*** A little town in Northern California ***
I have to stop flashing, Chuck thought desperately. I must not betray Orion and Sarah and Casey … and everyone! But HOW?! More pictures and documents flooded into his brain. He squeezed his eyes and only opened them, when he sensed something cold touching his temples. Electromagnetic contacts! Instinctively, he tried to pull back, but could only go so far with his handcuffs attached to the chair's armrest. Vincent attached more contacts and connected them to something looking like a metal headband, before plugging the wires into a box next to another computer screen.
Oh my God, this is like in one of those scifi-classics, where some alien monsters… "You're not trying to … sorta transfer my brain?" He tried to laugh. This was ridiculous!
"Don't be an idiot, Bartowski!"
Whatever that device was, it created a slight tickling under his skin and Chuck felt increasingly uncomfortable. He's measuring my brainwaves. He's recording my flashes. Additionally, he wasn't able to shut his eyes anymore. He flashed several times on photos of locations and people. Codename Termite showed up again. The gun still pointing at his foot left him not much of a choice if he wanted to talk or not. When he finally managed to turn his head and thus rip off some of the wires, he discovered a strange map on Vincent's screen. It almost looked like those early computer games: blue and red lines entangled in a labyrinth, sometimes parallel to each other, sometimes deleting each other, sometimes crossing and creating round spots. The labyrinth was under construction, but now that the transmission wasn't complete anymore, it abruptly stopped.
Vincent shot his hostage an evil glance, but a second look at his watch made him refrain from other actions. This location was not safe for very much longer! Chuck saw him work on the computer for some couple of seconds more. Time in which the black background of the blue-red-labyrinth was replaced with the map of an actual landscape. This made him shiver. No doubt he had given vital information, not only names and locations … but about what? Orion? Or this… Termite program? He had no time to ponder about it. After transferring data to his mobile storage again and inserting a cleaning command into both computers, Vincent took off the contacts. Another look at the watch. He seemed really to be in a hurry! Chuck thought about using this against him. If he just acted slow and clumsy enough maybe that would buy his friends the time they needed to get him?!
While they prepared to leave, he stumbled over his own feet two times and the third time hit his head at the door frame. It really hurt. He shouldn't overdo, probably! Vincent hauled him to his feet.
"I'm sorry. I'm so tired. I'm just not used to march all night and then-"
"Let me tell you what! In case you haven't noticed! Out there", he pointed toward the closed shutters, "are about four factions ready to ice you. Including the one of your FRIENDS! And unless you're moving a bit faster RIGHT NOW they're going to succeed!"
That's not true; Sarah is not trying to kill me! Of course he knew that she just might not have another choice. He knew General Beckman's directive. He was too valuable to fall into enemy's hands. That meant at the moment he did not have any "friends", right? And so … it maybe wasn't the smartest idea to fall back into the hands of whomever… Chuck's uneasy look crossed Vincent's.
His lips twitched in a short smile. "I see you got it, Bartowski! Now let's go!"
They left the house through the rear exit and had barely made it past the trash bins into the adjacent yard, when a car parked in front and two men hurried out to force their entrance through the front door.
***A hotel, temporarily NSA Base of Operations San Diego ***
Agent Casey's view wandered over the files of the remaining members of his team. They already had lost two of them. One had been killed in action; Casey suspected by a hitman hired from Fulcrum. The other simply had landed in jail because he messed up his operation. He would get out eventually, when everything was clarified by his superiors, but for the moment, he was lost as well. Moreover, so far the mission had completely failed. None of their raids and observations had brought any sign of life neither of Chuck nor of Fulcrum. All the places on their list had been swept clean. And the other teams sent out by Beckman had reported the same. Fulcrum had obviously fallen from the face of the earth! The only faint lead was the statement of an old man in Burbank who remembered having seen Chuck in the company of a man who MIGHT have been Vincent Smith. But given the distance and the age of the witness, it was very shaky evidence.
Casey cursed. By now he was sure that the enemy had a mole inside their operation. He suspected everyone except himself. And his tenacity and anger grew with every hour that had passed fruitlessly. He hadn't sacrificed his life for the NSA to fail now, in the face of the greatest danger! Oh no, he would…
The door opened behind him. He whirled around, finger around the trigger of his Desert Eagle. "Agent Walker! That way I'll shoot you one day! – Where have you been? You're reporting in late."
Sarah snorted. Several hours of observation lay behind her. "I'm definitely NOT betraying you to Fulcrum, I can assure you!" She was annoyed because she was worried about Chuck. That annoyance seeped unprofessionally into her job. That wasn't good, but she couldn't help it. "Any news from Beckman yet?"
"I'm waiting for her call."
"Good. I'll get us some coffee. Try not to shoot me when I return."
Sarah stormed out of the room, venting her frustration in a harsh walk down the stairs. She could've ordered her coffee in the diner across the street. However, she decided to need a bit more time to cool off and so she ran some corners further. Near a Wendy's, she halted and inhaled deeply.
"Don't turn around." A female voice, close by. "Listen first."
Sarah slightly shifted her weight and prepared for a Taekwondo-attack, just in case. A few people were in the area, all busy with themselves.
"You've always been bad in checking your perimeter, Sarah."
She knew that voice, darn it!
"All the CIA lack that skill. One reason for so many failures."
"Don't turn, I said. Just move a bit closer to the wall. You're hindering the traffic! – I have some information for you, concerning your missing friend."
Coldness flooded through her.
"Smith has him."
"How do you know?"
"That's one information more than I'm willing to share for free. Do we have a deal?"
Sarah had to think quickly. It was CIA policy to use all potential sources of information. Plus, Chuck was at stake! She was inclined to risk more than usual for him! "I'm not responsible for this operation", she answered. "I can't decide anything."
"I don't want to negotiate my way back into the ranks, thank you. All I want is Smith. For that price, I'll help you find them."
A boy on a bicycle passed Sarah. He reminded her of Chuck. "Okay", she said after a last second of hesitation. "I'll take you back to our base."
The long haired woman stepped out of the shadows, storing her gun. She smiled.
"What could you possibly tell us about Vincent Smith we don't know yet?" Agent Casey growled. He didn't like that woman. He didn't like anyone having information he wanted to have. The more, if this anyone seemed to be the human equivalent of a predator cat that treated him like a kid!
"I served with him in Iraq", Cadie said. "I know how his brain ticks. And I can tell you, when he's trough with your friend, you'd be lucky if you can still identify the corpse." She lit a cigarette. Sarah discovered a long scar at her arm.
"We intend to prevent that", Casey answered. "With your help. Right?"
Cadie shot him one of her special glances and they both knew that they would keep a close eye on each other, whatever would follow.
*** Washington / DNI ***
General Beckman had visited and revisited the files of her agents. She shared Casey's opinion about a mole, but so far she had not identified any suspicious points. Time was of the essence, of course she knew that. And she couldn't help but see a connection between the recent events in different countries. Years-old networks of agents were imploding, people were missing. A few of those people had been or were on assignments in a certain country in central Africa, that she suspected to be a terrorist stronghold for quite some time. So she had a lot of puzzle pieces, and with every new one, the system became more chaotic and dangerous. And still, there was no trace of the intersect OR orion! She bent over her computer again, typed in the name of the respective US-ambassador and her clearance – and got an "Access denied".
Please, not a computer glitch on top of all! She snatched the phone and called Colonel Stevenson, her assistant in the DNI.
Some minutes later, Stevenson stood in front of her desk and left her not even time to criticize his brisk behavior. "The files concerning Ambassador Harris are restricted. I'm sorry, Madam General, I'm just following orders."
She rose from her chair, and despite her small stature, she could look quite dangerous when angry. And now she was very angry. "I'm your superior officer, Colonel."
"I'm referring to orders from..." He cleared his throat and felt clearly uncomfortable in front of her, "…from the President himself."
She watched him skeptically. "You're saying you're acting on orders from the President that override mine in this case?"
"I'm sorry Madam General. I've got "code termite" this morning…"
The surprised Beckman was informed about a secret agency within her secret agency. It was, as if someone revealed a parallel universe to her. And worse, she just had to accept it, because it was blessed by the last President ?! She swallowed the argument about how she was supposed to serve her country and keep it safe, if vital information was kept from her and some people went their own ways. She tried to focus on the most apparent question:
"What about operation Intersect Recovery?"
"I'm afraid I have to take over."
*** Reno / Nevada ***
It was evening and the parking deck emptied out, when a black SUV entered and parked in a remote spot. It remained there, with its two passengers, as the hours advanced and the night slowly passed.
"How long are we supposed to fucking wait?!" One of the men in the car, a middle aged bouncer-type, smashed the cards down he was holding. "This is the pick-up place. So where's that motherfucker, eh?"
"You should really work on your language, Cliff."
Another curse told him, what his partner thought about such plans. The next twenty minutes passed in silence. Then Cliff pushed open the door. "I gotta take a leak!"
His partner shrugged and took one of the porn magazines out of the gloves compartment. He didn't exactly keep track of time, but at some moment, he realized that half an hour had passed and Cliff was still missing. So he took his gun and cautiously left the vehicle. The parking deck was almost empty. Where did that idiot go?! He'd never find out. A small, but effective arrow pierced his throat, split his carotid. He was dead within instants, just as his partner, who lay some meters ahead behind a column.
"Still much better than any suppressor." Vincent lowered the tiny crossbow. "Bartowski, get a grip on you!"
But it wasn't so much the sight of twitching dying bodies or fountains of blood that paralyzed Chuck. He had flashed on one of those guys and … "He was Fulcrum!"
Vincent didn't pay attention to Chuck's astonishment. "Hurry up. We need transportation!" He had seen a nice bike two decks up, and he hoped it would still be there.