The swirls of dust that rose up behind the sedan was a signal to the men who stood watch at the entry to the Thrush enclave. They recognized the car, and with the speed that Illya was taking this road the two sentries didn't have time to check the interior or the occupants of the blazing sedan. The two UNCLE agents both held on as the turn was made, and then suddenly it stopped. Without warning the two men jumped out and shot the sentries, felling them on the spot. Without pausing the agents were back in the car and they continued on towards the house up ahead. Napoleon was trying to figure out how many men might be on site; they had already sent nine, so there shouldn't be too many left. Probably a driver and one other guard, possibly a lab tech for Wizener. "So, I'm thinking there might be as many as four or five of them left. What do you think?" He posed the question to his manic friend whose driving was almost as much a danger to them now as the waiting Thrush.
"I would think so...about that. I think I'm bleeding again..." Illya's voice trailed off a little, not wanting to sound alarmed, but feeling he should alert his partner to the possibility of him not holding out for a prolonged battle.
"How bad?" He shrugged at the question, it wouldn't stop him from going in.
"Not bad, but I'd like to make this quick if we can". Napoleon agreed; quick and efficient would be his preference.
"Do you think Wizener will put up a fight if we mention Maria? He might agree to come with us for her sake". The CEA held out little hope for that, nor did he believe his friend felt it would happen that way. "I doubt it, but we can put it to him".
Illya slowed the car as they approached the hacienda. It was low and long, with an interior patio that could be seen from the front. There was only one car parked, and a solitary guard sat in a low slung chair near the entry. It wasn't a front door, but a wrought iron gate that opened onto the patio, with the house built around it. The man got up from his perch by the gate as the car pulled up in front of him. He didn't have time to consider who it was pulling the trigger as it launched the sleep dart that caught him in the neck. The man went down quickly, even as the two agents were getting out of the vehicle and heading through the gate.
Another man was sitting in front of a door leading into the house. He saw some movement, and rose up slowly from his seat. In the same instant that he realized the two men coming into the courtyard weren't his fellow Thrush, he was cut down by another sleep dart from Napoleon's gun. Sensing that there might be at least one more inside, the intruding agents slowed their pace enough to get settled on a plan. It was determined that each of them would take an opposite direction from the other, hopefully without encountering another guard immediately. Maria had told them that Wizener's bedroom was to the left of the front door, which was in the middle of the longest section of house that faced the road. The entire house folded itself around the courtyard, very much in keeping with Spanish and Mexican architecture. Napoleon would take that left side, while Illya would go to the right; they would be able to cover the entire hacienda quickly as long as no one got in their way.
"Ready?" Blue eyes indicated yes to the inquiring brown of his partner.
They opened the door slowly, half expecting to be met by some opposition, but there wasn't anyone in the entry, or in the room beyond. Illya toured the expansive living room and kitchen, indicating that it was clear before heading off to the hallway on the right. Two more rooms were located along that route, but equally unoccupied as the first had been. He finished the short tour and headed back towards the center and behind Napoleon's path to the left side of the house. As he progressed down that hall, he could hear voices being raised. He recognized his friend and assumed the other was Wizener. Napoleon was standing in the doorway to what must have been a bedroom. He looked as though he were backing out, which warned Illya that something was wrong. He came up behind his partner just in time to see the scientist holding a vial in his right hand, a gun in his left. He was swinging the container around as he spoke, ranting about his brilliant plan and the legacy he would have left in a world that was undeserving of his genius.
"Napoleon...has he opened the vial? Is there anything else like it in there?" Illya knew the vial must contain the virus; the old man was insane and he wouldn't think twice about unleashing it now, killing them all. They might contain it if they had to; they could lock themselves in the room and hope no one else came near within the next hour. He could shoot Wizener and hope that the vial wouldn't break...there wasn't a good alternative here, because it didn't look as though the madman would go down without doing great harm.
"Illya, what are the chances if that gets broken open?" Napoleon was hopeful that it wouldn't come to shooting the deranged man; he thought of Maria and how she truly loved him. It would be difficult to explain it to her.
"There is no alternative to stopping the release. We must either kill him before he can open it, or somehow lock him in with it and hope that it doesn't permeate the atmosphere. It's deadly either way". Illya was a pessimist by nature, and this took little coaxing in that direction. The virus was deadly, it was airborne, and it had a life expectency of one hour in the air.
"Dr. Wizener...Maria is waiting back in Santa Isabella. She very much wants to see you again...safe. Will you put the vial down and come with us...to see Maria?" Napoleon hoped that the mention of the man's granddaughter would somehow influence him, cause him to come out of this lunacy that seemed to rule him.
"No, Mr. Solo. Maria doesn't understand...none of you understand. I have the answer to so many questions right here in my hand. We can eliminate hunger and crime...we have the power to populate the earth with only those who meet the criteria of Thrush's greatest doctrines. This, gentlemen...this is the answer. But, I fear that it will never be utilized as I have envisioned it, so it will end here, I suppose...with us". With that he looked to the two men in the doorway, and with a flourish of his left hand he swept it around the room as though hunting for a target, coming back to himself and in an instant...
"No...both agents yelled at once, but it was too late. As the man's body fell to the hard tile floor, the vial flew from his right hand towards the door in which Napoleon stood. Illya pushed him back and grabbed the large iron handle on the bedroom door. In less time than either of them would have thought possible, the door was closed as they heard the crash of the glass vial within. Neither of them stopped moving but as quickly as they could run were headed out of the front door and into the car they had only recently arrived in.
"Hurry...this place will be toxic within minutes!" Illya knew too well what the potential danger was, and he hoped fervently that they had avoided any contamination by the quick action each had taken. He had out his communicator before they had cleared the circular drive...
"Open channel D, emergency status..."
"Waverly here. Mr. Kuryakin, your report" Succinct and without delay, the old man was secretly relieved to hear the Russian's voice. He recognized a stress in it, however, and waited for what he dreaded might be bad news.
"Sir, Wizener is dead...but he broke a vial of the virus inside of the house in which he was staying. There were two other men in the area, but they will be dead shortly. I believe that Mr. Solo and I were able to get out in time...we will know within the next half hour or so". Napoleon glanced over at his friend, wondering how they would spend the next thirty minutes...and where.
"Very well, Mr. Kuryakin. What are you plans?" Mr. Waverly knew they would need to wait it out; the two of them together, but alone. If they had absorbed any of the virus, they couldn't go back to Santa Isabella; they couldn't afford to expose anyone else to it. "We will get far enough away from the hacienda to not risk additional exposure, sir. And...we will wait".
"You will contact me at the end of this period of time, Mr. Kuryakin...do you understand?" He would not tolerate losing his two best agents...that wouldn't do at all.
"Yes sir. We'll report in a half an hour. Kuryakin out". He replaced the communicator and motioned for Napoleon to pull over. "We have enough distance. We're halfway between there and town, so...it should be safe". Napoleon pulled off of the road and drove about twenty feet onto sandy soil. Turning off the ignition he gave a long sigh, then laid his head against the top of the seat back. He shot a look at his friend and saw the wet spot on his shirt; he was bleeding again, profusely from the look of it.
"Are you feeling ok? It looks like you've bled through the bandages and onto your shirt". Father Enrique's shirt...he wondered what the old priest would say now.
"It won't matter if we're dead from the virus". Illya cut a glance at Napoleon, hating that he suddenly felt unlucky and doomed. Waverly had said to report in, so it seemed a good idea to plan on it. He leaned his head back and shut his eyes, wishing he could sleep, knowing he needed to remain conscious...wishing and hoping...
"Illya...stay awake!" Napoleon was afraid of shock, of the virus or of being caught here by Thrush. Suddenly everything seemed wrong. They weren't supposed to die like this, and Illya wasn't supposed to bleed to death. How long would it take? Oh, thirty minutes...how much was left? Twenty-five...this was going to take forever.
"Napoleon' Illya was looking out the window at the sandy landscape, feeling the heat of the day pressing in through the glass and metal.
"Do you ever regret choosing this life? Or, do you think you were simply born to it, and this is all you will ever be?" The Russian was going to drift into something decidedly grim, there was nothing to be done about it.
Napoleon thought about it, though. Sometimes it did seem as though there had never been any other choice for him; this life had been laid out before him and he had simply walked into it, fully accepting of all the limitations.
"I think that some of us are...naturals. I guess I could have done something else, but this is what I'm really good at. Well, except for the part where I'm possibly going to die out here in the desert...with you". That last bit was both a comfort and a curse. He hated that either of them might perish right here and now because of some lunatic scientist. But, to have a friend like Illya...a man who had proved to be more a brother to him that blood could have purchased. He suddenly remembered a bible verse that he'd had to learn somewhere in his childhood.
"There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother". He didn't remember where it was, only that it had been written.
"Where is that from? Or did you just come up with that as a testament to our suffering?" Just a hint of a smile played at the blond's lips as he looked through fading vision at his friend. Yes, closer than a brother...
"I just remembered it...Sunday school or something...it's been there all of these years but I never thought of it until now". He could see Illya slipping away. The blood was pooling between his fingers as the Russian tried to staunch the flow of it, but he was losing; he was slipping into unconsciousness before the time was even up.
"Illya...tovarisch..." Napoleon had no choice but to let him go under. He couldn't risk going back to town...
Napoleon pulled the limp body closer to him, putting his hand against the wound to finish what Illya had started. They had to report in to Wavelry in...fifteen minutes. "Only fifteen minutes my friend and it will all be over..." And so he waited.
Nothing. There was nothing wrong with him, and the half hour was over. Napoleon turned the key and gunned the engine, tearing across the dirt and onto the little two lane road that would take him back to town. Five minutes and he was roaring into Santa Isabella, and in sight of an UNCLE helicopter that had brought in a clean up crew and a medical team. He stopped just short of ramming the chopper, yelling at a medic to get over and take care of his partner. Once that was underway and he felt confident that Illya was going to be fine, he ran to the church to find the priest and Maria. Both of them were sitting in the front of the church, answering questions and nervously awaiting the return of the two men who had saved them from the Thrush plot.
"Maria!" She heard Napoleon's voice and turned, grabbing Father Enrique's sleeve and pointing to the vestibule entrance.
"Napoleon...' her voice trailed off as she saw him entering alone. Where was Illya, and where was her grandfather?
"Are you alone? What happened out there?" He dreaded answering that question, but knew that it would do no good to avoid it; she was a brave young woman and already understood the dangerous world in which Wizener had been living.
"I'm sorry, Maria. Your grandfather...he's dead. He took his own life. He was not in his right mind, Maria". She had known this would happen, but still the tears came as Napoleon took her and held her while she wept, mourning for the loss of the man she had hoped was still there inside.
"Mr. Solo, where is Mr. Kuryakin?" The weary looking priest had a concern in his voice that was unmistakable. The young man had been his angel of light, had saved him from the madman with the knife. Where was he now?
"Illya is going to be fine...the medics are tending to him now". Napoleon said it with a sigh of relief. The Russian continued to garner most of the damage between them, but still he always pulled through. He would this time as well.
A loud beeping interrupted the reunion, and Napoleon reached into his pocket to bring out his communicator.
"Solo here...we're still here, Mr. Waverly".