The Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet Affair
Fandoms: The Man from UNCLE, Danger Man and a tie-in to the James Bond movie Goldeneye because I have a perverse sense of humor, and it seemed like an appropriate way to introduce the "updated" 60's feel. There are a few references to John le Carre if you squint hard enough, and some might say the Prisoner, too. I think, read and watch too much espionage media than is probably healthy.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these guys and present them here for non-profit entertainment purposes only. I just like seeing what happens when they run into each other.
Author's Note: The title of this fic comes from a favorite Danger Man episode of mine of the same name where the British John Drake collaborates with a Russian agent for the first time. It seemed like an appropriate start for a cross-cultural spy partnership with our favorite agents from UNCLE; you'd think all of those 60's spies would run into each other at least once considering that there can only be so many megalomaniacs out there!
In the off chance you were wondering, Napoleon, Illya and John Drake are not going to end up in a slashy threesome at any point. Sorry if I've disappointed you there :P
I am forever indebted to M-9 and the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose assistance I could not write this story.
ACT I: Knights Errant
Caroline smiled as she watched the tall, fair man stride across the tiles of the lobby. To say that he was a welcome sight for her sore, slightly dry eyes would be a polite understatement.
Despite the air of exotic glamour imbued in the firm name, World Travel hardly attracted—with the exception of the man approaching her now—such physically striking employees. The harried, shadow-eyed men constantly looking over their shoulders were hardly those the PR department showcased in recruitment brochures. Agents were lucky to survive until middle age in this cutthroat business. Those who didn't suffer from burn out or occupational hazards were retired from the field after 55 and offered a cushy desk job within the vast agency administration. Others left to become well-paid consultants of dubious legality. Those in the last category were never spoken of, but their files were still kept in officially nonexistent archives of the personnel department "for future reference."
John Drake resembled none of the above, literally and figuratively. He easily stood out from the crowd at what the Americans would call 6'2" with his wavy, sandy hair, piercing blue eyes and sense of perpetual movement as his hands never kept still. Few men looked so trim in the dark overcoats he invariably wore, but a sharp, appreciative eye like Caroline's could detect the muscular contours beneath the well pressed white Oxford shirts. Though still relatively young, Drake carried himself with the authority of an agent with twice as much field experience.
Glancing at her reflection in the mirror-like steel caddy on her desk, Caroline hastily repositioned the fake tortoiseshell hair clip in her hair. "And how might I be able to assist you today, Mr. Drake?" She repressed her habitual urge to smooth out the slight curls at the nape of his neck.
"Ms. Gordon, there's no need for pretense. You and I both know that you just finished your call with Hobbs's secretary to confirm my meeting with him at 2 o'clock just as I entered the building. Would you be so kind as to hand me my elevator security pass?"
The old Caroline would've issued a playful retort, but the secretary quickly learned from observation and more firsthand experience than she'd care to admit that no amount of feminine wile could soften Drake's professionalism. She never was able to place his accent, a curious transatlantic cross of crisp, clipped British tones sharpened by a few Brooklyn-accented consonants. Drake once mentioned growing up on his family's farm in Ireland, but an illicit peek into his dossier revealed that he was born in New York before moving at age 6 back to the other side of the pond.
Certainly no one would ever identify him as an Englishman. Though known for his particular brand of honor, a timeless secular chivalry, Drake radiated the unmistakable aura of the perpetually world-weary traveler who saw more than he cared to reveal. Caroline couldn't call him inhospitable despite the perpetual tinge of irony underlying his words; nevetheless, she was well aware that Drake was a social chameleon whose appraising professional instincts were engaged in even in the most casual of exchanges. It was no agency secret that his code name was "lone wolf"—personable as he was, Caroline could never be sure how much his occasional bouts of affability were exercises in reeling in information. Still, she was certain that his interest was genuine.
"Of course, Mr. Drake." The secretary slipped him his World Travel ID card, which also doubled as a security pass allowing him to access the other floors in the elevator.
"I'm obliged." Drake flashed her a quick smile revealing slightly crooked teeth before heading towards the bank of elevators.
As the steel doors swallowed his figure, Caroline chided herself to stop aping Miss Moneypenny swooning after agent 007. Surely she was more sensible than her former colleagues in that division. At least, the secretary vigorously assured herself, her interest was guided towards a more...professional direction this time. Drake would never nearly veer over a cliff while chasing a femme fatale in the midst of a reinstatement evaluation. Caroline unconsciously let out the slightest of sighs.
After the elevator stopped on the 6th floor, Drake strode into the richly carpeted hallway and past the heavy walnut doors. He knew from experience that there was no point in knocking or employing traditional gestures of courtesy with his superiors. Most likely, they had been watching his every move since he entered the building from the hidden security CCTV screens embedded in their desks.
Hobbs waved the antique, brass-handled dagger he used as a letter opener at the chair facing his desk to indicate Drake to sit down. The craggy-faced man was respectfully feared by his agents as the co-chief of M-9, a subdivision of Britain's counterintelligence agency MI-6. Behind their superior's back, Hobbs's subordinates joked that the knives their boss was always fiddling with hinted that he was lacking in a certain area of the male anatomy.
Hobbs cast a steely glance at Drake before speaking. "As you may recall, Conrad Sachs was our chief archivist, responsible for updating and retrieving mission reports and individual dossiers from Nexus."
"As I recall, that would be our digital intelligence database that keeps track of our agents, their agents and the usual freelance rogues' gallery. Despite that I haven't had a vacation in three years, thanks to you, I'm still fully versed in the bureaucratic procedures of the home office."
Hobbs abruptly stopped twirling the letter opener in his hands and brandished the tip of the blade an inch away from Drake's nose. Characteristically, the agent did not even so much as blink at the gesture. "If you'd like to fill in the position of expenditures officer, I'd be more than happy to reassign you and let you personally reimburse all of those rebel factions whose bases you have destroyed, hotel managers whose rooms you've irrevocably damaged and civilians whose vehicles you've 'borrowed.'"
Drake's voice remained coolly sardonic as ever. "No thank you, Colonel. I think I'd rather sweat out another attempted coup in the Middle East rather than face the jungle of red tape here in the civilized world of espionage."
Hobbs' tone was as sharp as the dagger he had retracted from Drake's face a few moments ago. "This civilized world of intelligence, as you've dubbed it, Drake, has its own share of death traps. Conrad Sachs's body was found decomposing on the shoulder of an obscure road in northern California just yesterday."
The deceased colleague's stuffy-sounding name masked his easygoing nature; Sachs was one of the few senior officers whose sense of humor hadn't been excised by the grim nature of their work. Drake wondered who would be assigned the unpleasant task of returning Jamie and Sally's school portraits on the archivist's desk to the grieving widow.
"Sachs left four days ago to attend a conference in Silicon Valley. His last communiqu, sent two days before his death, indicated that he was on the trail of a major breakthrough that he claimed would revitalize the international intelligence community. Unfortunately, we suspect that the opposition intervened before he could send us any details. For all we know they actually have their hands on his discovery.
Drake, you will pick up where Sachs left off. Your flight to San Francisco leaves in three hours. This file contains all of the available information we have about Sachs's lead and your contact protocol." Hobbs set down the dagger for the first time since Drake had entered the room and handed him a manila folder.
The younger agent wordlessly packed the file into his black leather briefcase, the same one he had since he entered this business. Sachs had a virtually identical briefcase, except the archivist had his initials monogrammed in silver. Drake wondered if Sachs had brought it with him before taking off for San Francisco. Did Mrs. Sachs ever suspect that her husband wasn't really attending a librarians' conference?
His reverie was quickly shattered by the staccato of his superior's voice. "And for God's sake, Drake, don't get yourself killed because we're bleeding our budget enough as it is to break in new agents to replace the old. Her Majesty won't be pawning off the Crown Jewels to fund your mistakes."
"I'm glad to be reminded of my value to this organization," Drake drawled, not bothering to temper the edge of his sarcasm. He stood up and headed for the door. "Good afternoon, sir."
"Insubordinate cheek," Hobbs muttered to himself with briefly unrepressed affection.
New York City, UNCLE HQ
Coming back from lunch in the commissary, numbers 2 and 11 of section 2 of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, New York division, were engaged in healthy debate over the latest summons from number 1, section 1.
"Perhaps you should have turned in your report on that last affair on time instead of two days after the deadline," dryly suggested the blond Russian.
"I thought it would be a more worthwhile endeavor to spend more of my time boosting morale in personnel. They have been rather overworked this past week," responded his dark haired colleague, hazel eyes twinkling.
Illya Kuryakin couldn't help but roll his startlingly blue eyes, the same ones that kept the secretary pool swooning when they weren't eying his partner. "I wonder what could have been occupying them. Did I miss the lecture on euphemisms in Survival School?"
Napoleon Solo grinned. "You were probably too busy testing out the newest explosives to even hear about our, ah, extracurricular activities."
Before Kuryakin could retort, the steel doors of the UNCLE chief's conference room slid open with a pneumatic hiss. Their craggy superior, Alexander Waverly, motioned them to sit.
"Gentlemen, I have a most vital state of affairs for you to investigate," the head of UNCLE New York announced.
Solo and Kuryakin traded skeptical looks. As much as they respected their superior, the partners' last several "vital" missions involved killer bees, sleeper assassin schoolgirls and dangerous dress patterns encoded with THRUSH communiqus.
If Waverly had noticed his agents' incredulity, he didn't show it. "No, we are not tricking THRUSH into buying the chemical formula of floor wax this time. Indeed, we are not foiling any THRUSH's current schemes. Instead, we're pursuing a lead that directly relates to our organization's mission of fostering international cooperation and harmony.
As you know, intelligence agencies suffer from gross miscommunication and, on an individual level, the inability to filter through and interpret the vast quantities of information they are able to collect with modern surveillance. Records can't be updated quickly enough to handle the constant deluge of intelligence, so agents aren't equipped with all of the necessary background to formulate the most effective mission plans.
As a result, we spend more and more of our time on paperwork to document and justify the excessive surveillance we need in our preliminary investigations before embarking on the actual operation. At this rate, we'll lose more of our agents to boredom than to field casualties. More importantly, as the ranks our enemies and allies become more global in scope, it is increasingly impossible to keep accurate tabs on any network."
Kuryakin picked up Waverly's train of thought. "I just read a technical journal feature about a new super database connected to a system capable of routing more encrypted information per second than any other in existence. The unusual aspect about this project was that it was developed by private enterprise without any known government research funding. Knight Enterprises plan to release the database for commercial use within the next three weeks.'
"Quite right, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly noted.
Solo, as much affection as he had for his partner, did not wish to be outshone in front of the man he was groomed to one day succeed. "If UNCLE had such a database, we could input all of our records onto one universally accessible system. As this database is capable of storing and transmitting huge quantities of data, all UNCLE branches would have immediate access to the most current information, thus freeing up couriers for more pressing tasks than monitoring wire taps. Soon, the rest of the intelligence community will want to jump on the bandwagon, considering the recent surge in popular criticism of bureaucratic inefficiency. Such a database would far outrival the capabilities of THRUSH's Ultimate Computer."
Waverly nodded. "Commendable deduction, Mr. Solo." The CEA couldn't help but let a toothy smile slip in spite of himself. Kuryakin looked amused by his partner's exposition but chose not to respond to his partner's attempts at one-upmanship. There were plenty of upcoming opportunities that catered to the Russian's expertise.
Waverly took over the briefing from his two leading enforcement agents. "Our only real lead so far is Jonathan Knight, the eponymous founder of Knight Enterprises. At the moment we believe that Mr. Knight is the brains behind this operation, but our knowledge of his organization is limited to annual reports and business news coverage. All pertinent intelligence is in the folders. Your mission is to acquire the database before THRUSH or another enemy agency does."
The agents quickly flipped through what they had been given; they'd study the available . "Well, sir, it's almost 8:30, and if we want to make the 11:20 United flight from JFK, Illya and I best grab our suitcases from our office now," Solo remarked. "We'll touch base and report any new developments once we land in California."
"Good day, gentlemen, and good luck," Waverly bade them. It was an added bonus to not have to send Solo to a dangerous location where he'd inevitably rack up more charges to his expenditure report on account of his wardrobe. Waverly sat back and let the aroma of Isle of Dogs No. 22 waft from his freshly lit pipe. For once, his agents could concentrate on the peaceful aspects of their business.
Somewhere in the American stratosphere
Solo and Kuryakin silently perused their dossiers on board the plane to San Francisco. Luckily, their trusted agent at World Travel snagged the last two seats in business class after cashing in their excess frequent flyer miles for an upgrade.
Kuryakin spoke for the first time since takeoff. "Am I the only one who suspects that this is a THRUSH trap or, at the very least, a decoy for their real operation to unleash worldwide chaos("
Taking a sip of his scotch and soda, Solo gave his partner a bemused smile. "Always the pessimist, Illya. It sounds like someone's found the time to crack open a volume of Tolstoy on top of all of those theoretical physics journals cramming your mailbox."
Kuryakin scowled in mock indignation. "At least Mr. Knight would appreciate my taste in literature. According to these records, Jonathan Sebastian Knight possesses one of the largest private book collections on in California."
Reading aloud from the documents in front of him, the Russian adjusted his thick black reading glasses and adopted an accent more befitting one of his Cambridge tutors. "Despite the aristocratic nom de famille, Knight grew up in humble, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn where his schoolteachers detected his knack for the sciences at an early age. He studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, where he secured two patents while earning his undergraduate and master's degrees. The royalties allowed him to pay off his student loans quickly and convinced him of the business potential in the then up-and-coming Silicon Valley. There, Knight obtained his MBA from Stanford where he met his wife—"
Solo flipped to Mrs. Knight's profile, with a quick appreciative glance at the small but flattering black and white ID photo. "Catherine Isabelle, ne Yang, heiress to her family's Hong Kong banking empire. She provided the initial capital to finance his enterprise and heads her own highly successful venture capital firm. It looks like they've been making good returns in more ways than one—by all accounts, they've been a happily married couple with three children."
Kuryakin took a moment to rub his glasses with a cloth from the right pocket of his gray sports jacket. Solo had given it to him as a gift after the red one he had worn undercover as a bass player been tattered to shreds by a THRUSH goon on a later mission. How Solo figured out his measurements to the nearest half-inch, Kuryakin wasn't sure if he wanted to know; his partner did have many "friends" in records. "Napoleon, I don't like the sound of this. Knight sounds like he stepped out of a Horatio Alger novel."
Solo noted how exhaustion had settled as dark circles under his partner's eyes and etched itself into the presently hunched curvature of his spine. The two had been working on several affairs back without even a hospital stay, normally reviled, to offer them a break. Under constant threat, it was no wonder that his cynical friend saw conspiracies sprouting everywhere.
"THRUSH prides itself in picking innocuous front companies, but I doubt Knight's group is one of them. For one thing, they'd never publicize the project as much as they have—look at how much attention they're attracting from rival firms and government clients. There's just too much public scrutiny; using transparency as a cover for such a large-scale project is too difficult to maintain. THRUSH is probably just as eager to get it as much as we are; we should expect them to make an appearance on the buyer's side of the transaction."
Kuryakin's mouth unconsciously tightened. "I meant Jonathan Knight, Napoleon. We've been in this business too long to realize that unmarred paragons of success don't exist."
Solo wondered how much his partner yearned for a stable family life or still envied those who had grown up with one. They hadn't spoken much, if at all, about personal matters lately; they hadn't been on a long surveillance stakeout where they could catch up for some time. That was the downside of seniority, Solo thought ironically, about his previous dread of such boring assignments. Finding the time to even grab lunch together back at HQ was an increasing rarity. "Really( They could say the same about you, tovarischch, and believe me, they do. How did a little boy-genius from Kiev become a globe-trotting spy with a doctorate in quantum mechanics("
Kuryakin smiled wanly. "You're not exempt either, Napoleon. I doubt that anyone besides Waverly and I know that you're not the prodigal playboy despite your supposed intimacy with all of those ladies competing for ink in your little black book. Your mother couldn't afford to stay a night in that luxe Qubecois hotel she cleaned—"
Trust Illya to turn the tables when you least expect it, Solo thought, even on his friends. "An excellent point, IK. But hotel rates are of no concern to us for the present affair as we'll be renting out a condo near the project site for the next month. How exactly do you plan to infiltrate Knight's corporation and investigate the situation?"
Kuryakin immediately picked up on the ever-so-slightly strained amicability of Solo's tone. The Russian hadn't meant to come across as railing on his partner; the frenetic pace of the past few affairs had worn away his tact more than his professional self would care to admit.
"At this time of year, Knight Enterprises embarks on its main recruiting campaign. The understaffed research and development labs are a key player in this year's hiring initiative as so many have abandoned their old projects to work on the database. I doubt that UNCLE would mind if I picked up a second job that didn't use state secrets as currency."
Kuryakin's response gave Solo enough time to slip back into his slick persona. "The Knights will be attending a charity event at Stanford's Cantor Arts Museum tomorrow. I'm sure UNCLE San Francisco will be able to secure me an invitation."
The Russian nodded. "An excellent idea, but I think both of us should attend. I can eavesdrop on the technical gossip while you keep an eye out for potential competitors."
A smile quirked around the edges of Solo's mouth. "You rationalization is sufficiently convincing to join the party, but you know you only want to go for the hors d'oeuvres."
In a rare moment of laughter, Kuryakin couldn't bring himself to correct his partner's Quebecois-butchered French.
To be continued...