Section Seven Impromptu Challenge.
Before you start to read…be warned! Silliness ahead!
Where this tale came from I cannot imagine, but now it is here, I have no choice but to run with it.
The incredible tale of Tibbles and Snowy
When neither Solo nor Kuryakin responded to his calls, Waverly was annoyed, but not overly concerned. After all, agents in the field were not always able to stop what they were doing and give him an update. He once had had a very brief conversation with Mister Solo in which all the latter had said in response to Waverly’s questions was “Sorry, later sir!”. It had turned out that Solo was, at that moment, busily engaged in a fierce struggle for possession of a newly designed rifle, which would have certainly resulted in his death if he had lost. However, both men were punctilious, as a rule, about reporting in on time. Twenty-four hours later, however, when it became clear that their communicators were either destroyed or out of range…and Waverly had never known that to happen before…and the men failed to return or to get in touch through any other medium, he became very concerned. What had happened to his top agents?
A three-day search ensued before three teams of agents tracked their movements to a satrap located in a network of tunnels inside a hillside, some twenty miles or so west of New York City. There they found Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin lying side by side on identical lab benches, each hooked up to a large machine. Atop the machine, and clearly forming some important part of its function, were two separate and distinct metallic cages, connected in some way to the same apparatus. The cages were empty, their doors swinging open. Both the men were unconscious.
Alexander Waverly strode the corridors of UNCLE, a deep frown furrowing his brow, revealing his concern. He reached the medical bay where the UNCLE scientists had temporarily set up shop in company with Doctor Fisher to study the THRUSH machine that section three had brought in.
When it had become clear that the machine, whatever its function, was currently performing only basic monitoring duties, the two young agents had been removed from it and placed on comfortable beds side by side, surrounded by equipment to monitor their life signs. The scientists were studying the machine with great interest, to the annoyance of Gerald Fisher who did not like THRUSH contraptions cluttering up his sickbay. It was imperative however, that the purpose of this…this thing was determined fully before they moved it or dismantled it. Still Solo and Kuryakin did not awaken. Fisher sat and stared in shock at the results of the thorough examination that had been performed. He was still staring, slightly open mouthed when Waverly walked in.
“What have you found, doctor Fisher? Will my men be all right?”
With an effort, Fisher found his voice.
“They…their bodies are alive and well…fighting fit in fact; but their brains are…empty. It’s like they are…brain-dead.”
The news hit Waverly like a physical blow.
“Brain-dead? But their bodies are alive? How can that be?”
“Well sir, the human brain works on two levels. Our brains regulate our heartbeat, our breathing, and some zillion other things without our even thinking about it. That level of function is intact with both, sir. But the higher functions, awareness…consciousness…memory…all appear to have been wiped completely clean.”
“Destroyed you mean?” Waverly could feel his heart pounding. Sentimental old fool that he was! All his agents were dispensable. That was a given! “Wiped how? By this machine I presume? Is there anything you can do…I suppose the condition is not reversible?”
“That is why we need to fully understand the functions of this machine, sir. If we can understand its purpose, what it actually does, we may be able to work out and possibly even reverse what has happened…I have theories but…they are too fantastical to be believable. Sorry Mister Waverly, we’ll get to work and let you know when we come up with something.”
Napoleon opened his eyes and yawned widely. He stared round and blinked. What was this? It was night time, and yet he could see clearly. Clearly enough to know that he was no longer in the cell that he and Illya had been languishing in earlier. He seemed to be up high, in some sort of cage. He yawned again stood up. In the cage beside his own, a handsome white and black cat was curled up asleep.
Wait a minute…a cat?
Napoleon looked down at himself and saw furry grey paws instead of hands and feet. He could feel the movement of the air with his whiskers, and he could smell too. A smell he recognized well. The aftershave he had used that morning following his morning shower and shave. To him it had always been delicately fragranced; not too strong or too feeble, a nice smell that the women always commented on. Right now, it seemed very pungent, almost overpowering. Had he really used so much this morning? Why had Illya not said anything?
Wait a minute, grey furry paws? Whiskers? Napoleon had no trouble realizing what must have happened. The THRUSH egghead had gleefully told them everything as they were being strapped in place on those hard, uncomfortable beds. Following their success with the body-swap technique*, they had decided to extend the idea to include animals. Can the mind of a man survive inside the brain of an animal? It was an experiment, they had been told.
Apparently, an experiment that had worked well.
A plaintive mew from the next cage made him look round. The white cat was awake and looked rather confused. If Napoleon could have smiled, he would have. There was no doubt that it was Illya. He opened his mouth to call out to his friend, something reassuring. All that emerged was a loud and decisive “Miaow!”
The white cat leapt up and arched his back, his fur rising. Napoleon tried again to say something calm and soothing to reassure the other cat. To his surprise, he found himself purring softly. The white cat seemed to calm down a little and eyed him warily.
Somehow, Napoleon knew what it was Illya was trying to say.
“Illya, it’s me. Napoleon.”
The sounds issuing from Napoleon’s mouth were simply soft mews, or throat rumblings, but although unintelligible to a human ear, they were clear enough to him, and also, seemingly, to his companion.
“Napoleon? What have they done to us? Turned us into cats? That is impossible!”
Illya’s miaow sounded so indignant, again Napoleon had an insane urge to laugh.
“No, I don’t know about you Illya, but I can still smell the aftershave I put on this morning. Why didn’t you say it was too strong?”
The white cat sniffed, and then sneezed violently.
“It wasn’t at the time, but I suppose if we are now cats, we have their senses as well. So, our minds have been moved?”
Napoleon bobbed his head in a feline approximation of a nod.
“We are up high. I think our bodies are still down there…exactly where we were when they strapped us in earlier…”
“I remember.” Illya replied, straining his head sideways to look down at his human body’s feet…the only part of his own body that he could see from this vantage point. “It was bad enough being stuck inside April Dancer’s body the last time, but inside the body of a cat?”
“Well, when we don’t report in, Mister Waverly will send someone to find us. In the meantime, we need to get out of here.”
Illya lay down.
“I’m not going anywhere without me.” He replied. “If this is an experiment, they may try to put us back where we belong, which I am all in favour of. There is only one thing I am not looking forward to.”
“What is that?” Napoleon asked, watching his partner’s tail twitching uneasily.
“I need a bath Napoleon…”
For the first forty-eight hours living inside the body of a cat, the partners experienced sights and smells from their new perspective. They experienced the feline urge to wash, and not a little revulsion at the thought of having to lick themselves clean. In reality, although the whole process of licking and grooming their fur offended their human sensibilities, the feline senses they now possessed were both stimulated and comforted by the whole process. Their humanity however proved stronger than their new cat senses, and caused them both to turn their backs upon once another from time to time, especially when it came to personal grooming, in order to attempt to retain a measure of privacy.
There were some things that Napoleon wanted never to see and never to remember about being a cat; that was, assuming he ever got back to his own human body again. Number one, naturally, would have to be the licking of a certain part of his anatomy. That was bad enough, but he had no desire to witness his partner going through the same process. The other was having to use the small litter tray in the corner of his cage. The fact that he couldn’t avoid the need to use it, and the fact that it was an open tray filled with kitty-litter rather than a private cubicle with doors. He would have a new respect for cats after this.
Being a cat had the added disadvantage that one had no arms or hands. Both he and Illya tried their best, but could make nothing of the locks on their cage doors using only their teeth. In the end, Napoleon was forced to resign himself to wait. So, he lay down in his cage, turning around on the spot several times before settling down to sleep. In the next cage, Illya slept too.
They were awakened by the sound of gunshots. A man they recognized as the scientist who had experimented on them came dashing into their lab. They had seen him once a day as he came in to feed and water them, although he had done nothing about the progressively unhygienic litter trays. He opened their cage doors, grabbing the litter trays and threw them into the waste disposal, grabbed each of them by the scruff of the neck and shooed them away. When they failed to run away, he grabbed a large stool and charged at them with it.
They both ran.
When the sounds of gunfire had died away, they crept out of hiding. As themselves they would never have run away from a fight, but as cats, instinct had taken over. The need for safety and cover, for a moment had over-ridden all their calm and logical thinking. It was only once they returned to the lab to find their human bodies, that they realized they had made a huge mistake.
The lab was empty.
Their two cages were gone. The machine was gone. Their human selves were also gone.
CatNapoleon and CatIllya were alone.
To be continued . . .