The hunt begins
Chapter 2 The Hunt begins
*** Southern California / NSA-Regional Bureau ***
Down in the armory, Agent Casey had finished his impressive fighting gear with a fifth firearm. Sarah, sitting next to him on the desk and a backpack in front of her, shook her head. "You can't DO that! We talk about Chuck here, a … a friend!" She didn't dare to say that in General Beckman's face or in the presence of the rest of the team, but now, to Casey, she had to speak up!
He looked at her. "We have our orders. If you have a problem with this assignment, I'm going to relieve you of duty."
Heavens, sometimes she thought he was a robot with a human skin! But she wouldn't help anyone, especially not Chuck, if she was grounded and had to wait apart from any news. If she wanted to do anything, she had to be part of the job! She sighed and then took her bag. Casey nodded and both they left the armory to meet with their team members for the final briefing before their deployment.
"We're on DefCon Orange", he announced the ten women and men shortly after. "You all know what that means. – We're ordered to check every hideout we've determined to be in connection with Fulcrum throughout California, and we're required to use all means necessary to eliminate this threat for national security!" At the moment, other emergency teams would be under way in other states. All the security and safety organizations of the United States were in alert. Still, the CIA had not been able to revive the contacts to a part of their network, and the superiors were very concerned. If there was a connection to Chuck's disappearance, it was a bad one.
Casey distributed small packages concerning plans, addresses, meeting points of in the past identified Fulcrum agents. Every member of the team had to report in at a specific time, but basically, they were on their own and didn't know which one of the others worked in which sector.
Sarah took her package and glanced over it. Her thoughts were with Chuck. Maybe it was her fault, what had happened. A bit, at least! She should have provided better security for him, after the events with that Fulcrum agent Smith! She should have convinced the CIA to assign more agents to their team in Burbank! A lot of things popped up in her mind. It had been clear that Fulcrum wouldn't simply stop their assaults after they had failed. Orion might have been killed in that helicopter crash – but the intersect was still…. Oh no, I'm starting to sound like Beckman! The intersect!
"Any questions? Sarah?" Casey stared at her.
"No", she replied, trying to look self-confident and focused on the mission like the others.
***A town in Northern California ***
The sky brightened and slowly, even a small orange shine crept over the rocky ridge Vincent and Chuck were wandering on. "I don't know … how you are… but as … for me, I can't go any … further", Chuck gasped out of breath and simply dropped onto the ground.
Vincent took a binocular and checked the misty valley below them. "We're almost there", he said and pointed to some barely visible roofs between the redwoods. "Get onto your feet!"
Chuck mobilized his last reserves. He had no idea how he was supposed to get down into the small town, but eventually they had made it and hunkered behind a bush near the street. There was very little traffic, as it was early in the morning and it was a remote corner of the State. But Vincent was carefully avoiding any visual contact, and so it took them over an hour to squeeze up to one particular house. It was a nice, blue painted wooden structure and apparently secured for a time of absence. Vincent knew his way around here, but it was just as clear this wasn't his home. He opened the door with a lock pick, shooed Chuck inside, shot a last glance around and locked the door again. He left the shutters and curtains closed, switched his flashlight on instead.
Chuck was too tired to pay attention to the surroundings. He said to himself that it was important to think about a way out, but it remained a platonic wish. His body didn't want to comply. He did not even notice his hurting wrist, when his kidnapper fastened his right hand onto the bed's leg. He fell asleep almost instantaneously and before Vincent had left, he was in the grip of a nightmare resembling the movie TRON.
The kidnapper headed into the adjacent room, which did not only provide a direct view into the bedroom with his hostage, but also computer equipment with three monitors. Gamers were infantile idiots, in Vincent's opinion, but nonetheless, they could be of use. He had picked this home a long time ago and put it onto his list of eventual emergency covers. And right now, the time had come! But first of all, he needed some rest as well. And he had to check the injury this CIA brat had inflicted on him only a week ago. The wound had been healing nicely, but the doctor had warned him of too straining activities. Well, the past 30 hours hadn't exactly been relaxing!
Vincent installed himself on the chair in front of the computers and turned it around so it faced the bedroom. Then he leaned his rifle at the left side and placed his H&K to the right. Now he judged his position half way safe and removed the vest, jacket and shirt. The bandage around his upper arm was wet and needed to be replaced, but all in all the state wasn't alarming. That was certainly not what would kill him! He fetched new material from the bandage kit, replaced the old one and redressed. With his vest on and his gun ready, he leaned back, closed his eyes and set his inner alarm clock to four hours. He had trained that kind of sleep half of his life; it had come in handy at a number of occasions, not only during his time with the Special Ops.
Chuck woke up, and his eyes caught the hands of a clock hanging at the wall. Aw crap, it crossed his still sleepy, hazy mind, I'm going to be late at the Buy-More… He tried to turn around. A sudden pain in his right arm brought his memory back. Big crap… His gaze came to a halt on Vincent's face.
"Slept well, Bartowski?" He bent down to open the cuffs.
It was crazy that a hitman asked such questions, wasn't it? Chuck skipped an answer. When he rose from the bed, he had to suppress a moan. Every muscle of his body ached and it felt as if he would never be able to cross the room without help. More help than the gun in his back… The scenario awaiting him in the next room made him forget those discomforts. The computer had been switched on, and on all of the three screens unfolded something he KNEW. Almost knew! He stared with open mouth. That was a mind map for a customized websearch like the one he used to find Orion. Only that it looked bigger, had more levels and … Devin would call it awesome, and he would've been right!
Chuck was still overwhelmed. Whoever had developed this thing, he would've loved to get to know him… Or … at second thought… maybe not. Not if it was that guy with the icy glare and the gun in his hand! He turned his eyes away from Vincent and back to the screens. Images, formulas, paths… The photo of a middle aged man crossed his view and he immediately flashed on him.
Joseph Winslow Ellington – born 1965 – Georgia State University– NSA – Project Termite –classified-
He tried to control the impulsive reaction always accompanying those flashes, but could not.
"Who is it?" Vincent asked.
"Ah… I'm still …. Very tired…" He rubbed his temples. Something was not right here! The intersect was a database of gangsters, terrorists and enemy agents! But Ellington…
"Don't try that with me! You flashed, and I want to know, who it was! This guy there? Answer, Bartowski! WHAT did you see?"
"Born in 1965, he was at the Georgia State University, got a degree in … mathematics … and … it wasn't much!"
Vincent's gun pointed down onto Chuck's foot. "That I wouldn't kill you does not mean I couldn't hurt you, understood? Now tell me what you saw, ALL of it!"
"Something about a Project named Termite."
"I suspected it…." He murmured.
"You will find out."
Chuck turned back to the screens and felt a nasty headache spreading in his head. He remembered the words Vincent had said to him yesterday. The thing in your head will kill you. … Like a swarm of termites making their way through his brain? That thought is more worthy of Lester… Good old Lester – will I ever see him again? And the other Buy – More pals and Sarah and… He flashed again. A place, or scheme, he wasn't sure. A newspaper article about a terrorist cell…
Vincent glanced at his watch. "Hurry up, they're going to trace us!"
*** Somewhere in the USA ***
The man walked into the darkened meeting chamber and sat down at the table, all the time completely hidden in the shadows, as usual. The anticipation of the others was palpable; nonetheless he took his time before he started to talk. He had good news.
"Vincent reported in. He said he'd need a pick up at the following coordinates."
"The question is: will he lead us to Orion?" another voice answered him. "Vincent is of no importance. Only Orion is. And the authorities are on the move!"