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The Dagger Affair - McDaniel David

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The Dagger Affair
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Два лучших агента Наполеон Соло и Илья Курякин из организации UNCLE (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) сражаются с возмутителями спокойствия, в роли которых выступают сотрудники организации THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity).

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The Dagger Affair

By David McDaniel

"Tell us all about Dagger!"

That was the command thrown at Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin by the unseen THRUSH agents who kidnapped them and interrogated them with lie detectors. And from each U.N.C.L.E. agent came the same answer: "We know absolutely nothing of DAGGER."

"You appear to be telling the truth," said the hidden voice. "A pity...."

But it was more than merely unfortunate that the U.N.C.L.E. organization had never heard of DAGGER. For the secret behind that name was an insane plot for mass murder — the murder of the human race!

Author's Dedication: To Dean and Shirley Dickensheet,

Technological Advisors on the Hierarchy

THE DAGGER AFFAIR

Illya Kuryakin blinked at the darkness in his bedroom and wondered what had awakened him. He listened intently while he counted to one hundred, and heard only the distant sound of traffic four floors below. But he knew there was someone else in his apartment. He turned his head slowly, looking about the room. It was empty. The luminous dial of his alarm clock told him it was shortly after 3:00 A.M.

Heaving a deep sigh and snorting as a sleeping man might, he rolled over in bed, and on the same squeak of the springs slipped to the floor. His hand moved under the edge of the mattress to grip the specially designed silenced automatic that was never out of his reach, and he rose warily to his feet.

Like a cat, he moved to the door. There was no light in the next room, but as he listened again he heard the sound of an incautiously drawn breath. His head moved, just enough to allow him a glimpse around the door. The faint light that seeped through the drawn curtains silhouetted a figure bending over the desk. The figure seemed human, except for the head.

Above the shoulders of a man there rose a great crested form with three huge eyes and insect-like antennae. Illya moved silently forward, his bare feet compressing the rug with no more sound than a passing ghost. A moment later he stood directly behind the intruder, and was able to see that the man — if it was a man — was in the midst of a thoroughly professional search. More remarkably, the search was being carried out in almost total darkness. Yet every move the man made was direct, smooth and efficient, as if he were working under full, even illumination. Either he was a trained owl, or was in fact a blind burglar....

Illya decided to find out. He leaned forward until his lips were inches from the man's ear, and spoke softly:

"May I help you find something?"

The effect was as if the searcher had touched an electric wire. Every muscle in his body seemed to spasm, and he snapped upright, spinning to face his host. Illya retired two steps and turned on the desk lamp. He held the little gun low enough that the man could see it clearly, and then tilted the lampshade to direct the light upon his visitor's face.

His entire head was blank and metallic, except for a human mouth and chin. The three eyes were black, glassy, and larger than coffee cups. After the first horrible impression faded, Illya realized that the man was wearing a large mask-like helmet. But at the same moment the man recovered his composure and spoke — to someone else.

"One — three. Plan Baker."

It was crisp, direct and emotionless. The man had not raised his hands, nor shown any indication of drawing a weapon. Illya glanced for a fraction of a second at the door to his right, and the window to his left. The window was open. He stepped back again, to keep a greater distance between himself and his prisoner, and reached for the telephone.

At that moment something flicked through the window and burst softly on the rug. The helmeted man still did not move, but to Illya he seemed gradually to draw away, as his gun became very heavy and began to pull his arm down. He fought to hold it up, but after a long time he grew tired, and began to fall very slowly. He did not remember hitting the floor.

* * *

Napoleon Solo was driving west on the Long Island Expressway after a most pleasant evening spent far up the island. By the rally clock on his dash, the time was 0320. The road was almost deserted, and he took advantage of this condition to push his red sportscar quite some distance over the speed limit. The night wind of his speed tore at his hair, and the cold of it stung his eyes so that the overhead lights were dancing spheres that sped by on either side. He sat lower in his seat and blinked his vision back to normal.

To his right, a racing-silver XKE Jaguar pulled out of an access ramp and roared a blue cloud as it accelerated. Napoleon glanced sideways as he shot past, and saw a girl driving. But at the moment his mind was on his car, and speed.

His tachometer hovered around 4000 and the speedometer needle sat rock-steady a shade above ninety. He had at least another twenty, possibly thirty miles per hour in reserve, and he almost wished for a temptation to call on it. How long had it been since he had been able to open up all the way? Too long....

Then temptation came up from behind him, in the shape of a slender girl in a sleek silver Jag. The roar of her motor floated over the whipping of the wind, and a moment later she was even with him. As she passed, there was a moment in which he looked at her again, more closely. She was dressed in white, with a white scarf concealing her hair. She did not turn her head, but drove with a cool concentration as she accelerated away from him. Napoleon Solo smiled.

"If you want to race, I'm always glad to oblige a lady," he said into the wind. As he spoke his foot rode heavier on the gas pedal, and the little car shot forward. In a half-mile he was pacing her again.

Then she slowed very slightly, but enough that he would have had to brake to stay even with her. He didn't. He allowed himself to drift ahead until almost a full length separated them. A bridge whipped by overhead, and the echoes of their engines thundered around them for a moment. A car appeared on the other side of the divider, grew, flared by, and was gone, and Napoleon Solo remained a length ahead.

Suddenly she was beside him again, to the left, and he looked and smiled at her. Still she did not turn her head for a glimpse of him, and still he could not see her face.

She slipped ahead of him with an unexpected burst of power. He urged his speedometer over the magic hundred mark, and the wind tore the laugh of sheer exhilaration from his mouth and left it hanging in the air a hundred yards behind. At one hundred and five she was no longer pulling away, but he wasn't gaining.

That Jag was in superb condition! She was still accelerating as they crossed a hundred and ten together. At one-fifteen, he began to gain slightly. The little gas pedal was pressed firmly against the floor, and the tach was edging into the cross-hatched zone above 6000 rpm. He touched one hundred and twenty, and the car ahead seemed to falter.

Five feet apart, the two cars split the darkness as blurs of red and silver, howling through the night like comets. Curves appeared before them and were taken without slack. Ramps rose beside them and arched away and vanished. Then a wide straight stretch showed before them — an easy five miles of level wide-open run.

The speedometer nudged one-twenty-two, and Napoleon drew even with the silver Jaguar. Then the girl turned her head to look at him. She was beautiful, after all. Napoleon grinned widely, and waved to her. His hand moved above the level of his windshield then, and he was nearly pulled out of his seat by the force of the slipstream.

The girl smiled sweetly, raised a hand, and blew him a kiss. And a moment later she was gone, as Napoleon suddenly started losing speed. The tach dropped to 500 and the speedometer was drifting downward past ninety, past seventy, past fifty...

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