Kiev's airport boasted visibly of progress. Her runways were dominated by Aeroflot's short-range YAK40 jets, which were overshadowed only rarely by the larger, international TU-104s. It was, however, from one of the latter that Illya Kuryakin stepped, nearly lost in the small sea of dark-suited diplomats, aides, ambassadors and American embassy personnel. He walked slightly apart from the rest, though once inside the terminal he was obliged to line up with them beneath the glass-plated airline posters touting A3POPAOT in the Cyrillic alphabet, to endure the frustration of filling out many pages of detailed literature and currency declaration forms.
They had been shown, Illya noted, to a segregated waiting room specifically designed to detain foreigners -- a rule from which even dignitaries were not exempt. The irony of that brought the ghost of a smile to his lips. For on this particular occasion, he was a foreigner: an ambassadorial secretary named Eric Preston, allegedly from San Francisco, ostensibly here to attach himself to the staff of the American embassy. But in another sense, he felt even more "foreign" to this place. Once, long ago, Kiev had been home to him. But it was a home he had not set eyes on in twenty-two years.
Surprisingly, the city appeared to have changed very little. He was, at the moment, watching it pass by from the back seat of an aging black Volga, pleased that he'd succeeded in delaying with the currency forms long enough to secure a private taxi. In auto -scarce Russia, that was no small feat, but he had not wanted to share his first views of the 1983 Kiev with a collection of garrulous diplomats.
The driver of his taxi, unfortunately, seemed eager to fill that particular void. He'd maintained a running commentary on every possible point of interest from the moment they'd left the airport. Illya tuned the travelogue out, reflecting that this journey had been rife with ironies. The driver himself was another. He had no way to know that his "American" passenger was in reality a native son with knowledge of Kiev's impressive history more than equal to his own.
Illya lost himself in memories, watching long-forgotten landmarks pass, and was shaken from his reverie only when the Volga pulled to a brief stop before the iron gateway of the Paton Bridge. His self-appointed tour guide was cheerily relating the apocryphal tale that the Paton had been the world's first complete welded bridge. Illya half-listened as the car crossed over, intent upon the sprawling coal barges that drifted on the surface of the Dnieper below. This, too, was unaltered, exactly as he remembered it. The river was dotted with the same unwieldy, floating leviathans that had for more than two centuries carried coal from the Donets Basin in the north down to Kiev. They would, he supposed, likely go on that way for at least two centuries more.
The Volga turned, some time later, onto the Kreshchatik, the "Broadway" of central Kiev, and Illya was reminded yet again of how little a city untouched by the roaring "progress" of capitalism was subject to change. It was as green as he remembered It -- the buildings all but hidden by trees on every side. And the streets the people, the automobiles; they might all have been part of some 1961 scenario, for all they were essentially the same. Kiev was the same.
"Moscow is the heart of Russia," said the tsarist era proverb. "St. Petersburg, its head. But Kiev is its mother."
The shouts and cries of children drifted through the Volga's open window; they had paused at a traffic stop near the athletic field of a school. For the first time, Illya interrupted the talkative driver's monologue and asked that he stop here for a moment. The driver looked pleased, having just explained how the vastly superior disciplines of the Soviet school system could best prepare young minds for future service to their country. Pulling over, he resumed that very line of reasoning, only to notice, for once, that his passenger was not paying attention. Insulted, he fell silent.
Illya did not notice. He was watching something he had only heretofore read about in newspapers: a squadron of uniformed children armed with unloaded (he hoped) AK-47 automatic rifles, performing surprisingly sophisticated military maneuvers on the athletic field. Most of them were no more than ten years of age, and there were nearly as many young girls as boys, but each wore the grim, unchildish face of the soldier, and each had performed the obstacle-course-style drill with flawless, automaton accuracy. They went on to what might, under other circumstances, have appeared to be no more than an innocent ball-pitching sport. The "balls," however, were canisters with handles. Dummies (Illya hoped again) modeled all-too-clearly after World War I-style hand grenades. The newspapers had detailed these grade-school wargames as part of a program instituted by Breshnev in 1967. They were called the zarnitsa, named for the summer thunder. The journalistic accounts, however, had been nowhere near as chilling as this. Here, finally, was a Russia Illya had not known. The quotation of an author whose name he'd forgotten ran through his head.
"From the cradle, Russia's children will protect her."
The taxi driver, having finally mustered the good sense to become suspicious, asked warily, "Why does this disturb you?"
Illya, though he pretended to be, was not ignorant of the accusatory nature of the question. "It's sort of unusual, isn' it?" he asked in his carefully-nurtured American accent. It might have been wasted on the cabbie -- his English was good, but he was perhaps, like many school-trained tourist guides, somewhat deaf to inflection.
"Not unusual, " he was saying. "Mandatory for all youth. It is the zarnitsa; the training. In this way is Russia always ready."
Illya resisted the temptation to ask 'ready for what?' "Mm," he said instead. "And what is that they're throwing?"
The granati? Ah -- grenades, you call them. Only these are, of course, not real. They are made of wood or sometimes rubber. This throwing and learning to throw granati is with youth a national sport."
Here, Illya thought, was the perfect opening into which he could lob a grenade of his own. He was, after all, here for a purpose, part of which was to make himself as conspicuous as possible. "You mean, he asked, "that they make a national sport out of practicing to invade other countries? Like Poland?"
In the rear-view mirror, the driver's face fell like a batch of sinking bread dough. For the first time in their short acquaintance, he appeared to have nothing at all to say. But he did ram the Volga into gear so roughly that his impertinent fare was nearly thrown into the front seat.
"What's the matter?" Illya persisted, deliberately boorish. "You touchy about Poland, are you?"
The driver eyed him warily in the mirror and said nothing. The Volga cruised in silence on down the Kreshchatik.
Not content to let it end there,
Illya tried one more time. "How can you deny," he pressed, "that what your government has done in Poland is both repressive and immoral? That they many well invade it?"
The driver's face was impossible to read, but he made a fist of his hand on the steering wheel and muttered a terse phrase in Russian. He didn't know, of course, that his passenger had understood him.
"Byila nasha, budet nasha," he had said. "It was and will be ours."
Satisfied that his portrayal of the clumsy-mouthed American had accomplished
its intended purpose, Illya leaned back in the Volga's cushioned seat and
enjoyed the dividend of reminiscing in peace for the remainder of the drive.
When they pulled up to the hotel, the driver jerked open his own door and got out, making no effort to open the rear door for his most undiplomatic rider. He moved taciturnly to the boot of the car to remove the luggage while Illya let himself out. After his two suitcases had been placed on the sidewalk, he paid the taxi fare, careful to look properly confused by the newly-acquired currency. He purposely added a tip to the amount. Instead of the objection he'd expected, however, the impropriety garnered only a scowl and the gruff dismissal of "good day" as the driver closed his hand over the extra rubles and hurried back to his waiting cab.
When the Volga had gone, Illya made a pretense of searching for something in a pocket while he scanned the street, searching for the KGB observer he knew would be there. All foreigners were routinely watched in the USSR -- it constituted one of the KGB's most fundamental domestic functions. That blue-suited window shopper across the street, Illya decided, was the most likely candidate. He waited until his prolonged loitering had caught the man's eye, then snapped him a brisk American-style salute. The blue-suit turned abruptly away, confirming his hypothesis.
"That," said Illya to himself, "is enough being conspicuous for now." He picked up his luggage.
The hotel, one of the few in Kiev (for even this city of two million was granted few visitors, domestic or foreign) bore the interesting name Sblizhenie. Perhaps a concession to detente? The word meant "drawing together," and considering the "recreational activities" generally practiced in American hotels, Illya wondered idly if Napoleon Solo would have found a lewd pun in the Sblizhenie's name.
Speaking of whom ... Solo ought to be here by now.
Illya checked in, bought a copy of Altayskaya Pravda from the desk (that ought to make them curious -- an American buying Pravda) and carried his own luggage up the elevator to the third floor.
Inside the hotel room, he found Napoleon Solo sitting at the writing desk poring over a third-level primer of Russiin grammar.
"Dobraya utra," he said as Illya closed the door. And then in English, "I was beginning to think you'd never arrive."
Illya didn't bother asking how Solo, whom he was not supposed to know, had determined which room he would be given. Even in Russia, hotel desk clerks were not particularly careful about who got a look at reservation files.
"We took the scenic route," he replied, and deposited his suitcases in the closet. "How go the Russian lessons?"
With a wordless scowl, Solo snapped the primer shut.
"'That badly, eh?"
"Did anyone ever tell you yours is a terribly difficult language?"
"Not nearly so difficult as the illogical vagaries of English. Take my word for it."
Solo did, but unwilling to dwell on his personal lack of linguistic aptitude, changed the subject. "Did you learn anything interesting on your way in?"
Illya's eyes automatically swept the room. Solo tapped the cigarette case beside him on the desk and said, "It's clean. I already used the scanner. Guess your friends in the KGB just aren't suspicious enough yet to listen in on you."
"No? Wait until they've heard from our friendly neighborhood taxi driver. This place will acquire more bugs than a mattress with tics." Illya sat down. "Our supposedly unimpeachable sources indicate the KGB still has no idea the West is even aware of vishnevka. As long as that is true, we have the advantage."
"Did your sources ever identify the medium? There's a hell of a difference between a gas and an air-borne bacillus."
"That depends on your point of view. When it's dropped on you from a low-flying plane, you're just as dead either way. But U.N.C.L.E. believes vishnevka to be a mutant strain of bacillus, probably discovered accidentally and definitely not reproducible -- at least not yet. According to the report, the only existing sample is locked in a subterranean laboratory freezer under KGB headquarters here in Kiev."
"And you, I take it, had the misfortune to be the only known operative familiar with the building."
"My familiarity is twenty-two years out of date. Security systems can change a great deal in that amount of time."
"Yes, well, that's where I come in. By the time you get to it, the lab's security cameras should be suitably malfunctioning. How do you destroy the bacillus once you do reach it?"
"It's supposed to be heat sensitive. At least to anything over 80 degrees centigrade. Should be simple enough. If I can't determine which culture is the right one, though, I may have to set fire to the entire laboratory."
Solo made a wry face. "Welcome to the new cold war,"' he said sarcastically, and pulled a wad of newly-exchanged ruble notes from his pocket. "I certainly hope the hotel restaurant here serves something reasonably palatable. I'm starving."
Illya never ceased to be amazed at his partner's ability to blithely change subjects from the grave to the mundane. "You'll forgive me if I don't join you, " he said, "but as I recall, we aren't supposed to know one another."
"Right. I'm Al Kinsey, by the way. Room 312, just down the hall. The rest of your diplomatic party is on this floor, too. They like to keep all us foreigners together." He picked up his primer, pocketed the cigarette case and started for the door. "Maybe I'll try the borsch. I always wondered what borsch tasted like."
"In your case, that might not be a very good idea."
"How's that again?"
"They have a saying here. 'Ukranian borsch is very bad for lovemaking, because when a man eats it, he goes to sleep.""
Solo considered that a moment, decided against a snappy comeback, then, cocking his fingers at Illya in a mock gun salute, checked the hall and slipped out the door.
"Somehow, " said Illya quietly to himself, "I had a feeling I would
regret getting back into this business."
The Sblizhenie's modest restaurant was uncrowded and smelled, not unpleasantly, of cooked onions and cucumbers. When Illya arrived, Solo was still there, ensconced at a back table with a cup of steaming coffee and the Russian primer. It was not, after all, uncommon for American diplomats in the USSR to study the language.
lllya took a table near the door, unconsciously reading the Cyrillic half of the menu on the wall. He ordered a medium-well steak, vegetable entree and vodka -- all in flawless Russian. Let them wonder, he mused. For the moment at least, he was through playing the uncouth American.
Some time later, the meal completed, he was enjoying an after dinner vodka when a shadow fell across his table. "Are you Comrade Preston?" said a voice.
Illya looked puzzled, not at the unfamiliar name of his alias, but because Russians so seldom addressed foreigners by the salutation 'comrade.' He looked up into the face of a thirty-ish young man wearing the KGB's standard dark blue suit. Uninvited, he took the opposing chair. "I am Andreo Kokchetav," he said, and Illya filed the name away for future reference, even though he knew it to be bogus. "I understand you are the secretary to a U.S. Ambassador. This is quite an important position, yes?"
Illya methodically finished his vodka before answering. "It is quite an important position, no. The secretary to an ambassador takes minutes, makes appointments and incessantly answers telephones. Is that information of vital import to the KGB?"
Kokchetav looked startled, then mildly amused. "How did you know I was KGB?"
"Actually I didn't," Illya lied. "Until now."
While Kokchetav was absorbing that implied insult, the waiter cleared away the dinner dishes and accepted Illya's three rubles in payment. When he had gone, the KGB agent eyed Illya with renewed interest and said, "You are a most interesting sort of diplomat, comrade Preston. Most diplomatic envoys are, shall we say, more discreet."
So the taxi driver had dutifully reported his Polish invasion remarks after all. Accommodating of him.
"I shall be totally frank, then, " Kokchetav was saying. "This is not a country accustomed to foreigners. Please endeavor to be somewhat more careful what you say, and to whom. What you think of as 'diplomatic immunity' has very little meaning here."
After a long moment, lllya said noncommitally, "Thank you. I'll try to remember that."
"Good." Kokchetav got up again. "A pleasant evening, Gospodin Preston."
Illya nodded, glancing at the back table as the KGB agent departed. Solo, who had been watching their brief exchange over the top of his book, wore a "what was that all about?" expression. Illya shrugged in answer. Neither of them, however, had missed the fact that Kokchetav's exit had been through the restaurant kitchen, where he would undoubtedly retrieve Illya's vodka glass, wrap it in linen and carry it home to the KGB.
In the event that a search of his room might be somewhere on the agenda as well, Illya spent a calculated 2 1/2 hours rereading The Brothers Karamazov (in the original Russian) in the hotel lobby. He closed the book at 3:20, nodded politely to the mystified desk clerk and took the stairs to the third floor, where he expected to find some subtle evidence that his room had been searched, or bugged, or both.
He had not expected a visitor, least of all one that he knew -- or had known, once.
"Illya, moy druk, dobri dyen." The voice was nervous, uncertain, almost tremulous. It belonged to a man named Torin Wilczek, or the ghost of him. More than 25 years ago, they had gone to school together. The uneasy, greying spectre in the hotel room hardly looked like the same man.
"Hello, Torin. To what, may I ask, do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?" He spoke in Russian, nonchalantly slipping his hotel key into his pocket at the same time and touching the transmit control on his communicator pen. He hoped that Solo's smattering of Russian would be sufficient to allow him to follow at least some of the conversation.
"I must speak with you," Wilczek said in a half-whisper, and motioned for Illya to be seated. "Please..."
With visible reservation, Illya nodded. "Shall we begin at the beginning, Torin? How did you know I was here?"
"I am the Sblizlienie's security officer. I saw you this afternoon at dinner and was not certain I should believe my eyes. I knew you had registered as Eric Preston. I had only to check your registration signature to be sure that it was you. The handwriting is the same as I remember. By the way..." He held out a hand containing an indeterminate number of dismantled electronic parts. "Did you know your hotel room had been wired for sound?"
Illya accepted the tiny pile of microcircuitry from Wilczek's hand. So, the KGB had been here after all. Or perhaps, he considered, Wilczek was the KGB. "I'm delighted to know you're so proficient at your job, Torin. I fail to see, however, what it has to do with me."
The nervous tremor returned to Wilczek's voice. "I do not know why you are here, Illya. But I do know you will go to the American Embassy with these diplomats tomorrow. I also know the KGB has developed a rather pressing interest in you. They took your fingerprints from a drinking glass in the restaurant today. By now they most surely know who you really are."
Illya considered feigning surprise, then decided against it. Torin had known him too well. "Thank you, " he said honestly, "but I already knew all of that. Did you have some particular point to make, or was this strictly a professional call?"
Wilczek looked genuinely offended. "You do an old friend an injustice, Illya. I merely came to warn you. And..."
When the hanging silence had finally become awkward, Illya prompted, "And?"
"...to ask for your help."
"My help? I'm afraid I don't understand. Of what help could I possibly be to you?"
"I wish to be taken to the American Embassy. Now. Tonight. If they will grant me political asylum, there is much I could tell them of the KGB. Did you know that I attended the Foreign Intelligence School outside Moscow? I was in training to become an Agent of Influence."
That Torin Wilczek, whose school grades had been nothing short of phenomenal, should aspire to join the KGB's elite corps of international propagandists somehow did not surprise Illya. "You did not complete the training?" he asked.
Wilczek shook his head. "I was forced to leave. You would perhaps call it 'political rivalry.' One who disliked my particular ambitions saw to it that I fell into disfavor. That was possibly my own fault for being so ambitious. But now I have committed an error far more serious. After hiding here safely for many weeks under an assumed name, I mentioned to one I thought to be a friend that I have thought of applying for an exit visa. My friend was no friend, it seems. The KGB will be looking for me soon. When they find me, Illya, they will kill me."
Illya, uncertain whether to believe any of this, struggled with the further uncertainty of what to say next. "Why come to me then?" he asked finally. "Particularly if you knew the KGB was watching me?"
Wolczek wove nervous fingers in and out between each other. "You are the only hope I have, " he said softly.
Illya debated a suitable answer, deciding at last that it would have to be the same in either case. "I cannot take you to the embassy tonight. I must find out first if what you ask is even possible. I will meet you, at 9:00 tonight, behind the Drezna bank on the Dikemda. I will tell you then if such asylum is feasible."
If Wilczek was disappointed, he gave no sign of it. He rose, caught Illya in a hardily thankful Slavic embrace, and silently took his leave.
The door of the room crept open again moments later to admit Napoleon Solo, still holding the communicator pen through which he'd been eavesdropping on their conversation. He also held the cigarette case scanner with its face open, though the needle was not registering.
"Did you get all of that?" Illya asked without looking up.
"Enough of it," Solo answered. "Do you believe him?"
"I don't know. It seems a bit of an elaborate charade for the KGB to bother with. They could walk in here and arrest me any time they pleased. Still, If they wanted to entrap me, to gain my confidence before all else, what better way to do it than by sending an old friend?"
"And if he's on the level, then what? We can't exactly afford to get involved."
"Then I'll send him to Braedon at the embassy and let the general handle things from there. Perhaps you'd do me the august honor of calling him, however. My telephone is undoubtedly a 'Party' line."
"Mm. And if he says no?"
Illya shrugged. "I regret to say that will be entirely Torin Wilczek's problem. I, unfortunately, have far more pressing concerns."
"I don't like this," Solo admitted. "'There are too many unknowns involved. Too many risks."
"Including one I find particularly unpleasant," Illya added. "If Wilczek is legitimate and I fail to lose our observers from the KGB when I meet him tonight, I could be leading him straight to his grave."
"Well, you've had some small amount of experience in 'losing' tails."
Illya scowled. "Unfortunately, the KGB are not so clumsy as our heavy-handed friends from Thrush."
Somehow, " said Solo, "I have the unhappy feeling you won't have to worry about it."
"Yes. The likelihood is greater that Wilczek works for the KGB. He might also work for the druzhinikis -- the volunteer police. Or for the GRU, or for any other agency in co-operation with the KGB. It hardly matters, really. They would all eventually lead us to the same end."
"One would hope. As long as the 'end' is KGB headquarters."
Illya pulled off his jacket and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. "Don't you have some phone calls to make?"
"I was just leaving."
By the time the door latch clicked, Illya was stretched out on the bed,
trying in vain to forget, for four hours, what had just occurred in this
room. If Wilczek's hoped-for defection was legitimate, it could severely
endanger his mission here as well as complicate U.N.C.L.E.'s role in the
affair, not to mention presenting one hell of a problem to the U.S. Embassy.
There was, he realized, yet another irony in this. He hoped Torin Wilczek
was a member of the KGB...
The two-tone squeal of the communicator pen woke him just after 8:00. Disoriented by a room that had not been in darkness when he'd fallen asleep, Illya groped for his discarded jacket, found it, and silenced the shrilling pen by upending its cap. "Kuryakin," he said sleepily, and squinted into blue moonlight that had flooded the hotel room.
"Dobraya noch," Solo's voice said cheerily. "You have an appointment in exactly 53 minutes, and General Braedon says he'll be happy to arrange a plane ride for Wilczek -- if he turns out to be for real."
"'That's comforting to know,"
"For Wilczek maybe. Not for us. This whole thing could turn out to be a lot more trouble than it's worth."
"Look on the bright side, Napoleon. It might also be a trap, in which case you can come calling for me at KGB headquarters in just a few hours."
"I'll look forward to it. Do svidania."
Solo signed off, but Illya remained there in the dark for a time, remembering
that he'd dreamt of Torin Wilczek as he had known him thirty years ago
-- a boyhood friend who had been part of a Russia where children's wargames,
granati and the zarnitsa were as yet unconceived...
Avoiding the hotel's assigned observer turned out to be easier than he'd expected. (Perhaps by design?) Illya walked deliberately in the wrong direction for a time, at once both pleased and perplexed to find no sign of pursuit or observation. The streets were remarkably clean and quiet. He'd forgotten how calm the night could be in Kiev. Now had this been New York, he mused, better than a dozen street hoodlums might have tried, by now, to interrupt his evening walk. But here... In a society that did not hesitate to send criminals up before firing squads, muggers tended to be scarce.
He came, circuitously, to the back of the Drezna bank building, where he found a jittery Wilczek pacing the asphalt.
"Ah! At last! What says your embassy, my friend?"
Illya never had a chance to answer. Something moved in the shadow of the building -- they both saw it in the same instant -- and Wilczek, panicking, bolted in the opposite direction. Instantly, six human figures materialized out of the darkness to go after him. Illya took one step, and felt the rigid muzzle of a revolver press itself against his ribs.
"No farther," a voice said tersely in Russian. "You are coming with us, Kuryakin."
Somewhere in the dimness ahead of them, Wilczek's pursuers had caught
up with their prey. While experienced hands searched Illya's clothing and
handcuffed his wrists behind him, he could distinguish the muffled sounds
of a struggle, followed closely by the sickening sound of a heavy object
striking human flesh, and silence.
The investigative office of Major Leon Zilovskoye was perhaps the most efficiently run of any in the KGB. Its division chief did not, however, appreciate being routed from a politically-influential cocktail party in order to question a prisoner.
Zilovskoye leafed through a multi-page report while the object of his consternation sat unresponsively in front of him. "This is most interesting, Mr. 'Preston,'" he said in English, then dropped, without preamble, into his native Russian. "Your fingerprints, it seems, belong to a defector named Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. How do you explain that?"
The only answer to his question was another question. "Where is Torin Wilczek?"
"Of what concern is he to you? A fellow traitor whom you hoped to smuggle out of Russia? Is that what you returned to Kiev for?" Expecting no answer, and receiving none, Zilovskoye slapped the file shut with a disgusted expression on his lined face. "I think you may be the first defector in history ever to smuggle himself back into the country he betrayed."
In truth, Illya Kuryakin's departure from the Motherland had, in the beginning, been a cooperative arrangement between U.N.C.L.E. and Soviet Naval Intelligence, to which he'd been attached at the time. Only in recent years had the KGB, in typical paranoid fashion, chosen to label him 'defector.'
Ignoring the rhetorical insult, Illya doggedly pursued his original course. "Torin Wilczek had nothing to do with my coming here. He was an innocent bystander who should not have been arrested."
"I will decide that." Silovskoye looked annoyed. "And I am not concerned with Wilczek. I want to know why you are here."
Illya, making a pretense of struggling with a decision, said calmly, "I have recently been privy to a great deal of classified information regarding U.S. -European arms distribution. It was my intention to sell this information to the KGB in return for reinstatement of my citizenship. I think, however, that the price has just risen."
"I see. Wilczek?"
Illya pointedly said nothing, and with well-concealed pleasure, watched the anger rise in Zilovskoye's reddened cheeks. He quelled it with visible effort.
"I do not bargain with traitors," he said flatly. "And I am capable of extracting anything of import you may know without paying you for the privilege. This is not the KGB of twenty years ago, my friend. If you thought that it was, you were mistaken. I have stukachi in every part of the world. Every part. Even New York City. They have already told me, for example, that you own a capitalist women's fashion establishment called 'Vanya's,' and that you work for this..." He reopened the file and read the words, "United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. By tomorrow they will also tell me why you were sent here. Or you will."
"I think," Illya countered, "that you know either of those events to be unlikely."
Zilovskoye, with an air of dismissal, rose from his chair. "In that case, we have ample room in our mental hospitals for one more ideological deviate who has failed to conform to the accepted thought patterns of Soviet society."
Summoned by some unseen signal, two expressionless agents in cloned blue suits marched into the office to stand, like twin stone lions on a library porch, on either side of the door.
Ignoring them, for the moment, Zilovskoye said, "I have pressing concerns elsewhere tonight. So tomorrow, we will speak again. For the interim, Kuryakin, kindly consider your alternatives. My indulgence, I promise you, is for this night only." He tucked the file under his arm and on the way out, crossed paths with the blue suits, who'd come to stand on either side of Illya's chair now. Just as stone-faced as they were, he rose and 'followed' silently between them out the office door.
Escorted down an ostensibly endless series of corridors, Illya made it a point to memorize each turn along the way, and counted the security cameras for good measure. Once, he had been fairly familiar with this building. Once, he had trained to become a part of this organization, just as Wilczek had trained near Moscow. The surroundings through which Illya now passed, however, bore little resemblance to the building he remembered. Some things in Kiev had changed after all.
So had some people. He wondered again what had happened to Torin Wilczek.
His uncommunicative guards deposited him not in a cell, as he'd expected, but in a modest apartment apparently designed to house resident operatives. When the escorts had gone, the door lock buzzed, electronically locking him in, and Illya was left beneath the watchful eye of yet another security camera. On giving the room a cursory examination, he came across three separate listening devices, a pitcher of ice water and a bookcase stocked primarily with electronics manuals and history texts, left, he supposed, by a previous occupant. There was nothing else of interest. This, he assumed, was what Zilovskoye had meant by "indulgence," and he had to admit, he found it preferable to a jail cell. In the last analysis, though, it hardly made a difference. He wasn't planning to stay long.
The next move would be Solo's, however, and it wasn't due to come for some time. Illya went back to the bookshelf, pulled out Sredne's History of the Bolshevik Revolution, and settled into a comfortable chair to read.
At 12:52 A.M. he got up, stretched for the camera, and moved into the
bathroom, which he noted contained no additional camera. Presumably, there
was little of a subversive nature one could accomplish in a bathroom. Well,
perhaps he could do something to correct that dire misconception. Silovskoye's
indulgence was going to make this much easier. Illya cranked the hot shower
faucet on full, leaned on the washstand and watched as clouds of steam
began to fill the windowless apartment...
The 24-hour digital clock on the Surveillance Officer's desk had just clicked onto 0100 when his telephone warbled. "What is wrong with your monitors?" a voice demanded when he answered the phone.
"Wrong?!" The wall in front of him was a sea of video monitors, all functioning perfectly. "Nothing is wrong."
"No? You must be mistaken. This is Djada Odinochka in Maintenance. I have just received a call from the head of division about a circuit malfunction."
"There is no malfunction. I am looking at the screens. They are fine."
"Please check your KR712 monitor."
The Surveillance Officer looked, and was astonished to find KR712 transmitting a blurred, murky picture. His board had no indicator light for camera malfunction; the maintenance man might therefore be correct. "Get up here," he ordered, and hung up the phone.
Djada Napoleon Solo Odinochka arrived a few moments later carrying a large tool chest and the fervent hope that the Surveillance Officer would not be in too conversational a mood. The maintenance chief, to whom he had just presented his forged work-transfer papers, had already quizzed him about his "peculiar" accent, and his confidence in his newly-acquired Russian fluency was rapidly eroding. With as little preamble as possible, he went immediately to work on the "broken" monitor.
Illya, meanwhile, was at work on a small maintenance problem of his own. The electronically-sealed door of the apartment had so far resisted two efforts to dislodge it with the miniature plastic explosives he'd concealed under artificial molar caps. The humidity level in the room might well have been contributing to the problem -- water condensed from the shower's steamy spray (it was still running) streamed in rivulets down the walls, keeping the lens of the security camera well-fogged. It also made Illya's shirt cling to him uncomfortably, and the explosive charges were useless. Sighing, he went back into the bathroom, turned off the tap, and on his way back out, tossed a bath towel over the water-beaded camera. Sitting on the edge of the bed, which was occupied now by a dozing pillow-and-blanket dummy, he carefully pulled the aglets from the ends of his shoe laces. These he positioned at critical points in the doorframe's juncture, snapping the tip of each as he placed it. One by one, they flared and burned, blackening the frame in four places.
The door gave a little when he tested it, though the metal was hot to the touch. Hurriedly, Illya positioned a chair beneath the camera, climbed to it and lifted the towel just far enough to breathe on the lens and re-fog it. He returned to the door with the towel in hand, rubbed the scorch marks from the frame as best he could, then slipped out- into the corridor.
Napoleon "Odinoclika" Solo, to the Surveillance Officer's consternation, had replaced the image on most of the monitor screens with color-bar test patterns. KR712, however, was clearing, its milky picture resolving into a reasonable likeness of a man asleep in bed.
"I should have it in a minute," Solo muttered from behind the monitor wall. He heard the officer grumble something, but didn't catch ft, lost as he was in a tangle of technology he only half understood. "Just a few more adjustments... Ah. All finished. Now the pattern will disappear in approximately five minutes. Then your system will be once more fully operational. Good night, comrade" He collected his tools, smiled cheerily, and took his leave.
In his wake, one of the color-bar patterns dissolved. Then another, and another. What replaced them, however, was not quite what the Surveillance Officer had anticipated. He squinted as the monitors resolved, rubbed both his eyes, then pulled a pair of glasses from the desk drawer, put them on, and squinted some more.
Solo, meanwhile, beat a hasty retreat down the corridor to the waiting elevator, wondering with a wry smile what the KGB's highly trained but obviously bored Surveillance Officer would think of his personally edited, videotaped "highlights" from Debbie Does Dallas.
Illya found the sub-level research laboratory with little difficulty, but was somewhat surprised that he'd reached it unaccosted. Whatever Solo had done to the security cameras had certainly put them safely out of commission...
His explosives arsenal already exhausted, he had to open the lab door with a lock pick that had been hidden under the artificial plastiskin of his forearm. "Someday," he thought to himself, "U.N.C.L.E. is going to run out of ingenious places to conceal things on my person..."
The first door admitted him to an airlock/safety chamber, the inner door of which was also locked. Fortunately, it yielded to his tampering as easily as the first.
The lab itself was brightly lit, but deserted. The KGB, presumably, had no qualms about wasting energy. He noticed the "freezer" at once -- a small walk-in chamber with double-paned glass windows, a miniature version of the glass-windowed lab with a checkerboard of shelves and tube racks inside. Its door was, of course, securely locked. That further obstacle defeated, Illya borrowed a lab coat from the wall pegs and a light-weight filtration mask from a nearby cabinet. Putting both on, he walked into the refrigeration unit.
Three separate racks of tightly-sealed beakers, each marked with proliferate warning signs, appeared to contain some sort of bacilli. Having no way to tell which one was vishnevka, he grouped all three together on a central wire shelf and went back to the outside cabinets to collect a bottle of methyl alcohol, sterile cotton, the largest beaker he could find, and a box of matches. Then, after stuffing the entire box of cotton into the beaker, he saturated it with the alcohol, placed it immediately under the questionable beakers, and ignited the cotton. For good measure, he turned off the refrigeration controls on his way back out the freezer door.
He'd barely closed it and removed the gas mask when he heard the faint sound of a footfall and turned to confront, for the second time in one day, a ghost. This time, however, it held a standard-issue KGB revolver in its hand.
"Hello, Torin. I was afraid my carelessness earlier this evening might have gotten you killed. I suppose I should have known better."
Wilczek.'s expression was convincingly agonized. "I swear to you, Illya, that everything I told you in your hotel room was true. The only lie I had to tell was that the KGB intended to kill me. That was included to gain your confidence. You see, delivering you and your purpose here were the price of my reinstatement. Tonight I was to have broken into your apartment room to convince you of my sincerity by aiding your escape. I arrived, however, to find you had already departed. Most agents would conclude at that point that you had left the building. But I had to assume you had not. I know you too well, my friend. I know you baited us to bring you here for some specific purpose. I want to know what that purpose is."
"You're already too late," Illya told him. "What I came here to do is finished." He nodded at the gun. "There's nothing more you can accomplish with that, unless killing me is also a requirement for your reinstatement."
Reddening, Wilczek motioned him away from the freezer door. Illya complied, but moved hastily back when he realized Wilczek's intention to open the door. Abruptly, the gun came into line with his solar plexus.
"Freezer doors have good reason to be sealed, " he said cautiously. "Open this one, and it will very likely be the last thing you ever do." When Wilczek still looked on the verge of going into the unit, Illya was forced to be specific. "By now this freezer is flooded with air-borne bacilli in the process of dying. Open that door, and you and I will be joining them."
Disbelief clouded Wilczek's eyes. He could see, through the double-paned glass of the door, what looked like a perfectly normal collection of shelved beakers and test tubes. What he didn't see were the all-but-invisible alcohol flames rising from the oversized beaker, nor the small beads of defrosting moisture the heat was causing to form on the inner wall of glass. These were things Illya had noticed, however, and he fidgeted with the filter mask in his hand, hoping the refrigeration seals were air tight and that the unit's self-contained ventilation system was sufficiently isolated from the outer lab. The longer either of them stood here, the greater the risk of contamination became.
Better to settle for a calculated gamble, he decided. He walked deliberately away from Torin's gun, toward the laboratory door and relative safety, slipping the filter mask back on as he walked. He would force Wilczek either to shoot him or come after him, though he had no noble misconceptions about preferring the latter.
"Enough of your games," Wllczek shouted. "I want to know what you've done!"
Illya heard the revolver's hammer click back, an unnecessary but effectively intimidating action. He did not stop walking.
A prolonged moment later, Wilczek growled an oath and, unexpectedly, rushed at him in a football-style tackle that toppled them both to the floor. They rolled together, and ended up face to face with the cocked revolver locked in four hands between them. Wilczek fought with a strength that belied his wearied appearance; it was all Illya could do to force his hands -- and the weapon -- away. They turned over twice more. Then, with a flash explosion that seared the front of Illya's lab coat, the gun discharged. Dazed, he involuntarily released his grip. Wilczek wrenched the weapon away and brought it straight back into line with Illya's face and the filter mask, which had somehow stayed in place through their struggle. Illya watched his old friend's indecision melt quickly into cold resolve. Wilczek's index finger closed over the trigger, began slowly to squeeze it back... and something odd happened. Wilczek's face went suddenly grey. He gasped. The gun fell from a hand that had become beaded with perspiration. With a short, strangled cry, he folded forward onto the polished linoleum and lay still.
For a few fleeting seconds, Illya was baffled. Had Wilczek been hit when the gun had gone off? Impossible. There wasn't a mark on him...
With sickening realization, Illya looked up at the refrigeration chamber and found the immediate answer to the mystery. Both panes of the double window had been neatly pierced by the wild bullet, leaving twin spider patterns in the glass. Whatever traces of the vishnevka bacillus -- and any others -- had not yet perished inside the compartment had escaped now into the outer lab.
His first inane impulse was to rush for another mask to protect Wilczek. But it was too late for that. It had been too late the moment the glass had shattered. When he turned Torin over to check for a pulse, he could not find one.
Every trace of the bacillus must be destroyed, Sir John had told him at the briefing in New York. If that means burning down a building, Mr. Kuryakin, then burn down a building. But be certain the bacillus is completely eradicated.
Illya moved almost without thought to the cabinet containing the alcohol supply. One by one, he tossed the various bottles into corners of the lab, shattering each of them in turn. Something else Sir John had said made him quicken his pace toward the door. Reports indicate that even with breathing protection, prolonged contact with air contaminated with this strain may be as lethal as inhaling the bacillus directlv.
His head began throbbing even as the thought occurred to him: was that imaginary? Or already an early symptom? How long was "prolonged" contact? He opened the airlock passage, took the box of matches from the pocket of his coat, and striking several sticks at once, tossed them quickly into the remnants of the nearest broken bottle. He tried not to look at Torin Wilczek's body on the floor. Better to leave him there. No one else could touch him, anyway. If the bacillus was communicable by contact with an infected individual...
Don't pursue that thought. It may not be true. Our information was far from complete.
He'd barely had time to close the door and attach the miniature oxygen unit to the filter's breathing apparatus when the first wave of nausea hit him. Prolonged contact may be just as lethal as breathing the actual bacillus... Prolonged contact...
Head reeling, he fought to correctly manipulate the digital control that would replace the air supply in the passageway. While the LED timer clicked off seconds, he stripped off the lab coat and concentrated on drawing regular, even breaths through the suddenly constricted air filter.
9... said the timer. 8 .. 7 ... 6...
The numbers kept blurring together.
Napoleon Solo strolled through Maintenance Engineering, fascinated with a bank of computer-regulated cassette tape units that discouraged outside eavesdroppers by continually piping electronic noise through every wall in the KGB building. They were nothing, he mused, if not universally paranoid around here.
On the heels of his thought, the building's fire alarm sounded, an ear-splitting, strident horn that sent everything around him into instant chaos. Men and women emerged from cubbyholes and wall cubicles, pouring into the corridors in a not-altogether-orderly rush for the fire exits. Solo moved against the flow, found the central stairwell and went down two flights to the bottom level. He and Illya had not been scheduled to rendezvous for another fifteen minutes. But if something had gone wrong...
The lower level was as tumultuous with fleeing personnel as the one he'd just left, all of them heading for the exits at either end of the lengthy corridor.
Where was Illya?
Solo went left down the hall at a dead run, past one glass-walled lab after another. Which one...? He'd nearly hit the end of the hall before he found it -- as well as the source of the alarm. The room was in flames, but like some netherworldly Disneyland ride, it was all contained behind the glass -- the laboratory's sealing system had not yet given way to the heat nor released any smoke into the corridor. Something out of place amidst the self-contained inferno brought Solo up short to stare through the glass in horror. A body -- or what remained of one -- was ablaze on the melting linoleum floor. Impossible now to tell who It had been. But the pit of Solo's stomach wanted to believe the worst, because the worst was also the most probable. He found himself pressed to the rapidly-heating glass, unwilling to move even when a second alarm added its clanging to the din of the first and the shouts of an approaching fire squadron echoed down the stairwell.
Someone's hand gripped his shoulder.
"Illya -- "
He spun to face a bearded, greying man in a soiled lab coat. "Come away," he was saying in Russian. "The glass will break soon. We must get outside. Come -- hurry!" He pulled Solo away from the window and off toward the exit just as a small army of firefighters burst out of the stairwell and clamored past them to the wall-mounted fire hoses.
Solo caught the other man's sleeve. "There were deadly air-borne cultures in that laboratory," he said in halting Russian, forced to shout over the alarms. "If they break the glass..."
The man looked at him oddly. "Come," he urged. "There is nothing alive in there now."
They climbed the stairs, emerging into cold night air that was remarkably quiet in contrast to the shrilling alarms inside. The evacuees huddled together in ragged clusters, watching more of the fire unit storm the stairwells with still more equipment. The sirens of other emergency vehicles warbled in the distance, approaching the building.
Unlike all the others, Solo did not stop to watch, but kept on walking, losing the bearded man in the lab coat to the crowd.
He hadn't moved much beyond the circle of onlookers when something -- some one -- in the shadow of the neighboring building caught his eye. It was the figure of a blond man, slight-of-build, coatless, and clinging to the bricks in the wall as though something were very wrong...
"Illya!" Solo started forward only to halt again in confusion when the figure stiffened, pushed away from the wall and ran from him into the alleyway behind the buildings.
Solo hesitated, puzzled. What was this? Had he been seeing things? No... That was Illya. He was sure of it. Still mystified, he started into the alley.
"You there! What are you doing?"
Solo wheeled, coming face to Adam's apple with a hulking uniformed security policeman.
"Nothing," he said, and realizing he'd answered in English, coughed and hastily amended it to Russian. "Nothing at all, sir. You see, my friend and I were nearby when we heard the alarm and we--"
"Friend? What friend?"
"Uh..." Solo nodded to the alley. "He's in there. He's ill, I think.
Too much vodka with dinner..."
Grunting noncommitally, the policeman stepped toward the mouth of the alley. Solo came after him with the treated needle of a steep-dart extruded from the ring on his finger. It caught the hulk square behind the ear, and he went down like the proverbial ton of bricks, without so much as a whimper. Solo relieved him of his automatic weapon and gave him a mock salute. "Prosipat," he said, and hurried into the alley.
It was one long, unlighted passageway with no visible exit for more than a block. No visible human occupants, either. Solo ran, aware of a heart pulse in his ears and of the rhythmic crunch of his shoes on the gravel ed pavement. The exit loomed, shot overhead, dropped him abruptly into an alley twinning the last one, except that it was even darker. He stopped, pulled a penlight rom the pocket of his coat and went on. The light was weak, but would keep him from falling over anything in the dark.
Halfway down the passageway, the penlight's beam skipped across something on the ground. A figure, lying prone...
When he knelt to turn it over, he was surprised to meet with active resistance.
"No. Get away..." The words were in Russian. "Leave me."
"Illya, it's me." Solo maneuvered him to a sitting position, but was once more met with weak protest.
"Leave me," he said again, this time in English. "Don't you understand? "The vishnevka bacillus... transmittable..."
With a sudden, tangible horror, Solo did understand. "What happened?" he demanded. "Who was that an the floor of the lab?"
Illya was panting like someone who had just run a marathon. "Wilczek," he breathed. "..exposed himself... the strain."
"And you touched Wilczek."
"May be that... maybe exposure to air...even with a mask..."
Solo had been about to say that he didn't follow that when voices echoed from the far end of the opposite alley where he'd left the slumbering police officer. Feet began grinding the gravel, running toward them.
With an effort, Solo pulled Illya to his feet. "Come on. We're getting out of here."
None-too-steadily, Illya moved with him out of the alley's shadows onto the dimly-lit street. They'd turned only two corners before meeting up with an elderly man in a night watchman's uniform who'd just finished locking the front door of a nondescript little shop. He eyed Illya suspiciously, then spoke to Solo.
"Your friend has had too much to drink," he scolded. "You'd best get him off the street."
Solo, half-supporting his companion, saw an opportunity. "Perhaps you'd permit us the use of a telephone? I don't think he'll make it all the way home."
Withering disapproval further wrinkled the old man's face. "That is against regulations."
Desperation drove Solo's free hand into his pocket. Pulling out the wad of ruble notes, he pressed all of it into the man's hand. "One phone call," he pleaded. "How much can that cost?"
Indecision narrowed the steel grey eyes, giving way to acquiescence only when Solo managed a half-hearted smile and said, "Please. I must call for a taxi. His wife is going to be furious enough to kill us both!"
Were there footsteps coming from somewhere around the corner? Solo fidgeted as the old man pocketed the money, turning with painstaking slowness to unlock the door again. "Why should you worry?" he muttered as he pushed it open and shuffled inside. "She is not your wife too, is she?"
Solo guided Illya through the door into the darkened shop and sat him down against the nearest wall. They'd passed tables and chairs crowded onto the narrow floor space, the earmarks of a cafe? Solo stood up in time to see the watchman reaching for the light switch.
"Don't turn them on." He tried to put authority behind the words, was dubious that he'd succeeded until the old man hesitated, glaring at him in the greenish light that filtered through the drawn shades from the street.
"Of course I will turn them on," he argued. "You cannot make telephone calls in the dark."
"He reached once more for the switch, but Solo discouraged him this time with the automatic he'd borrowed from the policeman in the alley. "I'm sorry, " he said earnestly. "I don't intend to harm you, but I have very little time. Now sit down over there and be quiet."
The apprehensive night watchman silently took a chair not far from Illya, whom he watched now with renewed suspicion. Timidly, he asked, "If he is not drunk, then what is wrong with him? Has he been shot? Are you running from the police?"
Solo didn't answer. He'd lain the automatic down on the counter within easy reach and was adjusting the top of his transceiver pen. "Open emergency channel W, " he said into the static. "And scramble."
The old man's stare said he didn't often encounter maniacs who talked to their fountain pens. Solo had seen the look a thousand times before. The night watchman started, however, when the pen answered back.
"Braedon," it said gruffly.
"Napoleon Solo here, General. I'm going to need an emergency pickup with an isolation unit as soon as possible."
"Yes sir. We're in a small cafe a few blocks from the KGB building. I don't know the address."
"Leave the channel open," Braedon's voice faded to become faintly audible giving orders in the background. The baffled expression on the night watchman's face, meanwhile, told Solo he did not understand English. Well that, at least, would uncomplicate things... somewhat.
"I'm dispatching a unit, " Braedon's voice said, "which will home in on your transceiver signal. They've been instructed to approach the back entrance, and should arrive inside of ten minutes."
"Thank you sir. We'll be ready."
"And Mr. Solo--"
"I'd like a preliminary report, if you can make one. Exactly what went wrong?"
"I'm not exactly sure," Solo admitted. "I gather someone interfered with Mr. Kuryakin's efforts to destroy the bacillus."
"But was it destroyed?"
"Yes sir. Except..." He looked at Illya, who, still breathing raggedly, had curled into a fetal position in the corner.
"Please take all possible caution, Mr. Solo," Braedon warned. "We are not all that familiar with this strain. Contact with an infected person might very well be fatal."
It was, Solo nearly said, a little late to tell him that now. "I'll keep that in mind, sir. Leaving channel W open."
Braedon signed off, and Solo was returning the uncapped pen to his pocket when he heard Illya cough. He looked up. The elderly night watchman had gone to Illya, was about to reach for his wrist to take a pulse... Solo headed him off by snagging the sleeve of his jacket and pulling him back.
"Don't -- " he nearly shouted, then lowered his voice and remembered again to speak in Russian. "Don't touch him." Gently, he pushed the old man back into a chair, then, remembering to retrieve his forgotten automatic from the counter, went to take Illya's pulse himself. He found it was racing...
"Your friend is very ill," the old man said in a voice that reflected genuine concern... "Perhaps some cold water --"
"No. But thank you." Solo grasped his partner by one shoulder, turning him back to face them. "Illya? Illya, try to answer me, please. This is important. How long after you touched Wilczek did you begin exhibiting symptoms? Five minutes? Fifteen? Thirty? I have to know. "
Though he'd phrased the questions in English, the response was a barely-audible Russian sentence that he could not translate. In desperation, he started to ask again, but was distracted by the scraping sound of the night watchman's chair. He'd stood up again, his face gone ashen, and was backing away from them in terror.
"To what was he exposed?" he cried. "What have you done?!" Oblivious to Solo's weapon, he was backing toward the door. He'd pulled it open, in fact, before Solo caught up with him and pressed the needle of the hypodermic ring gently to the side of his neck.
"I'm sorry, " he said sincerely, and pushed the door shut once more as the old man folded into his arms. Solo left him by the front wall in what he hoped was a comfortable position, then went back to try and maneuver Illya back to his feet. He had already been in repeated close contact with Illya for more than half an hour now -- a far longer elapsed time than that of Illya's initial contact with Wilczek. Yet Solo felt perfectly healthy -- a condition he fervently hoped would persist. Perhaps this bacillus was not so communicable after all.
He had trouble unlocking the cafe's rear door with one hand, but had no sooner managed to than the door was thrust inward. Somebody in a white environmental suit and helmet, an eerie and immediately unsettling sight, was in the doorway, coming at him with outstretched arms. Gloved hands pulled a semiconscious Illya away from him. The suited figure disappeared back into the night with IIlya, and was promptly replaced by a slightly smaller, identically suited duplicate.
"Are you Solo?" it asked in a filtered but discernibly feminine voice. When he nodded, she handed him a folded plastic bundle topped by a protective helmet like her own. "Put it on, " she ordered.
"There's an unconscious night watchman at the front of the cafe," he told her, accepting the bundle and noting that the tag on her suit read COL. R. PHILIPS, M.D.
"We'll see to him, " she said. "Just put on the suit."
Solo obeyed, and shortly found himself uncomfortably squeezed into the
passenger seat of a "furniture van" ambulance, the back of which would
carry Philips, the waylaid night watchman and a now unconscious IIIya Kuryakin
to the American Embassy.
After enduring an exasperating three hours of poking, prodding, blood -sampling and sundry other medical tests, Solo had dressed, and over the strenuous objections of his erstwhile tormentors, had gone in search of Colonel Philips and his partner.
He found both not far away, behind isolation glass in the primary medical section.
Sunlight pouring through a bank of windows (could it really be morning already?) did little to soften the harsh hospital lighting. That random thought struck Solo as he approached the isolation unit, unchallenged by the few workers at the perimeter of the large room. He made no effort to enter the isolation area, but peered through the wire-enforced glass to see Philips and two assistants, all wearing the protective "spacesuits," hovering over a hospital bed, wherein Illya remained unconscious.
Seeing Solo, Philips went immediately to the door, came out, and pulled off the bulky, reflective helmet.
The face underneath belonged to an authoritative, though not unattractive, middle-aged woman.
"What are you doing here?" she asked tiredly. "I didn't order you released."
Solo cleared his throat, feeling suddenly very much like a disobedient schoolboy. "I ordered myself released," he said lamely. "I just didn't like getting put through the medical Spanish Inquisition by a squad of spacesuited strangers who refused to tell me whether my friend was alive or dead."
"He's alive. Just don't ask me how." Philips, unzipping her own suit, began to remove it and uncovered a U.S. Army uniform that had somehow survived unwrinkled underneath. She led Solo to a desk in a corner of the medical section, motioning him to a microscope mounted there. Its eyepiece showed him what he recognized to be human blood cells -- interspersed with two distinctly different virus strains. Frowning, Solo stared at them for a long moment. He'd seen an informer's drawing of the vishnevka bacillus during their briefing for this mission in New York. It had looked nothing like either of these.
"Perhaps you can tell me," Philips was saying, "how Mr. Kuryakin came to be exposed to two germ viruses under development by KGB laboratories for experimental warfare?"
Solo hesitated, unsure what to say, unsure how much Philips already knew. How had Illya contracted two unrelated strains when Wilczek had supposedly died of the other one? Or had he? The fire having long since finished its work in the KGB's lab, they would very probably never know.
"I think," he said finally, "perhaps you'd better ask General Braedon about that."
Curtly, she said, "I intend to."
Solo winced. "Sorry, Colonel. I have orders too."
Scowling, she handed him a chart of only half-decipherable (to Solo) medical notations. "Wherever he was," she said, "your friend was fortunate to be wearing some sort of breathing protection. I know that because tests indicate the bacilli were absorbed epidermally. If he'd inhaled them, or if he'd stayed there long enough to contract a few more, he'd be dead by now. And I can't tell you for sure that he won't be. These are both hybrid mutations of a meningitis strain with extremely pernicious tendencies. That's what makes them 'good' prospects for germ warfare. You don't have to inhale or ingest them. They're born with an affinity for porous membrane, and the ill effects are almost instantaneous."
"But I was exposed -- at least nominally -- and I'm fine. What's the reason for that?"
"There's a level of contamination below which these strains are non-commununicable. They're bred to serve as air-borne contagions, so once confined to the blood stream, they're not particularly inclined to go anywhere." She nodded to the isolation unit, where her cohorts continued working over Illya. "That's purely a precautionary measure, keeping them suited up. I was about to downgrade the order to surgical masks when you came in."
"I see," Solo said, though he didn't, really. "And what about Illya? There must be something you can do to counteract the virus?"
"We're trying. He's been conscious twice, which is a good sign. Unfortunately, he was less than coherent both times. I wish I could say I knew whether that's to be expected or not."
In either case, Solo reflected, it was not a good sign for U.N.C.L.E. He needed very much to talk with Illya, to find out just what Torin Wilczek's interference had done to release into that laboratory multiple strains of bacteria, at least two of which were apparently not quite as heat-sensitive as the vishnevka virus had been. So their target bacillus had been dutifully eradicated. Now army intelligence was going to end up with a set of research figures on two unrelated biological weapons, the price of which had already come too high.
Contemplatively, Solo stared through the glass of the isolation unit. "Not such a pleasant homecoming after all, was it, old friend?" he said aloud.
Philips looked on the verge of asking him what that had meant when a stocky young sergeant entered the medical section, saluted and handed her a folded set of papers.
"There's a Major Silovskoye in the anteroom, sir. He's demanding to see the officer in charge."
"Where," Solo interrupted, "is General Braedon?"
"Called away on an unrelated matter," Philips said, unfolding the papers. "What is this, Sgt. Abelman?"
The sergeant cleared his throat nervously. "That's a KGB arrest order for one Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, specified to be a traitor to the Soviet Union, 'known' to be on these premises and for whom any refusal on our part will be considered a highly unfriendly act... Sir. "
Her contempt undisguised, Philips refolded the document and slapped it back into Abelman's hand, voicing precisely what Solo had been about to say. "This has no validity on American soil."
Abelman barely stifled a grin. "Yes sir. Shall I tell him to take a flying leap, sir?"
Something oddly perverse crept suddenly into Colonel Philips' expression. "As ai matter of fact, " she said, Iooking back at the isolation unit, "no. Hold him five minutes, then bring him in here."
As Abelman saluted and left, Solo failed to contain his curiosity. "What are you doing?"
Philips pulled a surgical mask and greens from a nearby cabinet and put them on. "Everything I can," she said, and walked back through the glass chamber door, leaving Solo in a total quandary.
Silovskoye arrived minutes later in a rage, shaking the arrest order at Solo in one clenched fist. He was shouting in flawless English. "Where is the traitor Kuryakin?"
Solo had to suppress the melodramatic impulse to snatch the paper out of his hand and tear it into little pieces. "'In there," he said instead, nodding at the glass. "But I wouldn't recommend going in. That is, unless you'd like to be exposed to a lethal dose of your own medicine." He was beginning to see what Colonel Philips intended. If Silovskoye were convinced that the virus was communicable... "You people have such a flair," Solo continued, "for creating international incidents. Maybe you'd like to explain how this man was exposed to germ warfare bacilli that the KGB has previously denied any knowledge of."
Silovskoye was livid. "You have no right to harbor a convicted traitor to the Motherland of Russia."
"Not true," Solo countered. "In the first place, he's not a traitor. And in the second, this embassy can grant political asylum to anyone it chooses."
The major's eyes narrowed. "You know him well? That is most interesting. Kuryakin's vandalization of a KGB laboratory this evening was aided by an accomplice. One that matches your very description..."
Solo's reply was cut short by a sudden increase of activity behind the glass. When he looked, his stomach went into knots: the heart-monitoring oscilloscope over Illya's bed had gone flat. Both of Philips' attendants were hastily preparing the electric fibrillator for use.
Thankful that the isolating glass was soundproofed, Solo turned away. Silovskoye viewed the procedure somewhat smugly, breaking the silence at long last only to gloat. "Well... we no longer appear to have need of this particular arrest order."
Guardedly, Solo looked back through the glass. The cardiac reading over the unmoving figure in the bed remained flat; an uncompromising green line.
Philips was coming out again. She jerked the surgical mask down and spoke brusquely to Silovskoye. "Was there something I could do for you, Major?"
Silovskoye smirked. "I believe, Doctor, that you already have. Justice has indeed been served."
Philips looked like a hawk about to dive for its kill. "Is that a fact? It's odd you should mention justice, Major. I was about to ask how your government intends to justify the murder of an American diplomat by exposure to a mutant virus; a tool of the so-called biological warfare your government denies practicing."
Silovskoye bluffed like an inveterate poker player. "There is no biological warfare in the Soviet Union, my dear Doctor. You repeat mere capitalist propaganda."
His simpering tone made Solo want to knock him down and strangle him bare-handed. He'd moved one step toward precisely that goal when Philips' hand flew out to dissuade him.
"Take your blustering ego back home to the KGB," she told the Major. "Your superiors will be hearing from this embassy. We intend to demand they give a complete and satisfactory explanation. "
"I am certain," said Silovskoye, tight-lipped, "that they will have one." Turning smartly on one heel, he stalked out of the section. Philips had meanwhile put her mask back on and was pressing another into Solo's hand.
He stared at it dumbly. "What's this for?
"Don't argue, Solo. Put it on." She marched back through the isolation unit door and a bewildered Solo, donning the mask as ordered, followed.
The attendants were removing the oscilloscope, wheeling it out the door. Neither of them returned. Solo was trying to decide how to diplomatically ask why they hadn't covered Illya with a sheet when the "corpse" suddenly opened its eyes and gazed weakly up at them.
Solo's shocked expression, far from hidden by the mask, asked all the questions without need of words.
"If Silovskoye's arrest order wasn't entirely useless when he got here, it certainly is now," Philips told him. "And I certainly don't mind creating minor international incidents -- particularly if the KGB gets some of their own dirt back in the bargain. I'm sorry for the charade. There really wasn't time for explanations.
Solo cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well," he said to Illya, "I must say you're the healtliiest-looking corpse I've seen in a good long while."
He was surprised to get an answer. "That," Illya said faintly, "is debatable."
Solo remembered something he'd intended to ask Philips earlier. "Whatever happened to the night watchman, by the way?"
"Nothing happened to him. We gave, him a thorough going-over and sent him home to bed. How he explains getting there is his problem. As for you," she said to Illya, "we have two more days of mandatory treatment and further testing to determine whether our 'cure-alls' have successfully routed the virus. The fact that you're still here is a good indication we're getting somewhere."
"There are some questions I have to ask you," Solo started to say to Illya, but at Philips' withering gaze, amended it to, "but... they can wait. By the way, I meant to commend your dying performance just now. Very convincing acting."
Illya's eyes had already begun to close again. He said sleepily, "Who the hell was acting?"
"Well, Silovskoye was certainly convinced. I don't suppose it'll take him long to prove I really was the accomplice with the dirty movies, either. All of which means we have to get out of here just as soon as these pill jockeys are through with you. You know, just once I'd like to be able to stick around someplace when a mission is over long enough to visit all the tourist traps? Don't you think we..."
Philips had caught him by the collar and was guiding him none-too-gently out the Isolation unit door.
Illya Kuryakin had already fallen asleep, resuming the traces of a reminiscent dream: one that recalled two adolescent boys intent on textbooks and soccer and adolescent girls, in a long-ago Russia where zarnitsa was only the summer thunder...