Napoleon stood over Illya, waiting to hear the explanation. Illya seemed to have recovered from his headache, and the pale complexion had taken on a healthier color, all from deciphering a mystery.
At that moment (isn't it always that way?), Napoleon's communicator emitted its insistent tone, causing the agent to waiver momentarily between responding and wanting to hear Illya's explanation.
"Solo here… oh, Cleve. Yes. I'm here in Illya's room, I… okay. See you soon."
Illya looked expectantly at Napoleon, thinking that perhaps the labs had turned up something more concerning the case.
"What does he have, Napoleon?"
Napoleon slipped the communicator back into his inside pocket, his own expression unreadable.
"Cleve has the latest lab reports, so he's bringing them over. He sounded sort of… excited."
Illya nodded at that, his own speculations were beginning to make sense, and offer a better explanation than his more emotionally charged response to the events.
"Napoleon, remember I told you that the vial actually had two smaller cylinders inside; for the purpose of mixing the contents, I imagine. Once mixed, the two solutions would produce a reaction of some sort.'
He had engaged Napoleon eye to eye, hoping that the cobbled theory would make sense.
"The sulphur, which was no doubt in the form of sulphuric acid, mixed with the calcium permanganate, could create the type of fire that I witnessed…"
"Like what burned up Dr. Droste?"
"Yes. What I am starting to hypothesize is that there was a third element involved. I believe that Thrush was attempting to produce an alternative fuel for propulsion in automobiles."
Napoleon wrinkled his forehead and tried to form the question. He wasn't sure he was following.
"Alternative… you mean to gasoline?"
Illya was grinning now, the scientist was forgetting the horror and concentrating on how it happened.
"Yes, exactly. Droste had been drinking, and …"
Illya didn't finish the sentence, but was interrupted by the entrance of Sharon Landers into his room.
"Very good, Mr. Kuryakin. I wondered if you would figure out our little secret."
Napoleon reached out to grab her arm, but her reflexes were swift. She pulled her gun out and pointed it at him, motioning for him to sit down in the chair that was next to Illya's bed.
"I was hoping that this story about Droste going up in flames was an exaggeration, but now, listening to this and with the evidence I've seen up at the campsite, well… that lunatic really has ruined everything. That vial held the future; it was the best step so far in finding an alternative to fossil fuels, and Thrush would have owned it, controlled it just like the Middle East controls gasoline production."
Illya snorted, his usual response to what he considered ludicrous or inane. Sharon didn't appreciate it.
"What? Do you doubt that this would have worked?"
"Miss Landers, do you doubt that it would have failed? Look at the results thus far. Droste merely broke open the vial accidentally, and just the proximity to the alcohol on Droste's body and breath caused him to go up like a Roman candle. The formula is flawed, and whatever these scientists dreamed they were achieving with this concoction has failed. Miserably."
Sharon was so incensed with Illya and his dismissal of the great hopes Thrush had for their alternative fuel experiment that she failed to hear Cleve enter the room. He moved up soundlessly behind the Thrush agent, disarming her with one swift motion.
"What… Oh, you!"
Cleve pocketed the woman's gun, smiling as he did so. Napoleon decided right then and there to buy the man dinner.
"All right, it seems we have the goods on this lousy formula. Sorry Miss Landers, but it seems yours and Thrush's hopes for a lock on this particular pipe dream is over."
Napoleon looked over at Illya, whose expression was a little less gleeful than it had been. What was left?
"Illya, do you have any idea who moved you away from the fire? That seems to be the only mystery left."
Illya looked up, his eyebrows furrowed in consternation at this one remaining question.
"I do not have any idea. I was unconscious quickly; except for seeing Droste on fire I have no recollection of anything after the gunshot."
Sharon shuffled her feet, cleared her throat and indicated she had something to say.
"Yes, Sharon. Do you have something to offer?''
Napoleon was trying very hard to not think about asking the lovely Thrush agent to an intimate night of dining and … maybe something more. Illya must have known what was going on in his mind, because he rolled his eyes as he watched the interaction between the two.
"Has anyone ever considered the possibility that I merely ran, or walked away from the fire? I realize it might have been difficult, but the bullet did miss my heart."
Illya eyed Sharon, daring her to disagree.
"Mr. Kuryakin, at the risk of insulting your… um… obvious abilities, even under the most difficult conditions, I think the truth of the matter is that you were simply… blown away."
Illya was stunned. Not because he felt slighted in any way, but because, in a flash of recognition, he agreed with her.
Cleve stepped forward now, ready to add the latest lab findings to this potentially hazardous conversation.
"Illya, Napoleon… um… Miss?"
Napoleon was trying to keep up. This was one of the more interesting Thrush encounters he could recall.
"Oh, Cleve… this is Miss Landers, and Sharon Landers… Cleve Mangum."
They two nodded to each other, acknowledging the unlikely circumstances of this meeting, and each other.
"Okay, nice to meet you. Well, I think it's entirely possible that Miss Landers has the right idea. Sorry, Illya.'
"I assure you, all of you, I am quite willing to accept this scenario. It actually makes quite a bit of sense, even if we cannot actually prove it."
Illya was nothing if not pragmatic and willing to accept the logical.
"What the labs have discovered is the presence of not only the combination in the vial, but alcohol. It was, in the simplest of terms, a result of combining the sulphuric acid, calcium permanganate and ethyl alcohol. In other words, it looks as though the doctor had been drinking, and when he cracked open the vials, for whatever reason, it combined with the alcohol on him and… kaboom."
Illya was trying to contain something like enthusiasm, but it came across as an irritation at the lackluster description.
"Kaboom? That's it? It was a horrendous sight, I assure you, and when the man went up in flames he shot me."
Napoleon intervened, concerned for his partner, and at the same time wondering how much Sharon knew.
"Illya, is there any possibility that there was an accompanying explosion? Anything more powerful than the combustion?"
Illya looked at his friend, took in the other two people who were both watching him.
"I.. I suppose. I do not remember. It was… '
He stopped, closed his eyes and tried to remember. Illya wanted to see it again, to know what had happened. Not because it would make a difference, but because as a scientist he needed to know.
"Droste came up behind me, and because he had been drinking I was not overly concerned. But then, quickly, he had my gun. I am not certain how he managed it, but the man was fast. He held it up and taunted me with it, and then took out the vial.
'This is what you are after, eh UNCLE man? I bet you wish you could have it right now.'
"I backed away from him, towards the trees…''
Napoleon stopped him.
"You mean, towards where we found you?"
Illya looked puzzled.
"I suppose. I do not actually know where you found me, Napoleon."
Cleve was picturing this, going back over the initial discovery. They had used a homing device in Illya's communicator to find the campsite. The signal had been constant since he first joined Droste, so when Illya failed to check in, they had been close by and able to move in quickly. That's what had saved the Russian's life, for which they were all grateful.
"Gentlemen, and Miss Landers… the lab results definitely tell us that the explosion and subsequent fire happened as a result of the contents of the vial, and the presence of alcohol. I'm saying explosion because, well the place was leveled around the campsite. Every indication is that in addition to the fire that burned up the good doctor, there was an explosion of some sort that came as a result. It is possibly the force of that explosion that, quite literally, blew Illya into the woods behind him."
Sharon spoke up next. She had been waiting for the right moment to interject.
"Listen fellas, the explosion makes sense. This fuel alternative was supposed to be like a spark plug, a catalyst. The problem was that the explosion, or spark, always came before the spark plugs could engage. It was sort of a.. Failure. Thrush knew it, which is why Droste took off with it. He thought he could go to a big oil company and find a way to fix it. Thrush needed to stop him before he got to someone with the right formula."
Sharon stopped there. It might not have been the smartest thing for a Thrush agent to do, spilling the beans, as it were, to UNCLE. However, the formula didn't work. Might as well acknowledge it now and get UNCLE off their backs.
Illya was thoughtful. He couldn't remember the explosion, but neither did he doubt that it had occurred. Being blown away, so to speak, was the only reasonable answer to the last question in this affair.
"I accept that this is the way it happened. I can neither prove nor disprove it, and the only other explanation is that some strange, unknown creature dragged me from the campsite and left me. And that, I believe, is an even less acceptable scenario."
Napoleon looked around the room, taking in the expressions on each face. He settled on Illya, who had laid his head back onto the pillow. This group encounter had taken its toll on the still recovering man.
Sharon joined Napoleon's gaze, then spoke up to the men in the room.
"I guess that just about does it for me. Maybe we'll all meet again someday, gentlemen. Good luck, Mr. Kuryakin. I'm sorry… um… get well, soon. Good night."
With that she turned and walked out of the room, leaving the three men to watch as she disappeared from view. Napoleon looked at Cleve who shrugged his shoulders, obviously unable to add more to what had been said.
Napoleon gave up the idea of chasing her down and asking for a date. Somehow, the lingering doubt about the details of this incident had taken a toll on his libido.
Illya was tired. He found himself wishing for Nurse Maria to come in and offer some comfort, which made him smile a little.
"Illya, are you satisfied with these conclusions? I can't come up with anything that answers everything the way this does."
The blond was ready to call it a day. Either he had been blown back by an explosion that was the result of hyperactive agents in the Thrush formula, (that had also caused the immediate combustion of Dr. Droste), or there was no answer at all. A mystery rescue was not acceptable, because … because it just wasn't. He needed a concrete explanation, and the unstable Thrush formula provided that. Something else, something unnatural, or supernatural, was not acceptable.
"Napoleon, Cleve… I believe that we have our explanation. I am content with that. The report should read well, especially if we have a concise and unquestionable end."
The other two men agreed, although Napoleon noted something slightly askew in his partner's demeanor. Illya didn't totally buy the explosion theory, but he wasn't going to allow for anything else. No leprechauns or elves, no magical creatures or Unicorns for the sensible Russian scientist.
"Okay, tovarisch. You need to get some rest; I'll see you tomorrow.'
He turned to Cleve and pointed to the door.
"Cleve, you feel like getting a drink and some dinner?"
The other man nodded, waived to Illya and then headed out the door ahead of Napoleon.
"You okay, Illya? You look sort of unsettled."
Illya was ready to nod off. He wondered if Nurse Maria would be in to tuck him in for the night.
"Yes, Napoleon. I am fine… as always. I am alive, and I do not believe in strange creatures that save injured UNCLE agents. We will not include anything like that in our report. Agreed?"
"Agreed. Good night, Illya. Get some rest."
As Napoleon left, Nurse Maria was coming into the room, a sweet smile on her pretty face. She nodded at him, wishing him a good evening.
At least Illya would have that to send him off into dreamland.