A/N I like to respond to all people who send me comments. To those with accounts I usually respond privately, but for the rest, I have to do so here.
RAB: I doubt the seduction I have in mind is the seduction you're thinking of, but then, I never do what anyone expects, not even me.
"You want to do an upload."
"Do you have any idea how lucky you are?"
"Stay in the car, Chuck."
"He's pulling a 'Lonely Guy' con."
Casey, Carina, and Roan left their hastily-acquired CIA-issued vehicle behind, approaching Fatima Tazi's fortress on foot. While modeled on a fortress in the classic style, the low walls were more decorative than functional, with emphasis given to electronic surveillance over the human guards, who were there either for show or for punishment duty.
In other words, a piece of cake.
Removing a regulator chip from Roan's nose-hair trimmer, they used the resulting high-powered laser to slice through the metal bars of an grate covering an outflow tunnel, just a handy alternate entrance at this time of year. The courtyard at the far end was full of cars and the keep with their occupants, as Fatima entertained her dubious guests. Cameras came out as the team caught candid shots of every face, and sent them off for processing.
"Ideas for getting past?" asked Casey.
"I'm astonished at you, Colonel," said Roan. "You've taken my course twice and you still don't know the first rule of infiltration?" He swung a small pack off his back, unzipping it to reveal some formal clothing. "Always look as if you belong."
"What about Carina?"
"I don't think there's anything in that black bag for me," asked Carina. "Is there, Mr. Wizard?"
"Possibly, my dear, but you most definitely would not look as if you belonged." Roan scanned the grounds, watching the women. "There," he pointed at a small tent. "We can change in there. If you can pull off a passable belly-dance, you'll fit right in."
Somewhere inside Tazi's fortress, upstairs…
The bells gave them away, but that wasn't a bad thing. The guards in the hall looked at Carina immediately, but their attention was captured by the colors of her skin and her hair. By the time they realized their mistake, they were unable to realize their mistake.
Leaving Casey and Roan to drag the unconscious bodies into other places, Carina tried the door to the no-longer-guarded chamber. A massive four-poster bed dominated the room, solid wood and fitted with iron rings. Chuck lay on it, his entire being radiating an air of despondency that made her take a few steps toward him.
"I told you," he groaned, turning his head slowly at the sound, "I don't want a–" His eyes widened as he saw her and he threw off his despair like a cloak. "Carina! What are you guys doing here? What are you wearing?" And how can I get Sarah to wear one?
"You like?" asked Carina, shifting her hips slightly. The bells were meant for someone hippier than her.
Chuck dragged his gaze upwards. "Uhh, yeah, um, what are you guys doing here? Shouldn't you be foiling that scary woman's nefarious plot?"
"Shouldn't you be in the car, Chuck?" said Casey as he came in the room. "And you," he said to Carina, "Grab a blanket. You're not supposed to be a magnet for our guys." He stomped on by, checking under the bed for enemy agents.
Roan followed and shut the door. "Our apologies for the tardy rescue, Charles, but we had to acquire a car for you to stay in first."
"I'd settle for a camel," said Chuck.
"Never settle, Charles," said Roan, shooting his cuffs. "It lacks dignity. What's the situation with Miss Tazi?"
"You mean the one that you were just yelling at me for being in, after you walked away?"
Roan accepted the rebuke like a gentleman. "Yes, Mr. Bartowski, that situation. We can't deal with her nefarious plot until we know what it is."
"I have no idea."
Casey poked a tapestry aside with the barrel of his gun, in case someone very thin was behind it. "She hasn't said anything to you?"
Chuck shrugged. "She called me a good sport."
"That doesn't sound like something a mercenary leader famous for her all-woman army would say," said Roan.
Carina twitched her hips and Chuck jumped at the jingle-jangle sound. She smiled. "A good sport, or just 'good sport'?"
Chuck pulled at his collar. "I…could have misheard…She said that, once she took care of her guests downstairs, she'd come back and–" he smiled feebly "Take care of me."
"Now that does sound like something a man-hating femizon would say," said Roan.
"'Take care of her guests'?" said Casey. "What does that mean?"
"I wouldn't know, I never saw any of them."
Carina pulled out her phone and checked her mail. "Good old Bed–I mean, Focus." Suddenly Carina looked confused. She looked at the all-powerful bestower of code-names. "Is it Bedrock or Focus?"
"Purely analytical capacity, definitely Focus."
Ah. "She identified one of the guests, a bad, bad Saudi oil billionaire."
Casey made a satisfied grunt. The likelihood of shooting something just went up.
"Why would one of them be here?" asked Roan. "The fortune of a man like that depends on a strong dollar, and I can't think of anything else those two might have in common. What use would they have for a super-note?"
"Maybe to undermine someone else's economy?" suggested Chuck.
"She's coming," said Carina suddenly, looking at an overhead monitor. "You can just ask her yourself."
"Not us, Princess Jasmine," said Casey, dropping to the floor. "Chuck's the only one who's supposed to be here." He slid under the bed, the only space large enough for him.
Carina slid behind an arras against the far wall, and Roan hastened to join her. "Do me proud, Charles."
Chuck didn't think twice about Roan, proud or otherwise. He had to get into character, so he thought about Sarah. Absent, distant Sarah. The last time he'd seen her, she killed a lot of people. The time before that, she killed a lot of people.
He sagged. This can't go on.
Fatima Tazi chose that moment to strut into the room. "And where do you think you are going?"
Chuck appeared to brighten. "Nowhere?"
"Correct, dumpling," she said."It will please me to hear you beg for an end to your miserable life, and it will please me to give it." She pushed Chuck back onto the bed. "But for right now, I need to be able to keep a smile on my face while dealing with those insufferable pigs downstairs." She climbed onto the bed, straddling him.
Somehow it was less sexy when she did it. "If you hate them so much, why do you bother?"
She smirked down on him. "Money, why else? One trillion dollars in counterfeit US currency will not print itself."
"You must think me an awful fool," said Fatima, pulling her pistol. She put a bullet through the tapestry. Something metallic and bell-like fell shimmering to the floor behind it.
As if that was a signal (the shot, not the bells), a squad of armed soldiers burst in the door. The arras came down, with Roan and Carina empty-handed, and empty-hipped in Carina's case, behind it.
"Roan Montgomery," said Fatima. "Your reputation precedes you. Are you sending boys to do your work, now? Surely he is not an apprentice."
"A decoy, only," said Roan. "Meant to enhance by the contrast."
Fatima put a bullet hole in his pant leg. "Your next word will be your last." She pulled Chuck up off the bed. "Did you think I wouldn't notice the absence of my own guards?"
Since she appeared to be talking to him, Chuck stammered out, "I didn't know you had guards…"
"Be silent, fool," snapped Tazi. A dangerous gleam came into her eye. "Or be useful. Tell me, little man, do you think it any safer beneath my bed than in it?"
Under the bed, Casey's lip curled. "Coming out!" he shouted, pushing his weapon out first.
Once Casey was stripped of his armory, the guards marched the prisoners out of the room. "Not him," said Fatima, pointing at Chuck. "I promised to let him beg for death. Put them in the dungeon, we'll execute them after my little party is over. It wouldn't do for my guests to get cold feet now."
Upstairs in the bedroom...
Chuck sat on the bed, listening to the sound of revelry from below. Eventually it would end, and they would all die. He felt under the bed, and found spikes, but they were welded into a frame.
He scanned the room, looking for anything he could use as a weapon. Surely if anyone had lethal thingies in their bedroom it would be that woman.
This bedroom, unlike the rest of the fortress, was Fatima's personal space, kept in a style that meant something to her. A poor and ragged style, mostly. The fallen arras reeked of dust, making his eyes water and nose sting. He spotted a little black bag by the door, completely out of keeping with the décor. That smooth sophisticated case didn't belong here.
He unzipped it, and found it to be full of…men's toiletries? It had to be Roan's. Great. If he lit Roan's hairspray on fire maybe he could burn the door down. Cologne, antiperspirant, shaving gel, breath freshener…Breath freshener?
He knew that brand. Mint-flavored unconsciousness. With the guards on the other side of a thick door.
Down in the dungeon...
Casey looked down at his balls, one chained to each of his ankles. They would have put one on Carina but her dainty feminine feet would have slipped right out of the ring. Or maybe it was just a girl thing. "We're doomed."
"That's your professional assessment, is it, Colonel?" asked Roan, strapped semi-upright to a frame against the wall.
"Just calling it like I see it, Montgomery."
"It's kind of hard to see this ending well," said Carina, rattling the chains on her slender, delicate wrists as she sat behind Casey. Not something the FRODO would work on. "I see skinning alive in our future."
"Target practice," said Casey.
"Or the Death of a Thousand Cuts," said Roan. "Let this be a lesson to you both. The female is always more deadly, more cruelly vicious, than the male."
"Not cheering me up here, Montgomery."
"We could get lucky," Carina sighed. "Fatima could get us first."
"Not gonna happen," said Casey. "Chuck's probably at the head of those stairs right now. Before you know it we'll be back on a plane to the States, trying to figure out how to explain this to the General."
Chuck eased open the door at the top of the stairs, checking for movement. Just one shadow. A big shadow. With Roan's portable shaving mirror he looked around the corner. A big shadow for a big woman. All he had were weapons he'd rather not use, and Roan's bag. How could he get past her without a fight?
"This is precisely the sort of situation you two were sent to keep him out of."
"Not cheering me up here, Montgomery."
Roan might have shrugged but with his arms pulled up like that they couldn't tell. "He's not in it, is he?"
Heh. "Knowing Chuck, he's probably got three alternate escape routes mapped out."
Something, lots of somethings, fell to the steps and down the steps with a great metallic clatter. Someone whimpered in pathetic terror, "No!"
"What the hell is that?" said Casey.
"From the sound of it," drawled Roan, pulling his bonds with renewed vigor, "I'm guessing this is daring escape plan number four."
The guard brought her gun around, just as a scrawny fellow bumbled down the steps, all bent over. Even as he reached for whatever it was he reached for on the step, his foot slid forward and kicked it down to the floor. A tube of toothpaste?
"Please don't be broken," muttered Chuck with a slight accent as he scooped up the mirror, "Please don't be broken." He scanned the room in the glass and clutched it to his chest. "Oh thank God." He stuffed it into the formerly-empty bag.
"Stop!" commanded the guard.
"Ah!" shouted Chuck, stumbling backward.
"What do you do here?"
"Mr. Roan's things!" Chuck snatched up the abused toothpaste tube and stuffed it in the bag. "I must take care of Mr. Roan's things!" He sank to his knees on the steps. "Oh, you don't know what it is, to be a lackey."
The guard glanced around the room, empty and cold.
Chuck pulled his coat tighter. "Gosh, it's cold." He looked at the guard with open admiration. "You don't feel it, do you? I wish I could be like you, strong and all that." He reached for the shaving cream.
"Stop," said the guard again.
"Please," Chuck fairly whined, gesturing at the scattered items, "They're Mr. Roan's things. I have to keep them in order." He tucked his hands under his arms, making himself appear smaller, as if to say, This is my life. "We can't all be tall, strong, and beautiful, can we?""
"I am not beauty!" Even her voice was not beauty.
"I love my mother very much," said Chuck peevishly, "And I think you are just as pretty as she ever was." He ducked his head. "Maybe a bit more, really…"
"You think I am pretty, English pansy?"
"That's 'dandy', and why wouldn't I? Any orchid can bloom in a hothouse." He waved a hand indifferently, and then clenched it into a fist, "But it takes stronger flower to stand up to winter's chill, if you ask me."
"Who are you, Englishman?"
Chuck stood, smoothing his rumpled clothing. He stepped forward, held out a hand partway and said, "Charles Charles, at your service."
Her lip curled.
"I know," said Chuck, dropping the hand. "I blame my father's peculiar sense of humor. He married a woman named Charlotte. We all called her Chuck, out of pity, I think." Then he jumped. "But I didn't call her Chuck, I called her mum."
She snorted her derision. "Come here, Englishman."
Chuck approached, cringing to disguise his height, arms drawn in to conceal their length. "Yes, ma'am."
"You think I am beauty, eh?"
"I do," said Chuck, with a firm nod. "Not as beautiful as you could be, of course, but–"
"What do you mean?" said the guard. "How can I be more pretty? Tell me, now!"
"My mother always wore her hair up, you know," said Chuck, as if she would. "It was the fashion of the day, but it also served to emphasize her magnificent jaw, quite the marvel. I'm sure it would have the same effect on you. Truly stunning."
"My hair up?" She grabbed her short, dark locks and pulled. "Like this?"
"No, no, no," said Chuck in horror, his hands fluttering. He reached up around her neck, suddenly much taller. "Like this."
His thumbs jammed in on either side of her neck, and he knelt with her smoothly, keeping up the pressure as she sagged to the ground. He took her weapons but he wasn't about to try moving her. He stepped over her and tapped on the door. "Guys?"
Casey could live without Roan's happy grin. "Get us out of here, Bartowski!"
"Let me search this Russian bear for the keys."
Roan raised his voice. "Don't bother, Charles, you little A-plus dumpling. You have my bag?"
"Get the shaving cream and spray it on the lock."
"Okay," said Chuck, confused but willing. They heard a sound, presumably that of shaving cream sprayed on a lock, not something any of them could claim to have heard before.
"Now spritz it with my cologne."
"Holy cow," said Chuck. "You shave with this stuff?" He pushed the cell door open, most of the lock eaten away, and part of the wall.
"Clearly not. The toothpaste is thermite. Spread some on the cuffs, and use the nose-hair burner in my pocket to ignite it."
Chuck shook his head in wonder as he rummaged around for the materials. "You really come prepared, Roan."
"It's not the tools, it's the man, Charles. How did you escape the bedroom, if I may ask?"
"Fatima had one of those old-fashioned atomizers," said Chuck casually as he spread goo carefully on the locks. "I dumped your knockout-drop breath spray into it and pumped it under the door." Chuck held up a plastic wand. "What's this?"
Roan gave him a funny look. "That's a toothbrush, Charles."
Chuck made his way to the car, reversing the route his team had used to get in. The rescue could be written off, and would be, as a rather extreme form of a field exercise, but none of what was coming up had anything to do with infiltration or inducement. Besides, he had critical information for Beckman, and the car had the strongest transmitter.
"Excellent work, Agent Charles," said Beckman when he made his report. "The location of her printing facility is of utmost importance. Report any leads immediately. I'll have a drone standing by."
Chuck passed on the order and listened in on the little tactical radios that were all the gear they had left, plus the guard's weapons. Roan, like Chuck, thought there was more to Fatima's quarters than met the eye, and returned there, while Casey and Carina decided to crash the party.
A long steady stream of gunfire shattered the night. Chuck heard it even with his windows rolled up. He triggered his mike. "Casey, what did you just do?"
"Zip it, Charles. I'm not the only trigger-happy goon in this hellhole. Fatima just blew all of her idiot buyers away."
"Why would she do that?"
"That's your department, Graboid. I just kill people."
To each his own. "Whatever she's after, power and wealth have nothing to do with it," said Chuck. "Roan, I smell something personal about all this. Find out what that is for me, please."
"My pleasure, Agent Charles."
"Good evening, Miss Tazi. A pleasure to see you again. Some wine?"
Chuck listened to a master at work. The transmitter to Roan's radio didn't catch much of what Fatima said, but Roan, appearing sympathetic, or perhaps hard-of-hearing, repeated the important bits in a kindly tone. A tiny strip-mined village? How sad. Hopefully they had that detail on file somewhere. As he was typing out this information for Beckman, he heard two simultaneous exclamations, "Drop your weapons!" along with "You bastard!" His team had been caught again.
He reached for the door latch…and stopped. This was his team. He should be feeling sorry for the bad guys.
Plus Casey and Carina had explicit orders to keep him out trouble. He couldn't put them in it.
In back of it all, Sarah. He had to get Dreyfus' blessing to get back in the field, back to her.
Not that that meant he couldn't help, he just had to be smarter about it than he used to be. What could he do? He didn't even have the resources of his Intersect room available, just this stupid–
He checked the glove compartment.
"Okay, guys, two things," he said, pressing a button. "Casey, I'm staying in the car. And Roan, duck." He pressed the red button, and the missile flew across the intervening distance in seconds, exploding against the outer wall of the tower.
He followed, the rocket moving much faster than he could, listening as his friends made their own freedom with the help of his little distraction. Without a planned rendezvous point he aimed for the place he'd come out, and hoped for the best.
Casey came out, supporting Roan, with Carina covering them. The two men piled in the back and Carina took shotgun seat. She kept the shotgun out of sight, though.
"What happened to Tazi?" asked Chuck, not waiting for a reply to pull out and put some distance behind them. Hopefully they weren't just going to let her get away.
Roan and Casey shared a look, and Casey shook his head slightly.
Roan said, "We're intelligence agents, Charles, not law enforcement. Leave Miss Tazi to the Marrakeshi police. After tonight's debacle even they might do something."
That got the expected Casey grunt.
The car's phone rang, and Carina answered it. She nodded and said "Yes, ma'am" a lot, then hung up. "Well, Chuckles, looks like this is goodbye again. You and Casey are going back to Prague."
Casey couldn't believe that. "She's leaving you two alone together in Marrakesh?"
"My General has nothing to fear," said Roan. "It's not the place, it's the woman, and despite Agent Miller's many and obvious charms, especially in that costume, she is not the woman. Isn't that right, Charles?"
"Absolutely," Chuck lied, his hands white on the steering wheel. Sometimes it was the place. Sarah's proper place was with him, and she wasn't in it. This can't go on.
Chuck flashed. On nothing. On this road and at that speed, no one noticed, but his hands relaxed on the wheel. This won't go on.
A/N2 Did I mention up above how much I like to respond to comments? I'm not the sort to beg but I'm not above a little bribery.