As is evident from the title, this story takes place immediately following the Fourth Season episode, “The Gurnius Affair.”
Illya Kuryakin sat glumly in the chair to which he was thoroughly tied, and pondered their predicament. He recalled all too well Mr. Waverly’s admonition that in the three years since “The Project Strigas Affair,” Laslo Kurasov’s former aid, Vladeck, had risen through the ranks of his country’s government to stand one mere step below the Premier. And now, with the failing health of said Premier, Vladeck stood more than ready to move into the imminent vacancy. And he was even more of a threat to world peace than his former boss, Kurasov, had been.
Whether due to bitterness at his prior treatment by Kurasov, who had continually called Vladeck, “You fool,” or to his own formerly unrevealed sadism, Vladeck also had a fetish for performing his own torture of captives. Illya realized gloomily that Mr. Waverly had not been in possession of that particular fact, in order to warn them. Illya would be sure to include it in his report. If they lived to ever write one.
Napoleon, for his part, was in most ironic and unfortunate straits. Strapped to a table with a multitude of electrodes attached to him, painfully slowly being electrocuted, he was more or less in the same situation as he had so recently been placed by Illya, himself, in his role as Maximilian Nexor, in the just-concluded “Gurnius Affair.”
Vladeck, of course, recognized Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin all too well from their previous meddling in his nation’s affairs, and apparently bore them considerable ire.
All in all, this did not bode well.
As if it weren’t bad enough that Napoleon and Illya had not had the opportunity to talk out the awkward experience of Illya’s having been forced by circumstances to torture his friend and partner, so quickly had they been whisked off on this new assignment, but now for the trauma to so nearly repeat itself, with Illya as witness to another doing the exact same thing to Napoleon that he had just done, strained irony and tolerance to the limit. As Napoleon’s brown eyes kept meeting Illya’s blue ones, the latter saw the same fear in the former’s eyes that had previously been there by his own causing, thus repeatedly stabbing the blond with guilt. Very gradually, however, Illya began to see a change in those pained brown eyes that he knew so well. Little by little, they started to lose focus. And then, Napoleon began to mumble.
“Can’t stand much more.”
The words sent an almost electrical jolt through his tied partner and best friend. Illya recognized them as the precise words that Napoleon had muttered to him, when Illya had been doing the torturing.
“Our friendship is being strained.”
Now, with this murmured quote, Illya realized with a sickening feeling that Napoleon had become confused, and was hallucinating: thinking that he was once more being tortured by Illya instead of by Vladeck, thus reliving the earlier, parallel trauma.
Barely distracted by that unknown reference, Vladeck leered at Illya. “And you can’t escape, or even pretend to escape, by using a suicide pill this time. My men already searched both of you for such things while you were still unconscious, when you were first captured. You had none, either of you.”
That reference, however, served as a different reminder to the delirious Napoleon, who abruptly called out, “Bite hard!”
Illya’s heart sank. That was what Illya had said to Napoleon in regard to a fake suicide pill, in order to help him to escape from Illya’s reluctant torture. As the realization of that connection tugged at his heart, Illya tugged ever more viciously on his bonds.
This futile action again drew Vladeck’s attention to the blond agent. “Don’t worry,” he assured Illya in his smooth, ominous way. “I have not forgotten you. As soon as he is dead, it will be your turn to suffer.” But then Vladeck did a most curious thing. He flipped off the switch that controlled the electricity tormenting Napoleon, reached toward his victim, and then took hold of his head. He leaned in closely and issued soft murmurs that were unintelligible to Illya.
After several long minutes of this odd behavior, during which time Vladeck completely ignored Illya’s demands of “What are you doing to him?” the former withdrew from the pale brunette and told the blond, “He will sleep now.”
Illya frowned in bafflement. He could’ve sworn that Vladeck’s foreign accent had earlier been far more pronounced than what he’d just now heard. Not to mention the bewildering assurance that his partner would simply sleep now.
The mystery deepened as Vladeck revealed a rectangular device that opened to double in size as its owner gave it an obviously well-practiced flick. The gadget twittered mechanically, and its holder gave a one-word command. “Now.”
Illya was instantly overcome by the oddest sensation that he had ever felt. It was as if every molecule in his body was dissolving. Before he could quite exclaim, the feeling faded, but was replaced by an even stranger mystery: Illya was no longer where he had been. He was now in a peculiar, well-lit, relatively small alcove, and Napoleon was nowhere to be seen. Illya was also no longer tied to a chair.
However, he was not alone. Across from him was a console, and behind it stood a man that he’d never seen before in his life. The stranger motioned at him with an object that was shaped like a gun, but unlike any model that he’d ever before encountered. Still, erring on the side of caution, Illya slowly and obediently (at least for now) proceeded in the indicated direction.
After all of these astonishing events, Illya barely flinched at the next one, as bright red doors automatically parted for him, just as plainer doors always did at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. At U.N.C.L.E., though, he mused, it was his official agent’s badge that triggered the doors. What had done so here?
Illya Kuryakin was prodded into what was clearly a conference room. It was sized and shaped not unlike Waverly’s office at headquarters, but a great deal plainer and emptier. Feeling curiously at home with the similarities, Illya seated himself at the round table, just as he would’ve done at U.N.C.L.E.
The stranger with the even stranger gun remained in the room, but backed carefully away, as if aware of Illya’s special agent’s talents, and unwilling to take any chances. Whoever he was, he respected the blond’s capabilities. Illya’s confidence rose minutely in response.
But greater self-assurance was immediately replaced by flabbergasted shock when the conference room doors parted to admit two more men.
“Hi, remember us?” greeted the lighter-haired of the two, with a wide, almost playful smile. His eyes twinkled mischievously.
After a brief instant, Illya responded slowly, disbelievingly, “Michael Donfield.” His voice was hushed. “You were the civilian who helped us three years ago in the ‘Project Strigas Affair.’”
“Guilty as charged,” the other admitted, without a trace of guilt.
Then, Illya simply mutely stared at the other new arrival. He was familiar, and yet…. The hair was still black, but it was combed differently: straight forward from back to front, forming very even bangs over the forehead. But below those bangs…! Stunningly straight, slanted eyebrows gave a distinctly inhuman appearance. And when Illya caught sight of the ears…! He sat back harder in his chair as he stared wordlessly at the pronounced point at the tip of each. This was the most stymied and nonplussed that the professional agent had ever been in his entire career. After a long moment, he barely managed to whisper, “Vladeck?”
“Not precisely,” replied the other. “Although I was temporarily surgically-altered to appear like the human, Vladeck, my real name is Spock.”
“And I’m supposed to believe that you just happened to resemble Vladeck enough to pull off this charade?”
Unruffled, Spock nodded. “Curious that you find such a coincidence so unbelievable when you yourself so recently faced and made use of your own resemblance to one Maximilian Nexor.”
Illya fought down a blush of acknowledgement, but Spock remained unperturbed, apparently deriving no pleasure from his small victory in logic.
“And my real name isn’t Donfield,” said the smiling one, drawing Illya’s attention back to him. “It’s Kirk. James T. Kirk, to be precise.”
Illya was slowly shaking his head. “Who are you people? Not T.H.R.U.S.H., I gather?”
“Hardly,” Kirk responded, as he and Spock seated themselves as well at the table. He exchanged glances with his non-human companion, and declared, “I’m captain of the starship Enterprise; we represent the United Federation of Planets, and we’re from your future.” He waited patiently for that to sink in to their visitor.
“Starship.” Illya’s disbelief was palpable.
Kirk nodded placidly. “You’re aboard. We beamed you up here.”
“In orbit. In space.”
“Umm-hmm.” Kirk again nodded.
“I’m not going to pretend to believe you, but I will play along long enough to ask a few questions. Why are you interfering in our missions, and how do you know so much about missions in which you were not involved?”
“Good questions,” Kirk admitted, more solemnly. “Your organization of U.N.C.L.E., and you and Mr. Solo in particular, are far more vital than you may realize to our world’s future. It is absolutely imperative that the two of you be allowed to achieve everything that you’re supposed to achieve, for history to play out as it should.”
“And what’s to stop us from doing so?” Illya asked in spite of himself.
Kirk hesitated. “Let’s just say that there are a few possible…glitches…that we’re here to iron out for you.”
“You’re helping us.”
Spock put in, “You must admit that we were both far more of a help to you than a hindrance during the ‘Strigas Affair.’”
Illya nodded slowly. “That time, yes. But this time? Torturing Napoleon? Threatening both of us?”
Now he saw a reluctance, a slight discomfort, enter the alien’s eyes. Spock confessed, “I did find that process distasteful, but it was quite necessary, I assure you.”
“Why?” Illya demanded.
“The answer to that lies within your previous mission, the ‘Gurnius Affair.’ If we had left things as they were, your partnership with Napoleon Solo was going to disintegrate, due to your having tortured him. The two of you would never have gotten past that bitter event. And many vital subsequent missions would never have taken place.”
“And just how have you prevented that catastrophe?” Illya folded his arms and forced himself to focus on his question, and not on the renewed wave of guilt that Spock’s pronouncement had inspired.
“By forcing Solo to relive the trauma, but with ‘Vladeck’ as the perpetrator instead of you, your partner will no longer recall that you ever tortured him.”
Momentarily stunned silent, Illya struggled to ask, “Why won’t he??”
“When you saw me take hold of his head, I was performing a Vulcan mind meld on him, in which I stressed to him that it was only Vladeck, and not you that had tortured him. In his mind, he will always see Vladeck’s face, and not yours, in connection with that event.”
Kirk added, “As long as you don’t tell him, don’t remind him. And we mean it: don’t. Your friendship and partnership depend on it.”
“As do all of your future successful missions together,” said Spock.
“And thus the proper course of history,” said Kirk.
“And do you plan on involving yourselves in any more of our missions?”
“Nope, this is the last time,” Kirk informed him easily.
Illya sat, nodding slowly. “This has been a fascinating fantasy. Now, how about the real truth? And while we’re at it, where exactly is Napoleon? Still in that room, asleep?”
Kirk looked rueful. “No. Actually, we beamed him up, too, after you. He’s in our sickbay, being checked out carefully by our ship’s doctor. But yes, he’s still asleep, and will remain so, until we return you both to Earth.”
“Okaaaaay.” Illya raised his wiry frame easily from the chair. “I’ve had about enough of this nonsense.”
The guard, never having really lowered his peculiar “gun,” somehow instantly appeared more fully alert, drawing Illya’s immediate glance.
“We’re well aware of your skills,” Kirk assured him, unperturbed. “Though, we have a few such skills of our own. We’re simply trying to avoid an unnecessary altercation. And we will prove to you that we’re telling the truth, by escorting you to the nearest observation port, from which you’ll be able to view the Earth and the space and stars around it. So, do you suppose that you could do us all a favor, and resist your naturally combative reflexes long enough for us to do so?”
Kirk and Kuryakin tried to stare each other down for long moments. Finally, the blond shrugged expansively, and declared, “Oh, why not? I can play along for a bit longer.”
Their guest followed apparently meekly but still clearly skeptically from the conference room, down a corridor, and into another room, with the guard and his odd weapon held carefully at his back.
But upon entering this new room and seeing the expansive window taking up most of the far wall, Illya nearly forgot all three of his companions, went straight to the window, put his hands on the sill, leaned heavily, and simply stared, feeling weak and awed both at the same time.
He gazed and stared for at least five full minutes before he whispered, “It’s true.” With obvious difficulty, he broke away from the inspiring sight, and turned toward his three quiet companions, awe and respect now evident in his ice-blue eyes. “It’s true,” he repeated a bit louder.
“Yes,” Kirk said unnecessarily.
“May I see Napoleon?” Illya’s voice was still hushed and now quite diffident.
“Of course,” Kirk agreed easily. “And then we’ll beam you both back; your partner will awaken shortly after your return to Earth. But, you’ll have to figure out how to explain to him how the two of you escaped Vladeck.”
Illya waved it away as inconsequential. “That’s the easy part. I’ll manage.”
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