PART SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY

'Dr Kuryakin. Now why did it take me so long to remember you?'

Illya licked the blood from a small cut on his lip and smiled.

'I imagine it's because you weren't expecting to see me after all these years, Dr Cant. Unlike you however, I have a very good memory for faces.'

Vivienne Cant lent awkwardly against the metal framed desk immediately in front of a long line of plain units, depressingly similar to those one might find in any other rooms connected with medicine, Illya reflected somewhat darkly. On the shiny surface beside her there was a file, but from the look of it, not much information had been gathered. More worryingly to Illya, however, was the metal kidney dish beside it, containing a syringe and an accompanying glass phial looking vaguely familiar.

Cant smirked unpleasantly at his comment and picked up the file. Illya could just see his name on the front, with the Arachne foundation logo above. As yet, there was nothing obviously THRUSH being displayed; not on the file, or in the room or even on the phial. After reading for a few moments, she looked up, her eyes squinting narrowly at him through the translucent tint of her spectacles.

She sighed a little and threw the file down on the desk.

'Well, Dr Kuryakin, so why should a brilliant Russian physicist turn up in this God forsaken part of America and pretend to be a French student of impeccable background and rather extreme political views? Do tell.'

The file, and her obvious lack of information about him reminded Illya of what Napoleon had related to him about the THRUSH computer. He shrugged and smiled again, the salty blood in his mouth lessening as he rolled his tongue round his gums before speaking.

'Um,' he began, raising his eyes heavenward a little, 'I, um, wanted a fresh start. Generally speaking, it's quite hard to get on down here with a name like mine.' He could see immediately that she wasn't either amused or convinced, but for the moment, she remained where she was.

'Very witty, my dear Dr Kuryakin.'

He could see she was frustrated by her lack of intelligence about him. Illya wondered whether she would choose to use physical force to obtain it, although with her background it seemed more likely that the drug lying in wait by her side would be her preferred method.

He recalled other memories of Vivienne Cant. She was still in the midst of her doctorate when he left Cambridge. After their initial meeting he had come across her infrequently, usually as the dominant member of a rather aggressive group of highly ambitious women from one of the women's colleges. She had made it clear then that men in general, and he in particular, were not necessary or welcome in her world. It appeared that since they had last met she had learned very little about him beyond his name, his qualifications and his nationality.

A rather awkward silence fell between them for a few moments, Illya wondering how long it would be before the Neanderthals standing nearby attempted to strip him, giving him at least a slight chance of escape. Cant however, seemed in no hurry, which in itself caused Illya a slight frisson of worry. With only two men and her, the odds were not good but possible; if any others arrived, they would be next to impossible.

He wriggled slightly on the chair and moved his wrists, trying to maintain the circulation in the vain hope of any opportunity coming his way. Unsurprisingly, the guards had made a very poor job of tying him up, and, keeping his face entirely neutral, he managed to slide the rope down painstakingly towards his fingers. The movement seemed to jerk Vivienne Cant into some sort of action. She stood up and came closer.

'Do you know what I think?' she said mockingly, bending slightly towards him, a whiff of something rather antiseptically sexless, wafting into his nostrils.

'Do tell' he replied icily, repeating the tone of her accent with infuriating accuracy.

'I think that either you are still in the service of your Soviet compatriots, or, you could just be working for some organisation with an entirely different agenda.'

'An interesting idea. Incidentally, I'm just wondering whether you are a little more than someone's personal assistant. In fact I'm wondering whether this whole set-up is under your control, Doctor.'

Illya glanced sideways before returning to his flat contemplation of Vivienne Cant. One of the guards had left the room, leaving only one man standing idly at his side. As she leant towards him, Illya slid his feet apart with imperceptible slowness.

'Oh Dr Kuryakin, I think I may have underestimated you' Cant droned on, leaning even closer.

She screamed, a harsh grating screech, as his legs came up and gripped her neck, swinging her viciously into the guard. Illya was on his feet immediately, his knife in his hand. He had noted the exit of the first guard through the doors behind Vivienne Cant's desk, but for a fraction of a second he hesitated, weighing up the chances of escape through either door. As he finally ran to the doors in front of him he could see Cant frantically searching for her glasses, which had flown off in the fight and were now lodged inconveniently under the counter. As his head turned, one of the doors was pushed towards him with force, catching him on the temple and knocking him back, before he felt the hard imprint of a boot on his wrist and the knife twisted from his grasp.

'You fixin' to go somewhere, Frenchie?'

Illya could remember sighing at least once before a blow to his head rendered him unable to remember any more.

The fetid breath of Kane Pierce would have been enough to bring a tranquilised rhinoceros round, let alone a Russian UNCLE agent of slender build, he thought to himself as he kept his eyelids glued to his face. He was aware of being horizontal, the familiar sensation of restraints pinning his wrists and ankles to the hard bed he lay upon. Despite Pierce's proximity, he managed to achieve the appearance of unconsciousness, even though his brain was now fully functional, for which he was exceptionally grateful. Pierce moved away slightly, allowing Illya to become aware of other voices in the room.

'Ya took a risk letting him come in this far' he heard Houghton rasp before Vivienne Cant interrupted.

'As soon as I recognised him at the house I imagined he might head this way, so we simply arranged a little reception party' she said confidently, her voice hiding what Illya knew to be her shock at what had just happened and also her almost total failure in discovering exactly why he was there.

'I can deal with him', Pierce burst in rudely, his voice taking on a leering tone to Illya's attentive ears. 'Just like old Buford. The 'gators enjoyed him and I guess they'll make themselves partial to a little fine French dinin' too.'

'He isn't French you moron' Vivienne hissed, 'and you've probably done half the job already with that blow on the head you gave him.' The sound of Illya's file being slammed down nearby caused the Russian to flinch involuntarily. There was a sudden, total silence in the room. Illya's heart reacted immediately to the hiatus around him, fear clamping his chest, the fear that his inability to remain still had exposed him to them and whatever they had planned for him. After what seemed like a lifetime, there was the creak of a door opening and the squeak of someone's footsteps approaching the others.

'Don't take this the wrong way folks, but I just saw the light and felt the Lord calling me here.'

It took a consummate effort on Illya's part not to smile. He could only imagine the look on the faces of the others, but he was sure that without exception they had all turned away from him.

'What the …' he heard Pierce growl before Illya imagined him being pushed aside as a sound of scraping feet and the undercurrent of voices confirmed.

'Reverend, I was not aware of having asked for your help in this matter' Houghton snarled, Illya suddenly painfully aware that someone had gripped his upper arm. He had realised as soon as he gained consciousness that he had been stripped, only his underwear remaining as he lay strapped to the bed. He was certain that the hand belonged to Vivienne Cant and that fact in itself once again drove up his blood pressure.

'Oh Lord, what has happened to this poor young fella?' Napoleon bawled out abruptly, his voice booming in Illya's ear to indicate his proximity. Without preamble, the American launched into a prayer, alarming in both volume and subject. Illya could feel he was very close now, his partner's breath on his face as he invoked the Lord on the Russian's behalf. Without warning he felt Vivienne Cant's clutch being released, and another, less sadistic grip replacing it and then gently releasing its hold.

He opened his eyes fractionally. Napoleon's face was almost on top of his, his partner's hands held together in front of Illya's eyes. As Napoleon bellowed a command for him to wake up, he noticed that one of his partner's thumbs was bent inwards, and in the hollow, a perfect replica of the phial in the dish was lodged. Solo's eyes spoke to Illya, holding him in their gaze and then falling momentarily towards his hand.

'And the Lord will save you with outstretched arm and mighty hand.'

He remembered it now; the phial. He could see it nestling with the others in the secret storeroom, a drug mysteriously and intimately connected to the rows of faces in the file nearby.

Kuryakin's eyelids fluttered open, the astonishing blueness of his eyes imprinting themselves on Napoleon; not just the colour, but a kind of luminosity in them that denoted his partner's understanding and absolute trust in his plan. As his hand closed over the phial Vivienne Cant, whom he had forced backwards by his actions, shoved him aside roughly to regain her place. The act of leaning forward had caused Napoleon to become slightly unbalanced, forcing him to grab the side of the bed to prevent himself from falling.

He knew that Illya witnessed the phial silently dropping to the floor, where it rolled innocuously under the unit behind his bed. If the Russian's eyes had demonstrated hope beforehand, they were now equally indicative of his present feelings. Napoleon saw a dark haze cloud them, the long eyelashes finally extinguishing the remaining light. Desperately he patted his trouser pocket, his eyes remaining on his partner at the same time as Vivienne Cant's voice cut through the silence.

'I'm sorry to have to ask you, Reverend, but would you mind awfully if we search you? After the sad breakdown of Mr Guerin here, you see, we just can't take any chances that you might, well, give him something that would be innapropriate, let us say.'

Napoleon stared at Illya, who was now fixing him with a calm gaze which spoke of endurance and acceptance. As he watched, the Russian shook his head imperceptibly and mouthed a distinct 'no' with his lips. Immediately, he began to struggle, inviting Napoleon forward again with a penetrating glare.

'I don't want your prayers, preacher' he hissed. 'Save yourself, Reverend, and leave me alone.' Napoleon felt the remaining phial in his pocket. His partner's message had been painfully clear; if he was searched and the phial found then any hope UNCLE had of stopping THRUSH was over. Keeping the Russian's gaze in view, he dropped the remaining phial and crushed it carefully into the floor under his foot.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

Emil Terrebonne placed the cigarette case receiver squarely on the kitchen table and drew out a chair. He spun it round and sat down, his immense shoulders flowing over the chair back as he positioned himself to listen to the rest of the conversation being relayed through the right hand side of the gold box.

Napoleon's sober, but useful cuff-links were proving to be highly efficient at transmitting the events going on at the farm. They had agreed that Emil would remain in the house with Miss Evangeline and Miss Rosa, unless Solo uttered the previously agreed code words which to date, he had not repeated. He had explained how he intended to use the little ampoules, but Emil did not entirely share Solo's confidence in the plan. Contrary to his normal, rather reserved attitude towards others, he had developed a fondness for the little Russian, which he convinced himself was down to their shared love of music in all its forms. As he puzzled out what might be happening in the room at the other end of the transmission, he felt a slow-burning rage building, urging him to leave this room and head down to that one.

A sense of someone in the room made him swivel and stand up.

'Miss Vangie; you're not supposed to …'

'Hear what's going on?' she said, coming forward quickly and standing opposite him across the other side of the table, the little case between them continuing to transmit familiar sounds, familiar voices. Emil sat down again with a slight shrug of his giant shoulders. She was dressed in some kind of night attire covered by a deep pink silk dressing gown. He tried not to look too closely, but she was attractive, it was hard to deny. Now Napoleon's voice could be heard over the transmitter, asking the kind of question which worried Emil.

'So this treatment you're planning on giving this young man here, what are its benefits, might I ask?'

Evangeline started slightly as the next speaker's voice became clearly audible.

'As you know, Reverend, there are some people in society, one might call them 'anti-social' or even 'deviant', who do not respond to normal attempts to improve or treat their problems. Mr Guerin here is in fact suffering from the delusion that he is some kind of spy sent to discover an evil plot going on here.' She gave a rather high-pitched, brittle laugh before continuing. 'We've found that, rather than indulging in months of expensive and ultimately fruitless group therapy, one injection of this', a hard, metallic sound punctuated her words, 'will induce a feeling of well-being and a wish to conform to the norms of decent society.'

The sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted her flow.

'I hope you realise that your so-called therapy will be ultimately fruitless whatever happens to me. Eventually you will be stopped, however many people it takes.'

Evangeline leaned forward, her hand grasping the edge of the table.

'That's Illya' she gasped, recovering herself and giving Emil a furious look. 'They're experimenting on him down there while his partner just play-acts and you, you just sit here and do nothing!' Emil frowned and put his hand up to silence her.

'I need to listen and if you can't do that too, you better return to your bed' he said darkly, inducing a tight lipped response in her reminiscent of the little Russian he thought sadly.

'Oh I see' Napoleon was saying slowly. 'Now, I can see that you are trying to help this poor sick boy and heal him, but mind if I just ask; does everyone respond to the treatment or have you just got a little chemical miracle in your hands there?'

There was a pause before Vivienne Cant replied, her voice at once contemptuous and patronising.

'The miracle, as you describe it, Reverend, has proved to be both permanent and almost entirely successful.' Emil noticed that Evangeline was shaking her head, her attention now fixed on the transmitter between them.

'Almost? Why, some fella take agin it?' Napoleon came back.

'Only one' Vivienne replied, the sneer in her voice transmitting clearly into the kitchen. 'We think it may have something to do with his blood, but unfortunately he, er, disappeared before we could do any tests.'

Evangeline ran round and grasped Emil's arm.

'Buford had an unusual blood group for round here anyway' she burst out. 'He told me about it; it was something to do with his grandmother being from some country in Eastern Europe.' She grabbed a pencil from the dresser behind and scribbled a letter on the bottom of the newspaper Emil had been reading. Emil nodded and stared back at the golden case.

'He may have a chance then. We can't stop them giving him this thing; if we do, it will blow Mr Solo's cover out of the water. I'm sorry Miss Vangie.' He frowned again at the pain in her eyes, his memories of the Russian as vivid and poignant as the ones she now struggled to contain.

'Listen' he murmured, 'if he has the same blood group as your man had, he may be unaffected by that thing. I'll check as soon as they finish, I promise.'

Evangeline nodded and retraced her steps to the kitchen door, turning as she heard Emil's voice behind her.

'Miss Vangie? Say one for them. They may need your prayers now more than ever.'

He was still sitting in the same position when Napoleon appeared at the kitchen door. Emil slid back the bolts and Solo walked in ahead of him. Emil could see from the angle of his shoulders that he was both physically and emotionally drained, his face lacking the usual warm, animated expression Emil had picked up on since the two men had arrived.

'I heard' Emil said simply, going over to the side and handing Solo a scotch which somehow he had prepared at exactly the right time.

Napoleon pulled back a chair from the table and flung himself on it, tipping the contents of the drink rapidly down his throat before hanging his head back, his eyes shut against anything unbearable that might force itself into his consciousness again.

'Before you say, there might just be a chance.' Emil muttered, regaining his seat opposite. Napoleon slowly raised his head and stared.

'A chance of what? Putting him out of his misery so we don't have to watch him spend the rest of his days as a model citizen in the employ of, of THRUSH?' He stood up and walked towards the whisky bottle, pouring himself another drink and then returning to his place with both bottle and glass.

'Listen. Don't take this wrong, but what blood group was your partner?' Emil cringed at his unconscious use of the past tense; it just felt that way, as if the man now lying in a bed somewhere on that farm was someone else; the old Kuryakin was gone. He watched Solo put down the glass and glance uncomprehendingly at him across the table.

'B. He's B rhesus positive when I last looked.' Emil glanced down at the newspaper and twisted it round towards Solo. On the unprinted border at the bottom of the page a large letter B was pencilled.

'Buford Landry's blood group, man; and it didn't work on him neither.'

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

The whizzing sound of blinds being drawn back drilled shafts of hot sun straight into Illya's eyes, before another face appeared in front of his blinking one, blocking out the pain of the morning light.

'Hey, Mikey, rise and shine boy, else your grits are down someone else's belly.'

He had been awake for a while, calculating what the day might possibly bring and how he should react to it; in fact waking knowing who he was, was possibly the most joyous aspect of the day so far. Solo's decision to crush the remaining ampoule had been the correct one, but for the remaining minutes before the injection Illya had struggled to remain calm. It wasn't as if this kind of thing hadn't happened to him before, but this time it felt final, the end of their partnership; the end of Illya Kuryakin.

He could see that Napoleon was also struggling, insisting on Vivienne Cant detailing the likely effects of the drug, in the vain hope that against the odds he might not be affected. Now he secretly thanked the American for his persistence.

'He'll remember who he once was, but he won't want to return to that life' she had said as she gripped Illya's arm once again. 'It will be as if his previous life was a bad dream he'll be grateful to wake from. All our patients are very receptive to suggestion in the first few days; it's how we tell the drug is working. We can give him a nickname for example, or suggest he likes something and he'll agree. They usually pick up accents and habits very quickly too.' She had looked across at Illya before adding 'he'll be looking and speaking just like Pierce over there before you can say 'Praise the Lord', Reverend.'

The name 'Mikey' had obviously been chosen, though Illya had no recollection of the hours immediately following the injection. Something in his makeup, something that he shared with Buford Landry had prevented the drug from working, but what that was he had as yet no idea.

He gave the other man, whose overall indicated him to be called 'Jimmy' a lazy grin before hauling himself to his feet.

'I got the doozie of a headache' he said thickly, modelling himself on Jimmy who seemed to be giving him the same inane grin back.

'You'll be just fine after you got that head of yours under the shower' Jimmy offered back good naturedly, indicating with his head the direction of the bathroom. The room, and Illya's bed were the same ones he had passed hours before on his nocturnal expedition through the farm buildings. Since he'd noted the contents of the locker, he was able to find what he needed to wash, dress and get to breakfast on time.

Unsurprisingly, everything on the farm was communal, from the sleeping arrangements and the showers to the canteen. The faces listed in the yearbook found at the Arachne house now came to life at the breakfast table, each man wearing identical clothes with identical name tags sewn on, most of them ending with a 'y' or 'ie' it appeared. Illya sat opposite a man he definitely recognised as a colleague of Landry's, now sporting the name 'Charlie' on his overalls.

'Mikey's new in' Jimmy informed Charlie, who merely nodded and continued shovelling some kind of sausage and grits into his mouth without worrying whether Illya could see inside it or not. Illya picked up his knife and fork and, after studying Charlie's eating habits for a few moments longer, attacked his breakfast with a similar style.

As he made a final clean sweep of his plate with a piece of sausage left over for the purpose, he felt someone standing behind him. A lean man with skin like cured tobacco leaf and an extreme version of the crewcuts he had seen at the church addressed them.

'Jimmy, bring Mikey down to the tractor sheds after clear up. Boss has a mind to start him in on fixin' the engines with Sly.' He glanced briefly at Illya before walking away.

'You fixed tractors before?' Charlie mumbled through the remains of his coffee. Illya sat back in his chair, a contented expression settling itself on his face.

'Guess I might've done' he said slowly, rubbing his chin.

The kitchen of Miss Vangie's house, as Napoleon referred to it ever after was busy, but quiet when he returned eventually. The stifling heat of the day and night following the disaster at the farm coalesced with his worries about Kuryakin's situation to render him sleepless for most of the hours he spent rotating back and forth under the sweaty sheets of his bed. At daylight on the second day he had taken a long shower and then sat motionless by the window in his bedroom, staring out at the farm in the distance. By nine o'clock he had a plan, which was entirely dependent on a miracle having happened in the meantime.

He found Edward Houghton as ever sharing breakfast with Pierce, who seemed in a positive mood. Pierce had searched him after the incident with the phials, and at least for now, he was still obviously classed as annoying but harmless. However, even THRUSH couldn't be so inefficient that they would not manage to re-order their card reader in the very near future and get their computer up and running. He estimated that he had perhaps another few days to expose this plot before it grew out of control and engulfed them all.

'I was wondering, sir, whether you might grant me a couple of favours, in the light of the forthcoming nuptials, that is?' Houghton and Pierce looked up with a combined expression of distaste, refined and uncouth.

'What exactly do you want, Reverend?' Houghton said, standing up and forcing his chair backwards with a discordant screech.

'Er, I am concerned for the spiritual welfare of those young ladies yonder' Napoleon began, warming to his role. 'I was wondering if it might be convenient for me to spend some time with your girl over at the other house until the wedding day, so that I could instruct her in the ways of biblical truth and the obligations of a Christian wife and mother. Of course Mr Terrebonne will also be there to ensure propriety is maintained at all times.'

Pierce sneered unpleasantly, giving Napoleon a clear view of the scrambled eggs he had enjoyed recently stuck to his teeth.

'Good idea Reverend; she's getting way too friendly with that Catholic b….'

'I can't see there's a problem there.' Houghton interrupted, glaring at Pierce before signalling him out of the room with a flick of his head. 'What else was it, only I now have a deal of work to do before the weekend.'

Napoleon smiled and nodded with the appearance of understanding. 'Absolutely sir, absolutely. I just wanted to thank you for the miracle of healing that I saw in that poor young man the other night. I have been praying for his soul for some days now, and when I saw your outfit down there, my heart leapt with joy for the lost souls who will receive redemption in that place. Now, what I wondered, sir, was if there was some way in which I could meet some of the men, pray with them, and even see that young man to witness with him how the Lord has changed his life.'

He could see that Houghton was now reaching the limits of his endurance, and was desperate to be rid of him by any means possible. Before he could reply, the phone rang in the corridor. There was a brief silence between them whilst they both waited for whatever message might come. Dorcelia suddenly appeared, wiping her hands on her apron.

'Miss Vangie wants to speak with you 'bout some help she needs in the house' she said, glancing between them and then standing back as Houghton strode past her. After another brief conversation Houghton returned.

'It appears that I will have to think up some way of keeping both you and my daughter happy, Reverend' he muttered. 'Appears that she needs some help round the house and with her car.' He stared coldly at Napoleon for a moment before sniffing and picking up his hat.

'I suppose it can't do any harm' he murmured, before continuing talking more audibly to Pierce, who was still lurking in the corridor. 'Vangie wants Sly to come up to the house and bring that young boy with him. Appears she's also concerned 'bout him.' He didn't wait for Napoleon's reply.

The three occupants of Miss Vangie's house were seated round the kitchen table, coffee poured but not drunk in front of them.

'Your father has agreed to my spending time with you ladies here' Napoleon began, 'but by some coincidence we appear to be showing the same concern for that poor young man's fate down at the farm.' Evangeline and Rosa smiled conspiratorially while Emil was harder to read.

'I sent Emil down on an errand of mercy' Evangeline replied, grinning happily. 'I figured that they'd put him with someone else to begin with rather than out in the field or in the gin. They're going to want to keep him with someone they trust, and Sly is about to be let free; that's a sure sign they trust him. Emil got talking to Sly and suggested that we could do with some help up here, so Sly got permission from the overseer, Louis Morant, to come on up and do some work round the house.'

Napoleon looked across at Emil, who had now begun to sip his coffee in reflective manner.

'We still don't know if he's okay' Solo murmured.

'And ya' won't know until ya' sees him. From the sound of it he's fittin' in down there real good, but that may mean nothin', just that he's good at play-acting. Ya'all have to wait and see.' Napoleon pulled a cup towards him and filled it, the coffee still steaming comfortingly in his hands, warming them.

'Sly told me,' Emil continued after refilling his cup, 'that they're going out tomorrow night on a date; two girls fixed up for them by the farm. Evidently it's all part of the package, if you sees my point. Sly's been courting Miss Becky for a short while, and she's bringing along her best friend for Mikey there.'

'Mikey?' Napoleon nodded to himself and put down his cup hard in the saucer. 'Oh yeah Mikey, I see. So who's the lucky girl?'

'Name's Eugenie, Eugenie Morant.'

Napoleon frowned. 'The overseer's daughter?' Terrebonne shook his head.

'His brother Paul runs a garage in town; mainly automobile repairs, some other stuff too. It's his girl. Seems she came back home to daddy after college and put it about that what was going on here wasn't democratic. You can guess the rest.'

He leaned back, his dark eyes hooded from Napoleon's view. 'They have a program down there which kills two birds with one stone' he said slowly, Evangeline's worried frown confirming his line. 'As you've seen, the men are kept down there till they've been trained up in whatever line they decide they want them trained up in, while the girls are kept with their families, after the treatment.'

'And then?' Napoleon said, a confused frown spreading across his face at Terrebonne's words.

'Then they match 'em up, nice and tidy like. Till death them do part' Emil replied darkly.

In the two days since he'd woken up as Mikey Guerin, cleaner, general handyman, mechanic and all round dope, Illya had amassed what he hoped was a sizeable amount of useful information which he had placed in the people, places and things compartments of his not so dopey brain. Even if he'd had access to writing materials, which he didn't, it was risky in such a community to leave written evidence of his spying round the place, even if anyone could understand it, which he doubted. As he stood under the shower and cleaned the grease off himself on the second evening of his stay, he couldn't remember ever having lived somewhere without any books, paper or pens around.

It was clear from the beginning that such things were unnecessary to any of the farm's occupants in their new lives. Vivienne Cant's detailed explanation of how he would be after the drug just kept on being useful. He remembered to repeat and exemplify the attitudes and opinions rolled out to him in the first few days, and also to adjust his accent accordingly. In truth, it was proving to be quite relaxing; during the morning he worked manfully at the various domestic chores he was given round the farm; tasks invaluable for mapping out a site plan in his head, and also for learning the names and roles of all who worked there by the simple expediency of not knowing where anything was kept and who anyone was.

The afternoons were spent quite refreshingly on messing around with tractors and other agricultural implements, Illya remembering to keep his dopey expression firmly in place at all times while Sly, who he remembered from Landry's documents as being an extremely able member of his political team, slowly and painfully explained mechanical processes to him that he could have worked out in five minutes on his own.

In the evening, leisure time consisted merely of eating and watching sport. Everything that Illya Kuryakin held dear, writing, studying, music, reading, even physical exercise was relegated to the dustbin of a past life in favour of a bowl of popcorn and a seat in front of the baseball game. Men who had once been at the forefront of their field now lay aimlessly in front of a flickering screen, their bodies, even with the labour of each day behind them, showing the effects of a too rich diet and the regular habits of a couch potato. Illya found himself wishing the evenings away so that sleep could take him away from the agony of watching these men live their lives.

On the second day however, he discovered that not all his former leisure pursuits had been jettisoned. He had his head inside a tractor engine, a red cap firmly stuck on his head both to protect his hair from the muck and oil but also to draw less attention to the fact that it was growing rapidly, a fact he had confirmed as he risked a Kuryakin smile at himself in the mirror that morning.

'Hey, Mikey!' Sly bawled, causing Illya to bang his head against the engine block. He rubbed it slowly and thoughtfully as he clambered down. Sly seemed excited about something; it could be anybody's guess what that might be, but not anything Illya might be interested in, he was sure.

He was wrong. Sly gave him a wry smile before clapping him on the back and bawling again, 'Mikey, we're going out Wednesday night . . . with girls!' Illya thought through the appropriate response for a few moments. He ripped off his cap and slapped his overalls with it.

'Gee, Sly, how'dya manage that?' he said, inwardly cringing at himself, but Sly seemed more than happy with his response. He stood back a little, adopting the demeanour of an older and wiser being for the time it took him to explain.

'I have a girlfriend, Miss Becky; well, we're fixin' to be married in the fall, see. I usually see her most Wednesdays, seeing I'll be out of this place next month and starting in a regular job at the gin. So, seein' we're getting' along so well, I asked Mr Morant if I could take you along and innerduce you to Miss Eugenie, seeing that she is Mr Morant's neice an all, and her daddy is looking for someone hard working like you is to learn the trade in his garage an all.'

Illya beamed widely, the expression beginning to make his face ache after having to adopt it so often. The opportunity to leave the farm was worth taking, even if it meant spending an evening with a girl he could imagine being bored with even before they met. The idea of working in a garage was also appealing, a whole host of possibilities opening themselves in Kuryakin's fertile imagination.

'Okay' he said, smiling and then shoving his hair back under his cap. 'Um, do we go um, like this?' Sly let out a whoop and then slapped him hard on the back, knocking him into the side of the tractor's bonnet. At this rate, Miss Eugenie would think she was walking out with a boxer, he thought, the number of bruises he was sustaining at Sly's hands.

'No siree! The farm'll give you something smart like.' He scratched his head thoughtfully for a while; eventually something came through. 'Oh I just remembered. We're working down at Miss Vangie's place Wednesday through Thursday; we'll have to ask Miss Vangie if we can wash up there before we head out into town.'

For the first time, Illya's reaction was entirely natural and unforced.

'That's great, Sly' he said enthusiastically, shaking the taller man's hand warmly. 'I'm looking forward to it, I really am.'

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

'Bright Futures' was the chosen name of the school, though Napoleon considered its title almost darkly ironic. The car swept in under a freshly erected banner at the school gates giving the times for the new term, images of enthusiastic boys and docile girls garlanding its flapping text. In the distance he could see another, smaller building, the same name adorning it, this time for younger children who were also being made fit for a happy and contented life.

It had not been difficult for him to squirm his way into the party visiting the Junior High School; Elizabeth Dupre Logue's eyes enthused with light when he had expressed an overwhelming interest in education in general, and the summer school presently being run by the church at the High School buildings in particular. A few bored looking men from Houghton's estate accompanied them, but thankfully for now the main characters in this particular THRUSH conspiracy seemed to have other, more pressing things to do.

It was hard to keep Illya from his mind. Nothing that Emil or the girls could say would prevent him from worrying that fate could not be that kind and that his partner was now part of the group of men and women whose own bright futures had been taken from them so vilely. But there was nothing to be done until he finally met up with Kuryakin at the house later that afternoon, so with a dull pain settling somewhere in the back of his head he forced himself to focus completely on his part of the task ahead.

They had rode to the school in one of the Governor's cars, Emil left behind to keep headquarters up to date and to instruct Fr Pat in the ways of espionage. With or without Illya's help Napoleon would have to mastermind some kind of resolution to this conspiracy, which usually meant the taking of prisoners, destruction of buildings, and in the final resort, the removal of targets. He put the thought away of what might happen to his partner after all this if he was permanently damaged by the drug, preferring to believe in miracles for the time being until a more cruel reality proved it otherwise.

Elizabeth Logue's babbling in the car belied the information Napoleon had been given about her educational background. It appeared that unlike the men and women from the farm, she had voluntarily surrendered her considerable intellect and business acumen into the hands of others. He wondered when the most favourable time might be for him to confront her with truths she seemed perfectly happy to ignore about her family and her business empire.

The Summer School was an overtly religious affair based on the Ten Commandments, presented by a team of men from the church dressed incongruously in Old Testament garments which contrasted oddly with their hairstyles and general clean cut appearance. A man with a large styroform tablet on which was painted 'Thou shalt honor thy father and mother' strode forward and shook Napoleon's hand vigorously, before introducing the guests to the assembled throng.

Napoleon glanced round and finally located the women, predictably working in the kitchen to prepare appropriate food for the generally attentive and unnervingly well turned out children. Much as he approved of good discipline, there was something lacking in these young people. He found himself wishing that someone might pull a face or even wrestle another immaculate kid to the floor in front of him.

After listening to the man with the tablet harangue the children with further unpleasant examples of what the Bible said might happen if boys didn't act like dad and girls didn't act like mom they moved away, Mrs Logue inviting him on a tour of the school building.

Even to Napoleon's inexperienced eye, it was easy to see that this was no ordinary school. Resources were both plentiful and of the highest quality; nothing was too good for 'Bright Futures' it seemed.

'We've … I mean the Arachne Foundation has made it possible for all children to attend here' she began, a glazed, saleswoman look fixing itself in place on her face. 'When Mr Chauvin is elected, we're going to work for Arachne Foundation based education in all our schools; won't that be great, Reverend?'

'Uh-huh, I guess so' he replied, keeping the frown that was forming away from her. 'Guess the State can use the money for other things.' They stood looking out of the window in one of the classrooms, their guard lingering at the open door with a look that begged them to complete the tour sooner rather than later. His inattentiveness gave Napoleon the narrow opportunity he had been waiting for.

'And how well do you think Mr Daigle and your daughter are managing your corporation, ma'am?'

If she had noticed the change in his tone and accent she didn't show it immediately, but Napoleon saw her stiffen slightly and maintain her fixed gaze at some inanimate object in the school grounds.

'I er, well I ..' He grasped her forearm and continued talking, outlining calmly his reasons for believing that the Arachne foundation was a front for a criminal organisation bent on the eventual reduction of the United States of America to a slave economy in their thrall.

'Make someone dependent by giving them something we all desire; wealth, security, family life, happiness. In return for that, they surrender their rights to determine their future. Evil regimes, like infectious diseases, don't disappear Mrs Logue; they're always there, waiting for their opportunity.'

Fear communicated itself in waves to him through her rigid stance and heavy laboured breathing. She made no attempt to summon the guard or even break free from his grasp, only turning her head very slightly towards him.

'My .. husband ..' she began, 'is not a bad man. If there is blame, then it is mine to accept.' Napoleon relaxed his grip and took her hand, a sideways glance telling him that the guard had now assumed a semi-recumbent position in the corridor just outside the door, his eyelashes heading downwards towards sleep in the heavy, midday heat.

'In case you're wondering' he began, my name is Napoleon Solo, and I work for an organisation which is dedicated to stopping the kind of people I've just been talking about from taking hold of your lives here.'

'I knew there was something about you ..' she murmured gently, before finally turning fully towards him. 'Perhaps we should take a long stroll over to the other school, Reverend, er, I mean Mr Solo, and then you can tell me what you need me to do.'

'You realise that your daughter ..' Elizabeth Logue nodded, opposing emotions of regret and relief drifting across her face.

'As I said, Mr Solo, for what has been enabled here, for what she has become, for what I have become, the blame rests squarely on me.'

He could see them standing by Evangeline's car when the Governor's vehicle slid to a halt outside the house and Mrs Logue bade him a tired, but grateful farewell, for the benefit of the now less sleepy guard sitting in the front seat. He had been moved and impressed both by her courage and her understanding of his plan, a massive risk on both their parts he reflected later. However, he had never doubted his own judgement of people and he wasn't going to start now. He waved enthusiastically to the back of the car and Elizabeth Logue's half turned head before heading slowly over to the small group assembled by the house.

Emil's face did not immediately give him confidence that all was well, but he reasoned it never did anyway. He appeared to be pointing out Miss Kitty's attributes to the other two men, who were both dressed in identical overalls and white t-shirts, apart from his partner, who appeared to be sporting a red cap rammed down firmly on his head. Napoleon smirked a little at the sight of him, before reality, or a reality he feared, made him regain the serious mood he had been in for most of that day.

As he approached the taller man, whose overalls labelled him as 'Sly' looked up and smiled broadly, an innocent grin which was immediately replicated to Napoleon's amazement by the man at his side. Napoleon reflected that in the years they had worked together he had never seen Kuryakin grin like that, except in one or two drunken moments or on occasions in Medical when he was drugged before or after some surgical procedure.

'Hi Reverend, Mikey and me are delighted to make your acquaintance in person like, seeing how we heard so much about you from Mr Morant down at the farm.' He seemed to find the word 'acquaintance' hard, but Napoleon hardly noticed, his attention being totally focused on the grinning Russian, who at once stepped forward and shook Napoleon's hand.

'Hi Reverend, how ya' doing?' he said in an almost perfect imitation of Sly, before stepping back, smile intact.

'I'm mighty fine, boys' Napoleon managed, getting nothing back from his anxious looks at his partner. 'You boys working on Miss Vangie's car?' Sly nodded vigorously and pointed at Illya.

'Yep, Mikey here's a real quick learner with engines an all; we'll soon have her purring just like your Miss Kitty, ah reckon. Then we's got some jobs in the house before we're headed out into town with our girls.'

'Uh-huh? I hope you two behave properly towards those young ladies.' Sly's eyes bulged slightly, like a small child desperate to please.

'Oh yes sir, Reverend. I am getting wed to Miss Becky very soon, and if Mikey and Miss Eugenie hit it off, well we could just have a double wedding come the fall.'

Kuryakin's face registered something approaching delight at Sly's words, his head nodding vigorously to every one of Sly's statements. Despite the absurdity of the situation, Napoleon began to feel a vague uneasiness, Sly's very proximity making it impossible for him to find out the truth. He glanced over at Emil, but the other agent remained totally inscrutable, neither amused by nor saddened at the scene in front of him. Emil broke the tension eventually.

'I think Miss Vangie might have some iced tea for you, Reverend' he rumbled knowingly. 'I'll bring these in when they're finished round here.'

The other men turned back to the open bonnet of the car, leaving Napoleon to stand and reflect for a moment, before reluctantly going inside.

Dorcelia was in the kitchen, a large glass pitcher of iced tea and some glasses ready on a tray on the table. She greeted him fondly before indicating the general direction of the garden behind the house, following him along the corridor and out onto a small terrace with the clanking drinks.

He could see Evangeline and Rosa sitting at a large round table underneath the protection of an awning, a long written list commanding their attention. They looked up as he approached and then sat down beside them as Dorcelia placed the tray down and then quietly withdrew. Evangeline put down the pencil she was holding and glanced at Rosa.

'Well, what do you think?' she started immediately, Rosa pouring out the drinks as she spoke. 'He seems so like the rest of them to me, so …'

'Vacant?' Napoleon replied, sipping his drink meditatively. Evangeline nodded.

'He's pretty well stuck like glue to that Sly' Rosa added. 'You won't be able to tell if he's himself or not unless you can prise those two apart somehow. All I can say is, if he's acting, he just convinced me.' Evangeline put down her glass and got up from the table.

'Wait here' she said before walking purposefully back into the house. A few moments later she was back, the makings of a smile on her otherwise serious face. 'I've fixed it' she said firmly, looking at the other two. 'When they've finished up with the car, Emil is taking Sly along to fix a few things in the house, while I get a very willing helper in the garden.'

They watched him for some time as he systematically dug over the border, the heat of the afternoon evident in the flush of his face and the long wet streaks of sweat covering his clothes as he laboured in the sweltering sun. Napoleon ground his teeth slightly as he watched the Russian work, the tall spare figure of Eugene Morant standing motionless at his side, occasionally glancing back towards the three seated figures under the awning.

He had appeared without warning just as Illya emerged from the house, engaging him in a conversation which looked fairly one sided to Napoleon, and then standing as he was now, watching the Russian work. Eventually, when Kuryakin looked as if even he was tiring in the sadistic heat, Evangeline leapt up, taking a large glass of iced tea from the table. Napoleon watched as, without speaking to Morant, she went up to the bent form of his partner and put her hand on his shoulder. He froze for a moment, before pushing the fork into the ground and straightening. His every movement, every expression seemed directed by the other man, Morant's control seemingly complete. After a slight nod of the overseer's head, Kuryakin accepted the glass and drank deeply, before wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and picking up the fork.

'The best laid plans…' Napoleon murmured as Morant followed Evangeline back towards them under the awning.

'Reverend', Morant began, after lowering his long frame onto a seat facing Napoleon across the table; 'I need your assurance that these boys will be back at the farm at the agreed time. Sly is fine, but we need to protect our new boys, if you get my meaning.'

Napoleon smiled in agreement but only his expression concurred with the other man. The word protect seemed an almost grotesque joke, considering what had been done to these men and women. As he stared across the garden at the now sweat soaked back of his partner, he wondered whether his own failure to do just that was not also equally invidious.

Morant was finally persuaded to leave after the necessary assurances had been given, and a written schedule of the work had been signed by Napoleon, Morant ignoring the women at the table for the most part. He glanced down at the sheet and looked at his watch.

'He has another twenty minutes work to do there and then he can stop, and we can find out what is going on' he said, maintaining his gaze. Rosa got up and whispered something to Evangeline before speaking.

'I'll go and tell Emil; Dorcelia has brought over some clothes and all.' She walked off, leaving the other two staring at Illya, who had turned slightly and was watching Rosa enter the house. After another few minutes digging, he thrust the fork wearily into the ground and began to walk towards them.

'He may not wish to give up his identity immediately' Napoleon said quietly, for reasons he wasn't at all sure of. 'When he's undercover he gets very intense.'

'And you're saying this to make me feel more hopeful?' came the somewhat bemused reply.

He stopped in front of them, dragging off his cap to reveal a disordered cap of golden hair ringed by a dark edge of sweat.

'Mr Morant said I could go clean up now' he said almost mechanically, his demeanour an almost perfect replica of his new partner Sly, Napoleon thought bitterly. He hesitated, choosing to ignore Evangeline's agonised expression or the heavy churning sensation inside himself.

'That's fine, er, Mikey. Go on in' he managed, watching Kuryakin retreat inside the shade of the house. As he turned he saw what the Russian almost certainly must have seen a few moments before him; the figures of Edward Chauvin and Andrew Arceneaux at the wide open window above them.

'Your daddy is expecting us over at the big house for seven' Chauvin drawled, giving Napoleon a look which Napoleon might have given himself if he was looking in the mirror.

'We'll be there; Reverend Palin just has to sign off on the boys before we come over' Evangeline replied in as warm a tone as she could muster, considering that Chauvin was the last man on her mind at that moment.

Arceneaux was waiting outside, the rings of his cigarette smoke held almost motionless in the hot evening air as he leaned against the lintel of the veranda. He stubbed out the end as Chauvin came out of the front door and joined him on a slow stroll through the shadowy cedars marking the informal boundary between the houses.

'Before you ask, Eddie,' Arceneaux said, breaking their silence, 'we won't know who our little Commie boy is, or rather was working with until Friday, when Central finally gets that computer up and running again. Until then, everyone is a possibility, including your lovely fiancée, understand?'

Chauvin shrugged, wafting an invisible something from the shoulder of his jacket. 'Sure; that's your concern. I just have to get through the small matter of a wedding, remember?' He drew out a silk handkerchief and wiped off whatever had dared to accumulate on his face.

'Say, Andy, I just had a rather delicious thought. That drug, the one they gave that Ruskie scientist guy whoever he is; wouldn't it be a good idea, just to make things easier like, to just give my lovely fiancée a little dose? It sure made that smart ass Russian real docile. Did you see him in the garden?' He laughed, a rather high-pitched feminine laugh which echoed around the trees and made Arceneaux grimace.

Being with Chauvin was one of the more depressing sides of this enterprise, though he had proved to be exceptionally easy to influence and direct. His vanity and questionable sexuality could prove to be a liability in the future, but Arceneaux was confident that the future, at least where Eddie Chauvin was concerned, wouldn't be a long one. On the whole he rarely suggested anything worth listening to, but on reflection this idea might be worth considering. He stopped and lit another cigarette against the bark of a broad cedar in front of them.

'You know that might be an idea worthy of consideration' he murmured, giving Chauvin an icy smile. 'Only don't go shouting it round the house, Eddie. Walls have ears, understand?'

Napoleon drank what he felt must be his hundredth glass of iced tea and glanced at his watch. He had sent the girls on ahead, not wishing to either be late for yet another interminable evening at the big house or to miss his chance of finally speaking to Illya without constant interruptions. He had showered and changed and before the two 'boys' appeared, he had outlined to Emil his plan for the evening.

Luckily, Sly appeared first, only to be lured outside by Emil on some pretext to do with Miss Kitty and the work to be completed the next day. He rarely felt nervous in the way he did at this moment; missions, particularly now that their partnership was established, were frequently challenging, often dangerous and more than likely enjoyable at least in part, but neither of them suffered from the kind of nervous strain Napoleon now felt as he heard Kuryakin's step on the stairs. Even that made his blood pressure rise; Illya rarely made a sound when he approached.

Kuryakin's appearance did induce a look of horror from his partner, enough to break the agonising tension. Whatever precautions he should have followed were blown out of the water by the sartorial nightmare facing him.

'Jeez, what is that?'

Illya's face, set into his usual grinning dope look, collapsed into the usual, and quintessentially Kuryakin arch expression.

'If you're referring to my suit, the label informs me that it is one hundred per cent man made polyester drip dry, and the shade I would say is, um, light toffee?'

Napoleon sat down. Feelings he had never experienced before with any other man were allowed to flood over him and then gently wash away until he felt calm enough again to speak. Illya remained still, the amused expression on his face also put away for the time being. After a few still moments Napoleon felt his partner's hand on his shoulder.

'It was the right decision, whatever the outcome. I would have done the same.'

Napoleon looked up and nodded slightly. 'You had the wrong blood group, or the right one, depending on how you see it' he managed, seeing his partner also nod and smile slightly. The hideous suit, which Napoleon now noticed had with it an equally horrible plaid tie of blues and browns, were so much the antithesis of the Russian's style he felt like laughing out loud regardless of who might hear.

Illya walked over to the sink and filled a glass with water.

'I need to go out on my date now, before Sly comes back wondering why I'm taking so long. I presume you have a plan?'

'Yes I have a plan' Napoleon replied, the familiar ways of working returning to comfort him. 'Since you'll be here tomorrow and with any luck Morant will not, I'll fill you in with more detail, but briefly, I have the Governor's wife on board and hopefully, come the day of the wedding, there might be a little bit more excitement going on round here than our avian friends are expecting.'

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

'Is now a convenient time, Mr Solo?' Waverly's voice was reassuringly of the world Napoleon felt at times to be a million light years from the one his partner and himself were inhabiting at this moment. He turned the key in the door of his bedroom and positioned himself by the window as Waverly went through the usual checks of personnel. 'I'm glad to hear that Mr Kuryakin survived his experience intact in mind and body' he continued, in the rather bantering tone he adopted when he had somehow divined that his agents were under stress.

Outside, the usual suffocating heat seemed to have decided to notch itself up to a higher level. Despite the hour, Napoleon swore he could see steam rising from the longer grass underneath the distant cedars. Ignoring the heat for the time being he went through his plan, or as much of it that he thought Waverly would want to know.

'Mr Kuryakin is taking care of the farm side of things, sir, while I handle events at the house' he said, thinking of the meticulous checking of the explosives Illya had conducted that morning, after Sly had been diverted to car cleaning and Fr Pat had been mollified somewhat by an assurance that no-one would be hurt.

'They have all been hurt enough' Kuryakin had muttered rather furiously without looking up from his task. 'I don't intend to add to their misery', even though Napoleon guessed from what he had shared with him about life on the farm, that Kuryakin considered their lives already destroyed by the drug Dr Cant seemed so proud of.

'Mr Kuryakin believes that Miss Cant is in charge of the whole experiment here, sir' Napoleon offered. There was a pause in the conversation which he expected.

'Really. So Miss Cant pulls the strings and the other players in this tragedy dance to her tune' Waverly mused. 'Fortunately we do have use of our computer, Mr Solo, so I'll run Mr Kuryakin's theory through it and see what it turns up about this Miss Cant. He does have a remarkably good intuition about these things usually, does he not?'

Napoleon grimaced slightly before agreeing. 'If all goes to plan, I will need a mop up team here tomorrow afternoon and also Mr Laurence will need to raid the THRUSH place in New Orleans and shut it down. I need to make sure that all possible lines, financial and otherwise, between Napoleonville and THRUSH are ended, permanently.'

'Quite. If you and Mr Kuryakin could manage to leave as much of that town and its inhabitants standing as possible, that would make things a little easier subsequently' Waverly replied, more gravely. 'From what you say there are going to be some difficulties ahead when everything comes to light.' Napoleon found himself nodding in agreement. Elizabeth Dupre Logue drifted into his mind. Her willingness to take responsibility for her family's actions seemed noble at the time, but on reflection, Solo considered it misplaced. Huey Logue would have to face the political and legal fallout from his naivety and Lucie-Mae's connection to THRUSH would have to be examined in detail.

'By the way, Mr Solo, I have it on good authority from our chap in Geneva that the THRUSH computer may be fully functional very soon. Bearing in mind that Europe is about seven hours ahead of you, you might find that your cover might be coming to a rather abrupt end.'

Since their evening out, Illya noticed that Sly adopted a particularly sloppy, knowing grin whenever they were together, including a few well-chosen digs into Illya's ribs if the subject of girls arose. The evening itself had been a variant on the men's TV time, this time the primary subject of conversation being marriage and babies rather than sport. Illya decided to adopt the role of shy, dumbstruck boy on his first date, which allowed him to reflect inwardly on what Eugenie Morant had been like before Vivienne Cant got hold of her. The other girl, Becky, who Illya hazarded, had not needed any drug to make her as boring and empty headed as she appeared to be, soon supplied him with Eugenie's back story.

'Eugenie went up to New Orleans to study like, but then she comes home with ideas that her daddy and Pastor Jim at the church said were not suitable for Christian young women to have, see, so after that her daddy took her down to see one of the doctors down at the farm, see, and now she's straightened out, no worries.' Illya smiled albeit grimly, noticing that his new girlfriend had adopted the same contented look that they all had.

He had related the events of the evening in detail to Napoleon the next morning.

'I find it hard to believe someone can talk about wedding dresses and names of children who don't even exist for hours on end' he had concluded, slamming the bonnet of the third car that he had managed to disable from the row drawn up outside the house. 'I can assure you, Napoleon, that after that I will have no difficulty in remaining unmarried for at least the next twenty years.'

'Uh-huh? I'll remind you of that on your wedding day.' Kuryakin had stumped away with a temporarily large scowl replacing the plastic smile, but Napoleon had been made intensely aware of his partner's real feelings, despite the throw away comments.

The planting of explosives would be made considerably easier by Illya's daily cleaning round still being in place despite the incipient wedding, and also by the general excitement and preparation going on in every building on the farm. It appeared that the 'farm boys' as they were known, had been invited to attend the nuptials, and for that Illya was extremely grateful. The suit he had worn for his date with Eugenie was hung up in his closet when he returned from the shower, Sly following closely.

'Mikey, we gets to wear those fine suits again and even better, Mr Andrews from the barber shop is coming down specially to give us free haircuts. What about that?'

Illya gave himself a few moments to control himself.

'Great. Where's he working from?' he said, wondering at his grammar.

'Hut D, you know, it's on your round, so you can finish the morning with a nice smart haircut like Mr Morant' Sly replied enthusiastically. He stared at Illya's hair, now a slightly damp tangle on his head. 'You don't mind me saying, Mikey, but you could really do with a haircut, 'cause right now you're beginning to look like those long hairs that sing in that group, ya know, call themselves some kind of insect name.'

'The Beatles' Illya said rather acerbically, before reverting to his standard grin and trying hard to agree with Sly's opinion. Hut D. He would re-plot his rounds to avoid it at all costs.

For the morning of a wedding it was preternaturally quiet, Napoleon thought, allowing his dressing gown to puddle on the floor at his feet whilst he enjoyed the last of the morning's relative coolness before the sun returned everything to its normal, sweltering levels. With a growing lack of enthusiasm he looked at the suit he had selected for the wedding, one he longed to consign to the depths of UNCLE's dressing up department never to be seen again, at least by him anyway.

Yesterday, he had felt that the mission was once again on track; Waverly had been briefed, Emil had assured him of the necessary support from UNCLE in New Orleans and, most important of all, Illya was most definitely back by his side in the fray. Kuryakin had in the main part concurred with his plan, and, if all went well, would soon be starting his rounds with a little added extra task to accomplish, the explosives safely accompanying him back to the farm the previous evening, courtesy of Emil.

Despite Waverly's warning, he was gambling on the THRUSH computer taking its time to reveal the Russian as an UNCLE agent and to spew out his name as Kuryakin's partner. He had examined the faces of each person round the dinner table the previous evening. No-one had been absent, no-one had been called away, and no-one, including Arceneaux and Miss Cant looked or behaved as if they knew something about him that interested or disturbed them. However, it was all just a matter of time.

He stared at his communicator, kept far from any curious gaze. He had heard rumours of a new prototype, one that might be easier to disguise than a cigarette case, particularly if one was masquerading as a preacher with impeccable morals. Now he waited, wondering if Elizabeth Logue would be true to her word and close down the money supply her corporation and her bank had provided to THRUSH. If she carried out her part of the plan it would result in an immediate and hopefully serious reaction on the part of the townspeople of Napoleonville, Louisiana.

The cigarette case erupted into life suddenly, interrupting his thoughts. Emmanuel Laurence's laconic tones immediately filled the tense silence of the room.

'Napoleon?' He whistled involuntarily under his breath. ' Thought you'd like to know that the Bank of America is suspending all accounts connected with the Dupré Corporation and our friends at Arachne down here. Seems Mr Daigle has gone missin' too, so expect a reaction any time soon, seein' that today is payday down your way.'

Napoleon closed the communicator and buried it in his suit before hauling out one of his cases from under the bed. Pressing a secret button he unzipped a hidden section of the case and removed his holster and gun. He had only just pulled on his jacket when two soft knocks alerted him to a potential visitor. Adjusting his suit slightly he went to the door and opened it.

'Hi…, Napoleon.' The teasing tones of Lucie-Mae's voice, combined with the use of his name were enough reason to drag her inside the room and swiftly close the door behind her. They stared at each other for a few moments until Lucie-Mae pulled herself from his grasp and stood back from him a little. He didn't need to enquire about how she knew who he was; she was obviously dying to tell him. Despite the early time of day she was dressed rather formerly and ostentaciously in a silky dress designed to reveal as much of her abundant breasts as could be achieved without bringing accusations of indecency from the religious leaders of the town. As ever, her makeup was heavily, but perfectly applied. Napoleon caught himself wondering what excesses might be achieved in her wedding outfit … if he lived that long.

'I rang the fellas' at Arachne this morning' she began, her eyelashes batting up and down in steady beat to her words, 'before the line got cut, that is. And guess what, they told me that not only is that little Commie a paid up UNCLE employee, no less, but that you, Reverend, ain't no Reverend at all.' She came up close to him, this revelation seemingly giving her the authorisation to do so.

Napoleon stared at her and sighed. If she knew who he was, then it was likely others did too. Illya's act would still be of some protection to him but Napoleon's role was essential if the whole mission were to be accomplished. He shrugged slightly and took a small step back.

'So if you know, how come you haven't brought along some of those nice friendly boys your husband uses to keep order round here?' A slow, lascivious smile set itself on her lips.

'There's plenty of time for that, Reverend' she murmured, obviously finding his alter ego a kind of turn on in some strange way. She appeared undaunted by finding the gun nestling in its holster as she slipped Napoleon's jacket off his shoulders, pushing him towards the bed. Her dress was the uncomplicated, zipper down the back variety Napoleon was intimately acquainted with, and his suit was easily dispensed with along with her shoes and stockings. He let the foreplay continue for a while, allowing her to imagine she had the controlling role until it suited him to turn her onto her back and lay astride her. Then it was relatively easy to gag her with his handkerchief and use the conveniently near stockings to bind her hands to the brass rails of the bedhead behind them. Removing a thin piece of nylon rope from his suitcase he made her bindings more permanent, trying to contain his amusement at the expression of sheer venomous hatred directed towards him.

Napoleon's suit, being the polyester, non-creasing variety, had stood up well to being left in a heap by the bed. With reluctance, he re-dressed, reinstating his holster and gun on his shoulders before sliding his jacket on and turning to face Lucie-Mae, now crimson with rage on the bed.

'Gee, sorry we couldn't have become more intimately acquainted' he began with a slight smirk. 'It's just that I have the small matter of stopping your friends at THRUSH from carrying on their little games here. Now you just relax there on the bed Miss Lucie-Mae, and I'll send someone up later to collect you, kay?' He blew her a kiss before, with a firm tug, he shut and locked the door behind him.

The communicator had been set to only throb lightly in Illya's overalls, which was as well, considering he was seldom alone. He had completed almost all of his work, setting the explosives carefully to inflict damage without loss of life, the conflagration to happen at a time when the men would be up at the house, or rather in the grounds where the ceremony was due to take place. He could see, using the binoculars Napoleon had given him, that both a dais bedecked with flowers and a large open marquee nearby had been set up for the occasion. He thought of Evangeline and then of Edward Chauvin and the travesty of marriage between them. Marion's words at once filled his mind, her light, lilting voice. 'So find yourself somebody to love, please?' Illya sighed. Love seemed an awfully long way from whatever was going on here.

He had avoided Hut D, reasoning to himself that the explosives would easily engulf that particular building without his assistance. Everybody seemed so pre-occupied by the impending wedding that it proved relatively easy to achieve his tasks without interruption. All that remained was the hut with the three inter-connecting rooms, where he knew Dr Cant worked and where he had received the injection of the so-called 'Brave New World' drug. As he moved towards the door leading him to the bathroom of the first hut the communicator reverberated against his hip.

'Illya, have you seen Miss Vangie?' Napoleon's voice sounded anxious and the lack of any of his usual flippant opening remarks worried Illya.

'No, but why…' He wasn't able to finish his sentence before his partner interrupted him.

'I have the unpleasant feeling that her future husband has arranged a little pre-nuptial pick me up' Napoleon replied obliquely. Illya stared at the communicator momentarily before the import of his partner's words struck home.

'Wait.' Putting the communicator into a holding mode, he shoved it into his overalls and entered the door at the end of the block. He could see immediately that something was happening in the room beyond the vestibule and corridor leading to the bathroom and stores. Grabbing the sack that he used to collect rubbish with, he grasped the handle and barged into the room, inane look firmly affixed.

There were two technicians working in the room which he remembered so well from his last visit here. One was looking at something through the high-powered microscope on the bench, a set of slides at his side, whilst the other was, more worryingly, drawing up a syringe with very familiar looking, golden coloured liquid. They both stared rather angrily at him, the one with the syringe hastily putting it down and coming towards him.

'Hi fellas, just collecting the garbage' he offered, plastering his usual inoffensive grin across his face. The technician glanced back at his colleague, who had now stopped looking at the slides under the microscope.

'Suppose..' was all that he managed before both men were engaged by the sound of voices in the next room. Neither of them expected the man facing them to withdraw a gun from his overalls, their astonished faces crumpling into unconsciousness as the darts took effect.

Illya dropped his bag quietly and after dragging the two technicians into a sitting position against the benches, grabbed a lab coat from those hanging on the door and readjusted the position of his gun and communicator. In the quietness of the room two female voices could now be heard from next door, both recognisable. He adjusted the communicator so that his partner could hear what was happening; there was no time to speak and to be heard speaking might be fatal.

There was an audible click in the room, immediately followed by Vivienne Cant's voice, asking in harsh tones where the injection was. Illya glanced round, locating a small machine on the bench similar to ones at UNCLE. He flicked a switch below the speaker and, mimicking the voice of one of the technicians, replied 'coming now.' The only problem that remained would be whether she was facing him when he entered the room. He thought back to his own experience in that place and prayed that she would be standing in the same position as she stood the night he had been her victim.

For once, luck appeared to be on his side. He could see Evangeline, guessing that some kind of short term tranquilising drug had been administered, from the lack of restraints. A man he didn't recognise was facing him, while Cant appeared to be lecturing him on the process he was about to witness. Illya hoped that she would remain true to her usual practise of totally ignoring colleagues whom she considered in any way to be lesser mortals than herself.

'The recovery time used to be about twelve hours' she was saying as he entered the room, 'but this new batch has improved that to about thirty minutes, giving Miss Vangie here plenty of time to be ready for her wedding.' She held up a small tube resembling toothpaste. 'This tranquiliser is one of our new lines; just smooth a small amount onto the skin and it will give instant control for about fifteen minutes' she added smugly, putting the tube down on the bench beside her. The man opposite looked impressed. Illya immediately noticed his tie, a not so discreet indication of his role in all this. On a dark green ground, a woven pattern of little thrushes hopped their way vertically up the fabric. He forced back a smile and imagined what the UNCLE equivalent might be, before moving silently forward. Placing the metal dish down on the bench, he withdrew his gun and pointed it in the direction of the little golden birds.

'Sorry to intrude, but she'd like to remain as she is' he said, the man opposite falling heavily to the floor. Cant screamed, a low harsh sound issuing from her lips, before, with considerable force, she swung round and sent Illya's gun flying across the room.

He stumbled slightly against the bed giving her the opportunity to launch herself viciously at him, her body weight pressing him against Evangeline's legs whilst she brought up her hand, in which was grasped the syringe. He was momentarily taken aback by the force of her attack, made worse by the bed suddenly swinging out from behind him, causing him to fall to the floor with Cant on top of him.

'It doesn't work on me' he gasped, giving himself a few long seconds to recover from the fall before forcing his arm up to grab hers.

'This one will' she hissed back, her face now incredibly close to his, their arms moving back and forward like some macabre arm wrestling contest, her other arm round his head, pulling viciously at his hair. 'We know about your blood now' she said darkly, the syringe edging closer to him in concert with Cant's livid face. Summoning all his strength he forced his body upwards and over her, breaking her hold and forcing her down as he gained control. Her hand, still welded to the syringe, twisted sideways, the needle plunging into her neck with instantaneous results. Her body went limp, reminding Illya of a puppet whose strings had suddenly been cut. He removed the syringe from her neck before turning to the bed, now wedged into a corner created by a large steel cupboard jutting out from the wall.

'Illya. Illya!' Illya shook his head slightly and then rummaged around in his overalls. He felt Evangeline behind him sitting up, and then swinging her legs round to allow him to sit beside her, before very gently putting her arm round his shoulders.

'Napoleon. I.. I mean we are alright. No doubt you heard at least some of what transpired?' There was an audible sigh the other end of the communicator.

'I heard but I'm a little hazy as to the fight sequence' Solo said, at least some of his humour returning, Illya thought gratefully. 'So what has happened to the lovely Miss Cant, may I ask?' Illya glanced down at the woman laid on the floor at his feet.

'She's had a slight change of mind' he said grimly.

'They said Miss Cant wanted me for something very important' Evangeline said, wiping Illya's face where the evidence of Cant's fingernails was etched near his hairline. 'Emil was against me coming down here but I didn't have a lot of choice, seein' that they'd sent a couple of the boys up to collect me an' all. When I got down here, she made some excuse and then smeared something on the back of my neck. I don't really remember anything much else until I woke up and found you here.'

Illya slid to the floor and walked over to the bench, picking up the tube of tranquilising paste.

'I think this was responsible' he murmured to her before removing the lab coat and putting the tube inside his overalls. 'It appears someone decided you should join the ranks of the .. deltas' he read off the side of the ampoule in the metal dish. He glanced down at Vivienne Cant. If he left her there she, and the two technicians in the adjacent room would almost certainly die when he detonated the explosive devices round the farm.

'You can't save everyone, Illya' Evangeline said, interrupting his thoughts. He frowned and then going towards her, gently pulled her off the bed towards him. She smiled; an enigmatic expression on her face that he had come to know and love.

'Mind reader' he murmured. It would have been easy at that moment to have gone further, to have kissed her, but once that happened he knew what they had would be changed, lessened by that act. He stepped back from her slightly and glanced down. 'I'm …'

'Don't be' she said calmly, her head cocked slightly to the side almost in amusement at his predicament. 'Friends, right?' He smiled, wearily.

'Friends. Of course.'

'Very touching. Now can we talk about the next stage of the plan?' Illya groaned, and drew out the communicator from his hip pocket.

'Thank you for listening in, Napoleon. I hope you found it instructive' Illya hissed, ignoring Evangeline's grin.

'I'm impressed by your professionalism, comrade. Now, when you've finished getting up close and personal with the bride, perhaps you could give her some acting tips on how to appear from now on, seeing that you're such a natural, and send her back up here pronto. And get yourself in a good position to make sure we don't miss any of the rats deserting the sinking ship, okay? Are you coming up with the rest of the boys?'

Illya grimaced slightly. 'Well, um, possibly. I think I'll keep out of sight for a while and then come up and join them later. I would think that, almost certainly whoever sent Miss Evangeline down here will be sending someone back to collect her, and I don't particularly want to be near when they turn up.'

Napoleon switched off his communicator and frowned at it before putting it away. Knowing his partner as he did, he could tell he was trying to avoid something, but just what that was he wasn't entirely sure. No doubt it would come to light, or he would make it come to light, for sure.

He walked over to Evangeline's house, taking great care to avoid running into anyone who might now be apprised of his real name and occupation. Surprisingly no-one he met seemed interested in him and he observed nobody appearing to be looking for any loose UNCLE agents either. Emil was in the kitchen with Rosa when he arrived, speaking to whom he imagined was Emmanuel Lawrence on his communicator. He switched it off and turned round, his face, as ever, set in a serious expression.

'Appears that Miss Lucie-Mae and Miss Vivienne are the only ones the fellas at Arachne spoke to this morning' he began, 'before our fellas took over and cut the lines. However, that doesn't mean the guys at THRUSH central haven't been in touch directly with Mr Arceneaux, of course.' Napoleon sat down at the table, drawing his coffee towards him.

'Quite possibly, but it seems Illya has taken care of their representative down at the farm, in the midst of our favourite THRUSH pharmacologist giving her guest a real life demonstration of her favourite wonder drug' he replied.

'On Miss Vangie?' Emil said darkly, or more darkly than his normal tone, Rosa gasping slightly behind him. Napoleon smiled encouragingly at her.

'Don't worry. Our Russian super spy has managed to give his former friend a taste of her own medicine as well as rescuing the damsel in distress. She should be back here soon, hopefully properly instructed in the 'Kuryakin school of acting dumb'. Emil nodded sagely, a slight smile creasing his wide lips.

'Uh-huh.' Napoleon's communicator suddenly came to life, its sharp tones changing the atmosphere in the room.

'Solo.' The other two stood while he listened and then closed the case with a sharp rap. Napoleon stood up and drained the cup of its contents. 'It seems that the news from the bank has not gone down too well in the town' he began, drawing out his gun and checking it involuntarily before returning it to its home. 'Our men down there have reported a large and rather ugly crowd gathering in front of the town hall. They'll let me know, but I think we should expect them to be heading this way any time soon.'