A/N Part one of the finale is done.
"There she is."
"You promised me twenty."
"Give me my prize."
"Thank you for defending my honor."
Casey examined the two components, sliding them together. "So where are we going, Bartowski?" he asked, as the pieces clicked into place. "A fueled jet, a midnight flight." He set the assembly on the table with a thump. "You're playing things a little too close to the vest for my liking."
Chuck settled into the chair opposite, to enjoy a well-earned glass of soda. "You know what they say about playing things close to the vest, Casey?" He raised a brow at Casey's bafflement. "Wear a coat over the vest, otherwise you look like a jerk."
"Is that right?"
"I'd look like a cold, frozen jerk, actually, since we're going to a military bunker in the Swiss Alps." Chuck picked up the TV remote.
Casey looked a shade more cheerful. Must have been the word 'military'. "I thought we just left that party."
"Same mountains, different country. Too bad Dad didn't send us this location first, but I can see where he couldn't."
Casey nudged the assembled pieces, basically a grip and a scope. "Let me guess, the bullets."
Chuck glanced at the parts, but didn't try to touch them. "Well, whatever that thing uses for bullets, but yeah. Not something Volkoff left right on top." He jerked upright in his chair. "Hey, Avatar!"
Bullets for the world's deadliest weapon, and he's going on about crappy movie retreads. "You're being awfully 'cool' about this, Bartowski. Wanna clue me in?"
Right. Mission. Chuck turned off the TV, and put down the remote. "Doesn't it seem odd to you that a man like Volkoff would have a weapon like this, and split it up? Never use it?"
"Mmm." Apparently not. "You think it's not the superweapon Vivian told us it was?"
"Or that if Volkoff was afraid to use it, there's a pretty good reason."
"Not cheering me up here, Bartowski. Not everybody's smart enough to be scared when they oughtta be."
Chuck looked aft, at the closed bedroom door his wife and her best friend had been hiding behind, the entire flight. "Some people are."
"How do you stand it?" asked Carina. Her voice trembled as much as her hands, and Sarah felt both, sitting hand-in-hand and knee-to-knee on the room's only piece of furniture, a bed that could be made to serve as a sofa.
She'd been prepared to tear strips off of Carina for the clearly-audible kiss, but her friend's terror was genuine, and not Chuck-related. She'd been high as a kite when she kissed Chuck, an elation Sarah knew all too well. After the high had come a quick low, an emotional rollercoaster that Sarah also recognized. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know what you're feeling, no one can except you."
"I don't even know," said Carina. "I've never felt like this."
Sarah stared down at their joined hands. "Like all your life your soul was in a box, in a castle of ice, and one day some idiot blundering fool melts the castle and breaks open the box."
Ice. So cold. "Yes! Yes. What do I do?"
"I'll tell you what you don't do," said Sarah. "You don't try to shove your soul back in that box. You don't try to act as if anything you knew yesterday means anything today. I tried all of that, it doesn't work. Just hold on to that fool for all you're worth. I did that, too. The one thing I did right."
"No," said Carina definitively. Sarah did everything right.
"Lie down," said Sarah, and Carina obeyed without protest. Sarah tucked her up, snagging her cell phone in the process.
"Don't leave me."
"I'm not leaving you," Sarah said, stroking Carina's red hair. "No one should have to discover their soul all at once. I had Graham and Beckman, pushing on the box, keeping it from letting all of me out. Not sure if that was better. Looking at you now I think maybe it was."
"Looking at you then I'd rather be me now," said Carina, teeth chattering. "You went through hell."
Going through Hell was the only thing they were allowed to do together. "You have to, to get to Heaven."
"Are you sure you want to do this, ma'am?" asked Mr. Carmichael, driving his mistress to the meet.
"I've never been surer of anything in my life, Mr. Carmichael," said Vivian. "No one can be allowed to have my father's legacy except me, his designated heir."
"But, destroying the ship–?"
She sighed. "Not my first choice, but whatever bungling strike team tried to take Hydra from me earlier has made any less-drastic solution impossible. They'll be on guard, now. The internal sensor net will be changed. I have no other choice."
"But, Ma'am, won't your father be on the ship when it sinks?"
Vivian almost smiled. It was too funny. Agent Charles' doppelganger, pleading for mercy for that thing walking around in her father's body. For a second she thought of Hartley, his gentle compassion as he held her hand. I'm so sorry for your loss, or words to that effect.
Her loss. What did he know of her loss? He was her loss, not some woman she never knew. Angrily, she took that image, that memory, and shoved it into an airless chamber at the bottom of her soul. "An unfortunate accident," she said. The irony pleased her. Alexei Volkoff's body and the creature inside it, destroyed by her father's own munitions.
"Yes, ma'am," said Mr. Carmichael obediently, keeping his unhappiness to himself. Not for the first time, he considered a return to Macau, where he knew what was what, and who was who.
He had only to hear Sarah's voice over Carina's phone to know that something was wrong. "What happened to her?"
Sarah smiled, pleased that he was so quick on the uptake. "You did, Mr. Davis," she said quietly, the boys asleep in their chairs in the main cabin. "My question to you is, what are you going to do about it?"
"How may I help you?"
Specialist Blakely hated his job. He didn't used to. He was never exactly thrilled with it, but being in the military kept him out of trouble, and getting into trouble was the only thing he was better at than cracking into sophisticated electronic security systems and tinkering with whatever was behind them. People take that kind of thing personally.
Needless to say, the government was thrilled they had someone with his talents on hand when a prize like the Contessa dropped into their laps. This rig had some crackerjack security. It barely even noticed he was there, just enough to reroute the signal and go back to sleep. He felt like a hotel guest, waiting for service while the manager and all his staff were watching their favorite show on the telly. He'd ring the bell and they'd move it, to still the noise.
Until last night. Something was different, he wasn't exactly sure how, but he was able to follow the rabbit back into its hole. He managed to wake up the HMI, but he didn't tell anybody. Not officially, that is. He appreciated a pat on the back and a 'well done' as much as the next man, but he liked cash better.
He had a few new tools with him today, and a fat bonus waiting, if only he could get this stupid machine to stop trying to help! "You can tell me who programmed you." Not too many people in the world could have done this.
"I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Did you say 'who cabined blue'?"
"Was it the Jackal then? The Octopus?" Nigel doubted it. Not their style at all, too harmless. There was a man who would do this, but he was a joker, not a thief. He'd never done a job like this before. "The Piranha, maybe?"
His screen blipped. Not much but when the line has been stubbornly flat all day a little bump can be huge. "The Piranha?" he asked again. Blip. "Bloody hell," he said to himself. "This is a Piranha job."
Blip blip. Nigel smiled. "Oh, I've got you now, darlin'."
"Everybody set, then?"
The other men in the boat nodded, not much for chatter, a quality the leader appreciated as much as he liked their diving and munitions skills.
"It's a long way with no cover," muttered one. "Still wish we could use a DPD."
"They make noise, Thomkins," said the leader shortly. "No one wants that ship dead except the lady what hired us, so all we need to do is not draw attention to ourselves–"
"And plant the mines," said another guy, as a helpful reminder.
"And not get blown up," said a fourth, with a grin.
The leader poked Thomkins in the chest. "See what you started? Next time you want something, you can go get it while we do the job and keep all the money, eh? Right lads, let's hop to, and we'll all be down at the pub in an hour."
They all fitted their mouthpieces and fell backwards with a splash.
Julian Barker raised a hand for silence, all the way down there in the dark and cold at the bottom of the ship. "Did you hear that?"
The able seaman escorting him sniffed. "Y'hear a lot of things down here," he said. "It's a ship, y'know? Even at anchor the sea still moves."
"I'm aware that this is a ship," said Barker, faintly nauseated by the rolling motion of the vessel, or perhaps by the smell of oil down here belowdecks.
"Probably just your mate down the other end," said the sailor, accepting that the SIS guy had heard something at all. "That nutter in the cold room, shouting at the machines." His eyes lit up. "Or maybe a bottle of rum from some pirate's chest, rolling about."
"Perhaps a note, some shipwrecked unfortunate, hoping for rescue," said Barker, getting into it. He flashed his torch around the machine room, seeing no one and nothing, just as there ought to be. A waste of time, like he'd thought, but after two days without incident, Command was just as eager to draw down their forces here as he was to be drawn down. Let someone else be the boss' right hand. He'd gladly do a final check as long as it was a final check.
"Here," said the sailor, shining his own torch elsewhere. "Whassat?"
Diane Beckman closed her eyes. "Were there any casualties?" That was the hardest part of this job, lives lost protecting a rook, especially when it was just a pawn in disguise.
"Three," said the Minister on the other end of the call. "An SIS man and his escort, and…a computer tech, in the room with the Hydra itself."
Above her pay grade. If anything was a cue to change the subject, that was. "Do you know what happened?"
He breathed a sigh of relief at her discretion. "Some sort of scuttling charge, I would imagine. Now that S&R is over, the divers will be looking into the cause. We'll keep you informed."
Vivian wanted to scream, but that would be even more a sign of weakness than pacing. "What went wrong?"
"We don't know," said Riley. "The ship sank as planned, but there is no data in the backup location. Hydra is lost."
"Leaving me with nothing."
"Well, not nothing, Miss Volkoff. You have your fortune, and there is still the Norseman."
"The Norseman was a red herring, meant to keep Agent Charles out of our way while we went after the real prize."
"It may be a prize on its own, and it's certainly the only color of herring you've got."
Vivian never thought she'd say this. "Where's Agent Charles now?"
"Are you sure this is the right Swiss bunker?" asked Casey, looking at the hole in the mountain through his binoculars. "I don't see anything like a trap or an ambush, nothing that screams 'Volkoff' about it."
"He does have a style," said Chuck. "Did have a style."
"His mind was twisted," said Sarah. "Your mother said so, and I have to agree with her."
"I wish we hadn't lost Miller," said Casey. A very tired and bedraggled Officer Davis had appeared on the tarmac at the airport, and Carina had walked away from the team and into his embrace without a word. When last seen they were still attached to each other.
"Carina should be halfway to Dreyfus by now," said Sarah, assuming Beckman did as she said, usually a safe assumption.
"Good for her," said Casey. "Can't divide the team now."
Chuck shrugged. "Don't want to. This place has no human guards anyway, and no one else knows we're here."
Sarah winced. "Chuck…"
Casey smacked him in the head, and Sarah didn't object. "Way to live dangerously, Bartowski."
"Would you like to play a game?" said the computer, as Chuck took the seat before the chess board.
Casey watched the sequence of moves, faster than he liked to play himself. "I hope you know what you're doing, Bartowski."
"I just hope you're ready," said Chuck.
"I was born ready."
Sarah winced. "Casey…"
"Sarah, I'm kind of busy here, could you whack him upside the head for me, please?" Chuck didn't look up, but he heard the 'Ow!'. "Thank you."
Sarah watched her husband take back his bad move, heard his sudden whimper. "What's the matter, Chuck?"
"I'm losing it!" He looked up at his wife, up at the big guns with all those bullets. Overkill, really. Typical Volkoff. "I can't play like him, no one can."
"Why not?" said Casey with a shrug.
"He's the world's biggest badass, Casey!"
"He's a computer program," said Casey. "And you're a computer. Inside that noggin of yours is Hydra, the life's work of the world's greatest criminal mastermind. His goals, his plans." Because Alexei Volkoff didn't have hopes and dreams like normal people. "Be him."
"Yes, be the man whose name strikes fear into the heart of friend and foe alike," said Sarah. "Who is that man? Who are you?"
"Alexei Volkoff," said Chuck.
"Say it again, and sell it this time," said Sarah. "Now, Chuck."
Chuck flashed. "I…am…Alexei Volkoff," he said, his voice sinking into a growl. A happy growl. "Killer of men, conqueror of nations!"
"Uh, I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here," said Sarah.
"Yeah, Chuck," said Casey, "Just play the game already."
Six brilliantly aggressive and treacherous moves later…
"Ha!" yelled Chuck triumphantly. "Checkmate."
Casey slapped a pair of sunglasses over his face. "Good game, Alexei. Do Svedanya." He looked at Sarah as she moved in to support her husband. "See? I told you I was ready."
Inside the clear acrylic box stood a component not very different from the one they'd taken from the Somali pirate just hours before.
"Is that what all the fuss is about?"
Chuck scanned the room, the doorway. "Yup."
"Well, let's go get it," said Casey.
"The room would kill us. It's like everything Stanley Fitzroy ever made, rolled into one, and keyed to Volkoff's DNA."
"So how do we get past it?" said Sarah in a voice of complete faith.
"You don't," said a voice behind them, as guns cocked menacingly. "I do."
Chuck turned, hands raised. "Vivian MacArthur?"
"Vivian Volkoff," she snapped back. "My father's heir. A Queen without a country, thanks to you."
"This was a setup?" said Casey as his gun was taken away from him yet again.
"Of course not," said Vivian as she watched her men secure the area. "Agent Charles would have seen through that immediately. This was supposed to be a wild goose chase like Macau, something to keep you busy while I secured my father's legacy."
"No wonder the data had no picture. You sent it."
Vivian smirked at him. "You diminished my enemies very effectively, Agent Charles. Bravo. You also locked off Hydra, kept it from me, and the Contessa was scuttled. My father's life's work, lost forever."
"That wasn't my plan," said Chuck.
"It was your mother's," said Sarah sheepishly. "She said she'd end things even if she had to scuttle the ship to do it. She never had a chance to remove the charges…"
Chuck closed his eyes. "Good plan, mom."
"Fitting," said Vivian. "The mother of the man who destroyed my father, destroyed me. But all is not lost." She pointed into the room. "The Norseman is the most dangerous weapon in the world. Once I have that, I can take someone else's country as my own. Up against the wall." Once they were out of her way she sauntered past, took a swab and placed it in her mouth before inserting it into the slot.
"The room is keyed to your DNA too?"
"Of course," said Vivian. "What I couldn't do was outplay that chess computer out there, so–" she dusted her hands off lightly "–thanks for that. In."
Inside the room they could only watch as Vivian opened the box and removed the component. "It's useless without the rest," said Sarah.
"I have the plans for those," said Vivian absently as she lifted the device. "What I don't have is this." She turned away from them all and headed for the exit.
"Vivian, don't do this," said Chuck as her minions placed charges around the room. "You're not this person."
"I know, but it's the only person I've got left," said Vivian. "You don't know me. You will never know me."
Chuck knew enough. Without another word he lashed out and disarmed his minion, by the simple tactic of making him unconscious. Sarah and Casey followed suit, but Vivian ran away faster than they could fight their way through. The door lit with a lattice of laser beams, too closely spaced to allow anyone out, except in pieces. "You've taken still more from me, Agent Charles. Never again. Those plasma grenades are impossible to defuse."
"Vivian, please," Chuck yelled after her as she left them to die.
"Chuck, forget her!" yelled Sarah.
"She hates me," said Chuck.
"Head in the game, Bartowski!"
"We've got ten seconds."
Chuck transformed with a shiver. No more head-banging, no more self-recriminations. He reached inside his vest, and brought out three knives. With Intersect accuracy he threw the knives and pierced one of the cylinders on three of the plasma grenades. He ran to Casey's position, taking the knife from his hand and slicing away the section of wall behind the last grenade with four quick strokes. He grabbed the section before it could fall and threw it out into the hall between the lasers. "Up against the wall!"
The grenade exploded, a column of intense heat flaring into the room, melting the laser emitters, incinerating the pedestal and acrylic box. The three humans were safe against the wall, protected by the rock of the cave.
"Chuck," said Sarah once the chaos ended. "What did you do? How did you know that would work?" She looked the broken grenades, the knives rotting away under the caustic chemicals.
"I didn't," said Chuck, coughing from the fumes. "Vivian may have turned evil, but she's a terrible liar. She said they were impossible to defuse, so I broke them instead."
"Great job, genius," said Casey, staring at the melted section of floor, the glowing walls of the tunnel. "Meanwhile she's getting away at a nice slow stroll. How long do you think it'll be before we can get out of here?"
Chuck turned to glare at his partner. "Perhaps you'd like that explosive back in our cell, your highness."
"What do you need from Hartley, Chuck?" asked Dreyfus.
"Vivian's got the Norseman. We need to know if he's aware of anything we can do to stop it."
"I'm afraid I can't allow that, Chuck," said Dreyfus, his voice final. "It wouldn't help in any case. He's been quite traumatized by his experience as Volkoff, even more so by his daughter. His mind refuses to revisit those memories. I'm sorry."
Back at the lab, a few days later…
"Do you really think this will help, Chuck?" asked Sarah, sitting at Ellie's desk while Ellie ran the upload from the booth. "You nearly lost it the last time."
"You told me to lose it the last time, Sarah," said Chuck, locked in the Intersect room again. "I think without the machine guns pointed at us I can keep the upload in check."
"Don't be so sure of that, little brother," said Ellie. "The upload you got from the glasses was a small dataset, the best we could do at the time. This will be much bigger."
"Great, sis, thanks for telling me now."
When the alert went off, everyone responded in record time, except for Carina, on therapeutic leave. "What do you have to report, Mr. Bartowski?" asked the General.
It was like Old Home Week in the Intersect lab, all the faces gathered on the big monitor, with Beckman dominating the screen as always. "The Hydra files had a great deal more information on the Norseman, General, but the technical files on the killing component have been redacted."
"So we're still in the dark?"
"No, ma'am," said Chuck. "The technical data is gone, but the functional documents are still in the Omega folder."
Casey asked the obvious question on his General's behalf. "What's that, Bartowski?"
"It's a file of weapons that Alexei Volkoff considered too dangerous to use but too useful to be destroyed, Casey."
"A weapon of last resort," said Sarah.
"Literally, Sarah," said Chuck. "The footnote on the disposition order says 'it destroys the user' in Volkoff's own handwriting."
"How effective is it, Bartowski?"
"One hundred percent, in the lab." Certain death for someone, and they all knew who her first target would be.
"So killing you would kill her?"
"Vivian's a vengeful psychopath, General. I don't think the blowback's would stop her, even if she knew about it."
"Don't worry, Chuck," said Sarah. "I will."
A/N2 Hartley's useless and Vivian's merciless. Not quite the cliffhanger I was aiming for, but a psycho carrying the Ultimate Nullifier is nothing to sneeze at.