The night was completely black, devoid of moon or stars as clouds obscured every light. Two men crept along a dusty path, sometimes clinging to the hedge that bordered their journey from a rusty old car to an unseen target farther ahead of them.
Each man wore a rucksack on his back filled with explosives and an assortment of paraphernalia for blowing up the building to which they were headed. Neither spoke, not wishing to spill into the silence that surrounded them.
The smaller of the two traveled along with an unsteady gait, his blond hair bobbing in tandem with the injury to his left leg and the steady tapping of a makeshift walking cane. If silent curses could have disturbed the peace of this evening, something they were both diligently trying to preserve, then Illya Kuryakin would have refrained from letting them accompany him on this foray into the enemy's camp. As it was, only he could hear the stream of reprimands and Russian expletives that crowded into his thinking, so he did not deter from his mental course.
Napoleon Solo, dark and grim as he walked behind his partner, fought the concern that threatened always to commandeer his devotion to the mission. Illya was hurt, and every step the Russian took towards the satrapy was one more reason to doubt their success could be counted on. The skirmish with three THRUSH guards had been hard fought and barely won; Illya had sustained a knife wound in his upper thigh; it was probably still bleeding.
The target this night was a THRUSH stronghold that had frustrated two other UNCLE teams and caused one death as strikes failed to take out the formidable structure. Within its walls lay a devious machine that could, if unleashed on the world, produce great harm to many. The job tonight was to destroy all of it, the stone building and everything within.
Illya was tired. Adrenaline had come and gone, too much blood was already lost from the wound in his thigh. As he and Napoleon neared the imposing castle, Illya had a brief sense of remorse that the ancient edifice would have to be sacrificed. Revolutions had cost much more, he reckoned, and this effort would most likely ensure that a revolution would be stopped. THRUSH had rallied some restless, discontented citizens with false claims and empty promises that had resulted in raising a type of rebellion among them, all of it propelled with the secret aim of putting THRUSH into power. People who lacked basic necessities were easy targets for the megalomaniacs in the Hierarchy, and taking over a poor country an easy task in difficult times.
Solo and Kuryakin drew near to the outer perimeter of the satrapy. It was a fortified castle from an era of land grabbing and pretenses to greatness. To find such an edifice among this small country's poverty had shocked the Russian, disarmed the American. Neither man could reason with history or understand completely how mad men came to power. Their job was to try and stop it from happening now, in this place. The economic plight of the populace would be left to their own government to deal with after the THRUSH threat was removed.
Napoleon saw a slight tremor in the smaller man; his partner was a workhorse in spite of his size, and had taken down bigger men with cunning and skill rather than the brute strength that populated THRUSH. Working with an injury was another thing entirely, however, and the delicacy of working with explosives would seem compromised in the hands of a lesser man.
"Illya, this is the spot on the schematic where Landers and Reed were supposed to go in before…'
The pause was enough to remind them that Rick Landers hadn't survived, and that Thomas Reed had only escaped death by plunging into a ravine after being shot. Illya looked down into that same ravine now as he backed up to the stone wall of the castle's south side.
"… are you sure you can do this?"
Illya only nodded. He could feel his strength ebbing away with every movement, and even the prospect of talking now seemed to impede his efforts.
Napoleon nodded in return, his hand already reaching to the rucksack in order to bring it between them and plunder its contents. Small discs that were lethal amounts of explosives were carefully removed from a cylinder fitted with individual chambers for the clever devices. Much of the content of Napoleon's sack had been stuffing intended to keep the cylinder safe from impact. Illya now pulled off his rucksack and removed a contraption that looked more like a mechanical mouse than a weapon.
"Boy, Section VIII really outdid themselves on this little gizmo. I don't suppose you had anything to do with it."
Illya smiled, a respite from the grim expression he'd been wearing during the long walk up to this point. Being still was helping him to regain some of his focus since he was no longer concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
"I believe that Whittaker is responsible for this little gizmo, as you called it. He has a peculiar sense of humor."
Illya began to open small compartments in the mouse/gizmo. It's proper name was B-885, but it did rather resemble a mouse; the lab boys had begun to refer to it as Mickey. Napoleon removed one of the tablets from the first compartment in the cylinder he now held carefully. Illya used the same care to place the disc into one compartment of Mickey's efficient body. This process was repeated until all of the discs were snugly nestled within the gizmo's numerous compartments. Illya gingerly closed the last door and pulled out of his bag the next implement for this operation, a remote controller.
"Napoleon, are we clear to set our friend here on his final journey?"
Intellectually both men knew that this was the purpose of this instrument, but having given it a name made the inevitable end of this mechanical creature slightly more touching.
'Man up, Solo. Everyone, and everything is expendable.'
Thinking that it was better to send a mechanical mouse than his partner lightened the burden of the condemned robot.
"Set him down now, Napoleon… and off he goes."
And indeed, Mickey whizzed down a stone pathway that circled the castle and led directly to the front gate. Mickey was small enough to go beneath the aged wood, making entry into the courtyard an easy enough task. Illya watched a monitor as he handled the control of this marvelous little beast. He somehow doubted that the Soviets would have ever come up with something this interesting.
When Mickey had gone as far as possible inside the courtyard, up to the stone steps that led directly into the castle's main structure, Illya and Napoleon turned and headed back towards the old car that had brought them here. It was a matter of great importance that they not dawdle, and given Illya's wound it was left to Napoleon to haul the Russian down through the woods to the end of the dirt path they had traveled earlier.
"Come on, Illya. I don't want to get caught in the concussion of that explosion. You're bleeding again, I don't need a concussion added to your condition."
Illya huffed, his dignity already immeasurably more wounded than his throbbing leg.
"We shall make it, I assure you. The timing on it…'
At that moment a huge explosion rocked the countryside as shattered stones began to rain down all around the two UNCLE agents. Both of them knew there was nothing left of that compound save the rubble that now threatened them even this far away.
Napoleon dove beneath some bushes, dragging Illya along and falling on top of the wounded man as a shower of pebbles fell all around them. The foliage helped to repel some of it, but Solo yelped at the stinging bite of some of it on his back. Nothing to draw blood, but there would be bruises tomorrow.
A few minutes passed until Illya grunted out a complaint about not being able to breath.
"Get off of me, Napoleon. I believe we are quite safe now, and you, my friend, need to skip your morning donut for a few weeks."
Appropriately affronted at the implication, Napoleon obliged his friend's request and offered a hand to the bludgeoned blond. The Russian's words feigned strength he did not possess, however, and the effort to regain his footing was the last of his reserve. Napoleon caught him as Illya faltered, swinging him up into a fireman's style of transport as he slung the lighter man onto his shoulder.
Illya attempted to get down until Napoleon settled the issue by telling the stubborn Slav that he'd knock him out just for sport if he didn't shut up. Illya decided to endure the ride and drifted in and out of consciousness for the next two hours. Napoleon was able to get them safely out of the country, reporting into Mr. Waverly that the mission was a success and receiving the efficient reply, 'Very well'.
Waverly did send a helicopter to pick up his two top agents, however. It was while on the way back to London that Illya remembered the reason this affair had seemed so familiar.
"It is, I believe, Guy Fawkes Day in Great Britain. Blowing up that satrapy reminded me of it, what with the explosions and all."
Napoleon smiled inwardly, outwardly not certain how his partner would differentiate between one explosion and another.
"Illya, you blow things up pretty regularly. Why did this one remind you of a strange celebration that features fireworks and burning figures in effigy?"
The sky was black as the chopper moved towards UNCLE Headquarters. The blond smiled, a small victory in spite of the pain in his leg.
"Ah, it is a remembrance of a squashed rebellion. We, on the other hand, have thwarted a rebellion of an entirely different nature, but one that might have had serious consequences. We do lack the religious references, I suppose…"
Illya lapsed into another bout of unconsciousness, causing Napoleon to wonder just what went on in the Russian's mind; crisscrossing history and events seemed to come natural to him.
Napoleon decided to take a short nap. Once in the London HQ there would be a visit to medical, de-briefing and then, hopefully, sleep. He wondered if Guy Fawkes had regretted his actions in the end. That zealot had failed, much as THRUSH had once again been stopped.
How many more times would his and Illya's luck hold out?