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psychiatrist's office


Mind Games

 
Illya stepped quietly into the darkened room. His eyes, as they became accustomed to the change in the light, took in the richly carved desk in the far corner, the faded photograph of a young man in a burnoose prominently displayed upon its gleaming surface. An oriental vase filled with yellow asters stood guard beside the photograph. A phalanx of bookshelves lined one wall, and an antique persian rug in sun-bleached shades of red and blue brought a wash of color to the dimly lit room. Joshegan, Illya recalled idly. Snowflake pattern.

Please, Mr. Kuryakin.” Dr. Neville gestured toward the couch, a tufted monstrosity in dark green velvet that would have been at home in any Victorian drawing room. “Have a seat.”

Reluctantly, Illya took his place on the couch, pushing aside a pair of antique kilim pillows in the traditional Kazak style. “I wondered when you would get around to me,” he said.

The doctor smiled. “You know we have to do this. It's protocol. Besides, you can see how the sessions have helped Mr. Solo.”

“Yes, and I am grateful. However, Napoleon's situation was different.”

“How so?”

“He was suffering from acute mental trauma. He needed your services. I do not.”

“Mmm hmm.” The doctor made a notation on the pad balanced discreetly upon his lap. “I understand that you suffered some pretty harsh treatment at the hands of your THRUSH interrogators. Most people would call that traumatic.”

Illya shrugged. “Enforcement agents are trained to endure occasional abuse. It is part of the job description.”
“Nevertheless, might it not have left a scar or two upon your psyche?”

“I am fine, Doctor. More than fine. Ask your esteemed colleagues in Medical. I have been poked, prodded, x-rayed, and drained of several liters of perfectly good blood. They have certified me fit to return to duty.”

“Light duty,” the doctor corrected.

Illya waved the distinction away. “The point is, they have declared me fit.”

“Physically. Your emotional health is something else entirely.”

Illya's smile was cool. “Do I seem unhealthy to you, Doctor? Neurotic? Psychotic? Schizophrenic? Delusional, perhaps?”

“Not at all.”

“Then you can testify truthfully as to my emotional fitness. We are done here.” He sat up, wincing at the dull echo of pain radiating across his lower back. He suppressed a groan.

“I'm afraid not, Mr. Kuryakin.” Dr. Neville looked up from his notepad, which was already covered with a half-page of illegible scrawls. “Waverly's standing orders are for all Section Two agents to undergo psychiatric evaluation in the event that they are captured. If you wish to return to active duty anytime soon, this is the gauntlet you must run.”

“But there's nothing wrong with me,” he insisted a bit petulantly. He felt a headache coming on.

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

Illya studied the man -- the patient smile, the determined set of his jaw, the resolution in his unyielding grey eyes. No leeway there. “Very well,” he replied, allowing his irritation to show. “Let us run your gauntlet, if we must. But quickly. I have a great deal of work to do, and several delicate experiments requiring my attention.”

“I understand, Mr. Kuryakin. Just lie back and relax.”

Illya stretched his lean body out upon the couch, feeling its velvet softness embrace him. He stuffed one of the pillows behind his head and closed his eyes, willing his aching muscles to unclench. In the silent darkness, his senses identified the faint aroma of the doctor's aftershave -- Aqua Velva, he thought absently -- and something else. After a moment, he had it -- lemon oil, no doubt used to polish the Honduras mahogany desk in the corner, or the bookshelves, with their orderly collection of well-worn volumes and antique bronzes.

“Now then, Mr. Kuryakin, why don't you begin by telling me about your last assignment?"

“What do you want to know?”

“Start at the beginning. Just tell the story in your own way.”

“Well --” He thought back. “We were ordered to attend an international banking symposium in Luxembourg -- you understand, Doctor, that there will be details I cannot share.”

“Classified. Yes, I understand. Please go on.”

“My assignment was to retrieve the new THRUSH code book from a vault in a locked room on the fourth floor of the Kirchberg Conference Centre. I was to photograph the book, and then replace it without anyone being the wiser.”

“You're good at that sort of work, aren't you?”

“Very.”

Illya heard the scratch of the pen as the doctor made another note on his pad. “And what was Mr. Solo's assignment?”

“As team leader, Napoleon's responsibility was twofold. He was to pose as a Swiss banker attending the conference, a role he has played to perfection in the past. In that guise, he was to set up an 'accidental' encounter with the Countess Louisa Marguerite Baaden-Osterreich. The Countess had recently been seen in the company of several high level THRUSH officials, and it was thought that THRUSH might be trying to recruit her in order to gain access to her tremendous wealth. Napoleon's job was to wine and dine her, and to find out what she knew about the unsavory characters with whom she was associating.”

Again, the sound of writing. A page turned. “And after that?”

“Pardon?”

“You mentioned a second part to Mr. Solo's assignment?”

Illya frowned. “Oh, yes. Napoleon was to see the lady back to her hotel, and then return to the Conference Centre. Once there, he was to create a distraction that would allow me to disappear for long enough to complete my portion of the mission.”

“I see. And did he?”

“Did he what?”

“Create the necessary distraction?”

Illya's body shifted on the couch. “Eventually.” Bozhe moi, how his head hurt.

“Eventually? You mean he was late?”

Illya hesitated. “Yes.”

“And was this typical of Mr. Solo? Arriving late?”

“Not at all. Napoleon knows the value of punctuality in our profession. Plans have to be synchronized to the second. Otherwise, they would fail.”

“Like yours.”

Illya said nothing.

“Why do you suppose he was late this time?”

The throbbing in his head became a pounding. “Didn't Napoleon tell you?”

“Yes, but I'd like to hear it from you.”

Illya sighed. “If you insist.” His throat felt raw; perhaps he was coming down with something. “Napoleon was -- somewhat delayed in getting back to the Conference Centre. He fell asleep.”

“I see.” The doctor made another notation on his pad.

“No, you don't.” Illya's hands clutched the velvet arms of the couch, crushing the nap. “Napoleon bears no responsibility for what happened to me. It was my fault. I failed to notice the extra motion sensor on the window. I am to blame for the failure of our mission.”

“And your failure to escape -- was that your fault, too?”

“Entirely.”

“Mr. Solo's behavior played no part in your capture, and subsequent torture?”

“None whatsoever. I already told you that.”

“Yet he failed to complete his assignment. Failed to distract the guards inside the lobby, denying you sufficient time to complete your mission.”

Silence.

“Mr. Kuryakin?”

“It doesn't matter. They already knew I was in the vault. I would have been captured, regardless of what Napoleon did.” Illya's heart was racing, his breath, shallow. His body was drenched in sweat. He felt like throwing up. “Are we done?”

Dr. Neville glanced down at his notepad. “Just a few more questions.”

Every bone in Illya's body ached. His muscles were on fire. His head felt as though it would explode. For a moment, he considered getting up and storming out, leaving the doctor to his obscure journals, his irrelevant diagnoses. He tried to sit up but found that he lacked the strength even to raise his head. Bozhe moi, what is wrong with me?

The doctor turned a page in his notebook. “Now, Mr. Kuryakin, perhaps you can clear something up for me. Frankly, it's been bothering me for awhile now. You see, I have heard Mr. Solo's version of events -- that he fell asleep, but doesn't know how it happened, and was therefore unable to distract the guards.”

“It is not a 'version,' Doctor. It is the truth. It's what happened.”

“A highly trained agent like Mr. Solo falling asleep on the job? Does that seem likely to you?”

“If Napoleon says that is what happened, I have no reason to question it.”

“But why was he so tired, Mr. Kuryakin? Busy social life? Burning the midnight oil?”

“How should I know?” Tendrils of pain slashed across his arms, his legs, his chest. The reek of Aqua Velva filled his nostrils. Or was it battery acid? He choked back a cough.

“You're his partner, aren't you? Don't partners usually know those sorts of things?”

“Not always.”

“I see. “Another page turned. “Tell me, Mr. Kuryakin, was the mission unusually demanding?”

“Why are you asking me all these questions? Is Napoleon in trouble?”

“Please answer the question.”

“Because, if he is --”

“Why was Mr. Solo so tired? Why that night of all nights, when proper timing was so vital?”

“Ask him if it's so important! Leave me alone. My head hurts.”

“So very, very tired that he could not even complete his mission? So tired that he forgot his assignment, and went to sleep, and left you at the mercy of THRUSH?”

“No, that's not --”

“Left you to be captured. Interrogated. Tortured.”

“Please -- ”

“Left you to die, while he --?”

“-- while he fucked the goddamned Countess of Baaden-Osterreich! Is that what you want me to say? That he was having so much fun fucking the prokl'atyj Countess that he lost track of the time? Fine! Are you satisfied, you goddamned bastard? He lost track of the time! Bespechnyj ubl'udok! Glupyj! Damn him! Damn him!”

The tears came then. Illya's body shook with them, shook with the release of them. “He was supposed to have my back,” he whispered. “He always has my back.” He shivered, suddenly freezing cold, bereft, betrayed, his body flayed and boneless, stripped of everything that mattered. “I couldn't believe it when he didn't come. I thought something had happened to him. I -- I was afraid he had been killed. And all the time, he was --” He buried his face in his hands.

The silence lengthened, broken only by the sound of the air conditioner whirring hypnotically above them, and the sound of Illya quietly sobbing.

“Mr. Solo was drugged.”

Illya's head came up. He looked dazed. “What?”

“Your partner was drugged, Illya.” The doctor's eyes were kind, his voice, a soothing balm. “Napoleon didn't forget about you. He didn't lose track of the time. He was unconscious.”

Illya took a deep breath, feeling the world right itself. Drugged. Napoleon was drugged. For the first time in days, something made sense. “The Countess?”

The doctor nodded.

Another breath. “How?”

“In his scotch. A new and extremely potent form of gamma hydroxybutyrate -- odorless, colorless, tasteless. Depresses the central nervous system and inhibits the production of adrenaline, while stimulating excessive dopamine production in the hypothalamus. The result is a mild sense of euphoria and a general lowering of inhibitions. The patient falls asleep within minutes.”

“So she was working for THRUSH.”

Dr. Neville nodded. “According to Mr. Waverly, she had been in the employ of THRUSH since last winter. She recognized Mr. Solo at the symposium, and decided to up her cachet with the organization by delivering him to their doorstep. Unfortunately for her, she got the dosage wrong, and Mr. Solo woke up before THRUSH's cleanup crew arrived to collect him. To say they were not pleased would be an understatement. They decided that, having obtained full access to the Countess' fortune, they had no further use for her. Tragically, her private jet went down over the Mediterranean on its way to the South of France.”

“Too bad,” Illya remarked without a shred of sympathy. “But why didn't Medical pick up traces of the drug in Napoleon's system?”

“They did, once they knew what to look for. When he came in after the failed mission, he was tested for a variety of substances but, as this particular version of the drug was new, our doctors didn't know to check for it. You have to remember, Mr. Solo had no idea that he'd been drugged. With some of these new GHB variants, there's no hangover, no withdrawal, just a touch of amnesia, and vague memories of some sexual disinhibition. Mr. Solo really believed that it was his hedonistic nature that put your life in danger.”

“Apparently I thought so, too.” Illya ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. “But I don't understand, Doctor, why couldn't you just tell me the truth? Why resort to all these histrionics?”

“Because merely telling you the truth wouldn't have helped you to heal. You had to disconnect the pain you suffered from the lies you were told.” Dr. Neville set his notepad aside. “Please understand, Mr. Kuryakin, you were tortured for hours -- physically, psychologically, chemically. Your body and your mind were put under unimaginable stress. In those terrible hours of suffering when help failed to arrive, and under the influence of the drugs they gave you, your mind became convinced of certain things that weren't true. It tormented you with assumptions and doubts -- even doubts about the people you hold most dear. The people you love.”

Illya glanced up, wondering at the doctor's choice of words.

“Those feelings of doubt remained locked in your body, even after Napoleon came to your rescue. Eventually, they became too shameful to look at, so you buried them deep in your unconscious mind and forgot about them. We had to bring those doubts and assumptions back to the surface of your mind -- back to consciousness -- and look at them in the light of day, so that they could be exposed for the lies that they are.”

The doctor switched on a small lamp, flooding the room with light. After the long darkness, the contrast felt as bright as the sun. The colors of the Joshegan sang out vibrantly. “There now, that's better. Tell me, Mr. Kuryakin, how are you feeling?”

Illya flexed his shoulders tentatively, twisted his torso, arched his back. “The pain,” he remarked in surprise, “ -- it's gone.”

“Pain is the body telling the soul to look for a deeper answer. When the message is understood, the pain oftentimes becomes unnecessary.”

“Not exactly a traditional approach to medical diagnostics, Doctor.”

He smiled. “I've always maintained that life is more interesting on the fringe.” He glanced at his watch. “I think we're finished here. Go and find your partner, Mr. Kuryakin. I suspect the two of you have a great deal to talk about.”

Illya stood on shaky legs. He was reminded of a foal taking its first, tentative steps into a new world. “Thank you, Doctor. For everything.”

“My pleasure.”

He paused, one hand on the doorknob, experiencing an instant of startling, unexpected clarity. There was no evidence to support it, nothing to corroborate what his gut was telling him, but -- “You were an Enforcement Agent,” Illya declared with perfect certainty. “You were Section Two.”

Dr. Neville's smile never faltered. He turned his wheelchair back toward the desk, his eyes upon the photograph, and the vase of yellow asters. “Go,” he said. “Your partner is waiting for you.”
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