Napoleon Solo arrived at his destination with two men, two UNCLE agents. They had been led here by the signal from a homing device implanted in Illya Kuryakin's hip before he left New York. Just beyond this location, the signal had dropped off, but up until then, everything had pointed to this exact site. After that, there had been complete silence.
Thinking that perhaps something was blocking the signal, Napoleon had engaged Section IV to look for possible jamming devices. It would explain the sudden disappearance of the transmission; it would give Napoleon something to grab onto besides the pessimistic voice that whispered 'Illya is dead'.
There were no towns in this region of Caiuba, a small emerging country where the trees probably outnumbered the people. The little clearing in which he now stood, Napoleon noted, was a respite from the forests that ran headlong onto a rocky coast; this was the site of an old, abandoned settlement from the looks of it.
Situated within this clearing was a rustic structure, the only visible end to their search. Napoleon's approach to this place was halting, a visceral reaction to what he feared he would find within the old, derelict building.
It was a foul odor that greeted Napoleon and his men, causing each of them to subdue a gag reflex before continuing on with handkerchiefs across their mouths. Rooms were searched with the aid of lanterns in the dark interior as the three of them split up and took different directions. Each one was intent on a single objective: to find Illya Kuryakin.
Napoleon approached the second doorway and peered in cautiously. He thought there was an eerie quality to the room, as though time had somehow stopped. A lone figure was curled up in the corner, a shock of light hair barely visible. Napoleon was very aware of the tension in his body as he drew near to the still form that was only a silhouette against the lantern's light.
With an aching resolve to not react, Napoleon stooped down to lay his hand upon a shoulder of the fragile looking form. It had been two weeks since they'd last heard from Illya Kuryakin, and the road to finding him had been harrowing and costly. Two agents had died in the process; something that the Russian would not have asked of them.
Napoleon spoke gently at first, almost as though afraid to awaken the man.
Raising his voice, Solo nearly choked on the name, his fears of the worst not far from the surface.
Apprehensive and still hopeful, Napoleon gingerly turned the body towards him, and looked into the face of death. A small gasp escaped his throat, revulsion at the decay beneath the remaining mop of dirty, blond hair.
"It's not Illya…"
The words were spoken to no one, to himself and to whatever capricious gods looked over the exploits of spies and fools.
A sob of relief escaped as the American sought to handle the confusion, and now this discovery. Illya wasn't dead; at least not here, not in this cell. Napoleon Solo got up from the crouch he'd assumed. He didn't know who this man had been, but it wasn't his partner.
A voice disturbed the scene as Napoleon's two companions came upon him.
He heard his name, but finding a level of control with which to face his agents needed a few seconds more; just…wait…
"Yeah, Ned…I …'
Solo let out a sigh; it was impossible to hide his relief. These men already knew what it meant to lose a partner, and were the remains of what had been a six man team. Their battle with the Thrush contingency had been brief but deadly, costing the lives of two of their own.
"Okay, Ned…let's see what else we can find here in this building. We know it's not defended by anyone…no signs of anyone very recently from the looks of it."
If the trail the UNCLE agents had been following was on target, Napoleon estimated that Illya hadn't gotten out of this backward country before being overtaken by a second, as yet unknown adversary; Thrush wasn't the only enemy. Someone else wanted a piece of the action, and Illya had the plans for it. The Russian's last contact with Waverly had been two weeks prior to this moment. Not only was Illya missing, but also the information he had liberated from Thrush.
Napoleon let his gaze return to the body he'd mistaken for that of his partner. Whoever this man had been, his last few hours must have consisted of torment and…
Napoleon knew that he couldn't let himself travel too far down that road. If Illya wasn't here, then wherever he was would be even better equipped for torturing a man into telling everything he knew, or wished he knew. What Illya knew had deadly potential for millions if the wrong people extracted it from him.
"Where are you Illya?"
The words were spoken like a prayer, and Napoleon wished fervently that his partner could hear him.
Looking around him now, Solo was more acutely aware of the decrepit state of the building they were in. The walls were cracked with age, and the floors merely a nod to the need for them; mostly dirt and bits of rock here and there formed a crude base to the rooms. Small windows let in a minimum amount of light, and not much air to speak of. Solo's eyes scanned his environment as he sought for some sign of life.
"Hey, Carl, did you see anything like a bathroom or kitchen, provisions maybe? Anything at all?"
Carl Pearce was a tall and imposing man. As an agent, Napoleon had found him to be steady on the job, reliable and professional, even after the loss of his partner.
Pearce answered the senior agent, motioning down the hall as he did so.
"No, there's nothing like that in here. But, if you'll follow me…'
Carl headed down a narrow corridor, indicating to his superior that he'd discovered something else of interest.
"If you look in here, I think you'll see why there's nothing fit for living in this place."
The two men ducked slightly as they passed through the small doorway, only to be assaulted by the source of the foul stench they'd remarked on earlier. Napoleon was almost thrust backwards by the repugnant odor, and his speech was halting as he gave words to the reaction.
"It's … Wow, it stinks in here worse than the rest of this place."
Carl Pearce nodded and turned his head as Ned Keegan came in sight. The other man had the same reaction to the smell as had Napoleon before him. His exclamation mirrored the thoughts of the other two men.
"Good God! What is this place?"
The three agents stood a few feet apart from one another, their attention now riveted on the pile of skins that lay on the floor of this new room. While they all three avoided taking deep breaths, Carl answered:
"I think it's probably a tannery. Long abandoned for the purpose, probably, but what else could it be to have all of this in here?"
Napoleon had a fleeting thought as to what type of skins they had discovered. The idea that these were something other than animal made him sick, the possibility that Illya had ended up here…
Carl spoke up again, diminishing the bizarre scenario playing out in Napoleon's mind.
"I think these are probably goats. Well, they were goats, by the looks of them. My Taid, um grandfather, was a bit of a tanner in his day. We never had anything this rough, though; this place must be older than dirt."
Napoleon and Ned both breathed a little sigh of relief, immediately regretting it as the lingering stench filled their mouths as well as nostrils. Once again, Carl led the way as they exited the tannery, offering his opinion of the place and its purpose.
"I'd say this was merely a stopping point before heading to a more permanent location. The poor sod in there, well… I'm glad it's not Illya. Truly, Napoleon, I'm glad for you both."
Carl was originally from Wales, although his accent had mellowed through a decade of living in New York. A soft burr now rode beneath the harder edges of his newly acquired American accent, causing a new ache of anxiety in Napoleon as he thought again of his partner.
"Yeah, you must be right. I'm guessing it was just a temporary holding spot for whoever that is in there, and possibly…'
A sigh escaped Napoleon's mouth as he considered the plight of his friend and partner
"…possibly for Illya. Any indication of where they might have gone from here?"
Ned and Carl replied in the negative. At this point, they were without a clue as to where the Russian might be.
The only thing Napoleon knew for a certainty was that a deadly virus had been developed by Thrush, and would affect only male children. How they had isolated that group was a mystery to the American, but something that his scientifically trained partner probably understood with little difficulty.
Napoleon conjectured that Illya had memorized whatever information he found, since his meticulous partner would not be likely to leave a paper trail. The idea that there was a third party about, some other group wanting the information now held by the UNCLE agent, made the situation that much more critical. Illya would not divulge what he knew. The question remained, how long this new group of antagonists would wait before they killed Kuryakin because of his obstinate resistance.
Illya Kuryakin woke up in a cave of some sort. Either that, or someone had found a dungeon with similar characteristics, judging by the dampness and hollow sounds of dripping water. There were rocks at his back and he was stretched out on ground that felt sandy, gritty. A trickle of light was coming from somewhere, but in the daze of being drugged and physically hammered by some very capable brutes, his ability to discern his location was slow to engage.
Somewhere distant he heard voices, low and angry sounding he thought. Anger could go either way.
More immediate concerns emerged as cognition slowly returned. Illya had been stripped down to his jeans, and it was cold and very damp. Cold enough that his Russian blood warned of consequences should the temperature drop much lower.
"Forty degrees, in case you're wondering."
The voice came from across the cave, and Illya strained his neck to look up from his position on the ground.
"I thought I felt a chill."
The voice chuckled, but there was no humor in it.
"Yes, I imagine you do, Mr. Kuryakin. Perhaps that chill will help to persuade you to tell us all that you know about the formula you so carelessly destroyed."
Illya was shivering from the combination of damp and cold. He was hungry as well, remembering his last meal; a small bowl of miserable soup given to him by a Thrush guard.
"I fear my memory is not what it used to be. Cold and hunger tend to dull my senses considerably."
If he could just sit up and get his blood moving again. Illya tried to change his position and gain some visual on the voice, but a spasm of pain held him in place.
It spoke again, that mysterious voice, but it did not yield to the Russian's complaint.
"You will need some more time, I take it. Very well. You might be more inclined to talk to me when you truly yearn for some warmth for your body and food in your empty belly. We will deal with you, Illya, before we let you freeze to death. I suggest you talk before it comes to that."
Illya heard footsteps softly retreating. So, this is how it is to be.
"Napoleon, where are you?"
The words were spoken like a prayer, and Illya wished fervently that his partner could hear him.
**Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.