Apologies for the repost. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the original version of Mayday! so I've revised it by adding a concluding scene that, I hope, makes it feel more complete.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is Alpha Tango Foxtrot one-one-four.” Napoleon's voice, steady and professional, filled the Communications room of UNCLE's New Delhi HQ. “Losing altitude. Repeat, losing altitude. I am southwest of Ceylon -- bearing six degrees, three minutes North by seventy-seven degrees, forty-five minutes East. Airspeed is dropping; attempting to troubleshoot the problem, but --” A burst of static drowned out the last part.
“Blast!” Waverly tapped his briar pipe against the communications console in frustration. A dusting of ash fell, unnoticed, upon the sleek chrome counter. “Mr. Solo should know better than to broadcast his position on the public airwaves. Now every THRUSH agent within a hundred miles will be on his scent.”
“Perhaps his communicator was lost or damaged during the mission,” Illya replied tersely. His hands were balled into fists, his knuckles white with tension.
“Mayday! Mayday! Repeating, this is Alpha Tango Foxtrot one-one-four. I am losing altitude --”
“We read you, Alpha Tango Foxtrot,” a tinny, British-accented voice replied. “This is the control tower at Ratmalana. Can you boost your gain? You're breaking up.”
“-- unexplained power loss,” Napoleon's voice went on, unhearing. “I'm leaking fuel, and my vertical stabilizer is out. I'm having trouble controlling the pitch.”
“He cannot hear them,” Illya sighed.
No, Mr. Kuryakin, it appears not. A malfunction?”
“Sabotage. Too many unrelated systems are failing.” He turned to the Communications technician. “Miss Prajapati, is there any way to contact Napoleon from our end?”
She shook her head, looking for all the world as though she might cry. “I'm sorry, sir. The distance is simply too great. We can monitor radio communications via the skip wave, but we can't transmit.”
Mr. Waverly patted the young woman's shoulder. “There, there, Miss Prajapati. Mr. Solo is a good pilot. If anyone can bring the aircraft down safely, he can.”
“Mayday! Mayday! This is Alpha Tango Foxtrot one-one-four. Can anybody hear me? Bearing six degrees, fourteen minutes North by seventy-seven degrees, eighty-two minutes East. Engine stalled, losing altitude. Attempts to restart have failed.” A sigh of resignation. “Looks like my feet are about to get wet, fellas. If anybody's listening, I could use a little help about now.”
Illya studied the map. “According to his coordinates, he's over the Laccadive Sea, heading for the coast of Ceylon.”
For the first time, Waverly looked worried. “Will he make it?”
Illya hesitated, and shook his head.
“-- four minutes East. Total systems failure. Repeat, all systems out. The gauges are going haywire -- smoke in the -- jump, but someone -- to have -- with all the parachutes.” A cough. “ -- oh shit, the Jesus -- just broke off.”
Illya paled. “Nyet,” he whispered.
“What is it, Mr. Kuryakin?”
“The propeller is separating from the fuselage. The aircraft is breaking apart.”
Waverly leaned forward, clutching the stem of his pipe in an iron grip.
“Mayday Mayday Mayday! This is -- !”
Waverly stared at his pipe, the stem snapped neatly in two. He sighed, and thrust it aside. “Miss Prajapati, please notify Mr. Samoy that we will need rescue and recovery teams in the field to search for a missing plane.”
She nodded, and turned to her console.
“Sir,” Illya declared with quiet urgency, “permission to --”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Kuryakin. By all means, go with them. Do whatever is necessary to locate Mr. Solo.” Waverly sighed. “THRUSH has managed to take out three of our best agents this month alone. I should dearly hate to lose another one.” He glanced up. “Mr. Kuryakin?”
But Illya was already gone.
The first thing Napoleon noticed was the water -- warm and very salty -- and the fact that he was floating in it. How did I get here? he wondered groggily. An image flashed into his brain of a plane plummeting to earth; of smoke and flame and a terrible wave of water that engulfed everything. Despite the heat of the day, he shivered.
Treading water, he turned his body in a slow circle, taking stock of his surroundings. Daylight. The scattered wreckage of an aircraft. The iridescent sheen of spilled fuel. And ocean, miles and miles of it. Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. Thirsty.
It was coming back to him now: the plane screaming as it tumbled out of the sky, the shriek of tearing metal as it fell to pieces around him. His mind supplied the word. Sabotage. THRUSH had tried to take him out!
Everything hurt. His flesh was scraped raw in places, and dark bruises were already swelling on his chest and abdomen where the seatbelt had dug in. His clothes hung around him in tatters; his shoes and socks were gone.
But they hadn't gotten him. Despite THRUSH's best efforts, he'd survived. Napoleon sucked in a lungful of delicious, life-affirming oxygen, feeling immensely grateful for his good fortune. Something popped deep inside, and he cried out as his chest flared in agony. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. Christ, I must've broken a rib.
He shook his head to clear it, and gasped at the stabbing pain the simple movement produced. His stomach clenched, and expelled its contents, causing his abused ribs to protest once more. His vision blurred.
Another wave of agony hit, and the horizon pitched alarmingly. Spots danced before his eyes, filling his vision like tiny drops of black rain. Bile rose in his throat. Wracked with pain and dizzy with fatigue, he sank back into the warm, clear water. His eyes drifted shut.
A school of parrot fish swam by, slicing through the turquoise water in perfect unison. A single fish detached itself from the school to investigate the strange new object in its realm. It nibbled curiously upon the fingers of Napoleon's left hand, perhaps attracted by the bright blue ring he wore. He opened his eyes to stare at it. The fish swam around him -- once, twice, three times -- before abruptly darting away to rejoin its school.
Napoleon turned to follow its progress, and his ribs exploded in pain. He doubled over, gasping for breath, his belly churning and heaving. His rational mind, nudged awake by this fresh jolt of agony, recognized the seriousness of his plight. Get out of the water, he told himself. Now.
With a superhuman effort, Napoleon dragged his battered body onto the fuselage, and passed out.
Illya strapped himself into the cockpit of the Hughes 300 helicopter, watching as his co-pilot, a man named Fitzroy, ran through the pre-flight checklist. He activated his communicator. “Open Channel W, scramble.”
“Waverly here.” The Old Man's voice was brisk and to the point. “What have you to report, Mr. Kuryakin?”
“I am at Ratmalana Airport. The first of the Search & Rescue teams has just returned for refueling. No luck finding the missing plane so far.”
“What about the aircraft's homing beacon?”
“It failed to broadcast. More sabotage, I would wager. We still have about two hours of daylight left in which to search, so there is a chance we may find Napoleon before nightfall. After that --” Illya barricaded his mind against the terrible image that seared itself, unbidden, into his brain.
“Understood.” The Old Man's voice softened unexpectedly. “Carry on, Mr. Kuryakin. Waverly, out.”
Illya replaced the cap on his communicator, and turned to find Fitzroy staring at him. “Is there a problem?”
The co-pilot hesitated. “It's just that -- well, it's an awfully big ocean out there, sir. And it'll be dark soon. Do you really think we can find Mr. Solo before -- you know --”
“I do not think,” he replied, scowling the man into silence. “I know.” He toggled the cyclic, and the helicopter lifted into the air. It hovered momentarily before speeding away toward the coast.
Napoleon woke to the sensation of water lapping against his face. He rubbed his eyes, wondering how long he'd been out. Hours, he supposed. Long enough for his clothing to dry, at any rate. The sun, huge and round, was already dipping below the horizon, painting the sky in vivid shades of orange and gold.
He lay still for a few moments, cataloging his injuries. His head felt clearer, but his neck still throbbed with pain, and any sudden movement caused his ribs to scream in protest, stealing his breath away.
The mission was supposed to be a milk run, a standard exchange-of-information gambit, and yet somehow, it had all gone wrong. THRUSH had been there, waiting to take him out. He'd escaped amid a blaze of gunfire, counting himself lucky to make it to the plane alive. Only he hadn't escaped at all, had he? THRUSH had planned ahead.
He sat up, and the fuselage shifted without warning. Water flowed in, lapping at his pants leg. A quick examination of the situation confirmed his worst fear -- the plane, what was left of it, was sinking. Soon it would be completely submerged. Not good. Night was coming, and with it, the predators -- the barracudas and the sharks. If he hoped to survive the next few hours, he would need a plan, and fast.
Napoleon saw that the water was comparatively shallow, a depth of perhaps twenty to thirty feet. A coral reef stretched beneath him as far as the eye could see. No help there. The water was too deep for him to stand, and even if he could have done so, the coral was razor-sharp; his feet would be cut to ribbons in a matter of minutes.
The vast reef teemed with undersea life -- schools of butterfly fish and wrasse flitted among the feather stars and sponges, their neon colors flashing in the fading light. A tiny blue octopus drifted by, tentacles wiggling, and a huge manta ray, its sleek wings brushing the edge of the wreckage as it soared past.
A moray eel lunged upward from its lair, snaring a careless triggerfish in its powerful jaws. The fish struggled briefly, and was still. It was a reminder of just how quickly life could be cut short for the unwary. Napoleon turned away.
The fuselage shifted with a groan, and a wave of seawater rushed in, soaking his trousers.
Not much time left. Think!
He scanned the surrounding wreckage, but could see nothing large enough to support the weight of his body. There was no land in sight, and nowhere to swim to, even if he could have managed it. He had no food or water, and no life jacket. To make matters worse, he'd crashed outside the normal shipping lanes, so his chances of being picked up by a stray vessel were virtually nil. He hadn't filed a flight plan, and his calls for help had gone unheard, so it was possible that no one was even looking for him.
I'm in trouble, Napoleon acknowledged grimly.
He tore what was left of his shirt into strips, and bandaged his tortured ribs as best he could. The remainder of the fabric he used to cover the bloody scrapes on his hands and feet. He knew that a single drop of blood would be enough to draw a shark. Finally, he worried loose a strip of jagged metal to use as a weapon. It wouldn't provide much protection in the event of an attack, but it was better than nothing. Shaking from the exertion, he sat back upon the rapidly sinking fuselage and watched the sun disappear below the horizon, plunging the world into night.
“Due respect, sir,” Fitzroy said, “but we're not going to accomplish anything more out here tonight. It's too dark to see anything.”
“There is a full moon,” Illya replied evenly, “and we have a searchlight.”
“But sir --”
“Mr. Fitzroy, my partner is out there, somewhere, perhaps injured. I will not abandon him.” Illya glared at the man, his ice-blue eyes blazing with anger. “Have I made myself clear?”
Fitzroy swallowed, and nodded. “Perfectly.”
“Good. Turning to six degrees mark four.” Illya banked the helicopter to the left, and began searching the next grid.
Napoleon clung to the water-logged seat cushion, and willed himself to remain awake.
He'd been treading water for a little over five hours, ever since the sinking plane had forced him back into the water. He could feel his strength ebbing, exhaustion taking its toll. He laid his head upon the water-soaked fabric, and thought about closing his eyes.
Bozhe moy, Napoleon, stay awake!
He shook himself. For a moment, he could have sworn he heard -- He sighed. But Illya was a thousand miles away, assisting Waverly in the reorganization of the New Delhi office. He might not even know about the plane crash yet.
Napoleon listened for sounds of rescue -- the thwop-thwop of a helicopter, the rumble of a ship's engine, the low hum of a search plane -- but he heard nothing except the gentle lapping of the waves. He was alone, holding on by a thread.
He sighed. Illya would come looking for him; of that, he had no doubt. But it was likely to be a long wait, and Napoleon wasn't sure he had the time to spare. Between his physical injuries and dehydration, his body was shutting down. Morning seemed an eternity away.
“I found my thri-ill,” Napoleon murmured into the silence, “on Blueberry Hill. On Blueberry Hill, I found my thrill --” The sound that emerged from his parched throat was a mere whisper, a rasping rattle of a sound. Nevertheless, the company of a human voice was comforting, even if the voice was his own, and very small.
A patch of bioluminescent algae drifted by, turning the sea around him into a fairyland of emerald lights. He scooped up a handful, and watched the green light in his palm waver and fade.
He could feel himself slipping away.
“The moon stood sti-ill, on Blueberry Hill, And lingered 'til my dreams came --”
Something brushed against his leg.
Napoleon's blood turned to icewater in his veins. Adrenaline raced through his already overloaded system as he gripped the makeshift dagger, and scanned the area around the wreckage.
It nudged him again.
A fin broke the surface of the water. Two. Three.
Hurling a prayer toward Heaven, he turned to face his attackers.
“What's that down there?” Illya asked suddenly.
“That patch of light. Eleven o'clock.”
Fitzroy squinted. “Oh, that. Some kind of phosphorescent algae, I suppose. Or plankton. We get a lot of that out here.”
Illya toggled the cyclic, and the helicopter began to descend. “I want to take a closer look.”
“But it's just --” He stopped at Illya's warning glare. “Never mind.”
The chopper swung low over the water, the force of its rotors whipping the surface of the ocean into whitecaps. Its powerful searchlight illuminated a variety of objects floating with the current -- a charred hunk of plexiglass, a piece of the landing gear, a fragment of the tail rudder.
“The debris field of an aircraft,” Illya remarked, his voice shaking. “We have found the plane.”
“Bloody hell.” Fitzroy stared at what was left of the little Cessna 150. “Nobody could have survived that.”
Illya's steely eyes refused to look away. “Napoleon is not 'nobody.'”
He played the searchlight back and forth across the water with increasing desperation, back and forth, until --
At the edge of the bioluminescence, the outline of a man's body could plainly be seen. As Illya watched, the man turned, and raised his arms in a fighting stance.
“Napoleon,” he whispered. “Alive.” His heart sang with relief. “But what is he doing?”
Fitzroy pointed off to their right. “Bloody hell, look at all the sharks! There must be a dozen or more down there!”
Illya had his seatbelt off in a flash. “Take over,” he shouted over the roar of the engines. “I am going down to get him.”
“But the sharks --!”
He reached behind him for the metal canister he had stowed in the rear of the chopper. “I am prepared for them.” He kicked off his shoes.
Fitzroy nodded his understanding, and maneuvered the helicopter directly over the debris field. Illya wrestled the lid off the canister, and dumped the shark repellent into the water. He grabbed a rifle, prepared to shoot anything that came near his friend, and watched as the sharks thrashed about in confusion. Within moments, the pod began to disperse.
Illya stripped down to his undershorts. “Get as low as you can,” he ordered as the recovery basket was lowered, "and keep the searchlight trained on Napoleon." Slinging a spear gun onto one shoulder, he took a deep breath, and dove into the choppy water.
Time was of the essence. The area was clear of sharks for the moment, but Illya knew that they could return at any time. He swam with long, sure strokes, and was at Napoleon's side in a matter of seconds. “Napoleon? Bozhe moy, tovarisch, wake up!”
After a long moment, Napoleon's eyes cracked open. “You're --late --”
Illya sighed in relief. “As were you, very nearly.” He took in his partner's dusky pallor, and the bandage wrapped awkwardly about his chest. “Ribs?”
Napoleon nodded, wincing at the movement. “Might have -- punctured --” A fit of coughing wracked his body, and he nearly passed out from the pain. Illya held him in his arms until it was over.
“Shh. Ya zhayu,” Illya said. “I have you.”
Napoleon lay his head against Illya's shoulder and held on. Moving as gently as possible to avoid further injury, Illya towed his partner toward the recovery basket.
A fin broke the surface of the water a scant twenty yards away. Illya scanned the area around them, and swore softly in Russian. He slipped the spear gun off his shoulder.
“We have company. The sharks are coming back.” He took careful aim and squeezed off a single shot; a dark red stain blossomed in the water and began to spread. “I am sorry, Napoleon, but we must hurry now.”
He increased his pace, straining toward the safety of the recovery basket, Beside him, Napoleon groaned in obvious pain.
They reached the basket just as the water around them began to roil, the sharks thrashing about in a mad frenzy, tearing the dead creature's flesh to pieces. In the distance, more sharks, drawn by the smell of blood, approached the gruesome feast at lightning speed.
Illya lifted Napoleon over the side of the basket and, with a gymnast's grace, slid in beside him. He signaled to the co-pilot, and the basket rose, swaying, into the air.
“Home -- James,” Napoleon rasped, his eyelids drooping.
Illya's lips twitched. “Once around the block?”
But, Napoleon was out cold.
“Mechta sladko,” Illya whispered, and closed his own eyes.
It was raining when Napoleon woke. The sound was so beautiful, so blessedly cool and refreshing, that he dreaded opening his eyes for fear it would turn out to be a dream. He lay in the bed for some time, half-drowsing, enjoying the smell of freshly laundered sheets, and the cool softness of the pillow beneath his head. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he forced himself to look.
Outside the louvered window, the rain pelted down, overrunning the tin gutters on the side of the building and pattering relentlessly against the glass slats. Palm trees swayed crazily in the wind, blown nearly sideways by the force of the storm.
He glanced around the small, sterile room, noting the whitewashed walls, the saline drip hanging by his bedside, and the heart monitor beeping reassuringly on the portable cart. Hospital. I'm in a hospital.
He remembered then: the mission gone wrong; the plane crash; the lonely hours in the water, wondering if this was how it would end. And Illya, descending from the sky, deus ex machina, to save his sorry hide.
Illya! Where was Illya? He tried to sit up, but his arms wouldn't hold him. A jolt of pain slashed across his midsection, and he cried out. Muscles trembling, he collapsed back onto the bed, setting off a series of alarms. Seconds later, Illya burst into the room, followed closely by a rail-thin nurse in a crisp white uniform.
“This will not do, Mr. Solo,” she scolded. “The doctor says you must rest, or you will tear your stitches.” She supported him on her surprisingly strong shoulders while she plumped his pillow, and tucked his covers around him. “There, now. Isn't that better?”
Napoleon, dizzy with pain, could only nod.
She placed a hand on his forehead. “Your fever has broken,” she beamed. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Been -- better,” he managed to gasp.
Her face fell. “Oh yes, of course. Poor dear. I will bring you something for the pain.” She moved to the bank of monitors, and pushed a series of buttons to silence the alarms. “I will let Dr. Nirupa know that you are awake as soon as he arrives. He is having some difficulty getting to work now that the monsoon season has arrived.” She paused at the door. “Good to have you back with us, Mr. Solo.”
“I will second Nurse Rajani's sentiment,” Illya remarked, sliding a metal chair up to the edge of the bed. “You have been unconscious for three days. I was beginning to worry.”
“I don't -- Where --?”
“Ratmalana. A private clinic on the outskirts of the town. You were not strong enough to be moved to an UNCLE facility.” Illya smiled. “The good news is, you will live.”
Napoleon frowned. “Is there bad news?”
“Isn't there always? A punctured lung, three broken ribs, hairline fractures in two of your cervical vertebrae. Not to mention sun poisoning, dehydration and heat stroke.” Illya's voice softened. “You are lucky to be alive.”
“Christ.” Napoleon closed his eyes. “I'm getting too old for this.”
Illya scowled. “Do not let Mr. Waverly hear you say such a thing. You will end up with Mandy in Portuguese Translations.”
That brought a smile to Napoleon's weary face. “Heaven forfend.” He paused. “THRUSH sabotaged the plane.”
“We know. We heard your mayday.”
“You heard --?” For the first time, Napoleon noticed the dark circles under Illya's eyes, the rumpled shirt, the days-old growth of stubble. “Christ,” he said again.
“Mr. Waverly is anxious to know whether you obtained the microdot from the courier before THRUSH attacked, and if so, do you still have it?”
Napoleon nodded. “I inserted it under the face of my wristwatch when I realized the plane was going down. It's in the eleven o'clock position.”
Without further ado, Illya located the wristwatch in one of the bedside drawers. He pried open the face of the watch and retrieved the microdot. “I will forward the information to Mr. Waverly this afternoon.”
Napoleon raised a single, eloquent eyebrow. “You know how The Old Man feels about delays. He'll want it transmitted immediately.”
Illya shrugged with unconcern. “The intel on this microdot is not urgent, and we have earned a brief respite. I am afraid Waverly will have to wait a bit longer.”
Nurse Rajapani returned with a tray bearing Napoleon's pain medication, as well as a cup of fruit juice and a steaming bowl of vegetable broth. Illya helped him to swallow the pills, and fed him the broth a spoonful at a time until it was gone.
They sat in silence, listening to the rain fall, the cool monsoon wind rattling the glass, the palm trees swaying and bending like dancers. Napoleon's medication took hold, and he drifted off to sleep again, thinking about how incredibly lucky they were.