Just in time
*** Flat Point Creek Air Force Base / Operations Central ***
The door had fallen under the continuing fire of the enemy a few minutes ago. Now Vincent cowered behind the remains, shooting whenever he spotted a movement in front of him in the corridor.
"Status?" he hissed without turning to Stephen Bartowski.
"They've figured out what I'm doing… Someone's trying to block me…I think-" A shot reached the room and smashed into the screen to his left.
"I'm almost down to my last clip," Vincent replied. And that never happened to me before; I don't like it!
"I try to get access to one of the drones and-"
"Forget that! Just kill that Trojan!" Another shot ripped the remains of the door further apart. Splinters splashed and Vincent felt blood running down his cheek. The pain only set in a couple of seconds later. He was out of ammo and fumbled for his last clip.
Stephen cursed. "That's it. I've been disconnected from the satellite!"
Then it's time for a tactical retreat… Vincent forced himself not to think about the consequences if Orion had been disconnected too soon. "See that cover panel below your desk? Get it open!"
Stephen was on all fours very quickly, because a new series of shots reached the room! He ripped at the hatch to no avail, then grabbed it with both hands, but still it didn't move.
"Can't get the damned thing—ah, got it!" Panting, Stephen peered inside the dark hole of the old service shaft. "Where does it end up?"
"Servicetunnel. Right above an old bunker. I chose this place for a reason!" Vincent fired and brought an all-too-careless enemy down. The body gave a bit additional cover, but only so much.
"I don't think I'll fit-"
"Down with you!"
*** In the meantime / Outside on the area of the base ***
Chuck and the two agents had arrived a few minutes ago. So far, no one had seen them sneaking up to the fence and making their way through it. Casey lay belly pressed against the concrete on top of one of the flat buildings and screened the area through his binocular. Judging after his crunching teeth, it didn't look especially good for their little rescue operation.
"They're all over the place. And they have considerable firepower." His view switched from one heavily armed buddy to another. They were very seriously outgunned!
"What about that thing over there?" Sarah whispered. Casey turned his head and his eyes followed her gesture. Barely to see behind high grass and straggly thorn bushes, he discovered a half rotten metal pipe. "Could be a ventilation shaft to an underground structure – what do you think?"
"I think we're going to find out!" The agent crawled backwards and jumped down to the others a moment later.
They moved forward and Chuck tried not to fall behind. He also tried to make himself useful somehow – in keeping an eye on the enemy, for instance - but all he achieved was stumbling over a stone and landing on his knees. It's all my fault, he thought again. I'm a naïve moron, just as Casey says. Maybe he was just like his friend Morgan and the other guys from the nerd-herd. A genius when it came to computers and programs and games, but not fit for real life and its dangers. And I thought winning Sarah! Who am I kidding?! I'm just a laugh—
"Bartowski! Watch out, dammit!"
Almost, he had run into the ventilation pipe.
*** Down in the bunker ***
Vincent had closed the service shaft behind them, but the two fugitives had no doubt it would be discovered sooner or later. As fast as possible, they had made their way down, through rusty metal grids that almost dissolved into dust after a strong kick.
"That was number four," Vincent said, hanging right above Stephen, hands clasped around old cables. "Below the next one, the bunker is supposed to be."
Steadied with his back against the wall, Stephen kicked against the plate under his feet. It broke after three attempts and clattered down in the darkness below. Vincent adjusted his micro flashlight. Its pale shine danced over the outlines of dust covered empty boards and a table. "Let's go!"
Stephen let go, fell more than he jumped and painfully grazed the table with his left arm. He squeezed his eyes, tried to master the pain. The dust made him cough. Shit. I'm in no shape to outrun that bunch of crazy killers probably coming after us that very moment! … Oh God, what are they going to do with Ellie? He covered his face, feeling exhausted. I've killed my daughter…
Vincent's voice shattered his cocoon of miserable thoughts. "Get up!"
"I … was just thinking about Ellie …" He struggled to his feet. "Perhaps she's…" He broke off and shook his head. "You think that'd be the right punishment for me, don't you?"
"It crossed my mind. Let's MOVE!"
"You've become a bitter man, Vincent." They headed into a corridor with more empty boards and spider webs hanging from the ceiling like veils.
"I've lived with the knife at my throat the last seven years," he answered without turning around. "I had to kill half a dozen people in order not to give away myself and I have a police record as thick as a phone book. I had to break contact with my family. And that ingenious invention of yours made me march towards insanity with accelerated steps!"
"I didn't know about those side effects!" Stephen breathed deeply and paid with another cough because of the omnipresent dust. "I didn't … I was … so overwhelmed by the possibilities … I guess I simply blindfolded myself." He wasn't the first scientist in history falling prey to that kind of seduction. But it didn't help right now to have company!
"You opened Pandora's box. But you were in the rare position to make an attempt to close it again." Vincent opened a steel door with a precise shot and continued: "Let's hope you've managed it, Project Termite is history and your son and his agency friends are fast and smart enough to cope with those knuckle heads upstairs!"
*** The apartment in Charleston ***
The small group of cyber terrorists had become increasingly nervous. Their boss paced on and off, occasionally shot a cautious glance out of the window and then another one at his watch. The math genius from Bosnia mumbled curses in his mother language.
"I can't get in! It's no fucking use; I'm blocked EVERYHWERE!" He said, finally capitulating.
"I'm getting some suspicious stuff over the police radio," another of his comrades warned, dragging off his headphones. "This does not look good…"
The boss lost his nerves. "We pack up and hit the road! Get up! Move! MOVE!"
"What about Ismal?! We can't just leave him up there! We need to get him back! Hey, listen to me Chalid, man, we can't-"
The boss grabbed him, pushed him against the wall. "I say we go! Don't make fuzz, or I'll spare the Americans the task to kill you! Get your stuff!"
Masjid had not just anyone up in the air on the way to kill the President, though! Ismal was his brother. He burst in outrage, tried to get a hold of Chalid's Automatic – and was shot before any of the others could step in between. Now they had one reason more to vanish very quickly from this neighborhood!
„Anyone else eager to make his point?" Silence. Shock in the men's faces. "Good." Chalid took his suitcase, opened it. "Here are your new passports and the tickets. I've never seen anyone of you!" Next, he retrieved a small package of explosives, placed it on the table amidst the computer equipment, connected it to a time fuse and armed it.
Ten minutes later, as the terrorists hurried to different means of transportation, the little apartment went off in a ball of fire.
*** Meanwhile – Airspace over Washington DC ***
Ismal sweated. He wiped his face, licked his lips and tasted the salt. They were past the dropping point for two minutes now, and still the lights of the US capital were shining brightly. The electricity and thus all the security measures were intact! Something had gone terribly wrong. He checked his watch again. What was he supposed to do? Contact Chalid? He had been ready to sacrifice his life for the cause; he had pledged allegiance to the death. But now… Contrary to every arrangement, he took his cell phone and tried to reach his boss. No connection available. Fear crept up in Ismal. He seemed too have been abandoned. So what was he supposed to do? However, before he could reach a decision whether or not he should just jump and try to get out of the country as quickly as possible, the noise of chopper rotors approached. Panicking, he stared out and discovered at least two helicopters in close range. He didn't have time to wonder what they were up to.
"Attention! MPPD speaking! You're in restricted airspace!" The radio announced. "Prepare to be escorted to the nearest airfield! We will open fire in case you don't comply immediately!"
Just when the little plane touched down, surrounded by a huge deployment of the Metropolitan Police and special forces, the Bosnian math genius walked into a local police station miles away in Charleston and turned himself in. "I'm a member of a terrorist organization. I demand witness protection, and I'll tell everything."
*** Nevada / Flat Point Creek Base / Bunker ***
Vincent and Stephen were still running toward what Vincent meant to be the old exit of the Cold-War-bunker from the late Sixties. A few minutes ago they had heard voices in the distance. So they clearly weren't alone anymore.
"We're not going to make it," Stephen said, out of breath.
"You don't have much confidence in your son and his agency friends."
Stephen looked at him, not sure what to answer. The boy is like me. Too much like me. A dreamer…
"He's a good kid," Vincent continued instead. "Too little self confidence, a bit clumsy… but … he's inventive and brave. Very brave."
Stephen opened his mouth, but the words got stuck in his throat, when they reached the next corner. There, bent down and broken struts awaited them. Gravel and dirt covered the floor. Yet more steps ahead, the passage was blocked completely. Stephen sighed exhausted and shook his head.
"Seems our flight is over, at last."
"Probably happened during one of the flash floods in spring." Vincent looked around, if there was any way through or around the barrier. However, the voices from the others already sounded much closer than minutes ago. Vincent checked his ammunition. Two bullets left!
"Maybe we should kill ourselves – spoils them the fun at least!" Stephen leaned his back against one of the damaged struts. He had thought to sound sarcastic, but it rather sounded deadly serious.
"You're still a valuable asset with priceless information in your head," Vincent answered. "I'm the one who has become useless junk. – But they won't reach the garbage can unless they pay a price! – Get down, behind that strut!" With that, Vincent knelt down, just as on a shooting range, both hands closed around his gun, targeting ahead. "We still have a chance."
Only seconds later, three silhouettes in another pale shine of light showed up at the end of the corridor. Chuck? Stephen blinked and squeezed his eyes.
"Drop your weapon, Smith!" Casey's order echoed through the bunker.
"Where's my Dad? What did you do to him?!"
"I'm okay!" Stephen steadied himself and slowly moved out of his cover, hands up, just in case. "I'm fine! Don't shoot!"
"Good to see you," Vincent added. "At some point I was afraid you wouldn't make it in time!" Slowly, he lowered his gun and placed it on the ground.
However, Casey and Sarah were trained to be cautious! Any lapse of alert could prove fatal.
"It's okay!" Stephen repeated and a moment later, he pulled his son into his arms. Now Sarah let her gun sink, and finally even Casey followed her example.
"You have a hell of an explanation to give!"
"I needed their network", Vincent said, as the little group moved into the direction of the ventilation shaft Chuck and the agents had used a few minutes ago. "And I had no time for any explanations. We were running out of time. There was no other way."
Chuck and Sarah exchanged a glance and a knowing smile. Casey frowned. Yes, they'd had their share of 'no time for explanations'! Half of the highway police was probably after them!
"Besides, I don't think you would've trusted me enough to let me walk into a presumable Fulcrum base with Orion."
"I'd probably have shot you", Casey stated.
"I couldn't risk that, could I?"
They had reached the rusty ladder to the upper level, from where the metal pipe was leading to the surface.
"Uh, folks, couldn't we just get out first and discuss later?" Chuck asked.
Vincent agreed. "He and I still have some unfinished business and-"
-"UNFINISHED BUSINESS is a nice way to put it." The female voice was supported by the barrel of a semi automatic rifle pointing down at them from above this very moment. "Drop your weapons!"
Chuck thought he really had heard this particular demand often enough for one day. Having nothing to drop, he raised his hands even before the woman – one of this secte's inner council – ordered it.
"Now … you!" She gestured to Stephen. "Get up slowly! Hands to the ladder! Fine… one false move and your friends are dead!"
Stephen complied. There was no other option. Chuck pressed his lips together and watched how his father slowly climbed up. If I weren't who I am, I'd come up with an awesome idea to save him, he thought. I'd do some martial arts – whatever! It's just not fair! I find my Dad, I find Orion, I'm that close to get rid of this thing in my head and then - ! He looked to Sarah. At least we're going to die together … are we going to die? I don't want to die… just yet…
-"Drop your weapon!"
A metallic clunk. The gun barrel had vanished from the opening. Stephen didn't move. Chuck tilted his head and now, the dark blue of a police officer's uniform moved into his field of view.