After driving in a 5,000 mile circle (4,900 of which involved the engine making a funny ticking noise), I have returned refreshed and ready to continue with the story. So without further ado, here is your new chapter:
Chuck vs Fulcrum
Beckman Strikes Back
Ch5: Shock and Awesome
From their vantage point down the block, Bryce and Tommy watched the police, fire, and paramedics swarm around the apartment complex. Smoke still billowed from what remained of Casey's apartment, and every window facing the courtyard was either cracked or shattered. They had yet to witness any injured people being removed, which led them to believe that the rest of the units had been empty during the incident. Bryce hoped it didn't mean they were waiting for the coroner.
"Why the hell would Orion send us here?" Tommy asked. "You think he's trying to…" he drifted off, as he tended to do. Bryce noticed that it the episodes seemed to happen when they were most inconvenient, and wondered if they were somehow connected to Tommy's stress levels.
"Set some kind of trap?" Bryce finished for Tommy. "I don't think so. Seems like this couldn't have happened more than an hour or so ago. That'd be after he sent us the coordinates." Bryce didn't know exactly how much Tommy knew about the Intersect operation, so there wasn't any sense in offering that this had been where Chuck lived. "I'm guessing he'll contact us soon with an alternate location."
"And if he doesn't?"
Bryce's phone chirped with an incoming text message. He smirked at Tommy. "You worry too much, anyone ever tell you that?"
Tommy scowled as Bryce checked the message: WESTSIDE MEDICAL.
Sarah watched out the windows of the vacant service station while Chuck worked on the Herder. They'd been fortunate in finding this place, and getting in had been easy enough, but they were still pushing their luck being this out in the open. Sarah flinched as a police cruiser passed by.
"How we doing, Chuck?"
Upside down, legs dangling out the passenger side door, Chuck grunted as he pulled a small black box out from underneath the Herder's dashboard. "There," he said triumphantly, tossing the device onto the driver's seat. "Assuming your little bug jammer doohickey worked well enough to kill the signal, we should be clear from here on out."
"Which still leaves us driving around in one of those picky chew ball things from that cartoon you watch."
Chuck tilted his head down from under the dash. "Did… did you just make a Pokémon joke?"
"I don't understand why we have to stick with the Herder," Sarah said. "We should pick up something less conspicuous."
Chuck squirmed out from under the dashboard and groaned as he stretched. "We're going to need the onboard computer, unless you think we can get back into Castle."
"Doubtful," Sarah said. "Castle's bound to be swarming with NSA by now. And even if we luck out and they haven't thought to post anyone there, the systems are sure to flag us as soon as we get within a hundred feet of the security cameras." Sarah paused for a moment. "Why do we need the onboard computer?"
"You're, um… not going to like that part."
"I haven't liked any of the parts so far, Chuck. Let me have it."
Chuck took a deep breath and switched off Sarah's jammer device. The systems for the Herder came back on line. "The onboard computer has some pretty advanced communication software installed," he said, leaning in to key through some menus on the touchscreen. "It'll take some doing, but if I can mask it from the servers, make it look like a higher level terminal making some routine inquiries—"
"You're doing that thing where you babble instead of telling me something I don't want to hear," Sarah deadpanned.
Chuck turned to face Sarah and breathed in deep. "If Beckman is behind all of this, we're going to need to expose her in order to clear our own names. So…" Chuck swallowed. "IwanttohacktheNSAserversandstealallofBeckmansfiles." Chuck ducked back into the Herder and started tapping through screens again.
Sarah stared at Chuck. "So," she said, her voice even and suspiciously calm. "At the time when we should, with absolute and utter terror in our hearts, be running away from the government, you would like to attack them."
"Well, digitally. But yes."
"And assuming we're able to find this information, who do we give it to? Graham? We don't know if he's involved or not."
Chuck mumbled something too quietly for Sarah to hear.
"What was that, Chuck?" Sarah asked, as fake-sweetly as she could. "I couldn't quite hear you."
Chuck cleared his throat and spoke over his shoulder. "I… haven't gotten quite that far in the plan yet."
"So, this isn't so much a plan as it is one single idea."
"It's a plan."
"It's barely a concept, Chuck."
"It's, like, twelve percent of a plan! I'm sorry that I've been too busy dodging bullets, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic, and oh yeah, not freaking out to come up with the other eighty three percent!"
Sarah pinched the bridge of her nose. "You're right. I'm sorry. You're doing a great job, Chuck. I'm just…"
"Tired, ragged, and scared?"
Sarah smiled a half smile. "Among other things."
Chuck nodded, and gazed at Sarah for a moment. She held the stare for as long as she could, then turned back to look out the windows again, keeping watch.
"Do you think Ellie and Devon are okay?" Chuck asked.
"I don't know," Sarah replied, still looking out the windows. "We're not in any kind of shape to help them right now, Chuck."
Chuck nodded. "I'll think of something."
"You always do."
Chuck gave a half smile at that, one that he was sorry Sarah couldn't see. The smile disappeared, though, as another thought entered his head.
"Sarah," Chuck finally said. By way of response, Sarah turned her head ever so slightly in his direction. "Can we talk about Casey?"
NSA Holding Facility
Consciousness found Casey in a holding cell, strapped securely to a hospital bed. As his eyes focused, he could make out an I.V. attached to his arm. One of his ears was still ringing from the explosion earlier, and a dull pain announced itself in his side. Casey tried to assign a specific incident to the pain, but came up with several possible culprits.
Squinting, he could make out a person in uniform sitting in a chair on the other side of the cell, but the details were fuzzy. He blinked a few times to try and clear his head. But the person spoke, and removed any mystery.
"Good. You're awake."
Instinct made Casey begin to stand at attention, or at the very least sit up, but the straps, pain, and recent memory combined to stop him. Instead he managed a curt "General."
Beckman stood and stepped closer, coming into focus. "I suppose an explanation is long overdue."
"Ma'am," he gritted out.
Beckman nodded, and sighed. She walked over to the barred window, barely low enough for her to see out, and gazed for a moment before speaking. "You're the last person I would presume would need educating about the state of the world, John," she said. "The things you've seen, the things you've done…" she cast him a pointed glance. "You're no babe in the woods."
Casey was silent. It hadn't been a question.
"But all of those things you've seen," Beckman continued, "existed on the outside. Other countries, other groups, bad men doing whatever they could to gain power. Us versus them. I, on the other hand, have seen things right within our own country. Within our own leadership. The wrong people are in power, John. They have been for some time now."
She tore her gaze away from the window at that, crossing back over to her original spot and pulling her chair to Casey's bedside. She sat down, rigid and straight. "I've lost track of how many times our leadership made the wrong decision from the right information. How many times we should have engaged but instead chose to stand down. How many opportunities we missed because of the wrong people making the wrong decisions. How do you change a situation like that?"
"With the Intersect," Casey finally said.
The tiniest corner of Beckman's mouth turned up. "All of the agencies making their decisions from one pool of information," she said. "And whoever controls that information—"
"Controls the world," Casey finished for her.
The corner turned up a little more. Beckman settled back into her seat, and nodded slightly.
"You're not just Fulcrum," Casey said, his voice low and dangerous. "Fulcrum is you."
"Oh, like it was the first time Casey's been shot."
Chuck threw his hands up in the air. "By you, yes!"
"Chuck, this is Casey we're talking about. He was wearing a vest. Casey probably wears a vest in the shower."
"What if he wasn't?"
"But what if he wasn't?"
Now Sarah threw her hands up. "Then I guess he's dead, Chuck! What do you want me to say? Do I feel bad that I shot Casey? Of course I do! Know what would make me feel worse? If Casey shot you! I made a judgment call, so if it means I have to shoot Casey to keep you safe, then I'm going to shoot Casey. Cards on the table, Chuck; I'm probably going to have to shoot a lot of people before this is over. So, since we're here talking about our feelings so much, I might as well clear it with you now! How do you feel about me shooting some more people who are trying to kill us, Chuck? Are you going to feel okay if I shoot some more people, or should I make up a story about them going to live on a farm?"
"Don't you dare treat me like I'm some kind of child just because I happen to care if my friend is alive or not."
"OH MY GOD, Chuck! Casey is not your friend! We don't have any friends right now! We are completely alone in this, and the one thing I know how to do is keep you safe! So that's what I'm going to do! They are coming, Chuck! They're coming to take you, and if I have to kill… every last—" Sarah stopped herself, clamping her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide, and she began to shake.
"Oh, no. Oh, Sarah, no." Chuck rushed over to her, taking her in his arms. "Okay. It's okay. I'm sorry, Sarah. I didn't think—"
"No, let me go. You have to let me go," Sarah pleaded. "I have to keep watching, I have to make sure they don't know we're here."
"Sarah, no one knows we're here. I promise. Just take a second and—"
"No, we were yelling, that was so stupid. They're going to know we're here, and they're going to find us."
Chuck smoothed a hand over her hair, again and again. "Sarah. Stop. Just stop for a second and listen to me. We're safe right now. Close your eyes, and take a deep breath, and stay calm. You're in shock, and I didn't realize that. I'm sorry."
Sarah closed her eyes and sunk into Chuck's embrace. She took a deep breath, trying to remember her training. But it was so hard to think. Even now, in Chuck's arms, she felt like the walls were closing in, that Beckman's reach would grasp them at any moment.
"It's okay," Chuck said, soothingly. "We're okay. We're going to get out of this, Sarah. I promise."
Sarah kept her eyes shut, breathing deep, focusing on Chuck's voice. On Chuck. Chuck would figure it out. Chuck was the only one she could trust. And no matter what, she was going to keep him safe. No matter what.
"I originally saw Mr. Bartowski as a setback," Beckman said, standing up to examine Casey's IV drip. "A human brain in control of all our information, where it would be impossible to alter or influence? It ruined everything at first. But after the team rescued General Stanfield, I realized the potential. It would require postponing my plans for some time, but if the way Mr. Bartowski's brain processed the information could be tested, and observed-"
"You could develop a better way to influence the information," Casey interrupted. "Everything we've done over the past few months, all of the missions…"
"Experiments," Beckman said, smirking. "Certainly, they've been beneficial, but nothing even close to the scale an operation like this should have been. Didn't you think it odd, Colonel, that all of your missions took place within an hour of Los Angeles?" Beckman leaned in a bit, and raised her eyebrows. "You've been operating in a fishbowl."
Casey grit his teeth, and glared at Beckman. She sighed.
"I can only imagine what you're thinking right now, Colonel. Do you think I'm evil? Some sort of mad villain?"
"You broke the law."
"I made decisions that were necessary for the-"
"You. Broke. The. Law."
Beckman stared at Casey, her stone expression slipping into a slight smile. "Yes," she replied. "I did. And out of curiosity, Colonel Casey, how many times have you broken the law for what you perceived was the greater good? How many times have you bent the rules to protect your assignment, Mr. Bartowski? I can list several times that I know of, and I'm sure there are many of which I'm not even aware."
Casey struggled with his response. Beckman continued.
"You broke those laws to protect Bartowski, because you believe you know better than the law. Because at those times when the law was contrary to your goals, you believed that you had the greater good in mind."
Beckman leaned down into Casey's face. "How is that any different from what I'm doing, aside from the scale? You're protecting Bartowski, Colonel. I'm protecting the world."
I've been struggling with how to handle Sarah's breakdown, because I never intended for her to be a damsel in distress. Even back in "vs Fulcrum," although Chuck and Casey are coming to save her, I really wanted Sarah to be able to handle herself and stand on her own. So I've been planting the seeds for this chapter's moment since back then, for Sarah's doubts and suspicions to gradually grow and finally become overwhelming in the face of Beckman's betrayal. And even now, with her finally succumbing to her shock, I wanted her first thought to be of Chuck's safety rather than her own. I hope I've pulled that off here, because I really do love the dynamic of Sarah being Chuck's protector, in spite of how I seem to be getting away from that in this story.
Thanks for the likes and reviews… keep 'em coming!