The Time Capsule
Napoleon: 'And all the politicians, military officers, scientists and diplomats, and all the human time capsules you have set up all over the world...'
Brach: 'Yes, that's very good... time capsules, yes. Waiting to explode at the command of THRUSH.'
Napoleon Solo sat alone at the desk of No 1, Section 1, listening to the strained, shell-shocked voice of a young agent crackling on the communicator.
'We lost most of the strike team in the explosion, Sir. The whole place was rigged to go up a few minutes after we penetrated the compound, to effect the most damage. The THRUSH targets were not among the dead—we found the entrance to their underground railway tunnel. Looks like they had plenty of time to make their escape, too. The weapons blueprints appear to be long gone but we're still combing the wreckage. It seems we were expected. I'm sorry, Sir.'
'Alright, Mr Johnstone, you did your best. I'll expect a full report when you return'.
Solo clicked off the communicator and sat for a moment, drumming his fingers on the desk. Swivelling his chair around, he pressed a button in the wall and a panel slid silently open, revealing a white telephone. He flicked a switch to turn on the scrambler to defeat any unknown listening devices, then picked up the handset of the telephone. After a few seconds, a sibilant male voice was audible on the line.
'Yes, Mr Solo?'
'The decommissioning of the Nevada nest has gone as planned. Around a dozen U.N.C.L.E enforcement personnel despatched in the process.'
'Yes, I already know the outcome, Mr Solo. That is satisfactory. I hope, however, you can impart something of fresh interest? After all, a dozen agents hardly puts a dent in U.N.C.L.E's nuisance value to our organisation now, does it?'
Solo smiled. 'Does it interest you to know that there will be a highly secret meeting between the leaders of five top Western intelligence agencies in two weeks? And that U.N.C.L.E has been detailed to provide protection? Protection which, I fear, may prove sadly inadequate'.
'That is indeed excellent news, Mr Solo. However, I expect nothing less, from the Head of the New York Branch....of THRUSH!!'
Napoleon jerked awake, sitting bolt upright in his bed, heart racing and temples pounding. After a few seconds, he realised he was alone in his own bedroom and worked to calm himself. His body slumped, breathing hard, as if he'd ran ten blocks. He passed a hand over his face, which was damp with sweat. Groaning aloud, he shivered as the air in the room cooled his overheated body. Tossing aside the covers, he got up, throwing on the robe which was lying on the chair next to his bed. In the living room, he poured himself a glass of scotch and sat down on the sofa, willing himself towards calm, rational thought. After a few minutes, he slammed his glass down on the coffee table and buried his head in his hands.
It had been two days since he'd returned from Brach's tropical autocracy. Two days, and the growing unease which had been flitting at the corners of his consciousness had taken on definite, horrifying form. For the next hour, fighting the dictates of reason, Napoleon's mind twisted and turned, searching for a loophole. But there was none to be found. Finally, he lay back, resigned, waiting for the dawn.
The tone had a seriousness that made Illya look up from his notes on the desk, peering through the green tint of his thick spectacles. His superior had entered Waverley's office, where they often met and worked while their Chief was currently absent. He now sat in the leather sofa opposite, leaning forward and gazing intently at him.
'What is it, Napoleon?'
There was a pause, during which Napoleon seemed to be filtering some objection in his mind.
'Illya...what if I'd had... the operation?'
Illya frowned, confused. 'What, Shtallmacher's little brain enslaver?' He waggled his fingers next to his temple.
'Yes,' said Napoleon carefully. 'What symptoms would I be experiencing right now?'
Illya clearly assumed his question hypothetical. He shrugged. 'None at all.'
Napoleon's response was calm but grave. 'And what would I remember about events leading up to the procedure?'
'Nothing. They would have taken care to erase such memories.'
Napoleon held Illya's gaze steadily for several moments and watched as the implications of his words brought dawning realization to the Russian's countenance.
'Napoleon, you're not saying that you believe...?'
Napoleon nodded grimly.
Illya removed his glasses, dropping them on the desk. 'But that's not possible!'
Napoleon continued—crisp, commanding, urgent. 'Think about it, Illya. Brach said that the whole affair with Tenley was just a device to plant me back inside U.N.C.L.E—having undergone their little obedience operation—until such time as THRUSH chose to activate it, right?'
'Right, but -'
'Well, what if they succeeded?' Napoleon rose abruptly and began to pace the room. 'After all, as Shtallmacher said, there's no scar, no after-effects and no memory of the event... it's undetectable!' He grimaced. 'The perfect crime.'
Illya shook his head emphatically. 'You are defying your own logic, Napoleon. You just said the victims had no memory of the procedure or events leading up to it. Then you would not be able to remember having evaded it.'
'I've thought of that. But it's no dice, I'm afraid, Illya. My situation was different from the others. My mission was recorded, there had to be a valid explanation for my avoiding the operation, one that wouldn't arouse suspicion within U.N.C.L.E. that I'd been compromised. My staged escape was already planned in detail by Brach—including the sacrifice of one of his own people to enhance its plausibility.'
'But there was no opportunity for them to operate, Napoleon.'
Napoleon spun to face him. 'Wasn't there? I was unconscious for several hours from that blow dart.'
'But... Chris said you were within sight of her the entire time you were unconscious.'
'Chris already had a day-long gap in her memory. Her statement can't be relied upon. Or it might have happened when I was knocked out from the electric shock. Or after that—I remember Shtallmacher trying to give me the pre-op injection. What if he suceeded and everything from that moment onwards until Chris and I left the estate is a false memory? They could have just let us go. It fits Brach's plan almost perfectly.'
Illya pushed back his chair and rose from the desk, raking a hand through his hair. 'But these are not false memories, Napoleon, we have witnesses! And Brach is dead!'
'The human factor, Illya. He didn't know about Mrs Karda and the good doctor. Or it might have been planned all along. Maybe, unknown to Brach, THRUSH found him expendable, all in a good cause.'
'We have interrogated Dr Shtallmacher and Miss Karda for two days. Everything in your report has been corroborated!'
'You of all people should know that subjects can be conditioned to give false information under interrogation, Illya.'
Illya picked up the copy of a file on the desk and waved it at him. 'We have Shtallmacher's case notes! If this affair was as magnificently handled as you say, why would THRUSH provide us with a paper trail of their victims?'
'Good point. Perhaps that part was a win for our side. It doesn't invalidate what I'm suggesting, Illya.'
Illya distress was obvious. His voice implored calm. 'This is paranoia, Napoleon. Post-mission fatigue—and...and the horror of what was almost done to you. It's understandable. And treatable.'
Napoleon advanced on him. His dark eyes glittered with feeling, his words edged with steel. 'You know as well as I do, Illya, that what I'm saying is possible... and that this possibility means that I'm a clear and present danger to U.N.C.L.E.!'
'That is not conceivable, Napoleon!'
'Listen to me!' Napoleon rapped out fiercely. 'I don't need your faith, right now Illya, I need your support!'
He checked himself, his expression softening. 'Please... don't allow what you hope is true to compromise your professional judgement—not now, when I need it most.'
He eyes pleaded with his friend to understand. 'You know what this means. I... I can't be trusted, Illya.'
Illya gazed at him, stricken. 'I think you are wrong, Napoleon.'
'It doesn't matter anymore what you, I, or anyone thinks, Illya. There's something much bigger than my job at stake.'
He frowned deeply, lines of pain around his mouth, his voice strained. 'I can't take the risk that some day, next month, next year, five years from now, I might one day be answerable to THRUSH while working for U.N.C.L.E. That my decisions, my orders may deliver you, Waverly, any operative—even U.N.C.L.E itself—into THRUSH hands. And I must act now, while I still can.'
'But if you're wrong, Napoleon -'
The senior agent's tone was harsh and final. 'I'm sorry, Illya. I can't take that chance. Not one more hour or minute.'
Illya's slumped, resigned. His worried voice was filled with trepidation. 'Napoleon, what are you going to do?'
Napoleon smirked, ironically. 'I'm suspending myself as CEA, until -'
'Napoleon, wait! Let us first speak with Waverly -'
Napoleon's response was fierce. 'No, Illya! Above all, I mustn't see or contact Waverly! I may endanger him or feed him critical misinformation. I can't even be allowed to know his movements.'
'Napoleon, will you please just listen to me for one moment! You asked me to use my professional judgement. Very well. I have been reading the preliminary test reports from Medical on Dr Shtallmacher, and you are wrong—the procedure is detectable. The doctor's brain wave patterns exhibit aberrations—minor, but highly specific. By comparing your brain waves with those of a known operation subject, it will be possible to scientifically prove whether you have had the operation.'
Napoleon drew a deep, unsteady breath and exhaled slowly. Visibly, a weight fell from him. He nodded. 'Good. But until then, Illya, you'll have to take me into custody. In the holding cells, here at HQ -'
'At the Infirmary then. But under arrest. With a 24-hour guard.'
Illya frowned, then nodded mutely.
Napoleon walked around to the control panel on Waverly's desk and flipped the switch on the intercom. 'Lisa, please switch on the voice surveillance tapes for this office.'
There was a slight pause. 'Activated, Mr Solo.'
Napoleon took out his gun and his communicator, laid them down on the revolving table and swivelled it until they came to rest before Illya. He then spoke aloud to the room in a voice of ringing authority.
'This is Napoleon Solo, CEA of Section 2, New York. I'm officially suspending myself, in the belief that my security status may have been compromised, pending full medical and security re-evaluation. From this moment until my re-instatement, any order I may give is invalid. I must not be allowed to leave New York HQ or make any outside communications whatsoever. This is my last official act until my re-instatement, which can only be effected by the Head of U.N.C.L.E. I voluntarily surrender arms and deliver myself into custody of No 2, Section 2, who will please acknowledge.'
Illya roused himself and cleared his throat with difficulty. 'This is Illya Kuryakin, No 2, Section 2, New York. I acknowledge Mr Solo's statement and confirm he has voluntarily placed himself in my custody.'
Napoleon nodded, then spoke to the intercom in a normal register. 'Copy to all Section Heads, Lisa, here and overseas—immediately please.'
The normally unflappable Lisa sounded stunned. 'Yes, Mr Solo.'
'And you can switch off the surveillance tapes now.'
Napoleon allowed himself the glimmer of a smile. 'Don't you mean 'No, Sir'?'
Napoleon smiled sadly. 'That's fine, Lisa. See you when I get back... hopefully.'
Napoleon flipped off the intercom and stood looking at Illya for a long moment, then nodded. Ready.
Illya extended his arm in the direction of the exit and Napoleon calmly walked ahead and out of the sliding steel door. Illya followed him with an expression of extreme mortification. No one remarked on their progress between Waverly's office and the Infirmary. It was, after all, business as unusual to see Solo striding purposefully through the corridors of U.N.C.L.E, Kuryakin glowering at his heels.
Napoleon sat stiffly in the chair in Dr Morton's office. 'Give it to me straight, Doctor.'
Dr Morton stood behind his desk and held up a board containing a series of charts. 'I know these won't mean anything to you, Napoleon, but these charts here'—he indicated them with his pen—'compare the current sampling of your brain wave patterns with those taken at your last full medical. They match, with expected deviations, to within accepted tolerance levels over the same range of test scenarios and stimuli'. He pointed to the second row of charts. 'These charts here, compare your brain wave patterns to those of Dr Shtallmacher. We found that the abnormalities in his charts were due to the apparent destruction of those areas of his brain which are responsible for resistance to suggestion. None of the aberrations we found in his readings are exhibited in yours.' He paused, looking over his glasses at Napoleon, and grinned. 'In other words, you're in the clear.'
Napoleon sat in stunned silence for a moment, then looked up at Illya, who was standing protectively behind his right shoulder. 'It can't be that simple.'
Illya looked thoroughly relieved. 'Believe it. You're fine, Napoleon.'
Napoleon let his breath escape in a long, low whistle. 'Well, I never want to feel like that again.'
He rose, shaking the doctor's hand. 'Thanks very much, Doctor. For more than you know.'
When Illya had escorted Napoleon back to his room in the Infirmary, he looked crossly at him. 'Are you sure you can't simply unsuspend yourself?'
'I've obviously been far too efficient for that, Illya. But you know what to do. Do you, uh, think you could spring me in time for dinner? The food in here is lousy.'
Illya's mouth twitched a brief smile. At the door, he turned around, suddenly serious. 'You sacrificed yourself for the safety of U.N.C.L.E, Napoleon. Waverly will probably give you a commendation for this.'
'Just what the devil have you both been playing at?' Alexander Waverly's grey eyebrows were knitted in extreme annoyance.
'Need I remind you, Mr Solo, that our budget is stretched thinly enough as it is? The moment my back is turned, time and valuable Medical resources are wasted performing needless tests on perfectly healthy agents.'
Napoleon flinched under his Chief's scathing rebuke. 'I... had the purest of intentions, Sir -'
'It's a poor showing, Mr Solo, when the mere spectre of some evil or other can render one of my top agents crippled with self-doubt.'
Illya bravely attempted to interject. 'Actually, Sir...'
'We have enough real evils to fight,' Waverly continued unabated, 'without any of this... shadow boxing.' He harrumphed noisily, shuffling the papers on his desk. 'I have issued a global communication regarding your re-instatement, Mr Solo. In future, may I suggest that your cautionary tactics, however well-intentioned, be less... precipitous?' . Napoleon nodded deferentially. 'Eh, yes, Sir.' There was an embarrassed silence.
Illya tried again. 'Sir, if I might...?'
'Well, Mr Kuyrakin?'
Illya put on his glasses and referred eagerly to his notes. 'Sir, Napoleon's deductive reasoning led me to two further discoveries. He recalled the fact that Chris... Mrs Brinel... had a day-long gap in her memory. To be on the safe side, I decided to recall her and she has now undergone the same brain wave tests as Napoleon. It turns out she did have an operation after all, although a slightly different one to the others. In her case, the areas of her brain controlling ambition and aggression were stimulated, in the hope that she would urge her husband to climb to a position of importance in the aerospace industry.'
'I see. Most inconvenient. What can be done for her?'
'Well, Napoleon did intervene before they gave her the final obedience procedure. The initial operation itself is irreversible, I'm afraid, but now that she is aware of it, she is on guard against its effects. She has also agreed to a course of psychoanalytic treatment which may provide her with some resistance.'
'Mmmrph. What was the second thing?'
Illya leaned forward. 'That, Sir, is the strangest thing of all. A sample of individuals from the list of Dr Shtallmacher's victims has also been tested, under the cover of a routine psychiatric evaluation. Only one of those tested actually showed evidence of being operated upon.'
Waverly removed the empty pipe he had just placed between his teeth. 'What?'
'It's far from conclusive. But my hypothesis is that the victim list may have been largely falsified. It would, after all, be far cheaper and easier to throw suspicion on most of these high-profile persons than actually to abduct and operate on all of them. THRUSH may not have obtained control of them, but they would be forced ultimately from their important jobs, perhaps freeing those positions for THRUSH operatives.'
Waverly's gnarled hands played contemplatively with his pipe. 'That's fiendishly simple—and diabolical!'
'Sometimes,' said Napoleon gently, 'the shadows are real'.
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