|Chuck vs Project Omaha
Author: mxpw PM
What is Project Omaha? Chuck leaves on a Nerd Herd call and encounters a man who can answer all his questions about the Intersect, his past, and his future. At the moment, this story is on indefinite hiatus. Sorry.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Suspense - Chuck B. & Bryce L. - Chapters: 10 - Words: 41,669 - Reviews: 79 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 55 - Updated: 04-10-09 - Published: 03-13-08 - id: 4128536
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: I told you guys it wouldn't take me 8 months again to update. You can also see, by the length of this part, why I broke this chapter into two parts. This chapter was incredibly hard to write. By far the hardest section of the story to date; everything else should be easy by comparison. This chapter is also probably the most important chapter in the story as well, because placed throughout the chapter are hints about what is going to happen in not only the future of this story, but the sequel I already have planned in my head.
I hope you all enjoy it and thanks so much to all those who've left reviewers. You guys, as the good Captain says, are awesome!
Chuck was dozing in a chair, his chin on his chest. It was a very light sleep; there was too much worry over Bryce and too much jumbling in his head to be any deeper. His back still hurt, but he'd taken aspirin and it was such a commonplace pain these days that he let it recede to the background. Any rest at this point was a godsend. He hadn't had much sleep while in the holding facility and it was definitely screwing with his mind (even without the drugs they'd injected him with he'd probably still be loopy). A hand landed on his shoulder and shook him gently. He came to full awareness with a start, popping out of his chair and spinning around to face his attacker.
Tor was standing in front of him, a slight smile on his face, hands held up in surrender. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you, but I really should check you out." Tor reached out and with a firm grip, slowly pulled Chuck toward him until he was sitting back in the chair.
In many ways, Chuck felt like a wounded animal, too afraid to let anyone get close enough to touch him. But Tor was right, it was probably best that somebody look him over. He'd prefer that somebody to be his sister, but Tor would have to do. Chuck sighed reluctantly as he sat down. He really didn't want to get poked and prodded, not after the last week of going through enough poking and prodding to last a lifetime, but his will to put up any kind of a struggle was low. "How's Bryce?"
"I managed to remove the bullet and stop the bleeding." Tor shrugged his shoulders and grabbed another chair to sit across from Chuck. Tor leaned forward to get a closer look at him. "He should be okay, but I think he should still get checked out by someone who actually knows what they're doing. I have some ideas about that but we can talk about it later."
Chuck nodded his head and slumped in his chair. The news that Bryce was going to be okay drained most of his tension away. He really had been worried. He didn't want to be worried, because God knows Bryce had ruined his life enough over the years, but he just couldn't stop himself. There was still a part of him that wanted to think of Bryce as a friend. "Good, I'm glad he's okay."
Tor clucked his tongue and brought gloved hands up to Chuck's face. He began poking and pressing his fingers harshly into Chuck's face, turning his head every which way to get a different angle. His bedside manner definitely left something to be desired. "How about you? Are you dizzy? Feel nauseous? In pain?"
"Yes. Yes. And yes. But I took some aspirin earlier so that should help."
Tor nodded his head and then sucked in a deep breath. "How's your back? Your head?"
"It's getting worse, Doc. Every day, it's worse. My head is starting to really bother me now too, almost as much as my back."
"I was afraid of that."
"How bad is it gonna get?"
"I'm not really sure."
Chuck groaned exasperatedly and dragged a hand through his hair. This was the same song and dance Tor put him through every single time. "How can you not be sure? You're the only one who seems to know what's going on. You're the one that told me it was because my brain was starting to deteriorate because of the strain the Intersect was putting on it. This is your stupid invention! You have to know!" Chuck was desperate, he was pleading. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life in pain, or worse, die.
Tor held up a hand to forestall anymore of his desperate questioning. The old man pushed his glasses up off the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes. He then brought a large hand up to stroke his chin, his eyes half-closed in thought. "As far as I can determine, the pain scale is moving along a geometric progression."
"Okay, I get that, you've told me that before, but I need details, I need something concrete. How much worse is it gonna get?" Chuck had to grit his teeth as he asked again; restraining himself from attacking the reticent old man in front of him.
Tor sighed and slumped his body. He refused to look at Chuck's face. "Right now, it's manageable with normal pain relievers. But I figure in a month, over the counter drugs won't help. Three weeks after that and even Schedule II drugs probably won't help. My guess is within two, two and a half, month's time, you'll need to be placed in a medically induced coma to handle the pain and at that point, I really can't tell you anymore because I don't know. Worst case scenario is that you eventually die, but you already know that."
Chuck's eyes widened with each blow. This was not possible. It was bad enough that the Intersect had taken over his life, made him lie to his friends and family, and made him a pawn of the government, but now it seemed to be actively trying to kill him as well. He hadn't been kidding earlier; this really was turning out to be the worst day of his life. Now he just needed to walk in on Bryce and Sarah having sex and he could pretty much call it a day. "Can't you do anything? Can't you remove the Intersect? You designed the damn thing!"
Tor cleared his throat and didn't say a thing. He refused to meet Chuck's pleading eyes. Instead, he held up a penlight, which he quickly flashed into both of Chuck's eyes (Chuck was too stunned by Tor's prognosis to resist the move). He murmured contemplatively and pulled Chuck's head down roughly so that he could get a good look at the back of his skull. "Good news is I don't think you've suffered any head trauma."
Chuck tried to push against Tor's hands with his head, but the old man had him in a firm grip. He stared at the dirty warehouse floor in frustration. "That's it? That's all you have to say?"
"I can't talk about this right now, okay? I just – I can't do it." Tor was becoming increasingly agitated and evasive. He violently pushed Chuck's head away from him and moved his hands to fidget in his lap, still looking anywhere but at Chuck. "Look, kid, what do you want from me, huh? I'm not a miracle worker. I can't just wave my hand and make all your problems go away."
Chuck sucked in a sharp breath at the reeling pain that overcame him with Tor's push. He shut his eyes tightly and grabbed the seat of his chair to steady himself. He had to breathe carefully before he felt stable enough to open his eyes and glare at Tor. "But can't you at least try? How can you sit there and tell me you won't even try? Please."
"I'm doing the best I can, kid. I'm trying to do right by you, that's why I'm still here. Do you think I want to be here? You think I want to risk capture by the government?" He broke off talking and then said, "I really don't want to talk about this."
"This isn't about what you want, damnit, it's about me!" Chuck was getting worked up again so he forced himself to stop yelling and calm down. Attacking Tor was not going to make him cooperate. In a much more level tone, he asked, "Is there or is there not a way to remove the Intersect?" Tor could evade all he wanted but Chuck wasn't going to just back down. This was too important to let his normally passive nature dictate his actions. He would pester the old man until he got a real answer.
Tor once again evaded giving him any kind of real answer, instead ignoring the question altogether. "The bad news is that your pupils are dilated and partially unresponsive, which is probably a result of whatever drugs those butchers flooded your system with. Also, you seem to be dehydrated and malnourished." Tor slowly stood up and groaned as his knees audibly popped. Chuck winced at the sound and grumbled at Tor trying to run away. "I'm going to grab you a couple bottles of water and try to rustle you up a snack so that we can at least get your blood sugar up."
Chuck erratically nodded his head, trying to do his best to pierce the old man with his stare. Tor walked away, muttering under his breath. Chuck couldn't understand what the old man was saying, but if past history was any indication, it was probably a lot of complaining. He didn't know why the old man was complaining, he was the one that had just been handed a probable death sentence.
He wanted to go chase after Linus but knew quick movements were not in the cards at the moment. He needed to rethink things. He needed a new plan of attack. Coming at Linus directly wasn't working; he needed to use another angle. Perhaps he could play off the old man's sense of professional pride. That could work, but only if he threw in a healthy dose of paranoia and doubt. He had to make Tor think that he couldn't do it, that if he didn't do it, then the government would grab him, and this was the only way to make both of them safe. Chuck scratched the back of his neck. He could really use Bryce's help on his plan. Bryce knew Tor best and if Bryce could help him convince Tor to take the Intersect out, then the old man was sure to do it. Chuck refused to believe that there wasn't at least some way to remove the Intersect. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't even a possibility.
Chuck looked around the warehouse for Bryce, hoping to get a good look at his friend for himself and possibly start on his plan right away. He needed Bryce; he needed to see that he was still breathing. He couldn't do this on his own. He wasn't built for this kind of stuff, handling these kinds of situations. He didn't know what decisions to make, how to handle the repeated punches to his gut. He needed Bryce's ability to manipulate people (it'd always been something his old friend was good at). He was terrified of doing this on his own. A coma? He was going to have to go into a coma just to stop the pain?
He had to think about something else. If he thought anymore on this subject, he was going to go insane. He needed to rest his brain for just a little. Switch priorities. Bryce. Think about Bryce. He'd always been better at thinking of others anyway.
He hadn't thought Bryce's wound was that serious, but with the warning and apology that Bryce had been so hellbent on giving him, he was nervous that maybe Bryce had had a more serious injury than he let on. Tor's assurance that he was okay only lessened the worry, not erased it. Maybe Bryce had simply been delirious; that certainly seemed the most likely possibility.
Chuck finally spotted Bryce lying on a palette covered in ratty blankets. Chuck grabbed the seat of his chair and started pulling it over toward his friend. Bryce was pale and covered in a light sheen of sweat. Every couple of seconds Bryce would twitch or shift his body. It was extremely unnerving to see the movements, especially since Bryce seemed so lifeless. Chuck sighed. This was his fault. Bryce was hurt because of him.
Once again, the Intersect had hurt the people closest to him. Okay, so he was still pissed at Bryce for putting him in this situation in the first place, and he was still pissed at Bryce for thinking he always knew better, and yeah, there was jealousy and resentment over Bryce's relationship with Sarah, but that didn't mean he wanted this. He didn't want Bryce (or anybody) to have to risk their life for him. He didn't want people to have to choose between him and the mission (really, he just didn't want Sarah to have to choose). So far his plan to shift his mind away from thinking overly depressing thoughts was not working so well. He ran a hand through his hair and came away disgusted. He really needed a shower. He smelled of sick and his skin felt clammy and sticky from sweat. He was disgusting.
The sound of a chair being scraped against the concrete floor brought him out of his musings and he stared blankly at Tor, who was setting up next to him. Tor had a bundle of stuff in his arms and he sat down on the chair carefully. Tor quickly held out a bottle of water. "Drink this whole thing and no more asking questions."
Chuck did as he was told, what was the point anyway? He really was quite thirsty. He unscrewed the cap from the bottle and took several long gulps. The tepid water felt like a glacial stream as it hit his throat.
"Whoa, whoa, not quite that fast. It'll end up coming back up that way."
Chuck choked on the water and spat some of it out onto Tor and Bryce. He coughed and beat his chest a couple of times.
"See what I mean?"
Chuck glared at the old man and took more moderate sips. "That wasn't cool."
"Sorry." The old man looked anything but sorry. "Keep drinking and eat this." Tor handed Chuck a candy bar. "There is stuff we should discuss."
"There is a lot of stuff we should discuss."
Chuck's eyes widened and he looked down at Bryce, whose blue eyes were startling clear and open. "Bryce, you're awake!"
Bryce started to laugh but his laugh quickly turned into a choking cough. "Yeah."
"Christ, Larkin, you're supposed to be asleep."
"There's a lot of stuff I'm supposed to be doing that I'm not."
"Hold on, I'll get you something. You really shouldn't be awake right now, you've gotta be in a lot of pain." Tor got up and walked over to the open first aid kit. He pulled out another syringe and walked over to Bryce.
Bryce, however, had other plans. He forced himself to rest on his elbows, grimacing in pain when he stretched the skin and stitches of the bullet wound in his side. "No. We need to talk and plan and I need to be aware to do that."
"But Bryce, you – the pain, Bryce. I don't want you to be in pain. We can plan later, when you're better."
"I know, Chuck, but we have to talk about what's going to happen to you now. We don't have time to waste." Bryce sat up slightly, leaning back against a packing crate. "And no offense, Tor, especially after what you've just done for me, but I don't trust you."
"The feeling is very much mutual, Larkin."
"Great, that's great. Everybody distrusts everybody. Can we stop moving in circles please?"
"The kid's right. We need to make plans. He needs to make plans. They're going to be coming at him hard now that he's escaped. They'll use him to get to me."
Bryce nodded and rubbed his chin. "I have some ideas about that but most of them require bringing in at least one other person."
"Like Sarah?" Chuck knew he sounded pathetically hopeful but he missed Sarah. Other than the Intersect complications, she was pretty much all he thought about these days. It had been a long time since he saw Sarah, and that had been days before he'd been taken. He just wanted to see her smile, hear her voice; he just knew that five minutes with Sarah and he'd be calm and able to think rationally about things. She'd always had the ability to calm him down from his freakouts.
"Yeah, like Sarah." Bryce smiled tight-lipped at him.
"We are not bringing in your little girlfriend. Or anyone else associated with the government. Need I remind you that they are trying to kill us?" Tor paused and glared at Bryce. "Well, two of us."
"But we can trust Sarah!"
"He's right, Linus. Sarah won't let anything happen to Chuck."
"Keeping him alive is a far cry from keeping him out of a bunker."
Chuck felt compelled to defend Sarah even though he knew that Tor had a fair point. "She promised me," he said stubbornly.
Tor snorted derisively. He clearly didn't hold Sarah's promise in much esteem. Chuck knew better, Chuck knew that Sarah was willing to go to extreme lengths to keep him safe. He knew that, at least in that regard, she could be trusted. "That's all well and good for you, Chuck, but what the hell about me?"
"Even if Chuck were dead they'd still come at you until you were dead too," Bryce said.
"But if he's dead, that considerably lessens my vulnerability."
"Hey guys, can we not talk about me being dead? Please?"
"Look, Chuck's right. Giving him up is not an option."
"Right now, they're confused. Their operation is in limbo. We should be exploiting this opportunity to make ourselves scarce."
Chuck let out a long, suffering sigh. It was like nothing had changed. He went from one group of people that took advantage of him and treated him like some kind of idiot child to another. Was this his lot in life? To always be at the whim of whoever had the power in that moment? Besides, the two idiots seemed to be missing one key point. "Uh, guys, this is Sarah we're talking about here."
"What the hell is your point, Bartowski?"
Chuck rolled his eyes like the point was self evident. "My point is she's not going to just give up because I drop off the radar. If anything that will just make her more determined to find me until she knows I'm okay."
"They'll reassign her. They're not going to waste one of their best agents on a wild goose chase, that if all goes right, will take them years, if ever, to find you."
"Heeellooooo, Intersect here." Chuck was really starting to get annoyed with Tor. His patience was at the breaking point. First he wouldn't answer his questions and now he seemed to be purposefully obtuse.
Bryce held up a hand, and stopped the back and forth. He moved into a more elevated sitting position, his face tightened again in pain. Chuck was fairly confident that Bryce was a bit of a masochist (just the thought of what Bryce was doing to himself made Chuck kind of woozy and faint). "As much as it pains me to keep saying this, Chuck's right." Bryce grinned slightly up at Chuck and Chuck rolled his eyes in response, but he did smile back. "The only way to get the government to back off is to remove what makes him a threat."
Tor threw both his hands up into the air and stood up. He was clearly annoyed, his back rigid, his arms swinging wildly from side to side. "I already tried to explain it to the kid, but this is something I really don't want to talk about. There's a lot of bad history there, okay?"
"Bad history!?" Chuck yelled in disbelief. "Are you serious?"
Tor looked as angry as Chuck had ever seen him. If he hadn't been so upset himself, he probably would have eased off the old man. "Yes, bad history! A lot of stuff went down that I'm not proud of and would rather not re-live."
"Oh boo-hoo. Let me see, you re-living bad history," Chuck lifted his left hand about halfway up his chest, "me dying," and Chuck raised his right hand above his head. "I don't know, Bryce, what do you think is worse?" It was a rhetorical question that Chuck really wasn't expecting an answer to so he yelled out, "What weak-ass bullshit! That can't be the real reason!" Chuck could not remember the last time he had felt such pure anger before.
Tor's voice wavered and was breathy when he said, "I'm not going to do it. I don't want to do it."
Chuck was taken aback by the old man's sudden vulnerability. It was like a balm on his fury and he calmed down considerably. For perhaps the first time since Chuck had met the man, he actually appeared every bit his 60 plus years. Chuck had always seen Linus Tor as a kind of larger than life figure, mythical, elusive. He had created the Intersect, after all, anyone who could do that had to be special, had to be someone different. He had hid from the government, outsmarted them, and done what Chuck often dreamed he could do. That he was really just a scared old man, trying to survive, gave Chuck pause. Driving Tor to a heart attack was probably not the smartest strategy.
"Why not?" Bryce asked. Chuck jumped in his chair. He'd been too distracted by his sudden revelation to remember that there was still a conversation going on around him. Bryce was clearly angry and there was deadly steel in his voice. Chuck felt a shiver go down his spine at the look in his friend's cold and focused eyes. Bryce was plainly not in the mood for bullshit. Bryce would not be as forgiving as him, would not let Tor get away with his stalling and his evading like Chuck felt himself doing (Chuck knew he was weak, but he hated seeing people in pain). This was the side of the man that he would probably never get used to.
"Because it's a monumentally stupid, reckless, and insane idea! Because it's cruel. Because I don't want to do that to somebody I like. It's something I've objected to from the start!"
Chuck leapt up out of his chair in sudden excitement, instantly regretting it. He had to immediately sit down before he keeled over. Still, the sense of victory he felt pushed away any thoughts of vomiting or cringing in pain. "Ah-ha, I knew it! There is a way then."
"No! This is really one of those cases where the cure is worse than the disease."
"Come on, Linus, you said it yourself, the Intersect is killing me. How can the cure be worse than that?"
"The whole utility of a portable Intersect is that the data is always there and easy to access. If removing it were as simple as flipping a switch, it'd be a pretty piss poor mobile intelligence platform." Tor angrily stormed around his chair and waved his hands wildly. "This is ridiculous. The Intersect is our only leverage!"
"Leverage?! This is my life we're talking about! My future. My family!"
Tor glared at Chuck and Chuck glared right back, his anger for the old man slowly returning. He wasn't about to let this old man intimidate him. Chuck knew that he wasn't brave or strong, but he would never let the government (or anyone else) hurt his family. That was something he would never stop fighting. And if he tried to use the Intersect as leverage, his family would be the first thing the government went after. According to Tor, they were already making plans to deal with his family if the situation called for it. That was unacceptable to Chuck. He would go to any length to prevent that.
Bryce interjected, clearly pissed at the both of them. They were getting distracted from the larger objective, but Chuck wasn't about to budge on this. "This fighting is pointless if removing the Intersect is not even possible."
"I never said removing the Intersect wasn't possible, I just said it was a monumentally stupid idea that would probably make the situation worse."
Chuck's eyes widened and he managed to stand up stable enough so that he could walk closer to Linus. He didn't want to miss a word of what the old man was about to say. This was it. This was what he'd been waiting months for. He tried to not let himself get too excited but he couldn't help it. "So you can do it? You can get this thing out of my head? Don't hold back on me anymore, tell me everything."
Tor sighed and hobbled back to his chair, where he quickly deflated onto the chair with a groan. All the fight seemed to leave him and he stared at the ground, refusing to look up. "Theoretically? Yes, it's possible." Tor held up a hand. "But I've never done it before; I don't even know if it'll work."
The excitement inside Chuck continued to grow. It was possible! He almost did a dance right there (if his body would have allowed it, he would have), but calmed down when he saw just how intently Bryce and Linus were staring at each other. It was a battle of wills, a silent conversation with a clear ebb and flow. Chuck watched how the skin around Bryce's eyes tightened. He saw Tor flex his fingers into fists and then unclench them. Chuck was fascinated; he had absolutely no idea about what was happening. Then it stopped and Tor looked away. Chuck quickly shifted to study Bryce's face to see if Tor breaking off the staring contest meant that he had won whatever battle they'd been fighting, but all he saw was a deep sadness in Bryce's eyes.
"How?" Bryce asked.
Tor sighed loudly and roughly rubbed a hand up and down his face several times. "I just want to make clear that everything I'm about to say is both completely theoretical and should be considered an absolute last resort."
"How?" Bryce asked again, his voice firm and impatient.
"Okay, look, the Intersect was never initially designed for field work. It was always supposed to be a static system." Tor got up to pace and his voice took on a professorial quality that reminded Chuck of his days at Stanford. The old man walked very slowly, it was clear to Chuck that his own mobility was becoming increasingly compromised as well (Chuck briefly wondered if the old man was sick but pushed that thought away to concentrate on what Tor was saying). "But the NSA wanted more. They wanted to know if it was possible to make it mobile. They wanted it flexible, and they wanted it extremely secure. Essentially, they wanted to know if it was possible to turn it into some kind of highly mobile variant for tactical deployment in the field. That's why Project Omaha came into fruition." Tor sighed and took his glasses off his face, cleaned them with a handkerchief from his pocket, and then put them back. "It was basically a feasibility study. What better way to have a mobile database that nobody from the outside could access than by embedding it in the human brain? So we recruited from all over the country, mainly the military, but other places as well."
Tor's voice got progressively louder and excited. "Think of all the possibilities that a tactical Intersect could provide: Soldiers that could disable bombs or mines during combat, intelligence operatives that would have access to instant intelligence allowing them to make key decisions while in the field, instant decryption, and instant recall of thousands of technical specs for everything from the latest bug to the most obscure security system. The applications are pretty much endless. Our only problem was we were looking for you, we just didn't know it yet."
Chuck spun around to stare at Bryce, his mouth slightly open in surprise. "That's why you got me kicked out of Stanford, isn't it? You didn't want me joining this program?"
Bryce nodded his head slightly, avoiding looking directly at Chuck. "You wouldn't have been able to handle it, Chuck. If they had selected you – " Bryce broke off and swallowed. "I didn't want you to end up like Casey. That's what Project Omaha would have done to you."
"Don't you think that was my choice to make?"
"It wouldn't have been a choice at all, Chuck."
Chuck squeezed his hands into fists and took several deep breaths. Now was not the time to get into old history. Now was not the time to kick Bryce Larkin's ass. "It's not your job to look out for me, Bryce."
"You're my best friend, Chuck. I'm always looking out for you. And I always will."
Chuck grunted and made the tension leave his body. He turned to Tor and motioned for him to continue on. He still needed to know how to get the Intersect out of his head. He would leave Bryce for later (Chuck-Bryce Talk #37).
Tor cleared his throat and started talking again. "The initial testing didn't…go very well." Tor winced and he averted his eyes from either men. "We were using a program designed to be ran on a computer on human brains. Things happened. People died. It was really a happy accident that I was able to come up with a way of translating the Intersect to a biological subject at all." Tor suddenly sat down, his hands massaging his knees. "Still, things never really worked out. The capability was there. I knew it could work if we just found the right subject, but we could never properly map the Intersect onto human synaptic pathways. Apparently, we just didn't have you."
"Great, so I'm special. I'm the 'One'." Chuck threw his hands into the air and said angrily, "Big freaking deal! How do I get this thing out of my freaking head?"
"I'm getting to that!" Tor cursed under his breath. "I tweaked things. I had to."
Chuck shivered at that. Just thinking about the fact that his life was the way it was because some man he'd never met before, years ago, had tweaked a few lines of code, was enough to almost make him swear off computers altogether. It was creepy.
Tor breathed deeply. "Unfortunately, no system is 100 percent secure or perfect. It was necessary to develop contingency plans, so I did. I told the NSA it was possible to remove the Intersect once it had been embedded, but they never cared. They were just so happy to finally have their weapon, and make no mistake, Chuck, you are a weapon to them, that they never bothered to tell you it was possible. In their mind, there would have never been a need for them to remove the Intersect once it'd been successfully uploaded."
Tor's voice was flat. "They don't want you to remove the Intersect, Chuck. You're everything they've always wanted."
Chuck had always suspected that there was a way to remove the Intersect, but that the NSA/CIA had been holding out on him. He had never put much credence in the thought because a larger part of him couldn't envision anyone being that cruel. But he knew better now. He had started to learn that lesson the day Longshore almost took him away. After that, after seeing that they'd rather stick him in a bunker for the rest of his life rather than possibly lose his abilities and knowledge, he had grown increasingly suspicious. That was when he had started taking his own initiative to learn as much about the Intersect, its origins, Fulcrum, and the government plans for him as he could. He had never dreamed that he'd have all his fears confirmed so soon after starting his investigation though.
Chuck briefly looked over at Bryce to see what kind of reaction he was having to all this. Bryce was the one that had sent him the Intersect, he was the one that knew more about the inner workings of Project Omaha and the Intersect program than anyone (at least before Chuck had met Tor). Bryce's face was completely blank, absolutely unreadable, the only discernible indication that he was even aware of what was going on was a slight tightening around his eyes. Chuck sighed. This was all too much. Of course, Bryce probably already knew all about the history of the Intersect to begin with so maybe he didn't need to listen to the history lesson. Freaking Bryce Larkin.
Chuck swung his attention back to Tor and pushed Bryce to the back of his mind with all the other annoying, unpleasant thoughts piling up there. Tor's voice wavered and his right leg bounced up and down. It was clear to Chuck that this was a part of the man's life that he didn't like thinking about or reliving. "You have to understand, the way the Intersect is designed, once it's uploaded, it literally becomes a part of you. You become the Intersect in every sense. It is next to impossible to remove that kind of bonding." Tor sighed and sat down, losing his confident professor persona and looking like a frail, old man again. "But I devised a way."
"How?" This time it was Chuck asking the question. He didn't mean to interrupt the old man, but he found this whole conversation morbidly fascinating.
"What I am proposing is incredibly dangerous and permanent. It's like using a WMD on your brain."
Chuck frowned. "I don't understand."
"Total devastation." Tor sighed and then added, "It's the kind of thing that once you use it, you can never take it back no matter how much you might want to because it won't let you."
"Stop stalling, Tor, and get to the point," Bryce added, making Chuck jump slightly. He had forgotten that Bryce was still awake.
Tor snapped at Bryce, "No, damnit, he needs to understand what he's asking. He may think that things are bad now, but the alternative is not much better."
"I think we're all aware of the risks, Tor."
Chuck glanced at Bryce and was surprised at the irritation on the man's face. He was acting like he'd heard all this before and just wanted to get to the good parts. Did Bryce know something he didn't (when didn't Bryce know more stuff than him?)? And what the hell did Bryce mean by saying that we were all aware of the risks? Chuck sure as hell wasn't aware of all the risks. He had no freaking clue. How could Bryce know if he didn't know? Chuck narrowed his eyes and made it a point to watch Bryce more carefully from now on.
"I inserted into the basic Intersect code a Trojan horse that when the brain is stimulated in a certain way, emulating what is perceived as a normal Intersect upload, it instead launches what I like to call a tabula rasa."
"You did what?" Chuck gaped.
"A tabula rasa, a blank slate. Don't they teach Latin in schools anymore?"
"Okay, first, I knew what it meant, and second, are you serious? You can do that?"
"Extremely." Tor opened his mouth to say something but closed it before he did. He quickly looked at Bryce and then said, "Make no mistake, Chuck, I'm not telling you this because it's something I want you to do. In fact, I think this is the absolutely last thing you should consider. Giving yourself up to the government to live in a bunker is something you should consider first before this because at least then you'd still be you."
Chuck nodded his head and swallowed. He was starting to finally grasp the meaning behind Tor's words and the implication terrified him. "I understand, but I want to know more. I have to know more, Linus. I've wanted this out of my head since the first second I realized it was there. I am willing to do just about anything to do that."
"He may not have any choice, Linus." Bryce looked a lot calmer now, his face softer and more placid. He was breathing shallow, however, and Chuck wondered if his injury was finally starting to get to him. Maybe that's why Bryce had been acting so annoyed during the conversation. He was in pain and he just wanted to get things over with so that he could rest? It was certainly possible.
"The plan, if we were to do it, would call for my specialized program that I created to be first activated and then uploaded, much like the Intersect was initially uploaded into your brain, while piggybacking along a high intensity spike directly into your hippocampus." Chuck's eyes widened. "This spike will initiate a cascade reaction that will result in a complete system wide wipe of everything."
"That's – that's insane."
"You have no idea how true that is."
"But, Tor – Linus, you can really do that?"
"And that will remove the Interect?"
"Like it was never there."
Bryce's eyes were half closed and his speech was slurred when he interjected, "That's not everything, is it?"
"Like any procedure that affects the brain, there are significant consequences."
Chuck gulped and rubbed sweaty palms on his pants. "Like what?"
"Like think of it as completely wiping a computer hard drive and then rebooting it with a very basic operating system." Tor paused and then said quietly, "Your memories would be gone." Tor slashed through the air with his hand, like he was chopping away parts of Chuck's mind. "Your childhood – gone. High school – gone. College – gone." Tor's voice shot out cold, flat, unflinching. "Your family – gone. Favorite movie – gone. Agent Walker – gone."
Chuck floundered for his chair, arm outstretched behind him in frantic search, almost falling onto the floor. It was only a last second fall grab with his hand that allowed him to pull the chair close enough so that he could settle onto it. "All of them?" He didn't even flinch when his voice screeched.
"It's the only way." To crossed his arms across his chest. All the anger seemed to have drained from the older man's body. He was actually kind and gentle when he explained, "You see, the way the Intersect works is that it attaches its data onto your memories. Like how when you think tree, your mind automatically provides memories of trees that you've seen in your life. It frames the concept of tree in ways your mind can interpret. The Intersect is no different." Tor was no longer looking down at Chuck, but was now staring at some unseen point in the darkened warehouse. "When you see a tattoo or hear a voice or see a face, the Intersect recalls the proper frame of reference for you to interpret that tattoo or voice or face in the right context. The only way to stop that process from happening is to get rid of every scrap of information that it might one day dredge up."
"So you're saying that I'm going to lose all of my memories?"
"Not quite." Chuck's eyes lit up in hope, but that hope was quickly dashed by Tor's next words. "You'll almost certainly remember basic motor functions. That kind of muscle memory is almost impossible to remove, at least not without significant physical damage to the brain." Tor lifted up a hand and began ticking off fingers. "You should remember how to walk, how to use the bathroom, how to talk, although your language skills will be rudimentary at best. If you're really lucky, you might even remember how to tie your shoes."
"Oh boy, lucky me," Chuck said sarcastically.
Tor was not amused; he frowned, his forehead scrunching up. "You think I'm being facetious, but I'm completely serious. Remembering something like that would be lucky."
Chuck laughed bitterly. "This is your great cure? Give me amnesia?" He snorted and got up to walk away from the two men, but stopped himself before he got too far. He wanted to run, he really did, but he knew that he couldn't. He had to face this. This is what he'd wanted; he couldn't hide now just because he didn't like what he was hearing. "When did my life turn into a sci-fi cliché?" He turned away from Tor and Bryce, staring into the darkened warehouse.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see who it was. Tor was behind him, a kind and understanding look on his face. His eyes had lost their usual harshness and for one of the few times since Chuck had met him, he felt like maybe Tor wasn't here to screw him over after all. "It's not all bad news, Chuck. Yes, you'll lose your memories, but you will make new ones. Ones, hopefully, free of government influence. If you no longer have the Intersect, and can't even remember any of their secrets, then they'll have no need to come after you." Tor squeezed his shoulder and lowered his voice to a whisper. "You'll learn fast too. What took you 18 years to learn before in order to be a practically functional person, might only take you two. With your brain, it might even take less than that."
"What, is that supposed to make me feel better?" Chuck harshly brushed Tor's hand off his shoulder. It was no longer a comforting weight, but more mocking and patronizing. It was only a reminder of what he'd lose. "So that's great, Doc, I'll learn back all the useless stuff but never have any part of what makes me me." There was no way he was going to do this. What would be the point? He'd essentially be dead anyway.
Tor took a step away from him but Chuck didn't turn around. "That's why you have to think long and hard about this, Chuck. You have to weigh it against the alternative. Maybe it's possible to rescind the kill order. Maybe they'll forget everything that's happened these few months and not stuff you in a bunker somewhere, never to see your family or friends again. Even if that's all true, you'll never be free of them. They'll always want something more from you. Trust me, I know."
Tor continued on; this time his voice sounding far away, "You have to decide if this is the life you want, with all its trappings, or if you want to go back to where everything is normal. To where you were normal."
Chuck could hear Tor and Bryce talking quietly behind him. He didn't care what they were saying. He could only think about Ellie and Morgan and Devon and Sarah. He could only think about how he, Chuck Bartowski, would be gone forever if what Tor was saying was true. He didn't know what to do. He missed Sarah.
Note: Okay, so good news and bad news. Bad news first: I'm going to NYC in mid-May for an important career opportunity so I will probably be focusing on preparing for that for the next month or so, so it's unlikely I'll update again before then. I know, I know, I'm an asshole. Sorry guys! Now for the good news: Next chapter will be very heavy on the Charah. Also, it's a really really really good career opportunity so I'm happy. Heh.