Napoleon went through the tape before taking it to the headquarters. Illya was gone too soon, and there remained so many questions yet to be asked. How often would he come back to see him? How was he planning to get more blood? From killing even more THRUSHies? Napoleon frowned, not too keen on the idea. Even if he didn't hate THRUSH any less than Illya, unprompted killings like this was quite unnerving. What was Illya thinking? He knew that his partner had always been a bit bloodthirsty, but never like this.
"I'm free at last," Illya had said so, he thought.
Shaking his head, Napoleon decided it wasn't the time to think about these issues. So he put the tape into the recorder and pressed the “play” button.
"You should know why I am here to see you, right? Mr. Jonason?" It was Illya's voice.
"Indeed, one that was created by your hands. Now tell me, if the research notes aren’t in the laboratory, where are they?"
"I don’t know, Mr. Kuryakin, you see, this is quite a misunderstanding..."
"I do not think it was a misunderstanding for me to be shot here."
“I swear! I wasn’t involved in that research, I know nothing about the quirks of those scientists! Don’t come after me!”
“Those scientists? Surely you must have heard that nobody survived in that little laboratory of yours.” Napoleon shuddered upon hearing this; it was Harper and Johnson's team who was presented at the - aftermath of that THRUSH lab. They managed to find the lab following some leads, and were deeply shaken by the horrifying scene. There were shriveled corpses all over the place. He still remembered the photos taken at the scene. And to think that it was Illya’s doing...he took a deep breath.
"But Dr. Brighton was not there! If you let me go, I can give you his address!" Jonason's voice turned squeaky due to extreme terror, his breath intermittent.
Then a click was heard, and the recording turned silent. Napoleon tried not to think about what happened after that. The silence was not long though, and the next part of the recording soon started.
"Good evening, Dr. Brighton."
"UY-C01." Compared to Jonason, the biologist sounded much calmer, as if he was expecting this visit, "I cannot say I am happy to meet you, but to see the fruit of my success...I am very satisfied."
“Unfortunately you are still one step away."
“Not everyone is a perfectionist like you, doctor. I have completed the mission impossible, and a guinea pig with all self consciousness entailed is even more amazing, is it not?"
“Give me your notes.”
“That would be out of the question, C01. I know you will destroy it once you obtained it. That’s what this poor old man here have been working on his whole life.” Brighton smiled, “Besides, even if I was willing to give it to you, it is not in my hands.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“I know that sooner or later you will find me; do you think I would be stupid enough to leave it here?”
The recording was cut off again. When it restarted yet another time, the background was filled with much noises.
"Do you think you'd manage to hide from me by staying here, Jacob?"
"If Brighton was happy to entrust you with his notes, that means you're quite a reliable chap, right? But do not think you can hide it from me. I can simply kill you, and then turn all of your hiding spots upside down," Illya paused, "Just like what I have done to Brighton."
Napoleon reflexively clenched his fists upon hearing a low growl. However, the sounds that followed were unexpected.
"Thanks to your stepfather, now I'm practically invincible." Illya's voice was relaxed, and the choking noise was clearly audible from the man called Jacob.
Then, all of a sudden, three gunshots were heard from the tape. Napoleon jumped from his chair at this.
He heard Illya's laughter, though it was incredibly fake. "You see, even the bullets are useless now. Once you have died, you can not die again..."
"The notes aren’t here with me." Suddenly, Jacob’s voice turned high like a maniac, "UY-C01, 79040, execute!"
A hoarse and hysterical scream - not Jacob’s, but Illya’s. Napoleon stared hopelessly at the rotating tapes, wanting to rush out there to protect his partner, to gun down the bastard - but in the back of his brain he still managed to register that something was off.
It stopped. A loud crash, probably coming from the tape recorder hitting the ground. A sequence of noises, which sounded suspiciously like someone's throat was cut open. Then it all slowly came to an end. A low groan, Illya’s, moved closer, and the tape recorder seemed to be picked up.
“How stupid this bastard was. If he wasn’t so desperate to avenge for Brighton, I would not have known. Alright Napoleon, before letting Waverly listen to this, make sure his office isn't bugged by anyone else, ok? Mine is in area 08, don’t remove that one. And erase this part, good night.”
So the next day, after Napoleon carefully searched the office - paying particular attention to area 08 but did not see any bugs of any kind, he played the recording for Waverly, with the last part erased.
Waverly was silent for a while.
"Mr. Solo, are you certain Mr. Kuryakin is not under THRUSH's control?”
"Very certain, sir."
Waverly raised his eyebrows.
“However,” Napoleon was satisfied to see his boss looking intrigued, but didn't like what he himself was going to say next, "I don't know if he is controlled by anyone else, at least partially. We are 100% sure that Jonathan was from THRUSH, and his rank was high enough to potentially know that there was a code to control Illya. If that was the case, though, he would not have been so panicked. Jacob, on the contrary, was just the adopted son of Brighton and he did not even join THRUSH, but he knew how to torture Illya."
"Perhaps it was written in Brighton's notes."
"I guess the same, but who did Brighton give this part of the experiment to behind THRUSH's back? He certainly didn't leave it to himself, he knew he would die."
Waverly frowned and said nothing.
"To Jacob? I don't think it's possible either. I investigated his background and it seems that Brighton had never let him intervene in THRUSH matters before. He was studying at Columbia University." Napoleon continued, trying not to think about the fact that this young man named Jacob is an innocent to a certain extent. "I presume that Jacob read Brighton’s notes without authorization, in order to avenge his father's death, thus revealing the existence of the code. I reckon the person who put in this code wished that it could remain a secret to us.”
“Sounds reasonable, Mr. Solo,” Waverly nodded, and glanced his chief agent over. “You look like you're in a good place today. I believe that you are fully prepared this time, are you?"
"Well then, I'll leave this to you, Dance and Slater." The three best agents in UNCLE besides Illya, indicating that the matter was not trivial even in Waverly's eyes, "With Mr. Kuryakin himself, figure this out as soon as possible. Go ahead, Mr. Solo."
"Roger that." Napoleon couldn't help but let on a smile - something that hadn't appeared on his face for a whole month. He took the tape and turned to leave.
"Wait," Waverly called out suddenly. Napoleon turned his head and saw a small device in the old man's hand, "Tell Mr. Kuryakin that there is no bug in this office that will not be discovered. I will not let this slip next time ."
After coming out of Waverly's office, Napoleon checked his watch. There was still some time before the all-department meeting at 3pm. He thought about it and decided to go down to the laboratory.
If at UNCLE, Illya trusted anyone besides Napoleon himself with all his heart, it would be Dr. Cleland. Tony Cleland was in his early sixties. Majoring in biochemistry, he had dozens of accomplishments in his field. In Napoleon’s eyes, this man had a very quirky personality, and he was even more enthusiastic about some peculiar research subjects than those mad scientists of THRUSH - fortunately, his enthusiasm only remained on a theoretical level.
The old man had no children. Back when Illya joined the laboratory, he almost took the young man as his own son. Although their majors were not exactly the same, he helped Illya a lot in his career. What happened to Illya hit Cleland hard. Napoleon only saw him a few times this month, and the old man looked more haggard each time. He was a little worried about the scientist's health.
At least he had the right to know that Illya was back, Napoleon thought, and maybe his professional knowledge could even help somehow.
"Dr. Cleland!" At the entrance of the laboratory, Napoleon ran into the person he was looking for. The old man had dark circles around his eyes, looking as if he hadn't slept well for a long time.
"Oh, Mr. Solo. What’s the matter?"
Napoleon looked around. "Dr. Cleland, is there a safer place to talk?"
The doctor straightened his back, and his eyes lit up. "My office, come with me."
After checking that there were no bugs in the office, Napoleon pulled the chair away and sat down opposite to Cleland: "Doctor, I'm here to talk to you about Illya."
"I guessed as much." The old man sighed, still reluctant to bring up the heartbreaking topic, "Illya...we can't even bury him properly. To tell you the truth, I still can't accept that he has truly died...it’s a pity, such a fine young man.”
"As for you, Mr. Solo, you look very different today. Is there any news?"
"Only myself and Mr. Waverly know about this for now, and Dance and Slater will know about it soon. Apart from you. That is as far as this piece of information can spread." Napoleon stared into the doctor's eyes and saw him nodding slowly, showing a seemingly understanding look.
"Illya is back."
"What?" Obviously, even if he was prepared, the scientist was still taken aback, and he looked at the agent dubiously. "But they said...you said Illya is dead. Now he's back again? At the headquarters? Why didn't he come to see me?"
Napoleon made a gesture to calm the old man down, and then proceeded, “This is not easy to explain, Doctor, Illya was indeed dead, but he was resurrected by THRUSH. He needs blood to function, and his mind is not being controlled.”
"Like a vampire." The doctor frowned and thought for a while, then suddenly stood up and walked to the bookshelf to pull out a book and started flipping the pages. "Biological conjectures about vampires are not uncommon, most of which are hypotheses of contagions... This is the first time I have heard about artificial vampires."
"Illya himself doesn't know the specifics, but he is tracing down a notebook with information related to the experiment."
"Ah, so you have seen the lad already?" Collins raised his eyes and smiled, "Do you know where he is? Let him come and see me when he is free."
"I don't know where he is, but he came to see me last night. I will tell him the next time he visits."
"Thank you, Mr. Solo. I'll research on this matter immediately. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
Napoleon nodded. "One more thing. I don't know if it will be useful, but can the laboratory produce some artificial plasma?"
It was half past one when he walked out of the laboratory. After lunch, Napoleon decided to go back to the office to sort out the meeting materials. Because he had not been on site, he needed to memorise more information, plus Illya was not here to help him with the paperwork any more... Napoleon shook his head. When Illya told him that he would not return to UNCLE, Napoleon had to sink his fingernails into his palm to stop himself from protesting.
He needed Illya by his side, wanted Illya by his side, but he did not want to be his chains. Recalling the figure jumping out of the window that night, Napoleon realized almost painfully how Illya was once imprisoned and constrained; how liberated the figure was, like a fairy of death roaming freely in mountains and forests. How could he have the heart to lock him up again? No matter how tempting the idea was.
His mouth felt dry and he shut his eyes, a little irritated.
Then he suddenly flashed his eyes open. His intuition of an agent alarmed him that danger was imminent, but how could any enemy be at the headquarters?
Before he turned around, the person behind him spoke.
"It's been a long time, Mr. Solo."