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The Utopia Affair - McDaniel David

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The Utopia Affair
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THE UTOPIA AFFAIR

COLD WHITE LIGHT gleamed off polished metal and porcelain. Distorted reflections of fluorescent overheads were tiny rectangular highlights in the shadow less illumination which filled the room. Trays of delicate instruments lay in precise ranks behind glass. The tense silence was underscored by a faint electronic humming, the regular hiss of a controlled flow of gas, and the soft breathing of the white-robed figures who stood intently watching a glowing display.

A steel box squatted on a wheeled stand next to a sheet-draped table, black-sheathed cables connecting them. A green trace danced unsteadily on the face of a cathode-ray screen, surrounded by smaller dials where readings changed from moment to moment. A heavy cable ran from the steel box to a large Cannon socket in the nearest wall.

One of the watchers spoke. "Take number three down a couple points." Another turned slightly to adjust a knob on a compact control console built into the side of the table. Gradually the oscilloscope trace changed, the spikes growing taller and closer together. "Good. Let's hear the cardio." A moment later the amplified sound of a heartbeat, like a muffled drum beating a primitive dirge, trembled the still air of the room.

The figure lying beneath the sheet on the table stirred slightly, and the neat green trace shattered. Heads swiveled towards the figure, and one man moved to check the mask which covered its nose and mouth. "Just lie quite still another minute, and we'll be through."

Keen eyes glared up at the speaker over the rim of the black rubber mask—eyes which lay deep in wrinkled fleshy pouches like the jet bead eyes of a tortoise. Alexander Waverly was becoming annoyed.

Forty hours earlier, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin had been chatting over a leisurely lunch in the commissary at U.N.C.L.E. HQ. As usual, Illya was doing most of the listening, while his partner spoke expansively of the home improvements he'd had installed in his Manhattan apartment while the two of them were out of town on a recent assignment.

"All the windows have capacitance-actuated alarms on them," he said, "and the entry hall is full of ultrasonics. The only trouble I've had so far is the window by the fire escape—a large cat set off the alarm there a few nights ago. I had to adjust the sensitivity."

Illya's glance shifted over Solo's right shoulder and his eyebrows arched slightly. "Not to change the subject," he said, "but we seem to have company."

Napoleon idly lifted a knife from his tray and used the polished blade as a reflector to look behind him. "Well! Socializing with the hired help." He swung around and raised an arm in casual greeting and invitation. Alexander Waverly, Continental Head of U.N.C.L.E. North America, nodded to him and bore a lightly laden tray to their table. As he approached, Solo hooked a foot around the leg of a chair, pulling it out for his chief.

"Thank you, Mr. Solo," Waverly said as he accepted the seat and placed his tray on the Formica table top, "and good afternoon, Mr. Kuryakin."

"Good afternoon, sir," returned the Russian agent gravely. "Who's minding the store?"

"It can take care of itself for a few minutes," Waverly said. "Things have been quiet."

"That's seldom a good sign," Napoleon commented. "They're probably up to something."

"They always are. But we cannot act until they make the first move." Waverly poured a dollop of cream into his tea. "One of our most frustrating limitations." He raised the cup to his lips and took an experimental sip. The cup rattled briefly against the saucer as he replaced it. Napoleon flicked a glance at Illya and saw he had noticed it too.

"Ah—I was just telling Illya about some new gadgets I had installed in my apartment last month. Besides the security devices, I've got a new shower. Fully adjustable spray from a fog through a tropical rainstorm to a water fall. And there's a pull-knob at the side which can be activated either manually or by a pre-set timer—when it goes off, all the hot water is cut and you get a five second blast of ice water. It's great for waking up."

Illya shuddered visibly. "I should think the shock would be enough to send you back to bed."

"Far from it; I leap from the shower feeling thoroughly refreshed and ready to face the day."

"Secure in the knowledge that whatever happens couldn't be worse than what you've already gone through."

Waverly had taken another sip of his tea, and as he set the cup down again he choked. The cup half-missed the saucer and its contents cascaded across the tray, dislodging his toasted muffin in passing, and surged over the edge of the table to where Napoleon's lap had been an instant before. Illya had two paper napkins at the edge a moment later, saving the floor from further embarrassment.

Waverly, meanwhile, was pushed back from the table, both hands gripping the edge, as a fit of coughing doubled him over. He fought for breath as spasms shook his body. At last he began to regain control, and raised his head. His face was a mottled gray and tears poured from his eyes as he gasped in air. His hand groped out blindly; Napoleon found a dry napkin and gave it to him. His breathing gradually eased as he mopped his face for several seconds, then blew his nose resoundingly. His voice was an unsteady gravelly whisper when he spoke. "I'm afraid the tea is a little strong today."

Napoleon and Illya looked at each other as an attendant hurried up to repair the damages and remove the wreckage. Solo spoke casually, as though continuing the earlier conversation. "Actually, the cold shower is supposed to be quite healthful. Closes the pores, stimulates circulation, improves muscle tone and so on."

Illya picked up the cue. "I find my health stays quite satisfactory without resorting to such violence upon my system. The results of my annual checkup came a few days ago and apart from a somewhat below average blood pressure, I'm in fine condition. Oh, by the way, Mr. Waverly, the good doctor in Section Six mentioned that you were slightly overdue for your annual checkup. I believe eighteen months overdue was the figure he quoted."

Waverly scowled at his Russian agent. "When I was a lad, doctors kept their patients' affairs confidential. Things have been quite hectic of late."

"Then we shouldn't be sitting here talking," said Napoleon, starting briskly to his feet. "Back to work to save the world!"

Waverly snorted. "Sit down, Mr. Solo. The urgency is not that pressing. I should have gone for my overhaul some time ago—and now that you two know of my laxity I suppose you will give me no rest until I have done so. So be it. I shall request Section Six for an appointment this afternoon. Now will you let me finish my lunch in peace?"

"Why, certainly, sir," said Napoleon innocently.

"And no more pointed remarks about health, either. Talk about your boat, or something else."

"Well, the Pursang has been in dry dock for six months, sir, but I'm planning on having her refitted for spring..."

The memo from Section Six hit Waverly's desk a little less than two hours after his examination was completed. Ninety seconds later, he had the head of Section Six on the intercom.

"I'm sorry, sir," the worthy physician was saying, "but it is quite necessary. You haven't been taking proper care of yourself, and your old lung injury is hardly being helped by the New York atmosphere. In addition, your upper digestive tract—"

"You may spare me the post-mortem, doctor," said Waverly. "You are the authority on my condition. What I question is your choice of treatment."

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