Chuck lay still as his wildly pounding heart slowed down gradually. There really wasn't much he could do, besides communicate with his team. His team. Casey had shown up, literally out of the blue, and in the nick of time, as usual. Chuck owed him his life, again. Morgan was chattering away, high on the moment. After about five "that was so awesome" declarations, he changed mics and reported the mission success, presumably to Beckman.
Sarah was still trying to land the biplane. Casey had to give her direction and distance to the dirt airstrip because Sarah had become disoriented in all the aerial scuffles. She had sounded relieved that her husband didn't go splat in the cornfields. Or maybe she was just glad the canister was retrieved safely. It was hard to separate the two and Chuck didn't have the heart to ask. He didn't want to know.
Without propeller noise or the hammering of his heart, his ears picked up a clicking coming from his pocket. "Uh...Casey? How fast can you get me out of this thing?"
"What, you got somewhere to be?" Casey answered good naturedly.
"I really don't want to be holding this package very long. The canister is not made of lead and my Geiger counter is making a lot of noise."
Casey's voice went muffled, no doubt because he'd put his mic aside to yell at the helicopter crew, but his urgent inquiries about bringing a radioactive canister aboard were met with negative responses.
Sarah cut in, "There's a lead suitcase back at the corn maze. Land there and I'll go get it."
"Copy that, Walker," Casey said. He ordered the helicopter pilot to put Chuck down near the corn maze and then land nearby. "Hold on, Bartowski." Did Casey actually sound worried?
Chuck tried to remember all the assurances about americium-241 he'd blithely recited to Morgan. If there were half a billion nanobots in the canister and 500 of them had the same amount of radioactive material as one smoke detector, then the canister should be as radioactive as—he did the math in his head—a million smoke detectors. The number wasn't as comforting as he'd hoped it would be. Maybe the bio-terrorists hadn't been able to obtain that much americium or had the time to build that many nanobots.
The prize he'd fought so hard to win and was ready to give his life to protect was now an abhorrent vexation he couldn't get away from. The best he could do was to push it down from resting on his chest and all his vital organs, to down by his knees. One of his legs hurt like the devil, but he ignored it. The net trap was too strong to push it further.
Morgan was talking off-mic again. Chuck couldn't quite make out what he was saying or to whom he might be talking. His best friend did sound rather insistent about something. Whether from the pain associated with the netting, or from radiation or just plain exhaustion, Chuck didn't know, but he felt his consciousness slipping.
The next thing he knew, he hit the ground. It registered more of a thud than any new pain. He hadn't been dropped from very high. He was still cocooned by the rope net, and therefore unable to move. Heavy boots hit the ground next to him. Military, by the looks of them. His vision drifted in and out of focus. A gruff voice said, "Don't worry, I'll get you out of there." It was soothing only in its familiarity. Casey. No wonder Goya called him Angel de la Vida.
Casey produced a shiny knife the size of Texas. A bayonet, if Chuck remembered his weapons training correctly. It wasn't important to flash to know for sure. The colonel sliced through the netting like it was nothing more than kite string.
Chuck tried to kick the canister away with his good leg, but his muscles weren't doing what he told them to. He just hoped Casey didn't make a crack about him being feeble.
The colonel reached for the canister.
"Casey, don't, it's hot!" Chuck thought the words, but they didn't come out of his mouth. Sarah had just run up and said it. She carried the lead case at her side.
"Yes, and we need to get it in that case," Casey grunted, grabbing the canister anyway.
"I've already been exposed. Let me do it."
"Shut up, Walker, and figure out how to get this round peg in the square hole." It was more like a cylindrical peg in a rectangular-solid hole, but Chuck wasn't strong enough to argue. He didn't think he could help no matter what.
"The canister won't fit. You've got to transfer the nanobots themselves." She opened the case and produced some copper tubing that had been lying inside when they saw it open. Sarah sealed up the case again and then attached one end of the tubing to a valve stem she found on the side.
Casey attached the tubing to the brass canister and said, "Stand back." He manipulated the valves. There was a hiss of gas.
"Was that it? Did they all go?" Sarah asked.
"Got me," Casey grunted.
"Geiger counter," Chuck suggested weakly. He even managed to get his hand down in his pocket to pull it out.
Casey took it and simultaneously said to Sarah in an undertone, "I got this."
Any other time, Chuck wouldn't have given their actions a second thought. Of course save the civilians from radioactive materials first. Of course secure the dangerous nanobots that threatened a major crop. But just now, when he was possibly dying of radiation sickness, he really wanted Sarah by his side, preferably the old Sarah who loved him.
As if in answer to his wish, Sarah knelt beside him and took his hand. "Chuck, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you fall."
"I saw the tower. It wasn't your fault." He coughed and discovered it hurt—like, everywhere.
Now that the canister was gone, a medic showed up on his other side and started working on him, but he didn't make Sarah leave.
Her eyes were beautiful, yet sad. "I should have taken the package and let you land."
If she had kept the canister and he had taken the pilot's seat instead, she wouldn't have had to step over him. Maybe no one would have fallen. But then they both would have been close to the canister all this time. They wouldn't even have known about the danger because the propeller made too much noise to hear the Geiger counter.
No, this was better. "It's all right. Casey saved the day. I'm okay." Maybe. Chuck didn't think he had a death wish, but he was surprisingly calm about the possibility. Sarah wasn't remembering enough to love him the way she did before and he was beginning to think she never would.
If she didn't remember, could they start over? It didn't seem so likely anymore. Living without the love of his life was so painful that death didn't seem so bad.
Chuck yelped when the medic probed his leg. "Possible fractured tibia." One medic applied a splint. Another started an IV.
Casey leaned over the medic's shoulder. "When he's stable enough to travel, get him back on the helicopter." He then looked at Sarah. "Beckman ordered us all to some secure military hospital. We were exposed to the radiation too. Gotta get checked out."
Sarah frowned and wrinkled her brow, but she didn't argue with orders. She made sure the frown was gone when she looked back at Chuck.
The medics transferred him to a rescue basket. Casey and another medic lifted him up and carried him to the chopper, which wasn't far away. Sarah let go of his hand, but stayed within sight. Chuck felt a little better. They must have given him something for the nausea in the IV.
On the helicopter, Chuck's basket got secured just a few feet away from the rest of the seats. Casey made sure Sarah got the seat closest to him. The Marines made everyone strap in. With the rotors going and Sarah being a few feet away, talking didn't look like an option, but Chuck really didn't like the idea of just lying there and letting his mind wander. He still had his ear bud in, but it looked like everyone else had taken theirs out and turned them off.
He turned his face toward the wall both for better privacy and to reduce the noise. "Morgan? Morgan, are you there, buddy?"
"Chuck! How are you? You sacred the pants off us!"
"Is anyone else still on comms?" He wanted to make sure this was just between him and his best friend.
Silence, and then Morgan's voice again: "Looks like it's just me. What can I do for you?"
"Morgan, I gotta know something, and I gotta know the truth. Tell me straight up. Why do you think Sarah fell in love with me?"
"Hey, what's not to love? You're the spy of her dreams."
If she had wanted a 'real spy', she wouldn't have rejected Bryce and Shaw and the MI-6 superspy Barker. Well, maybe Shaw after he went all psycho turncoat, but Bryce Larkin and Cole Barker were both great spies. "I don't think so. Remember, she almost dumped me after my Red Test. And you yourself reminded me how much she loved me without the Intersect." He was only an average spy without it, maybe not even that.
"Oh, right. Maybe it was because you were such a naughty asset, not staying in the car. Some girls love the bad boys."
Hmm. A bad boy? Really? Chuck didn't think he was that type. But he had been rather naïve and vulnerable when he was just an asset. Maybe that was it. She was his protector at first, and then his mentor. She'd fallen in love with his innocence, and that was why she never wanted him to use a real gun. They'd grown together, but she didn't remember.
And then it hit him. He couldn't go back. He couldn't pretend to be the bumbling, underachieving loser he was five years ago. He'd gained experience, maturity, and confidence. Was there anything in the present Chuck which could ignite that spark of attraction? Could old Sarah fall for new Chuck? It had been improbable enough the first time. It might be asking too much to make lightning strike twice.
Morgan's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Chuck, you there?"
"Yeah, just thinking."
"Ellie is meeting you at the hospital." Clearly changing the subject and trying to cheer him up. Well, he could use a little of that.
"I don't think I need a neurologist. No head injury."
"She has some news about Sarah. Beckman was going to send you two to Chicago after the mission, but when we told Ellie you'd been hurt, she insisted to come see you at the hospital."
"Well, she is a doctor."
Morgan chuckled. "This is no regular hospital they're taking you to. It's classified. I'm not even sure which state it's in. Devon can't get in. Only Andromeda."
Sounded like his assertive big sis. "Good. Devon can take care of Baby Clara." He hoped. Surely they weren't going to let a baby come with her to this super-secret government hospital.
"You let us know what's happening, okay? Alex hasn't seen her dad yet. He left Jeff and Lester in New York when he heard you were in Des Moines."
"What, he didn't just magically appear in the sky like Angel de la Vida when I requested air support? You'd better not tell him we know that."
"He's not hearing it from me."
Static suddenly replaced Morgan's voice. This super-secret hospital evidently had a communications jammer, and a pretty good one to affect their best equipment. He just hoped Morgan would figure it out. He pulled the ear bud from his ear, switched it off with his thumbnail and closed his fingers around it until he could pass it off to Sarah or Casey. He felt a little better now he knew Ellie was coming.
They should be close, right? A jammer would be local. Chuck lay back and allowed the whoop-whoop of the rotors to lull him into sleep.