*** Nevada / Next to US 80 ***
The unlikely allies were still busy with the car wreckage, when the siren of a police patrol burst through the silence surrounding them. A moment later, a highway patrol halted next to them and demanded to see their papers. "Stopping and sightseeing in the middle of the highway, pals?"
"We're agents with the Federal Government", Casey replied and retrieved his badge. "We're under way in a matter of national security."
Seeing the NSA and CIA – IDs, the police officer frowned. "Nonetheless, you're posing a threat to the traffic. I have to ask you to remove your car. And what about her?" He pointed at Cadie.
"She's … with us." Only a short moment of hesitation.
Still, Cadie noticed, there WAS a moment of hesitation. Unlike the other times before during the past days when their small 'team' had come into conflict with the authorities while investigating. Did they get second thoughts? Did they become a greater risk than they were of use? She thought that the time to get rid of her companions might arise sooner than later… The highway patrol officer however didn't bother checking any records. Had he done so, he would've discovered the search warrant for a woman with her face. But he let it be, saluted and got into his car. Cadie climbed in her vehicle and slowly steered it down the shoulder.
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Casey asked.
"We have to walk from here on." She drove toward some bushes that promised cover. "C'mon, get your gear!" Smith had to be somewhere in the proximity, she was sure of that. He was a well trained soldier, but a man could only walk a certain distance under those circumstances! While Casey and Sarah hurried down to her, Cadie took out the binoculars and checked the area. Of course, he could've walked down the street for a while, but that was unlikely, as being there he would've been too easy to spot! Remained the open country…
"Anything?" Sarah asked.
Casey fumbled in his backpack and snatched his own binoculars. He was a thoroughly trained soldier with experience in the field as well – one of the reasons Cadie had chosen him! "There … on that slope … could be footprints…" He magnified, but still it was hard to say if those fading shapes in the sand were actually made by a human. Carefully, he checked for further hints like broken branches, lost items or anything like that.
"Got something up north", Cadie said. "It's definitely a trace. Looks as if something or someone was dragged down into that watercourse." Sarah practically ripped the glasses out of her hands and Cadie indulged a pitiful smile. Really, it was sad what had become of agent Walker, she thought.
"Yes, she's right. There in the mud is a footprint. Clearly visible", Casey confirmed. "Let's just hope it weren't just some kids on a hiking tour." He put the binoculars down. "So let's round him up!"
"Smith probably headed for the mountains. There are plenty of opportunities to hide, there's fresh water… But we have to be careful. We have to be aware that he's probably watching us. Right now, we're in a fish bowl down here."
Casey thought the same, but he hated it when she took over that way. "He can't watch all the time", he growled in response and started to pack ammo and guns into his vest. "You said he would walk by night. So the best time to attack is in the middle of the day. I suggest we move quickly." He gestured to the sun.
*** Nearby in the cave ***
Vincent woke up – if his stand-by-time could be called sleep anyway -, because the fire had burned down and coldness spread in the little cave. But he felt refreshed, that was what counted. His shoulder wound still looked okay. And the data were intact. He inspected their clothes; they had almost dried up in the meantime. Very good. Bartowski was awake as well. Vincent grabbed the other man's shirt and pants and threw them toward him. Of course Bartowski missed the package. Vincent suppressed a sigh. That guy had qualities for sure, but a decent reaction time wasn't one of them. Alone, he would've died days ago already. Half dressed, Vincent retrieved a sealed-in army ration pack, opened it and split it.
"Bartowski, attention!" This time, the package landed in his hands.
"Uncle Sam's homecooking. Hurry up! We have to get out of this trap."
*** In the field north of US 80 ***
Casey, Sarah and Cadie made their way through the stones and scrubs of the rather boring landscape stretching in front of them.
"I got something", Casey announced after a long time of silent trotting along. He pointed to the ground, where the sand had formed some tiny round shapes of different sizes. "Water drops."
They followed the signs a short way back and realized they had gone in a wide circle around the actual trace, being obviously fooled by some animal tracks. The drop signs continued toward West, not to the mountains, however. And…
"I have another footprint!" Sarah called from ahead. "No doubt, there are two footprints! Chuck is still alive." She was so relieved! She needed a moment to adjust, before she could turn around to her associates. "And it seems they were heading in that direction. What do we have there?"
Casey pulled out his cell phone and checked the maps. "A little canyon."
"Water and cover for the day", Cadie completed and smiled. Sarah didn't like that smile at all.
They needed two more hours to reach the canyon and climb down. The relatively lush vegetation near the water might provide a good cover, but all those branches and leaves were an open book for an experienced ranger. It was good Bartowski was still with him, Cadie thought, because Vincent alone wouldn't have left so many traces behind. But that Bartowski behaved like a bull in a china shop! She guessed that Vincent would have a 'great' time with that idiot! She checked the extent of an area of broken branches and looked around. Ah… seemed they had walked in the water from here on. Not good… Her eyes came to a halt on Sarah, who just glanced up the rocky walls. And there was a gap! Her heart beat faster. She was closing in, she could feel it. For a couple of seconds, she enjoyed the imagination of her revenge. Then she said: "Agent Walker, we seem to think alike."
Sarah's eyes narrowed, though.
"Let's get our trophy."
"Not before I get your weapons." That was Casey behind her, and she was sure his gun targeted her.
"Do you want to weaken our position, Mr. NSA?"
"I just want to make sure we'll still have a position." He stretched his hand.
Cadie smiled wryly and handed him her gun, and then her knife. "Your wish is my command."
Sarah observed the scene and felt uncomfortable. The other woman was giving in too easily. Something was wrong. She was more alert than ever.
Shortly after, they stood in the little cave and discovered to their regret that they had come too late. Nonetheless, their prey had been here! Cadie poked in the ashes of the camp fire. Footprints had been carefully wiped out. But in one corner, Sarah found a button, which Cadie identified as belonging to army clothing. She stepped back to the entrance of the cave, took her binoculars and scanned the area below. They could not have been gone for long… Some leaves moved suspiciously, but it turned out to be the wind. She searched further. Up and down twice and there – a human figure had shown up between the bushes! A shape she'd recognize everywhere in the split of a second! I got you, bastard…
But first, she had to get rid of some obstacles that might interfere with her plans! She lowered the binoculars. The fingers of her right hand fumbled into the seam of her sleeve. A capsule with injector slipped into her palm.
"Seeing anything?" Casey asked, stepping up to her.
"Yes." She spun around and the narcotics sat in Caseys chest before he even knew what was going on. Now he tried to grab Cadie, but she pulled back, reacted to Sarah's attack instead. Growling, Casey sank to his knees and desperately tried to retrieve his gun from the holster. But his strength was fading rapidly. The world itself faded in front of his eyes.
Sarah could not pay attention to him. She landed a karate kick against her opponent's chest and brought her down, but Cadie was fast and strong. Within a second, she was on her feet again, fought back.
"You've learned a lot, Agent Walker!" Cadie whirled around. "But not enough for me!" A last combined kick and punch, and then she was on top of Sarah, immobilized her. Another injector thrust into her arm the next moment. "You of all people should have known that I always have more weapons than just a gun and a knife!"
Sarah wasn't able to answer anymore.
Cadie got up, quickly retrieved the guns and the other equipment of the two agents and hurried out of the cave.
Chuck limped. Why shoes did have to shrink when they became wet?! However, he didn't dare to take them off, given the terrain.
"Listen? Ah, I think I need-"
Vincent swirled around, stared at him frowning.
"Ah… never mi-"
The next moment, Vincent had seized him and pressed a hand over his mouth.
I should've known it would be a bad idea to ask for a break…
"We're being followed." Now Chuck realized he wasn't staring at him, but past him into the bushes.
Vincent pulled back some steps further, not letting go of his hostage. Only one person seemed to be on his tracks, but more could be following behind or closing in from other angles. He had no doubts that he would've managed to sneak away or overwhelm his enemies, if he had been alone. But not with that burden named Bartowski hanging onto him! He pressed his lips together. There was no time for lengthy pondering!
"I did not lie to you", he whispered in Chucks ear, barely audible. "And I did not kill you. Whoever follows us, might put you out of business. Got it?" Chuck nodded. "You'll stay put. You won't move a finger! You won't make a sound!" A nod again. Vincent pushed him down into the bushes and straightened again, his gun at the ready. If he would be in the hostage's position, 'moving' would be the least he would do. So he only hoped Bartowski would wait long enough before committing any stupidity! Melting with the surroundings, Vincent went into pursuit of his pursuer.
*** Washington ***
Colonel Stevenson entered his specially shielded emergency bunker, raked nervously through his hair and checked the time. His face was pale and his eyelids twitched nervously. The last 48 hours had been rough. And two members of Beckman's intersect recovery team didn't report anymore! Had they gone rogue? At the moment, Stevenson couldn't deal with that problem. He checked again, if the security measures were all up. Fine. He remained standing while reaching for the phone and dialing a specific number. Only moments later, he was on a secure line with the White House.
"…Unfortunately, we have the evidence, Mr. President. That terrorist group obviously has access to our most sensitive information and they're planning a distributed attack in different major cities. …. I wish I'd know, it's probably a case of infiltration in the CIA. All the missing agents had connections to Project Termite or affiliate projects. … No, the missing weapons could not yet be located. I suspect they are already or they will be in the hands of Fulcrum. … Yes I know it is a disaster, Mr. President." Stevenson wiped his sweaty face. "Yes, I'd advise to replace the codes of the defense protocols immediately. The nuclear arsenals have to be secured. … Yes, Mr. President, I'm well aware of that…"
That call terminated, Stevenson tried to reach his liaison from the FBI to set him on the tracks of the missing two agents. Some minutes later, shocking news arrived: Robert Ellington was dead. As it seemed, suicide. Colonel Stevenson felt a bit more haunted than before. Ellington had been the head of the taskforce working to bring Fulcrum down…