(Be sure to read Part 1 first)
THE ROME OLYMPIAD
Thursday, August 25th
The Opening Ceremony began the following afternoon in a kaleidoscope of color and pageantry. Illya marched into the wide, white bowl of the Stadio Olimpico alongside his British teammates, waving the miniature Union Jacks the team had been given. His uniform concealed a veritable arsenal of advanced weaponry.
As the athletes from eighty-four countries filed in, the setting sun dipped behind the trees, throwing the stadium into shadow. A cool breeze sprang up, blessed relief after another day of scorching heat. Night fell, and the stadium lights came on.
Iceland entered the bowl, followed by India, the athletes of the subcontinent looking elegant in their saris and churidars. Tiny Liechtenstein's delegation of five athletes marched in proudly, followed by the Netherlands' massive contingent in their bright orange blazers -- the Dutch had sent more than a hundred athletes to Rome.
Norway. Panama. Pakistan. Peru. On and on they came. The grassy area in the center of the stadium began to fill. Surinam. Switzerland. Tunisia. Music blared from the loudspeakers as the crowd roared its welcome. Vietnam. Yugoslavia. Flashbulbs popped by the thousands, spectators trying to capture the moment on their new Kodak cameras. The sound was remarkably like gunfire.
Italy, the host country, was the final delegation to enter the stadium, and their arrival set off a roar of patriotic good will like nothing Illya had ever experienced. The applause was deafening.
“This is bloody amazing!” Jaspar Endicott shouted over the noise of the crowd. “These Italians certainly know how to throw a party!”
Illya nodded absently, and scanned the crowded stadium with renewed vigilance. If THRUSH planned to strike, it would be soon.
The Olympic flag was raised to the dulcet tones of L'Hymne Olympique, sung in true Belle Epoque fashion by a choir of lovely maidens clad in togas. Fireworks exploded in the sky above the stadium, and church bells rang throughout the city, a joyous tumble of sounds that filled the air with their song. A flock of doves, symbolizing the Games' philosophy of peace through sport, circled the stadium once, twice, three times, before winging away.
Spotlights arced here and there among the spectators, briefly illuminating entire sections of the stadium. One of the spotlights came to rest upon a portion of the grandstand directly adjacent to the main dais.
Illya gasped. Marton. Gervaise. Partridge, Egret. THRUSH's elite, gathered together in a rare -- and highly suspicious -- show of unity. Waiting.
He noticed Napoleon edging his way toward the dais. his body tense, prepared for action. He had seen them, too.
Illya shifted uneasily on the balls of his feet, adrenaline flooding his system, heart rate accelerating as his body prepared itself for battle. He wondered if this was the moment they had feared, the moment when THRUSH would show their hand. He took several calming breaths, and felt his mind shift into hyper-awareness as years of training kicked in. He slipped his hand inside his jacket, found his Walther, flicked the safety off.
The lights dimmed. As the music soared to a crescendo, the Olympic torch entered the stadium, completing the final leg of its long journey from Mount Olympus to Rome. The runner circled the track, propelled on by the cheers of his countrymen, and mounted the steps to the Olympic cauldron. He saluted the crowd, extended his arm and touched the torch to the edge of the copper bowl, igniting the fuel. Flames rose dramatically into the night sky.
IOC President Avery Brundage administered the traditional Oath of Sportsmanship, the Prime Minister of Italy delivered a speech welcoming the world to the Eternal City, and suddenly the Opening Ceremony was over. The athletes and their delegations filed slowly from the stadium, laughing and talking with one another. The event had gone off without a hitch, and THRUSH had not struck.
Illya caught sight of Napoleon exiting the stadium along with the other members of the U.S. delegation. The senior agent lifted his shoulders in a subtle gesture of bewilderment that precisely mirrored Illya's own confusion.
Filing out with the rest of the audience, Victor Gervaise doffed his hat and waved.
Napoleon sat on the steps of the Gallerìa Borghese, wondering what the hell he was going to tell Waverly. He took a moment to adjust the volume knob on his communicator, stalling for time.
Illya noted the senior agent's hesitation. “It will not get any better,” he suggested gently.
Napoleon sighed. “Open Channel D, overseas, scramble.”
“Waverly here,” came the curt reply. “What the devil is going on over there, Mr. Solo? You're two hours overdue.”
“Sorry, Sir. It's been an eventful night.”
“We had a little visit from Victor Gervaise. Also Victor Marton, Emory Partridge and Doctor Egret.”
“All four of them? Together? Good heavens!” The sound of a match being struck; a delicate chuffing sound followed. “Were you able to apprehend them?”
“No, Sir. They were gone by the time our agents arrived on the scene.”
“Not your best work, I dare say, Mr. Solo.” More chuffing. “Have you managed to make any progress at all?”
“Not much. Whatever THRUSH is planning, they're being awfully tight-lipped about it. We have no leads, not a single clue as to where or when THRUSH plans to strike.”
“Distressing. Most distressing. Do you have anything useful to report?”
“I wish I did.” Napoleon hesitated. “THRUSH had a perfect opportunity to launch their attack tonight. Forty-two Heads of State in attendance, and over twenty-thousand people in the stands. Talk about a captive audience.”
“Be thankful nothing did happen, Mr. Solo,” Waverly retorted sharply, “or you would be dealing with an inconvenient number of dead bodies right now, not to mention who knows what other treachery THRUSH may have planned.”
“Yes Sir,” Napoleon replied, chastened. “You're right, of course. It's just that we're on pins and needles, waiting for them to show their hand. Not to mention Victor Gervaise and the rest of the THRUSH elite sitting there, bold as could be, rubbing our noses in it --”
“Tactics intended to throw you off your game, as I'm sure you realize.” On the other side of the world, Waverly sighed, a long, drawn-out susurration. “I feel certain THRUSH plans to act soon. Get to the bottom of their scheme, Mr. Solo, and put a stop to it before it's too late. Earn your salary. Waverly, out.”
Napoleon disassembled his communicator. “Well, that went well.”
Illya shrugged. “My conversation with Beldon was not much better. He wants me out at the Bay of Naples tomorrow afternoon.”
“All the way out there? Why?”
“It seems one of his moles is suggesting the possibility of an attack on Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. The future King is apparently competing in the Dragon Class of the yachting event.”
Napoleon's eyes lit with excitement. “Illya, this could be the break we've been waiting for. If we know the target is Prince Constantine, we can --” He frowned. “So why don't you look happy?”
“I am -- not certain the information can be trusted.”
“You doubt Beldon?” Napoleon could not have looked more shocked.
“No, of course not. Beldon is Section One -- his loyalty is without question. It is his informant I do not trust. Beldon assures me that his source is trustworthy -- a mole he has used often over the years. Still, I am uneasy.”
Napoleon's eyes narrowed. “Any particular reason?”
“Merely a feeling. I do not think the Crown Prince is THRUSH's target. He is not important enough to matter in the scheme of things. And the Bay of Naples is several hours away. If something were to happen here in Rome, I could not get back in time to help.”
“Well, if it'll put your mind at ease, I can cover the swimming venue for you tomorrow. Track and Field events don't start until next week, so I'll have the day off.”
“I would feel better if you were there,” Illya admitted. “The thought of leaving the venue unguarded worries me.”
“Don't worry. I'm sure Beldon knows what he's doing.”
Illya nodded, but he looked troubled.
“Besides, you know what they say: 'Ours not to reason why --'”
“'Ours but to do and die.'” He scowled. “I hate Tennyson.”
Friday, August 26th
Illya knotted his tie for the third time that morning, wondering why today of all days, he should have a problem executing a simple half-Windsor. He pulled the wide end through, held the narrow end, and tightened the knot. Too short this time. “Hooy na postnom maslye!” He stripped off the tie with a growl, and began again.
“Hey, Finchley!” someone called from the hallway, “telephone for you.”
“Be right there,” he answered, slipping back into his role. He threw the crumpled tie onto the bed and padded into the hall, anxious to find out who would be calling him on a public telephone. He lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello?”
“This is Alistair Smythe-Jones of the British Olympic Committee. I have some good news for you, young man.”
Smythe-Jones cleared his throat. “It seems that your roommate, Thomas Bennett, managed to break his hip falling down a flight of stairs in the women's dormitory last night. As a consequence, he is unable to compete in his event. That means that you, as the team's alternate, will be competing for your country in the four-by-two-hundred meter freestyle relay this morning. Congratulations, Mr. Finchley.”
“This morning? But sir, I --”
“The qualifying round begins in just under an hour. Don't be late, young man. Your country is counting on you.”
The line went dead.
As Illya stared at the silent receiver, there came a pounding of footsteps on the stairs. Jaspar Endicott burst onto the scene.
“Finchley, I just heard! Too bad for Tommy, but ye gods, man, what luck for you! Grab your gear and let's go. You can just make it if you hurry.”
Illya swiftly calculated his options. If he swam his leg of the race slowly enough to result in a poor qualifying time, it would take the British team out of contention, freeing him from having to compete in the afternoon's semifinal heat. In doing so, however, he would be quashing the dreams of his teammates, who would forfeit the race if he failed to appear. He sighed. Beldon would have to find someone else to go to Naples.
He forced a smile. “Give me five minutes, old chap. Looks like I've got a race to swim.”
The Stadio del Nuoto, with just three-hundred seats, was one of the smaller Olympic venues, but it was packed to the rafters for the opening day of the swimming competition. The building was sleek and modern, with massive floor to ceiling windows made of thick thermal glass. A hand-painted fresco on the far wall depicted Neptune and his court of sea nymphs cavorting with various denizens of the deep. The newly installed air conditioning system kept the space pleasantly cool, and the domed outer roof could be retracted to expose the inner skylight, or closed against the scorching summer sun, as it was on this steamy August day.
The British Team was scheduled to swim in the first heat, which gave Illya only a brief window of time to notify Headquarters of the change in plans. Beldon had been none too happy about the situation, but there was little he could do except grumble.
“I'm disappointed in you, Mr. Kuryakin,” was all he deigned to say, and then it was time for the competitors to be called to the starting blocks.
It had been decided that Illya would swim the opening leg, giving his three teammates ample time to erase any deficit he might incur with a poor swim. Fortunately, the heat was not a difficult one and, barring a disaster, the team was expected to make it through to the semis. Denis Cullen would swim the second leg, Theo Stanhope the third, and Jaspar Endicott the anchor leg.
“David Finchley,” the announcer called.
Illya stepped forward to mild applause, and nodded politely to the crowd. Napoleon, watching from the bleachers, stared down at the junior agent in surprise.
“Take your marks.”
The horn sounded. Illya leapt from the blocks, executing a perfect entry into the pool. He swam with long, clean strokes, cutting through the water with surprising grace. At the hundred meter mark, he was in contention. When he touched the wall at the end of two-hundred meters, he had given his teammates a slight lead. The crowd went wild. His three teammates did their jobs as well, and by the end of the heat, the British Team found themselves comfortably in first.
“Good God, Davey,” Endicott laughed. “Who knew a scrawny little fellow like you could swim so fast?”
“Anyone who has ever tried to catch me,” Illya smirked, zipping the jacket of his warmup suit. He looked around for his sneakers.
Just then, an object -- something round and shiny, Illya thought -- was thrown out of the bleachers. It landed in the pool with a loud splash, and sank swiftly to the bottom. The four men turned to look.
“What was that?” Theo said.
“Looks like some tyke threw a ball into the water,” Denis replied with a trace of irritation. “A good thing there wasn't a race going on.”
“Hey,” Endicott remarked uncertainly, “what's happening to the water?”
At the bottom of the pool, the sphere had begun to glow. As they watched, the surface of the water heaved up and started to bubble, spewing forth a strange, yellowish-green ether. The mist rose, swirling, and began to drift toward the bleachers, clinging low to the ground --
“Chyort!” Illya swore. “Chlorine gas! Napoleon, get these people out of here!”
Illya shoved his shocked teammates through the locker room door.
“I say, old chap! What do you --?”
“Quiet!” he snapped. “Listen to me. That is chlorine gas in there. It is deadly. We must find a way to neutralize it in the next five minutes, or people are going to start dying.”
The three men stared, wide-eyed with fear. “H-how?” Endicott stammered.
Illya fished a bright yellow card from the pocket of his warmup suit, and handed it to Denis Cullen. “Go to the Administration Office,” he instructed. “Call the number on this card. Tell them we need help.”
The man took off, running.
“Jaspar, Theo, follow me.” He snatched up a handful of towels and jogged down the long hallway.
“Where are we going?” Endicott asked breathlessly.
“Maintenance. We need to find the air conditioning system and shut it down.”
“But -- won't that keep the gas from dissipating? What about all those people in there?”
“If the gas is allowed to vent out into the environment, it will kill anyone who breathes it.”
“But the people --” Endicott repeated.
“I have friends in there, helping to evacuate the spectators,” Illya replied, hoping fervently that it was true, that Napoleon was not already lying among the dead.
They reached the Maintenance Room; Illya pushed the men inside, locking the door behind them. “Jaspar, look for the air conditioning control panel. Shut the system down, and close all the vents. Theo, take these towels and pack them under the door. We need to keep this area free of gas.”
The men hurried to obey. Meanwhile, Illya located the controls for the emergency sprinkler system, and twisted the valve to the 'on' position. “Fresh water neutralizes chlorine gas,” he explained as he worked.
“But -- how do you know all this?” Endicott asked.
Illya ignored the question. “Do you see the roof controls anywhere?”
“Um --” Endicott looked at the vast array of dials and switches. “Here?”
Illya smiled reassuringly. “Good work.” He threw the switch, and they heard the grating sound that told them the retractable roof was opening. “The ultraviolet rays in sunlight will help to neutralize the gas as well.”
Illya spared a quick glance.
“You're -- not really with the British Swim Team, are you?”
He sighed. “No.”
“And your accent -- Russian?”
Chyort, he had forgotten! “I am Soviet, yes.”
The Brit's fists clenched. “So you're a spy! I knew it! Did your people do this? Are we under attack?”
Illya turned to face his teammate. “We are under attack, but not by any government. A group of evil, soulless men is responsible for this act. I belong to an organization that is trying to stop them.” He locked the controls in place. “And now, forgive me, but I must leave you for a time. My friends need my help.”
“You're going back out there? But the gas --?”
“It will be alright, I promise.” He turned to Theo. “Tell me, do they teach scuba classes at this facility?”
Theo understood immediately. “Yes. Yes, they do! I took a beginner's class when I was here for World's last year. The tanks are stored in a closet at the end of the hallway.”
“Then we are in luck.” Illya unlocked the Maintenance Room's steel door, and peered out. The floor was flooded, and water continued to rain down from the sprinklers, but there was no gas. The locker room doors had protected them. He drew his Walther. “Stay here until I come back for you. Do not let anyone in.”
Endicott swallowed, and nodded. “Good luck.”
Illya gave a swift wave, and splashed off down the corridor.
The equipment in the storage closet looked as though it had seen better days. Illya strapped on a dented scuba tank, checking the gauge carefully to be certain it was full. He slung a second tank over his shoulder, grabbed a handful of masks, and backed out of the closet.
At the last second, some sixth sense made him turn. Two THRUSH in gas masks had rounded the corner, and were preparing to fire. He raised his Walther, and shot them without hesitation.
When it was clear that no other THRUSH were coming to their aid, Illya slogged back down the water-soaked corridor, and knocked on the Maintenance Room door. “You can come out now.”
Endicott opened the door, relief etched upon his face. “We heard shots.”
“It is taken care of.” Illya handed him the spare tank and a pair of face masks. “You will need these in order to cross through the natatorium.”
Except for the sound of the water pouring down from the sprinkler system, the building was utterly silent. They reached the Administration Office without incident, and Illya glanced in to be sure that the fourth member of their team, Denis Cullen, had gotten safely away. The room was empty. The locker room was deserted as well.
“Put on the masks,” Illya ordered. “Make sure the seal is tight. Breathe only from your tank.”
The men did as instructed, and he opened the door leading to the pool.
Illya's first thought was one of relief – the natatorium was empty, except for the bodies of a pair of THRUSH henchmen sprawled upon the concrete floor. The men had been shot cleanly through the heart. Their skin, Illya saw, was horribly blistered from the gas. He stepped over the bodies, motioning for the others to follow his lead. After a sight hesitation, they did so.
They pushed through the exit doors onto the piazza.
It was like stumbling into another world. The square was engulfed in chaos, people crying and shouting in a dozen different languages. A few of the most seriously injured lay on the ground, where they were being attended to by UNCLE emergency personnel. Others sat half-naked in the piazza's gaily splashing fountain. A group in various states of undress knelt by the edge of the nearby Tiber River, diligently rinsing the chemicals from their skin. Vendors from the nearby shops hurried to and fro, bringing jugs of water and clean cloths to the victims.
Illya and his teammates removed their masks and took deep, gulping breaths. The air was wonderfully clean and sweet. “I never knew fresh air could smell so good,” Endicott sighed.
They spotted Denis Cullen kneeling beside a little girl, helping one of the emergency doctors to splint her ankle. They hurried to his side, and the three men embraced like long-lost brothers.
He turned, seeking the source of the sound.
"Over here!" Napoleon sat on the back bay of a fire truck, stripped to his undershorts, an oxygen mask covering the lower half of his face. His hands were wrapped in white gauze, and his eyes were horribly bloodshot, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. Illya limped to his side.
“You look terrible,” he said.
Behind the mask, Napoleon smiled. “Gee, thanks. Are all Russians so free with their compliments?”
“Oh, Napoleon, I did not mean --”
Napoleon held up a hand. “Just kidding. Anyway, your feet don't look much better than my eyes.”
“My -- feet?” Illya looked down. The soles of his bare feet were bloodied and beginning to blister. “I -- I could not find my sneakers,” he said, a bit dizzily as, with the realization of his injury, the pain kicked in.
“Sit down,” Napoleon said. “That's an order. Dottore, I believe I've found your next customer.”
Illya sat obediently beside the senior agent while the doctor bathed his bare feet and applied an ointment. Illya gasped as the soothing balm began its work.
“Quick thinking back there,” Napoleon said. “Your little trick with the sprinklers gave us time to get everyone out of the building. We have five or six people with chemical burns, one child with a broken ankle, and a dozen in respiratory distress, but no fatalities. It could have been much worse.”
“Your Mr. Solo is a hero,” the doctor said. “He went back inside half a dozen times to rescue the victims.”
“Sì, sì,” chimed an elderly balloon vendor. “I give-a him alla my balloon. He's-a use balloon to -- come si dice -- breathe inna stadio. Clever, no?”
Illya smiled. “Clever, yes.”
Around them, a sense of calm was returning to the piazza as the victims of the attack were escorted to waiting ambulances. An UNCLE cleanup crew was already inside the building, working to dissipate the chlorine gas, and removing the bodies of the four THRUSH slain during the attack. Reporters rushing to the scene had been told of a gas leak caused by a ruptured pipe under the stadium; the carabinieri kept them well away from the site.
“I don't know about you,” Napoleon said as they watched the last ambulance pull away, “but I'm bushed. I can't wait to hit the sack.”
“A noble intention, I am sure. Only --”
“Only -- what?”
“What about the end-of-mission report?”
“Seriously? After what we've been through, I think it can wait till morning.”
Illya cocked his head. “And who will explain to Waverly and Beldon why the reports are late?”
Napoleon's face fell. “Hmm, I see your point. Maybe you'd better take care of it, tovarisch. I'm pretty sure your typing skills are better than mine at the moment.” He held up his bandaged hands for emphasis.
Illya sighed dramatically. “Fine. I will type up your report for you, Napoleon, but just this once.”
“Of course,” Napoleon replied smiling. “Just this once.”
Saturday, August 27th
Alexander Waverly arrived on the UNCLE jet the following morning. He was joined by Harry Beldon, looking positively Byzantine in a tapestry-woven long coat and velvet tam. Both men were anxious to hear the details of what had turned out to be an eventful day in Rome.
“So, gentlemen,” Waverly began without preamble, “you managed to save the day after all. Good to know that our Section Two agents can rise to the occasion.”
Napoleon concealed a smile. “Sir,” he said, glancing to his left, “I'd like to point out that Agent Kuryakin deserves much of the credit for the success of this mission. “He was the one who thought to turn on the sprinkler system, neutralizing the chlorine gas.”
“I'm well aware of that, Mr. Solo.” Waverly turned to the Russian. “Fine work, young man. Then again, I expected no less from an agent of your caliber and training. Mr. Beldon here has done an excellent job of honing your skills.”
Beldon drained his snifter of brandy, and belched. “It certainly was was lucky you happened to be in the building,” he observed gruffly. “Things would have turned out very differently if you had gone to Naples.”
“Now, now, Mr. Beldon, Waverly replied pleasantly. “We all make mistakes in judgment from time to time. No need to speak further of it.”
An awkward pause ensued, during which Beldon seized the decanter and poured himself another brandy.
Waverly peered at the two agents over the top of his spectacles. “So -- not a new weapon, but an old one, eh gentlemen?”
Napoleon frowned. “Sir?”
“Have you forgotten, Mr. Solo? Chlorine gas was used to devastating effect in World War I. It was more common even than mustard gas, owing to the ease with which it could be made. Thousands of soldiers died from inhaling it. The unfortunate ones who survived suffered from debilitating respiratory ailments, disfiguring burns, and even blindness. Theirs was a slow and painful death.”
“But this was different,” Napoleon observed thoughtfully. “It wasn't a gas attack, per se. THRUSH actually found a way to convert the chlorine in the pool back into gaseous form, using some sort of catalyst.”
Waverly nodded. “The sphere, yes. Our people recovered it from the bottom of the pool. Researchers are analyzing the contents even as we speak.”
“Is it possible THRUSH will make another attempt?” Illya asked.
“Here in Rome? I doubt it. More than likely, they'll run off somewhere to lick their wounds like the dogs that they are, and try again somewhere else.”
Beldon rose with a grunt. “If we're done here, Alexander, I'll be going. Sir Winston is waiting for my report.”
“Hmm? Yes, by all means. Give him my best.”
The sliding doors parted, and Beldon lumbered through.
Waverly stared after him. “A complicated man,” he sighed. He turned to the two agents. “You gentlemen seem to have worked quite well together on this Affair.”
Napoleon and Illya traded glances. “I think it's safe to say that, Sir.”
“That's very good news. You see, I've been considering certain modifications to our mission policy for awhile now. My idea is to use pairs of agents, rather than one single operative, for future missions. Your success has given me quite a lot to think about.”
He shuffled the papers before him. “Well, Mr. Kuryakin, now that this Affair is concluded, I expect you'll want to get some rest before your semifinal race.”
Illya looked up in surprise. “Race?”
“Didn't someone tell you? You're still scheduled to compete.” Waverly raised his eyebrows. “Can't leave your teammates in the lurch now, can you?” He consulted his copy of the schedule. “Your heat starts in -- good Heavens -- less than two hours! You'd better hurry.”
And with that, he turned toward the new message coming in on the Telex, leaving the two men to contemplate the ebb and flow of their fate.
*Author's Note: In my version of their lives, Illya and Napoleon met for the first time in Graduation Day. There is both a Gen and a Slash version of that story.
The Gen version is HERE
The Slash version IS HERE