Act XV: "Gee, Now I'm Telling You To Be Quiet!"
They had been afloat for many hours, running the Empress as wide open as they dared for that length of time. The thrumming of the engine made conversation difficult, but not impossible. Napoleon figured out that if you look directly at whom you were speaking to and spoke loud and slow that it was possible to carry out a conversation; just tiring. Although looking into Miss Inturi's eyes never became tiresome.
It was well into the night when the technician waved him over excitedly. Stevie cut the engine to idle. "I've got it! We have a plotted line now." They referred to the map rolled open on the floor and ended up with a straight line running east right through Peretyciha.
"You were correct, Solo-san." Stevie said with a brilliant smile. "You know how your partner thinks! Peretyciha; that is impressive."
Napoleon smiled briefly, but had a difficult time reveling his good guessing. "We need to turn a bit south, and cut back near the international waters border. I'm sure we'll get another sign when we're close."
"Ah, Mr. Solo?" the technician asked, waving him back to the radar screen.
"Yes?" Solo leaned over the man's shoulder. "What?"
"This blip appeared just a second ago. It's in the sea just north of Peretyciha and moving at a good clip."
Solo frowned. "It's not a boat?"
The man shook his head. "It's moving faster than a fishing boat, and the signature is much larger. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was a submarine."
"A submarine?" Stevie said, aghast. "I have heard stories of submarines in this area, but have never seen one. You don't think it's a coincidence, do you?"
Napoleon shook his head. "Where Illya's involved, I don't believe in coincidence. He can really stir a pot." He studied the blip for a few minutes as Stevie fired up the Empress once more. "OK, my Russian friend. Who have you pissed off now?" he mumbled to himself.
The water was very cold. Illya couldn't feel his hands or feet anymore, and tried to avoid any thought of this being a premonition of what his future may be like. He had been feeling an odd prickling feeling in his torso and limbs for several hours now, but it didn't appear to be getting any worse. But now, he couldn't tell because he was numb all over.
He allowed the current to pull him away from the bridge then tried to stay as close to the shore as possible. Every now and again he would work his way into some of the native water foliage and let his face surface just enough to see how dark it was and to catch his breath. He could hear the engines of boats passing by on their way to and from the sea, and noticed that it wasn't long before there were no boats going east to sea anymore; the patrol boats had created a blockade. Eventually, the only boats he saw were military patrol boats that would illuminate the shore now and again with their spotlights now that it was completely dark.
The agent found his thinking process was getting a bit scattered and knew that he was getting hypothermic; he needed to get out of the water, and soon. The lights from the houses on the shore were scattered and little detail could be gleaned, but he thought he was close to the fisherman's house and tried to make out the small dock. When he eventually bumped into what felt like a pillar, he wrapped his arms around it to hold steady. Shivering uncontrollably, it was nearly impossible to work his way to the shore. He pushed off to the next pillar, and the next, until he felt the river bottom under his feet.
Taking a fortifying breath he launched himself towards the shore, grabbing plants and their roots to drag himself out of the water. He had to command his fingers to work properly, which took a lot of his concentration. When he finally felt dry earth under his knees, he collapsed in a quivering heap, spent. I'll just stay here long enough to … to… I wonder where Napoleon is? He should be here..
Thoughts scattering to the wind, he closed his eyes and welcomed the blackness as a warm, dry blanket.
Trudy was pacing the inside of the house like a nervous cat, wringing her hands. The boat was all packed, and Stephan, the young man who was to drive them, was waiting patiently in the small house and watching her with questions in his eyes. For the umpteenth time she heard the wheels of patrol trucks race by on the road and she watched it go by from the window.
"Where is he?" she said again out loud. "The patrols are still out, so he probably isn't caught yet, but where is he?!" She chewed her fingernails, and the fisherman's wife frowned at her. Trudy yanked her hand down. "I can't stand this. I'm checking the boat again." She grabbed the light jacket that had been loaned to her, and Stephan stood, picking up on the cue. He followed her out the door and down the path.
Trudy was looking everywhere as she walked to the dock, but it was Stephan to suddenly ran past her to the water's edge and knelt down. With her heart in her throat, she followed, and dropped to the ground on the other side of the shivering agent.
"Illya! Oh my God. Stephan, we have to get him inside and warm." She gathered up and arm, and Stephan mirrored her movements, managing to get him upright. Illya was speaking but his words were slurred and unintelligible. "Quiet now, it's OK. Gee, now I'm telling you to be quiet!" she huffed as they literally dragged him to the house. "You just have lousy timing, don't you?" Trudy was alarmed at how cold he felt. When they got near the house she could see the bluish tinge to his lips and limbs, and laid him down as close to the fire as she could.
The wife began boiling water as soon as she saw him, and with Stephan's help she stripped him down to his underwear and began rubbing him dry. It took awhile, but eventually the blueness faded a bit and his skin didn't feel like ice anymore. They wrapped him in quilts and blankets and propped him in a sitting position by the fireplace. When his eyes blinked open, they looked a bit cloudy, and she helped him sip some sweet, hot tea the girls brought to them Eventually the shivers faded and his eyes cleared. And as soon as that happened, he was ready to move again.
"We need to keep moving," he whispered hoarsely, struggling to stand.
"You have got to be kidding!" Trudy scolded. "You nearly died from hypothermia!"
"If we stay, I'll die from bullets. I'll take my chances. Help me up." He finally made it to his feet and swayed dangerously. "Where are my clothes?" He spoke to Stephan in Russian, who departed to get some clothes.
"Mr. Kuryakin, I don't know how you're doing this, but you should be flat on your back unconscious." Trudy put her hands on her hips, ready to chew him out some more, but the sound of a vehicle out front and the sight of headlights shining in the kitchen windows made her forget everything. Eyes wide, she looked at Illya. "A patrol!" She whispered.
Illya grabbed her elbow and began to guide her to the single bedroom, but she ended up dragging him. "Get in the bed," he ordered and she did so after kicking off her shoes. Stephan entered the room with the clothes and Illya took them, chattering in Russian to him. The young man nodded and left, closing the door. Illya slithered under the bed and arranged the loose clothes along his body to darken his profile and block the view of him from the room. "I told Stephan to pretend you were sick. That way you don't have to talk."
She didn't answer right away. "I'm scared, Illya." She whispered shakily.
"You'll do fine. Just remember that it is me they are looking for, not you. Now close your eyes and act sick. You're a nurse. You know what to do."
"Oh, funny," she snapped as she heard a pounding on the front door.
They heard the muted sound of conversation, and the wife making shushing sounds as they approached the bedroom door. When the door cracked open Illya saw a stream of light crawl along the floor towards his eyes. He held his breath as one of the soldiers stepped partway in and waved a flashlight around. He saw the shivering form of a woman on the bed, eyes closed, mouth open and breathing raggedly. He didn't make any effort to enter the room any further, and closed the door. Footsteps sounded through the house and outside the window, and then there was the sound of the truck driving away.
Trudy was up in a flash, and down to help Illya out from under the bed. He moved slowly, but was able to stand and begin dressing by himself.
"We are getting out of here now. Time is running out," he said softly. Trudy had to agree. When it was quiet outside for a reasonable length of time, they left for the dock.
Trudy hugged the woman and the girls, thanking them even though they didn't understand. Illya relayed her thoughts, and added some of his own, and Trudy was surprised when the two little girls hugged the agent simultaneously from two sides. Trudy was surprised at how his face softened with the affection as he patiently waited for them to let go. He patted them each on the head, and moved out the door and down the path with Trudy following.
"Well. They seemed to like you," Trudy noted lightly.
"They said I reminded them of their cousin."
"Really? Does he live near here?"
Illya hesitated. "No. Apparently he died at sea last year."
Trudy shook her head with a short laugh. "Only you could bring down a light moment, Mr. Pessimism."
"You shouldn't be surprised. It's in my nature. I am Russian, after all."
They managed to get the boat away from the dock, and kept the engine idle low and the lights off. Stealth was the only way they were going to get anywhere; this trawler couldn't outrun the patrol boats.
Illya hunkered down on the deck to inventory the supplies, and instructed Trudy to observe how the boat operated. In a quiet voice, he told her that there was no way he was going to risk Stephan's life and safety, and that he planned to get him off the boat as soon as possible.
"How?" She whispered back. "We're heading into the open ocean!"
"He's young and can swim back. I'll find a way to reimburse Strambokov for the boat."
Trudy looked thoughtful. "That was the fisherman's name?"
Illya nodded. "I would have introduced you, but that would have been improper."
"Improper?" She said, confused. "Are women second class citizens here or something?"
Illya eyes glanced up at her as his head stayed bent down, so she couldn't see his evil grin. "Well, generally, no. But handmaidens are another story."
"What?!" She sputtered. "Handmaiden?!? You told him I was a handmaiden??"
"It was the only way to explain why you couldn't speak to them," he said in a patient tone, enjoying his payback as he continued to inventory. "Most handmaidens are foreign."
Trudy punched him in the shoulder. "You rat!"
"Keep your voice down!" he said lightly, laughing. "Noise carries out here!"
"You…you…" speechless, Trudy turned in a huff to observe Stephan.
Asikov stepped from the patrol boat to the conning tower of the submarine just off the coast from Peretyciha and felt like he was coming home. He'd spent a lot of time on these vessels early in his career, and had enjoyed the power of them. And the stealth! They were a wondrous piece of machinery.
The hatch closed above him and the crew snapped to attention.
He reveled in the power of command for a few seconds. "At ease," he snapped. "Commander, I will meet with you now in the ready room."
The Officer nodded in the direction of the ready room. Once there, Asikov told him his mission: A traitor had returned to Russia to retrieve secret military documents to sell to the West. He was suspected as being in Russian waters, trying to meet his contact. The submarine was to be at Asikov's disposal to hunt the traitor down and retrieve the documents. When the Commander inquired about written orders, Asikov brushed him off.
"I will take full responsibility. There is no time for written orders. We are in hot pursuit. I outrank you, Commander, and you will obey my orders." The Commander bristled, but backed down.
"Now," Asikov said, standing. "I need to see your sonar officer. We have boats to hunt down."
The fisherman's dock was in the relatively peaceful currents of the river mouth, situated in a protected eddy. They pushed off and into the mainstream on an easterly heading. Their transition to the sea was seamless, thanks to the jetties jutting out into the open waters. They had just cleared the tips of the jetties when they saw lights bouncing in the distance.
Illya stayed on the floor, arranging items in a useable order: The manual was wrapped in oilcloth and tucked against the skin of his abdomen, under his clothing. The gun was tucked into his waistband, and the knife in his boot. The flares and grenade were laid out in easy reach next to a pile of oily rags and a small container of gasoline. Food and extra clothing were separated and put aside.
It didn’t take long for Trudy to learn the basics on how to run the boat. She and her husband had a very small fishing boat of their own at one time; the driving mechanism was very similar. She squatted down next to the shaggy haired agent, resisting the temptation to brush back the bangs fluttering on his forehead. Illya hadn't tried to stand. She was sure his balance on the bumpy deck would be precarious, and he knew it. When she saw the lights in the distance closing in, she mentioned it to him and he peeked over the side.
"I was hoping we'd get further out," he said quietly, directing Stephan to drift a bit south and delay the inevitable confrontation. They edged up the throttle just a bit. "They must be using radar to locate us, because I'm sure we're too dark to spot."
Everyone felt the stress building as the light got closer. Eventually they heard the sound of the motor; the boat was moving at a good clip, and had passed the jetties. There was no doubt it was a patrol boat. All they could do was watch helplessly as the light grew in size. Illya said to turn east and try to feign engine trouble. Stephan threw him a wide-eyed look, and Illya spoke to him in Russian. Stephan looked a little relieved and did what he was told.
"What did you tell him?" She asked.
"I said I'd tell the patrol that I hijacked him with the gun if I had to," Illya explained patting the handgun at his waist. "But we may not need to do that."
Now it was Trudy's eyes that went big. She'd come to appreciate the survival skills of the small man, and knew he had a plan. She opened her mouth to ask what it was, and then decided she'd rather not know. She knew how he thought, and whatever it was, it would be a show. She just hoped they lived through it. "I hope you know what you're doing," she said softly.
"I've gotten us this far, haven't I? Have a little faith."
She couldn't respond to that. The boat was now very close and they were suddenly awash with light.
The announcement seemed to come directly from the bright, white spotlight. Only the sound of the motor gave away that the light was attached to a patrol boat. The surrounding seas were so black compared to the white light that Trudy and Stephan were momentarily stunned into motionlessness. Only Illya, close to the floor and not visible in the spotlight, was in motion, pulling out the flares that had been stashed his tunic.
"Stephan!" he hissed "STEPAN!" The young man jumped, his attention finally captured by the agent. "Do you have matches? And don't look at me!"
"Da," he replied, eyes wide in fear.
"Idle the engine, and get the matches out slowly. Trudy!"
"Huh?" She aborted her glance at the agent, and blinked into the light.
Illya switched to English. "Be ready to take the boat. Move slowly toward the wheel, and keep your hands visible. And don't look at me."
She slid over slowly, hands up, as Stephan slipped next to Illya. They heard the patrol boat cut the engine back. Stephan dropped the matches in Illya's lap as the young man raised his hands for the patrol. The loudspeaker was spewing out orders and Illya talked over them as he worked with the flares. He jumped between English and Russian as he worked. Trudy was momentarily awed he could do that so easily under such pressure.
"Stephan, tell me if you see long, rectangular boxes mounted on the side of the boat. Keep verbal estimate as to the distance between us. When they don't see you as a direct threat, they will parallel us in an attempt to board. That's what I want."
"The lights are blinding me," Stephan said worriedly.
"I know. Look just above the water line, not directly into the light."
Stephan squinted and Trudy shifted nervously. She watched Illya out of the corner of her eye; he was wrapping the flares in the oily, gasoline soaked rags. That'll burn like crazy, she thought, licking her lips wordlessly.
The young man mumbled something to Illya, and the agent replied with a nod. Stephan then started what sounded like a countdown.
"What'd he say? What's going on?" Trudy asked, trying not to move her lips. She could feel the sweat trickling down from her hairline, but didn't dare move to wipe it away.
"I needed to know if there were missile launchers mounted on the hull of the boat, and how close the boat is." He was working rapidly as he spoke, hunched down next to the wall.
"Missile launchers?!" She hissed, horrified, locking her eyes on the dark form now being maneuvered alongside. She saw the long boxes he referred to, and took a little solace knowing that in a parallel position, the things were no longer directed at them. That was a good thing; the bad thing was that now that they were closer, she could see how heavily armed each person was. Her palms were itching to slam the trawler into drive and flee, but she managed to keep still.
Stephan continued to report the closing distance. Illya put a final tug on the rags, and pulled out the grenade. He held the grenade in his teeth by the ring, and readied a match. Trudy saw him fumble with the tiny sticks, dropping several, then finally get a grip on one with a shaky hand.
Trudy could see more and more details as the boat got closer. The man in charge was yelling something directly at Trudy, close enough to no longer need the loudspeaker any longer. He repeated his demand, more loudly. She replied by smiling, shrugging, and pointing to her ears. He grunted, and reached over the side just as the patrol boat bumped them lightly.
In that instant, perfectly timed because of Stephan's monitoring, Trudy heard the snap of the match as it was struck. Illya touched it to the rag wrapped around one flare, and all three ignited immediately. He stood and heaved them in succession, each landing on a different part of the deck of the patrol boat. She was amazed by his speed; the crew didn't have time to react until the burning packages hit the deck, then they exploded into motion, scrambling to either get away from the erupting flares or trying to stomp them out.
"HIT IT!" Illya yelled with gritted teeth, and Trudy grabbed the wheel and the throttle. The agent pulled the grenade free of the pin and leaned over the edge. As he stuffed the grenade between the parallel missile boxes, the trawler leaped away to the sound of gunfire. Illya grabbed the edge to keep from being thrown overboard as they raced away in the dark. When he gained his feet he took the opportunity to shove Stephan over the side before the young man could protest and started to make his way towards Trudy.
"HEY!" Trudy yelped, gripping the wheel.
"HE CAN SWIM HOME!" Illya yelled back. As he reached her, there were two huge, back-to-back explosions that made the trawler shimmy. Trudy ducked when debris rained down on them, and glanced back just in time to see Illya get nailed in the head with a sizeable chunk of something. He dropped like a rock and didn't move.
"Oh my God! ILLYA!" Her scream was lost in the roar and subsequent explosions of ordinance on the boat, and in an instant realized that he was safer where he was on the floor. Pegging the throttle full open, she held the bottom of the wheel and got as close to the floor as she could. At least I won't hit anything, ran crazily through her head as the trawler escaped into the darkness, peppered with burning shrapnel.
Her ears were still ringing when they finally cleared the shrapnel, and when the fiery mass was out of sight, Trudy checked the compass and confirmed their westerly direction. "Illya!" she called, not daring to stop or let go of the wheel. "Hey!" She heard a groan, and the agent rolled over. "Illya? Wake up, will you? I know your head is harder than that! Are you with me? I wouldn't know this Solo guy if he bit me! Come on, I need your help!"
Illya struggled to a sitting position, flailing against the bumpy motion of the boat, and held his head in his hands, silent. The thrumming of the motor was broken only by the rhythmic jar of the boat hitting ocean wakes. After many minutes he attempted to stand without success, finally resorting to crawling to her feet and leaning back on the hull, eyes closed. They both ignored the dying embers that had settled on the deck from the sky and the smoky smell of destruction they brought.
"Can you hear me?" She yelled over the motor. "Are you all right?"
He winced in response, and she had to put her head close to him to hear. "I can hear just fine. Please don't yell. It upsets the marching band in my head."
She stood up, shaking her head as she looked forward into the darkness. "You must be fine. Your sour demeanor is intact," she said.
"How far out are we?"
"I have no idea."
He struggled to his feet, holding firmly on the side rail and looking at the compass. "I guess we've been doing about 20 knots for less than one half hour, so we must be somewhere around 10 miles out. We're close."
"Now how do we find your partner? We can't telephone ahead or anything."
"Not in the sense you're thinking of, anyway. I still have that bit of gasoline to work with. You keep driving. I'll see what I can do."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
"It just disappeared, sir."
"How can it just have disappeared?! What about the second target? Is it still there?" Asikov wasn't believing what he was hearing. How could a fully armed patrol boat simply disappear? The other vessel was very small and slow moving before, but was now moving much faster. Its speed was still pitiful next to that of the disappearing patrol boat! Whatever had happened, Asikov was sure Kuryakin was the root of it. He touched the scar on his face, recalling the explosion that had caused it and how the annoying little man was involved in that debacle.
"The second target is still moving east. It will soon be in international waters, sir."
"I don't care if it will soon be on the moon. Intercept."
The sound of the Commander clearing his throat made the sonar man jump. Asikov turned an icy stare on him. "May I respectfully remind you, sir, that any confrontation in international waters is against regulations?" He wasn’t about to let this interloper risk his command.
"I outrank you, Commander. Do not question me. Pursue."
The Commander ground his teeth. "Aye, Sir."
The trio on the Empress heard what sounded like faint thunder. "But there were no clouds in the sky," Stevie commented, looking skyward. "And no storms were expected."
"Explosion." Napoleon said matter-of-factly. "And we can only get a general direction." He pointed southwest. "Turn that way."
Stevie did so without question. The radar technician confirmed a few minutes later that the submarine was headed in the same direction, and where there once had been two small blips in another area, there was now only one.
Illya finally felt that there was a good possibility of escape from all this. The horizon was clear in every direction and no sound carried when he turned off the engines to listen. He knew they were near the end of Russian waters, and now it came down to two things: either they’d run out of fuel and drift until they were picked up, or Napoleon would find them. He was sure that even Asikov, as driven as he could be, wouldn’t risk an incident in open waters. Then again, witnesses out here were few and far between.
"OK, Mr. Kuryakin," Trudy started. "Tell me about this General Asikov and why he’s pulling out all the stops to find you." She was curious, but she also suspected that Illya had a concussion and wanted to keep him talking. He seemed to be dragging, and she desperately wanted to check if his pupils were reacting evenly. She was playing it safe by keeping him talking and surprisingly, he seemed willing.
"I was a Lieutenant in the Russian Navy. Asikov was the Commander on the submarine I was assigned to. He tried to make a name for himself by putting the crew under him at unnecessary risk and I pointed it out to him. And when things went sour, there was an explosion and one crewman was lost. It would have been worse if I hadn’t moved all the crewmen to a safe location beforehand." Illya’s eyes were closed, and he had his head leaned back against the hull.
"So you defied his orders by moving the men?"
"Yes. The man that died was by Askiov’s side. He saved the General’s life by taking the brunt of the explosion."
"Did Asikov blame you for the explosion?"
"Yes, but only to my face. He said if the men had been where he put them, they would have seen the problem with the explosives before they blew. The formal investigation, however, didn’t prove that and he decided to keep his mouth shut and save his career. The men never knew that I had defied orders; they thought Asikov was a hero by moving them. I kept my mouth shut and Asikov never got the blame he deserved. And I had this secret over his head; he didn't like that."
"Did he make life miserable for you after that?"
"Not really. He didn’t have the chance. I moved to Naval Intelligence shortly thereafter."
"Because of your knack with explosives?" she teased.
"Partly," he confessed. "But when the opportunity came to leave the Navy, I did."
"And here you are today. Isn’t life weird sometimes," Trudy commented.
Illya shook his head slowly. "Madam, you have no idea."