot of trouble," said Napoleon.
The screen changed back to the colour picture, "This is Victoria Goode. She's Magda's daughter. Presumably she was named partly because her mother went to live in Victoria, Australia, and partly because her conception was a kind of victory, since it happened just after her mother escaped from Hungary."
Slow shock was beginning to dawn on Illya's face. Even so, Napoleon moved around the table to sit beside him, as though his physical closeness would help his friend. "Vicki is your daughter, Illya," he said quietly.
The two men were silent for a very long time. Randy began to worry that Illya might have been badly upset by this sudden discovery. Especially when he realised the slow smile that was beginning to spread across Napoleon's face.
"Magda was a very romantic lady," Illya said finally in his defence.
"Ah, and you were very young."
"And young people make mistakes."
"Well, you'd have to admit, Napoleon, she's one of my better mistakes," the Russian was smiling now, "When do I get to meet her?"
Napoleon and Randy both became sober again, "Well, there's quite a problem with that," said Napoleon at last.
"Mr...Illya, we found out that Vicki is your daughter after intercepting and delaying a Thrush courier. The material we got took us quite a long while to decipher." He paused as if to go on was difficult for him, and Illya realised that this had been the last field assignment Randy himself had been involved in.
"This was to do with that Partridge business, wasn't it?" he said.
Kovac nodded. The Thrush courier had been bringing the information to Dr Victoria Partridge. Kovac's partner had been killed in the incident and Kovac had managed to get the material and escape, but not before being injected by Dr Partridge with some drug of her own devising. Despite gallant attempts by U.N.C.L.E. medical staff, the Partridge drug had never been identified, and in the space of a few days, Randy had lost the use of his legs. One of the driving ambitions that Napoleon had nurtured in Randy, over the weeks of his rehabilitation, was the thought of finding Victoria Partridge and extracting the formula and antidote for her drug. Or at least a little revenge.
"The material being carried was samples of individual human genomes. We finally found out exactly which genes Thrush were looking for. It was only as a matter of coincidence, by the way, that we happened to run these patterns against our own agents and discovered the connection between yourself and Vicki Goode."
"So there's no doubt, then, that she is my daughter."
"Oh, none whatsoever, Mr Kuryakin..."
Illya caught a look from Napoleon, "One time!" he said in exasperation.
"...nor is there any doubt that Thrush will certainly have you on their abductee shopping list."
"Any idea why?"
"Several. Let's start with Ebola, Bovine Spongyform Encephalitis, equine flu, rabbit calici virus, Ross River Fever, and a new strain of rabies that's turned up here."
"What's the connection?"
"Apparently you, and your daughter, are immune to all of these."
"So Thrush is going into the germ warfare business."
"We think it's actually bigger than that," said Kovac, "It looks as if they're going to try and breed up stocks of a kind of superhuman..."
Illya reacted with a short laugh.
"All these years I've been working with Superman and I never even knew," laughed Solo.
"But surely, Napoleon, you suspected."
They were interrupted by Kovac, loudly clearing his throat, "...breed up stocks of people with exceptional immunity and either create their own army, which, as you can appreciate, will take a very long time. Or use genetic transplants to immunise themselves, which seems a whole lot more likely. The third possibility is that they have some new techniques available that may actually enable them to create some sort of transgenic race that can do their dirty work while they immunise themselves and get on with the business of being Thrush."
"So we're to find Vicki and get to the bottom of what Dr Partridge is up to," guessed Illya.
"Not at all, Mr Kuryakin. You are to go about your business in section 8. Mr Solo will keep an eye out for you."
Both men gaped in surprise at Randy.
"Just baby sitting?" said Napoleon in disgust. "But I thought..."
"Mr Solo, you put me in charge here," cautioned Randy, "Now I've been thinking about this situation ever since you first appraised me of it and I've been asking myself, over and over again; what would Alexander Waverly do if he was here? What would Napoleon Solo do if he wasn't so...close to the situation. I would be the last person in the world to ever doubt the field credibility of either of you gentlemen, but I just can't afford to risk you. I feel that with this having...he cleared his throat thoughtfully...a certain...family involvement, it really isn't a good idea to put you on it. Doctors don't work on family, and neither, I have decided, do spies. Napoleon, you will not let Illya out of your sight until we get this thing cleared up."
Illya heaved an exasperated sigh.
"Live eat and sleep?" said Napoleon.
Randy nodded affirmation.
"Who are you putting on it?" asked Illya.
Both men stared in disbelief.
"They're very good. Actually, what first caught my attention is that one of them is named Solo."
Illya looked at Napoleon, one eyebrow raised. Napoleon looked back at him, an expression of complete innocence on his face, "He's no relation."
Kovac smiled at the exchange, "Hamilton Solo is from Canada. He's an experienced field agent there, and he's had a good deal of international experience working with an English agent named Gordon. I've managed to have them both transferred to U.N.C.L.E. and they'll be working as a team. They come highly recommended. I hope you'll be able to meet with them for their initial briefing session tomorrow. In the meantime...stick together." He made a gesture of dismissal and Napoleon and Illya took their leave.
Napoleon had trailed Illya round for half the afternoon. He had been the faithful guard dog while his partner had definitely been the little lost sheep. Eventually, as Napoleon followed Illya on his fourth trip to the kitchen to empty cold coffee down the sink and pour another cup, he decided he'd had enough. He took the cup from his partner.
"Don't waste another cup, Illya. I think it's late enough now for you to call it a day."
"I haven't done a scrap of work all afternoon."
"I noticed. Come on. You can take me out and buy me a big cigar."
Illya frowned, "Why would I want to do that."
"It's traditional for new fathers to hand out cigars."
"What are you going to do, nail it to the wall? You don't smoke any more."
"I could make an exception."
"Why don't I take you out to dinner instead?"
"Sure. Chinese? Indian? Thai?"
"Under the circumstances, Napoleon, I think a big plate of goulash with extra paprika might be more appropriate."
Mocça's Hungarian Restaurant was a small, cosy place decorated with folk art and fresh flowers. The napkins were cloth, the crockery was plain, the food was good and the portions were generous. Napoleon watched his friend pick at the bread and fiddle with his soup.
"Well, are you going to tell me?" he said eventually.
Illya shrugged, "I'm not sure I can tell. It's really hard to put into words." He pulled the picture of Vicki he'd been given out of his pocket and looked at it for a very long time.
"At first it was just pure surprise. I hardly remembered Magda. There was a lot going on at the time. I think I was feeling particularly idealistic. Freedom and all that. I don't even know why I went to Budapest."
"Premonition?" said Solo, "The invasion itself was one of those spur of the moment things."
Illya shrugged, "Everybody's got to have a hobby, I suppose. I met Magda and she wanted to get out and I had some contacts in London and, well, I got her out."
"And she was very romantic, and very grateful," Solo's eyes twinkled as he spoke.
"And I was very young and very naïve."
"You never heard from her after that?"
"My contacts in London were killed. I suppose they got her on the boat to Australia, she had their address but not mine, I had their address and didn't know what her plans were beyond that. I wasn't out of London for more than two weeks, but when I got back I found out that my friends had died in a car accident."
"Must have been a bad smash."
"The ferry they were on sank."
"Oh," said Napoleon.
"And now, forty years later, I find this..." Illya fiddled again with the photo, "And I don't know whether to be happy, because....because look what I've done. I have a child. Or sad, because I'm forty years too late. You see, there's a terrible sense of loss. That's what I'm mainly feeling," he said sadly. "It's like the shock you get when you wake up and look in the mirror and find the first grey hair. I've suddenly discovered that there was a whole other life that I was supposed to live but didn't. I want to find her, Napoleon. I want to meet her and talk to her. Do you know how careless I feel? I didn't even know that I had a child until after I found out I'd lost her. It's very depressing."
"And you can't even talk to Magda."
"According to the file she died of a heart attack over a year ago. "He looked particularly small and lost, staring bleakly past the scattered crumbs on the plate before him.
"You're not going to eat any of that, are you?" asked Napoleon.
Illya looked at the torn up bread on his plate and the cold soup in the bowl and sighed. "I'm just not hungry. I'd really like to go home."
Napoleon took care of the bill, "I think my place would be safest."
"You're right, of course, but I'd like to go home and get some of my things together."
"What, you don't want to share my toothbrush?"
"Not even if you insist."
Napoleon opened the door to Illya's apartment. He checked the place suspiciously. There was no indication of a break in, no sign of forced entry. There was no one in the place. Illya's apartment was, perhaps, less spartan than it had once been. There were shelves with books stacked on them, piles of magazines stacked neatly, CDs stored in their place by the stereo. The computer had its own desk in the study. There were no rich decorations, but it was home to Illya's uncomplicated needs.
Illya stood in the middle of the lounge room staring at his stereo and scratching his head as if he'd forgotten what they were supposed to be doing there. Napoleon had never seen him looking quite so flattened by life.
"Can I help you with your packing?" he prompted.
"Oh. Yes. I suppose. I'll get together some clothes. Can you organise my shaving kit and things in the bathroom."
Napoleon found a sponge bag with a little travelling case for the toothbrush that was sitting in its cup. He stowed it in the bag and reached for the neatly rolled tube of toothpaste. The tube was sticky when he picked it up. It seemed odd. Everything else in the bathroom...indeed, everything else in the whole apartment was quite tidy. It was out of character for Illya to have an oozing toothpaste tube. Suddenly his whole hand went numb. The tube slipped from his fingers. In a split second Napoleon realised that his assessment of the apartment had been too cursory. Thrush had been there, plotting to catch Illya. Drugs in the gel they had smeared on the toothpaste tube had already crossed into his bloodstream and were coursing into his brain. His vision was going dark, he didn't have time to reach into his pocket for his communicator pen. He didn't even have time to cry out a warning to his friend. He slid down the side of the vanity, finally coming to rest with his head awkwardly propped up on the pedestal of the toilet.
Two Thrush agents sat quietly in the stairwell of the apartment building, watching the screen of the little monitoring device they were carrying. Inside the tube of toothpaste they had inserted a tiny filament that let them know when the tube was being moved. They had sufficient faith in the Thrush chemists who had devised the anaesthetic gel to begin breaking back into Illya's apartment as soon as they saw that the toothpaste tube had been touched.
"Napoleon, what are you doing?" Illya heard the soft thump of something falling in the bathroom. When he received no reply he went to see what was happening. The moment he saw Napoleon on the floor his senses were alerted.
No one had come into the apartment. He knew that. Nothing seemed amiss in the bathroom. "Napoleon?" He stepped forward, reaching for his fallen partner. It was then that he heard the quiet click of the front door. He pulled his gun from its holster and crouched low, back to the wall. He got off a single shot at the shadow that fell across the bathroom doorway, then the Thrush drew quickly back. There were two of them. He could hear their whispered conversation.
"Mr Kuryakin, there are two of us and only one of you. Whoever is in there with you will be unconscious for quite some time, so don't count on him being of any help. Your most sensible option is really to come quietly with us."
A shadow leaned in from the door, the elbow of the Thrush on the right. Illya took careful aim and fired at it. There was a sharp curse. The voice sighed. "We can outlast you. I don't mind sitting here till you run out of bullets, but I do object to you putting holes in my clothing. Thrush doesn't reimburse, you know. As you probably realise, we have been sent to capture you without hurting you. That doesn't count tear gas and a thorough beating, Mr Kuryakin. And we weren't told not to kill anyone we might find there with you."
Illya looked across at Napoleon. He dragged his friend's arm so that he was lying flat on the floor and rolled him carefully onto his side. His arm might be a little numb when he woke, but at least he wouldn't get an awful crick in the neck from the awkward position he had fallen in.
"All right. All right. I'll come out."
"Ah, the gun, if you please."
Illya slid it across the bathroom floor to the doorway where a hand appeared and retrieved it. The Thrush on the left stepped into the doorway, gun drawn. He gestured with it, "Get up."
Illya came out to the lounge room. Both of the Thrushes stood well out of reach, one on his left, the other, directly in front of him, at the far end of the room. Both held their guns pointed unwaveringly at Illya. They had moved the coffee table that normally stood in the middle of the room. The guns directed him to the empty space. He walked slowly, hands held above his head. He wanted to dive at the men, put up a fight, do something to help himself. These two were sharp though, and it was only going to take one bullet to kill Napoleon.
"This won't hurt," said the nearer Thrush, pointing his gun at Illya's middle, "It's a new compound. Doesn't even leave a hangover. We developed it at a Satrapy in..."
"Oh, just get on with it, will you," snapped Illya.
The Thrush shot him and he felt the elastic band flick of the pellet through his shirt. The warm cotton wool rush of anaesthetic was immediate. He didn't feel his legs folding up under him, only sudden surprise when the floor came up and hit him in the face.
Napoleon Solo woke up angry. When he tried to move and found his left side totally numb, he experienced a moment of concern that he might have suffered a stroke. When the pins and needles started the come in, though, so did the anger. Mostly he was mad at himself. He had made a stupid mistake. He had underestimated Thrush and now Illya was gone. He had been lying on the bathroom floor for almost four hours.
He dug into his pocket and pulled out his communicator. Randy Kovac was on the line immediately. It was funny how being Number 1, Section 1 gave you a kind of sixth sense about when an agent was going to need you.
"Mr Solo. All's well, I trust."
"I'm afraid all is a very long way from being well." He explained what had happened.
There was a very long silence from Kovac. Finally he said, "Nothing's coming up on the tracking device. Get right in here, Mr Solo."
Despite the late hour U.N.C.L.E.'s New York headquarters did not lack for agents. It was a little quieter than the normal daytime bustle, but populated and busy nonetheless. Napoleon dropped the bag containing the contaminated toothpaste at the laboratory before continuing on to Kovac's office.
As well as Randy, there were two other men in Randy Kovac's office. One was sitting beside the table. He was a dark haired, well dressed, handsome looking man. Randy introduced them with a smile, "Mr Solo, I'd like you to meet...Mr Solo. Napoleon, this is Hamilton."
Despite the tension he was feeling, Napoleon smiled and shook the proffered hand, "Wonderful name you have there," he said.
"It's an honour to meet you sir," the younger man said, "I've heard a great deal about you, and read quite a bit more."
The other man was sitting by one of the many computer terminals in the office. He had on a headset and seemed totally absorbed in what was on the monitor before him.
"Ah, this is Mr Gordon," said Randy, a little less certain about the second man. Gordon did not respond to the introduction.
"Misha, the other Mr Solo is here now," said Hamilton.
"Yes, I know," said Gordon, still not taking his eyes from the screen. He waved above his head, "Hello."
"You'll have to forgive him, Mr Solo," said Hamilton, "Despite his family connections I'm afraid he had rather a shabby upbringing. I am trying to train a few manners into him but he can be awfully pigheaded sometimes."
"I don't like James Bond movies," complained Gordon, slightly muffled from his corner.
"Family connections?" said Napoleon.
"His grandfather was Lord Gordon.
Napoleon frowned. "Lord Gordon. I know that name. I met his lordship, that would have been Mr Gordon's grandfather. I met his father too. He was quite young."
"Ah, no. That would have been the present Lord you met, Misha's Uncle Bertie. His mother was Michelle, Bertie's older sister."
"Good lord," said Napoleon, wincing at his own pun, "I do remember Michelle Gordon. Tiny little thing, but tremendously feisty. She came riding in on a great big Norton Commando motorbike. Took quite a shine to Illya, as I recall."
"Got him!" shouted Misha suddenly, making everyone in the room jump.
"Where?" said Hamilton.
"Who?" said Napoleon.
"How?" said Kovac.
"Bounced in off two satellites. He's just started to show on the London pickup. Should be landing at Heathrow within the hour."
"If you like, sir, I'll contact London office and have a little greeting party there for our feathered friends," said Hamilton.
Kovac raised a hand, "No," he said.
"Is that Illya?" said Napoleon.
Randy nodded, "We activated the trace as soon as we got your call. It's taken this long to locate him though. We can't use GPS for these things, we have to rely on local pickup points to triangulate. We had to assume that since the knockout gel was obviously intended for Illya, then wherever they were taking him would be about four hours from here."
"Must have been a fast plane," said Napoleon. "You want to just keep tracing him till they take him to the nest?"
Kovac nodded, "Yes. I think that's the best idea."
"Did you say Illya?" said Gordon, finally turning from the computer that had so absorbed his attention.
"That's right," said Napoleon, not liking to be reminded exactly why they even needed to be looking, "Illya Kuryakin. My partner."
"You didn't tell me that's who we were looking for," said Misha, turning accusingly to Hamilton.
"I did so."
"No you didn't. You just said we'd lost a man. Detail, Hamilton. Detail," he slumped back in his chair, "Illya," repeated Gordon, drawing himself away from the blue light of the screen.
"With two ells and a why?" said Hamilton.
"That's the way he signs his cheques," said Napoleon, now having his first good look at Misha Gordon. He was small and slightly built with a mop of blonde hair and a face that could almost be described as pretty. He looked far too young and innocent to be a spy. Napoleon tried very hard not to gape.
"It's him, isn't it?" Hamilton said to Misha.
"I think it is," he turned to Napoleon, his hand outstretched, "Mr Solo, it's nice to meet you. I am Misha Gordon. Misha Illich Gordon. Kind of a weird middle name, isn't it."
Napoleon opened his mouth, but changed his mind about committing himself to a comment.
"My mother told me it was a tradition in my father's country. The middle name is for the father. That would make my father's name Illya. As in Kuryakin. And you said he knew my mother."
Napoleon felt rather set back by the implication of that comment. He wanted to defend his partner's honour, but felt that he might be on rather shaky ground. Misha Gordon certainly bore a very strong resemblance to Illya, "Ah, well, we didn't know her that well. There was only a short amount of time when..."
"It doesn't take all that long, Mr Solo," said Hamilton.
"No. I don't suppose it does," he replied lamely, thinking that Illya was obviously far more opportunistic than he had ever realised.
"And my mother always insisted that my father was a Russian spy with a name that made her think of breakfast cereal."
"His mother said a lot of strange things in her time," said Hamilton.
"My mother, Mr Solo, was a complete looney. But I loved her dearly."
"Ah, she's...no longer with us then?"
"No. She died about five years ago."
"Was she very ill?"
"No. She, she was fit enough to fight wildcats. When she died she was doing over three hundred kilometres an hour on her Moto Guzzi down an autobahn in Bavaria. She came around a corner and, well, there was a bit of a traffic jam."
Napoleon winced, "Nasty."
Misha sighed gloomily, "It's the way she would have wanted."
"It's no good playing for it, Misha," said Hamilton, "You've lost the sympathy vote."
"Looks like you're no longer a poor little orphan."
Randy Kovac cleared his throat, "Gentlemen, if you would care to go home and organise your belongings, I'll have your tickets to Heathrow ready to be picked up by the time you get to the airport."
Hamilton and Misha left. Napoleon stopped as the got to the door, "I thought you said no family involvement," he said.
"I had to make best use of the personnel available to me, Mr Solo. What do you think of them?"
"Well, I can't really comment on how they might work together, but they look like an interesting team."
Victoria Goode wasn't sure what day it was. There was a haze of recollections after the two men came to her door. She had been taken to some place where she was undressed and then dressed again in stranger's clothes, a tracksuit, old slippers, a blanket on her knee. She had been in a wheel chair, sick and drugged and unable to speak, her voice garbled or cackling, her movements uncontrolled, helplessly spastic. She was wheeled, helplessly through the airport, someone had a passport that they said was hers. People called her by a different name. She remembered the kind faces of flight attendants giving her drinks and bringing her food which some woman kept feeding to her. There had been the nightmare of incessant droning of aeroplane engines pushing down on her like a suffocating pillow. She had slept through a lot of it. Each time the plane landed she woke. Eventually a flight attendant was smiling at her and saying "You're there at last." She recognised Heathrow airport and the confused clatter of customs. She had tried to get someone's attention, then there was a needle and another period of unconsciousness.
Her treatment when she awoke was, if anything, even more appalling than it had been in her drugged state. She was in a kind of operating theatre. Whatever drug had been used on her earlier had either worn off, or had an antidote, because he was in full control of her faculties. Only now she was tied to the table upon which she was lying. She was naked, only someone had draped a green sheet over her. She lay supine on the table in lithotomy position, her legs tied into the stirrups, her arms bound to armboards. There were straps across her neck and her middle and a gag in her mouth. It would have been easier to have just left her drugged, she thought.
A woman came in, regal, with a stately bearing so that Vicki rather thought she should have been wearing purple robes, not green surgical garb. She was a tall, graceful woman with iron grey hair and a hard, unsympathetic expression.
For hours Vicki endured the tests the woman performed. A vicious speculum that she wielded like a fist. She scraped and peered, reaming Vicki like a rapist. There was no escape, she couldn't even scream for release. After that the woman smeared her belly with gel and rubbed a wand like piece of equipment over her, watching, the whole time, a television screen. It wasn't painful, just unpleasant, Vicki figured that it was ultrasound. While she lay there the woman wiped the gel off and injected something into her stomach and then cut her, painlessly with a scalpel. It was like all the stupid UFO abduction cases she had ever read about. Only this time it was true. The woman threaded a wire into her stomach and spent what seemed like hours more peering into some kind of microscope. Laparoscopy. That's what it was called. She took samples of blood and tissue. She passed a catheter down Vicki's urethra into her bladder and extracted urine. During the entire process she never spoke to Vicki or looked her in the eye.
The woman had a young man with her, an assistant or nurse. From time to time she made comments to him: "All clear. No sign of endometriosis. That's good. Plenty of healthy tissue. We should be able to track her cycles over the next two or three months and then make maximal harvest."
The man responded quietly to her comments but never ventured any of his own. Eventually the woman seemed satisfied with what she had found. She turned her back on Vicki and began to label her slides and tubes. The young man, averting his eyes modestly, pulled the sheet down over Vicki's legs.
"Take her to the room and see that she's properly cared for," she said to the man. She turned and for the first time she looked Vicki in the eye, "You have a very healthy reproductive system," she said.
The man injected her with something and there was another period of unconsciousness and when she woke up she was in a reasonably pleasant room. It was small, but she could move around. There were two cots, bolted to the floor, and a plastic table with two plastic chairs. There were several paperback novels resting on a shelf which had been firmly bolted to the wall. There was a sack containing grey cotton overalls and underwear, her size. She had to go barefoot, though. In one corner of the room was a cubicle with a shower, lavatory and basin. She had been provided with necessities, just as though she was in an hotel. The cubicle had a tiled floor with a drain in the middle. There was no curtain for the shower, and not even a rod to hang one from, nor was there a door on the cubicle. A towel was hung neatly from the rail at the end of the bed.
There was food on the table, well cooked and nutritionally sound. Chicken breast with rice and a crisp salad, all on a plastic plate. Salad dressing sat to one side in a little plastic jug and the cutlery was plastic and very flimsy.
For three days Vicki's only company was a tall, silent, dangerous looking man who brought her food and clean clothes and fetched away the empty plates and dirty laundry. Her only discomfort was that first thing in the morning the man insisted that she piss into a bucket. He stood in the cubicle door and watched without expression as she did.
Vicki was settling into the routine. Breakfast had come and gone. Now was the quiet time when she would just sit and pretend to read the novels they had provided. Or simply stare at the wall and wonder what the hell was going on. The only thing she could gather, from the examination and comments of the doctor, and collection of her urine, was that she was organised into some kind of invitro fertilization programme. With herself the unwilling provider of ova. It seemed a stupid way of doing things. The way she had felt, if these people had only asked her nicely and perhaps offered some money, she might well have given them her ova. At least that way she could have eventually become some sort of parent.
Her door opened unexpectedly and three of the guards came in. Two of them wheeled a gurney with a man on it. The third guard was armed. He locked the door when they came in and stood beside it, holding his gun steadily pointed at the man on the gurney. The two guards transferred the man from the gurney to the second cot. Not only did he appear to be unconscious, but he wore chains and leg irons which they carefully unlocked and moved to the rails of the cot. They were very careful to never have more than one of the chains free at one time.
Vicki had never managed to get any sort of comment out of any of the guards, but she didn't let that stop her.
"Who is this man? Why are you bringing him here? Why does he have all these chains on? Is he dangerous?" She shouted at them as they left the room, locking the door carefully behind them: "Well you can't just leave me in here with some kind of dangerous psychopath who needs to be chained up like a mad dog!"
"Please," said a little voice from across the room, "Would you mind keeping it down a bit? I have a terrible headache."
Vicki had only been shouting at the guards for effect. She turned and looked at the man they had brought in. He was dressed in a grey overall similar to the ones Vicki had been given. He looked small and rather ineffectual, like a misplaced librarian. He was probably no more dangerous than she was. It had felt good, though, to let go of a little anger and frustration at some of the people who were causing it. She went across to the man. He was staring blearily at the blanket which was scrunched up by his face, his eyes didn't look properly focused.
"Can I get you some water?" she said, "I'm afraid it's all I can offer."
"Water. Yes please," he said.
The chains on his wrists weren't long enough to allow him to hold the cup for himself, and he seemed too weak and exhausted to even hold his head up properly. With some difficulty she helped him prop his head up and held the cup to his lips. He drank all the water in the cup without spilling very much.
"Could I have another one?"
"Yeah," she went to fetch it. "You must be a whole lot more dangerous than you look."
He tugged at the chains on his wrists. "What day is it?" he asked, after finishing the second cup of water and lying back on the bed.
"I'm not positive. I spent quite a long time off my face on some kind of weird tranquillisers. It's either Thursday or Friday."
"Must be Friday then, which means I've only been out for a few hours, so we're not in Australia. Any idea where we are?"
"I remember coming through customs, looked like Heathrow."
"England," he said thoughtfully, "London." He jiggled the chains on his wrists experimentally, trying to look at the cuffs that held them on to him. "Not that it helps very much, but it's nice to know." He turned his eyes back to Vicki, and for the first time really focused on her. "Have you spent much time in London?"
"No. I live in Melbourne. I've visited here though, a couple of times. I was...sort of looking for someone."
It had taken a little time for Illya's vision to clear. Despite the promises of the Thrush who drugged him, their knockout pellets still had some very unpleasant side effects. Now he could see her though. She certainly didn't look as elegant as she had in the picture in Kovac's office. No make-up, and dressed in a plain grey cotton overall. Despite the fact that he wasn't all that surprised to have been abducted by the same satrapy and brought to the same room as her he was suddenly feeling a clamour of excitement that made his heart thump. He was embarrassed to think that his hands might be shaking. He took his time before he spoke again, he needed to choose his words carefully. He needed to be very certain that his voice wasn't going to shake.
"Miss Victoria Goode?" he said, his voice coming out rather smaller than he had hoped.
"It's Ms Goode, and I prefer Vicki. How come you know my name?"
He ignored her question, babbling on recklessly, "It's very nice to meet you. My name is Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin," he strained at the restraints, wanting to touch her, as if making some physical contact that would relieve his nervous energy.
She stood back though, staring curiously at him.
"Apparently," he said, "I am your father."
During their flight across the Atlantic Napoleon found himself studiously engrossed in material about Thrush's suspected and known activities, and possible reasons for the abductions. It was believed that rather than causing the various outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease, antibiotic resistant TB, ebola and other diseases that seemed to be cropping up at an alarming rate, Thrush was simply capitalising on the confusion. They had no apparent connection with the Human Genome Study, but possibly had connections with various pathology laboratories around the world. Computerisation had a great deal to answer for. Vicki's biological profile had probably come to their attention as a result of a routine pap smear or blood test. Illya's had probably come from a blood test. Whether Thrush knew that they were father and daughter, and whether that even mattered, was not known. Presumably their computer had matched the similarity in genes though.
Hamilton spent most of the trip making small talk with the female flight attendants who were young enough to enjoy flirting. His line of patter was unquestionably Soloesque. There were one or two comments that he made that Napoleon might not have, but you had to make allowances for times changing. It certainly didn't seem to upset the ladies, who were charmed by him.
Misha spent the entire trip fiddling with a laptop computer. When Napoleon peered over his shoulder at the little screen it looked as if he was playing a game. Later when he looked there was some complex looking flowchart on it. It was impossible to tell if it was an electronic diagram of some sort, or another level of the game. Napoleon didn't care to ask, Misha seemed so absorbed, it would be a shame to disturb him.
They had brought only walk on luggage, and passed through customs with a minimum of fuss. There was a slight hiccup as Hamilton was scanned for weapons. He gave the guard a bundle of keys, and then passed through the gate, a look of total innocence on his face.
"He does that every time," Misha complained to Napoleon.
"I just want to bring a little excitement into their dreary lives," said Hamilton.
"Ha! You were just hoping to be strip searched, bring a little excitement into your dreary life."
Agent Terri Carter from London office had brought them weapons and a car. "We've got what we believe is a fixed location on the trace," she said. She pulled a small computer out of her large handbag and set it up on the boot of the car while the three men stood and watched. In less than a second the computer set up a map indicating with a red pulse where the trace that had been sewn into Illya's clothes had come to rest.
"The Lakes District," said Terri, "Beautiful countryside if you've any time for sightseeing after the rescue."
"Eastsnout," said Napoleon. "Yes, it's a pretty place. I've been there before."
They drove for hours, Napoleon at the wheel with Misha beside him, now absorbed in Terri's tracking device, while Hamilton, in the back seat, had won Terri herself. Somehow it seemed a familiar scenario. When Misha could drag himself away from the computer is was most often to offer some jibe at Hamilton. His partner laughed off all the asides and made the most of entertaining Terri.
Before they even entered the village of Eastsnout, though, Misha made a squawking noise, "We've passed it."
"The trace. We passed it back on the bridge we just crossed."
Despite knowing that Thrush would not go to the trouble to abduct Illya just to take him to another country and kill him, Napoleon felt a cold chill run up his spine. There was always the chance that Illya had tried to escape and forced them to use methods that were more violent. Or worse, that he'd tried to escape and in his drugged state had fallen from the vehicle he was in, into the river. It would have been a very poor way to go.
Napoleon made a patchy five point turn in the narrow road and drove back to the bridge where he parked, as safely as possible. They all got out of the car and ran down the river bank. Misha held a device the size of a pen that beeped in proximity to Illya's tracer. He pointed at a clump of weeds and rocks poking out from under the darkest part of the bridge. Hamilton crawled in on his hands and knees.
"It's all right," he said, his voice coming out a little muffled, "It's just his clothes." He came out clutching a plastic garbage bag stuffed with everything Illya would have been wearing, "They must have figured we'd have a trace on him. Too bad. Now we're set back to just looking for a naked guy."
Napoleon shook his head, "There's a Partridge connection here. We believe Dr Victoria Partridge is involved in this gene mapping project that Thrush has going. Years ago Illya was abducted by Victoria's uncle Emory and brought to Porloch Hall in Eastsnout."
"According to our records, Porloch Hall is owned by Victoria Partridge," said Terri.
"I think history may be repeating itself," said Napoleon.
Vicki couldn't stop staring at the man. She wasn't sure if she was supposed to call him Illya or Mr Kuryakin or Dad. So far she hadn't called him anything. She hadn't said much at all. She had just listened to his story. It wasn't fantastic, it was hopelessly romantic, though. The kind of thing you took two boxes of tissues to, if it was a movie. The kind of thing her mother would have loved. She wasn't sure if she wanted to hug this man or hit him out of sheer frustration. It was kind of nice knowing he was in the world, though. She could even see a bit of a family resemblance, and there was the funny thing about him being Russian. There must be more to genetics than she had ever realised.
"Uh, Vicki," he said, sounding a little embarrassed, "There's something I need you to do."
"Could you look at my right leg."
She sat where she was and looked. It seemed pretty normal to her. "Yeah. So what?"
"Uh, no. I'm sorry to have to ask you to do this, but would you please pull up the cuff of my trousers and look at my leg."
"Why?" this sounded rather kinky, and she was reluctant to comply.
"I have a scar there. I need you to look at it."
Vicki picked gingerly at the leg of his pants and drew it up. She wasn't happy with this. It just seemed like weirdness to her. Still, he was all chained up, he couldn't spring on her or anything. "Yes, all right," she said, "I can see the scar. It looks horrible. Does it hurt or something?" she said, hoping that he wouldn't ask her to rub it or anything.
"Um, I'm so very sorry to have to ask you to do this, but I need you to pick it off."
"What?! No! That's disgusting." She dropped his cuff and drew both her hands back.
"Look, it really isn't a scar. It's makeup, like the kind they use in the movies. Latex stuff that they have for special effects. Underneath it is a strip of plastic, and that's what I need you to get for me."
"No. Really, I need it."
"So you're some kind of Russian actor."
"Sort of, but more like an expatriate Russian spy."
She worked one fingernail under the edge of the "scar." It came up with a little convincing till she held a centimetre of it between thumb and finger. Then she ripped it off his leg. He squawked.
"Oh, a tough guy, hey?"
"You pulled half the hairs off my leg."
"I thought spies were supposed to be immune to torture and you wimp out at a little leg wax. You should try being a woman," she peeled the latex back and found a strip of strangely malleable plastic running up the middle of it. She put the plastic into his right hand.
She watched fascinated as he manipulated the piece of plastic with his fingers and then inserted it into the locking mechanism. He twisted it carefully, seeming to listen for something. A moment later the cuff snapped open. He went about the same process, with slightly more difficulty, with his left hand on the right cuff.
"I suppose you really are a spy then," she said with some resignation as she watched the cuff on his right wrist pop open.
"Either that or a cat burglar, right?"
"Is there that much of a difference?"
"Cat burglars are better paid," he said as he proceeded on to his left ankle, "But we have a much friendlier retirement plan."
He heard the lock click in the door and struggled to unlock the cuff on his right ankle, the only thing still shackling him to the bed, and making life a whole lot more difficult for him than if he'd just left well enough alone and been a passive captive. "If we live long enough for that," he added gloomily, observing the arrival of three large guards and a gurney. One guard was heavily armed as he had been before.
When he saw what was happening the first guard acted incautiously, jumping at Illya and snapping the lockpick away from him. From her viewpoint Vicki didn't see exactly what Illya did to the man. She saw his hand move almost casually, as though he was brushing away a fly, and suddenly the guard was on the floor, unmoving. She heard the sound of the armed guard clicking the safety of his gun, and she stepped back into the bathroom cubicle, hoping they would forget all about her. Illya managed to get half off the bed. It was impossible for him to put his right foot to the floor, but with one foot down he could extend his reach to the gurney. He grabbed it and shoved it at the armed guard as the second large man came at him.
Vicki cowered from the noise the men were making, she was almost crying with fear. It was a bad enough shock for her to meet a man who, after forty years of no contact, claimed to be her father, but now she was convinced she had just watched him kill a man. The guard on the floor had gone down like a sack of potatoes, and she hadn't seen him move. Now she could hear animal grunts coming from the three remaining men. She bit down on the fear and risked a peep around the doorway.
Illya had not managed to retrieve the lockpick. The two men were battering him. He was lying awkwardly on the cot, lashing out at the men with both hands and a foot. He managed to grab one of them by the arm and she heard a sharp cracking noise and a yell of pain. Then the man with the gun laid into him, clubbing him with the stock. She heard the hard sound it made as it connected with bone, cracking down on his ankle and then his hands and elbows. Finally she saw him hit twice in the head, and he lay very still. She couldn't see if his eyes were open or closed, there were too many tears in the way.
The man on the floor got up slowly. Illya hadn't killed him at all. She was glad. Her father was not a reckless taker of human life. He was fighting for his survival. And hers. She watched the three of them, again treating him as if he was an unstable explosive, chaining him carefully to the bed. She was beginning to feel a kind of pride in her dangerous father. As they wheeled him past the door she saw that he was looking at her through one slightly glazed, blood smeared eye. "Sorry," he whispered.
It was late afternoon as Napoleon nosed the car into the small parking space at the front of the Eastsnout pub. Things were a little different; the village of Eastsnout boasted its own McDonalds and a supermarket now. The pub looked as inviting as it had the last time he'd seen it, though.
"Fine ales and good food," he explained, leading the others inside. They found a table near the window at the back and arranged themselves around it. A woman brought a blackboard which she set up beside the table. Everyone except Misha ordered beer and a bowl of spaghetti. Misha wanted a pork pie with extra salad and chips and a glass of tomato juice.
"Good English food," he said defensively, "I've missed it."
"Oh, yes," said Hamilton, "And what were the two Big Macs you had this morning at the airport."
"Lunch. I was hungry."
"I'd kill for a metabolism like that," muttered Terri.
The woman came back to take their lunch orders, but as Napoleon looked at her to give his order she suddenly dropped her notepad and let out a gasp, "Napoleon!" she said, throwing her arms around his neck.
"Peggy!" he said, "Peggy Durance!"
Peggy took their orders and brought their drinks, with a beer for herself as well. Napoleon shuffled along the seat to make a space for her.
"Peggy," he said, after making introductions, "I thought Eastsnout was the last place I'd find you. Last time I saw you you were only too happy to be getting away from here."
She laughed, "Well, for a start, Napoleon, it's not Peggy Durance any more, it's Peggy Fraser. I met Harry in a cafe in London, I was waitressing and he was cooking. Funnily enough, his family comes from a place not twenty miles from here. We lived in London for a little while after we were married, but," she shrugged. "This really is home. And it's an excellent place for bringing up children."
"Children," said Napoleon, trying not to think that everyone seemed to have them except himself.
"Yes. Judy's at Oxford and Charles has gone abroad."
"Paris," she smiled proudly. "Following in his father's footsteps, he's training to be a chef."
A man brought out their meals. Peggy introduced him as Harry, her husband. He paused for a moment to say hello and then returned to his kitchen.
"Well, you must be very proud of your children's achievements."
"Oh, Napoleon, you know how it is," she smiled at him, including Hamilton in her glowing look.
"Oh, but..." protested Napoleon.
"They claim they're not related," said Misha through a mouthful of pork pie.
"I'm from Boston," said Hamilton, as though that explained everything.
"I thought you were Canadian," said Napoleon.
"Well...I am. But my family is from Boston."
Napoleon looked faintly confused and Peggy decided to change the subject, "It's a shame Illya isn't here. What's he doing with himself?"
Napoleon shrugged, "Oh, the usual thing."
"Usual thing?" Peggy laughed. "Well the last time you were here the poor man was chained up in my employer's secret dungeon, so the only thing I can assume from usual is..." her smile slowly faded. "Oh my goodness, Napoleon, you don't mean to say...?"
He nodded slowly, "Illya was abducted last night, uh, New York time. We believe he's been taken to Poorloch Hall. Again."
Peggy shook her head, "I was a little worried when Dr Partridge took over Poorloch Hall. There were too many memories of the Previous Partridges. I always gathered she was some sort of relation."
Peggy nodded, "It seemed like tempting fate, as I said, having a Partridge there. But she's nothing like Mr Emory was. She doesn't come in here all that often of course, but when she does she is always quite pleasant. Certainly none of the dictatorial manner of her uncle. And certainly nothing like her aunt."
"I'm afraid you'd be rather unpleasantly surprised about just how very much Victoria Partridge resembles her Aunt Edith."
"Well then we must do something about rescuing Illya," Peggy said decisively.
"We must do something," said Napoleon, making a gesture that included himself and the other three U.N.C.L.E. agents, "Not we," he said, pointing at Peggy.
But Peggy Fraser was every bit as determined to see justice done as Peggy Durance had been. "Napoleon," she said, "You'll never get into Poorlock Hall without a diversion and Harry will happily provide that. I've never met a bigger distraction."
Napoleon raised one eyebrow. "Just Harry for the distraction?"
"Well you'll be needing me with you. That old place is a maze of tunnels and secret passages, and nobody knows Poorlock Hall as well as I do."
Illya stared at the ceiling. It seemed a very long corridor filled with turnings. Half way through his trip there was a little ride downward in an elevator, and when he reached the lower level he had an uncomfortable feeling of familiarity. There was just something about the atmosphere of this brightly lit laborotory that gave him the impression of a dungeon. The men parked his trolley beside a stainless steel table that made him think of a morgue, and upon refelction, not a morgue at all, but a place where vivisection was done. The guards remained beside him, watching him intently as though they expected him to commit some Houdini performance, loose his bonds and leap free at any moment. He rather wished he could live up to their expectations.
He heard a door open and the soft step of a rubber soled shoe. A woman's voice said: "Put him on the table. Secure him."
The guards who had brought him were not gentle. Again they treated him like a very dangerous animal, only unchaining one limb at a time as they moved him from the gurney to the table. They twisted his arms in their sockets and bent his legs painfully. He was passive and compliant. There was no way he could escape from the bonds with three people standing over him, so he simply went along with them.
"That will do," said the woman when Illya was finally secrued to the table. "You can go now."
The guards must have hovered a little because she snapped at them a second time, and then Illya heard them leave. He hadn't seen the woman yet, only heard her voice; imperious and matronly. An English Lady, by birth rather than behaviour. Illya lay supine on the table, his arms were down at his side. He was bound to the table by cuffs which held down his wrists and ankles and immobilised his elbows, knees and neck. He heard the measured step of the lady as she stalked about the table. He felt her hand upon his left ankle and she pinched him hard.
"Tell me, Mr Kuryakin, do you still crawl about the floor grabbing at ladies' ankles?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"This isn't an interrogation, just a little reminiscing."
"I'm sorry then. I don't remember the incident to which you refer."
"I'm disappointed. Not surprised, though. Just disappointed."
"What, that I don't remember you?"
"No. Your ignorance is not such a blow to my ego. I'm just a little disappointed that it's you."
"That what's me?"
"The father of the future, Mr Kuryakin. The antecedent of the inheritors of the earth."
Somehow Napoleon had allowed himself to be talked into it; Harry as their diversion and Peggy leading them through the labyrhinth of Poorlock Hall.
Harry and Terri had set themself up as anglers. A brook ran through the estate, cutting off one corner and flowing out under a poorly maintained section of the fence, giving Napoleon, Peggy, Misha and Hamilton access.
It was dusk as Harry's van came trudling down the track. He stopped a little way from the brook, letting Napoleon and the others get out under cover of the overgrown vegetation. Peggy leaned into the driver's side for a brief kiss from Harry. "Wish the old girl goodbye," he said.
Peggy gave the van a pat on its door and melted into the cover beside Napoleon. A moment later they heard the engine rev and a loud splash as Harry drove the van straight into the brook. Harry and Terri set up enough din to wake the dead, and three perimiter guards with dogs appeared within seconds. The guards seemed atypically nice, and not like the Thrush guards of old. These men were cut from a different cloth. They lived in East Snout and had been to Harry's pub often enough to at least be on nodding terms with him. There was a little derision about him being out after dark with a lady who was not his wife, but Napoleon heard him explaining that this was his cousin, Therese, up from London for a holiday. He didn't hear the rest, they were too busy getting through the fence and onto the grounds.
Misha made them pause at the fence. "He's like a guard dog," whispered Hamilton. "He can sniff out electronic survellance devices."
Misha snorted at the comment. "Nothing here," he said. "It's too difficult with the water flowing by and wildlife and things. That's why they put extra guards around here."
They heard one of the dogs barking. Hamilton pulled a plastic vial of something out of an inner pocket and laid a trail along behind them for as many yards as the vial lasted.
"What was that?" asked Peggy.
"Just a fixative with a few parts per million of skunk pheromone," smiled Hamilton. "Not enough for the human nose to detect, but ample to deter anyone of the doggie persuasion."
They made fast progress across the lawns and through the gardens. The guards were mainly stationed around the perimiter, they had faith in their ability to stop intruders at the fence. Napoleon glanced at the hedge maze as they passed it, wondering if the man traps were still operating.
"Not the maze," cautioned Peggy. "There's a safer entrance to the tunnels through the stables."
"Do they have horses?" asked Misha.
"No, they've converted it into a garage."
Misha and Hamilton exchanged a nod and drew their U.N.C.L.E. specials. Words were an unneccesary encumbrance. Each seemed to know what the other was thinking.
Victoria Partridge had finally stepped into Illya's field of view. She was very much as he remembered her from all those years ago, up in the Yukon. Tall and haughty, she moved about the room with an imperial bearing. Her hair, gathered at the nape of her neck in a tight bun, was shot with steel grey. There was an almost regal air about her, the white lab smock she wore might well have been ermine. She seemed invincible, as though to have him there helpless upon the table while she loomed over him like this was her birthright.
She smiled down at him and there was nothing at all friendly about the expression. "You know, Mr Kuryakin," she said, "My uncle Emory was right. The most important thing in the world really is breeding."
"So it would seem," he muttered, wondering how he was going to get even one hand free.
"I suppose I'm just a little dissappointed to find that you are the chosen one."
"Chosen for what? Chosen by whom?"
"Well chosen by me of course. That is, I set up the parameters on the Ultimate Computer, and it found you, according to my requirements. I don't want you to think you would have been my personal choice, Mr Kuryakin. If I'd had to choose an U.N.C.L.E. agent I would have preferred your partner over you."
"That's not much of a revelation," said Illya. "You're female. There always was a certain weakness there for Napoleon's big brown eyes."
"Indeed. He's a very fine figure of a man. Still, I didn't have you brought here just so that we could chat over old times and open the East Snout chapter of the Napoleon Solo fan club."
"Perhaps not," agreed Illya. "But I was hoping you'd at least have the courtesy to tell me what this is all about before you kill me."
"I'm not going to kill you. That would be wasteful."
"I hadn't realised frugality was that important to Thrush."
"It isn't but they're learning."
"So you really think I'm going to indulge you in this breeding programme thing?"
"You and your daughter, amongst others."
"You may have breeding, Miss Partridge, but you have no class. What you suggest is obscene."
"It's Doctor Partridge, and I'm sorry to have to ruin your fantasy, but you won't be getting any say in the procedures."
Illya had an unpleasant mental image of the methods used for extracting semen from breeding gorillas in zoos.
"I will be removing a part of your small intestine and cloning you. You see, your daughter contains very good genetic material, but yours is almost perfect."
"Perfect for what?" As long as she was talking he was buying himself more time.
She smiled and this time there was a little warmth there. "It's nice to be able to tell this all to someone, and I think you are going to appreciate it. You may even enjoy the irony of your own role. You see, we are going to take over the world this time. It's genetic warfare. I'm engineering a number of diseases which will wipe out the human race."
"Seems a little pointless," he commented.
"Well exactly. I'd be dead too. So of course I'm working on treatments for Thrush personnel."
"Still seems a trifle dull."
"You do understand what I'm getting at then," she said. "The need for a population of slaves. Of course I could create just that. Hurry things along by quarrantining a section of the world and using them. It's an untidy solution though. I was working on a genetic breakthough, just modifying the material available. At the same time I had the Ultimate Computer searching all known medical files for someone with just your genetic profile. You come closer to natural immunity from every disease I'm engineering than any other human I've been able to locate on file."
"So you want to breed me," said Illya, feeling a kind of sad resignation.
"Surely you appreciate the situation, both from and egotistical and an ironical perspective."
"I have trouble appreciating something so morally bereft. And I'm still not sure why it doesn't involve killing me. I'm much less dangerous to you dead, you know."
"You'll be harmless, Mr Kuryakin. In fact, you'll be quite useful to us as an incubator."
"Of your diseases?"
"Of your children."
"You may be a first rate genetecist, Dr Partridge, but your understanding of biology is a little lacking."
"I spent ten years studying ectopic pregnancies and I assure you it is quite possible for a man to carry a child to term and even breastfeed it afterwards. In fact, I have three preganant men downstairs at the moment. Thrush has a new retirement plan for those who fail in their field work."
"And you expect me to sit happily around with a bunch of failed Thrush agents, knitting booties and growing babies for you?"
"You won't be doing anything quite so active, I'm afraid. I will give you the same drug I gave them. You may be familiar with it, I believe the head of your New York office received a dose. Unfortunately Mr Kovac was given the drug in the lower part of his thoracic spine, which means he is only paralysed from the waist down. You will have it administered correctly, here," her fingers brushed under the hair at the back of his neck. "In the space between C2 and T1. You will be able to speak and eat. Other than that you will be totally paralysed."
"And if I refuse to eat."
"If you behave like a child you will be treated like one. Our nurses are quite able to deal enteric feeding." She moved out of range as she spoke, and when she returned she was carrying a syringe filled with a clear fluid. She placed the syringe carefully into a kidney bowl and pulled the zip on his overalls all the way open. "Don't look so worried," she said. "All I'm going to do with you for the moment is take a sample of cells from your small intestine." She got swabs from a sealed packet and doused them in topical antiseptic. She put the bottle beside the kidney dish. Illya noticed that she hadn't screwed the lid down tight. She swabbed his belly carelessly, getting antiseptic all over his overalls. She was intent on what she was doing. She reached for the syringe.
He watched for the moment when she was focussing most intently on giving him the local anaesthetic, and stretched his left arm and hand down, reaching with his fingertips towards the bottle of antiseptic. In a sudden movement he tipped it, splashing it across his cuff and down his arm, and sending the bottle smashing to the floor.
Partridge said something unladylike and left the room. In the moments she was gone Illya used the antiseptic as a lubricant and slipped his left hand from the cuff that was holding it to the table. He had little other movement, just enough in the hand to loosen the cuff so that he could slide his hand in and out easily. He slipped it back in just as Partridge returned to the room with a brush and pan.
"Clumsy," he commented.
She slashed him across the face with her hand but did not speak to him.
The state of the secret passages in Poorlock Hall came as a surprise to Peggy and Napoleon. The cobwebs and gloom had been replaced by shining white, well lit corridors. They had been widened and tiled and they made Napoleon think of the hallways in a hospital or laboratory. All the old ghosts had been cleared out, though despite the lighting there was still an air of opression, as though a new generation of ghosts had moved in with the Thrush owners of the Hall. Despite the changes Peggy knew her way well. "We should try what used to be the wine cellar first," she suggested. That was turned into strong rooms when I was at the hall. You could easily hold a prisoner down there."
Before they got there they encountered a group of armed men in Thrush uniform. Napoleon smiled, the presence of guards was like saying "getting warmer" in a kids' game of hidey. Without a spoken word between them, Hamilton and Misha moved towards the guards, Hamilton moving forward with Misha a little behind him.
"Excuse me, I wonder if you'd mind helping me," Hamilton smiled disarmingly at the guards. "Only I'm a little lost in all these corridors."
The guards were a moment too slow in bringing their weapons to bear and Hamilton and Misha attacked them. It seemed to only take a moment and suddenly all three guards were on the floor. Misha was helping Hamilton up, plucking a thread from his partner's suit. "You should have ducked under his right hook," said Misha. "You could tell by the broken nose and scars on his knuckles he was a pugialist. Detail, Hamilton, detail."
"Feisty little devil, isn't he?" said Hamilton, flicking at Misha's hair.
"He certainly is," agreed Peggy.
"Well look at me," said Misha. "Pretty blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. I'm a cute little bastard with a wussie, bolshie nerdy name and I went to an English public school. Basically I had two choices; either become a good fighter or spend a lot of time holding my ankles and looking backwards between my legs," he shrugged. "Wasn't much of a choice, really."
Peggy led them on to where a small room with doors leading off it on each wall marked what had once been the wine cellar.
"Which door will we find the prize behind?" wondered Napoleon.
"Door number three, of course," said Hamilton, indicating the only door with a lock on it. They forced the lock in a few seconds and the door sprung open to reveal Victoria Goode sitting on the bed looking resigned and unhappy.
"We're here to rescue you," said Hamilton in response to the questioning expression on Vicki's face. "And you're not gonna believe who he is," he grinned, pointing at Misha.
"Easter Bunny?" suggested Vicki. "Anyway, if you really want to rescue someone, you should do something about my father."
"Illya?" said Misha. "You've met him?"
"He was in here and then some men came and beat him up and took him away."
"Have you any idea where they took him?" asked Napoleon.
"I don't like to think about it. They had him strapped down to this bed thing, like they were taking him to an operating theatre or something," she shuddered.
"I have a sudden really bad feeling about the little room under the gazebo," said Napoleon.
"Was that the dungeon you were telling us about?" asked Misha. "The gazebo in the maze?"
"Back this way," said Hamilton, and the two younger agents took off at a dead run. Napoleon, Peggy and Vicki followed at a more sedate pace, Napoleon with his U.N.C.L.E. special in his hand as he told Vicki what was going on. He felt that she deserved an explanation.
Victoria Partridge had punched a hole in Illya with a syringe the size of a kid's waterpistol.
"Ever considered vivisection as a career option?" he asked.
"I prefer it as a hobby," she replied. "And you can't complain about that, I did give you a local anaesthetic. I don't believe it hurt at all."
"Now what are you going to do with me?"
She had placed a dressing over the hole in his middle and zipped up his overall. She hadn't noticed the loosened cuff on his left wrist. What he really needed was a couple of minutes to himself so that he could get off the table. He was trying to stall her for time.
"I'll send you back to your room."
"Suppose I go back there and commit suicide."
She shrugged. "Feel free. I'll still take your cells for cloning, I'll just have one fewer incubators. It doesn't matter that much really. I have enough cells in this little sample I've taken to make several thousand clones, if worst came to worst I would just clone from a clone. It would take me a few years longer, but I'm a very patient person. The bottom line, though, is I don't believe you would commit suicide. Someone in your position must love life a great deal, and I think you'll go on hoping for rescue as long as there is breath in your body.
"And as long as I have the transmitter in my tooth."
She frowned at him, "I don't believe you."
"You can believe whatever you like, but you don't honestly think I'm not being traced do you?"
"We understood there were tracers in your clothes. That's why we got rid of them."
"Well that's the thing about clothing, it can always be removed easily. It takes a little more skill to remove a tooth."
"Skills which you know I possess."
Illya shrugged. "You can take it out if you want to. U.N.C.L.E. will have me tracked by now. The corridors are probably crawling with agents."
"You're bluffing," she said.
He shrugged again. "I'm not about to interfere with your personal beliefs."
"Then why are you telling me this."
"Oh, who knows, Dr Partridge, maybe you're a really good dentist. You know how hard they are to find."
"Which tooth then?"
"They never told me."
"I have an xray machine."
"I don't doubt that you have every piece of medical equipment Thrush could provide."
She left the room, presumably to get her xray machine, and Illya slipped his hand from its cuff. He only had seconds to work with. He twisted his left arm, now able to move it upward through the elbow cuff. He pulled his left arm completely free of the cuff and rolled over to undo the cuffs on his right arm. There was a sudden noise from outside the door. Illya had nowhere to go, he simply sat on the table trying to free his right arm as the door opened and a small blonde man stepped in. The man smiled at him and opened his mouth as if he was about to say something when Illya heard the muted cough of a Thrush anaesthetic pistol. The man looked slightly dazed and began to sink to the floor.
Outside there was a loud thump and then another young man, this one with dark hair, stepped around the door. The blonde man roused himself slightly. "Two guards?" he said to the other man, and then fell to the floor unconscious.
"Two guards," agreed the dark haired man. "Detail, Misha. Detail."
"I thought you were a bluff," said Illya.
"Hamilton Solo and Misha Gordon, at your service."
The inner door opened and Victoria Partridge stepped through, wheeling a portable xray machine. She took in the sight of Illya sitting up when he should have been lying down, and the stranger in the room, and she turned and ran back the way she had come.
"Don't lose her!" Illya snapped.
Hamilton took off after Partridge, following her down a maze of twisting corridors through doors that closed quitely in his face.
Illya removed the rest of the cuffs and climbed off the table. There was a numb patch above his navel where he'd been given the anaesthetic. It wasn't going to bother him for a while. He bent down over Misha and checked his pulse. The younger man was anaesthetised and there was no telling how long he would be unconscious. Illya plucked the dart from Misha's neck and then caught him up in a fireman's carry and headed out the door the way Misha and Hamilton had entered. Napoleon, Peggy and Vicki were coming towards him.
"She has more captives in a lower basement," Illya said without preamble. He dumped Misha at the women's feet. "Here, you take care of him. He'll be all right, it'll just be a while till he comes around. Come on, Napoleon." He led the way back down the corridors where Hamilton had followed Victoria Partridge.
"No wolves or crossbows on tripwires?" asked Napoleon.
"I think Doctor Partridge considers herself above such unsubtle deterrents," said Illya. He peered cautiously around a corner and jumped back in time to dodge a bullet from one of the Thrush guards.
"You mean she prefers to just kill people and have done with it?"
"Not even that. She considers killing a waste. Apparently even men are capable of bearing children under the Partridge scheme for world domination."
The guard came barrelling carelessly around the corner and Napoleon flipped him, almost casually, bouncing him off the wall on the far side of the hall, where he lay very still. "Interesting. By the way, Illya, were you properly introduced to the gentleman you were carrying about?"
"No. I assume he's one of the new breed of U.N.C.L.E. agents Mr Kovac was referring to."
"That's a very co-incidental choice of words."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you remember Michelle Gordon?"
Illya was silent for a very long time, so that eventually Napoleon found it necessary to prompt him. "There was an affair in England, oh, about..."
"I remember," the Russian snapped.
"Apparently he's your son."
Illya was silent again. "What's his name?" he asked eventually.
"Misha. Misha Ilyich Gordon. Illya, do you mind me asking a personal question?"
"Probably, but that's never stopped you before."
"How many children do you have?"
"Up until two days ago I didn't think I had any. As far as I know, two. Is it absolutely certain that he...Misha is...?"
"Well, he seems sure enough. Apparently he's been looking for you for quite some time."
"I'm a spy, Napoleon, I'm supposed to be hard to find."
"Well you certainly like to leave your calling card."
Illya looked slightly exasperated. "Twice," he said. "Two times when something actually happened. I mean, how many times did you...?"
Napoleon looked scandalised by the question, "Illya, a gentleman would never tell."
They had reached the lowest region of the underground passages. There was a single sturdy looking door before them. Napoleon reached to test it, but it slipped open before his hand. They stood in the doorway of a large laboratory that looked as if it had come straight out of Brave New World.
Down both sides of the room were beds, each one containing the still form of a person, each covered in a light cotton blanket. The beds were high tech, designed for people who could not move, and needed to be constantly rearranged in order to avoid bedsores. There were monitors on each of the still forms, and each trace on each monitor was flat.
"They're all dead," said a voice from the far side of the room.
Hamilton was standing guard over a computer terminal, holding his gun steady on Victoria Partridge. "She killed them before I could get to her," he said angrily. From across the room they could hear the click of his gun as he pulled back on the trigger warningly. "I'd really like to do this," he said.
"Don't fall prey to temptation," said Illya. "We have a good many questions that need answering and only Doctor Partridge can answer them."
"What makes you think I'd answer any of your questions?" snapped Partridge.
"We have...methods," said Illya.
"Something a little more subtle than a poison tooth, I trust," she said.
"More fun, anyway," shrugged Illya.
"I prefer to do things my own way," she said. "And I think your poison tooth routine was a cheap trick, Mr Kuryakin. Your lack of breeding and refinement was evident."
As she spoke, one of the dead patients suddenly exploded. A great cloud of smoke filled the room and fire alarms began screaming. The agents were thrown to the floor and temporarily blinded by the explosion, and by the time the dust settled enough for them to regain their bearings, the room was well and truly alight, and there was no sign of Victoria Partridge. Hamilton scrambled to his feet first, Illya last, clutching at his middle.
"Are you all right?" Napoleon asked him.
Illya nodded, "Yes. Apparently, though, Doctor Partridge uses Thrush's home brand of local anasethetic. Is there any sign of her?"
"None," said Napoleon. "And I really think we should be getting out of here. It looks as if Thrush didn't bother to install fire extinguishers down here."
"I don't think it was an oversight," said Illya. "More likely it was done like this as a part of a fail safe device. I suggest we take the nearest exit."
Hamilton turned back to the computer he had been guarding from Partridge. "If I just had five minutes I'm sure I could..."
"I'm sure you could too," said Illya. "But this room was designed to not be taken prisoner, and besides, the computer's lost power. Come on. We really need to get out of here."
Peggy and Vicki had almost made it to the exit with Misha draped between them by the time the other agents caught up with them. "It looks as if Agent Carter must have been drumming up some re-enforcements," said Peggy happily as they found their way to the front doors and out onto the lawn.
Thrush guards were standing about, unarmed, being covered by police. Terri Carter was there, too, apparently in charge of the operation. She walked over to Napoleon.
"Partridge?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. I was hoping you'd caught her."
He sighed. "She must have had an alternative escape route from the underground laboratory." He looked back at the building which was now being consumed by flame. "I was going to suggest sending some people in, but I think we're going to have to leave it till morning, by which time I'm afraid Partridge will have well and truly flown the coop."
Carter nodded at Gordon. "Does he need an ambulance?"
He stirred slightly and raised his head, fixing Illya with an unfocused gaze. "I've got a sister," he slurred happily before slumping back again.
"Thrush must be spiking their knockout darts with joy juice," said Hamilton as he manhandled Misha towards a car Carter had indicated. "I've never seen him looking so happy."
Victoria Goode didn't think she'd ever been so happy, either. It was Christmas, and suddenly things seemed to have fallen into place. She'd been offered a job. It wasn't vast or prestigious, but it was permanant, and there was plenty of scope for advancement. Apparently U.N.C.L.E. had connections and her father had pulled strings.
She sat in Lee's sunny front room and gazed at her friend's children playing with their new toys under the Christmas tree. She had showed Lee her new earrings, the Christmas present from her father. The package had arrived only days before. It contained a pair of pink and yellow gold earrings and a card with a brief note. The earrings had belonged to her great grandmother and had been in Illya's keeping since he left Russia. He expressed a wish to see her at Christmas, though admitted it would probably not be possible. He had obviously had some trouble signing it off. He had begun by writing his name, and then crossed it out. The words "your father" had also been crossed out. Eventually he had written "love, Dad" and that was probably the greatest gift. He had given Misha a gold wedding band, also a family heirloom.
Misha had sent flowers which had arrived Christmas eve. Vicki had gazed fondly at them as she left her flat Christmas morning to go to Lee's place. Misha's card had also said he would try to get to see her, but she didn't expect any visits. Just knowing she had family was enough.
It was just as Lee's husband was serving up the turkey that Vicki's cellular phone rang.
"Misha. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you, too. I'm sorry we couldn't get across to see you."
"Well it's lovely to hear from you. Where are you?"
She heard something in the background that might have been gunshots. "What was that?"
"Just...uh, business. I'm sorry I can't put Dad on, but he's kind of tied up at the moment. He sends his love, anyway."
"Well give him mine. And to you too."
There was more gunshot sound, and then shouting. Lee thought she heard Hamilton's voice. Then the call was cut off. Vicki put the phone down and fiddled with her earring, somehow feeling enfolded into the family. Despite the dire sound of the situation they had been in, she felt that they would be all right. Vicki was part of a family now, and she had an U.N.C.L.E. who cared.