*** In California / near the border to Nevada ***
Home! Cozy suburbian home! FBI-Special Agent in Charge Ellington threw his car keys onto the kitchen desk and walked over to the living room, where he disposed of his jacket and tie. The morning sun flooded through the windows, bathed the plants on the ledge and the white furniture. It was too bright for someone who had had a long night. Ellington left his sunglasses on while he walked to the windows and closed the curtains. Doing so, he had the sudden feeling he wasn't as alone as he wished to be now. His right hand moved up to the gun in his shoulder holster – but before he could touch it, a blade touched his throat.
"We had a deal", a deep female voice whispered in his ear.
"I'm doing what I can, Cadie!"
"Doesn't look like that for me."
"I gave you the information about the murders near Reno!"
"That's not enough and you know that." She pushed a little harder and cut him. "Smith made it look like it had been my attack!"
The agent thought that then maybe Smith was simply smarter than she thought him to be, but he didn't say it aloud.
"I have THEM at my heels, and I don't need that distraction! I don't care how you do it, but keep them busy!"
Ellington gasped. "I have to be careful myself! I have superiors, I'm watched, I'm-"
"If you don't do as I say you are DEAD." Cadie kicked him forward and he stumbled against the plants on the ledge. "I don't have much time right now. I expect you to fulfill your part of our arrangement … sweetie! So, if you would be so kind and hand me over the data about all missing cars and bikes in the Reno-area?"
"That will take time!" Ellington struggled to his feet.
"I don't have time. I suggest you hurry!" She kept standing there, now targeting a suppressor equipped firearm at him.
Not so far away, agents Casey and Walker waited in the 4x4 Cadie had procured. Casey had been busy checking the vehicle for bugs. One did never know… Sadly he couldn't plant any own, because at the moment, they had no access to any monitoring equipment. This was a narrow path they were walking on. He didn't like that.
"I watched her this morning in the bathroom", Sarah said.
Casey shot her a glance from under the front panel.
"I suspected she might use some sort of transmitter while standing under the shower. – Hey I don't need to explain. You sneaked up on her yesterday."
"I checked her weaponry. – And, did she talk to someone?"
"No. But I discovered a tattoo on her left ankle."
"Now that's suspicious." His head vanished again in the shadow.
"It is. Because I saw the same tattoo on a guy identified by Chuck as internationally wanted terrorist only a month ago! Remember? The incident at the pier?"
"Yes. Beckman gave me hell for not capturing him alive. Bartowski had screwed this up. Once more!"
"That's not the point! She has that same tattoo, at the same place! There must be a connection! It's maybe some sort of initiation symbol, a group sign."
Casey grumbled, but finally hauled himself into the seat. "What does it look like?"
"Three intertwined rings and a triangle. Like that!" She painted in the dust on the dash panel.
"Hm… could be anything… looks like an ant."
Sarah wiped away the drawing, having spotted Cadie at the end of the street.
Cadie climbed into the car. "I got the register of stolen vehicles." She shoved the printouts under their companions' noses. "This bike has been stolen in the same parking deck where those … unfortunate guys were murdered!" She placed a photograph on top.
"Not bad", commented Casey, referring to the machine rather than to her information gathering skills.
"Anyone could've stolen that thing", Sarah said, not able to get the tattoo out of her mind for even a second. She was starting to have second thoughts about using this woman's help in order to save Chuck, or the President, for that matter.
Cadie overheard her and continued with another photo. "That's the same bike, found near the Interstate 80, burned out. We then have two other reports of missing vehicles within a radius of four miles from that find spot. Both the same day. One is a new truck, and the other a ten-year-old boltbucket. So…"
"We're betting on the truck."
"And you would be wrong", Cadie answered. "Let's have a look at the other data! I'm sure we can establish a possible escape route."
"What did he do to you?" Sarah cut in, looking her directly into her face.
"Smith? He left me amidst a bunch of Taliban fighters, for the start."
*** In Nevada ***
By the time the chopper finally veered away, Chuck felt as if he'd never be able to move his legs and arms again. He was so freezing that he couldn't even stand up alone, and outside the water, the wind made a yet colder impression. If I die out here, I don't need to worry about the intersect or Fulcrum anymore, it flashed through his head, while he cowered on the ground – a wet, muddy, pitiful bundle. But then... Sarah ... and Ellie ... and the Buy-More-Gang...
"Bartowski, get up!" Vincent stood next to him, bent over his bag with his equipment. A sharp line formed between his eyebrows and for a moment he really managed to look even more threatening then usual. Then his right hand moved into his jacket, pulled out a gun that seemed a bit too small for his hands, checked its functionality and relaxed.
Chuck tried to get out of his shirt and failed, because he couldn't move his fingers properly.
"What are you doing?! Do you want to leave clothing behind as a marker?!" Vincent retrieved a compass, shook it and stared onto it. "We have time to recover two miles from here."
The small cave, cut into the rock of the canyon many millenia ago, was barely more than a hole. It wasn't high enough to stand up, but at least it had allowed making a fire without being seen. Chucks spirits slowly returned as well as his body temperature. Vincent was busy disassembling, cleaning and reassembling his armory. Only when he had done this and could be sure that they had proper means of defense, he installed himself next to the entrance and checked his computer equipment. It was still wet. If the storage had been damaged in any way ... there was nothing he could do about it under the circumstances. He'd need a lab then, with sufficient and sophisticated equipment. Carefully, he wiped the memory card and inserted it into the mobile device, then connected something looking like a plasma foil, a fold-out-screen.
Chuck watched and was impressed. That certainly was high-end stuff! On the screen appeared the strange sort of map he already had seen while they were in that house and Vincent recorded his brainwaves. Again he thought about everything his kidnapper had said so far. It wasn't very much; it was inconsistant and plain crazy. It was so crazy, Chuck almost could not believe anymore some half way sane person could make this up. If Vincent Smith was half way sane, of course...
Vincent breathed a silent sigh of relief. The data seemed to be intact. Moreover, finally he had the time to assemble the results of his own research with the input he got from Chuck's screening. A way started to form through the labyrinthic map of information and clues for Orions whereabouts. The probabilistic evaluation of thousands of bits and pieces highlighted three areas. The closest was between the Black Rock desert and the Santa Rosa mountain range in the north of Nevada. So his hunch had been right all along... Orion wasn't that far away... The information of Bartowski had been the missing link! This time, he'd trap him and-!
"If Fulcrum doesn't exist", Chuck's voice reached him from the back of the cave. "Who is responsible that we're sitting here in our underwear?"
"The people who think they are Fulcrum", Vincent answered flatly without looking up. "At least I think it was their helicopter."
"Ah, that makes a lot more sense now!"
If this had been humour, it had been completely lost on Vincent. He switched off the mobile device and stored everything; put the memory chip in some sort of pendant hanging around his neck. Surely no one would be stupid enough to try snatching it from there as long as he was breathing! Then he crawled closer to the fire.
"So, you say you have another version of the intersect in your head, but no one knows, instead you help people who think they are part of an organisation that does not exist to capture the intersect?"
The nerd-kid was obviously eager to talk. Maybe, Vincent mused, he should tell him a bit more. He wasn't very much used to trust other people! But ...Well it couldn't hurt to shock him a bit. Probably made him more compliant and easier to handle! He might still need him, after all.
"Fulcrum was a theoretical construct, developed by the creator of the intersect to test it. It was planted. Fake data, fake evidence was spread. It was prepared ingeniously, thouroughly. It was that perfect, and that secret, that no one knew about the test. People in high places took it for real and started a counterattack."
"Some other people felt that attracted by the fake and threatened by the counterattack that they made a pact to join that chimera. And several members who knew about Termite, got very greedy. The tools to blackmail the world had been given to them, after all. And they used them in creating a computer program, a super Trojan. And the only man who might've been able to stop it gets yellow and runs." He couldn't hinder the disgust dropping into his words.
Chuck blinked and snapped back as he had almost burned his toe at the fire. He wasn't sure anymore if his brain really functioned correctly or if the exhaustion ... or the intersect ... somehow interfered with it. Vincent Smith didn't try to tell him he was in fact the good guy in a serpents nest, did he?! This was beyond crazy! I flashed on him and his kills, he thought, just to assure himself. Yes, he HAD retrieved those information from the intersect, he was NOT hallucinating.
"You knew ... so why didn't you inform ... uhm ... the FBI or well, the President?"
Vincent stared at him, and Chuck didn't want to decide if this was amusement or annoyance in his eyes. "See that you get some sleep!" was the only answer.
Chuck curled up as close to the fire as possible. He felt a bit like a character in a role playing game. Used for someone else's purposes. Shortly before he fell asleep he caught a glimpse of Vincent inserting a tiny capsule into a syringe and injecting it into his arm. Probably some amphetamines or Fulcrum's "super-invincible-resurrection"-drug? His eyelids fell. Wait... Fulcrum does not exist ... I want to wake up ... I'll be late at the help desk...
While the day with its dangerously exposing sunlight slowly went by, Cadies 4x4 halted approximately ten miles from the actual hideout in the cave. The passengers climbed out to check the remains of car wreckage lying down the shoulder. It was an old Ford, but the car they were searching at the moment was a Lincoln. Nonetheless Cadie wanted to examine it. They might have missed a car switch. And it turned out they had, as Sarah found a partly fused little cartridge under the remains of the front seat.
"Poison capsules for a special gun?" She mused, holding it against the darkening sky.
Cadie smiled coldly. "Oh, Mr. Vanishing-without-a-trace has left us something. How very nice of you, Vincent!"