The Future Tense Affair

by Jean Graham

_Somewhere in Siberia_

Uri Pavelovitch Mitkilov was definitely insane. Though Napoleon
Solo kept that opinion to himself, he no longer wondered why the
Soviets had exiled the man to a cabin in Siberia. From the moment
he and Illya had arrived (and no small effort that had been: twelve
hours on the Siberian Express followed by a five hour snowshoe
hike) Uri had regaled his old schoolmate with an animated
description of what sounded suspiciously like a UFO hoax. Solo
understood very little Russian, and Uri left Illya little time to
translate. But it sounded like space aliens all right.

"He says it crashed a kilometer north of here two nights ago,"
Illya said from across the crude wooden table, and the blond
bearded Uri nodded vigorously in agreement even though he couldn't
have followed the translation. "He hiked to the site yesterday and
saw... something strange. He's not precisely clear on what; says
we'll have to see for ourselves."

"M-hm." Solo shrugged his parka closer, shivering despite the
roaring fire. "I know he's an old friend, old friend, and no
offense, but this sounds more and more like maybe just a little too
much vodka before bed.

Perhaps it was his tone, or the word 'vodka,' but Uri took instant
offense to that and began objecting vociferously. Illya made
placating gestures amidst more rapid-fire conversation, then turned
back to his partner. "He swears he wasn't drinking. He was sound
asleep when the noise woke him. He ran outside and watched the
ship go down. His toes still have the frostbite, if you'd care to

"Uh, no thanks. Did he happen to mention why he called you, and
not the friendly Soviet Air Force?"

Illya half-smiled. "Until last year, he was a pilot in the
'friendly' Soviet Air Force. He saw something he couldn't explain
then, too, during a flight over the Kamchatka Peninsula. That's
how he ended up here."

"Another UFO?" Solo asked skeptically.

"Yes. But that one flew away."

"Illya, I hate to suggest it, but--"

"Yes, I know." The Russian agent looked dubious too. "But I'd
like to check it out just the same." He nodded toward the
briefcase full of equipment they'd lugged with them. "We've come
this far, we might as well take a look."

Another possibility occurred to Solo. "And what if something _did_
crash up there? Doesn't he realize that Soviet radar will have
picked it up? Those steppes will be crawling with soldiers before
long. And if they find _us_ there..."

"That's why we should go now," Illya said. "We may not have much
time." He rose and while Uri enthusiastically chattered something
else, retrieved the briefcase from its niche near the fireplace."

"Don't tell me," Solo said with a nervous glance at the bearded
exile, "you actually believe him?" He got up as well, rubbing
gloved hands together. "I mean, I know I agreed to come along on
this favor-for-a-friend mission, but..."

Illya hefted the briefcase with a wry smile. "You're welcome to
stay here by the fire, if you like."

Solo pictured himself trying to explain his presence in the cabin
to a squadron of armed Soviet troops and decided he'd rather take
his chances on the steppes. "I'll go," he said a little too
readily, and followed both Russians out the door.

He regretted the decision long before they reached the 'crash
site.' His feet, hands and nose were so frozen that he doubted
they'd ever feel again. Yet neither Illya nor Uri seemed to notice
the sub-zero cold. They'd stopped to converse again, the bearded
man gesturing wildly toward the oddly-shaped ice bluff just ahead.
Illya seemed to be arguing with him, and looked more than a little

Stamping his feet and swinging his arms in a vain attempt to
restore sensation, Solo breathed impatient little clouds into the
air. "What is it?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

"He says this is it." Illya's fur-lined hood indicated the ice

"Huh? The _bluff?_" They were all going to die of hypothermia for
nothing. "I hate to tell him this, but there's nothing there."

"Nyet!" Uri launched into another tirade and grabbed Illya's parka
to regain his attention. Gesticulating sharply at the icy hill,
the mad Russian began a bizarre little dancing motion forward and
back again.

Solo wondered fleetingly if something might be concealed under the
large mound, until he noticed the jagged black rocks jutting out
from the snow. "Tell him his 'UFO' is just a collection of frozen
boulders," Solo suggested. "Then let's head back before we all--"

He never finished the thought. Uri's peculiar dance ended abruptly
in a crackling flash of blue light that knocked him backward, flat
on his backside in the snow. He was up again in a flash, jabbering

"What the--?" Solo started forward, halted at Illya's warning
gesture. The Russian agent said something to Uri, took a few steps
and reached cautiously out with his right hand. A blue halo
snapped and crackled at his fingertips. He snatched the hand away,
and steam rose from the melted ice crystals on his glove.

Ill content to believe his own eyes, Solo tried the same
experiment. The flash repelled his touch too, and felt like a mild
electrical shock. "What is it?"

"A force field?" Illya ventured.

Solo touched it again. The frosty air, through which he could
clearly see the bluff, promptly turned blue and shot sparks at him.

"I thought they only had force fields in Buck Rogers comic books."

"Or on UFOs?" Illya retrieved his briefcase from the snow, popped
it open and began rummaging inside.

"What are you doing?" Both Solo and Uri asked the same question at
the same time, in two different languages.

"Whatever this is generates an electrical field," Illya answered,
automatically repeating the statement in Russian. "And any
electrical field... can be overloaded. Or shorted out." He
finished assembling what looked vaguely to Solo like a battery
tester. He recognized several pieces of U.N.C.L.E. gadgetry
cobbled together with thin wire.

"If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, I just hope you
can explain frying perfectly good components on a UFO hunt to the
accounting department."

In answer, Kuryakin twisted a control on the device until it
produced a loud hum. Then he tossed it straight into the invisible
'force field.'

With a lightning bolt flash and _crack_, the wall of blue light
exploded, shimmered, and began to melt. At the same time, the
snowy bluff was melting too, or dissolving, or... Solo blinked at
it, certain it must be a snow-blind illusion. The bluff reformed
itself, becoming something else entirely. And the something else
was unmistakably an aircraft, angled nose-first into the snow.

"I see it," Solo muttered, "but I don't believe it."

Illya's voice held clear suspicion. "Yes, but it's not exactly a
flying saucer, is it?"

No, it wasn't, Solo thought as all three men approached the ship.
It more closely resembled a military fighter jet, yet it was easily
three times the size of the largest commercial airliner. The
smooth black fuselage had been painted with peculiar markings: if
they were letters, they were in no language Solo recognized. And
there were no signs of either propellers or jet engines, unless
those huge tubular protrusions on the stern served the purpose.

Uri was the first to gingerly reach out and touch the hull.
Anticlimactically, for a change, nothing happened. They made a
complete circuit around the craft and eventually found what looked
like a hatch. Illya once again applied his gadget collection to an
opening effort. He didn't seem to be getting anywhere until the
hatch began glowing faintly blue and said succinctly, "Kadok nus

Solo was beginning to doubt his own sanity now. "What did it say?"

Kuryakin stared at the door as though it had just bitten him. "I
have no idea."

"Alefath tada edro al fatriadis ondre," the hatch said in decidedly
feminine tones. Illya backed away as a loud hum announced the
passageway's opening. In a moment, a perfectly conventional
gangplank lay in front of them, silently inviting entry.

For a prolonged moment, nobody moved.

Uri said something. Illya smiled and translated, "He wants to go

"Oh, by all means." Solo knelt to unbuckle his snowshoes, then
held out a hand to usher the mad Russian aboard. "After you."

While Uri mounted the plank, Illya lifted his briefcase with one
hand, then drew his U.N.C.L.E. Special with the other, a motion
Solo imitated.

It was dim, but not quite dark inside. And though walking in the
tilted corridor proved tricky, the rubber-like flooring held their
feet, and led them straight to the ship's cockpit.

'Control room' would be a better term for it. Solo had never seen
any cockpit this spacious. There were six flight chairs at what
looked like NASA computer consoles, wall panels glowing with that
same electric blue color, something resembling a curved movie
screen up front, and on the floor below that...

Illya had spotted it too, and awkwardly made his way toward it. A
body, Solo realized, though the real shock came when Illya turned
the black-clad figure over. No antennae, no green skin, no pointed
ears. The man on the floor was entirely, inarguably human.

"Well, so much for little green men," Solo breathed with an audible
sigh of relief. He put the Special away.

Illya pulled off his glove, tucked his own gun back into its
holster, and pressed a hand to the figure's neck. "He's still
Solo fumbled for the first aid kit strapped somewhere under his
heavy parka. He had to pull his gloves off as well to get at it,
finally handed it across to his partner. "If he's been out for two
days, this may not help much."

It was perhaps fortunate for their unconscious space pilot that
U.N.C.L.E. first aid kits contained more complete emergency
equipment than the average commercial variety. When Illya had
worked for just over twenty minutes with saline and potassium
injections, the man began moaning softly. They sat him up and
managed to get an electrolyte cocktail from the first aid kit down
him. He coughed and tried to focus dark eyes on his rescuers.
"Hak el anol?" he demanded hoarsely.

At Solo's questioning look, Kuryakin said, "I don't know, but if he
says 'Klaatu barada nikto,' I for one plan to start running."

Blue light pulsated in three of the wall panels in tandem with
Illya's words. The same feminine voice they'd heard outside now
emanated from that point -- this time in flawless English.

+Please administer five ccs of palophrenadine-4,+ it entreated

"Palo what?" Solo started to say, but he was over-ridden by Uri's
outburst -- also in English.

"It spoke Russian!"

"I noticed that," Illya concurred.

"But," Solo protested, confused, "it was in English..."

"I'll explain later." The man on the floor had also suddenly
acquired English-speaking abilities, though like some badly dubbed
foreign film, his lips didn't move with the words. He shrugged off
Illya's hold on him, pulled himself into the nearest flight chair,
and removed a first aid kit of his own from somewhere on the
console. While he injected what Solo assumed was the palo-whatsit,
he addressed the blue wall panels. "Mirage, specify our location."

+Physical location is the Siberian steppe region of Earth.
Temporal location, due to the space anomaly we encountered, is one-
thousand-nine-hundred-and-sixty-nine, Old Earth Calendar.+

"One-thousand...?" The black clad man stared at all three of his
'guests' with renewed interest, but continued his conversation with
the disembodied voice. "Damage report?"

+Propulsion system recharge 95% complete. Minor hull damage on low
priority. Auto-repair of camouflage screen circuitry in progress.+

The disembodied voice droned on about shield modulation frequencies
and acceptable flight parameters, and the man at the console
listened with measured impatience. He certainly didn't look like
any space invader -- or Russian spy, for that matter -- Solo had
ever imagined. The man had hair and eyes to match his black
leather attire, with contrastingly pale skin, a long Roman nose and
a hooded expression that exuded sheer arrogance. And then there
was the aircraft. No government on Earth possessed anything like

"You'll forgive the interruption." Illya faced the pilot across
the top of his console. "But we'd like to ask a few questions."

"No doubt." The man's fingers flew across a set of keys recessed
into the console. His eyes were fixed on a small TV screen in
front of him, upon which fluorescent green symbols -- all of them
gibberish to Solo -- scrolled rapidly upward. Without looking up,
the space traveler said, "My name is Shevron. Your turn."

A bit taken aback by the man's abruptness, Illya made rapid
introductions. Shevron scarcely seemed to hear. The Russian agent
persisted anyway. "I don't suppose you'd care to explain any of

The keys clicked furiously, then fell silent. Shevron sat back,
looking rather disgusted. "It's precisely what it appears to be.
A spaceship. A lost one, at the moment."

"It has to be CIA!" Uri had been making his way round the tilted
control room ogling all the console displays. "No one else could
design anything so... so diabolical!"

Uri's lips were no longer moving with his words either. Solo
couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "You said you'd explain
the language bit."

"Mirage's translator circuitry adjusts the air currents surrounding
each of us to re-resonate at frequency modulations consistent with
our individual language patterns." Shevron might have been
lecturing a physics class. "That is, once 'she' has determined
what that pattern may be. Old Earth dialects must have given her
quite a turn."

Illya, whose degree from the Sorbonne, as Solo recalled, had been
in quantum mechanics, regarded Shevron with open disbelief. "What
you've just described is scientifically impossible."

The man at the console flashed a card shark's smile. "Demonstrably
not," he said. "Then again, in OEC one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-

Solo interrupted him. "Do you really expect us to believe this is
some sort of space-going time machine? Something out of a grade B
sci-fi flick?"

The last part of that had obviously translated poorly. Shevron
looked momentarily puzzled, but the expression promptly vanished
under a more characteristic smirk. "I really don't care what you
believe. If you'll kindly get off my ship, I can go about the
business of finding a way back where I came from."

"That's gratitude for you," Illya said sardonically.
"KGB then." Uri was still muttering about plots and counterplots.
"If you are not CIA, then you must be KGB!"

Shevron cast an annoyed glance aside at the bearded Russian. "I am
the ploy of no government, in my time or yours." He turned back to
Illya. "And you have my undying gratitude for the resuscitation.
Now that honor is satisfied, you can leave."

Uri ignored the dismissal entirely. "Where is it you come from
then?" he demanded.

Shevron's fingers were flying over the keys again. "Your future,
apparently," he said while more figures marched madly across the
little screen. "Eight hundred twenty years and odd change; I don't
have time to make a more precise calculation."

"Eight hundred years?" The evidence notwithstanding, Solo's
credibility was straining. "And you just fell through some Flash
Gordon space warp, is that it?"

Shevron frowned again, probably at the untranslatable Flash Gordon
reference. But all he said was, "Something like that."

+Propulsion systems now 100% operational,+ Mirage reported. +I am
unable, however, to free forward landing gear of consequently
correct shipwide gravitational angle.+

"It's stuck," Solo translated.

"Something like that," Shevron said again. "It looks as though I
may need you after all."

"Comforting thought," Illya quipped, but Shevron didn't hear him.
The man was already heading aft, uphill toward the entry hatch.
Still unsteady on his feet, he staggered once and nearly fell.
Uri, closest to him, reached out to offer help, but drew the hand
back at Shevron's sudden rigid response. Everything about the man
exuded an aloof, 'don't touch' cynicism, making Solo wonder what
sort of unpleasant future might account for such an attitude. They
trooped after him to the hatch, down the ramp and across hardpacked
snow to the ship's buried nosecone. She'd plowed into several feet
of drift on landing, creating a four-foot dome of ice over her bow.

Shevron regarded the mess with obvious consternation. "Mirage," he
said, "can you generate and sustain a thermal energy field long
enough to melt the ice encasement?"

+Insufficient power levels.+ The voice seemed to emanate now from
the hull itself. +Physical intervention will be required.+

Shevron produced what was unmistakably a gun from under his tunic.
"What about low level blaster fire?" he asked. "Would that melt

+Unacceptable risk as well as insufficient sustained power level,+
the ship replied.

From the tool pack beneath his parka, Illya pulled a pair of wood-
handled aluminum picks, one of which he wordlessly held out to
Shevron. The man scowled, but took it. Solo and Uri dug out their
own ice-chipping equipment and the four of them set to work.

The nosecone came free two hours later. They spent another hour,
exhausted and frozen, hacking ice away from the landing gear.
They'd nearly freed it when Mirage calmly announced, +Aircraft
approaching on vector zero-zero-eight.+

So the Soviet Air Force had shown up at last? Solo wondered what
had taken them so long.

Shevron took an angry swing at the ice still encasing the landing
strut. "Camouflage status?"

+Full function in twenty-four point nine-four minutes.+

They attacked their task with renewed vigor, but before the strut
was completely free, the distinctive sound of beating helicopter
blades had begun to echo from the southern sky. By the time they
had at last cleared the landing gear, the chopper had already
overflown them twice and was now settling onto the ice field a few
hundred yards to the northeast.

"I think we're about to have company," Illya remarked.

Shevron, whose black leather gloves were ill suited for Siberian
temperatures, was momentarily preoccupied with blowing on his
stiffened fingers. He glanced over his shoulder at the landing
copter. "Friends of yours?"

"Hardly," Solo said.

"Definitely not," Uri proclaimed at the same time. "Their standard
procedure is to shoot first and ask questions later. If this UFO
of yours does indeed fly, I suggest we get out of here -- now."

Shevron squinted at the mad Russian as though he'd just been asked
to assist in a prison break. Perhaps he had. "So eager to leave
home?" he queried suspiciously.

Uri's terrified look when uniformed soldiers began pouring from the
helicopter's hatch spoke volumes. "I no longer care if you _are_
CIA." He shuddered. "If you are, then I wish to defect! Please,
take me with you!"

"All three of you?"

"Consider it a small return favor," Solo put in. "Could we,
er...?" He gestured hopefully toward the gangplank.
Shevron, however, seemed not in the least concerned that a squadron
of Soviet troops was bearing down on his ship. "I suppose it would
be considered ungracious of me to say no."

"Egregiously," Illya concurred, and began steering the man toward
the hatch.

Shevron shrugged off his effort, turned instead to stare straight
at the oncoming armed forces. "Mirage," he said calmly, "activate
the camouflage screen."
+Auto-repair is complete,+ she answered primly. +Please stand
clear of 10-meter field perimeter. Activation in 15 seconds...
14... 13... 12... 11... 10...+

Uri started to charge up the ramp on his own, but Solo caught his
arm. "It's all right," he soothed. "I think we're about to--"

He never finished the sentence. The world turned suddenly,
electrically blue, and the air tingled with just enough charge to
make Solo's skin crawl. The three Soviet troops leading the charge
barrelled full tilt into the force field, sizzled and rebounded --
each knocked flat on his back into the snow.

Chaos ensued. The rest of the squadron arrived, shouting orders
and chattering excitedly as each in turn prodded at the energy wall
with hands, feet or gun muzzles. A few tried firing into it. The
agents and Uri instinctively ducked, but no bullets came flying
toward them.

"I gather they can't see us anymore," the Russian agent speculated.

Shevron's feral grin reasserted itself. "Smile," he said. "You've
just been transformed into an ice mound."

Uri Mitkilov broke into a loud guffaw at the sight of his former
comrades-in-arms bumbling repeatedly into the electrical barrier.
"Imbeciles," he muttered, and lifted the middle finger of one
gloved hand with the other, his ethnic variation of a universally
understood gesture. "I lift the cat's tail to you! Who is the
crazy one now, eh??" He shook his linked fingers at the troops and
howled triumphantly.

That earned him a disgusted look from Shevron. "Let's go." Their
reluctant host pushed past them and re-boarded his ship. They
hurried after, the hatch closing of its own accord in their wake.
Solo brought up the rear and arrived on the 'bridge' just as
Shevron ordered Mirage to lift off.

Instantly, the deck began vibrating under their feet. With a jolt,
it righted itself, tossing everyone but Shevron to the deck. A
deafening roar began building in rhythm to the vibrations. _If I'm
dreaming all this,_ Solo thought as he picked himself up again, _I
think now would definitely be a good time to wake up._

"Forward visual!" Shevron barked, and threw himself into the
forwardmost flight chair. His passengers took seats in turn. Solo
looked in vain for a seat belt, but immediately forgot about it
when the 'movie screen' on the front wall shimmered into blinding
white light and became a snowscape dotted with frenzied, running
figures. The deck lurched. Three pairs of white-knuckled fists
gripped chair arms. The dark uniformed shapes in the snow halted
their scurrying, gaped and pointed. A flash of blue signalled the
force field's dissolution (Solo could hear Mirage reporting that
fact to Shevron over the din) and at once, most of the troops tried
to charge forward. They were instantly driven back by a hurricane
blast of displaced snow and ice. Then, just as quickly, the
miniature ice storm surrounding them began to recede. Solo felt a
brief, crushing pressure followed by a distinct shift in the
gravity and a giddy light-headedness. When he could see again, he
found himself staring at a field of jet black sprinkled with an
incredibly brilliant array of glitter. In a moment, another wonder
floated into view -- the breathtaking blue curve of a cloud-
shrouded Earth.

+Stationary orbit achieved,+ the feminine voice announced.
+Shielding in place against detection by present rudimentary
satellite technology.+

"Mirage..." Shevron's fingers were tapping keys again. "I want
probability calculations on the data I've given you."

+Calculating,+ she responded at once.

Their host left his chair to approach the screen, and a little of
the awe Solo had felt at the view of Earth reflected in his eyes as
well, along with a hint of something else. Sadness?

His three passengers had shortly joined him, each staring wide-eyed
at the impressive image of home from afar.

"I never knew it was so..." Shevron left the half-whispered
statement trail off unfinished, leaving his guests to wonder what
he'd meant to say. So beautiful? So blue? Hadn't he already seen
Earth from this vantage point a thousand times before?

"But surely you _come_ from Earth," Illya said as though he'd read
Solo's thoughts. "You look human enough."

Shevron looked sharply up at the Russian agent, and it was as
though a shutter had suddenly dropped into place behind his eyes.
"Not this Earth," he said curtly.

Uri blinked at him, confused. "There's another?"

The man in black gave him a fleeting, sardonic smile, but gave no

+Probability factors are complete,+ Mirage reported.
Shevron glanced at each of his charges in a way that made Solo
distinctly uncomfortable. "Proceed," he ordered.

+Contingency Alpha -- attempt return with three Terrans from this
era aboard -- carries a 97% failure probability factor.
Configuration of ship and crew must be consistent with initial
entry into space anomaly. Contingency Beta -- attempt return with
original configuration of ship and crew -- probability of
successfully reversing temporal anomaly's effects and returning to
original point of departure is estimated at 23%. Contingency Gamma
-- remain in present continuum and endeavor to effect specific
changes in future chronology -- variable degrees of predictable
success from 61 to 100%. The cautionary warning must be given that
this contingency allows for the incalculable but real possibility
of altering the geometric progression of time vectors in your
personal congenital configuration.+

Shevron's eyes widened at that. "Thereby preventing my own birth?"

+It is one possibility. Contingency Delta -- remain in this
continuum making no overt effort to alter events -- still retains
a 44 to 100% probability of exponential damage to extant time

"I believe the colloquial term," Shevron scowled, "was the
Butterfly Effect."

+These calculations assume, due to the endless loop otherwise
created by time paradox effect, that extant time line is the
desired constant.+

"Not necessarily. In any event, it appears my 'passengers' present
me with a small problem..."

Solo had been straining to make sense of the barrage of technical
data, and completely missed the sudden movement that brought the
odd-looking weapon they'd seen outside back into Shevron's hand.
Illya had been more alert -- he'd drawn his Special at the same
time, and the two of them stood against the brilliant panorama of
a shining Earth, the U.N.C.L.E. Special facing down a gun that
might have fallen off the prop shelf of a bad sci-fi movie.

"So much for gratitude," Illya said, and pointedly snapped the
safety catch off the modified PPK.

Belatedly, Solo slipped his own gun from its holster. "I didn't
like the sound of most of that," he admitted, nodding toward
Mirage's flashing panels. "But I didn't hear it recommend murder
as a solution to your problems, either."

Uri, standing closest to their erstwhile host, spat onto the deck
at his feet. "Bastard. In Moscow, you would get firing squad for
such ingratitude."

Their opponent in the stand-off remained stone-faced. "It's
nothing personal," he said un-reassuringly. "People who know too
much about me tend to become... liabilities. And I can't afford

"Space traveler. Pish." Uri hissed something that didn't quite
translate. "You're nothing but a common pirate!"

"True enough," Shevron allowed from behind that unnerving grin.
"Except perhaps for the 'common' part."

"Yes, well, in case you hadn't noticed, Mr. Space Pirate..." Solo
popped the safety from his own Special. "'re outgunned."

"Am I?" The man's voice was arrogance personified. "Firing a
percussion weapon aboard a space craft is, you should know, a
singularly unpleasant way to commit suicide."

Solo couldn't doubt that. He'd seen the effects of rapid
decompression aboard airplanes. In the vacuum of space...

"I'd accept that risk," Illya countered in equally chill tones. "I
seldom miss."

"And at this range," Solo couldn't resist adding, "I _never_ miss."

He moved slightly to the right as he spoke, and Shevron's eyes
automatically tracked him. It had been meant as a feint to allow
Illya an opening, but it was Uri who lashed out, tackling Shevron
and chopping at the 'blaster' with one swift downward motion. They
went down in a tangle of limbs. The gun flashed once, burned a
smoking trail across the deck, then fell and was kicked away by one
of Uri's flailing boots. In another moment, Solo and Illya had
wrenched the pair apart, and an infuriated Shevron regained his
feet with the unmistakable air of one who, under normal
circumstances, would never have lost such a struggle.

"Well now," he drawled with a sneer at both U.N.C.L.E. agents.
"You have a problem of your own. None of you can pilot -- or land
-- this ship. I'm told that burning up in an uncontrolled re-entry
is an even more unpleasant means of suicide."

Uri retrieved the futuristic weapon from the deck and tucked it
into a fur-lined pocket. "Cheerful fellow," he muttered.

Solo and Illya exchanged questioning glances, but neither moved to
put away his gun. "Checkmate," Solo breathed. "All right, so now

+These actions are futile,+ Mirage interjected, and Solo could have
sworn she'd taken on a reprimanding tone. +Shevron is essential to
the restoration of the extant time line. Similarly, removal of
these three persons from the continuum by any means would have
catastrophic consequences. Though they have no direct involvement,
the first significant event in the chain to be affected would be
the initial human landing on surface of sole Terran satellite,
scheduled to occur in 4.14 Earth months.+

"The moon?" Uri gaped at the flashing panels. "Are you saying
Soviet cosmonauts will land on the moon?"

+No,+ Mirage answered instantly. +The Terran agency responsible
for lunar landing is colloquially known as NASA.+
Uri's crestfallen look made Solo smile in spite of the
circumstances. Surprisingly, it also appeared to break the tension
for Shevron. He walked past both agents' pointed guns, all but
brushing the muzzle of Illya's, and stopped in front of Mirage's
panels. "All right then. What do _you_ suggest I do with them?"

Both U.N.C.L.E. agents lowered their weapons, but both kept them in
hand and watched warily as Shevron's question was answered.

+All three must be returned to this time continuum.+

Their host didn't look happy with that. "And if they talk about
what they've seen here, what then?"

"Trusting soul, aren't you?" Solo mumbled.

+No discernible negative effect would ensue. Analysis indicates
that in this era, such reports were universally dismissed as
symptomatic of psychological aberration.+

"No one would believe them."

+That is what I said.+ This time the voice was unmistakably

Laughing, Shevron returned to his flight position, behaving as
though the potentially deadly confrontation of a few moments before
had never occurred. Solo matched Illya's bewildered look, shrugged
and re-holstered his Special. Kuryakin did the same.

Uri's more volatile temper was not so easily assuaged. "Is that
it?" he demanded with a slap on the console. "You try to kill us
in one moment and in the next, nothing has happened? What sort of
man are you?!"

Shevron tapped at his computer keys. "A busy one," he said icily.
"Mirage, reconfirm our evasion capability re current satellite and
surface detection systems."

+Confirmation is affirmed. Surface detection consists solely of
primitive radar facilities.+

"And you're absolutely certain that these... persons... must be

Uri bristled and objected to that, but Shevron ignored him.

+'Absolutely' is not a definable parameter in this instance,+
Mirage huffed. +77.4% of contingencies stemming from the premature
death or disappearance of these individuals will negatively affect
the time line.+

Shevron's voice took on a sudden teasing quality. "Is that the
_only_ reason you are arguing to save them?"
+No,+ the soft voice readily confessed. +The one called Kuryakin
possesses a remarkably orderly mind. It is regrettable that we
cannot spend more time interacting. The exchange of information
would be invaluable.+

The one called Kuryakin glared at Mirage's flashing lights with
trepidation. "Just what kind of computer _is_ this?"

"One with unfortunate feminine attributes," Shevron said with a
smirk, "as well as an overweening aspiration to become..." He
hesitated, looking for a word. " conscience."

"Well thank you, Jiminy Cricket," Solo quipped. The reference was
lost on three quarters of his audience, but Illya smiled.

"The question remains," Shevron said, "--always assuming that you
do not wish to rejoin the Siberian Stormtroopers -- where to put
you down."

"Er..." Solo cleared his throat. "New York City might be nice."

+Co-ordinates calculated,+ Mirage said at once.

Uri paled. "New York City? In America New York City?"

"It still was when last we looked," Illya told him. "Relax,
comrade. You said you wanted to defect? Well, you have just

"But I..." Uri stammered, gave up the effort to form words, and
dropped into a chair, unabashedly crossing himself Russian Orthodox

+Suitable landing site pinpointed,+ Mirage reported.

"Proceed under appropriate camouflage," Shevron told it.

"And what about you?" Solo wanted to know. "Which one of those
contingencies are you going to attempt?" He was not at all sure he
liked the idea of this ship -- or this man -- remaining in his own

Shevron's gaze went to the glowing image of Earth. "It would
appear," he said slowly, "that I have nowhere to go in one-
thousand-nine-hundred-and-sixty-nine. And I have unfinished
business in my time."

"Piracy?" Illya queried.

"Something like that."

"But it said," the Russian agent indicated Mirage's panels, "that
you may not be able to get back."

Shevron tilted his head, the card shark's expression firmly back in
place. "I'll take that risk."

The gravity shifted again and Solo, feeling suddenly ponderously
heavy, grabbed for a chair. Illya and Uri did the same, but the
sensation was over almost as quickly as it had begun. On the
forward wall, Earth's sphere had loomed closer, grayed into mist,
and shortly resolved itself into an expanse of lamp-lit, winter-
brown lawn rimmed with trees and concrete walkways.

Solo gaped. "Central Park? You set us down in the middle of
Central Park?!"

"According to my readings, it is 2:18 a.m. local time. If you
disembark now, the chance of anyone bumbling into our shields in
the short time we remain here is remote."

Illya, however, seemed suddenly reluctant to go. "I'd like to know
more about this future you come from."

"Yes, I'm sure." Their host was staring at Central Park's
nightscape with an odd expression Solo could only guess was
something between fear and longing. He covered it quickly, rose
from the chair and headed back toward the hatch with all three
passengers in his wake. "But for reasons which ought to be
obvious, the less any of you knows about the future, the safer the
future -- not to mention the present -- will be." He touched a
control and Mirage's gangplank rumbled out into the New York night.

"Er... How do we get past the force field?" Solo asked, peering out
at the ostensibly innocuous lawn.
"Mirage will create a neutralizing field around you."

Illya, who had retrieved his gadget briefcase from somewhere,
smiled approval. "Well, that should be easier than creating a
short circuit."

"So it was _you._" Shevron glowered.

"Sorry." Kuryakin moved quickly past him to the hatch. "It's been
a very... informative trip. Thank you." With that, he headed down
the ramp.

Uri inched forward warily, nodding a formal Slavic farewell. "I
thank you for rescuing us after we had rescued you. In rescues, I
think we are now even."

"So we are." Shevron held out a hand, palm up. "Except for one
small item I'm afraid I must insist on reclaiming."

"Ah." Uri understood, and fished the blaster from his pocket.
Instead of handing it to Shevron, however, he grinned, stooped and
tossed the little gun away down the ship's corridor. _ "Now_ we
are even," he said.

Shevron's slight nod agreed with that, and the open hand became a
sweeping gesture that ushered Uri off the ship.

Solo approached the man last, held out his own hand, then noticing
that it was still wool-sheathed, promptly pulled off the glove.
"Good luck getting home," he said.

As though that implied both a blessing and a curse rolled into one,
Shevron took Solo's hand and shook it rather stiffly. "Thank you."

A moment later, Solo had joined his companions, only to find Uri on
hands and knees vigorously kissing the dead New York grass.
Looking a bit chagrinned, Illya pulled the man up. The ship's
gangway hummed shut as they walked toward the invisible edge of
Mirage's force wall.

+Contact in ten seconds,+ she informed them. +Neutralizing field

Illya reached out experimentally. Blue light glowed faintly around
his fingertips, but there was no lightning display. "Well," he
said resignedly, "here goes."

As all three men stepped into the field, Solo heard the ship speak
for the last time. With all the sadness a human voice might have
conveyed, it said, +Good-bye.+

Abruptly then, they were standing in a chilly and deserted Central
Park. Well, not quite deserted, Solo amended. Two derelicts --
who had obviously just shared the alcoholic vision of three men
appearing out of nowhere -- dropped their trash can dinner with a
clatter and fled in abject terror.

Illya turned to peer back at the ship, but the space she occupied
was now a thoroughly convincing stand of birch trees. With a
glance aside at the two fleeing park denizens, he remarked wryly,
"Why do I have the feeling I've just walked into an episode of
_Star Trek?_"

Uri muttered something in untranslated Russian. While Illya
answered him, they began walking. Solo unhooked the latch
fastenings on his parka. Compared to Siberia, the New York winter
was downright balmy.

"He was right about one thing, you know," the American agent said.
"No one will believe any of this."

"Which is precisely why we'll have to agree that it never
happened," Illya replied. "I have a personal aversion to getting
locked up in psychiatric wards."

Solo wouldn't argue there. "I'm not sure I could explain it
anyway. Even to myself. We just hitched a ride back from Siberia
along with an ex-Soviet Air Force defector, aboard an invisible
ship from the future with a mind of its own, piloted by a space
pirate named after a gas station."

A sudden roar and gust of wind made them all turn in time to see
the ersatz copse of birch trees hovering bizarrely in mid-air. In
another moment, they had vanished in a blast of hot exhaust. A
whirlwind of trash, twigs and stray leaves flew everywhere, finally
settling back to earth on the expanse of dead lawn that had been
Mirage's brief resting place.

Illya stared up at a clear, star-scattered sky. "They'd throw away
the key," he opined softly.

Solo agreed. "On the other hand, we still have to explain _him._"
He nodded at Uri, who responded with a long string of enthusiastic

"We'll think of something." Illya resumed walking and they fell
into step on either side.

"Is that what _he_ said? 'We'll think of something'?"

"No. He says that he hopes Shevron finds his way back, even if he
is a pirate and a 'brigand.' God, he says, may at times use
villains as easily as saints."

Solo took a last look back at the now-empty, leaf-swept lawn.
"I'll second that," he said, and kept walking.

--The End--