Section Seven Impromptu Challenge.
Before you start to read…be warned! Silliness ahead!
Where this tale came from I cannot imagine, but now it is here, I have no choice but to run with it.
The incredible tale of Tibbles and Snowy
When neither Solo nor Kuryakin responded to his calls, Waverly was annoyed, but not overly concerned. After all, agents in the field were not always able to stop what they were doing and give him an update. He once had had a very brief conversation with Mister Solo in which all the latter had said in response to Waverly's questions was "Sorry, later sir!". It had turned out that Solo was, at that moment, busily engaged in a fierce struggle for possession of a newly designed rifle, which would have certainly resulted in his death if he had lost. However, both men were punctilious, as a rule, about reporting in on time. Twenty-four hours later, however, when it became clear that their communicators were either destroyed or out of range…and Waverly had never known that to happen before…and the men failed to return or to get in touch through any other medium, he became very concerned. What had happened to his top agents?
A three-day search ensued before three teams of agents tracked their movements to a satrap located in a network of tunnels inside a hillside, some twenty miles or so west of New York City. There they found Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin lying side by side on identical lab benches, each hooked up to a large machine. Atop the machine, and clearly forming some important part of its function, were two separate and distinct metallic cages, connected in some way to the same apparatus. The cages were empty, their doors swinging open. Both the men were unconscious.
Alexander Waverly strode the corridors of UNCLE, a deep frown furrowing his brow, revealing his concern. He reached the medical bay where the UNCLE scientists had temporarily set up shop in company with Doctor Fisher to study the THRUSH machine that section three had brought in.
When it had become clear that the machine, whatever its function, was currently performing only basic monitoring duties, the two young agents had been removed from it and placed on comfortable beds side by side, surrounded by equipment to monitor their life signs. The scientists were studying the machine with great interest, to the annoyance of Gerald Fisher who did not like THRUSH contraptions cluttering up his sickbay. It was imperative however, that the purpose of this…this thing was determined fully before they moved it or dismantled it. Still Solo and Kuryakin did not awaken. Fisher sat and stared in shock at the results of the thorough examination that had been performed. He was still staring, slightly open mouthed when Waverly walked in.
"What have you found, doctor Fisher? Will my men be all right?"
With an effort, Fisher found his voice.
"They…their bodies are alive and well…fighting fit in fact; but their brains are…empty. It's like they are…brain-dead."
The news hit Waverly like a physical blow.
"Brain-dead? But their bodies are alive? How can that be?"
"Well sir, the human brain works on two levels. Our brains regulate our heartbeat, our breathing, and some zillion other things without our even thinking about it. That level of function is intact with both, sir. But the higher functions, awareness…consciousness…memory…all appear to have been wiped completely clean."
"Destroyed you mean?" Waverly could feel his heart pounding. Sentimental old fool that he was! All his agents were dispensable. That was a given! "Wiped how? By this machine I presume? Is there anything you can do…I suppose the condition is not reversible?"
"That is why we need to fully understand the functions of this machine, sir. If we can understand its purpose, what it actually does, we may be able to work out and possibly even reverse what has happened…I have theories but…they are too fantastical to be believable. Sorry Mister Waverly, we'll get to work and let you know when we come up with something."
Napoleon opened his eyes and yawned widely. He stared round and blinked. What was this? It was night time, and yet he could see clearly. Clearly enough to know that he was no longer in the cell that he and Illya had been languishing in earlier. He seemed to be up high, in some sort of cage. He yawned again stood up. In the cage beside his own, a handsome white and black cat was curled up asleep.
Wait a minute…a cat?
Napoleon looked down at himself and saw furry grey paws instead of hands and feet. He could feel the movement of the air with his whiskers, and he could smell too. A smell he recognized well. The aftershave he had used that morning following his morning shower and shave. To him it had always been delicately fragranced; not too strong or too feeble, a nice smell that the women always commented on. Right now, it seemed very pungent, almost overpowering. Had he really used so much this morning? Why had Illya not said anything?
Wait a minute, grey furry paws? Whiskers? Napoleon had no trouble realizing what must have happened. The THRUSH egghead had gleefully told them everything as they were being strapped in place on those hard, uncomfortable beds. Following their success with the body-swap technique*, they had decided to extend the idea to include animals. Can the mind of a man survive inside the brain of an animal? It was an experiment, they had been told.
Apparently, an experiment that had worked well.
A plaintive mew from the next cage made him look round. The white cat was awake and looked rather confused. If Napoleon could have smiled, he would have. There was no doubt that it was Illya. He opened his mouth to call out to his friend, something reassuring. All that emerged was a loud and decisive "Miaow!"
The white cat leapt up and arched his back, his fur rising. Napoleon tried again to say something calm and soothing to reassure the other cat. To his surprise, he found himself purring softly. The white cat seemed to calm down a little and eyed him warily.
Somehow, Napoleon knew what it was Illya was trying to say.
"Illya, it's me. Napoleon."
The sounds issuing from Napoleon's mouth were simply soft mews, or throat rumblings, but although unintelligible to a human ear, they were clear enough to him, and also, seemingly, to his companion.
"Napoleon? What have they done to us? Turned us into cats? That is impossible!"
Illya's miaow sounded so indignant, again Napoleon had an insane urge to laugh.
"No, I don't know about you Illya, but I can still smell the aftershave I put on this morning. Why didn't you say it was too strong?"
The white cat sniffed, and then sneezed violently.
"It wasn't at the time, but I suppose if we are now cats, we have their senses as well. So, our minds have been moved?"
Napoleon bobbed his head in a feline approximation of a nod.
"We are up high. I think our bodies are still down there…exactly where we were when they strapped us in earlier…"
"I remember." Illya replied, straining his head sideways to look down at his human body's feet…the only part of his own body that he could see from this vantage point. "It was bad enough being stuck inside April Dancer's body the last time, but inside the body of a cat?"
"Well, when we don't report in, Mister Waverly will send someone to find us. In the meantime, we need to get out of here."
Illya lay down.
"I'm not going anywhere without me." He replied. "If this is an experiment, they may try to put us back where we belong, which I am all in favour of. There is only one thing I am not looking forward to."
"What is that?" Napoleon asked, watching his partner's tail twitching uneasily.
"I need a bath Napoleon…"
For the first forty-eight hours living inside the body of a cat, the partners experienced sights and smells from their new perspective. They experienced the feline urge to wash, and not a little revulsion at the thought of having to lick themselves clean. In reality, although the whole process of licking and grooming their fur offended their human sensibilities, the feline senses they now possessed were both stimulated and comforted by the whole process. Their humanity however proved stronger than their new cat senses, and caused them both to turn their backs upon once another from time to time, especially when it came to personal grooming, in order to attempt to retain a measure of privacy.
There were some things that Napoleon wanted never to see and never to remember about being a cat; that was, assuming he ever got back to his own human body again. Number one, naturally, would have to be the licking of a certain part of his anatomy. That was bad enough, but he had no desire to witness his partner going through the same process. The other was having to use the small litter tray in the corner of his cage. The fact that he couldn't avoid the need to use it, and the fact that it was an open tray filled with kitty-litter rather than a private cubicle with doors. He would have a new respect for cats after this.
Being a cat had the added disadvantage that one had no arms or hands. Both he and Illya tried their best, but could make nothing of the locks on their cage doors using only their teeth. In the end, Napoleon was forced to resign himself to wait. So, he lay down in his cage, turning around on the spot several times before settling down to sleep. In the next cage, Illya slept too.
They were awakened by the sound of gunshots. A man they recognized as the scientist who had experimented on them came dashing into their lab. They had seen him once a day as he came in to feed and water them, although he had done nothing about the progressively unhygienic litter trays. He opened their cage doors, grabbing the litter trays and threw them into the waste disposal, grabbed each of them by the scruff of the neck and shooed them away. When they failed to run away, he grabbed a large stool and charged at them with it.
They both ran.
When the sounds of gunfire had died away, they crept out of hiding. As themselves they would never have run away from a fight, but as cats, instinct had taken over. The need for safety and cover, for a moment had over-ridden all their calm and logical thinking. It was only once they returned to the lab to find their human bodies, that they realized they had made a huge mistake.
The lab was empty.
Their two cages were gone. The machine was gone. Their human selves were also gone.
CatNapoleon and CatIllya were alone.
The two cats looked at each other. As a cat, Napoleon mused, Illya looked handsome and chic…slightly tubbier around the middle than his human self, although naturally he would never dream of telling the Russian that. He was generally white, but with black patches. A black patch that almost but not quite covered his left eye, and a black right ear. It reminded Napoleon of a girl he had once known in his schooldays whom had come to school one morning after a disastrous haircut had given her a very lopsided fringe. Illya also had a patch on one side of his furry body, and the last few inches of his tail was also black, as though he had dipped it in a pot of black ink. Again, Napoleon would have smiled if he had had the facial muscles for it. Instead he muzzled the top of his head against Illya's chin. The white cat stepped back, out of range, twitching his tail.
"Why did you do that Napoleon? I hope being a cat is not going to get you into bad habits? If you do that to me when we are human again I swear…"
"Well I can hardly click my fingers or whistle to get your attention, can I? I don't know, it seemed the thing to do…Illya, all that noise…it must have been UNCLE, here to rescue us."
"Well they didn't rescue us. They left us here to fend for ourselves!" Illya replied in a very grumpy sounding miaow.
"Yes, well they don't know that. They are going to be worrying about us, trying to work out why we don't wake up. We can't call in, either. We will have to walk back to headquarters."
Illya sat on his tail to stop it lashing and tried to pounce on the still wildly lashing tip with his forepaws.
"Walk all the way to New York? That is a long way for a human to walk, but we are cats, Napoleon. Cats. How do we walk all the way?"
"We may be cats for now my friend, but we are still UNCLE agents. We'll think of something."
Napoleon watched Illya pouncing on his tail for a few more seconds, and then leapt forward and speared its black tip with a claw.
"Yow!" Illya screamed in pain, and glared at his friend. "That hurt. What did you attack me for?"
"I didn't attack you…I…um…I just couldn't help it…you were playing with your tail, and I just…sorry…"
Illya stuck his tail up in the air and stalked away. He paused at his reflection in the silver metallic footplate at the base of the door. A moment later, A silver grey tabby cat appeared beside him. Napoleon spied his own reflection and couldn't resist turning himself round a little to see himself from every angle.
"A grey tabby-cat? A grey tabby cat, Illya? Why couldn't it have been a long-haired Persian or a Siamese? Or even a domestic shorthair like you? Why a tabby cat?"
Illya let out a strange noise that Napoleon knew was the closest he could come to a laugh.
"Napoleon, are you seriously telling me that you are prejudiced against tabbies? Did you know that the tabby-cat, aside from being among the most populous breed of cat in the world is reckoned one of the toughest of the domestic variety? More than that, my vain friend, if you were a Persian or a Siamese, you would be very noticeable on the streets, especially strolling through the streets of New York City. Liable to get catnapped perhaps. If we are going to do this, we are better off being what we are, a pair of ordinary neighborhood moggies."
"I wonder what these cats are called? I mean normally?"
"Right now, this one is called Illya. Come on Napoleon, help me push this door open."
The secret fear of both of them remained unspoken. How often had they seen someone's pet cat curled up snoozing on a doorstep because they could not get into a house? Not every home-owner was thoughtful enough to install a cat-flap after all. By the same token, they had frequently seen pet cats sitting on the window-ledge on the inside of a house gazing longingly at the world outside but unable to get out.
What if they could find no open doors or windows through which to escape? What if UNCLE was to blow this place up as they often did? With a single glance at each other, the two cats started to run.
They explored the entire premises, their nerves rising when they recalled that this base was built inside a hill and not in a building of any kind. There would be no windows to find. It was to their great relief that they found that UNCLE, in leaving had not troubled to close any doors behind them. Outside in the field, UNCLE trucks were still being loaded up with the remnants of the machine that had been retrieved from the lab. The two cats looked at one another.
"What do you reckon? Cadge a lift?"
The tail-lift of the truck was already raised, and far too high for any cat to jump. Without a thought, Napoleon ran to one of the section three agents and rubbed hard against his leg. Illya followed his example and rubbed hard against the other. The agent glanced down and laughed.
"Here Jacko, look at this. I never had two cats take to me at first sight like this!"
The two cats recognized section three agent Jackson. He had once been THRUSH himself, and had defected to UNCLE as soon as he had the chance. He was kindly, and loyally devoted to UNCLE. Jacko watched as his partner tried to shoo the two cats away. He looked around and frowned.
"Beckett, where did they come from? They're not wild cats, and there is nothing around here close enough to have been home for them except this place. And it won't be here once Slate and Dancer have finished setting the charges!"
"I dunno, but we can't take 'em back to headquarters, can we?"
"Well we can't just leave them here, either, Becks. Have a heart. Hey, kitty kitty kitty!"
Jackson sat on his heels and held his hand out towards the white cat. He sat back suddenly and stared at the animal in what looked to his companion very like shock. Beckett noticed.
"What's the matter? Can't get the white one to come to you?"
Jackson shook his head, still staring.
"It's not that…Beckett, I swear to you, that white cat rolled his eyes at me!"
"You're dreaming Jacko. Perhaps the heat is getting to you. You imagined it."
Jacko shook his head. He knew he hadn't imagined it. The white cat had definitely rolled his eyes. He made up his mind.
"Becks, grab the tabby, will you? I'll get the white one and we'll bring them back with us. There's something…"
"Jacko…are you out of your mind?"
"Maybe, but Snowy here definitely rolled his eyes at me. I never imagined it, Becks."
"Oh, very well, but you can sit and make them behave, or you will get out and walk back with them yourself."
He bent down and picked up the silver tabby, speaking in a sing-song voice as though to a baby.
"Come along Tibbles, uncle Jacko will look after you. Now you be a good kitty won't you, or you will all have to walk back together!"
The silver tabby dramatically rolled his eyes, and Beckett almost dropped the cat in his shock. He looked up and saw Jackson looking very serious.
"Solo and Kuryakin are unconscious and not waking up, and we have here two cats that roll their eyes…"
"And cats don't roll their eyes."
"Exactly. Come on. Let's take them with us. The worst that can happen is we inherit a couple of pet cats…"
Jackson debated whether to inform Slate and Dancer about the cats, but decided against it. Slate was a senior agent besides being a section two, and if he ordered them to leave the cats behind, Jackson would have to obey. What he didn't know…
He pulled out his communicator.
"Jackson to Slate. Ready to move out, sir. The last of the scientists have gone with the last truck. We have the last consignment of THRUSH equipment loaded and ready to go. The base is empty."
"Acknowledged." Came Mark Slate's voice from the communicator, "Move out. We'll follow in five. I'll contact Waverly."
Napoleon glanced at Illya, curled up sleeping on Jackson's shoulders. As a human Illya was cat-like in his ability to sleep anywhere and anytime. As a cat, it seemed he barely stayed awake for more than a few minutes at a time before he was ready to sleep again. Thank goodness for Illya's trademarked eye roll. That had at least caught their colleagues' attention and intrigued them enough to be unwilling to leave them behind. What worried Napoleon was what were he and Illya to do once they reached headquarters? How could he and Illya as cats communicate in any meaningful way to make everyone understand who they really were? Come to that, did he really want everyone finding out he was now a cat? Certainly, R and D and medical would have to know…Jacko and Beckett would be likely slightly suspicious at least, but everyone?
Feeling nervous and edgy, Napoleon experienced the almost overwhelming urge to groom himself again. He had found, however distasteful as a human, as a cat it had definite therapeutic effects. The problem was that with Jackson already wondering and watching him like a hawk…if he were to now watch him grooming himself all over and then witness later his return to his human state, Napoleon did not like to think about the kind of questions that might be coming his way. He was not a human any more. Granted he had a human's mind and awareness, but he had a cat's body, with the physical needs of a cat. That was nature pure and simple. He was no more able to ignore it than stop breathing. He fought nature as hard as he could for ten minutes, until in the end the cat won out. Napoleon resigned himself, lifted his hind leg, and started licking.
When Illya woke up, he found himself once more sitting in a cage. This time he knew the place well. He was in Alexander Waverly's office. He sat up and yawned, then heard a soft mew in his ear.
"About time. Did you mean to sleep all day?"
Napoleon was sharing the same cage, and the space was cramped to say the least. Sitting and peering as far as they could, they found they were right in the centre of Waverly's circular rotating table. Waverly himself was frowning at them. Beckett and Jackson seemed for all the world like a pair of schoolboys hauled up before the headmaster for scrumping apples. By the sound of things, Waverly was not inclined to allow another cat into the building, let along two more. They had one office cat already that had once succeeded in tripping Napoleon and putting him out of action for several days. He had no desire to multiply that danger by a factor of three. Illya sensed what was in the wind.
"We are going to have to do something more dramatic than rolling our eyes, Napoleon, if they are ever going to understand that we are not just two stray moggies called Tibbles and Snowy!"
"What can we do from inside a cage?"
"Do something together, coordinated perhaps? Something that only trained cats would do. Get them to let us out and then…"
"And then? My thought was to run off and find our own bodies, but without badges we'll set off every alarm in the building."
Illya's eyes shone.
"Napoleon, Jackson and Beckett will stay close. We could snatch their badges with our teeth and run away carrying their badges in our mouths? Even Waverly would have to admit that cats who know they need a badge to move around this place are smart, even if they weren't agents in disguise."
For want of a better plan, Napoleon nodded.
"Let's give it a try."
The three humans in the room were suddenly interrupted when the two cats in the cage started yowling together. Once they had everyone's attention, they sat back on their haunches, and raised their forepaws in the air and touched them together, keeping up their yowling in an oddly familiar rhythm. Beckett and Jackson looked at each other and then at their boss who had dropped his pipe and was staring hard at the two cats. Waverly finally tore his eyes away from the cage and glanced up at his two men, who both looked equally surprised.
"Are those cats playing patta-cake?"
When they nodded, he gestured with his hand.
"Open the cage."
When the cage door was open, the two cats approached Waverly and rubbed themselves against his hand briefly, then as one they turned to the two section three men, leapt up and grabbed their badges between their teeth and then jumped down to the floor. The last the three men saw of them was one black-tipped tail and one silver striped tail disappearing out of the office door.
Napoleon and Illya arrived in medical and almost skidded to a halt. Their bodies were there, lying still and silent, side by side. Illya leapt up onto the chest of the thin blond-haired Russian…his own self. He was aware of Napoleon claiming his own body. They lay down on the chests of the two unconscious figures, and refused to move or be moved. When doctor Fisher or one of his nurses tried to move them, they dug in with their claws.
Waverly and the two section three men appeared in medical, after a pause to replace the stolen badges. Doctor Fisher and one of the scientists, Doctor Rotharr were conferring together, looking at the two cats. They approached Mister Waverly and the two agents as they came in.
"These cats will not move, sir."
"There is something different about them, sure." Jackson piped up. "They both rolled their eyes at us, and I swear to you doc, back in Mister Waverly's office they were playing patta-cake. They can't be ordinary cats."
"Where did they come from?"
"That THRUSH satrap where we rescued Solo and Kuryakin and retrieved that machinery."
Waverly cleared his throat.
"Doctor, earlier you were telling me that you have had a few rather unbelievable theories about what might have happened to the mind and memories of Mister Solo and Mister Kuryakin. Given the unusual behaviour of these two animals, have any of your theories become any less…unbelievable?"
Fisher nodded slightly.
"Well, according to the records, something happened once before…the minds of Mister Kuryakin and Miss Dancer were swapped. This is altogether different as this time their minds appear to have just vanished into the ether, but it has been proven that the human mind, a man's awareness can be removed from his own body and relocated…"
Fisher frowned, and then turned to the two cats. Uncomfortably aware how foolish he was going to look if he was proven wrong about this, he crouched slightly and spoke in resonant tones;
"Napoleon, Look at me! Illya, will you please lick your left front paw?"
The silver tabby turned its head and looked doctor Fisher directly in the eye and held it. The white cat rolled its eyes, then lifted its front left paw and started licking it. The men in the room caught their breaths.
Jackson sat close to Illya's bedside and opened the comatose Russian's eye, and peered into it, but there was no response at all. He found the white cat watching him, its grey/blue eyes clear and unblinking.
"Are you really Illya Kuryakin?"
"Miaow!" the cat replied in a decisive tone.
"And your silver friend over there is mister Solo?"
The silver tabby himself responded with a vigorous miaow. Waverly prodded the air with the stem of his pipe.
"Well, if you two really are my two top agents, then you know the penalty for stealing badges. Under the circumstances I will overlook it. If you will each hand the badge you possess to its true owner, I will put your own badge on the end of Illya's bed for you to pick up yourself."
If there had been any doubt left, it was shattered as Snowy/Illya calmly jumped down from the bed and walked over to agent Beckett, the man's badge in his teeth. Tibbles/Napoleon jumped across to Illya's bed and handed the badge in his mouth to Jackson who was still sitting there. He joined Illya at the foot of the bed, and found two badges. Their own badges. He picked up his own badge and leapt back and took up his previous position. Guarding his human body.
Unbelievable as the truth was, it was now absolutely clear that the two top agents, Solo and Kuryakin had been switched into the bodies of a couple of cats. Since they had been nicknamed Tibbles and Snowy by Jackson and Beckett, they found themselves having to answer to those demeaning names. The staff of HQ adored the two new cats, blissfully unaware as they sat in the rec room, stroking the cats and gossiping about the sad demise of the CEA and his partner, that they were in fact stroking and kissing both Solo and Kuryakin in a way that neither men would have ever permitted as themselves. Perhaps, Napoleon commented to Illya, once all this is over, we might tell them that they were kissing their dreamboat Kuryakin whilst he sat on their knee?
Illya tried to give Napoleon his patented ice-cold stare with indifferent results. He had no doubt that if these women ever did find out that the `adorable white kitty-cat' was Illya Kuryakin, what they would remember most was the fact that he had been seized by an irresistible urge to give himself a thorough grooming all over. A common enough sight for a cat to be sure, but superimpose over that image the face of a man and the whole thing became rather less cute and rather more… embarrassing? He was forced to miaow indignantly and watch Napoleon's rear end, with his tail held erect stalk out of the room.
Those in the know, Waverly, Beckett and Jackson, the medical staff and the science team had set up a simple system so that if the two feline agents wanted or needed anything, they each had a button they could press with one paw. At first, the nurse had attempted to feed them the way they would customarily feed any cat; with pet food set down on the floor. Both of them had stared down at the plates and then leapt up into a chair, making it clear that they wished to eat from the table. Nurse Heidi had grinned at them and nodded.
"Very well, I'll look forward to watching the way you handle a knife and fork!"
She had been treated to a very human-like eye roll, but of course, both cats had no option but to eat directly with their mouths, as cats have always done. She watched with interest as the cat she now knew to be Illya Kuryakin downed his plateful of cat-food without a pause, whereas Napoleon swallowed one mouthful, choked violently, and brought it up again with an expression of very realistic looking disgust. Illya had glanced at his partner, then looking nurse Heidi in the eye, pressed his button. A bell rang in the room and Heidi had nodded. She removed Napoleon's dish.
"Very well. I might have known you would be the fussy one Napoleon. What is it to be this time your majesty? Tuna? Chicken? I'll see what the royal chef has available."
They had been cats now for two whole weeks.
The times when the cat regained dominance was gradually increasing, and both Napoleon and Illya were afraid that if they were forced to stay here for much longer, they might even lose whatever they had left of themselves. They could feel their own individuality being watered down, squashed as it were by the base instincts of the cats whose bodies they had invaded. It was a relief when they had awakened from their usual position on the chests of their human selves and been informed that science and medical were now ready to attempt to perform the reversal procedure.
Doctor Fisher explained that although they understood what was going on, the cats themselves would be frightened. It would be kinder to the two cats if they were sedated for the procedure. Naturally, that meant that Napoleon and Illya would go to sleep too.
They both had hundreds of questions in their minds, but naturally were unable to ask any of them. Doctor Fisher was practical and informative. Heidi was sweet, hugged them both and told them that she would see them in a little while, almost as if they really were cats…then the needle went in. Napoleon and Illya were asleep.
Waverly waited with Jackson in the viewing gallery as the machine was checked and re-checked and then checked again. Finally, everything in place, it was activated.
They watched as the machine was deactivated, and the four sleeping patients checked.
The two cats seemed to cause concern, long faces and shaking heads. Of the two human men in the bed, nothing seemed any different. They were still comatose.
Doctor Fisher approached Alexander Waverly in the gallery with a long face.
"Sir, I have to tell you that the white cat…the cat that we have come to identify as Mister Kuryakin…has passed away. The shock of going through that procedure…twice…was too much. I am sorry to say that little Snowy died of heart failure. The silver tabby that is…hopefully was Mister Solo is weak and nervous, but is recovering well…and completely back to normal it seems. No patta-cake, no eye rolling or anything else. It appears that we have successfully removed Mister Solo's mind from the cat and put it back where it belongs. Of course, until he wakes up, we will not know if we were completely successful or not."
"What about Mister Kuryakin?"
"That depends if we managed to remove Mister Kuryakin's memory engrams from Snowy before the poor little creature died. If…we'll just have to wait and see."
Wait and see.
Wait and see.
Wait and see were words that Waverly remembered very well from his long-ago youth. If an enquiry was answered with a `wait and see', it inevitably meant `no, but I don't want to say so right now'.
Wait and see were words that kept loved ones on tenterhooks until they received the news they were waiting for, whether for good or for bad.
Wait and see were the sentiments that Waverly was forced to live with every day in his capacity as chief of section one. Waiting to see if his agents would return from the field successful in their missions.
He settled down to wait and see.
Darkness, darkness, then a blinding light. Ouch! No, keep the eyes closed. That's better. It would be better to go back to sleep, back to the darkness, but awareness was creeping into him now, life into every cell, every pore of his body.
Things were different. Sounds were muted and far-off sounding. Cats had very acute hearing. He had grown accustomed to the hearing capacity of the cat. In comparison, the few sounds he could make out sounded as though they had been muffled, as though buried under a pile of thick blankets. He tried to open his eyes again, and again his retinas were assaulted. He heard a slithering noise from somewhere, and a click, then a familiar voice;
"There, is that better?"
No, the light was too bright.
"Open your eyes, my friend. Try, please. You've been asleep for long enough."
Once again, he opened his eyes. This time he the light was muted, and easier to take. Struggling to focus, he squinted at a face that looked down at his own. A face framed by dark hair, smiley brown eyes.
"Am I human?"
Napoleon produced a mirror from somewhere, and let Illya see for himself. No fur, no whiskas and no tail. Blond hair, blue eyes and a smile that slowly crept across his face. He was himself again. He struggled to sit up. Napoleon and the nurse helped him and he looked around. A small silver tabby cat was curled up asleep on the end of his bed. Illya stared at it and then at his friend.
"That was you? It's good to have you back as yourself again, Napoleon. Being a cat had its moments, but...hang on, I didn't dream it all did I?"
Napoleon shook his head.
"No Tovarish, it was all quite real…only there's one thing. They managed to switch us back. I'm told I woke up after two days. They almost lost you. Snowy died of heart failure halfway through the procedure. They only just managed to rescue you in time. You very nearly went with him. You've been out for six days."
"Dead? My…Snowy died? Napoleon, Snowy was a female, not a male."
"I'm so sorry, Illya. This little thing, Tibbles is in need of a home. There have been several offers, but he can't stay here. The office cat resents him. They'll be fighting before long. I thought you might like to take him on…you managed to keep him in line well enough before…"
Illya fought back his emotions and tickled the creature under the chin. He remembered this cat from the perspective of another cat. Feisty, despite its sweet overt appearance. He would make a nice companion for his little flat. He heaved a deep, slightly shaky breath.
"On one condition, Napoleon."
"What is that?"
"Tibbles is a terrible name for a cat."
"I think it suits him. Why, what do you want to call him?"
Illya tried to smile, thought of Snowy and the smile faltered. He picked up the little creature and scratched its cheek. The cat leaned in, purring loudly. This time Illya managed to smile, albeit wanly.
"I think I should call him…Napoleon."