Rating: T Minimum.
Synopsis: Only a handful of agents went through Survival School with better marks. Why does everyone seem to think she's a THRUSH mole when no one questioned the others?
She could sense eyes upon her as she completed the current hand-to-hand combat session. The only woman to go through with this class, there had been problems. The first was her assignment to the secretarial/administrative assistant training. After two days, some major catty reactions and someone finally realizing one of their agents in training was missing, it was her fault that she had not reported correctly.
Reining in her explosive temper she tried sweet reason to point out that no one listened when she tried to tell them they had her in the wrong cohort and that she had been trying, through channels, to rectify the mistake. Points off for attitude and lack of success. She bit her tongue and took the icy reprimand. She could do more good inside the organization than outside. Or so she kept reminding herself as she went through the grueling training.
She aimed for just short of perfection. Ninety-eight percent would get her through. No one expected, or as she overheard, wanted, a woman to slam through the school with perfect marks. The nearly legendary April Dancer, the first woman to get through the Survival School training and make field agent, was tough, savvy and did not make perfect marks. Sometimes she wondered if Ms. Dancer had also held back; protecting the fragile egos of the Neanderthals around her. No, that was probably insulting the Neanderthals.
Final evaluations were here. The Chief Enforcement Agents of the five continental offices were on hand to pick and chose their new bright lights and cannon fodder. She turned, after an appropriate bow to recognize her teacher, to check out who was here. Interesting, the tall dark haired man was the epitome of the James Bond mold of agent. That was a $300.00 suit, the shirt looked freshly laundered and ironed and his shoes were brightly reflective, the sort of shine that only a good shoe man could put on leather. Napoleon Solo, she dug his name out of the recesses of her brain. Number 1 Section 2, New York. Rumor had it the New York head of operations was grooming this one to be his successor.
The slightly smaller blond to his left drew her eye. So this was the Russian. Rumor had it he was a KGB plant. Noting the close proximity to Solo, she read something different. No, Kuryakin might have started his career with the UNCLE as a KGB mole, but she doubted that he was still all that loyal to his superiors there. UNCLE had too much to offer for a man of his decided talents and intelligence. He was the one she had to worry about. Those quick blue eyes missed very little.
Solo sauntered over to speak to the training instructor as the rest of the class moved back, many of the men eyeing the New York CEO and measuring themselves against the nearly legendary agent. Kuryakin followed him discreetly, his eyes never quite still, taking in all of them, analyzing what he saw and felt against the files. His gaze flicked across her and then came back. Undaunted, she met his gaze coolly, or as coolly as she could, given her sweat drenched status. Even her long black braid was soaked.
Gabe DeMarten cleared his throat for attention. "Class, one more round. Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin would like to watch you in action." He quickly paired the men and then moved to work with her.
Illya stepped forward. "Perhaps with a different partner?" he suggested.
She regarded him curiously. What the hell was he up to? She waited for the decision. DeMarten yielded to the field agent. She fell into stance, tired but not too tired to go another round. Her opponent took his position. Silence reigned for several minutes while the pairs sized each other up. She waited for him to make the first move. He was apparently waiting for her to do so. After a flurry of combat around them, she chuckled. One eyebrow raised in response.
"We're going to get tired of standing here after a while," she pointed out mildly.
"You could move."
"So could you."
He struck swiftly, deadly and found air. For a few moments, there was a flurry of strikes and counter strikes until he grabbed at that dangling braid as she passed him. Without stopping, she pivoted and stepped in with a half force head butt that delivered full force would have done a great deal more damage than making him see stars. He released the braid and rubbed his chin.
"Not bad. A knife …"
"Should not remain in the hands of one's opponent." She bowed respectfully in the Oriental manner, her right hand cupping her left fist.
"You've trained in the Orient?"
She flipped him a grin. "Should be in my file."
"You're too good."
That got a laugh. "OK, I'll 'fess up. I'm 102, born in another dimension and I've been covert off and on for the last 70 years." The look was priceless as he went stone faced. She leaned forward. "That's a joke, Mr. Kuryakin," she added and stepped back. "Now, I'm for a shower and some food. If that's all, Mr. DeMarten?"
DeMarten nodded his dismissal.Round Two
The laundry room was deserted except for one lone soul doing some last minute, before graduation, washing. The slender figure, clad in sweats, lay across the top of the washers, a newspaper over her face, oblivious to her surroundings. It was a pity she was so unaware.
The gun under his nose let him know she was not nearly as sound asleep as he had thought. "I am so tired of people fucking with my laundry and my beauty sleep," she grumbled as she pulled the paper away from her face. Recognition set in. She came to a seated position, the gun never wavering for a moment. "What do you want? How much more badly can I screw up my graduation review?"
Illya smiled at her. "I was unaware your review was in question, Ms. Yuconovich." His assurance did not make her relax, any more than his smile managed to touch his arctic gaze.
"Pull the other one." She did make the gun disappear as she waited to see what he had to say.
"You're too good to be true," he said in Russian.
"That's crap," she responded in the same language. "I'm very, very good, but too good to be true would be 100 percent in everything. I am far from that average."
"Who did you study with?"
"Kung fu?" She shrugged her shoulders. "I never knew his name. I called him Master. He called me Student. It was all very peculiarly formal."
"His death wasn't." She met his gaze head on.
"How do I know you're not lying?"
Her eyes crinkled up as she grinned. "Part of the problem with hanging around with spies is that the truth is never close to the surface," she shot back in English. "What do you want?"
"Perhaps you should answer the question, Miss Yuconovich."
"What do I want? I want to help. I want to put my talents to use where they'll do the most good. I'm not a sit at home type. I'm not very good as a secretary. I am very good at facing problems and solving them."
"Have you killed?"
"Nowhere the US laws can object about it, never where it wasn't the only answer, and nothing that can be proved anywhere." She prayed he could read the honesty in that answer. It was all true. For a long moment he regarded her with that peculiarly Kuryakin stare. A small nod was his only acknowledgement.
"You will be watched."
"Well, duh!" Oh, how easily that tripped off her tongue. She could have kicked herself a moment later, but nothing of that read in her face. She smiled brightly and turned to deal with moving her laundry from the washer to one of the nearby dryers. She berated herself mentally as she did so. The last thing that man needed was unnecessary ammunition.
She heard him move away as she twirled the dial setting the dryer for time and heat. As the unit came on, she risked a peek past her arm in time to see him vanish out the door. Nothing as obvious as a sigh of relief escaped her. She hadn't come this far to do herself in now.Interlude 1
Illya shrugged his shoulders in answer.
"So we pass her?" Napoleon pushed.
He looked over the dossier. Everything was in order. Everything checked out. If she was THRUSH, she was so confident in her cover there was no way to shake her here. He closed the file and frowned slightly as he met his partner's questioning gaze. "We pass her. We can't do anything else."
That wasn't strictly true. They could kill her, feed her the amnesia drug or simply fail her. Any of which would be a shame is she was genuine, and there was nothing but a gut feeling to say that she wasn't. The problem was: his gut wasn't saying she wasn't UNCLE material; it was saying that she was lying about something.
He met Napoleon's look again and shrugged again. "I can't pinpoint it. Something is 'off'. I have no idea what."
"Two options: Assign her to New York or assign her to the smallest, least likely to encounter problems office we have."
"You really are expecting trouble."
Illya sighed and shook his head. "Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. Old Russian saying."
While the Russian was frequently cryptic, this was going interesting places even for him. Napoleon looked over the dossier, nodded and made his recommendation that Cheri Christiana Yuconovich be assigned to the New York office through her probationary period.