The Reality Affair

by Jill Sylvan

OPENING of The Reality Affair

^What senses do we lack that we cannot see another world all around us? 1969 ^_Dune Messiah_, Frank Herbert

Part 1: By the pricking of my thumbs...

There was always another Thrush plot to be defeated. Always another power-hungry madman. Always another hapless innocent (almost always a sweet young woman) caught in the middle of something she or he did not understand. So too, there was always Napoleon Solo.

Napoleon at times seemed like the heart of the world. He was a dark-haired man with a deeply cleft chin, who always looked as though he had stepped fresh out of a magazine advertisement for men's stylish suits. Though at a casual glance, it seemed that he and his partner were complete opposites, they shared several traits in common. They both were dedicated, organized, loyal men. Both appreciated beautiful women, good food and adventure. Yet Napoleon was also chaotic in his approach to the world. Unlike his partner he seemed to find rules to be bent, broken when necessary. He drew women to him like bees to nectar. His smile was frequent and daring; always hinting at a nefarious streak.

That was what made Illya Kuryakin feel that his partner Napoleon was the heart of the world. Illya himself was a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blond, his face square and a nose that hooked slightly downward. In his casual wear he preferred black, usually cotton. In himself he felt a deep silence; an order and rationality which kept him from railing at the unfairness of the world, though he did feel oftentimes that it WAS unfair. A Russian agent assigned to U.N.C.L.E., he was the stranger in a strange land, and his partner insisted on bridging the gap between government and man to become his friend.

Two houses, both alike in dignity... Illya Kuryakin had thought he was beyond this. He had not felt this way since he was newly assigned to U.N.C.L.E. He felt disconnected, surrounded by inexplicable aliens. It had started shortly after the Pieces of Eight Affair, wherein a Thrush scientist's experiment to create super-geniuses had gone awry. An island of homicidal maniacs had to be bombed out of existence. Illya himself had been briefly under the machine, horrified that his identity would be destroyed, leaving a raving, drooling madman in his place.

The machine had only been on for a few seconds. Surely that was not enough time to affect him, was it? He of all people knew the fallacy of wishful thinking. So it was that he had asked Napoleon to help him. "Look at this pen for four minutes. Do not take your eyes off of it, please."

Napoleon was cooperating, curiosity alternating with boredom now that the four minutes were almost up. Illya forcibly controlled his growing fear. By the end of two minutes, the pen had disappeared from his hand. Sometimes it wavered back into view, only to vanish again. Other times he could see it there in front of him, yet he had the bizarre sense that he was seeing it out of the corner of his eye. At least his hand did not vanish or fade out.

The four minutes were up. Illya let his hand open and drop the pen he could not see or feel to the tabletop. He could not hear it hit. Napoleon's eyes followed the movement, and for a brief instant Illya felt sick. "I must have a medical and psychiatric examination."

Napoleon's eyes snapped to him, like laser beams of concern and a sudden thread of his own fear. "Why?"

"Because the pen does not exist to me, Napoleon."

The silence of the white room, before alive with curious expectation, became that of crowded questions that could find no exit. Several times Napoleon Solo's mouth moved to form one or another of them. He finally gave up and reached out to close his hand around Illya's bicep. The pressure was sane and promised support. I won't leave you alone in this, it said.