On the last day of winter
On the last day of winter
Periodically I like to post one of the stories that I have written. This genre of fiction known as fan fiction is unique to the realm of fandom, that place where people let the fictional influences of our lives have more than what was told to us by the original series/movie/book/comic. The combinations are endless and the subject matter unpredictable.
This is a piece that was done for a challenge on Live Journal called Down the Chimney. It is part of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom, a small but energetic group who still yearn from the exploits of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.
This particular story had prompts upon which to base it: bitter; tower card from a tarot deck; a Dead Kennedy’s vid.
There has been a lot of talk about the movie version of this series, and I hope it turns out to be a good film, not one of the horrendous ones that have marked too many TV returns. I honestly don’t know how to even think of anyone else being Solo and Kuryakin, however, because Robert Vaughn and David McCallum simply are those characters. But, that’s another topic.
This story takes place on Christmas Eve, and delves into the differences between the American and Soviet agents’ perspectives on Vietnam. It isn’t cheerful, but I believe it to be honest.
There are things that go on in the world that, for most of its citizens, remain unknown.
That is to say, much of what was, and is, reported to the common man, if there is such a creature, is a measured and calculated script that emanates from higher up than we care to admit.
To the men and women who populate the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, some of the scripting has been dropped for the sake of those that save the world. Not knowing the facts tends to slow down that process, limit the productivity, as it were, of those to whom the great commission is given.
Alexander Waverly huffed into a pipe that was seldom lit. His craggy features threatened to expose his fury over this latest intrusion of political insanity. This man, at least, believed in a righteous cause, and just as vehemently believed that, at this moment, there was not one on the horizon to which he might ascribe merit.
It was not enough that he had witnessed the rise and fall of two treacherous regimes in Europe, or that he had fought for a peace that aspired to prevail, only to watch it recede once more into the murky waters of totalitarianism.
The mighty have always fallen, it seems. The valiant return impaled on their swords more often than they do hefting them in victory, the cry of some great cause still lingering on lifeless lips; the plans that men make rarely exceed even the most modest claims. The great Tower of Babel has inspired every significant movement of government and anarchy, the aim always the same: to be like God.
Waverly’s recourse in all of it had been to build his own Ivory Tower and fill it with men and women of high moral character, people willing to give their lives in order to preserve the Peace.
Those other edifices failed at every turn, according to Waverly’s standards. Not one of them was exempt from trying to control the world, and only something as incongruous as the Hierarchy was bold enough to admit to doing it for its own benefit and purposes.
And now, once again, the old man wondered about his warriors, and the cost of living in ivory towers.
“Ah, Mr. Solo… where have you gone, you and your Russian?”
Waverly breathed it out even as a puff of smoke curled up to the ceiling, a testament to the old man’s tenacity and the lightness of the wretched, nicotine infused vapor.
In the halls of UNCLE’s New York HQ, Christmas Eve of 1964 was subdued. Instead of the usual gaiety and party atmosphere that should have been enjoyed by its inhabitants, there was a subtle pall over everything at the news of a singular bombing in Saigon: the Brinks Hotel. The villains: two North Vietnamese men disguised as South Vietnamese soldiers. Since the only difference between the two regions was a political affiliation, no one noticed the ruse.
Of particular concern to the members of the Command were two men whose names were now being whispered as solemnly as one might invoke a prayer: Napoleon Solo; Illya Kuryakin.
Why they were in Saigon was not known generally, nor how they came to be at a hotel that served as American Military housing. None of the information was concrete, and every new piece of news brought around a new wave of suspicion regarding the conflict in Vietnam.
The next morning in Saigon, there was some confusion still, in the city center where the explosion occurred. Two men who were thought to be amidst the rubble were little more than inconvenienced by this latest development in Southeast Asia, and neither one of them wanted to be here; especially the Russian.
“If not for the gasoline tanks inside, this would not have been nearly as bad. I wonder if that was part of the plan?”
The aim, of course, was to show how vulnerable Saigon, and therefore all of South Vietnam, was to whatever the North willed. It was, very simply, a message.
The American member of this duo moved a little closer to his partner, his brain still assimilating the scene. His dark good looks caused people to notice him while the blond stood out like the foreigner he was.
Napoleon spoke even as he continued to scan their surroundings, his senses on high alert.
“Whatever the plan was I just hope someone will understand it fully.”
Illya Kuryakin understood about the unstated goals. He was a Soviet military man, after all. Before there was UNCLE, there was the Soviet Navy and… other activities. He detested being here in this country, hated that the spin on this incident would eventually point the finger at his own countrymen. He hated that there would be some truth to it.
Conversely, Kuryakin knew how things had gotten to this point. It is a bitter thing to know you are not in the right, but to understand that neither are you in the wrong. There was nothing here to be redeemed from the turmoil. The future looked grim, the cause lost. Already, without firing a retaliatory shot at the North, the Americans had lost footing in this conflict, much as Kruschchev had lost his job in Moscow. Both would have fared better to abandon this place long ago.
If the Russian spy could see it, how could they not in Washington?
Napoleon Solo was the optimist who believed that right is might and right would prevail. Solo did not want to confront this Vietnam issue, a sensitive subject with his Russian partner. Some things would be better left alone, and to take a stand now, on this, would only bring trouble. Trouble that he, for one, did not wish to engage.
Kuryakin looked around at the destruction, and at his partner. Once again, possibly, the mythical Solo Luck saved the two of them from disaster. Instead of being inside where the meeting had been arranged to take place, a freak accident slowed their progress. They were ten minutes late. Ten minutes became the difference between being here on the street looking, or beneath the rubble.
“Illya, I’ve contacted Mr. Waverly. Everyone thought we were in there…’’
Napoleon’s words trailed off as, once again, he considered what might have been. Illya’s blue eyes were sharp as cut gemstones staring back at him. The color was eerily serene against the remains of the building behind him.
“I suppose we might as well head out. Personally, I can’t wait to get out of Vietnam.”
Illya nodded. Immediately would not be soon enough for the weary spy. He had the fleeting thought that he was too young to be baited by the politics of old men, and then the secret, recurring desire to live a different life edged around the reality that, more than likely, the die was already resolutely cast. Almost beneath his breath, and with an ironic sense of fate filled amusement, he breathed out a phrase…
“Les jeux sont fait.”
Napoleon turned his head, inclined his ear to hear the whispered words.
“What was that?”
“Nothing… just a thought. We are all in it ‘til the end, are we not?”
Napoleon had learned to let Illya have his Russian moods. When he spoke in French the older man usually gave him some space.
“Do you think that there will ever be a resolution to this conflict? It seems as though neither side has an advantage.”
Illya winced into the sun a little, at his friend’s comment even more so.
“The North will win, because they were the choice before this conflict began. Do you still not believe that the American presence here was unwanted?”
Napoleon did not want to believe that version of the story. He was a military man himself, served in Korea. He fought the same enemy that now stood in the way here in South Vietnam. It was all too fresh for him still. The images returned, in his mind, of soldiers lying in the mud, their bodies torn apart, decimated by the shrapnel from vicious land mines. Others haunted him, with eyes glazed and milky after lying too long with a bullet in their skulls.
Napoleon shook off the memories and returned his attention to his Soviet partner. The one who thought he understood all of it so much better.
“So then, you believe that the Americans are the aggressors here?”
How to answer that? Wasn’t everyone to blame at some point?
“I believe, and in fact know from fairly public documentation, that free elections would have meant the Vietnamese people should now be united under a Socialist government, most likely with Ho Chi Minh still in power. It was the direction they were heading ten years ago. I see no reason to doubt that the outcome would have been exactly that. Even now, you do not really possess the allegiance of all of South Vietnam. Some of them are undoubtedly on the side of the Viet Cong.”
Napoleon looked around at the people who populated Saigon. Men and women were dressed in traditional clothing with their conical hats, the nón lá, gracing their heads. He remembered a mission in which Illya sported one very much like these.
“I suppose you may be right. It just seems so…”
Napoleon looked Illya in the eye, wanting to see an answer that differed from the one he expected to receive. He hoped, he always hoped…
“Napoleon, it is the way of the world, my friend. The men in power want to stay in power, and whatever they believe to be true they thrust onto the populace and demand obeisance to it. Some are worse than others, that is all.’
Napoleon looked stricken at the hopelessness of that statement. Illya had a twinge of regret at being so pragmatic, yet continued on.
“It is true. What we do, the fight we continue to wage against wrongdoers and obvious villains like Thrush… it makes some difference, perhaps, because each person is worth saving. One individual’s life or purpose, if salvaged from all of this, may have merit. That is what we hope for.”
Both men scanned the busy street for a taxi. They had been standing in the same spot just long enough to be targets. Better to go, to leave this place.
Napoleon frowned, his eyes darting from Illya and back to the heap that was the Brinks Hotel. He hailed the taxi successfully, and motioned for them to move on.
“Let’s go, Illya.“
The two men slid into the cab that pulled to a stop in front of them, and Illya gave directions to take them to Tan Son Nhut, the chaotic airport outside of Saigon. Driving through the crowded streets, the car was side by side with men on bicycles and rickshaws, and Illya wondered how his friend, this new friend, for their partnership was still young, would survive when the inevitable truths were discovered.
For Illya, the truth had never been an issue. He had ascertained truth through his own inventions, his own discoveries. Being a Soviet meant you must either accept what you were told, and therefore exist as a satellite of the state’s consciousness, or find truth that would fuel selfish ambition. Illya chose the latter, for he knew that he was being told lies.
Now, with UNCLE, there was some truth for him; the vision of the man who forged out this lone entity of altruism and good. Napoleon was a poster child for the ideals of this organization. He believed the good existed everywhere, somewhere. He believed his leaders and would die in service to them if asked to lend that sacrifice.
Illya knew that he could leave anytime, should the lies outweigh his own truth. He had leapt from that tower once already, and would do it again if it became necessary.
The ride to Tan Son Nhut lasted longer than either agent would have liked. Finally, when they arrived and boarded it was without any luggage. They had their passports and communicators. They wore their guns; no one questioned them.
Finally seated and waiting for the plane to depart on the long journey home, Napoleon was quiet. He feared just a little that Illya was right. Everything was subject to change except for the nature of man.
“I do believe my government is basically… generally good. I do. I have to.”
Illya smiled that pinched, secretive smile that made him a subject of gossip and ire. Always it seemed that he held an answer to some important question that he was unwilling to share.
“I do not wish to cause you grief over this, Napoleon. It is merely my contention that governments, no matter how brilliantly they shine for a time, eventually fall prey to the desires of a few. And in your country, there is this military-industrial complex that thrives on war. Even Eisenhower warned against it. Now, with Vietnam, there is profit in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy. I am sorry, Napoleon, but it is undeniable.”
Not to be outdone by the world’s insistence on arguments and disagreeable inevitabilities, Napoleon tried to switch gears. It was still Christmas, even if Illya remained reticent about its significance.
“You know, it’s only ten o’clock in the morning, so, we can still make it into JFK by midnight, New York time. It’ll still be Christmas.”
Even now, the American was hopeful that when he stepped onto American soil again, on Christmas, the world would somehow right itself and he could go back to believing in miracles and happy ever after, even for just a few hours.
Once more the blond sitting next to him was struck by the sheer will of the man to not be bowed by the negatives of the world in which they lived. They had at least twenty hours of flying in front of them, and a barely attainable goal of reaching New York before the clock struck midnight. All bets were on Napoleon to make it there, optimism intact and a smile on his face.
“I admire your optimism, Napoleon. I believe it has saved us on more than one occasion.’
That wry smile appeared once again.
Confusion marked his expression, but Napoleon got it momentarily.
“Do you think I am naïve? Because, I’m not you know. I just believe that things can be … good. I believe that what we do makes a difference…’
He donned that irrepressible expression of a man caught between modesty of conceit and acknowledgement of who he is.
“But, you’re welcome.”
The Russian smiled, this time a real smile, and one that betrayed him, for he could almost be persuaded to believe what his friend was telling him.
“С Рождеством, Napoleon. May all of your dreams come to fruition.”
And then Napoleon saw it. He saw a small glimmer of hope in the dour Russian’s façade of stoic fatalism. They might just win in the end because there was purpose in the fight.
“Merry Christmas, Illya. May we all live to see it.”
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, nor is any money made from this work.
Sapphire stepped through the long grass into a mown lawn that was surrounded by wildflowers and white skinned birch trees. It seemed incongruous to find such a setting as this, as though it had been painted onto a canvas without care for what is true.
She was trying to gain his attention. Steel seemed to be sleeping, but normally it was a simple thing for Sapphire to rouse him from whatever thoughts held him in check.
As an element, Steel conformed perfectly, and as an agent he was meticulous and unerring.
Here, in this setting, the man was evident, and Sapphire felt a twinge of regret that they were not able to act on the subtleties of their relationship within the realm they inhabited as humans. She wondered if all things were subject to change.
When had she begun to think of him as more than her partner? Perhaps it was the first time she noted the streak of blond that shimmered against the darker hair beneath, the result of time spent in sunnier climes.
Or, perhaps it was the reflection of blue in Steel’s eyes as she looked into them. Was it his true color beneath the steel exterior of his element source?
Sometimes she watched him speak, noting the fullness of his bottom lip, the twitch of a smile if he was pleased in some way. Sapphire had discovered, almost regretfully, that she desired to please him.
Now, watching him from this distance, she felt him speak to her.
Sapphire, come sit beside me.
She strolled casually to the spot, changed her clothing from the luminescent blue jumpsuit she was wearing into a paler blue cotton dress; imminently more suitable for sitting in meadows, she reckoned.
Steel, what are you doing here resting in a meadow?.
Steel knew without looking that she had a smile on her face, the humor seeping through into her words.
I decided to experiment with Time. My time, as it were.
Sapphire thought she understood what he was attempting. Steel had difficulties with the human course, and no experience with idleness. He was attempting to experience inactivity. It must have been a success, according to his posture and the look of contentment on his face.
How do you think the experiment is going then, Steel?
He smiled at that. She thought it was the most handsome he had ever looked, lying there with blond hair splayed out around his head. He was wearing it longer these days, perhaps a pique of ego seeping into his seemingly hard personality. No, not ego; pleasure.
Steel was learning to have pleasure in his human form. For something as hard as Steel, both in elemental and intellectual form, the inroads being made by human contact and assumption was a marvelous spectacle.
I think it is not quite as distasteful as I once believed it to be. Do you think I am getting soft?
Sapphire brushed back a bit of stray hair from his forehead. The gesture both pleased and excited him. When did her touch begin to move him like this?
Perhaps I shall lie down here and join you, Steel. That is, if you don’t mind the company.
A breeze rustled through the trees, and a fragrance borne on that drift of air settled in around them. Their senses were full of their surroundings, aware of the nearness of the other person.
I should like that very much, Sapphire.
She smiled at him, inviting him to add something new to his experiment on being human.
John Lennon would have been 71 today. Paul McCartney got married again today. My mother passed away on this date in 1999. An ordinary Fall day that has several significant events associated to it, some personal and some of worldwide interest.
Do we think about John on a regular basis? I listen to his music, have books and pictures, LPs and DVDs…I collect Beatles. I watched the George Harrison documentary this past week on HBO, Living In The Material World, and there was John in the midst of it. You don’t have one without the other three, and history wouldn’t have been nearly so impacted if it hadn’t been four Beatles.
Yoko is lighting the Peace Light in Iceland in honor of John. I imagine there will be candles and flowers at the site in New York where he is memorialized by the Imagine motif. Without even being fully aware that it was his birthday, I pulled out A Hard Day’s Night to watch John and the band play at being movie stars. It still resonates today, for me as an adult. John was living the dream right about then.
I’ve written about John Lennon before, pointed out his zeal as an activist, and his brilliance as a songwriter. Not today, though. I’m just watching his movie, listening to the movies. We all know what he did, and if you don’t then go googling and pull up your itunes. In two years we’ll be celebrating Fifty Years of Beatlemania in the US. Europe can start a little earlier, the UK should already be at it.
The remaster of 1, the Beatles number one hits, has already eclipsed everyone else, again. The world will never grow weary of the group that created popular music culture as we know it. When all of the current fuzzy music moments have passed into obscurity, another generation will be discovering the Beatles’ music, and John Lennon’s legacy will have another chapter written into what remains one of the great stories of the 20th Century.
Happy Birthday John Lennon. Happy Birthday to Us. We’re the winners here, because we still have John among us as we watch and listen, read and enjoy the fruits of his talents.
It couldn’t have happened in a repressed society. The genius of Steve Jobs and his then partner Steve Wozniak would have been relegated to a state run lab, and all of the innovations and potential they possessed would have been the property of the government. Apple would have remained a vision, and the visionary himself would never have been known. I, for one, am proud that this happened in America. It might be corny to do so, but it’s how I feel about it.
Protesters on Wall Street are trying to convince the world that they somehow possess an answer within the muddled context of their complaint. All they are succeeding in is to illustrate how vacuous and unfocused a life can become when the best you have to offer is to sit in the street and cry foul. I’d hate to think what would happen if we were left to depend on any of them for leadership, inspiration or just plain common sense.
People are not equal in intellect, talent or vision. Being created equal in terms of our humanity is not anything like the dispersal of genius.
Steve Jobs took an idea and turned it into an empire. Should we hate him for that? If so, and if the concept of individualism and capitalism is so completely anathema to the more idealistic pursuit of all things being completely equal, then get rid of your ipod, ipad, itunes and, if you’re fortunate enough to have one on which to write a diatribe against American Capitalism, your Mac.
I mean it. Enough already with the criticism and the unending venomous hurling of words and protests; it’s become so ridiculously hypocritical that I cannot take it seriously. Steve Jobs will be eulogized as genius, philanthropist and icon, and no one will complain about the fact that he became very rich in the process, because everyone who’s writing about him, from almost any perspective, owns one or more of his products.
Having choices is good. Steve Jobs made certain we have a choice. I have a PC and a Mac. If I can afford it, I will eventually go all Mac, all the time. In the meantime, I’ll use what I have and save for the future hope of buying what I want. John Lennon once said he was too materialistic to be a true socialist. I think that probably applies to most people who espouse the dogma. Perhaps there is more to the semantics of the discussion than we care to admit.
He doesn’t look his age, and fangirls all over the world still think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Whether we call him Illya, Steel, Carter, Dan or Ducky, there’s a deep imprint on the hearts of the girls who grew up watching him in television and film.
For the fans, the fangirls and for UNCLE!
It’s not hard to find controversy in this day and age, and the onset of the Christmas season is no exception. The battle has waged for a few years now, over the change in how we greet one another during this season. Season’s Greetings has been an accepted line over the years, although the obvious reference was that it meant the Christmas season. Now, in the age of political correctness and inclusiveness, the very word Christmas has become the antithesis, for some reason, to a universal greeting. It would even appear that the center point of the phrase Merry Christmas, is now being rejected for something less specific.
While it is understood that there are other celebrations taking place during this winter month of December, Hanukkah and Kwanza most notably, the prevailing holiday to which almost all people are referring when they say Happy Holidays is, indeed, Christmas. If a person uses the HH greeting, and is then asked which holiday he or she is celebrating, the answer will most likely be Christmas. Whether the Christ child or the red suited Santa, it’s still going to be, for most people, Christmas that is on their schedule of holiday observances. People buy Christmas trees, Christmas presents, and eat Christmas cookies. We sing Christmas carols while strolling past Christmas decorations. Are we then left with nothing more expressive of the experience than to say “Happy Holidays”?
So, why the fuss, you may ask. Well, for my part, in spite of knowing that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t actually born on December 25th, (sorry if this is news to anyone), and that the original festival to which this date was dedicated was a pagan event that just begged intervention from the church fathers, Christmas is still the observance of the birth of the Christ; the anointed one sent by God as a repairer of the breach between deity and humankind. To make it something less is not so much an offense as it is a misuse of the overwrought dogmas of the modern correctness we are having to endure. The implication of changing this greeting is that, in some measure, my statement of faith is offensive to someone else, requiring that I make the sacrifice in sustaining the cultural and social significance of the event it symbolizes.
The fact that the nature of Christmas is spiritual and not material has, by most accounts, been lost on society at large. While there are pronouncements of peace on earth, as people borrow from the original message of the birth of Jesus, the central character is often passed by and relegated to a matter of little significance. It seems tragic, to me, that children hear the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill towards men”, and might think Santa Claus said it first. And, while we might be indebted for a celebration on December 25th, courtesy of the winter solstice… Dies Natalis Solis Invicti…the tradition of centuries concerning the birth of Christ lends the date its real significance in the modern age. The irony of marking the date on a calendar based on this event, and replacing the word Christmas with the benign and unsatisfactory holiday is something that seems to be lost on those who would perpetrate this meaningless new phrase: happy holidays.
It is not necessary to share the faith upon which Christmas is built, to understand the crassness of the new thought. Perhaps this is what George Orwell looked to when he coined the phrase New Speak. It is something that is without meaning, intended only to pad the speaker’s oration with irrelevant and innocuous words that lend nothing to the content.
Happy Holidays, while perhaps well intentioned, is by its very nature, meaningless compared to the depth of expression and hope within the Christmas tidings. Happy Holidays won’t live in your hearts for the entire year, but will only fade with the last bit of paper and ribbon as it heads for the trash heap. The gifts won’t change your life, most probably, nor will the memory be enough to carry you through another year.
Christmas, for those who believe and even those who are skeptics, is the power of God to change human lives. It conveys the hope that there really can be peace on earth, and that mankind can learn to love and prosper under the guiding and loving watch of a gracious and awesome supreme being. Christmas is, by its very nature, eternal, remaining in the soul and influencing the entire world. A holiday ends when the day is done. Christmas is the centerpiece toward which an entire year propels itself. This celebration crowns all others in its nobility and grace, its beauty and charisma. Even Santa Claus would be absent were it not for the inspiration of a real saint named Nicholas who gave out gifts and was attributed as having performed miracles.
Christmas isn’t just part of a series of holidays, any more than Hanukkah is only Jewish folklore, to be entertained but not revered. These are measurements of the spiritual journeys of millions of people, not to be confused with the department store version that has been sold as something real. To shelve the individual importance of any of these observances in favor of a generic phrase that satisfies those to whom the days matter the least is ludicrous. Worse than that, it means we are turning away from what is precious, to something that, by its very nature, has no meaning. Even if the point of your celebration is the winter solstice, call it by name. Let us at least be clear.
Whatever you celebrate, I hope you will explore the riches within the spiritual context of the faith-based expressions that mark this season. Let us not fall prey to giving credence to those things that cause our experiences to appear less than they really are. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas do not convey lack of tolerance; they express a history and faith in something bigger than what we can see in ourselves. And that is where the magic, the wonder and awe comes from during this season.
Merry Christmas to all, for all of your life!