n. Tragic flaw.
n. The fatal flaw of a literary tragic hero
n. the character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall
Greek, from hamartanein, to miss the mark (archery term), to err.
There was a tangible sense of redundancy in the surroundings, something that caused Illya Kuryakin to feel uncomfortable. This place reeked of old, outdated ideas that screamed with defiance at a new morality that had crept into its formerly hallowed halls.
Not being a man given to moral standards as commonly embraced by the world at large, the Russian agent knew that his idea of right and wrong was bounded by whatever ability he had to fight what was truly evil; his own measurement less important than the one utilized by the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. That was the morality of record in his world.
Still, sometimes he resisted even those standards when an obvious oversight became too difficult for even one such as himself. Such was the case now.
In the fading light that seeped between heavy velvet draperies, the three men in the room were outlined like the Scherenschnitte silhouettes one might find in a Victorian parlor. A young woman sat in a chair facing the three dark figures. The blond was the only one she could see clearly, his light hair a contrast to the darkened surroundings.
"I don't know what you want with me. You've made a terrible mistake, and I …"
Napoleon Solo was not immune to a woman's pleas for help. In this instance, however, there would be no mercy on his part. He could not, would not show any signs of weakness, no matter how sincerely she pleaded with them.
"You what, Althea? You didn't know the gun was loaded when you shot Agent Delaney? Try something else, will you."
Illya cut his eyes to look at his partner. Napoleon was in control, he was … Napoleon would do what was right.
"I didn't mean to, Napoleon, you've got to believe me.'
Althea Newsom looked at Illya, her eyes pleading for help. Tim Gaines, the third man, looked away.
"I thought she was someone else." Althea sobbed, her shoulders heaving with the effort.
Napoleon's face was like flint. Fenn Delaney was young; young and beautiful and Napoleon had been smitten with her from the moment he laid eyes on the perky redhead. Althea Newsom had always been someone in the background, doing her job and staying just under the radar.
Illya didn't like the feel of this; it was too much like a tribunal of some ancient clan. Or, perhaps it felt like something his old comrades might have engaged in. Where was the system so highly vaunted by the proponents of fair play and justice for all?
"Napoleon, perhaps we …"
Althea caught that whiff of mercy in the same moment that Napoleon cut off the inquiry with a scathing expression that stopped Illya cold.
"No. She killed Fenn. She must pay for that, Illya. Tim?"
Agent Tim Riley only nodded. He still couldn't look at the tear stained face of the blonde in the chair. Althea kept her eyes on the Russian. If she could get just one of them to abstain from a vote of guilty …
"Illya, please… you see it, don't you. You know this isn't right. My God! You can't just… Napoleon, you can't murder me."
The realization hit Althea then, the hard cold reality of what it meant to be caught with the smoking gun in your hand. It was so ludicrous she almost laughed. After all of the years she put in being a double agent, to be caught like this and simply … eliminated. It wasn't what she had envisioned for herself. No, not at all.
"So … that's it then? You just shoot me or stick a needle in my arm. You're a man with a moral code, Napoleon. Don't you think this is a … a sin or something? Do you pray, Napoleon? Don't you think God will require something from you for the sin of murder?"
Napoleon's head dipped a little so that he was looking at the woman from a cockeyed position. Slowly he put it upright again, shooting his cuffs and stretching his neck in the way he had just before confronting the next big thing.
"Sin? You shot Fenn in cold blood because she caught you in the act, Althea. That …''
The catch in Napoleon's voice was almost indiscernible except to his partner. Illya felt his heart tighten at the torment of this moment. The liability of authority was the actions required to fulfill its sense of duty.
"In archery, when one misses the center of the target, it is called a sin. When someone is punished for killing an innocent victim, we call it justice."
Napoleon and Tim each sighed so heavily that the room nearly vibrated with their emotional response to that simple speech. This was justice. The real sin, in each of their minds, would have been to not avenge the death of their friend and colleague.
Illya wasn't convinced, however. In spite of the real agony each man had experienced when viewing the pitiful sight of Fenn, sightless as she lay with a single bullet hole in her forehead, this private affair of retribution could not end in the way it seemed destined to play out.
"There is a justice that requires swift action, Napoleon. I do not believe that is the case here, my friend. Althea will be judged, but let it not be like this… in this place.'
Illya tried to keep his voice from pleading, no one could know how frightened he was that his friend, partner and mentor might bow to the weight of his sorrow and … indignation. Too many emotions were tangled up in this scene, too many dark corners threatened to expose these actions in the light of day.
"Tim and I will escort Althea back to headquarters. You stay here with Fenn. Napoleon?"
The American stood, his eyes never leaving the sight of the woman in front of them. Seated as she was, Althea didn't look threatening; to the contrary, her wretched appearance now only infuriated Napoleon more for its attempt to lure him and the other two men into some state of pity for her plight.
"Illya, Tim … leave me here with Althea. You don't need to be a part of this. I'll take full responsibility for …"
"Nyet!" Illya's response was forceful and unyielding. No one else was going to die here today. They would not succumb to this temptation to right a wrong with more wrongdoing.
Napoleon kept his gaze fixed on Althea; her eyes wildly searched for some gap in his intentions. She was fiddling with the cuff of her sleeve, hoping that none of them would guess at what she had concealed there.
Napoleon's heart was beating so hard he thought his chest was probably visibly moving. He wondered that no one commented on it. Illya and Tim did not budge from where they each stood. Finally, for the first time, Tim Riley spoke.
"Napoleon, I want this traitor dead more than you know, but …'
He looked at Illya, accepting the cool blue gaze as an encouragement to continue.
"I don't want it to go down like this. I know how you felt about Fenn… how we all felt. But don't let her memory be clouded by our actions. She wouldn't want us to be tormented by what we're about to do here. Napoleon, let's take Althea back to headquarters."
Napoleon knew Tim was right, but his heart was once again the victim of this lousy business he was in. Why was it that the righteous did most of the suffering?
Just as the other two men were ready to release the breath they had each held in anticipation of Napoleon's response, Althea found the object of her search. Illya noticed a change in her expression just as she was pulling out a long thin wire from her left cuff.
"She has an explosive!"
Althea Newsom held the slender device in her right hand, lifting it up high enough for the UNCLE agents to view it. Her smile was triumphant as she considered the victory that was about to be hers.
"Poor Napoleon, always in love with the wrong woman. Well, Fenn was an able agent, I'll give you that. Her mistake was in calling me out before she had back up; she left me no choice. It's a war, gentlemen, one I intend to win.'
Althea's demeanor had changed from the tearful, reluctant assassin to one of vengeful animosity. This was a THRUSH agent who would gladly kill all three of the men who faced her.
"I will give you sixty seconds to clear out of here before I simply blow us all to hell. Let me go, Napoleon, or you and your friends will die here with me."
The words were so confident, so arrogant.
In one swift movement, all three men fired at their antagonist. Her thumb never reached the little red button that would have ignited the device she held, and Althea never had a moment to rescind her threat.
Calmly and without regret, Napoleon walked over to where Althea's body had landed, the unseeing eyes forever focused on her sin.