Illya Kuryakin blinked... hard. Every place he looked was white. Really white, bleached bones in the desert white. That's when he noticed his clothes—his shoes, trousers, turtleneck, coat; even his belt was the same white. What was going on?
He thought furiously. He remembered they were in a shoot out with a group of THRUSH. He remembered turning to Napoleon.
"I'm going to go around front."
"Be careful. We don't know how many there are."
He rounded the corner and saw the THRUSH a brief second before the flash. Compulsively, he looked down at his hand and realized it was empty. He'd been holding his Walther. A quick check of his shoulder holster, also a blinding, white showed it to be equally empty. He blinked as his eyes teared. It was so bright he could barely see anything.
"You'll get used to it in a couple of minutes. And you won't find your gun. We don't permit weapons here."
Illya looked over at the speaker and this time he went so far as to rub his eyes with trembling knuckles. "Albert Einstein? But you're..."
"Well, yes he is and no I'm not... well, I am dead, but I'm not him. I picked this because he's a man you respected. Would you prefer this instead?" Suddenly Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was looking at him.
"You have got to be kidding..." Illya shook his head in disgust. "I don't think so."
"Then this?" Illya's babushka was looking back at him.
"No, stop!" Illya fell back a step and wrapped his hands and arms around his head, as if trying to keep his skull from bursting. It was too much too fast.
"Then Einstein it is." Albert was back.
"Where am I? Surely not... Heaven. I'm an atheist."
"We prefer to keep from applying labels here. It is wherever and whatever you want to call it, but you are right. You are not there." Albert lit his pipe and puffed. "You are not without sin, Illya Kuryakin. You have committed the gravest act a man can commit, that of taking a life."
"But never from want or desire for revenge. You only killed when it was required of you and never without regret... well, almost never without regret."
"So why am I here?"
"Well, we haven't quite figured out what to do with you. This isn't your time."
"I'm here. How can it be anything else? You're not telling me that God makes mistakes."
"You have another explanation for aardvarks? That's a joke, by the way. We do have a sense of humor up here. It really helps at times. Anyhow, it was your time... sort of... You see, there is something much bigger at stake here. Your partner's life depends upon you."
"Napoleon? He's a very capable man. He understands the nature of our business and while he will mourn me, he will go on. He's strong."
"That's where you are wrong... he isn't. He will become despondent and careless and he will die before his time. He needs to survive for future events to play out as they should." Albert tried to calm his wild hair. "For that to happen, we must send you back."
"No, not okay, for you will not remember this and it is imperative that you remember what has transpired, at least in part." Albert turned to a black board that suddenly appeared and began to scribble. "There must be a way to make you not replay the same events again and again. We aren't any fonder of this than you." Then he tapped the board with the chalk. "Unless... "
Illya woke and sat up in bed. Beside him, Napoleon was snoring away and Illya frowned. He ran a hand through his sleep tousled hair and an image of Albert Einstein ran through his hair. That was... odd. He turned on the bedside light and gave Napoleon a poke.
"Was wron'?" A mumble answered him as Napoleon blinked painfully in the light. That reminded Illya of something... didn't it?
"You're snoring. That could get you killed... by someone other than me."
"Sorry..." Napoleon reached out a hand and found his water glass. He took a long drink and then sank back. "Didn't mean to wake ... what's that around your neck?"
Illya glanced down. "What? My medallion? You've seen it..." Then he stopped... Hadn't he always worn a medallion?
Napoleon reached out. "October 26, 1964." He flipped it over and squinted at the lettering. "I'm going to go around front." He made a face. "That's a weird thing to put on a medallion."
"October 26... that's tomorrow." Illya turned off the light and flopped back down. He rubbed his forehead, wishing he could remember... something.
"So what's happening tomorrow?" Napoleon reached out and pulled Illya against him. The fingers of one hand began to play with Illya's chest hair. "Something important?"
"No idea and don't be starting something you don't intend to finish, my friend."
"Me? Not a finisher? Perish the thought."
Illya was fighting a sense of déjà vu. It had been with him all day and now it was screaming at him, even as the THRUSH bullets whizzed by. Then it became deathly quiet. He checked his clip and changed it out for a fresh one.
"I'm going to go around front." He started to move and Napoleon grabbed his wrist. "What?"
"Illya, that's what your medallion says."
"What?" Illya reached under the collar of his turtleneck and pulled out the white gold medallion. "No, it says, 'Don't.'"
"Last night it said 'I'm going to go around front.' Illya..."
"Okay, I'll grant that it's weird, but..."
There were twin chirps on their communicators and Napoleon got his open first. "Solo."
"Napoleon!" Mark's voice barked from the instrument. "Don't break cover. You have another THRUSH coming your way, south end of the building."
Illya glanced up and saw the man. He got off a fast shot and watched the man sway for a moment until the sleeper bullet took him to the ground. "We have him, Mark, thanks." He holstered his weapon and looked over at Napoleon. "What?"
"Do you realize if you'd left when you were going to, you'd have run right into that guy?"
"Huh... guess it's a good thing I..."
Illya brought a hand to his neck and frowned. "Wasn't I wearing a medallion a minute ago?"
"Maybe it fell off." Napoleon's communicator chirped again. "Solo."
"Mr. Solo, I need you and Mr. Kuryakin back at HQ as soon as possible."
"Understood, sir." Napoleon glanced over at Illya, who was looking around the immediate area. "Let's go, partner, duty calls."
Illya shook his head and gestured. "I could have sworn... oh well, lead on, I'm bound to follow."
The heavens gave a deep sigh of relief and all was right in the world again.