Chapter 1: Chapter 1
The Yellowstone Affair
Napoleon Solo suppressed a yawn as he looked out of the UNCLE jet’s window. Already the first snowflakes of a promised storm beat against the Plexiglas pane as the small jet taxied into position of the runway. He was glad the plane was taking off before the weather could ground it. It would be good to get some shut eye after his whirlwind trip across the country earlier that day.
The CEA of UNCLE Northwest and two other Section 2 agents flew to Spokane, Washington, to replace a team of couriers sidelined by injuries when they were intercepted by a squad of THRUSH goons. The microchips each UNCLE agent was carrying were safe, but Mr. Waverly did not want to wait until the original couriers had recovered and was anxious to have the chips delivered to New York headquarters as expediently as possible.
“Mr. Solo, those microchips hold vital information which could lead us to break THRUSH’s security codes. If our Intel resources are correct, the chips will enable us to be several steps ahead of their latest projects. It is imperative that we have that information as soon as possible!”
“Ah, yes sir. Will Mr. Kuryakin be part of my team?”
“No, Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin won’t have returned from his assignment in Berlin until after your flight departs. Also, there is no ‘team’ per se. Once you and agents Petri and Cohen arrive in Spokane you will each retrieve a microchip at which time, for extra security, you will split up and return to New York on three different flights. All three of you will be returning this evening, each to a different airport.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else?”
“One more bit of information that you should know…and only you, Mr. Solo. Of the three microchips, only one is authentic. Neither you nor your agents will know who is carrying a decoy, or as you Americans often say, the real McCoy. Only I will which chip is authentic when it is turned over to me. Because of the extreme importance of the information, if one of you is taken down and you are only carrying a decoy there will be no immediate, if any, rescue. Instead, our resources will focus on the agent with the authentic chip to bring it in safely.”
It did not escape Napoleon’s attention that Mr. Waverly mentioned bringing “it” back safely with no comment about bringing the agent back safely.
“Here is the file on the assignment. You have just enough time to review it before the helicopter leaves for the airport.”
Mr. Waverly looked away from his CEA and concentrated on his briar pipe while turning his attention to a new file. Napoleon recognized the signs of dismissal. He picked up the file from the revolving table and left the Old Man’s office to meet Agents Petri and Cohen and brief them on the assignment.
The pick-up in Spokane was successful with no sign of THRUSH interference, however, the seasoned agents knew not to let their guard down. Each agent left from a different regional airport on an unmarked chartered jet.
“Hi, Ted. How are you?”
“Just fine. Hey, I would like you to meet Sammy Andersen. He is my copilot on this junket.”
Napoleon reached out his hand and shook Sammy’s. “Pleased to meet you. You must be pretty good to be flying with the likes of Ted, here.”
Sammy nodded his greeting and returned his attention to the clipboard he was holding.
“Yeah, Napoleon, you’re in good hands with us,” Ted teased. “We’d better finish our preflight check. We want to get out of here before we’re socked in by the snowstorm. Make yourself at home, Napoleon. We should be airborne in about fifteen minutes.”
Mfu mfu mfu mfu
Illya Kuryakin longed to be in his own bed after his long flight and debriefing, but when the Old Man calls an agent back to headquarters there is no choice but to respond. His foot falls echoed along the steel corridors at the late hour, or early hour depending on one’s viewpoint. It was 02:30.
Overhead florescent lights, dimmed for the evening shift, cast shadows across the planes of his face enhancing the shadows made by his wide brow and deep set eyes. He saw no one else as he made his way to Mr. Waverly’s office. Not many people wandered the halls of UNCLE headquarters at this early hour of the morning.
He entered the large office quietly and stood before the large circular desk until his chief was ready to acknowledge him.
Alexander Waverly briefly looked up from the stack of international communiques laid out before him. It was in the late hours of the evening that he caught up with the huge amount of daily paperwork that passed over his desk.
“Mr. Kuryakin, I appreciate you coming back to the office at such a late hour.”
“Yes, sir. Is there a problem?”
Without a word, Mr. Waverly picked up one of the papers from the smallest stack and handed it to his number 2 field agent. He watched his agent closely for a reaction. For the briefest moment, he saw a flicker of what might have been disbelief? Despair? Whatever it was passed within a second. When Illya looked up his expression was one of a professional; emotionless, all business.
“Sir, has this been confirmed?”
“Unfortunately, yes, Mr. Kuryakin.” Waverly sighed deeply as he fumbled for his pipe. “Mr. Solo’s plane last known location was over Missoula, Montana, heading southeast before dropping off the radar screens. It is believed that it went down in the mountains of the northwest corner of Wyoming near the Montana border.”
“Sir, I would like to head the search and rescue team. We could gather our equipment and be at the airport within two hours. I know that Mr. Slate is avail…”
“There will be no rescue team, Mr. Kuryakin.” Waverly’s voice was so soft that Illya wasn’t sure he had heard his superior correctly.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Alexander Waverly ceased fiddling with his pipe and looked directly at his agent. “There won’t be any rescue mission,” he repeated.
“But, sir!” Illya’s voice incredulous, his accent thickening, “You cannot just abandon Napoleon! He could still be alive! He would not stand a chance alone in the high country. You must let me…”
“That is enough, Mr. Kuryakin! You forget yourself. You are perilously close to being written up for insubordination.” Waverly’s gray eyes snapped with anger. He watched as Kuryakin started to say something then abruptly closed his mouth. The chief of UNCLE northeast expression softened slightly as he handed his agent another communique. “I need you for another mission.
“Mr. Kuryakin, according to this report there appears to be THRUSH activity near Yellowstone National Park. It is believed they have developed a new weapon based on laser technology and is using the remote area to hide their activities. I would like you to catch a chartered flight to Bozeman, Montana, and investigate this report. It will be a solo mission because I cannot spare any other agents at this time. Your cold weather skills as well as your expertise with explosives will be invaluable for this mission. You’d best get down to supplies and pick up what you will need. An UNCLE jet is warming up on the tarmac waiting for your arrival.”
Illya Kuryakin acknowledged his orders with a stiffly polite ‘yes, sir’ and turned to leave. As he reached the threshold of the pneumatic doors his boss called out.
“Oh, Mr. Kuryakin, if you happen to run across Mr. Solo in your travels, by all means bring him home. I don’t have time or the funds to train a new CEA.”
The agent’s eyes met Mr. Waverly’s. With a slight nod of his head he said softly, “Thank you, sir.” He turned and ran to the elevators.
Mfu mfu mfu mfu
A muffled sound wormed its way through the layers of consciousness, niggling at the still form, prodding him to wakefulness. Napoleon Solo opened his eye to darkness. His legs and arms seemed to have a mind of their own, dangling below him. He made an attempt to move only to have a wave of pain travel from his neck to his legs. The pain was so severe it was hard to think clearly, making it easy to slip back into the comfortable darkness of unconsciousness.
Napoleon must have dozed off for a brief moment. When he opened his eyes again he felt heat where there had been a chill, and the muffled sounds that had teased the edge of awareness earlier had transformed into loud snaps and pops accompanied by thick acrid smoke. Coughing violently, Napoleon began seeking a way out of the plane. The glow of flames was enough for him to see the plane’s fuselage had landed on its back and the front of the plane was fully engulfed by fire. He prayed that Ted and Sammy had already escaped.
The trapped agent pulled frantically at the seatbelt that still held him fast to his seat. With a quick yank of the buckle, he dropped from his seat onto the ceiling of the plane with a thud. A cry of agony escaped from him as the fall jarred his legs and back. Again unconsciousness threatened to overpower him. Napoleon shook his head fighting the gray haze that threatened to change to darkness. He knew that if he lost consciousness now he would perish in the fire. Painfully, he pulled himself in the direction of the cabin’s rear door, not giving any thought as to how he would be able to push it open in his weakened state.
Napoleon had always thought that drowning was his greatest fear. However, as he wrestled with the hot handle of the cabin’s door, mindful of the searing heat on his face as the flames approached, he realized that being burned alive was much worse. The flames had spread to the wings where the fuel tanks were located. With a cry of despair, he pushed once more against the door to no avail. The heat of the fire had expanded the metal of the door against the plane’s frame causing the door to jam. Sweat poured down the desperate man’s face as the blast of flames advanced.
Napoleon Solo had run out of time. He refused to die by fire! Grabbing his Special from his holster, he placed the muzzle in his mouth. His fingers tensed on the trigger as the flames raced towards him, golden blue tongues of fire licked at the interior of the fuselage. As he watched the flames with morbid fascination he thought of Illya. Illya would understand the choice Napoleon made. His finger tightened further on the trigger.
The body of the CEA of UNCLE northwest dropped from the burning jet and rolled about fifty feet down a steep slope before coming to rest against a half buried boulder. Churned up snow resettled against his body as it came to rest. The same heat from the flames that caused the door to jam, also melted the snow around the plane causing the plane to shift. The stress of the shifting fuselage caused the already weakened tail section to break off, throwing Napoleon out of the plane and into the snow before he could pull the trigger of his special. Solo’s luck indeed!
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
I had to completely restart chapter 2. Last summer I got a new computer and forgot to save my story before wiping the hard drive and I also lost my outline for the whole A/N: I had to completely restart chapter 2. Last summer I got a new computer and forgot to save my story before wiping the hard drive and I also lost my outline for the whole story.
The instant the pneumatic doors whispered shut behind him, Illya Kuryakin took off at a run towards the elevator. As he entered the car, he repeatedly jammed the fourth floor button as if his actions would encourage the car to travel faster to its destination. He leaned against the far wall taking advantage of the brief moment to collect his thoughts and make a mental list of what equipment he would need for the mission. Cold weather gear was a given. He would need to stay warm in what would be an unforgiving cold and hostile environment.
Goose down sleeping bag, snowshoes, ski poles, various layers of clothing, warm boots, gloves with overmitts were the first items he pulled from the shelves in UNCLES supply room. He also signed out a backpacker's camping stove, matches, and enough LRP rations to last fourteen days. He was happy not to have to rely on old military C rations as they were heavy. Fortunately, in 1964 the United States Army developed freeze dried meals known as Long Range Patrol Rations or Lurps which were actually quite tasty and weighed a fraction of what the same amount of C rations weighed.
Next, Illya selected a scoped 30-06 hunting rifle to supplement the fire power provided by his handgun. A large folding saw and Buck knife were added to the internal framed knapsack. Chances were that he would be traveling in a thickly forested area and he didn't want to chance having an external framed backpack catching on low tree limbs.
The last item he grabbed from the shelves was a cold weather trauma bag. It was a small canvas duffle bag filled with bandages, suture needles, various intravenous medications, thermal blankets, down booties, flavored gelatin, and various other items that could be useful in emergencies.
When he had finished his "shopping" in the supply room he loaded the items on a pulk, a short toboggan with rigid poles used to drag equipment behind a person in snow country.
Mark Slate helped Illya load his equipment into one of UNCLE's carryall station wagons and drove the Russian agent out to the private airport where an UNCLE jet was waiting. Mark had heard that Napoleon's plane had crashed somewhere in the wild country of northwest Wyoming.
As he drove in the early morning hour the light traffic afforded Mark a chance to glance at his friend. Illya was tense and his body language did not invite conversation. Mark took a deep breath and chanced a dialog anyway.
"Illya, I'm sorry about Napoleon. Do you think there's any chance he survived?"
Kuryakin's shoulders stiffened more, his jaw clenched and unclenched repeatedly. Finally, he looked over to Mark.
"I don't know, Mark. And I won't be able to find out until after I finish this mission," his voice strained with resentment. "I understand why Mr. Waverly has given this mission priority, but I wish he would have sent someone else instead. I hardly think I am the only one in North America with the cold weather skills to complete the assignment. I should be looking for Napoleon, instead!"
"Do you think THRUSH's operation may have something to do with Napoleon's plane?"
"Count on it, Mark! It is too much of a coincidence not to be." Illya turned to stare out of the window, thinking of his partner and wondering if his friend was still alive. Softly, so softly that Mark almost didn't hear him, Illya spoke again. "When I find the bastards who did this they will wish it was some other agent that had been assigned to take them down."
Mark pulled the Carryall up to the company jet and helped Illya load his equipment into the rear cargo compartment. He turned to his friend and stuck out his hand. "Good luck, Illya! Be careful and bring Napoleon home."
Illya looked at Mark and his outstretched hand and grimly shook it. "Thank you, Mark, and I will."
Without another word, the Russian turned and climbed up the jet's gangway and disappeared into the dark interior. A member of the flight crew pulled up the steps and locked the door.
Mark stood back as the jet revved up it's engines and taxied to the runway where it roared as it took off quickly rising above the morning mist. "God's speed, Mate!" He whispered and headed back to UNCLE headquarters.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Author's warning: the following chapter has a rather gruesome description of what happened to one of the characters.
Numbing cold nudged Napoleon into awareness. He realized that he was lying on his side in a snow bank, his back pressed hard against a large boulder. The inky black of night was interrupted by the orange glow of the dying fire that left little of the jet’s fuselage recognizable. The last thing Napoleon remembered was desperately attempting to open the rear door of the jet while the flames crept closer. He remembered making the decision to end his life by eating a bullet rather than perish in the flames. How he got out of the jet alive was a mystery to him, although he wasn’t complaining.
The injured man took stock of his condition. His entire body hurt like hell, although his back and legs hurt more than the rest of him. Carefully, he maneuvered his limbs, feet, and hands. Nothing appeared broken, however, any little movement sent sharp pains up his spine. His back had taken a beating from the strain of being tossed around while strapped to his seat.
Napoleon wondered how the pilot and copilot were or if they even survived the crash. "Ted? Sammy? Can you hear me?" His voice was raspy from the smoke. There was no answer. Fearing the worse, there was nothing he could do until daylight.
Napoleon knew that he needed to find some sort of shelter and quickly. He had no idea how long he had lain unconscious in the snow, but he knew that there was plenty of night time left before sunrise, and that the predawn hours were generally the coldest. The only insulating layer he wore was his suit jacket and it left much to be desired. He looked around and could see the light of the dying fire bounce off a fallen log not more than ten yards away. Slowly, he pushed himself up using the boulder for support, then half walked, half stumbled over to the log. He knelt down and dug leaves and snow from the underside of the log creating a small space and crawled in, pulling some of the leaves in after him in an effort to protect himself from the biting cold. Shivering uncontrollably, he fought to keep his eyes open. Sleep could be dangerous to someone who was injured and caught out in the winter weather.
The gray light of morning insinuated itself against the penetrating cold of the predawn dark. Napoleon Solo wasn’t sure what woke him. It could have been the stiffness and incredible ache of his body or the chattering of his teeth. It didn’t matter! He didn’t mean to fall asleep and knew that he had to get moving. Pushing the leaves and snow away from his hollowed out shelter, Napoleon crawled out and faced the horror of the scene before him.
The night before, he wasn’t able to see any details except the flames and embers of the wrecked fuselage. In the morning light, the blackened shell of the small jet was a scar marring the pristine snow where it came to a rest on a fairly steep rise above Napoleon’s position. A debris field marked the jet’s path where it had careened through the forest. Apparently, the plane had cart-wheeled before coming to a rest on it’s roof. Parts of the wings lay several hundred feet away where they were severed by tree trunks. Chunks of foam and fabric from the jet’s seats were strewn across the area. The smell of burned jet fuel and scorched plane parts permeated the air causing Napoleon to cough violently.
He picked up a fallen branch to lean on as he slowly made his way up the snow-covered hill. As he neared the plane’s charred hulk he saw the snow that had melted from the flames and then refrozen over the night creating sheets of ice. His feet slipped causing him to fall hard exacerbating the strain on his back and legs. Damn it! Napoleon closed his eyes fighting the wave of pain that washed over him as he rolled over and crawled to where the ice ended. There he rested in the snow eyes closed and waited for the pain to subside. Napoleon was tempted to just lie there and rest. Come on, Solo, get your ass in gear, that is unless you want to die here. No, he didn’t want to die, not here or anywhere.
Opening his eyes, he pushed himself up and over a small snowbank and immediately back peddled with a gasp. He had come face to face with the vacant staring eyes of Sammy … or what was left of him. The copilot had been beheaded when he had been thrown through the gaping hole caused by the cockpit crashing into some trees. Shit!
Pulling himself together, Napoleon stood up leaning heavily on his stick. He saw Ted’s body partially covered by snow and debris fifty feet from the plane’s carcass. The agent made his way over to his friend. He stood for a brief moment in respect before beginning the grim task of inspecting the body. The first order of business was to find warm clothing. He bent over to relieve Ted of his winter jacket but found that the pilot’s body was in full rigor mortis. Napoleon couldn’t bring himself to engage in the gruesome task of breaking limbs in order to retrieve the outer garment. Instead, he made his way around the wreck to see what could be salvaged.
Thirty minutes later, he had amassed a treasure trove of materials that could possibly give him a chance of surviving until a rescue party could find him. Foam from the seats would serve as insulation from the frozen ground, a partially burned canvas tarp might serve as a lean-to or windbreak. Beyond all odds, a ceramic mug had survived the crash and fire. Napoleon explored the tail section which had broken away from the fuselage. It was there that he found the plane’s first aid kit, a jack knife, and a few items of food. His most prized find was a couple of wool blankets. They didn’t make it through the crash completely unscathed as they had multiple holes and tears. The edges were burned. It didn’t matter, they could still be used and Napoleon wasn’t going to let them go to waste. The last item he collected was a mess of tangled wires that he had recovered from the tail. Those wires would serve as ropes and fasteners. Gathering his booty into a pile on a piece of scrap metal he pulled it all across the snow to a the base of a large tree for safe keeping.
Exhausted, Napoleon eased himself down onto one of the seat cushions. Bringing his cold stiff fingers to his mouth, he breathed on them for warmth then placed them under his armpits while he contemplated his next step for survival. He needed to start a fire that would not only provide a modicum of warmth, but also melt snow for drinking water, cook food, and provide a signal to any planes that might be out searching for the downed jet.
Napoleon willed himself to stand. Grabbing the stick he had been using to lean on, he shuffled through the snow looking for dead branches and dried pine or spruce needles, anything flammable, to fuel a fire. Within a half hour, he had gathered enough material to start a fire and still have some in reserve for later. He found a lighter in the first aid kit and using some of the small sticks and pine needles started a small fire. He added larger branches once the kindling ignited. As he watched the flames grow, his spirits grew as well.
Napoleon once again sat down on one of the cushions as he held his hands over the flame for warmth. He checked his watch, mildly surprised that it was still working…10:24 AM. He knew that he would have to construct a shelter soon, but his earlier activity had exhausted him. He pulled a candy bar from the small cache of food retrieved from the wreck and ate half of it. Filling the cup with snow, he placed it next to the fire and melted the snow for water. After eating and quenching his thirst, Napoleon lined the seat cushions up close to the fire to make a sleeping palette. Pulling the scorched blankets over his torso he laid down for a short nap.
The U.N.C.L.E jet landed in Bozeman, Montana. Illya Kuryakin checked his watch, 07:25 mountain standard time. The pilot had made good time. During the four hour flight, the Russian had pored over the topographic maps of the northwest corner of Wyoming and south central Montana. Yellowstone National Park took up much of the mapped area. He would have to work with the National Park Service and keep them apprised of the mission…on a need to know basis.
He was met at the plane by an agent from the Helena, Montana office, who had brought a four wheeled drive Suburban for Illya's use. Agent Crowley introduced himself to which Kuryakin responded only with a nod. Together they began to transfer the supplies from the plane to the vehicle. As they shoved the last box into the back, Illya turned to face the man.
"Thank you, Mr. Crowley. I appreciate your assistance."
"You bet, Sir! I have contacted the park rangers in Gardiner to give them a heads up about the mission. They are expecting your arrival."
"How long of a drive is it to Gardiner?"
"About two hours, give or take. The road department does a good job of keeping the roads clear of snow in Paradise Valley so you shouldn't
have any trouble. Just be glad you came today! A new storm system is supposed to hit tomorrow evening. The weather reports are predicting up to three feet of snow in the mountains and record low temperatures down to -60º, -40º in the valleys."
The left side of Illya's mouth formed a lopsided half smile. "Sounds like a warm day in Siberia to me, my friend."
Crowley also smiled. "I keep forgetting that you grew up in a cold country, Sir." He shook hands with the agent. "Never the less, be careful out there. Communicators aren't much good here in the mountains so help isn't just a phone call away. Good luck!"
"Thank you, Mr. Crowley. I will endeavor to do so." He climbed into the truck and headed east to Livingston which would take him to the road leading south through Paradise Valley to Gardner, the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. With a little luck he would arrive in Gardiner by 10:30 AM.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Illya Kuryakin arrived in Gardiner, Montana, faster than expected in spite of the heavy snow that began to fall as he drove through the twists and turns of an area known as Yankee Jim Canyon ten miles north of Gardiner. As he approached the tiny town he could see the Roosevelt Archway that graced the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and to the only road that remained open to cars throughout the winter.
He pulled up in front of the old west style building that housed the park’s ranger offices. As he climbed out of the truck, the cold sub-zero air momentarily took his breath away leaving cold puffs of moisture in its wake. His boots squeaked in the hard packed snow as he walked up the stairs and onto the board walk. Stamping his feet to loosen any snow on them, he opened the door to the office. A small bell attached to the top of the door chimed announcing his arrival.
A man dressed in a uniform of green pants with a gray shirt sat behind the front desk. His signature “Smokey the Bear” hat hung on a wall hook just to the left of the desk.
“May I help you, sir?” The ranger stood as Illya approached the desk. The agent handed his gold ID card to the ranger.
“Good morning. My name is Illya Kuryakin. I believe Agent Crowley from the Helena office for the U.N.C.L.E. spoke to someone here about the reason I have come to see you.”
The ranger checked the ID and extended a hand. “I’m glad to meet you Mr. Kuryakin. My name is Charles Brighton, but please call me Charley. I heard rumors that there is some strange monkey business going on in the back country. We’ve run some air patrols but haven’t found anything. Are you sure your intel is correct?”
“I am afraid so. We lost a plane last night in the general area of the suspected activity and are fairly certain the two are connected.”
Charley scratched his head. “Damn! Well, I’ve been directed to help you in any way we can, Mr. Kuryakin. What can we do to help?”
“Thank you. All I really need is a way to get my gear to a point where I can hike in…
“You mean to tell me that you plan on going in alone?” Charley interrupted.
Illya half smiled, “This is a ruthless group of international thugs, Charley. They do not care who they push out of the way or who they kill. There is no way my organization nor I would let National Park personnel endanger themselves, although I do appreciate your concern.
“No, all I need is to get close enough to snowshoe in, find a way to dismantle or destroy their installation, and get out.
“However, Charley,” Illya’s voice took on a sad somber note, “once I have finished the mission maybe I can enlist your help finding the downed plane. You see, my partner was on that plane and I intend to find him and bring him out.”
Charley saw a brief show of subdued emotion in the eyes of the U.N.C.L.E agent standing before him. “Of course, Agent Kuryakin, we’ll…”
“Please, call me Illya.”
“Okay, Illya. You have my word on it. When do you want to get started on your mission?”
“As soon as possible. I have all of my gear and am ready to go.”
“You want to travel in this storm?”
“The snow will give me some cover. And, as you know, there is nothing better than a snow storm to dampen sounds. This storm will definitely give me an advantage.” He sighed deeply, “Besides the sooner I can finish my mission the sooner I can begin looking for my friend.”
Ernest Houghton bent down to loosen the straps on his snowshoes and kicked them off before stepping down to the porch of the log cabin. He was tired of snow and the bitter cold weather. He looked back over his shoulder at the snow trail and muttered to himself, "It's a helluva thing when you have to snowshoe through snow six feet deep to get to the god damn outhouse!” He turned back to the cabin door and kicked it open, stamping snow from his boots, and pulled off his heavy mittens.
"Shut the fucking door! You're letting all of the heat out, you idiot."
The first voice was accompanied by another disgruntled voice echoing the same sentiment.
"Come on, Ernie! Don't we have enough snow outside. We certainly don't need any in here."
"Aww, keep your shirt on, Gene! You bring as much in when you come in so just shut up, will you? Hey, Bill, suit up. We need to go check the laser gun. It needs recalibrating after last night’s test.”
Bill Townsend grumbled as he donned his outerwear and stuffed his feet into his arctic boots. Both men stepped three feet up from the porch onto the hard packed snow, and strapped on their snow shoes before heading to a small outbuilding about fifty yards east of the cabin.
THRUSH had sent the three men to the cabin which was located in a remote area in the back country of Yellowstone National Park. It was essentially abandoned during the winter months due to the high snow pack. Currently, there was about seven feet of unpacked snow around the cabin and another four feet of the white stuff piled on the roof. Because of the snow depth the only way to access the cabin was by air, which explained the helicopter parked on a packed snow platform another 25 yards beyond the out building.
The door to the small building, more like a shed, protested loudly as it swung inward on rusted hinges. Ernest, carrying a flashlight, entered first and headed for the portable generator. As he gave the cord a hard pull, the motor coughed and sputtered before roaring to life. Bill flipped a switch and the lights in the shed came on illuminating the device that had brought a plane down the previous night.
“Hard to believe that a bunch of metal and glass tubes can cause so much damage!”
“Yeh, Bill, but remember that is the most expensive bunch of glass and metal that you’ve ever seen. You stay here and check its calibrations. I’m gonna get Gene and take the ‘copter out to see if we can find the wreckage of the plane we brought down. I doubt there are any survivors, but we need to make sure and I want to check before we’re completely socked in by the snow,” Ernie replied.
Within minutes, Bill heard the roar of the ‘copter’s motor start up and fade as it took off and flew to the north over the ridge.
Napoleon swiped at the tickle he felt on his nose. Another sensation, soft and not unlike cold kisses, fluttered on his eye lids and cheeks. Still, the man remained asleep. Gradually, the soft sensation had become more like pelting ice balls. His eyes jerked open. In seconds, he was brought back to the reality of his predicament. In the time that he had dozed off his fire had gone out and snow was rapidly covering the area. His blankets were completely covered with snow. Shit! Just as he began to toss the blankets aside he heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter’s rotors.
Instantly, he whooped with joy at the prospect of being rescued. But his elation was short-lived. He could see the ‘copter through the trees and saw the unmistakable outline of one stylized ugly bird on the fuselage…THRUSH.
It was too late to run into the brush, even if he could, and crawling was out of the question. Napoleon quickly dove under the blankets and nestled down in the snow which had drifted against him. He prayed that the men in the chopper would not be able to see him.
He heard the chopper sweeping back and forth before finally seeing the downed jet. It hovered for a minute or so before turning away, heading back in the direction from which it came.
Napoleon waited for twenty more minutes before coming out from under the blankets. He couldn’t wait any longer. The sun had nearly finished its low arc across the winter sky, and he had yet to build a shelter and start another fire before darkness pressed down around him.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Author's Note: Some may think it is unrealistic for a person to camp out using only a lean-to in sub-zero weather. If properly equipped it can be done with some comfort. My photography teacher has traveled throughout Yellowstone National Park's back country in the dead of winter. If you ever get a chance to see a PBS program around Christmas, titled "Silence and Solitude" that's the guy.
Charley Brighton shook hands with his passenger.
"Illya, this is where I leave you. Be careful out there! I know you are experienced with cold weather and storms, but Mother Nature has a wicked streak, young man, and she's always looking for someone to make a careless mistake."
"Thanks, Charlie. I will radio you on the park's walkie talkie when I'm ready to be picked up."
Kuryakin watched as the van equipped with snow treads instead of tires lumbered its way back down the road. He checked his watch, 16:00 and the sun, obscured by the heavy snow was already beginning to sink below the horizon. A dull silent gray light settled as a giant pall on the countryside. It would be best to move away from the road, several hundred yards and set up camp.
Once the Russian had found a place with enough clearing to set up camp he stamped out an area with his snowshoes to form a hard packed area for his lean-to. He didn't want to take the energy to unpack the pulk and set up the tent as he needed to be able to break camp quickly, besides the tarp for the lean-to was packed at the top of the equipment lashed to the pulk.
After he spread out his sleeping bag onto a foam pad, he fired up the backpack stove. It didn't take long for the hissing of fuel to indicate the stove was ready to go. Illya had water boiling within fifteen minutes and prepared one of the freeze dried meals. The package said it served four, but Kuryakin ate the whole package. In the cold weather, it was important to consume as many calories as possible.
By 17:30, Kuryakin had cleaned up the area and turned in. He had stripped down to his long johns and placed his clothes and boots inside his down bag at the foot so they would stay relatively warm from his body heat.
He laid in his bag with the down collar/hood pulled up around his face with only his eyes and nose visible. Sleep didn't come easily. The hour was early and the U.N.C.L.E. agent couldn't get his mind off of his missing partner. He was worried as his usually uncanny sixth sense regarding Napoleon's welfare wasn't kicking in. If his friend survived the crash, did THRUSH have him? If not, was he injured? How was he dealing with the severe conditions? And if he had not survived…?
Illya looked at the luminous dial of his watch, 20:00. He turned over in his bag and forced himself to stop thinking about Napoleon. He had a long way to travel the next morning before daylight if he was to get to the suspected area of THRUSH activity. Within a few minutes, Kuryakin had relaxed enough to fall into a restless sleep.
Napoleon didn't think that he had even been so incredibly sore and stiff as he was now. His back and legs were screaming with pain. They had stiffened while he slept and that made it difficult for him to move about. He didn't have any choice, however. Nightfall was fast approaching and the snow was falling heavily. He needed to find a way to stay warm, Yeah, right, Solo, and dry.
He took the piece of scrap metal and wedged it between two lodge pole pine trunks growing closely together. Then he grabbed two six foot lengths of the salvaged wire and tied the metal to the trunks so the wind would not dislodge it.
Using the branch he found earlier for support, he picked up the jackknife and half crawled, half limped to a nearby spruce tree and began hacking off several of the lower branches. Then he dragged them and himself back to where the seat cushions and blankets were. Napoleon then stacked them up so they leaned against the metal to form a peak. The ground made up the third side of the crudely built shelter. The evergreen branches could help as a windbreak and keep out some of the snow. He left a narrow space that would face the fire once it was rebuilt.
Using his last bit of energy, the American agent then dragged the seat cushions and blankets into the shelter. He collapsed onto the seat cushions, totally exhausted.
Five minutes later, Napoleon realized that he had made a critical mistake! He had become overheated as he struggled with the shelter. His clothes, which were mostly made of cotton, had become soaked with perspiration which was sucking his body heat away. It wasn't long before he started shivering and he knew he was in serious trouble.
Immediately, he grabbed some of the kindling he had collected earlier and with cold shaking hands started a new fire. He placed another piece of scrap metal behind the fire so it would reflect heat and light back towards the shelter.
He kept wood within an arm's reach of the shelter so he could feed the fire all night long. Once he had the fire established he crawled into the shelter and stripped out of his wet clothes including his underwear and spread them out near the shelter's opening with the hope of getting them to dry. Then he wrapped himself with the blankets, ate another candy bar, and laid down on the seat cushions. Then he prayed. He prayed for warmth and rescue. He prayed that he would not fall into a sleep from which he would never wake.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Illya tossed and turned. Suddenly, he sat up. He saw someone standing just beyond his lean-to. Napoleon! He could just barely see him through the wall of falling snow. His partner stood calling Illya’s name. Illya moved through the deep snow towards him, Napoleon, hang on, I am coming, but every time the blond agent got close to reaching him, Napoleon would smile sadly, shake his head, and move farther away. Napoleon,wait! Illya woke instantly. A dream, only a dream.
The snow had stopped and the clouds were gone. Any other time, the Russian would have marveled at the stars that carpeted the sky. However, when the sky cleared the temperature dropped dramatically leaving a cold layer of air pressing against the ground. Illya felt a breeze brush the exposed skin of his face. It was already bitter cold, the windchill was going to add to the misery.
Illya dreaded leaving the warmth of his down filled cocoon and thought about delaying his schedule for a few minutes. Napoleon does not have the luxury of warmth, he thought guiltily. He dressed while in his sleeping bag, grabbed the down parka he was using as a pillow, and emerged from the warmth of the sleeping bag ready to face the cold.
Pulling his knit hat down over his ears, he rummaged around in his pack for a candy bar and a handful of granola. He quickly ate the meager meal and washed it down with the water from his canteen which had also been kept in his sleeping bag to keep the liquid from freezing. He didn’t dare start a fire. Even a small one would be easily visible from a long distance in the pitch black dark.
Before breaking camp, he pulled out a flashlight, the topographical map, and his compass to plot the route he would take. If he followed the snow covered creek bed southward, he would have a nine mile hard uphill hike to the backwoods cabin. He wished he had cross country skis for the first part of the trip so he could move more quickly. Much of the area was open land. As he neared the cabin where the terrain was heavily treed with a lot of underbrush, skis would have been cumbersome.
Illya checked his watch, it was 03:30. He strapped on his snowshoes, shouldered his pack and rifle, then slung the pulling harness for the pulk around his waist. Slowly, methodically, he began his trek.
At 04:30, Illya stopped to take a swig or two of water and get his bearings. It was still dark and would be for another three hours. He realized that even though the temperature was about -20º F, he was perspiring. Breaking a trail through four feet of snow was exhausting work. He took the time to shed his heaviest layer and stow it on the top of his pack within easy reach. He knew the importance of covering back up when he stopped so he wouldn’t get chilled.
He pulled the map from the front pocket of his anorak and switched on the flashlight. He couldn’t see any landmarks in the darkness, but he had kept his compass in hand and knew about how fast he was traveling. He didn’t think he had traveled more than a mile, maybe a mile and a half. Even though the snow would get much deeper as he climbed in elevation, he would have to step up his pace if he was going to reach his destination before the afternoon. Once more he began his journey south towards the cabin.
As sun began to rise, the local inhabitants stirred. The hillside and trees cast long shadows across the snow’s surface. Diamond dust, ice crystals from the humidity in the air, danced in the sun’s rays and stood out against the dark trunks of the trees. A fox padded across the surface of the snow. His light weight kept him from sinking more than a few inches. He paused with his ears pointed forward, staring intently at the snow’s surface then leaped into the air diving head first into the snow. The momentum took him about two feet deeper into the snow, but when he resurfaced he held a vole in his mouth. Magpies and ravens gathered to pick the bones of an elk which had seen its last winter. Their raucous cries alerting other predators and carrion eaters of their treasured find.
Still the U.N.C.L.E. agent plodded towards his destination, stopping every hour or so to keep himself hydrated and to consult his map and check his progress. He was glad that he didn’t have the added aggravation of fighting the forecasted wind driven snow, however a snow fall would have given him more protection from detection and it would have covered his tracks. He was beginning to feel a bit vulnerable.
Once again, he stopped. His exhaled breath joining the ice crystals already in the air. His chronograph showed 14:10. By his reckoning he should be just about to crest the last ridge before dropping into the valley where the cabin was located. He found a downed spruce and hid his pulk along its trunk. He removed his backpack and pulled a folded canvas bag out. He reached back in and removed several bricks of plastique, blasting caps, and detonator cord and packed them into the bag. He unslung his rifle while he donned an all white wind shirt and pants to cover his outerwear. When ready, Illya slung the canvas bag over his head and shoulder, picked up his rifle and began making his way towards the ridge.
One hundred yards later, he laid down in the snow in the shadow of several lodgepole pines and glassed the small valley below. The cabin, nestled in a copse of bare aspen trees, was well camouflaged by the snow piled around its walls and high on the roof. Wisps of smoke rose lazily for about twenty feet before the cold air, creating an inversion layer, flattened the smoke column and caused it to drift eastward where it backed up against the next hill.
As he laid there observing the lay of the land, Kuryakin counted three outbuildings. One was undoubtedly an outhouse, and he was fairly sure which one housed the laser. The third was probably a supply shed. Well worn snow paths led from the cabin to each of the buildings.
Pulling the collars of his down jacket and wind shirt up around his ears, Illya dug a shallow depression in the snow and settled down to wait for the setting sun when he would begin his stealthy assault upon the THRUSH lair below.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Author’s Note: This chapter contains some gruesome imagery.
God, I’m cold! Napoleon threw another thick branch onto the fire. He had kept himself awake most of the long night by singing songs, recounting stories of his childhood aloud even though there was no one to hear them, and listing all the women he had dated since being released from the army. That in itself took several hours. It was a long list. Napoleon smiled ruefully. Napoleon, ol’ boy, you gotta get a life. Work and girls have taken over your life. What’s wrong with girls? he argued with himself.
He checked his watch…05:00 and still pitch black out. Filling the coffee mug with snow Napoleon placed it next to the fire. He wanted to get hot liquid inside him to help warm him up. When steam rose from the mug he drank it down, sipping it slowly, pretending it was a delicious cup of coffee.
When he finished his “coffee” he reached outside of his crude shelter and felt his clothes. He had been busy during the night bringing them in when it was snowing and setting them out again when the snow had stopped. They were beginning to dry out but were still damp and as stiff as boards. What moisture was left in them had frozen. Napoleon knew that he had to do something about the clothing and soon, or he wouldn’t live long enough to worry about much more.
Napoleon thought about his next action. Should he wear just his shoes and stay wrapped in the blankets when venturing out of his shelter or should he risk getting dressed in his still damp clothes? He debated with himself for several minutes but was finding it harder and harder to stay focused on the problem and think clearly. Finally, he reached out and grabbed his shirt and pants and beat them against the side of the shelter to soften them before donning them. Damn that’s cold! He gritted his teeth and inhaled sharply as the cold fabric touched his skin. Immediately the chattering of his teeth increased, a sign he may possibly have made an error in judgement. As rapidly as his sore body allowed, the marooned agent put on his shoes and suit jacket. He wrapped the blankets around him and crawled out of his shelter.
Napoleon’s injuries, further aggravated by the extreme cold, made it almost impossible to walk. He gave himself a few moments to allow his limbs to adjust to moving. As he waited he added several large branches to the fire wanting it to put out as much heat as possible by the time he returned to the shelter.
With new wood added to the fire, the flames sprang up loudly popping when they hit the sap stored in the branches. The sound of a crackling campfire was somewhat comforting to Napoleon - like an old friend coming to visit. The man shook his head hard to bring him out of his reverie. He had to stop thinking about such things and put his plan into action. He was concerned that he couldn’t seem to stay on task. He knew that fading mental acuity was one of the insidious symptoms of hypothermia.
Forcing himself to stand, in spite of sharp pains in his back and legs, Napoleon slogged his way through mid-thigh deep snow towards the wreckage and Sam and Ted’s bodies. The energy it took to fight his way through the snow to cover such a short distance actually helped to warm him up a bit.
Upon reaching the wreckage, Napoleon searched for the bodies. He knew about where they were, but the previous night’s snowstorm had buried them in about a foot or two of snow making them blend in well with the other lumps and bumps in the area where snow covered tree stumps and boulders. Finally, his foot struck one of the corpses.
Using a small piece of flat metal as a shovel, he dug down until he could see the clothing. He knew it was Sam’s body from the leather copilot’s jacket. He was glad that the man had not removed the jacket in the heated cockpit. Napoleon tugged at the one of the sleeve’s with no success. While rigor mortis had eased, the limbs were frozen from the extreme cold. The agent looked at the body. “I’m sorry, Sammy, please forgive me!” Tears filled his eyes as he set his jaw and began the gruesome task of breaking the arms so he could bend them to get the leather jacket off.
Next, Napoleon moved to the man’s boots. He had to cut the laces with the jackknife as they were frozen stiff and his cold fingers couldn’t work the laces loose. Again, he said a prayer as he worked each boot of the dead man’s feet, then the socks. Lastly, he worked Sammy’s belt loose, and pulled off the pants.
Exhausted from the exertion, Napoleon made his way back to the shelter along the trail he had made earlier. He sat in his shelter and inspected his new treasures. The jacket, although covered with snow for almost two days, was dry. It was too cold for snow to melt and the bodies of the men had not been perspiring, same for the socks and boots. Immediately, he brushed the snow off and put the clothes near the fire to warm them up while he got out of his own damp clothes and wrapped the blankets around him. A half hour later he was redressed in the new clothing and boots. For the first time in many hours he felt a bit warmer and with that warmth, meager as it was, he became more optimistic that he just might survive long enough for help to arrive.
Taking care not to get overheated again, Napoleon left his shelter and worked his way through more of the snow to gather enough wood to last him through the night. He crawled back into his spruce bough mansion and drank more hot melted snow. He threw some of the branches on the fire, wrapped himself up in the blankets, and went to sleep dreaming of being rescued. As he slept something kept niggling at the back of his mind, but he just couldn’t focus on what it might be.
In the deepest hour of the night, Napoleon’s eyes flew open as he finally realized what was bothering him. “Because of the extreme importance of the information, if one of you is taken down and you are only carrying a decoy there will be no immediate, if any, rescue. Instead, our resources will focus on the agent with the authentic chip to bring it in safely.”
“Nooooooo!” was the anguished cry that reverberated through the woods.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Author’s note: this chapter has some rough language
The long shadows of the late afternoon rapidly merged as one as the sun dipped behind the mountains and the evening light succumbed to darkness. Illya checked his chronometer. 16:40. He decided to wait another half hour before beginning his approach on the cabin. Meanwhile, he used the time to munch on some gorp savoring the sweetness of the dried fruit and chocolate. He finished it with a long drink of water. Checking his demolitions bag and his rifle one more time, the camouflaged agent left his hiding place and began the descent down the hill.
He was able to use the trees as cover for most of the descent, however the last 150 yards or so to the cabin left him out in the open. His only cover was the darkness of the night. He made the decision to work his way around the area so that he would approach from behind the storage shed. The small building would help to block the sight of his approach. He was keenly aware that his tracks in the snow would be visible to the occupants in the cabin if they should venture past the storage shed.
Kuryakin crouched behind the hidden corner of the shed as he watched the area. He decided to plant the first set of explosives in the building where the laser gun was located. Looking in the direction of the cabin once more, he left the protection of the storage shed and moved off to his left. The dark shape of the next outbuilding stood silhouetted against the white snow on the hill beyond it.
Ernie returned the mic and the headphones of the wireless radio to their hooks and turned to his companions. “Well, boys, we’re pulling out early tomorrow morning.”
“Why the change in plans?”
“THRUSH headquarters is getting a bit worried. They say there ain’t been any chatter over the airwaves, public or private, regarding the downed plane which means someone wants to keep it secret and probably starting an investigation. Boss wants us out of here, pronto!”
Bill sighed, “Alright. You and Gene head out to the shed and break down the laser. Make sure it’s packed securely in its boxes, we don’t want anything to break. I’ll head out to the storage shed and pack up the supplies. We’ll work together on packing the gear in here. Once everything is packed up we hit the sack and load the ‘copter in the morning.”
All three began to gear up for going outdoors. Gene stepped out of the cabin first and stepped into the leather harness of his snowshoes. He was eager to get the laser packed and get back to the warm cabin. He stepped around the corner of the cabin and stopped short. Immediately he went back to the others.
“Hey, guys, there’s someone out by the laser shed,” he whispered. “I could see a shadow moving and a brief flash of light.”
“Shit! Okay, grab your rifles and fan out. Gene, you take the left and come around the outhouse, Ernie, take the right and come around the supply shed and I’ll go around the other side of the cabin. Let’s catch this bastard!”
All three left the cabin porch which was hidden from view of the laser’s shed and spread out. None used their flashlights as there was enough contrast between the dark night and the snow. Each man made a stealthy approach closing in on the intruder.
The extreme cold caused the snow to squeak when stepped on and that was Illya Kuryakin’s only warning that someone was coming. He hadn’t yet picked the lock on the shed so he wasn’t going to be caught inside. Quickly, he threw the canvas bag filled with the demolition equipment onto the roof towards the back of the shed and turned to face the coming trouble.
One of the men raised his rifle and shot over Illya’s head. Choryt! Show time. He raised his hands and yelled, “Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot!”
Ernie and Gene came up on either side of their “guest” and placed the muzzles of their rifles against his temples. Bill grabbed the man’s rifle.
“Well, well, well, boys. Look what we have here! Someone who can’t mind his own business. Whatcha doing here, boy?” Bill got right into Illya’s face.
“Pl…pl…please, mister. I wasn’t doin’ nuttin. I…I…I’m lost and was lookin’ for someplace to get out of the cold.”
Bill watched the pathetic, poor excuse for a man quaking with fear before him. “Sure you were, fella. Why are you way out in the middle of nowhere sneaking around?”
“Like I…I…said. I got lost, I wasn’t doin’ no sneaking.”
“Why didn’t you come to the cabin for help?” Gene asked.
“I was ascared that you might be rangers.”
“Why is that, boy?”
“I was huntin’ for elk.”
“Okay,” drawled Ernie. “So what’s with the camo?”
“I didn’t want any rangers to see me. They don’t take kindly to poachers.”
“What do you think, Bill? Is he telling the truth?” Ernie asked as he poked Illya’s head harder with the muzzle of his rifle.
“I think he’s a lyin’ sack of shit! Move him over to the supply shed.”
As the three THRUSH agents pushed him towards the supply shed, Illya kept up his fearful babbling trying to convince them that he was exactly what he claimed to be.
Half way to the shed, Gene had had enough of the babbling and slapped the side of the man’s head with his rifle butt hard enough to get his attention. “Shut up, you fool.”
Illya went down hard with a yelp trying to stay in character. He shook his head to get rid of the lights dancing before his eyes. He looked up at Gene and whined, “Whatcha do that for? I wasn’t doin’ anything wrong!”
“I said shut up, boy. Now, get up.”
Two of the men hauled him up. When they came within a few yards of the door to the shed, Bill commanded, “Strip!”
Illya looked at him, “What?”
“You heard me. Strip. Gene, you and Ernie check every bit of clothing. The pockets, hems, seams, everything.”
“Shit, Bill, can’t we do this inside of the shed? At least we won’t be out here in the wind!”
“Nope. We’d be in too close quarters. I don’t wanna give him any advantage against us.” He looked at their prisoner who had not yet followed the order. Bill rammed his rifle butt into the man’s gut, knocking the wind out of him. “Damn it, I said strip you son of a bitch! Boys, help him.”
Illya lay gasping in the snow trying to get his lungs to fill with air. Ernie and Gene started pulling at his clothes before he could even breathe again. They grabbed his hat and over mittens yanking on the string that ran from one mitten up through the sleeve of his parka then down the other sleeve to the other mitten. When the mittens didn't come free one of the men drew his knife and sliced the string.
They forcibly pulled off his wind shirt and parka revealing his shoulder holster and Walther. Both were yanked off of his torso and Bill inspected them. “Well, I’ll be a …Boys what we have here is a genuine U.N.C.L.E agent.” He slammed his rifle butt down on Kuryakin’s chest. Without the outer clothing to provide padding, Illya yelled as the butt connected with his sternum. He glared at the man wielding the rifle.
“Get the rest of his clothes off. He’s liable to have all sorts of toys hidden.”
In short order, the Russian had been divested of the rest of his clothes. He was jerked to his bare feet and made to stand in snow up to his mid thighs shivering violently in the -30 degree temperature while his clothes were searched. Satisfied that they had found all of the devices hidden in the clothes they let him put on his long johns, trousers, and shirt before pushing him into the shed. His feet and legs, numb from standing in the deep snow for over fifteen minutes, barely supported him causing him to stumble and fall onto the rough floor boards.
Illya was lifted into a standing position and pushed up against a pole. His arms were pulled back and around the pole then roughly bound with baling wire.
Bill Townsend rifled through the agent’s wallet and found his ID card. “Boys, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Illya Kuryakin, one of UNCLE’s finest.” He walked up to Illya and grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head. “Why are you here, Kuryakin? How’d you know about us and where we were?”
Illya merely looked at him, refusing to answer. I do not have time for this, I need to get to Napoleon.
“Answer me!” When no answer was forthcoming Townsend drew back his right fist had punched the Russian in the face. Illya sagged from the impact.
Townsend grabbed another handful of blond hair and looked into the man’s swollen eyes. Kuryakin was unconscious. “Leave him here to chill out for awhile. Maybe he’ll feel more like talking after he spends some time freezing.” The three men left the shed and returned to the cabin. Illya was left alone, unconscious in the dark unheated shed.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Author's Note: There are some violent scenes and rough language in this chapter. THRUSH minions are such potty mouths!
Not long after the men left the supply shed, Kuryakin regained consciousness. He found himself sagging at the knees, his arms and wrists straining against the baling wire used to bind him to the pole. His breathing was labored, in part due to the position he was in, but he also figured he had a few bruised, possibly broken ribs.
Ignoring the discomfort, he lifted himself into a standing position. His limbs felt practically frozen. His teeth chattered a staccato rhythm as his body tried to keep itself warm. The shed provided little warmth.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness enabling him to make out the outlines of shelving. He remembered, when they first brought him into the shed, seeing glass jars and some wire cutters laying on a shelf near him. If only he could reach the wire cutters with his feet. He strained for what he figured was about an hour, trying different maneuvers to increase his reach. All he accomplished was aggravating his ribs and straining his arms. He held still to catch his breath and regain his strength. As he stood contemplating his next move he heard approaching footsteps crunching in the snow.
Gene unlocked the door to the shed and stepped in quickly to get out of the wind. He played the flashlight’s beam over the UNCLE agent and saw that the blond had not moved since they left. His head was down and bloody drool fell from the slack mouth. Gene grabbed a handful of hair forcing Kuryakin to look up. The right side of his face was sporting some serious bruising and the man’s eyes were half open and glazed.
“Hey, Kuryakin, ya ready to talk, yet?”
A moan escaped from Illya’s lips.
“What’s that Mr. UNCLE Man? I din’t quite hear ya.” He gave the blond head a rough shaking.
“I…said….it…will be…a…cold day…in…hell.” A hoarse whisper was all the captive seemed to be able to manage, partly due to the beating he had received and mostly due to his teeth chattering hard from the cold, Gene guessed.
“Fine by me. Boss said to see if ya’r ready, if not just leave ya here for a while longer. Makes no difference to me if ya freeze to death.” He punctuated the last sentence with a swift punch to the agent’s face. “See ya later, asshole.” Gene turned to leave. As he opened the door he heard whimpering and turned to look at Kuryakin.
“Puh…puh…please, I’m so c…c…col’ ” Kuryakin moaned. “Please…d…don’ leave me here. I…I canna take much more.” His voice was beginning to slur.
“Well, hell! I thought ya were made of tougher stuff,” Gene snickered. “Sorry, if ya'r not ready to talk, ya get to stay here. Those rangers will find your rottin’ body come spring. See ya.”
“No! I…I’m sorry, please, I…I promise I’ll answer your questions. Just let…let me warm up in the cabin first.” Kuryakin began to slide back down the pole to sag against the shed’s floor.
Gene gave the man a long hard look. “Okay, tough guy, I’ll take ya to the cabin. If ya try anything or decide not to answer or cough up the information I’ll personally hog tie ya and leave ya in the snow to freeze to death. The coyotes and ravens will have a hey day scavenging the flesh off of yer scrawny body. Do ya understand me?”
He reached down and grabbed the agent’s hair again and forced the man to make eye contact with him. “I said, ‘Do ya understand?’ ” Kuryakin nodded yes.
Gene grabbed the wire cutters, lifted the man up, and cut the wire that bound Kuryakin’s hands. Immediately, the UNCLE agent started to sag again.
“Get up!” Gene snarled.
“I can not,” Kuryakin gasped, “my…my legs are n…numb.”
Letting out a string of oaths, Gene grabbed Kuryakin’s left arm and put it around his own shoulder to support him. Kuryakin sagged heavily against him for three steps before exploding into action. Suddenly supporting his own weight he reached with both arms around the THRUSH agent’s head and snapped his neck. Gene fell soundlessly to the floor.
“I told you it would be a cold day in hell!” Kuryakin picked up the flashlight and let its beam play along the shelves where he found his confiscated items. As he pocketed his tools and weapons, he tried to quiet his chattering teeth. He quickly donned his outerwear and made his way to the cabin.
In the time that Illya had been captured and left in the shed, the predicted blizzard had made its way into the mountains. It had already snowed about six inches and showed no signs of letting up. The wind soughed through the branches of the aspen grove joining the heavy snow in muting other sounds of a cold winter night. The lantern light that shown through the single window of the cabin cast a soft light on the flakes as they fell.
Illya eased up to the window. There he was able to hear the voices of the two men inside the cabin.
Ernie, do you think Kuryakin’ll talk?”
“Not likely, but I don’t really care. He’ll be dead by morning and we’ll be outta here. The worst of the winter snows have yet to come. When they do, no one will come up here until next spring and we’ll be long gone. All those rangers’ll find is his skeleton and the wild critters will have scattered his bones all over the area. They’ll be lucky if they can even identify the remains.”
“What about the plane wreck? Do you think the NTSB * will be able to determine what happened?
“Nah, that’s the beauty of the laser, Bill. It didn’t burn anything or break anything. The bright narrow light beam simply blinded the pilot or pilots temporarily disorienting them. Plus, it has the added benefit of altering their state of mind making them totally confused and impossible to fly the plane. Then gravity takes over.” He chuckled viciously. “I guess you could call it a ‘gravity proving’ machine.
“It also doesn't hurt there were no survivors. There’ll be over ten more feet of snow covering the crash site by February. No one will find the stiffs until April, maybe as late as May. By then their bodies will have met the same fate as Kuryakin’s.
Illya gasped as he felt his chest tighten upon hearing the news that there were no survivors. Napoleon! He took a few deep breaths and gathered his thoughts. He couldn't dwell on Napoleon’s fate just yet. He had to take care of the laser gun and the two remaining THRUSH agents first. Staying under the window, he formulated a plan for his next move. He didn’t have long to wait.
“Bill, Gene should have been back by now. I want you to go get him. The sadistic bastard is probably having a little too much fun with Kuryakin.” Both laughed.
Illya heard the sound of a chair scraping the floor as it was pushed back and knew that one of the men would soon be coming around the corner from the porch. Taking advantage of the trail of snowshoe tracks between the cabin and outbuildings to hide his own tracks, Illya moved behind the cabin and waited.
As Bill trudged past the back corner of the cabin he kept his head down to protect his face from the sting of the wind driven snow giving Kuryakin a chance to jump him and knock him down. The UNCLE agent had his gloved hand jammed into the man’s mouth to keep him from yelling as they struggled. His other hand wrapped around the goon’s neck. So intent was Illya on keeping the man quiet and trying to choke him, he never saw Bill’s hand holding the semi-automatic pistol until too late.
In one quick desperate motion, Illya’s adversary brought the side-arm up to Illya’s temple and pulled the trigger.
Not taking the time to ponder on his good luck, Illya quickly dispatched the equally surprised THRUSH then dragged him behind the cabin and covered him up with snow. He walked over to where the struggle had taken place, picked up the pistol and examined it…and smiled. The bitter cold weather had been in his favor tonight. The slide on the pistol and the trigger were frozen. Illya surmised that the men had not wiped down their weapons upon entering the cabin causing condensation from the warm air to form on the cold metal. When the man he just killed came back out into the cold air the condensation flash froze rendering the pistol useless.
Napoleon, I think you passed your luck on to me! Thank you, my friend.
The Russian reached the porch and crept across the boards to the door. He opened the door and saw that the leader, and the last survivor of the threesome, was sitting in front of the large radio with the headphones on and with his back to the door. Illya crossed the room in three large steps and launched himself at his target.
Ernie, sitting with his back to the door, had just finished talking with his superiors on the radio. The hairs on the back of his neck raised as he felt a cold breath of air from the opened door. He turned just as Kuryakin launched himself into the air and landed on him. Ernie threw his arms up to repel the attack, but Kuryakin’s momentum knocked him out of the chair, both landing on the floor near the fireplace. The element of surprise was in the UNCLE agent’s favor enabling him to put Ernie into a headlock. However, the THRUSH agent grabbed a three inch thick branch from the wood pile, brought it up to bash in Kuryakin’s head. Illya saw it coming, and turned his head in time to avoid anything more than a glancing blow. It still hurt like hell.
Illya let the man go and sat back gasping for air. His ribs were not happy with the night’s activities and were protesting loudly. Ernie took the opportunity to swing the branch again, but this time he aimed at Kuryakin’s solar plexus and ribs, knocking him backwards and stunning him. Ernie then grabbed his parka and mittens and headed out the door. Slipping his snowshoes on without tightening down the straps, he ran for the helicopter.
Slowly, Illya got to his feet. He saw the man leave and guessed that Ernie would attempt to escape by flying out. There was no way that Illya could catch up with him. He spied a rifle, his rifle, leaning against the cabin wall by the table. He grabbed it and worked the bolt action. It seemed okay. He found a cloth on the counter and used it to quickly wipe down the moving parts of the weapon, hoped it would be enough and chambered a round. As he ran out the door he could hear the rotors on the ‘copter revving up.
Illya didn’t bother with wasting time with snowshoes. He turned the corner of the cabin and saw the ‘copter begin to lift off. He raised the rifle and took aim. The scope was worthless because the eye piece was fogged up with condensation. He looked below the scope rings and found the iron sights. His first shot struck the gas tank. Quickly, he worked the bolt and fired again. The weapon did not fail in the cold. The second shot hit the pilot. The helicopter spun crazily, tilted and hit the ground, but not before crashing into the shed that held the laser gun. A mushroom shaped column of fire and smoke, exacerbated by the explosives Illya had left on the roof of the shed, reached a hundred feet into the air. Illya watched as the aircraft and shed burned to the ground.
When he returned to the cabin, Illya pulled out his communicator and checked in.
“Open channel D, Kuryakin reporting.”
“Good evening, Mr. Kuryakin, Mr. Waverly here. What is the status of the mission?”
“Mission accomplished, Sir. However, it appears that they were in the process of moving out in the near future. I do not know if there will be more THRUSH coming to help.”
“Did you happen to learn anything from the THRUSH agents you dispatched about the disposition of the Mr. Solo’s plane?”
Illya swallowed hard and kept his voice emotionless. “Yes, Sir, I overheard them say they flew over the sight and there were no survivors. Mr. Solo is dead.”
“I was afraid that might be the case. I’m sorry, Mr. Kuryakin. However, I have an important assignment for which I need you.”
“Sir, I would like to take some personal time to hunt for the wreck and find Napoleon and bring him and the others home. I…”
“No, Mr. Kuryakin. You will not take any personal time…”
“Mr. Waverly, please, I need to…”
“Please give me the courtesy of not interrupting, young man! You will not take personal time. Your search will be on company time. It is imperative that Mr. Solo’s body be found. It turns out he was carrying the actual micro dot, not a decoy. We must get that information.
“I am sending a helicopter to you Mr. Kuryakin. They won’t be able to fly in until the weather breaks, sometime tomorrow morning according to the weather reports. In the mean time, get some rest. You’ll need it for the search.”
“Yes, sir. Kuryakin out.”
Illya closed his communicator. He slouched in the chair, his very being numbed by the conversation. Finally, he got up and searched the shelves for food. He had not eaten anything since the gorp he had eaten midday. He found a can of baked beans and jerky as well as a jug of water. When he had eaten enough to assuage his hunger pangs, Illya stoked the fire, and thinking about Napoleon, laid down to a tortured sleep.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Over night, bitter cold air and a thick blanket of snow settled on the crash site. Although the snowfall had abated, a brisk north wind kicked up the freshly fallen snow into a vicious ground blizzard creating a whiteout from the ground level to about four feet above. The windblown snow drifted against the crude shelter and cruelly snuffed out the fire.
Napoleon woke at dawn surprised to discover that he felt a bit warmer. As he became more alert he realized that there wasn’t any light showing through the branches that formed the shelter’s walls and that snow partially blocked the opening at the end. He flung the blankets aside and slowly moved his aching body to the exit, pushing the snow away from the opening as he moved forward. As he exited his shelter, Napoleon noticed that the fire had not only been extinguished by the snow, but also the fire pit and extra wood were buried below at least two feet of the white stuff.
Napoleon turned around to inspect the shelter and found that the reason no light was filtering through the branches was because the shelter was mostly buried by a snow drift. While he cursed the snow for dousing the fire, he realized that the snowdrift piled against his shelter had acted as insulation from the cold and wind. He shuffled his feet to plowed through the snow near the shelter as he looked for one of the pieces of scrap metal he had collected. Once he found it, he used it as a shovel and began to pile even more snow onto the shelter to finish the job that Mother Nature had begun. By the time he finished, the shelter was completely covered. As long as the temperature stayed well below freezing the shelter would provide better resistance to the cold and wind, effectively serving as an igloo or snow cave.
With one task accomplished Napoleon began recovering the firewood from under the snow and tried to start another fire. His frozen hands made it impossible to work the flint wheel of the cigarette lighter. With a cry of frustration, he put the lighter in his pocket and crawled back into the shelter to warm up. Huddling under the meager blankets, he inspected his hands. He could tell by the blanched skin and patches of waxy white skin on the tip of his fingers that they were frost nipped. He hoped that he wouldn’t find them turning black. He tucked his hands in the foam pieces and placed them under his armpits to warm them.
As he lay there trying to conserve energy, Napoleon thought back to his despair at the Old Man’s comment regarding using resources to rescue the two agents who didn’t carry the real microdot. He was embarrassed by his reaction and distressed that he let himself lose control of his emotions. Never mind that, Solo, you’ve got more important things to worry about! Pull yourself together. Yeah, I will, but I’m so tired. I need to sleep for just a little bit then I’ll try the fire again. The only survivor of the plane crash slowly closed his eyes and slept. He never heard the drone of a single engine plane flying overhead.
Illya Kuryakin slept little during the night. The wind whistled through the chinks between the logs driving the falling snow hard against the only window in the cabin. He thought of Napoleon, tortured by the thought of his friend’s body lying in the wrecked plane’s fuselage or out in the open buried by the snow. He prayed that Napoleon did not suffer and that his death was quick. He knew what it was like for people to freeze to death. He had lost many friends to such a hellish death during the war and later while participating in winter survival training in the Altai Mountains. Like Yellowstone National Park, the Altai Mountains were beautiful, but during the winter the weather could be a cruel master punishing the careless and weak.
By daylight the blizzard let up after dumping another two feet of snow.The skies cleared long enough to allow Illya to snowshoe back to the ridge where he had left his pulk. He didn’t know what supplies he would need at the crash site and felt it was important to have all that he brought with him as he traveled to the wreck. By the time he had retrieved the pulk and was halfway back to the cabin, a helicopter could be heard flying up the narrow valley. Illya hoped it wasn’t THRUSH as he was out in the open with no place to take cover. He was relieved to see the National Park logo on the side of the cockpit and waved a greeting as the ‘copter landed near the scorched skeleton of the THRUSH wreck.
The pilot left the engine running as he jumped out to help Illya with the pulk. “You must be Mr. Kuryakin,” he shouted above the sound of the engine.
“I’m Brian Wickencamp.” He jerked a thumb towards the crashed helicopter. “What happened here?”
“It is a long story. I will fill you in when we get aboard.”
“I’ve got orders to take you to a staging area in the Lamar Valley. Let’s get you loaded up and out of here before the blizzard kicks up again.”
They lashed the pulk to the skids of the helicopter and took off. Brian motioned for Illya to don the headphones and mic which allowed them to converse.
“Thank you for the lift!” Illya spoke. “Tell me, has the crash site been found?”
“No word, yet. We sent out a plane as soon as there was a break in the weather. We should know something soon. Mr. Kuryakin,” Brian paused, “I understand that your partner died in that crash. I’m sorry.”
Illya, his lips pressed tightly together, simply nodded and looked out the window. Napoleon, I am coming. I will not leave here until I have found you and bring you home.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
During the fifteen minutes it took to fly the NPS helicopter back to the staging area in the Lamar Valley, the snowfall returned with a vengeance causing nearly whiteout conditions. The ‘copter landed in the upper parking lot of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch joining another NPS ‘copter that had just shut down its engine.
Illya jumped down to the hard packed snow and walked over to the group of rangers standing on the edge of the landing zone. One of the men parted from the group bowing his head against the wind and the rotor wash and walked over to the UNCLE agent extending his gloved hand in greeting.
“Mr. Kuryakin, I’m glad to make your acquaintance, ‘though I wish it were under less grim circumstances. My name is Bob Murray. I’m the the one who is heading up the search and recovery operation.”
The word ‘recovery’ hit like a hard punch to Illya’s stomach, bringing home the reality that there would be no rescue. He carefully pushed back the emotions that threatened to surface and solemnly shook Murray’s hand.
“I understand that you had a rather exciting stay at our cabin east of Mount Washburn. Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am fine, thank you.” Illya was impatient to find out if Murray had any more information regarding the downed UNCLE jet. “Have your people heard anything yet?”
“No, Mr. Kuryakin, not yet. We’re still waiting for one search plane to report in. I’m afraid the snow storm has made it almost impossible for our searchers to see anything on the ground.” Murray helped Illya unlash his pulk and supplies from the helicopter’s skid. He looked into agent’s face and could see the man was bone weary.
“Look, I’m sure you must be tired and hungry. Let’s get you down to the bunkhouse where you can warm up and get something to eat. If anyone finds the site they will report in by radio.” He placed his hand on the UNCLE agent’s shoulder and gently guided him down the hill to the bunkhouse.
Illya nodded and let himself be steered in the right direction. His mind was numb with the surge of emotions and denial, and his body was in shut down mode as the activities and abuse from the THRUSH goons caught up with him. He was happy to let someone else take the lead, if just for a little while, until he could rest and regroup.
“Mr. Kuryakin.” Illya felt his shoulder being shaken. “Illya, wake up! They found the crash site!”
Illya snapped his head up from his folded arms instantly, he hadn’t even realized that he had fallen asleep until Bob Murray shook him awake.
“Did they find any signs of life?”
“No, I’m sorry, Illya.”
“Where did they find the crash site?”
“Actually, not too far from here. I’ve got a map on the wall in my office, I’ll show you.”
Bob turned on the light as they entered his small office. A large topographical map hung on the wall. The ranger showed the agent where they were and then moved his finger east and a bit south. “The pilot found the wreckage here.” He tapped the map. “These two peaks are Abiathar and Amphitheater which are located in the Absaroka (pronounced Ab-sohr-key) Mountain range. The wreck is beyond those peaks a few miles. If it weren’t for the blizzard you’d be able to see the peaks from here.”
Illya, already moving to the door, asked, “When can we leave?”
Murray grabbed Illya’s arm, “Hold on, nobody’s going anywhere anytime soon.”
Illya stopped and faced Murray. The agent’s glacial expression gave a hint of the turmoil and determination that drove him to take immediate action.
“Look, Illya, I understand why you feel the need to locate the site and bring back your friend. However, you certainly must realize that given the weather conditions, such a mission could cause the death of more men. I’m not prepared to take that chance with my people.”
For a moment, Illya said nothing, then softening his expression he said, “Bob, I understand, and I will not ask you to risk your team. But, you must understand that while I do indeed want to bring my partner’s body and those of the other two men down, there is an even more important mission that makes getting up there and back immediately, imperative.”
Frustrated, Bob asked, “What could be so important that you’re willing to risk your life when you could just wait for the weather to clear?”
“I am afraid that is classified, but suffice it to say that it involves a threat to global security and international stability if I fail. Bad weather or not, I will travel to the crash site, with or without your help.”
Bob stared at the Russian for a moment before shaking his head. “You, Illya, are one stubborn man!”
Illya smiled for the first time in days, “So I have been told.”
They stepped back into Bob’s office to discuss the best way to get Illya to the crash site.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
I tried to embed two photos in the story but have not managed to figure it out. If readers care to view them within the story feel free to check out my journal entries at LiveJournal under the name pactnmmt.
Within the hour Illya, Bob Murray, and two others were on their way by car to the northeast entrance to the park. Most of the roads throughout the park were unplowed, however the road from Gardiner, Montana, to Cooke City was always kept plowed as it was the only way the residents of the small town could travel for shopping during the winter. The car stopped at a pull out on the side of the road where it intersected with Silver Creek. The four men exited the car and began unloading Illya’s pulk and the supplies that were on the sled.
Illya grabbed his ski poles and bear paw style snowshoes and joined the other three men. They huddled over a map and reviewed the route. Bob Murray checked his watch. It was 10:00.
“Okay, Illya. I wish we could get you closer to the site but this is the best we can do. You’ll head south up Silver Crick. It’s only about four miles or so, but the area is heavily forested and you’ll climb about 1000 feet in elevation. I know that you are experienced with winter conditions but be careful. Any small misstep or mistake could be fatal. Are you sure you can’t wait until the weather breaks?”
“Thank you, Bob. Yes, I’m sure. There is one thing I want to make clear with you gentleman, if I should not return within the prescribed time and the weather is still bad do not, I repeat, do not endanger yourselves to come after me. Instead, I would appreciate it that you contact my office in New York. They will proceed with the mission.”
Illya looked each man in the eye to drive home how sincere he was regarding those instructions. Each man reluctantly agreed and shook hands with the UNCLE agent. Bob shook hands last.
“Good luck, Illya. Use the walkie talkie to contact us if you have any information, or need us to pick you up when the weather breaks. We’ll be waiting for your call.”
Illya nodded. Pulling his knit watch cap down over his ears, he stepped into his snowshoes, placed the rope harness over his shoulder and began to pick his way up stream. Bob and the others watched for a couple of minutes before the blowing snow completely shrouded the solitary figure making it impossible to see him.
I’m. So. Cold! Napoleon woke to find himself shivering uncontrollably. His teeth chattering so hard it was a wonder he didn’t break a few of them. Whatever warmth he had gained earlier in the day was lost now. The wind had shifted slightly and now blew directly into his shelter. Snow had drifted in around his head and shoulders.
Wearily, he shoved the snow out. Got… to start… a fire! His wooden fingers groped for the cigarette lighter he had stuffed into his pocket. Retrieving it,he knelt in front of the firewood and brushed the snow away from the tinder and kindling. He attempted to thumb the flint wheel, yet again he could not manage it. His hands were shaking uncontrollably and had no feeling. The fingers refused all attempts the brain made to command them. He could feel his body and mind deteriorating. He was dehydrated and hungry and found it hard to put words together to complete a coherent thought.
Discouraged and distressed, he crawled back into the shelter. He was sleepy and so very cold. Maybe…THRUSH will find… me and take me someplace…warm. Illya… His eyes closed and Napoleon Solo’s mind wouldn’t let him finish the thought regarding his partner.
Snowshoeing through five feet of unbroken snow was exhausting. Some of the windblown drifts were over ten feet deep. The snow shoes kept him close to the surface, but Illya still sank over a foot in the powdery snow. When he was moving he only thought about taking one step at a time, not falling over, and keeping his bearings - no easy task with less than fifty feet of visibility at times. However, when Illya stopped every quarter mile or so to catch his breath and rest his legs he let his mind dwell on what he would find once he arrived at the crash site. His heart ached over the loss of Napoleon. They often discussed over the years how dangerous their jobs were and that there were no guarantees that they would live long enough to retire from the field, but to actually face the fact that Napoleon was gone was difficult. He had always thought that his sixth sense would let him know if Napoleon had died and frankly was surprised that he had not yet felt that sixth sense.
With a sigh, Illya started forward. He would have to make better time if he was going to find the crash site by dark. He guessed that he had at least two more miles to go. He had already been traveling for two hours and it would be dark in another three. To complicate matters, the strenuous climb of 1000 feet was still ahead.
The forest was quiet. The snowfall muted most sounds. Most of the animals had hunkered down to wait out the storm. At one point, Illya saw movement off to his left. Worried that THRUSH may be near, he stopped to observe. A lone coyote had been walking on a ledge parallel to him. As he watched, Illya admired the rich thick tawny coat that enabled the creature to survive the harsh winter. She, too, must have been weary of the weather as she stopped not more than thirty feet from him and lay down, curling herself into a tight ball with her nose covered by her tail. She knew of the human’s presence but merely watched him with one eye as he moved on. Illya climbed another 500 feet over the next mile. The pulk’s rope tugged at his shoulders as it resisted being towed over and around dead falls and boulders. He considered leaving it at the base of a large spruce tree. It would certainly lighten his load and he would be able to cover the last bit of distance more easily. However, he needed those supplies, and if he found Napoleon he would use the sled to bring his friend back down to the road before taking him home.
About 500 yards farther, Illya stopped to catch his breath and check his bearings. As he looked up a slight incline he saw an unnatural line against the trees. He moved closer, straining his eyes against the falling darkness and the curtain of snow. Yes! There, ahead, was the skeleton of a small jet resting on its back. He let go of the pulk and with trepidation forced himself to approach the area. All that he saw were mounds of snow against trees and boulders. Not a soul was in sight. Just the burned out hull of the plane.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Many thanks to Sparky955 for her using her medical knowledge to beta this chapter!
Illya took deep breaths, working at stifling his emotions and remaining calm. Removing his snowshoes, he stepped up to the charred fuselage laying upside down in the snow and took stock of the damage. Both wings were sheared off, the tail section had separated from the cabin just aft of the rear door. He climbed over the exposed bulkhead and peered inside. The blackened interior reeked of burned fuel and chemicals released when the plastics and foam from the seats ignited. The cockpit windows were smashed, the instrument panel was completely destroyed. A large spruce bough had rammed through the side cockpit window on the copilot’s side. In spite of the horrific damage, Illya saw no corpses. Maybe they got out or were ejected.
Easing out of the plane, cautious of the sharp edges, Illya stepped back into his snowshoes. Darkness was showing itself early thanks to the heavy snow. He needed to set up camp quickly, then he could afford to take time to explore the area. He was torn as to which he should do first, but decided it was better to have camp set up . As before, he used his snowshoes to pack down the snow for his tent. Once he had it set up, he placed the foam sleeping pad and one of the sleeping bags inside. He fired up his camp stove and put on a pot of snow to melt.
The hour before, the snow seemed as if it was beginning to let up, however by the time Illya had the camp set up the snowfall was heavier. Even in the forest where the trees filtered the snow, visibility was less than twenty-five yards. Illya took a large spool of twine from the pulk then made sure the pulk was well covered with a tarp. He tied one end of the twine to the pole of his tent and played the spool out as he walked sans snowshoes about 30 yards from the camp to answer the call of nature. It wouldn’t due to get lost in a whiteout mere yards away from the security of his tent. Cutting the twine from the spool he tied off the other end to a snag. Now he could move back and forth using the twine as a guide in both the heavy snow conditions and in the dark.
Returning to the tent, Illya plowed through deep snow trying to stay in the tracks he made earlier. "Damn, should have left my snowshoes on." About ten yards from tent, his feet struck what felt like a log causing the Russian to fall. As he got up he placed his mittened hand on the log to gain leverage. He happened to look down and saw not bark from a fallen tree but clothing. His heart in his throat, Illya dug quickly to uncover a body. To his horror, he found the body was decapitated. As he uncovered more of the body he found that it was only in shirt sleeves and the limbs had been grotesquely broken. The trousers, boots, and socks were also missing. Hope surged as he realized that the only reason for the body to be in that condition with missing clothes was because somebody had survived. He knew the victim was not Napoleon because this body had a shirt with an embroidered logo with the words U.N.C.L.E. Pilots’ Association.
Knowing that at least one person survived the crash, Illya immediately retrieved his snowshoes. He walked over to the fuselage and tied another end of twine to the wreckage. Slowly, working back and forth he played the twine out at least fifty yards as he searched the area for more clues. After about forty minutes, he stopped and looked over the tracks he had made, he had covered about twenty-five yards around the plane. Nothing. He wondered how much was hidden under the snow.
Scanning the trees around him, Illya noticed an unusually shaped lump of snow approximately 100 feet away. As he made his way over to it, his hopes soared again as he recognized the lump for what it was. A shelter! Immediately, he tied off the twine and called out. “Napoleon?” He stood still and listened. “Napoleon?” He ran over to the shelter, dropped to his knees and began pulling frantically at the the tree boughs at one end. As he pulled the branches away he could see in the dim light a dark form of a man lying on his right side in a fetal position.
Illya reached forward to remove the blanket covering the man’s head. In the twilight of the evening he could see dark brunet hair and the telltale mole on the left cheek. Placing a hand on his friend’s left shoulder he gently shook Napoleon to see if he could elicit a response. Nothing. Fearfully, Illya checked the carotid artery…nothing. Desperately, Illya squeezed himself into the narrow shelter, opened the leather jacket and placed his ear against Napoleon’s chest. He kept listening for about thirty seconds, nothi…no wait! There it was, a heart beat immediately followed by a shallow movement of Napoleon’s chest. He was alive, barely, but alive nonetheless! “Napoleon, listen to me. I’m here. I will get you help, just stay with me, my friend. Stay with me,” he urged harshly.
Illya quickly closed Napoleon’s jacket and recovered his head. He pulled the walkie talkie the rangers had given him from an inside pocket of his down parka.
“Agent Kuryakin calling Lamar Ranger Station, come in, Bob. Over.” He lifted his finger from the call button. He was answered by static. Depressing the call button again he repeated, “Agent Kuryakin calling Lamar Ranger Station, Bob, do you read me? Over.” He lifted the walkie talkie away from his head and stared at it, willing a response to emanate from it. Nothing. Swearing, he raised it back to his lips. Before he could depress the call button for a third time, a tinny voice mixed with static answered.
“Lamar Ranger Station, Bob Murray here. Come in, Agent Kuryakin. Over.”
“Hello, Bob. I have arrived at the site. There is one fatality, one survivor, and one unaccounted for. The survivor is suffering from hypothermia and currently unresponsive. He needs to be med-evacced immediately. Over.”
“No can do, Illya. Weather has completely socked us in. It is supposed to clear by tomorrow morning. You’ll have to make do. Over.”
“Bob, I have had some training in such matters, but any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Over.”
“I’ve got someone here who was an army medic. Hang on. Over.”
Illya waited impatiently for the medic’s voice to come over the walkie talkie.
“This is John Harley. Mr. Kuryakin can you tell me the symptoms? Over.”
“Blue gray tinge to the skin, appears waxy. Very shallow and depressed respirations, extremely slow heartbeat and unresponsive. Over.”
“Is he shivering? Over”
“See if you can wake him up. If you can, don’t be surprised if he is combative or hallucinating. His speech will be slurred and he may not be coherent. Awake or not, you need to warm him up, but how you do it depends upon his condition. Can you get him to a warmer shelter? Over.”
“If he remains unresponsive, move him as little as possible but get him to the shelter, then call back. Over. Out.”
Illya pocketed the walkie talkie and turned his attention back to Napoleon. “Napoleon, wake up! Come on, Napoleon!” He reached down to lightly tap his partner’s face. He drew his hand back as if burned. Napoleon’s skin was cold.
Napoleon opened his eyes for a brief moment, looked about and saw Illya. He reached up with his foam covered hands to touch Illya’s cheek. “Hi, Angelique, what ‘r you doin’ he…here.” He promptly dropped his hand and fell back to sleep.
A blond eyebrow raised. “Trust you to hallucinate about that black widow. Hey, Napoleon, wake up! I didn’t come this far to have you die on me. Come on, my friend, we need to get you back to my tent.”
Illya left Napoleon long enough to get to the pulk, unload the supplies and cover them with an auxiliary tarp. He pulled three plastic quart-sized water bottles from his pack, filled them with warm water. After capping them tightly he threw them into the sleeping bag to warm it up. Illya grabbed a second sleeping bag and stuffed the first one into it. Making sure that the sleeping bags were closed tightly he fired up the Coleman lantern and set in on the tent floor to warm up the tent. Exiting the tent and closing the fasteners, he grabbed the rope harness on the pulk and pulled it back to the homemade shelter.
Carefully, and with as little jostling as possible he dragged Napoleon from the shelter and placed him on the pulk. He tucked a tarp in around the downed agent and pulled the pulk back to the tent, using the length of tied off twine and the glow of the lantern to guide him as it had become quite dark.
Illya placed Napoleon in the bag then began stripping the brunet’s clothes off. He put dry wool socks on his friend’s feet. A knit cap on his head and a scarf around his throat. Finally he placed dry woolen mittens over his friend’s hands. The Russian quickly shucked out of his own clothes, turned off the Coleman lantern and wiggled into the sleeping bag as well. He knew that skin against skin contact could help warm a hypothermic victim. But ye gads, Napoleon was cold! It wouldn’t surprise him if his own core temperature dropped a little.
He felt for the water bottles and placed two between their torsos and one pressed up against the scarf around Napoleon’s neck. The whole time Illya kept up a running monologue with Napoleon. As he zipped up the sleeping bags he muttered, “I hope our colleagues never hear about this, Napoleon. Just think of the rumors we would be hearing back at headquarters.”
He reached for the walkie talkie and called the ranger station.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
“All right, thank you, John. Over, out.” Illya turned off the walkie talkie and slipped it into the sleeping bag to keep the batteries warm and conserve their power. He turned towards Napoleon and embraced him tightly. Napoleon immediately moved even closer seeking the warmth radiating from Illya’s body and mumbled, “Cold! So damn cold,” before falling asleep again.
“Hang in there, my friend. I am afraid you are in for a long night.” He shifted his position putting Napoleon’s head under his arm trying to provide as much warmth as possible. “I will get you out of here, Napoleon. We will take you to the hospital and you can snuggle up to the nurses.” Illya closed his eyes. A great weariness settled over him. He planned to rest for a little while, but not long as he needed to keep a constant watch over Napoleon and tend to his needs.
A couple of hours later, Illya woke to feel deep tremors. In his twilight state, he mistook it for an earthquake. The park, a geologically active region, was known to have earthquakes. As he became fully aware, he realized that the the sources of the tremors came from Napoleon. The American’s body had warmed just enough that it was trying to compensate for the cold and regulate the core temperature by shivering.
Illya gently shook his friend trying to bring him to some level of awareness. “Napoleon. Napoleon, can you hear me?”
Brown eyes slowly opened. Napoleon became aware that someone was lying very close to him. He pulled back from the warm body next to him so he could get a better look. He took in the blond hair and blue eyes. A silly, lascivious grin threatened to commandeer his face. His hand reached up to the hair wondering why it was covered with an ugly knit cap. He opened his mouth to speak, his voice no more than a hoarse whisper. “Angeli…”
Illya interrupted him. “So help me, Napoleon, hallucinations or not, if you call me, Angelique, again, I will not hesitate to leave you here by yourself. You can make your own way back to civilization! It is I, Illya. Come on, Napoleon wake up. It is Illya!”
The look on Napoleon’s face was priceless. As awareness increased, the brunet recognized Illya. Startled at their closeness, and state of undress he tried to back away from his partner. “What the hell is going on?” he slurred.
“Easy, my friend. You have been ‘out of it’ as you call it for quite some time. Napoleon, you must hold still. You have a rather bad case of hypothermia. You cannot afford to move around too much. It could damage your heart.”
“Bullshit, I’m fine, just cold that’s all.” Napoleon moved to leave the sleeping bag in spite of the violent shivering and teeth chattering.
“No. You must stay still and stay in the warm bag.” Illya tried to talk sense into his friend. He knew that it was the hypothermia that was causing Napoleon to be agitated. He gently pushed his friend back down into the bag. The next thing he knew, the American agent took a swing at him and connected with his jaw. While there was not much strength in the blow, it hurt like hell anyway.
“Napoleon. Stop! It is Illya. Look at me.”
Napoleon stopped, confused. He looked more closely. “Illya? Illya? Oh shit, I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you?”
“No, I am fine. But please lie back and hold still.”
“Illya…I’m so cold.”
“I have just the thing for you. I have to warm it up. Will you stay in the sleeping bag?”
“Good, I will be right back.” Illya wrapped a blanket around himself, stepped into his boots and quickly exited the tent making sure the tent flap was closed securely. He rummaged around in the emergency kit and retrieved a small box that he had packed for cold weather emergencies. He brought it over to the campfire which still had a small pot of water heating. Carefully, he poured the contents into the water and stirred until everything had dissolved. Making sure the water was warm he poured the liquid into two camp mugs and carried them into the tent.
“Napoleon, are you still with me? I have something that will help warm you.”
Napoleon started to sit up, but Illya stopped him. “No, remember you must not move around. Here, let me help you.” Illya lifted his partner’s head and held a mug to his lips. Napoleon tasted the liquid tentatively. It was warm and very sweet. He tried to grab the mug and drink more quickly, but Illya forced him to slow down.
“Easy, my friend, the trick is to warm you up, not make you vomit by consuming this too rapidly.” Illya swallowed a bit of the liquid from his own mug. He grimaced as the liquid was way too sweet even for his palette and the flavor brought back too many memories of his days in medical.
“This is delicious, Illya! Is there more?”
“There is plenty.” Illya poured another mugful.
“What is it?”
“I am not so sure that I want to tell you, my friend. I am afraid you will never speak to me again.”
“No, Illya! This taste like the nectar of the gods! Really, what is it?”
Illya smiled, “ Hot Green Jello. When mixed with hot water and ingested it helps to warm you up and the glucose gives the body much needed energy.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Illya shook his head. “Best damned green Jello, I’ve ever tasted!”
Illya laughed, “I will be sure to tell the medical staff that you want it for every meal.” Illya hesitated. He was loath to bring up the subject, however if something happened to Napoleon during the night, Illya still needed to know the location of the microdot. “Napoleon, I am sorry to have to ask this, but do you still have the microdot? Mr. Waverly indicated it was not one of the fakes.”
His partner was beginning to drift off to sleep. Illya shook him and asked again.
“Under scar…back of left leg…near back of knee…” the mumbled words were barely audible.
Illya checked and the microdot was indeed there. Satisfied, he laid down next to his friend, pulled him in close for warmth and slept.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
This chapter is dedicated to the memory of Svetlanacat who always had an encouraging word and comment. The MFU fandom will miss you.
“Illya! Lookout, he’s got a gun!”
Instantly, Illya woke automatically grabbing for his pistol. However even in the pitch black of the tent he could tell that no one was trying to enter. He turned to Napoleon who in a highly agitated state was staring wide-eyed at the front of the tent.
The Russian gently pushed his friend down into the sleeping bag. “Easy Napoleon, no one is there.” This was the third time that his partner had awakened him because of hallucinations.
“Are you sure? I could’ve sworn I saw him.”
“Napoleon, there is nobody here. You are hallucinating. Try and go back to sleep.” Illya tried to keep his tone of voice light, not wanting to let his frustration show. How do you rationalize something to someone who is irrational? Fortunately, the little amount of energy Solo had expended exhausted him and he fell back to sleep.
Illya checked the luminous dial on his watch. 04:45. There was no point in going back to sleep. He grabbed the walkie talkie and checked in with the rangers.
“This is Agent Kuryakin calling Lamar Ranger Station. Come in, Bob. Over.”
“Hello, Illya. How did it go last night? Over.”
“As well as can be expected. Agent Solo is showing signs of slowly warming. He has had bouts of extreme agitation and hallucinations. He is sleeping now. What time should we expect the helicopter? Over.”
“The weather has cleared some. The pilot plans to take off at sunrise, 08:15. There will be medical personnel on board. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes to reach you. Over.”
“All right, Bob. We will be waiting. Over. Out.”
He tucked the walkie talkie back into the sleeping bag and began planning what needed to be done in the next three hours.
Illya stayed in the sleeping bag with Napoleon another hour or so. Normally, he would have started cleaning up camp and collecting supplies immediately after the last radio check in. However, he felt it was more important to share his body heat with his friend up until the last moment.
Finally, he gently shook Napoleon awake. “Napoleon, the helicopter will be here soon. We need to get you ready.” He began putting a shirt on his partner, but the American’s limbs were too cold to maneuver without causing a considerable amount of pain. Solo gasped, crying out, “My hands and feet, Illya! Oh God, they hurt so much! Please don’t touch them.”
“Here, let me take a look at them, Napoleon.” Slowly, carefully, Illya pulled off the wool mittens. He positioned himself so that his body blocked Napoleon’s view of his hands. If they were as badly damaged as he feared it wouldn’t do for Napoleon to see them. As the mittens came off, Illya saw that his friend’s blanched fingers had formed large white blisters. “Shit!” He checked Napoleon’s feet which were in the same shape, if not worse. He didn’t realize that he had spoken out loud.
“Illya?” Napoleon whispered. “Am I going to lose my fingers or toes?” The fear was palpable. “Illya?”
Illya shook his head vigorously. He turned to face the agent keeping his tone of voice light. “No, Napoleon! You will be fine. You will still be able to count to twenty when you have your gloves and shoes off.”
“Don’t let them amputate, Illya. Please, don’t let them!”
“Napoleon, I am going to bandage your hands and feet. It is important that you do not thrash about in order to avoid any more tissue damage. I want you to lie back and relax as much as possible, my friend.”
Immediately, Illya dressed and rummaged through his rucksack, looking for the few medical supplies he had. He found gauze pads, but no wraps. He thought about using the remnants of blankets from the crash, but he was worried about how clean they were and feared they might contaminate the damaged skin and cause an infection. Choosing the lesser of two evils, Kuryakin grabbed a couple of his turtlenecks, the gauze, and a pair of scissors and knelt beside his partner.
Carefully, Illya placed gauze pads between each of Napoleon’s fingers on both hands then wrapped each hand heavily with strips of cloth from his own shirts. Then he did the same for Napoleon’s feet. As he did so he tried hard to not be affected by the cries of pain. “I am sorry, my friend, but this has to be done.”
Finally finished, the Russian agent swaddled Napoleon in the two sleeping bags. By 08:00, Illya had managed to lift his partner, still cocooned in the bags, out of the tent and get him settled onto the pulk. He placed a piece of foam that he’d salvaged from the debris under Napoleon’s head then wrapped a canvas tarp around the man, lashing him to the pulk with rope.
Illya didn’t bother striking camp. The equipment would be retrieved when recovery crews came to retrieve the bodies of the pilot and copilot. Even if that meant waiting until late spring, it was more important to get Napoleon to civilization than worrying about some inconsequential camping gear.
The pulsating sound of an approaching helicopter drew Kuryakin’s attention. He couldn’t see the ‘copter but felt a great sense of relief knowing that Napoleon’s ordeal would soon be over. “Our ride is almost here, my friend. Just a little bit longer and before you know it you will be romancing the nurses at the hospital.” He wasn’t surprised when Napoleon didn’t answer.
The sound of the approaching helicopter faded until Illya could no longer hear it. A few minutes later the walkie talkie crackled to life. “Agent Kuryakin, this is Brian Wickencamp. Over.”
“Kuryakin here, Brian. Glad to hear your voice. Are you ready to pick us up? Over.”
“We have a slight change of plans, Sir. The forest is too dense to land. There is a small clearing about a half mile as the crow flies to the southwest. Over.
Illya pulled out his topographic map and check the coordinates. “Yes, I see it on the map, although it looks as there might be some obstacles. Over.”
“Roger, that. There is a bluff that you’ll have to circumnavigate, but it shouldn’t be too bad. When we land we’ll send somebody up your direction to help. Over.”
“Okay, I am heading out now. Over. Out.”
Illya was not happy about the circumstances as he was anxious to get Napoleon out of the woods and on his way to a medical facility as soon as possible. However, there was nothing to be done so he stepped into his snowshoes, slung the rope to the pulk over his shoulder, and began the tedious task of breaking a trail through the deep snow in a southwesterly direction.
Steadily, the Russian UNCLE agent made his way through the snow drifts. There wasn’t just the matter of working his way around the bluff, but he also had to contend with a large amount of deadfall that made it impossible to travel in a straight line. There had been a wildfire through the area several years before and now the forest floor was littered with dead trees that had fallen in a jumble like match sticks dumped out of a box.
Illya stopped at the top of a small ridge to catch his breath and check on Napoleon. The brunet’s eyes were closed and he appeared to be unaware of the activities of the last half hour.
Looking through his binoculars, Illya could just make out the clearing beyond a thick stand of lodgepole pines and he could see the shape of the cockpit of the helicopter. He raised the walkie talkie to his mouth.
“Agent Kuryakin to Brian. I can see the clearing and the helicopter below us. Over.”
There was a long pause before the pilot responded. “Mr. Kuryakin, say again please. Over.”
“I said I can see the clearing and where you have landed the helicopter. Over.”
Another long pause. “Uh…we haven’t landed yet. Ov…”
The loud report of a high powered rifle shattered the silence of the forest. Snow kicked up at Illya’s feet as he dove behind a rock. Unfortunately, as he scrambled for cover, he brushed against the pulk causing it to begin to slide downhill. He watched in horror as the pulk carrying an immobilized Solo gained momentum and headed towards a ledge with a twenty foot drop off.
Illya left the cover of the boulder at a run and pounced on the rope trailing behind the pulk stopping the sled before it got to the ledge. Desparately, he pulled at the sled to get Napoleon behind some cover. As he gave the sled one last tug a searing pain raced across his chest before his brain ever registered the sound of the shot. The last thing Illya saw was the flurry of feathers from his down parka floating down on his face before his world went black.
Chapter 17: Chapter17
A twilight awareness. Noises sounding as if they were produced in an echo chamber then cast out through a cotton swathed fog. Gunshots. Shouts. Urgent voices ordering, Get these two on board now! Through slitted eyes that refused to open completely, Illya saw shadows of men bending close to him. He tried to turn his head. Where is Napoleon? His body, now weightless, floated! His eyelids surrendered, closing as he succumbed to the blackness again.
Hushed voices. Soft shoes squeaking on linoleum. Antiseptic smells. Hospital! Even with his eyes closed, Illya Kuryakin could see through his eyelids alternating lights and shadows as his gurney was wheeled through the corridor passing under florescent lights separated by ceiling panels. Not THRUSH, he thought. They would not bother with such sophisticated treatment.
He turned his head to see another gurney, covered heavily in blankets. He recognized the chin which appeared to be the only uncovered section of his partner’s body. Both gurneys passed through a set of double doors and each taken to a curtained off section.
Illya could hear the doctors and orderlies next door working on Napoleon. “Get an esophageal temp probe down him, stat!” An authoritative voice barked. “We need to record his core temperature. Blood pressure? Pulse?Respiration? Somebody cut those filthy bandages off of his hands and feet, carefully, mind you. We don’t want to cause any more tissue damage than there may be.”
“Doctor, core temperature is 93 degrees. The crew that brought him in reported a core temperature of 91 degrees rectally.”
“Sounds like he’s warming up, however that could be just the differences in temperature probe location. I want him on a warm water mattress immediately!”
“What about pain medication, Doctor? His hands and feet are going to hurt like hell once he’s awake and aware enough!”
“None, until his respiration is closer to normal. We don’t want to suppress his respiratory system. Rob, keep a close watch on the heart monitor! His cardiovascular system is rather fragile right now.”
Illya listened intently to the voices next door, his concentration so great that he failed to notice the doctor who came in to examine him. His mind barely registered that someone was taking scissors to his parka and various layers that lay beneath. He startled at the tap on his shoulder. He glanced up to see iridescent green eyes looking down.
“Hello, Mr. Kuryakin. I’m Dr. Margie Ridenour. I’ll be examining you. This is Nurse Riley. She’ll be assisting me.”
Illya tried to sit up. “Doctor, I am fine. Please, how is my partner, Mr. Solo, doing?”
Dr. Ridenour kept a gentle steady pressure on Illya’s shoulder restraining him so he couldn’t sit up. “Dr. Granger is doing everything he can to help your friend, Mr. Kuryakin. Meanwhile, why don’t you sit back and relax.”
The Russian hissed as he felt gloved hands probing his chest. He looked down to see an angry red, bloody gash that reached from near his left arm pit, across his pectorals, and ending just below his rib cage on his right side.
“You're a very lucky young man, Mr. Kuryakin! The bullet only grazed you. It is going to hurt like hell and we’ll need to stitch you up, but the bullet never entered your body cavity. You might have a doozie of a scar, however judging from other scars I see I guess you’re no stranger to this type of wound.
“Now let me look at your head. Miss Riley would you please assist Mr. Kuryakin in turning onto his left side.”
“My head? I do not recall injuring my head.” Though it would certainly explain my roaring headache.
“Well, according to the crew that brought you in, you apparently hit your head hard on a boulder when you were shot.” Dr. Ridenour probed the right side of the agent’s head.
“Aahhh!” Illya drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I bet that smarts, though maybe not as much as the bullet wound,” the doctor smiled just a bit.
“Doctor, you have a grand gift of understatement!” Illya replied drolly.
Dr. Ridenour smiled, “So I’ve been told. Nevertheless, the prognosis is that barring any unusual circumstances, you’ll live. Before sending you up to your room I will send you to radiology where they will take some pictures of your head to see if there is any damage caused by that fall on the boulder. However, first I’ll give you a local anesthetic so we can stitch you up, then after the x-rays we’ll keep you overnight to watch for infection and signs of a concussion. ”
“Thank you, Doctor. I have one request. I would appreciate it if Mr. Solo and I could be assigned to the same room.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Miss Riley, would you please prepare Mr. Kuryakin for stitching up?”
In the next bed, Dr. Granger had his hands full. He needed to warm his patient quickly without creating a strain on his heart. His respiration rate was lower than normal. “Okay, folks, let’s get a warming blanket on him. I want him on warmed oxygen . If those methods don’t work be prepared to take him over to the OR to perform a peritoneal lavage. “Once his core temperature has risen enough and his vitals have some semblance of being normal we’ll deal with the trauma to his hands and feet. Meanwhile, let’s rebandage them and we’ll…”
Dr. Granger’s voice faded as Illya was wheeled to an elevator and taken up to his assigned room on the fourth floor.