Chuck vs Fulcrum
Beckman Strikes Back
Ch3: Watch This
Bryce leaned over Tommy's shoulder and watched as Tommy navigated through several online forums on Bryce's laptop.
"Could you give me a little room, here?" Tommy asked. Off Bryce's flat look, he continued. "It's kind of a pet peeve of mine. People watching me work. It's hard enough to concentrate as it is."
"I'm not interested in the Likes and Dislikes of Tommy Delgado," Bryce deadpanned. "What are you doing?" Bryce leaned even closer to see, and Tommy hunched the same amount forward. "Burgundy Mustang with blue leather seats. You're placing classified ads?"
"I'm burning the last of my bridges and favors," Tommy muttered. "You have no idea how long it took Fulcrum to find these code words."
Bryce nodded. "Specific triggers for a data mining program that's constantly running. So, you place those ads on a few different sites, and they get Orion's attention," he said. "Then what happens?
As if on cue, the laptop screen went black. A single line of green text appeared:
Bryce straightened as his mouth dropped open. Tommy leaned back.
For a moment, the world contracted to an impossibly small size, populated by three people: Sarah, Casey, and himself. There had been moments like this before, over the past few months since his life had been turned upside down; moments where the danger and the chaos all around him had pushed into the sides of his consciousness until nothing else seemed to exist but himself and his two partners. The difference was that, in all of those times before, he and Sarah and Casey had seemed to form their own little bubble, together against the world.
Now, with Casey falling to the ground, knocked back off his feet by a bullet fired from Sarah's still smoking gun, that bubble had burst. They were no longer a team. And in the impossible length of that frozen moment his already maddeningly confusing existence became utterly and completely senseless.
Sarah had shot Casey. Up was down. Black was white.
Casey hit the ground, and Chuck heard himself gasp out an epithet. In the split second of silence that followed, he knew he had to decide: would he react as he always did, by freezing and fumbling and hoping Sarah would drag him out of danger? Or would he push through all of that, accept this new reality, and contribute – actually contribute – to getting himself and Sarah to safety?
The men in tactical gear were already reacting, shifting their attention from Sarah and Casey solely to Sarah. All eyes were on her…
Except for their Leader's.
Chuck could see them, two glaring embers set deep inside that smooth skull, focused directly on him. This man had been sent for him. For Chuck and Chuck alone. No one else mattered. Anyone who got in the way was collateral damage waiting to happen. And with that last scrap of information, Chuck made his choice.
Even as Sarah pivoted to move between him and the men, Chuck moved on his own, placing himself in front of Sarah, shielding her. He could see the question in her eyes, but explanations would have to come later. For now, he simply grabbed her by her upper arms, and pushed/carried her in the opposite direction of the oncoming men.
The world expanded back to size, time sped up, and Chuck yelled.
Sarah, to her credit, adapted perfectly, picking up Chuck's momentum and moving with it, turning and running towards the entrance to the courtyard. Chuck could hear the men behind him shouting at them to stop, but above all of their voices one gravely baritone stood out, saying the one thing Chuck had counted on.
"Hold fire! That's the asset! HOLD FIRE!"
Beckman wanted him alive, and at the moment that in turn was the only thing keeping Sarah alive. Chuck kept as close as he could behind her as they ran, and thought furiously about their next move. Sarah was going for her Porsche, but Chuck reached out to angle her away from the car.
"No, no! The Herder!" he called out. He could see the briefest hesitation as she turned her head a bit in his direction, but she changed course and made for the tiny little car. Chuck dug into his pocket and pressed a sequence on the key fob. Both doors on the Herder sprung open, and they climbed inside – Sarah in the passenger seat, Chuck behind the wheel. Leader's men were just a few steps behind.
"There's no way this one-lung little crapbox is going to get us through an NSA road block, Chuck!"
Chuck activated the dash touchscreen and started frantically keying through menus. "This baby's still got a few surprises in her, sweetheart."
As if on cue, the doors locked and the windows slid shut impossibly fast. A moment later a piercing shriek emanated from the tiny car's grill. From inside the cabin, it sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Outside—
Leader and his men dropped their weapons and covered their ears, falling to their knees.
Sarah gaped at Chuck. "How did you do that?"
Chuck, still punching buttons and flying through screens, managed a nonchalant shrug. "Flashed on the operating manual a while back. Hang on."
Sarah barely had time to register the message on the main screen (evade mode engaged) before the car lurched into reverse, throwing them both against the dashboard. When the car finally stopped long enough to shift into drive, Sarah noticed the smaller text on the screen (please fasten seatbelts – it's the law). The Herder sped away, throwing them both back into their seats.
"Maybe a little warning next time, Chuck," Sarah growled as she fumbled for her seat belt. The Herder, seemingly moving on autopilot, shot down a side street and turned onto a main road.
"That's what 'hang on' usually means," Chuck snapped back. "And besides, I didn't know she'd move that fast. I haven't exactly gotten the chance to field-test this system, you know." Chuck tapped through one more menu before fastening his own belt.
"Where is it taking us? Does this thing actually drive itself?"
"Not exactly," Chuck replied, looking frantically between the road and the display screen. Sarah noticed that he had a map that looked like a GPS on the screen in front of him, and that he was making selections on the screen that seemed to result in the herder changing lanes to avoid other cars. "You can pre-program an escape route into the nav system, and the herder will follow it, but it's pretty rudimentary. Default destination is the Buy More." Chuck tapped the screen, and the herder changed lanes to pass a minivan. "All it knows is how to follow the GPS coordinates. It has some basic functions that will allow it to detect other cars and move around them, but at this speed I don't really trust it."
Sarah nodded. "Standard procedure for the NSA in a detainment situation is to set up a perimeter," she said. "We'll probably hit a roadblock any minute now. I should really be the one driving."
Chuck grimaced. "Unfortunately, I think you're better off being the one shooting." He gestured over his shoulder. "Three black SUVs on our six."
Sarah saw the smaller window on the display showing the aforementioned SUVs, and twisted in her seat to see out the rear windshield. She took out her pistol and chambered a round. "Does the rear window open on this thing?"
A second later, a shotgun blast sounded out, and the rear window shattered. Chuck yelped and ducked as glass flew throughout the cabin. Sarah shielded her eyes, then sighed.
"Never mind," she said, and returned fire behind them.
Leader slowly climbed to his feet, looking back over his men as they recovered from the Herder's sonic assault. He shook the ringing from his own ears and walked over to Casey, who lay where he fell. Leader nudged him with his boot.
"Up and at 'em, Major."
Casey jolted back to consciousness, and struggled to his feet. "Major Gabriel, NSA LA Branch. Beckman sent us to collect the Asset." Leader watched as Casey reached under his jacket and rubbed his chest. He smirked. "Interesting that you chose this moment to wear a bulletproof vest."
"Always be prepared," Casey coughed out.
"I think a more appropriate platitude would be 'forewarned is forearmed,'" Leader replied. "You knew Walker was going to run."
"Can never tell with Walker," Casey said. "Girl's full of surprises."
"That she is. Where they headed, Major?"
"Hell if I know."
Leader cocked his head. "See, I don't think that's entirely accurate," he said. "I think you do know. At the very least, I think you have a pretty good idea."
Casey squinted at Leader. "Beckman sent you, huh?"
"Seems kind of redundant, seeing as I was right across the courtyard all along."
"From they way things turned out, Major, it appears we were understaffed for the occasion. Now, I'm going to ask you again: Where are they going?"
"Tell you what, Mystery Man. Let's get Beckman on the horn and let her ask me that question."
"I could make you tell me, you know."
Casey responded with a sour grin. "I seriously doubt that."
Leader scoffed. "Major Casey, you're very badly outnumbered. And you've been shot. Bulletproof vest or not, that's going to take some of the fight out of a man. Please believe me when I tell you that you're going to talk." He leaned in closer to Casey and lowered his voice menacingly. "Everybody talks."
Casey nodded, looking around at Leader's men, who had since climbed back to their feet and looked to be ready for a fight. He cocked his head back and forth, cracking the joints in his neck, then looked back at Leader. "Well, then," he said.
"Let's get started."
Sarah ejected her spent clip and loaded a new one. "I'm empty after this clip, Chuck. We need to figure something out." She twisted in the seat and fired three carefully placed shots at the lead SUV.
"You only had one spare clip with you?"
Sarah frowned as she squeezed off two more shots. "I came to your apartment to have sex with you, Chuck," she growled in reply. "Exactly how many bullets would you prefer I have on me when that happens?"
"Well, we're getting close to that being the reality," Sarah said, squinting and pulling the trigger. A front tire on the lead SUV exploded, sending the vehicle into a spin. The other two SUVs dodged the out of control car and fell back a few lengths. "On the plus side," Sarah said, sitting back in her seat, "apparently sexual frustration makes for pretty accurate marksmanship."
"If that were the case, I'd be William Tell," Chuck muttered under his breath.
"They're getting closer," Sarah announced, glancing over her shoulder.
"Oh, yeah?" Chuck smirked, spotting a long straightway ahead. "Watch this." He keyed a sequence into the touchscreen and braced himself. A moment later, a mechanical whine sounded out, then drifted again into silence. Chuck blinked at the touchscreen.
"Watch what?" Sarah asked, disappointment dripping from her voice.
"I think we're in trouble," Chuck said, watching the touchscreen.
Suddenly a message appeared on the screen: NOS INOPERATIVE
"We're in trouble."
Of course Casey was wearing a vest. This is Casey we're talking about. He probably wears those things in the shower.
Special thanks to Nomadic Nerd for pointing out a pretty bad plot hole that popped up in Chapter 2. I've since made the proper changes to Chapter 1 and am going to try and keep the domino effect under control. And if you didn't notice the plot hole, don't look at me. I'm pretending it never happened.
Thanks to everyone who's been reading, favoriting, and following, but an extra special big huge wet raspberry-blowing thank you to everyone who takes the time to review. Reviews are the bacon cheeseburgers to my hungry ego. That's high praise, considering that bacon cheeseburgers are like hugs for my stomach.
Crap, now I'm hungry.
Sarah looked at the SUVs. One was almost alongside them now. The rear driver's side window was open. She could see the agent inside aiming.
"Clock's ticking, Chuck."
"I see an opening. Just a couple seconds…"
The SUV was right next to them. Sunlight glinted off the agent's gun. Sarah could see the calm, competent expression on his face.