*** Washington ***
General Beckman had taken a few days off. That made it a little more bearable being put aside. She did not like that at all. On the other hand, there were security protocols and Presidential orders she was obliged to follow. She would've been the last one to question orders strengthening national security. Nonetheless… that she of all people became the victim of such measures! She shook her head and walked through her apartment, not feeling very much at home. She had barely spent any time here. The NSA headquarters and airplanes were more familiar to her. Eventually she decided to go back to the HQ. She needed something to do. And there were always files and reports she had had no time to look at so far.
Beckman arrived in the late afternoon and went back to her old office. Several awkward glances followed her. She tried to ignore them. In fact, she had not been suspended, had she?! She raised her chin a bit higher. Project Termite might have taken some responsibilities off her, but she still had her daily business! And that she would do, despite Colonel Stevenson!
She greeted the guard posted in front of her door as usual, opened, stepped inside and sat down at her desk. Yes, that felt much better than at home. Her eyes fell on a note she had written two days ago. The name of the place where the police had discovered Charles Bartowski's remains. Still she could not believe that the intersect was… gone. By the way, she had no word from Agent Casey either. What she had was the growing feeling to look at a tablecloth spread over some nasty things no one should see…
Two hours later, Beckman still sifted through old files, when she discovered an entry that caught her attention. It mentioned a name: Thomas F. Barnes. The said Barnes had been FBI legal attaché to the missing ambassador. He had reported some unusual activities back there in Africa. The file was highly interesting in the light of the recent events, but – Stevenson had classified it under 'no measures necessary' and kept it to himself. Beckman started digging deeper. She lifted the tablecloth from a big cover-up. It dawned on her, while she found some phone tapping protocols reporting terrorist activities to cause an East-cost-wide black out that was filed under 'no measures necessary' as well.
She acted like the decorated officer she was: she cut out a plan to stop the enemy. An enemy that obviously had invaded their own ranks and was now ready to strike! She had to gather as much information as possible without compromising herself. And she had to find trustworthy allies.
*** In Nevada ***
Still not feeling a hundred percent well, Agents Casey and Walker followed the course of the little river in the Canyon. However, they were sure to be on the right tracks. Sooner or later, they would find traces leading off the water…
A sudden beeping sound disrupted the almost meditative silence surrounding the two people trotting along, fighting against their exhaustion. Casey stopped and fumbled for his cell phone. It ran on a military frequency – the only reason it still functioned out there in the woods! His features betrayed disbelief, when he identified the voice. "General? I thought you were-"
"Agent Casey, where are you?"
"In Nevada. Walker and I are on the tracks of Fulcrum operative Smith. As far as we know, Bartowski is still alive and with him at the moment."
"Listen to me, Casey. The country is in a critical situation, and a lot depends on you."
"I strongly suspect that Stevenson is a traitor working for Fulcrum and that he's involved in a terrorist group planning black outs in Washington and other cities. He's probably a mole planted in the NSA to undermine Project Termite itself. Stevenson has advised the President to alter the National Defense Codes. I need you, Casey. And if Bartowski is still alive, you need to get in contact with him. He might be the only-" The line fell dead.
*** Further on in Nevada / A small village***
Vincent and Chuck sat in front of a computer in one of the places on Vincent's grid of hideouts. Considering the god-forsaken area, it almost came as a surprise to find a home with such high-end computers! They had plugged in their equipment and Cadie's cell phone. Chuck was sweating to crack it for some time now.
"Hurry up!" Vincent commanded for the umpteenth time.
"I'm doing what I can." From the corner of his eye, he saw his companion insert one of those medication capsules into his injector. "What's this stuff?"
"A neurotoxin. I told you about the side effects of the intersect if it occupies your brain for too long. That helps to keep them in check. For a while at least."
On the computer screen, rows of encrypted data rolled by. "It's the reason you need me, right? Because you can't flash on anything anymore?"
"It blocks certain brain functions, yes. – Keep working!"
"The unlock program is almost through. – You could've told me. Just ask me for help, instead of kidnapping me."
"And had they got their hands on you, you would've told them everything. But the enemy can't extract information you don't have."
"That's … reassuring! – Ah, done! Wow, that's the weirdest source I've ever seen!"
"That's next gen, Bartowski." One of those faint short smiles crossed his lips. "Let's see what we have."
Half an hour later they knew that Termite had entered the red hot phase.
"They have used the supposed thread by Fulcrum to convince the NSA and the Secretary of Defense to alter the codes for the nuclear arsenal and the national air defense systems. They couldn't have accessed it with the codes intact, but the system will be down and vulnerable for a few seconds during the implementation of the new codes. That's when they're going to strike. A plan of evil ingenuity," Vincent said.
Chuck rubbed his temples. Flashing on those things was like foreseeing the future but being unable to alter it. In that case, he would have preferred not to know anything! "But…" He tried to gather his thoughts. "The head of NSA is General Beckman, and she-"
"She might not be in charge anymore. And Stevenson is a power hungry, easy to influence creature." He looked around. He thought having heard something unusual. Or was it just the reaction of his overstimulated senses? "Get ready!"
Chuck had only reached for the USB, when a low scratching sound from above the staircase made Vincent snap around and fire. Wood from the handrail split. He saw his opponent – a dark clad male – pull back. Crossfire ripped through the interior. Shooting both handed, Vincent made his way behind the couch. "Bartowski, down!"
He already was under the desk, but the chair in front of him provided only a pitiful cover. It was from this position he discovered Sarah's blond head. It was the sighting of an angel for him! "Sarah!" He almost hit his head at the desk above him. "Sarah, it's me! I'm okay! Don't shoot!" Slowly, he rose, hands spread to the side. "Don't shoot!"
"Bartowski, what the hell you're doing?!" Vincent hissed. Chuck stood right in his line of fire targeting the dark figure on the staircase.
"Walker, get out of the way!" Casey was just as annoyed as Vincent. "He's compromised! You can't trust him!"
"Please don't shoot!" Chuck moved sideward, hands still up. "We have to work together! We have to save the country!"
Hearing this, Casey crunched with his teeth. It sounded that awkward from Bartowski! Did it sound the same when he had said similar things?!
"Casey, please listen to me! Put the gun down! Vincent?" Chuck felt sweat running down his back. Never had he been very strong in diplomacy, in convincing others from whatsoever. He was just that nerd – kid… Something in his head clicked. Nerd kid. He'd do something very nerdy! A fast movement and he had the little USB in his mouth.
"Put the guns down and listen or I'll swallow those data!"
Casey looked as if he had taken a bit out of an especially sour lemon. Sarah's hand with the weapon slowly sank. Vincent still crouched behind the couch and calculated his odds to take down both agents AND hinder Bartowski from carrying out his threat.
Chuck was sweating. "Sarah. You know I wouldn't lie to you. Trust me."
Her weapon clanked to the ground. Casey growled. Damn it, that moron stood right in front of this Fulcrum Bastard!
Vincent remained frozen in his position, hands closed around his guns. He had stopped trusting anyone a long time ago. Trust was not a very useful habit, when you sit in the lion's den! Did he make a mistake now, it could cost him literally everything. He pressed his lips together and felt the pain from the cut of Cadie's knife becoming more prominent. This was his last hope and no one would take it away from him! He shifted his weight, and then pushed the couch in front of him forward, simultaneously bringing Bartowski down and firing at the NSA agent on the staircase.
He missed Casey, because the agent let himself fall and rolled down the remaining steps. But Sarah didn't miss Vincent. A violent karate kick knocked him out.
"You did what?" Casey stared down at Chuck, who was leaning against the wall and rubbed the back of his head, where the couch had hit him.
"I swallowed it," he repeated superfluously and earned another growl. "I couldn't do anything. I'm sorry. I was hit in the back and automatically swallowed. I'm sorry."
Sarah shot her partner a glance and cowered down next to Chuck. "It's okay. You'll be fine."
Chuck tried to smile. Sarah's presence made everything better instantaneously. "How on earth did you find us?"
"It was relatively easy up to the village. Then we were simply lucky. An old woman from across the street asked us if we were interested as well in buying that house; and that already two other people were inside. She described you and -"
"Walker - we have no time for that! Fulcrum-"
"No. The Termites." Before Casey could wonder what he was talking about, Chuck turned toward Vincent, who lay on the ground, tied up with some rope. "He can explain!"
"Bartowski!" Vincent tried to stop him.
"They can help us. They're my friends."
Casey rolled his eyes to the ceiling. And Vincent wondered once again if Bartowski was that naïve or if he was especially smart…