Chuck was a little surprised Sarah had left the lights on in Castle, but once he reached the stairway, he could see why. The general was already here, seated at the conference table.
"Thank you for coming, Chuck."
"Uh, sure, General. I didn't know you were still in L.A."
"Agent Wa—Sarah asked to see me. She let me in." Was it the word 'agent' or the fact she started to use 'Walker' and not 'Bartowski' that had changed her mind about how to label Sarah?
"Well, as long as Castle is still here, you're always welcome. We're going to lock it up when we get our equipment moved. The new Buy More owners didn't get—"
Her impatient scowl took over and the second Chuck paused, she interrupted. "Is this room secure? I'm here off the record."
He descended the stairs faster and went straight to the master computer. After a few clicks, he had all surveillance in the room shut down. "It is now."
"Good. Sit down, Chuck."
Carmichael Industries was his company—well, his and Sarah's. Beckman really had no right to be ordering him around, but he knew better than to cross her. She was one feisty little woman and he respected her greatly. "Yes, ma'am. Sitting down." Even sitting at the table, he dwarfed her, but size had never mattered. She was always in charge.
"Sarah asked to rejoin the CIA."
"She what? General, she doesn't remember, but less than a week ago, she was adamant about quitting the spy life."
"I know. We spoke before she lost her memory. She told me off in no uncertain terms."
"I can't believe she didn't tell me she was planning this. I thought we were making progress on restoring her memories and returning to normal lives."
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want her back, but not like this. She isn't the same. I barely got the charges dropped for the bombing at DARPA. If we didn't have Quinn's detonator, she'd be in custody right now. She set the charges and left them active, knowing full well what building she was in. Even if Quinn had really been CIA, she should have questioned that order."
Chuck almost opened his mouth to defend her, but it wasn't a good idea to make Sarah any more attractive to the CIA than she already was. If she ever got her memory back, she'd regret all this. Maybe it was better the general had misgivings. He held his tongue.
"I told her Dr. Dreyfus has to clear her before I can consider her for field work."
As a CIA psychiatrist, Dreyfus had once had Chuck committed to the government insane asylum. Chuck still didn't think he had deserved it, but he'd decked a diplomat at the symphony, causing an international incident which the president had to apologize for. His impulsive move left Dreyfus with little choice. However, Dreyfus, along with Sarah and Casey, came back to rescue him when the bad guy showed up at the mental hospital with murderous intent. Dreyfus was fair. Surely, he wouldn't allow an amnesia patient to run off on a spy mission when she should be getting therapy to restore her memories.
"Thank you, General. Did Sarah mention that we suspect Quinn may have specifically targeted what memories he erased? I was thinking that could help us figure out how to get her memories back."
"No, Sarah didn't mention it. She's acting a little..." she twisted her face in a grimace, "...moody. That's another thing I hope Dr. Dreyfus can address. However, I didn't ask you here to discuss Sarah. I probably shouldn't have told you at all about her request, but it's pertinent to what I do want to discuss." She shifted in her chair and relaxed her stern face a little.
"Chuck, you now have the last copy of the Intersect in your head. No one else we or the Ring ever recruited for implementation of the Intersect software has had half the success as you have. Both your father and your old professor at Stanford insisted you were special and uniquely qualified, but no one would listen. Time and again, all other candidates proved unworkable, even dangerous. With the destruction of the lab at DARPA, it has been decided that no further attempt will be made to produce super spies via Intersect technology. But that still leaves you."
He started to respond, but she flashed a don't-you-dare-mess-with-me glare and eyebrow, so Chuck zipped it.
"I am well aware you only loaded the Intersect to save thousands of lives at the Pacific Concert Hall, including mine. It cost us the last five years of Sarah's memories. I don't take that sacrifice lightly and I know you don't either. If you want the Intersect out of your head, I will give you the means to remove it. You can be done with us forever. Just know that once it is removed, all your father's work will be destroyed, redacted, and purged."
Just a few days ago, he and Ellie had agreed that Dad would have wanted the project terminated because of all the misery it caused. Then again, Chuck had never wanted the 2.0 removed when Clyde Decker forced it out of him. He had learned, to a degree, how to control his flashes. Unfortunately, much of his control depended on keeping his emotions in check and that had come from Sarah. Could he realistically hope she would do that again? Wasn't it selfish to keep the awesome tool he'd grown to love when he had agreed it should be destroyed? He really hadn't had time to think about having the Intersect because he'd been too focused on Sarah.
He'd been staring into space for several seconds when he realized the general was watching and, remarkably, not speaking. When he finally blinked, she continued. "I should also mention that Dr. Eleanor Woodcomb has requested access to all of our Intersect-related data. Since your father gave her all his research, she is actually the number one expert on the subject. If I grant her clearance, she would be able to collaborate with Dr. Dreyfus on developing therapy and possibly a cure for Sarah."
Chuck thought he knew where this was headed, but he needed to hear it from her. "But if I have the Intersect removed...?"
"Then all Intersect-related data will be destroyed, including what might be helpful to Sarah's recovery. I'm sorry. I know it sounds like blackmail. That's why I wanted to speak to you in person." The look on her face was one of true concern. She was definitely a badass general, but she had a heart under that tough exterior.
"Couldn't you just give Ellie the data and then do all your..." he mimed a karate chop "...redacting and destroying after that?"
She gave a grim shake of her head. "Part of redacting means confiscating Orion's hard drive and destroying it, too."
"You can't do that! My father left it to Ellie. It's not a government computer. It's private property!"
"It's a data storage device holding highly sensitive research. If the project is terminated, it all has to go."
Okay, so no bait-and-switch. He drew a deep breath. "Will Ellie be in danger if you give her clearance?"
"No more than she already is. Her expertise in neurology combined with Orion's research is what makes her vulnerable, but she already had that outside of our involvement. She's actually safer if we take her into the fold because then we can take security measures and provide protection. Your father's laptop should be kept in a secure facility, surrounded by guards, not sitting on some civilian's dining room table in the Chicago suburbs."
Until his sister's very recent move, Chuck had kept Dad's Roark 7 in Castle and Ellie came here to work on it. He hadn't really thought about security, other than not wanting Jane Bentley to hijack it for her own purposes. "That's my fault, General, and I promise to take care of it, but Ellie cannot be a spy. She has a baby and a family." Chuck would never allow her to abandon Clara and Awesome like his own mother had abandoned them. Not even to help Sarah.
Beckman pursed her lips in thinly disguised impatience. "You may recall from your basic training that the 'I' in C.I.A. stands for intelligence. Dr. Woodcomb would be a scientific consultant, not a field agent."
Yeah, that's what they told Hartley Winterbottom and look what happened to him. There was no point bringing that up. It only served to remind everyone of Dad's mistake. However, her answer did give him another idea. If it was safe for a mother, it should be safe for him, right? Even if Sarah remembered everything tomorrow, she couldn't be mad about him accepting something as safe and mundane as a consultant. "If I keep the Intersect, will they let me be a consultant... or an analyst, maybe?"
She sighed heavily. "My superiors ordered me to lead you to believe you have to be a spy, Chuck. That's what you've been trained for. But Team Bartowski saved my life just recently and rescued me from treason charges back during Shaw's attempted coup, so to hell with my superiors. I'm going to be straight with you. You don't have to work for us at all. Our secrets are backed up this time. We won't be any worse off by you denying us use of an active, functioning Intersect than we would be if you have it removed. As long as we're reasonably sure you haven't been compromised by an enemy, you're free to live your life. I won't say I'd be happy about losing one of my finest agents, but I already lost you before you uploaded the Intersect, didn't I?"
He was moved by her compliment, but he couldn't really say so while holding his resolve about quitting the CIA. He left her rhetorical question unanswered. "General, can I ask you something personal?"
Her expression became something between a smirk and a frown. "I suppose."
"Roan Montgomery told me about your little pact from the eighties. Do you ever regret not quitting the spy life to settle down and have a family?"
She smiled. "Not for a second. But I do regret not giving Craig and Laura Turner some serious competition as the best spy couple."
Chuck grinned. "You and Roan would have blown them away."
Her smile widened and both brows raised. Her face was still time-worn, but her eyes glinted with a spark of youth. "Damn straight, we would have."
She stood and pushed in her chair. Her smile faded to a solemn expression. "You have a lot to think about and I assume you'll need to talk to your wife and your sister. You have 48 hours to decide. We'll be in touch."
General Diane Beckman slid into the government limousine waiting outside Orange Orange. She told her driver to take her to LAX and waited for him to close the partition. She removed a bug detector from her pocket and swept the passenger area for electronic listening devices. She also checked her cell phone. When she was absolutely assured of privacy, she hit speed dial. It connected on the second ring.
"You'd better be right about this, Roan. I'm taking an awful chance disobeying orders." She didn't mention how many younger agents wanted her job because at least four of them were women and Roan might take it as a personal challenge.
"Trust me, Diane. Charles Bartowski is the most altruistic man on the planet. Complete honesty was the only way to go. He's got too much integrity to hoard your precious Intersect so he can impress dot-com moguls into paying him ridiculous fees to keep their internet shopping carts safe from hackers. Not when there are true patriot underdogs out there risking their lives to stop wars and terrorists and drug lords. I'm telling you, he's incapable of that much selfishness."
She smiled at his blatant overuse of clichés. He was adorable when he turned on the charm like that, but it wasn't quite enough to put her mind at ease. "He might go for removal. He spent two years trying to get the first one out of his head."
"Then he turned around and loaded the 2.0 by choice, didn't he? Besides, there is no way he'll have it removed with Sarah's memory on the line. There's nothing he wouldn't do for that girl."
Ha! You have no idea. However, Chuck had also been quite adamant about keeping his sister and her family out of the CIA. Ellie Bartowski Woodcomb was a force to be reckoned with. They'd just have to wait and see. Diane drew a breath and let it out, letting calm return. Her voice was more sultry when she continued. "He asked about you."
Roan matched her tone with a come-hither one of his own. "Did he now? What did you tell him?"
"Only the absolute truth."
"You wicked minx, you. I really must have you give me a refresher course in handling assets."
"You want assets to handle? Pick me up at Dulles at 17:45 and bring your dinner jacket."
"Counting the minutes until then. Besos, my flower."