In The BeginingThis is a featured page

Written By: NappiFan

In The Beginning....

In the spring of 1953 at Harvard, nothing compared to the luscious fragrances drifting through the central part of the historic campus. The blooming dogwoods, hawthorns, magnolias, and maples formed a green canopy that seemed to extend forever. In April, the green quadrangles were teeming with students on their way here and there but with the arrival of good weather, the pace had decidedly slowed despite the spring semester drawing to a close.

On a clear and star-filled Saturday night, President Lawrence Henry Summers hosted a formal gathering at his home commonly known as the Loeb House. With about one hundred guests in attendance, the event had been scheduled in honor of a visitor from New York. A lovely orchestra played outside in the flowering gardens and small groups of people mingled as champagne and hors d’oeuvres were circulated throughout the evening. The men were stunning in their crisp, black tuxedos and the women seemed to float across the dance floor in their long, formal gowns.

Napoleon Solo was one guest in attendance that night. Dr. Summers had requested Napoleon accompany his daughter, Celeste, to the exclusive event and this was a pleasant change for the young man. A current student at the university, Napoleon worked part time for the president serving food and bartending at various social functions. He had met Celeste several times at these functions and found her beautiful, intelligent, and delightful company. He didn’t understand why he was asked to escort Miss Summers but was not about to miss the pleasure of her company as well as the chance to hobnob with the elite alumni of Harvard. He relished the chance to dress in a rented tuxedo and appeared so natural in this attire; it looked as if he was born to it.

As Napoleon stood with Celeste on his arm, he saw Dr. Summers look up and wave over his special guest. An older gentleman and his wife smiled warmly and headed towards the group. Celeste’s face lit up when she saw the honored guest of the evening.

"Oh Alexander, it is so wonderful to see you! And Mrs. Waverly, thank you so much for gracing us with your presence this evening. Your dress is beautiful!" Celeste said.

As everyone briefly embraced, Alexander spoke.

"Celeste, you grow more and more beautiful each day. I simply can not believe you are already a sophomore here at the university. You have become a most enchanting young woman." Mr. Waverly turned to speak to his long time friend, Lawrence Summers. "Lawrence, how can you stand to watch your little girl growing up before your very eyes? It seems like yesterday she was sitting on my lap while I read her Little Red Riding Hood!"

President Summers smiled proudly.

"Well Alexander, about the only way I cope with it is by scrupulously hand selecting the young gentlemen she dates. Speaking of which, may I present, Mr. Napoleon Solo, Harvard Class of 1954."

Napoleon graciously extended his hand and greeted Mr. Waverly with a firm hand shake and then turned to Mrs. Waverly and softly took her hand with an engaging smile.

"I’m very pleased to meet both of you, ma’am."

"Indeed, the pleasure is ours, young man." Waverly responded. "And what are you studying here at Harvard?"

"Right now my major is in Public Policy with a minor in International Development, sir." replied Napoleon.

"Ah yes." said Waverly, "You will be quite prepared to take on the world, I dare say."

"I don’t know about that, sir, but I’m most appreciative of the education I am receiving here at Harvard. I can’t imagine being anywhere else." Napoleon offered.

"I agree with you on that, Napoleon. My education here at Harvard has served me well, albeit ages and ages ago." Waverly quipped. "But don’t let me spoil the evening for you young people by prattling on about past adventures. A beautiful orchestra awaits and I insist you proceed to the dance floor."

Napoleon turned to Celeste and smiled sweetly.

"That sounds like our cue, Celeste. Would you do me the honors?"

"Of course, Napoleon." She replied. "I’d be delighted."

As the two turned towards the dance floor, Mr. Waverly called out to Napoleon before he slipped away into the crowd.

"Napoleon, I would like an opportunity to visit with you more about your studies while I am here in Cambridge. Would you be available to have lunch with me tomorrow?" he asked.

"I’d be honored, sir. Of course, I’d love to meet you for lunch."

"Excellent." The older man said. "Meet me at the Blue Note Bistro tomorrow, say, at 12:30?"

"I’ll look forward to it, Mr. Waverly. Thank you for the invitation." Napoleon nodded his goodbyes to the group and guided his date to the dance floor.

Lawrence Summers grinned slyly at his friend. "Well, Alexander, you got what you came here for. I trust this staged little soiree tonight was worth it to you in order to meet the young man."

Alexander Waverly returned the smile as he watched Napoleon on the dance floor. "Oh yes, Lawrence, indeed it was. It’s proved to be most fortuitous. My heartfelt thanks, old friend."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
  
Napoleon Solo rose from the table where he was seated to meet Mr. Waverly as he entered the cozy little restaurant close to campus. The two men greeted each other, and proceeded to peruse the menu as the waitress came to take their order. Pleasantries aside, Waverly got down to business.

"I’m afraid, Napoleon, I’ve invited you here under false pretenses." Waverly began.

"Sir?"

"Oh, I am quite interested in your studies, of course." Waverly continued. "But I wondered if we might widen the scope of our conversation today."

"I’d be happy to discuss anything you’d like, Mr. Waverly." Napoleon answered, not sure at all where this was headed.

Mr. Waverly leaned forward and asked, "Have you thought about your plans after graduation, Napoleon?"

"Well, I am only a junior, sir, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I haven’t done much planning for the future. I’m trying to remain focused on my studies and well, you see sir, I just returned from…."

Waverly raised his hand and smiled.

"I know all about your recent return from Korea. In fact, I know quite a lot about you in general. Napoleon Solo, born in Montreal to Elise and Arthur Solo. Your father was a diplomat serving in Canada but you moved frequently as your father was transferred to Rome, Berlin, Tokyo, and finally to Vienna where you graduated from the United Nations International High School."

"You lost your mother at age ten, and your father passed one month after your graduation. You have no siblings and no extended family. You received a small sum from your father’s life insurance policy which you used to complete your first two years at Harvard. Lacking the funds to continue, you enlisted in the army and served one tour of duty in Korea as a staff sergeant with the 187th Infantry. Your unit participated in the rescue of the famous Sunchon POW’s; you were twice decorated yet refused a promotion and reassignment to Intelligence which would have taken you off the front lines. I’m curious about that, Napoleon, were you so drawn to combat that you felt compelled to refuse such an offer?" 
 
Napoleon was stunned. Who was this man and how did he know so much about him? He swallowed hard, stammered for words, and finally composed himself enough to reply.

"It’s not so much that I was drawn to combat…I don’t know anyone who has been on the front lines that is drawn to combat. However, I was drawn to my men. We served the entire tour together and had been through a lot. I felt responsible for them and wanted to see them through to the end of my tour."

"Very admirable, Napoleon. I understand." Mr. Waverly commented. "You have some questions, I presume?"

"Ah…..yes sir….ah….who exactly are you and how do you know all of this? Am I in some kind of trouble for……" the young man sputtered.

"No, no…not any kind of trouble." Waverly smiled. "You see, I work for an organization known as the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement…better known as "UNCLE." Do you know of this organization?"

"Yes sir. My father talked about UNCLE on occasion. If I understood correctly, it is sort of an international police force, operating fairly covert, but essentially working to preserve peace and protect human rights."

"That’s about right, Napoleon, but it’s a little more complex than that." Waverly explained. "At any rate, your commanding officer in Korea contacted me about you and I had my office do some research because I wanted to learn more. I have a feeling that UNCLE might be a very good match for you, young man, and I’d like you to consider us in your plans after graduation."

"You mean to work as a spy?" Napoleon asked.

"An Enforcement Agent, Napoleon." Waverly clarified.

Napoleon took in this information. "I….ah….I’m flattered, sir,……ah…."

"I realize this is all somewhat of a shock to you, however, UNCLE would like to invest in your education. I know your tuition next year is covered by the G.I. Bill, but I’d like to take care of your room and board and provide you a modest monthly stipend for expenses. You are, of course, under no obligation to UNCLE for this and are free to pursue any employment opportunities of your choosing after graduation." Mr. Waverly told the wide-eyed young man.

"That’s very generous of you, sir, I’m not sure….." Napoleon began.
 
"Of course you need to think about this and learn more." the UNCLE Chief interrupted. "Here is my card. I’d like for you to contact me in New York with any questions you have. Should you decide to accept our offer, I’d like to suggest two small modifications in your course work."

"What would those be, Mr. Waverly?" Napoleon asked with curiosity.

"I know you are fluent in French and Italian, but I’d like to see you acquire the same skills in Spanish and Russian if your schedule allows. Oh yes, and we’d like you to quit both of your jobs so you may focus on your education."

"Yes, sir." Napoleon answered. This was sounding better and better!

Mr. Waverly then changed gears.

"Now, I know you have a paid internship this summer in Washington. Would you consider spending your summer with us in New York?"

"To learn more about UNCLE?" Napoleon asked.

"That, and to see our facilities, learn about operations, research, communications, and such. Of course you’d be restricted to non-classified information, but I think you’d get a good idea of what being an enforcement agent is all about."

"That is a very kind offer, Mr. Waverly. I…ah….there…" Napoleon’s face flushed slightly.

"You’re concerned about finances, Napoleon?" Waverly asked softly.

"Yes, sir." Napoleon looked down at his plate.

"Well, it is certainly not the Ritz, but I can give you a very small room at headquarters and you’re free to use the commissary for meals. Our tuna salad surprise is really quite good, you know." Alexander smiled and chuckled to himself.

Napoleon appreciated the old man’s sensitivity. He was overwhelmed by the faith this man seemingly had in him and wondered if he could possibly live up to Mr. Waverly’s expectations. The two men rose after the bill was paid, and exited the café. Mr. Waverly turned to Napoleon once more.

"Now, young man, don’t be surprised if you have visitors from the FBI and CIA. I have it on good authority they are as interested in your future as I am. They are both important agencies and you’d do well to listen. You are under no obligation to us and I’ll support any decision you make. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir." Napoleon responded. "Ah…..Mr. Waverly? Is there anything else about my future that you want me to know about?"

Alexander Waverly gave his new, young friend a playful wink and said. "I’ll let you know."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The summer of 1953 proved to be everything and more to Napoleon…just as Alexander Waverly knew it would be. From the moment he stepped into headquarters and pinned on his number eleven white visitor’s badge, Napoleon vowed to put in as many hours and as many days as necessary to learn everything there was to learn about UNCLE. He was fascinated with communication capabilities allowing specialists to speak and even view agents on assignment around the globe.

In research and development, he met brilliant scientists who analyzed the most unusual compounds and invented a myriad of gadgets designed to aid UNCLE’s field agents. Napoleon felt like a kid in a candy store in Supplies and Equipment spending hours watching employees outfit agents with specialized gear for various assignments. With Napoleon’s naturally affable nature, he endeared himself to those around him and soon enough was running messages, doing background research, and assisting anyone and everyone with even the most menial tasks. He was in heaven.

The people within UNCLE impressed him even more. This was a tough and dangerous business and there was mutual respect and cooperation between every department in the building. Everyone he met had a sense of purpose about their contribution to the success of UNCLE’s mission. It was heartwarming to see people of many nationalities working together towards a common goal. Napoleon soon learned that Mr. Waverly was no ordinary representative of the organization. He was the organization, operating as Continental Chief of North America. In the young man’s eyes, Mr. Waverly grew to mythic proportions and he counted his lucky stars to have met him.

As inspired as he was with every department, he could not help being drawn to the Enforcement Agents of Section II. He recognized them immediately in the corridors. He watched their every move and constantly put himself in position to run into them. The third week of his internship, he learned that Section II agents informally met on Thursdays after work in the gym to spar and work on martial arts skills. Napoleon volunteered to clean the gymnasium those nights so he could watch and perhaps pick up a few tips.

One night, UNCLE’s CEA, Nathan Woods, called out to him to join the fun. Although he knew his meager skills in martial arts would handicap him, he didn’t hesitate to step onto the mat. For many weeks, Napoleon took a royal thumping. He’d end up nursing a variety of colorful bruises every time but he never backed down and made it a point to get up everytime he hit the ground no matter how woozy he felt. Some of the agents took an interest in him and began working with him to improve his skills. By summer’s end, Napoleon could often take the newer agents and was impressing the veterans as well.
  
His interactions with Mr. Waverly were infrequent but the chief set aside an hour on Fridays, when he could, to meet with Napoleon and check on his activities. This hour became treasured time and Napoleon saved his most thoughtful questions for his benefactor. Alexander Waverly enjoyed this time as well and never ceased to be amazed at the young man’s capacity to absorb vast amounts of information and clearly synthesize them down into a few clear points.

The female employees of UNCLE took strong notice of the summer intern as well. With his varied life experience and service in Korea, Napoleon has a sophistication and maturity that made him wise beyond his years. Blessed with wicked good looks and piercing brown eyes, he attracted a great deal of attention. It became a bit of a game as to which of the women could seduce and bed the young man on Saturday nights…the only night Napoleon allowed himself to take off. Mr. Waverly eventually addressed this one Friday afternoon.

"Napoleon, regarding fraternization with our female employees…" he started.

"Sir, I haven’t approached….." Napoleon cut in.

Waverly knew of the cluckfest happening within his walls. "Yes, I’m aware you have not initiated such activity, yet these kinds of things can make the work environment …....um… rather complicated, you see."

"What do you suggest I do, sir?"

"Well, you are a young man and should enjoy the frivolities of life, but I encourage you to be fair, kind, and discreet. A representative of this organization must above all be a man of honor." Waverly counseled.

"Of course, Mr. Waverly. Thank you for the advice." Napoleon said.

"I gather, then, that you have plans for this Saturday night?" Waverly asked with a twinkle in his eye.

"A gentleman never tells." Napoleon replied with a devilish grin.

It would not be the last conversation of this nature that Alexander Waverly would have with Napoleon Solo.
 
In addition to his Saturday night ritual, there was another part of Napoleon’s internship that became very special to him. Every Sunday, Barbara Waverly expected him at their residence for tea in the afternoon promptly at 4:00 followed by a lovely dinner with the family. Mrs. Waverly doted on him like a son and Napoleon loved every minute of it. It had been a long time since he had any sense of family and he realized that a very empty place in his heart was slowly filling up again.

Later, they often played card games, cribbage, or gin rummy and Napoleon instinctively knew not to talk shop during these special evenings. Afterwards, sprawled out on his bunk back at UNCLE headquarters, a sense of his aloneness in the world would sometimes envelope him. On these rare occasions when he allowed it to seep in, tightness in his chest almost took his breath away. Though few ever truly saw it, Napoleon’s heart and capacity for love were the fundamental qualities that drove him at the very deepest level. He worried these qualities, in the world of espionage, might make him too vulnerable and it scared him. If this was his true weakness, UNCLE would surely uncover it. What then?

Slowly the summer ticked by and the first week of August, Napoleon realized it was time to be heading back to school. He had a renewed sense of optimism knowing he wouldn’t have to struggle financially and knew his connection to the Waverlys and new friends at UNCLE would stay in tact. As Napoleon straightened up his somewhat messy desk, Nathan Woods, UNCLE’s extraordinary CEA, popped around the corner and threw an intimidating packet of papers on his desk.

"What’s this about?" Napoleon queried.

"That, my friend, is your application to UNCLE, which if approved, will be your ticket to Survival School." Nathan gestured.

"You’ve got to be kidding." Napoleon sighed. "Should I start working on it now?"

Nathan laughed but sympathized.

"Nah….but be prepared for the company shrinks to crawl up your hynie with a microscope, son! Finishing the application is just the start. They’ll have you up to New York next spring for a series of tests, psychological profiles, intelligence tests, background checks, fitness evaluations…well…you get the idea."

"Thanks for the heads up, Nathan. I had no idea." said Napoleon.

"Not to worry, kid. If you have any trouble, give me a call and I’d be glad to help you out. It’s been good to have you here this summer…I’m going to miss seeing you get the crap kicked out of you every Thursday night!" Nathan grinned.

"I never knew bruises came in so many vibrant colors." Napoleon laughed.

Nathan gave him a wave and started to head out the door.

"Oh…..hey….Napoleon……" he said leaning back in the room. "I’ve got a routine surveillance assignment in town tomorrow morning and didn’t get a chance to research it. Any chance you’ve got some time to get some background information for me?"

Napoleon as usual, jumped at the opportunity.

"Sure Nathan, I’ll get right on it."

"Thanks, my man!" he replied jovially. "Heather has the info on it. Try and catch her before she leaves for the day. She’ll throw a fit if you touch anything on her desk."

"Will do, Nathan. Have a good evening." Napoleon called out as the CEA disappeared down the corridor.

By midnight, Napoleon finally felt he had completed the project. He’d done background checks on the building’s owners, managers, and employees. Through the city, he’d documented what was in the building, and what it was used for. He identified any potential hazards at the site, and included a schedule of any deliveries coming or going from the warehouse that day. Napoleon had a nagging feeling that he was leaving out something important but couldn’t figure out what it might be. Reluctantly, he left his report on Nathan’s desk and flopped on his little cot hoping sleep would come easily.

The next day was fairly routine until around 2:00 in the afternoon. Napoleon heard medical put on standby and that usually meant someone had been seriously hurt on an assignment. He checked the duty schedule and saw that Nathan was the only Section Two agent in the field anywhere close to headquarters. He rushed up to medical in time to see the CEA being wheeled into surgery. Nathan didn’t appear to be conscious.

Napoleon fearfully grabbed one of the nurses and begged her to tell him what happened. She ignored him and hurried off down the hallway. Several of the Section II agents were watching and called Napoleon over to where they were holding vigil.

"What happened to Nathan? Did something go wrong? Will he be ok?" Napoleon choked out.

"He’s going to be fine, Napoleon." an agent reassured. "There was some kind of explosion at the warehouse but he managed to get out in time. It looks like a broken arm and a few cuts, but he’ll be ok."

"Can I see him?" asked Napoleon with relief.

"Tell you what…why don’t you go back downstairs and work on re-filing yesterdays reports and when you can see him, I’ll come down and get you." The agents turned toward each other and began talking again, effectively dismissing their young intern.

Napoleon spent the next 3 hours trying to focus on his work and waiting for the time when he could visit Nathan. Lacking sleep from the night before, he dozed off at his desk and the next thing he knew a gentle hand was on his shoulder softly shaking him awake.

"Hey….Napoleon…wake up…Nathan is asking for you. He wants to see you. Wake up." an agent said.

Napoleon wasted no time in getting up to medical and one of the nurses directed him to Nathan’s room. Upon entering, he was relieved to see UNCLEs top agent sitting up and examining a cast on his left arm with curiosity.

"Hey, Nathan." Napoleon started. "How are you feeling?"

"Kind of like I’ve been hit by a truck but I’ve had worse." replied his friend. "Listen, Napoleon….I want to thank you….that schematic of the building you had in your background research really saved my bacon today. How the hell did you think of that?"

Napoleon felt a swell of pride.

"You’ll probably laugh; but I had this feeling last night that I’d forgotten something but I couldn’t figure it out. Then about three o’clock in the morning it hit me….there was no layout of the building. It seemed too simple to be true."

"So how’d you get the building schematics at three in the morning?" Nathan asked.

"I went there."

"You what?" Nathan said not believing his ears.

I went there…..and drew the layout." Napoleon said simply.

"Jesus."

Nathan stared hard at Napoleon trying to assimilate what the young man had done. He realized he was seeing the same amazing potential that Mr. Waverly obviously had seen in Napoleon Solo. He began to understand that this was no ordinary summer intern. This was a young man who would profoundly affect UNCLE’s future. Now seeing Napoleon in a new way, Nathan described his ordeal in the warehouse.

"The explosion caught me completely by surprise but it didn’t take long for the building to fill with thick, black, really noxious smoke. I could barely see my hand in front of my face, but I put one hand on the wall and went until I came to a corner. I knew there was an exit door 15 feet beyond the corner. Napoleon, I never would have made it out of that building if you hadn’t done that drawing.
 
And then, something happened that Napoleon would remember the rest of his life. Nathan extended his right arm out from his hospital bed towards Napoleon. Unsure of quite what to do, he did the same and they clasped each others arms and held them together. Napoleon felt as if he was reenacting some ancient warrior ritual from centuries before as he waited for Nathan to speak.

"Thank you, my brother."

The next day Napoleon left for school. His summer internship was over.
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Napoleon’s senior year at Harvard flew by. He had very few requirements left so he chose to double up on foreign language classes as Mr. Waverly had suggested. He had a very busy social life but never dated anyone longer than a month or two at most. Although he’d lost interest in running cross country, he continued on with the team applying his training towards fitness for survival school.

Barbara Waverly wrote him weekly and the correspondence nourished him. The Waverlys invited him to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with them, taking him to a few plays as well as the symphony in New York. Napoleon was careful not to overstay his welcome, and UNCLE was never a topic of conversation.

Nathan sent postcards occasionally and on spring break, Napoleon went up to the city and had lunch with his friend. Not surprisingly, they talked all about UNCLE and Nathan caught him up with the news that was unclassified. The topic then turned to survival school.

"So, Napoleon, you’ve got all the paperwork done and turned in?" the CEA asked.

"Yeah, finally." He replied. "I guess I’ll be hearing in May."

Napoleon’s heart pounded just at the mention of it. He longed to talk to Nathan about all of it, ask him questions, and pump him for information, but he stifled these impulses. Above all, he wanted to make survival school on his own, without help, without connections.

Nathan chewed a sandwich thoughtfully and said. "Listen, I have no doubt that you’ll make it in and when that happens, I won’t be able to contact you. So, let me give you a couple pieces of advice."

Napoleon leaned forward earnestly. "Sure, Nathan."

"First, pace yourself. A lot of recruits go out there trying to make a big first impression and they can’t sustain it. The program is six long, hard months for a reason and they’ll push hard to every physical, emotional, and mental breaking point you’ve got. Think about the long haul. Don’t get too high or too low…stay on an even keel. Making a mistake won’t cost you, but dwelling on it will."

Nathan paused before continuing. "Second, the guy who runs the program is a grade "A" *******. His name is Jules Cutter and he’s old school marine corps which automatically makes him a sonofabitch. But here’s the thing, the guy does know how to prepare agents for the field. Don’t get in a pissing contest with him. Listen, and remember he’s there to make sure you have the skills to survive in this business."

Nathan leaned back in his chair and took a long sip on his beer.

"Now here’s the most important thing. Napoleon, always trust your instincts. You have that gift. It’s what led you to go out at three o’clock in the morning to draw a picture of a damn warehouse for God’s sake! Intuition and instincts can’t be taught…and not everyone has them. You ever have that feeling of the hairs on the back of your neck standing up when you were in Korea?"

"I did." Napoleon answered sadly. "We were out on patrol one night and I didn’t listen to what my gut was telling me. It ended up costing a good soldier his life."

Nathan nodded. "That’s the burden of leadership, Napoleon. Every one of us makes those mistakes. You can only honor that man by learning from your mistakes and becoming a better leader for it. Use that intuition every day in survival school. It will never lead you astray."

"I don’t want to let you guys down. I don’t want to screw up after all the faith Mr. Waverly has shown in me" Napoleon said quietly.

"Don’t worry, kid. You’re a natural. I’ve never seen the Old Man miss when it comes to recruiting. Just beware of what you wish for! He’ll bust your chops nonstop once you make it through."

"That doesn’t sound much like him." Napoleon countered.

Ethan burst into laughter. "Kid, you have no idea!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
  
Napoleon’s notice of acceptance to survival school came two weeks before graduation. He was ecstatic but didn’t take long to celebrate. As everyone else was partying and blowing off steam, Napoleon amped up his fitness program by working out non-stop. He didn’t know if he would make it through survival school, but if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be because he hadn’t prepared enough.

Barbara Waverly called him the week before graduation to let him know they would not make it down for the big event. Mr. Waverly had an important meeting in London and Napoleon certainly understood, but he was disappointed.

In the end, Napoleon Solo graduated from Harvard University with honors. The ceremony was somewhat anticlimactic although he did enjoy his walk across the stage to shake hands with another valued mentor, President Summers. Afterwards, Napoleon stepped into bright sunshine, joked and hugged his many friends, and thought of his father. Amid all the hubbub, he glanced across the gardens and saw a lone, familiar figure at the edge of the commons.

Mr. Waverly.

With a grin a mile wide, Napoleon walked purposefully towards the man and shook his hand enthusiastically.

"Sir, what are you doing here? I can’t believe it. Where’s Mrs. Waverly? Aren’t you supposed to be in London?" Napoleon blabbered.

"We took an earlier flight home, Napoleon. Mrs. Waverly isn’t here with me. I wanted this moment just between you and me. Would you walk with me a while?" the UNCLE Chief asked.

"Of course, sir."

The two men strolled across campus with no particular destination in mind as Alexander Waverly spoke to his future agent.

"Things will change between us now, Napoleon. Should you complete survival school and become an UNCLE agent, our relationship will become more formal and professional. You understand that, don’t you?"

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Waverly continued. "No matter what happens in the future, I want you to know that Mrs. Waverly and I are very proud of you. You’ve come to mean a great deal to us and your presence in our lives has been very special."

"Thank you, sir. The two of you have made me feel like I have family again. You both extended yourselves to me in ways that I could not have imagined." Napoleon said solemnly. "And I don’t think I can ever repay you for the opportunities you’ve brought me. I don’t quite know how to convey my appreciation."

"Well, if things turn out the way I hope, you will more than repay UNCLE over many, many good years, young man."

Alexander smiled. He stopped and turned to face Napoleon, fishing for something in his pocket.

"I have a small gift for you to mark the occasion. Nothing much, really"

He handed Napoleon a handsome small jewelry box which Napoleon took respectfully. The two men held each other’s gaze and suddenly, no words were necessary. Alexander then briefly embraced Napoleon, patting his back several times and speaking quietly.

"Your father would be proud of you. I’m proud of you too, son."

And with that he turned and walked away.

Napoleon watched Mr. Waverly stroll down the sidewalk and disappear into the formal gardens and found himself wishing he could somehow stop time and savor the moment a little longer. He opened the small box and found a beautiful gold pinky ring with a bright, blue star sapphire in it. Inscribed in the ring was the date and two initials…"A.W. to N.S."

He knew this symbol of friendship would stay with him forever no matter what happened or changed in the future. And with the same bittersweet feeling that any man feels as one part of his life ends, and another begins, he slipped the ring carefully on his hand and sighed.

An unknown adventure awaited.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you ask any American POW serving in the Pacific theatre during World War II what the weather was like, you’ll have a good understanding of the climate at UNCLE Survival School. The suffocating heat and humidity made each breath an effort in the dense jungle terrain. The island had been occupied by the Japanese until later in the war and was littered with old equipment, cranes, tanks, large spools of wire, pipes and any other thing you might possibly find in a salvage yard. This made it perfect for the many field "scenarios" that recruits were preparing for.

The first three months had been tough but is was nothing Solo hadn’t prepared for. Except, of course, for the heat. Training started each morning with PT at six a.m. and concluded at ten pm. Over the course of the day, recruits had field classes in basic skills such as rappelling, scuba diving, evasive driving, explosives, martial arts, firearms, and classroom sessions on UNCLE protocols, interrogation resistance, communication, emergency procedures, and anything else the vigilant instructors could throw at them. They had two additional PT sessions during the day and Solo felt it most in his legs and lungs. The heat was unmerciful and temperatures frequently climbed above 90.
 
Class 10944 started with 32 eager young men ready to prove their mettle and earn one of the much coveted Section II spots at UNCLE. Chief Jules Cutter informed the class on the first day that, based on past classes, only 15 would complete training and of those, five might be offered a spot in Section II. So far, four recruits had dropped on their own and five were dismissed for not making performance requirements.
 
For his part, Solo was doing well. Classroom sessions were fairly easy and he was rated first in his class when adding in the field session ratings. Solo’s natural leadership skills came to the surface even though he did not make an effort to do so. Most of his fellow recruits were relatively easy to get along with and Solo noticed that the ones who weren’t didn’t last very long. Remembering Nathan’s advice, he made it a point to control his emotions when Chief Cutter berated and demeaned him over the tiniest details. It wasn’t easy.
 
Solo eagerly awaited the second half of training where recruits would be put through both group and individual scenarios that would simulate missions. Here they would put their skills and knowledge to use in the field and watchful instructors would critique their every move. The pressure was definitely notched up but this is where they would find out if they really could cut it.
 
Recruits and instructors moved to the "yard" where myriads of junk littered a half mile slab of concrete. Solo’s name was called out in the first group of 5 recruits that would take on instructors. Seven of the "enemy," heavily armed, were bunkered in the remains of a two story rickety wood building. The assignment for the squad, was to use whatever strategy they could, to overrun the building and either "kill" or capture the bad guys. The recruits were started behind 3 overturned dumpsters and a rusty refrigerator about 400 yards from the enemy’s wood fortress. They had just twenty minutes once the clock started.

As soon as Cutter called "begin" the recruits were barraged by heavy firepower. The group huddled together and yelled to each other over the noise to come up with a plan. Solo scanned the field and turned to his fellow recruits.

"You guys want to have some fun?" he shouted to the group.

"You’re idea of fun is a little warped, Solo. What the hell!" Screamed a teammate.

Solo briefed the men on his plan and for the first 20 minutes of their test, the group remained silent, didn’t move, and didn’t fire. Eventually, the instructors quit firing on the team and waited for them to do something….anything. It was puzzling behavior!

At the twenty minute mark, one single grenade was thrown from the recruit’s stronghold towards an overturned school bus directly to the right of the team. It exploded and destroyed the engine of the bus. The recruits clapped and cheered loudly like little boys. Every minute, another grenade was thrown at the bus with the same jubilant shouts being heard. The instructors were baffled and confused by the unusual actions and one of them hurled his own grenade at the bus, seemingly joining in the game.

At the twenty five minute mark, Solo signaled the group to launch five grenades simultaneously at the bus. As the resulting explosion shook the ground, he and two other trainees ran out from their shelter to the left towards an old, metal mining cart sitting on one hundred yards of track. Before the instructors could turn their fire on the men, Napoleon leaped inside the cart and the other two men began pushing it down the tracks. Once up to speed, the two agents who were pushing dove safely for cover. By now, all attention was focused on the speeding cart as it paralleled the instructor’s position. Shots pinged off from all sides. When the cart was within ten yards of the end of the tracks, Solo jumped out the far side, away from where the instructors were barricaded.

He crawled away from the instructors on the ground another twenty yards outside the mission "yard" and entered a private vehicle in the employee parking lot. Within seconds, the engine roared to life and accelerated alarmingly towards the wooden building. Not quite believing their eyes, the instructors watched with horror. There was no doubt about what was about to happen. Solo jumped from the vehicle, landing hard, and bouncing across the cement like a rag doll just before impact. Suddenly instructors scattered away from the building like ants. The pilfered Buick sedan hit with full force and collapsed the structure before exploding and setting fire to everything around it. The rest of the team easily picked off the exposed instructors until the last three of them raised their hands in surrender.

Jules Cutter called "time" and the exercise was over. Mission accomplished.

Solo had a number of scrapes and bleeding lacerations but brushed himself off and stood to find one very angry instructor charged towards him screaming a barrage of colorful expletives.

"Solo, you frick'in *******. Stop right where you are. That was my car, jerkface. You’re gonna frick’in pay for that right after I rip your head off and shove it up your ass! What the hell were you think’in, dipwad?"

Solo’s team watched in horror as the instructor grabbed Napoleon’s shirt, shook him, and screamed in his face, spit flying everywhere. Thankfully, some of the captured "enemy" ran after the enraged man and pulled him off, laughing at the entire situation.
 
"Hey….hey….Burtrell…come on, cool off, man…..the cars covered, ok…..c’mon…lay off." The other instructors continued to laugh at what had transpired.

Once released, Solo glanced over at his team and saw the whole group smiling and flashing the "thumbs up" to him.

Only then did he allow himself a speck of a grin.

Cutter, who had observed the whole exercise, called out to his instructors. "Enemy hits?"

Burtrell called back with disgust, "Four dead, three captured."

"Enemy clips fired?" Cutter barked.

"Thirty five clips" Burtrell reported.

"Team hits?"

"Zero, sir" sang back the recruits.

"Number of clips fired?"

"Zero, sir."

Cutter, without commenting, called out for the next scenario.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A month’s worth of team missions finished and the critiques after each scenario were brutal. Every move recruits made was replayed over and over, analyzed, and most often ripped to shreds by the demanding instructors. But now, four of the six months were over and the trainees started to have the feeling they just might complete survival school. Now that Cutter’s staff was finished evaluating each recruit in a group situation, it was time to look at the class in a different way.

This time, the men would be given an individual assignment and be pitted against their own classmates. Stripped away from the support of teammates, each individual’s flaws would be glaringly exposed. Two more recruits had been dumped from the class and one was dropped due to a nasty femoral fracture requiring multiple surgeries after a training mishap.

Napoleon was one week away from his turn and was handed a dandy assignment to plan. Locked away in Chief Cutter’s safe just inside his office, Solo was to break in, steal a piece of microfilm, and escape undetected anytime within an eight hour period. Sitting in the cafeteria one evening, he talked with a classmate about the individual missions.

"Looks like crunch time is coming up pretty quick. You feel ready, Napoleon?" asked Ofsol.

"I guess so." He replied "I’ve got the basic plan down but there are a few details I still need to work out."

"What day are you up?"

"Next Wednesday. Hey, Ofsol…have you seen the jumper’s schedule for next week? Do they have exercises planned that day?" Napoleon wondered.

Ofsol thought for a moment. "On Wednesday or Friday I think. Why?"

"I just need to see what’s happening out at the airbase." Solo mentioned.

"Well, you could always check over at admin. and look at the master schedule."

Solo nodded. "Good idea. Hey, you going to finish that pie?" Napoleon stabbed the slice left on Ofsol’s tray with a grin.

"Help yourself. Cutter’s still nagging me about my weight. I probably shouldn’t
have it anyway."

Solo finished up and headed back to his dorm room to review for the evening’s class.

The next week, seven men had the unenviable task of trying to prevent Solo from accomplishing his mission. The men met an hour before the clock started to review Solo’s tendencies and map out a strategy.

"All right…we know this guy’s a wild card so expect the unexpected." Stuart Alderann started.

Hikaru Dai nodded his agreement. "Let’s focus on the approach. What would he do to trip us up?"

Alderann leaned in and addressed the group. "Listen guys…..Ofsol told me last week that Solo was checking out the jumpers schedule for today. Let’s keep an eye on the airfield."

The others nodded and Dai added, "How about we stake out the building where Cutter’s office is? From there we can easily keep an eye on parachute activity at the airfield. If that’s his way in, we can move in on him quickly from all sides."

With a plan in place, the men had a few minutes to check radios, gear, and make their way outside the building. Everyone was in place at the appointed time.
 
Four hours of no activity and the team was getting restless. The sound of two transport planes warming up and heading down the runway got their attention quickly. Alderann notified the team about the activity and all eyes were on the sky. After ten minutes to gain altitude, both planes started to belch out parachuters one after another until the sky was littered with soft, white canopies floating back to earth. As the recruits watched, a lone skydiver appeared about 20 seconds after the last plane had finished its’ run. Finally, some action!

Dai was on the radio fast, asking other team members to scrutinize the large group of paratroopers in case Solo was using the lone jumper as a decoy. The landings of the men were slightly obscured by a slight rise towards the airfield and some fairly gnarly vegetation between the building and the landing zone. No one appeared to be headed towards the building that housed Cutter’s office.

Dai radioed his concerns. "Look guys, we’re sitting ducks here if Solo’s trying to sneak around and take us out. Let’s form a skirmish line and head towards the landing zone. I’d like to take a look over there."

Alderann agreed and assigned Dai and two others to check out the landing zone while the rest of the team watched the perimeter of the building. Dai’s team approached slowly crouched to hide their approach, with weapons drawn.

"Hey….hey…over here…there’s a jumper down over there on the southwest side of the landing zone….doesn’t look like he’s moving and no one is around him either. That’s got to be him." Dai chirped into the radio.

Alderann radioed his orders. "All team members proceed to downed agent on the southwest side of the landing zone. Approach with caution, weapons drawn."

The recruits jogged towards Solo spreading out to form a circle around him preventing any escape if his injuries were faked. The parachute was blowing slightly but was draped over the body of the jumper. Alderann reached for his radio to call for an ambulance when Kai held up his hand and shook his head. The group closed in and pulled the parachute off of Solo and quickly realized they had been stalking a perfectly replicated dummy of Jules Cutter.

No doubt about it. They'd been had!



* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Napoleon Solo stood inside Cutter’s office precisely at 5:58 pm. He carried an aluminum tray with a healthy sized steak, green peas, salad, mashed potatoes, freshly baked bread, and oddly, a glass of chocolate milk. He carefully placed the tray on Cutter’s desk and laid a small piece of microfilm just to the side of the cafeteria tray. He stepped back, ran a hand through his hair, smoothed his apron, and checked his watch. Right at the stroke of six, Chief Cutter appeared, not one second late.
 
Cutter didn’t even give him a glance as he headed straight for his desk where he always took dinner precisely at 6:00 pm.

"How’s the steak cooked?" he barked.

"Bloody rare, sir, just like usual." Solo replied.

Cutter looked up to see Solo standing respectfully, hands clasped behind his back. He was immaculately dressed in the standard cafeteria uniform of clean white pants, white button down shirt, white apron, and a tidy little white hat which Solo had cocked to the side.

"Solo! What the hell?" Cutter blurted out. "Are you telling me you spent the entire day of your mission cooking vegetables in the cafeteria?" Cutter noticed the microfilm on his desk next to his meal.

"Well, no sir." Solo confessed. "Actually I was assigned to mashed potatoes. You know, there really is an art to……"

"Enough, please! Start from the beginning….." Cutter said shaking his head.

"Well, sir, this morning about 10:00 a.m., I overheard Mrs. Thayer mention that the cafeteria staff was short handed. Apparently someone had fallen inexplicably ill last night." Napoleon said.

"And as a recruit, she somehow thought it would be appropriate for you to fill in?" Cutter asked.

"Oh no, sir. I, um, anticipated Mrs. Thayer would need some assistance today and I arrived this morning in uniform letting her know I was the assigned substitute for the day." Solo explained.

"Ahhhhhh. I see." Cutter said looking at his tray. "And am I to presume you prepared my dinner this evening?"

"No sir, it really was a total team effort." Solo said, laying in on thick. "I believe Gustavo cooked your steak, Veronica was on vegetables today, and of course I had the……"

"Mashed potatoes" Cutter deadpanned.

"Yes, sir."

Cutter made reference to the microfilm. "I suppose you ducked out sometime during the day to obtain the microfilm?"

"No, sir. We are only allowed to leave our posts on breaks which are just 15 minutes long. I fetched the microfilm there," Solo pointed. "Strictly on my lunch break. Mrs. Thayer is adamant about punctuality, sir."

"I’m so glad to hear it." Cutter stared at the young recruit.

Napoleon cleared his throat and asked. "Sir, if you have no other questions, my break is over in five minutes and I do have a sweet potato pie coming out of the oven."

"Sweet potato pie."

"Yes sir, you see, sir, it’s made from….."Solo started.

"Let me guess……potatoes." Chief Cutter held both hands to his forehead.

"Yes, sir. And I really am excited about the crust on this one. Charleena, well, she’s the baker down there, sir, and she offered to give me a few pointers for a flakier, moister crust, sir." Solo explained.

"Oh, God." Cutter rubbed his eyes.

"So if you won’t be needing me, sir," Napoleon continued. "I’ll just be heading……"

Cutter waved his hand. "Oh….no…of course, Solo….don’t let me keep you from…..from….your crust."

"Thank you, sir. Enjoy your dinner." Napoleon turned to the door to leave when Cutter called out to him one more time.

"Solo! You tell anyone about the chocolate milk and I’ll thump your skull!"

"Of course sir, it will be our little secret." Napoleon smiled before ducking out of the room.

Chief Cutter sliced into his perfectly grilled steak and chuckled between bites. Wait until Waverly heard about this one!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

After six long months, UNCLE’s Survival School recruits faced the end of their training. What might have seemed like a joyful time, however, was filled with heaviness that none of them could escape. The last part of their training was the infamous E&R training. "Escape and Resist" was the most difficult and punishing part of survival school and every single one of the recruits would face a personal crisis unequal to anything they had experienced thus far in their lives.
The evening meeting prior to the start of E&R was somber. Chief Cutter faced the men and for once, wasn’t a bit blustery or intimidating. The quiet tone of his voice alarmed the recruits more than any yelling and screaming he could do.

"Gentlemen." He began. "You know what is coming. I won’t minimize the experience or tell you everything will be all right. Quite frankly, every one of you will bleed. You have previously learned many of the interrogation techniques used by organizations such as Thrush. Two of these are prohibited during E&R. First, since you have not been through UNCLE’s conditioning program, drugs will not be used. Second, no recruit will be sexually assaulted, even though this is a common technique used by our enemies. Anything else is fair game."

Looking down at his briefing notes, he continued.

"Very simply, you will be asked by your E&R team to reveal the location of your dormitory…in effect…exposing your fellow agents to attack and possible death. You are to resist in any way that you can for as long as you can, and attempt escape by any means possible. Incapacitate any captors that you can. You may stop the exercise at any time. This exercise has a time limit of 5 days. Historically on missions, either we find our people within that time period or they are dead."

"Your E&R team is composed of 5 operatives. The individuals making up E&R teams are not instructors here at Survival School. They are seasoned UNCLE interrogators worldwide who are flown in once a year for this exercise. Even though we do not subscribe to the methods Thrush uses, let me assure you they are very skilled at using them. Their job is to break you."

Cutter continued speaking in a room that was hushed and still. "Remember what you have learned. You’ll find stoicism is unsustainable. I’ve seen hundreds of guys go through this…..good men….tough men….and it was common to hear their screams and see their tears. There is no shame in this."

"Finally, UNCLE is not capricious in asking you to complete this exercise." He said. "We do this for the ultimate safety of agents in the field. Every one of us, me included, has a breaking point. We must know what yours is. To put a single one of you in the field, knowing you can not stand up to what you will face would be dangerous to UNCLE and most likely fatal to you."
 
After asking for questions and finding none, Cutter dismissed the men, leaving each of them to private contemplation.

"We start tomorrow. Good luck, gentlemen."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After two days, E&R was everything Cutter told them it would be. Napoleon was snatched from his room at 2:15 a.m. the first day but took out one of his attackers with a dart from his Special before being overwhelmed by the others. He was beaten, hands tied behind him, and blindfolded. A loop of rope was thrown around his neck and the knot tightened. He was knocked to the ground repeatedly and drug across the floor by the rope as he struggled to get his legs underneath him to relieve the choking.

Still, Napoleon had reason to be optimistic. He escaped the first holding cell using plastic explosives and took out another E&R agent with a sharp chop to the neck before two others thumped him with pipes and laid him out cold.

He came to, finding himself chained to a wall and again blindfolded. He was sore as hell and had numerous cuts and abrasions. Blood trickled from one lip but he vowed to press on as long as possible. He’d continue to seek opportunities to eliminate captors. He’d watch for any small opening that might give him a chance to escape. Hanging on to these small optimistic thoughts kept his spirits up.

Solo was busy trying to pick the locks on his chains when the door swung open and three remaining men on his E&R team entered the cell.

"Jesus Christ." the lead man bellowed. "Didn’t anybody search this idiot? Unhook him and strip him down to his skivvies….now. Let’s get rid of his toys for God’s sake."

As two men manhandled him, Solo let them do all the work. He was trying to conserve energy for the long haul. He snatched the blindfold off, getting another good look at his captors and a fist slammed into his face knocking him backwards to the ground.

"Get him tied and blindfolded again…. then get him on his feet." The lead interrogator growled. "Solo, my name’s Griffin. We need some info from you and we need it now."

Griffin set his boot on Napoleon’s head and pressed it hard into the floor while the others re-tied his hands. Napoleon didn’t respond. In class they were told to remain silent and not provoke their captors. Nevertheless, the three interrogators took turns slamming him into the wall until Solo dropped hard again to the floor, landing on his stomach. 
 
Griffin grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head up. "Let’s have it Solo. You can end this all right now, take a nice hot shower, have a good meal, and sleep the night away. C’mon, it’s easy. Just one little piece of information." Griffin yanked his head back further.

"Nothing?" his captor whispered in his ear. "That’s fine; we have all the time in the world. Before we’re done with you, you’ll be begging us to stop, you Ivy League puke. You pretty boys are all alike. I haven’t seen one of you make it through E&R." He let Solo’s head drop to the ground. "Get the prods…..let’s jolt the muther."

Napoleon steadied his breath for a minute before hearing the low buzz of electricity. He was yanked to his feet and felt the three men surrounding him. They took turns shocking him with electric prods and being blindfolded, Solo couldn’t tell where the next attack was coming from. He cried out in pain with each touch and eventually collapsed to the floor again, panting. Griffin continued to apply the wand to Solo’s body, holding it for longer and longer periods of time. Napoleon heard screams coming out of his mouth but it sounded like it was coming from somewhere else. When he was close to blacking out, the torture stopped.

One of the other men rolled him over and sat him up. "Hey, Napoleon….hydration break….drink up." A large cup of cool water was pressed to his lips and he gulped the water down quickly. It was his first drink in two days. As he drained the glass, Griffin stood over him laughing.

"Nice job there, Solo. You just ingested untreated water, jerkoff. I’d say within an hour you’ll feel like glass is cutting up your intestines. Not long after that you’ll be non-stop crapping your pants. You don’t ever accept anything from a captor. Didn’t you learn anything, boy?"

Griffin turned to the other men. "Dump him."

Napoleon was grabbed and hustled outside where the heat and humidity hit him like a brick wall. They soon stopped, enveloped by a foul, disgusting smell. One of the men opened a large metal trap door and the stink intensified tenfold. Napoleon was struck behind the knees with a bat and tumbled forward dropping fifteen feet down a hole. He landed hard on his shoulder and sank into a liquid muck that could best be described as putrid swamp water mixed with rancid food. To his disgust, the hole had also been frequently used as a latrine. The filth splashed all over him. He fought to get up.

Up above, the men laughed and shouted down to him. "Need a little cleaning up there, Solo? I think we can help you out." The two proceeded to urinate on him furthering the humiliation. They laughed again and swung the metal trap door shut, leaving him alone in total suffocating misery.

Involuntarily, he vomited all over himself. The temperature had already gone up ten degrees with the trap door closed and he panicked from a feeling of not being able to draw a breath. The rankness of the air covered him like a blanket and he gagged with dry heaves. As Griffin predicted, he soon doubled over from intestinal cramps…sharp pains unlike anything he’d ever felt. Not long after, Napoleon lost complete control of his bowels and his dismantling was complete. Tears flowed freely.

Napoleon had no idea how much time had passed when he snapped awake to the sound of rain pounding on the metal trap door above him. The noise was deafening but fortunately, the summer squall was strong enough that tiny rivulets of water trickled down through the trap door. He moved around in the slime and filth, tipped his chin up, and drank the rain water wherever he could. He stood under occasional splashes and let it rinse some of the sludge off of his face and upper body.

Feeling a little more human, he decided to work on freeing his hands. Napoleon reached inside the back waistband of his briefs and pulled out a razor blade he had carefully covered with multiple layers of duct tape and hidden before E&R started. He was lightheaded but cut through the ropes in ten minutes or so, bloodying his hands in the process. The blindfold came off and Solo cupped his hands to catch rainwater for drinking and removing more of the foulness covering him.

Hours later the rain continued. Napoleon made a few attempts to dig footholds in the dirt and climb towards the top but his strength failed and he fell back into the grime. He decided to sit and rest, occasionally dozing. At one point, he awoke screaming to a sharp pain in his leg and after hearing something scurry away, realized he’d been bitten, probably by rats. He was a frequent target of biting, stinging insects attracted by the stench of the pit. Eventually, the trap door swung open and bright sunshine shone down. Napoleon was blinded by the exposure and used an arm to shield his eyes.

Griffin called out. "Alright Solo, you’ve got one chance. Give us the location, now, or you’ll rot down there ‘till hell freezes over."

Napoleon was sick of following training protocols. He was sick of being voiceless. Most of all, he was sick of feeling passive. He glared up at his tormentor and croaked out, "F... you."

"Screw you, Solo." Griffin yelled slamming the trap door closed again. "See you in a week if you live that long."

In the suffocating heat, Napoleon was becoming more and more confused and delusional. He wasn’t quite sure what was real anymore. Where was he? How had he gotten here? How much time had passed? He thought himself back in Korea and hallucinations haunted him.

He needed a focus, a touchstone. Leaning back against the dirt, he tried to conjure up familiar images. First his father appeared…a calming, strong presence. He gradually drifted towards thoughts of UNCLE’s CEA and friend, Nathan, and it gave him hope. And finally, Alexander Waverly came into his consciousness. Napoleon closed his eyes and touched the pinky ring he’d received from the man who had given him everything. These were people who believed in him. He held them close and drew courage from each of them.

By the time the trap door swung open again, Solo had decided on a different strategy. He decided to bait his captors even though it might ultimately mean more savage treatment directed towards him. Napoleon believed if he could get his captors to lose their composure, they might make a mistake and leave him an opening that he could take advantage of. Nathan told him to trust his instincts. Now was the time.

Finally, a rope was lowered into the pit and the E&R team hauled his tortured body out of the hell hole he’d been in for two days. Solo was a mess and even his interrogators were shocked at his appearance. In addition to the many bruises, cuts, bites, and infected sores that covered him, leeches had attached to his body and one large cut on his arm bled continuously, looking like it needed stitches. His color was pale, eyes glassy.

Griffin took charge and ordered the men to clean Solo up. Two high pressure fire hoses blasted his body across the pavement and pressed him harshly into a wall. One hose was always turned on his face and gave Napoleon the overwhelming feeling he was drowning. He couldn’t take a breath without inhaling water. He sputtered and coughed, trying to clear his airway, as he was carried by two interrogators back into the building.

"Hang him up in 3C." Griffin ordered.

Napoleon heard Griffin’s two accomplices mention their relief that this was almost over. This had to be the fifth day, then, and the thought buoyed him. His wrists were jerked up and manacled in chains before he was pulled slightly off the ground. He was then left hanging, alone.

After a few hours, the E&R team returned and Griffin wasted no time in getting up into Solo’s face.

"You will give me the information, Solo." He glared. "I got no problem taking you out. Don’t count on Cutter so save your ass either. This is over when I say it’s over and you’re beginning to irritate the hell out of me."

Solo met his eyes. "Pardon me if I’m not impressed."

"You little prick." Griffin yelled. Turning back to the two assistants he ordered. "Get his skivvies off."

Now fully naked, Napoleon watched as Griffin circled him playing with a leather whip he held menacingly. He flicked it expertly catching the bottoms of Solo’s feet at least a dozen times as Solo gasped in pain. Griffin then moved to the upper body lashing him relentlessly until Napoleon was covered with thin lines of blood running down his chest and back. His screams came unashamedly.

Griffin stepped towards Napoleon’s sweat drenched face and grabbed his chin. "You know what’s next, don’t you, boy? You ever see leather cut into a man’s balls? You give me what I want right now or you’ll learn more about pain than you ever want to know."

Solo blinked hard to focus his eyes and again met Griffin’s. "I heard you washed out of survival school, Griffin. Cried like a baby during E&R….quit the first day. You never ever came close to Section II…."

Bingo.

All hell broke loose. Griffin’s rage propelled him towards Solo. He wrapped the whip around Napoleon's neck trying to choke the life out of him. The other men intervened and wrestled the crazed interrogator to the floor. Solo was quickly released and fell to the ground. As the other men struggled with Griffin, Napoleon staggered to his feet and gathered together every last bit of energy he had.

Now standing, Griffin continued arguing with his colleagues as they held him steady and tried to calm him. Napoleon took two shaky steps forward and smashed the heel of his hand up into Griffin’s nose, feeling bone shatter. Blood splattered everywhere as Solo delivered two well placed kicks to Griffin’s gut before the two were separated. Griffin was doubled over, blood streaming from his face. Completely spent, Napoleon passed out, never hearing Chief Cutter’s voice over the intercom announcing an end to the Escape & Resist exercises.

Survival School was over. He made it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chief Cutter and his special guests sat in a spacious office and shuffled papers among themselves. The tables were littered with folders, reports, test scores, and other information on UNCLE’s recruits from survival school. Plates with half eaten sandwiches, coffee cups, and messy ash trays testified to the long day they had spent together on the island.

Alexander Waverly sighed and held the last folder in his hands. As North American Continental Chief, it was up to him to make final decision on assignments for the new agents. His top two consultants were Chief Jules Cutter and Waverly’s CEA, Nathan Woods.

Cutter started the discussion. "Well, we’re down to the number one guy in the class. I’m sure you won’t be surprised about Mr. Solo’s position relative to his classmates."

Nathan chimed in. "Well if it isn’t Mr. Potato Head himself." He laughed.

"Please, no more references to potatoes…mashed or otherwise." The Chief begged. "It will be a long time before we hear the end of that."

"What can I say?" Nathan replied. "The boy’s already got a reputation. When I asked for recommendations from our current Section II agents, I found six potatoes on my desk."

Waverly snorted. "Word does seem to get around."

Chief Cutter looked over some of Solo’s reviews. "I think he’s ready for a larger size office in North America…Chicago, maybe San Francisco. If you want him to get some international experience first, maybe Berlin or Geneva."

Waverly looked towards Cutter and spoke. "I’d like to start him in New York."

"You can’t be serious, Mr. Waverly." The Chief argued. No one went to New York straight out of survival school. "He’s got an independent streak in him and needs some discipline. He’s unpredictable and prone to pretty reckless behavior. He’s a wild card. Let him start out somewhere out of the spotlight until he gets the rough edges smoothed out."

Alexander Waverly nodded, listening to his training chief. "Let’s look through his performance here. What was his eventual rating on E&R?"

All recruits received a double digit rating from the long ordeal of E&R. The first number represented a recruit’s ability to withstand interrogation. The second indicated the level of resistance put up during the five long days. The scale was from one to five with five being the highest. Any recruit who received a three or below on the first rating and a two or below on the second would never see Section II. The average score for future Section II agents was forty two.

Cutter looked at Agent Griffin’s summary report. "He had a fifty-four."

Nathan smiled and shook his head. Fifty five would have been a perfect score.

"Did Agent Griffin make any kind of recommendation?" Waverly wondered.

"If he did, I haven’t seen it." Cutter replied. "He had some surgery this week. Solo put him in the hospital with a broken nose."

Seemingly unfazed, Waverly continued. "Percentage of successful missions?"

Cutter didn’t even have to look that one up. "One hundred percent team missions and one hundred percent individual missions."

"Did any of his actions result in juries on our side?" the old man asked.

Cutter responded quickly. "Only to himself, sir."

"How about the use of weapons?" Waverly inquired.

"Mr. Solo used shot his weapon only twice on mission scenarios over three months. Kind of ironic…a spy who avoids violence." The Chief informed.

Waverly nodded. "Yet you don’t feel he is ready for New York?"

"I don’t, sir." Cutter answered. "Mr. Solo practically ignores agency protocols. He flies by the seat of his pants and is unpredictable. He consistently puts himself at risk. Those just aren’t qualities of a mature agent."

"Hmmmmmmm" Waverly absorbed the information from his training chief. "All right Mr. Cutter, I understand your reservations. Let’s put away the reports, test scores and evaluations. In one simple sentence, evaluate Mr. Solo as an UNCLE agent."

Cutter looked down at the table formulating his words carefully.

"Sir, he’s the most intuitive, gifted agent I’ve ever seen."

Waverly now smiled slightly. "I quite agree with your assessment Mr. Cutter. Send Mr. Solo to me. I believe I can handle the lad."

Cutter acknowledged his boss with a nod. "Of course, sir. I’ll enjoy following his career with you in New York."

Nathan Woods leaned back in his chair and grinned. He knew he’d get a good chance to work with the youngster in New York and just as confident in Napoleon as Mr. Waverly was. This was going to be fun!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Napoleon Solo was in no hurry to wake up. He stretched lazily and tried to sink through the bed. He’d spent the last week in the infirmary being clucked over by a bevy of beautiful nurses who never missed an opportunity to fawn over him. Yes, he was going to like this job!

His injuries from E&R were numerous but were starting to heal with UNCLE’s good care. He’d needed tetanus shots for the rat bites, antibiotics, eight stitches for the gash in his arm and lots of hydration. Within two days his appetite came back and his friends in the cafeteria bestowed him with delicacies they’d whipped up in their free time.

Napoleon had several cracked ribs which were carefully wrapped and he was told these would need to be x-rayed when he arrived at his newly assigned post. He limped rather gingerly from the gashes on his feet but in all honesty, he played this up with the nurses and the result was frequent, delightful foot massages at night which he enjoyed immensely.
.
The new graduates had been booted from their dormitory rooms to make way for a new class of recruits and Napoleon certainly didn’t envy them. He found himself reflecting on the experience often and despite his status as number one graduate, he hoped he had justified Mr. Waverly and Nathan’s faith in him and lived up to their expectations. Of his impending assignment, Napoleon wasn’t concerned. He had survived UNCLE’s training and had confidence he would be placed in a good office. He was proud of making Section II.

With eyes closed, he listened to Chief Cutter’s barrage of insults to the new recruits outside. He didn’t hear the door to his room opening.

"Hey, Spuds! Head’s up!!"

Napoleon opened his eyes and reacted just in time to catch a potato being tossed to him by none other than Nathan Woods.

"Nathan…God, what are you doing here?" Solo exclaimed, thrilled to see his friend.

"Mr. Waverly and I flew out for two days to get the new guys their assignments. You’ll be happy to know you made Peoria." Nathan tried to suppress a smile with poor results.

"Damn…I was really hoping for Waco.." Solo grinned. "Seriously, how are you doing? It’s so great to see you. How are things in New York?"

"Same old, same old." Nathan said offhandedly. "You know….. multiple threats to world peace, government overthrows, and laser weapons on rogue satellites…..just the usual."

Solo laughed and enjoyed the feeling of relaxation. He’d been wound tight for six long months and was more than due for some down time.

Nathan pulled up a chair to the bed. "Well kid, I have to say you look like crap, but I’m damn proud of the performance you put in here at survival school. You’re going to be a great agent, Napoleon. I’m not surprised at all and neither is Mr. Waverly, by the way."

Napoleon sat up in bed. "Is Mr. Waverly still here? Is he coming by?"

"Probably not, Napoleon. You know, professional distance and all that sort of thing. But I know he was very pleased with your work here." Nathan reassured.

The two were interrupted by a lovely nurse coming in to take Napoleon’s temperature and vital signs. Solo put on his most pathetic, boyish expression and the nurse cooed over him, brushing the hair out of his face and held him up while she fluffed his pillow.

Nathan rolled his eyes.

"Listen…..ah……Napoleon…..if you’re not in too much pain," Ethan said sarcastically, "I wondered if you’d like to head back to New York tomorrow with Mr. Waverly and me?"

"Sure, Nathan. I’d love to. I’ve got a month off before I have to report to wherever and New York’s as good a place as any for some fun." Napoleon smiled.

"Great. How about you and I go apartment hunting and get you set up when we get there?" Nathan suggested.

Napoleon was confused. "I was thinking about just getting something for the month, Nathan. I’m not sure where I’ll be assigned and I should probably just……"

Nathan interrupted. "Listen, kid, don’t give your superior any lip, all right? I said let’s go find you a place when we get back. Consider that an order."

Solo stared at his friend, still not comprehending. "Order? What……I don’t follow….Nathan, what are you talking about?"

"Well, I guess the powers that be are a little concerned at some of your bonehead moves so they thought if I worked with you a little bit….." Nathan grinned.

"I’m assigned to New York?" Napoleon’s eyes were wide in astonishment.

"Yeah. They thought you’d be a good addition to the commissary staff." Nathan deadpanned. "Chief Cutter thought your pie crust was top notch!"

Napoleon barely heard the wise crack. "I’m assigned to New York?" he repeated.

"Hello?" Nathan knocked softly on Solo’s head. "Did you damage your hearing down in that rat hole?"

"No….ah….no….Nathan…. I….ah…I don’t know what to say." Napoleon said softly.

The current CEA then spoke to the future CEA.

"Napoleon, you deserve this assignment. You’re ready. There’s a whole group of us back at headquarters that will have your back. I’ll have your back. You have a bright future with UNCLE and we’ll help you get there. In Section II, we’re family that way."

Stunned, Solo looked away for a moment, not quite believing what he heard.

UNCLE.

New York.

Family.

It felt right. And as Napoleon turned back to look at Nathan, he remembered two years earlier when he’d visited Nathan in UNCLE’s medical unit and the irony of the moment wasn’t lost on him. He reached out his arm from the hospital bed, which Nathan grasped without hesitation.

Napoleon simply said. "Thank you, my brother."

Just thirty days later, Napoleon Solo strode into UNCLE headquarters, New York using the agent’s entrance for the first time. He was impeccably dressed in a navy Italian suit that fit him to a "t" and was ecstatic to see his number eleven badge, now yellow for Section II, waiting for him.

The receptionist smiled warmly and halted Solo from pinning on his own badge. "Welcome back to UNCLE Mr. Solo." She purred. "Let me take care of that for you." She leaned over her desk in exaggerated fashion. "Now here is your schedule for the morning. You need to report to medical right away to have those ribs x-rayed, then it’s on to your programming appointment. Mr. Woods will see you after that and that brings you to…..well…..to lunch?" she asked hopefully.

"Why thank you so much, Miss Emerson." He said gallantly. "I shall always look forward to coming to work every day if I have the pleasure of seeing you first thing every morning."

He strode through the sliding gray doors.

It was the beginning......


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