Disclaimer: 'Chuck' and all its affiliated characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. This fiction is written for entertainment only.
No profit was made. Not by me, at any rate.
A/N: 8 years & 9 months ago, I posted Hidden File Command from a half-functional internet station in Afghanistan. 8 years & 3 months ago, just after I got home, I posted the first part of it's sequel - Hidden File Application. I didn't finish it until 6 months ago.
Now it's finally time to bring the trilogy to it's conclusion with Hidden File Recovery.
This chapter goes out to The Dramatic Sneeze, ne71, gaaddict67, Deus Ex Sub Ubi, vandevere, BillAtWork, Airam4u, Canadian Chucky, and Lady of Pride. I'm thankful for every reviewer I've had, but you guys were here at the beginning; hopefully I'll see you at the finish line.
I'll do my best to get there in under 8 years. ;)
Colonel Edwin Guilford (USAF) would have called it an exhausting day, but when you line seven of those up in a row it makes for an exhausting week. It had only taken four or five of those to become an exhausting month, and after twelve of those...you get the idea. Now he sat at the end of the bar, peering into his glass and not-quite-celebrating yet another 'exhausting year' milestone.
Guilford had been a pilot for the United States Air Force since President Carter had been in office. He loved his job and he was damn good at it, spending his career piloting everything from a C-130 to an F-15 over every continent on the planet. But the years passed – as they tend to do – and with each promotion he found himself spending more time behind a desk than he did behind the stick.
It certainly wasn't all bad; rank came with its privileges. Just last year he'd been able to take one of those new F-22s out for a spin – something that the vast majority of Lieutenants and Captains could only dream of – and now he'd been made Wing Commander of the recently re-designated 341st Strategic Missile Wing, responsible for one of the Air Force's three remaining LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM launch sites. It should have been the pinnacle of his career.
Instead he'd arrived to find an understaffed, mismanaged command and a facility that was in a truly alarming state of disrepair – particularly for a goddamn nuclear missile silo. He had reason to believe that several officers had been cheating on their monthly missile launch officer tests, and the cursory audit he'd ordered indicated that nearly fifty percent of unused nuclear weapons-related materials handled by the wing were incorrectly tracked or recorded. Despite his efforts to restore operations to a high standard, this command had been a goddamn nightmare from day one.
What had him glaring angrily at his double-scotch, however, was the 341st's recently-finalized operations budget. He could barely believe that the House Armed Services Committee had the nerve to not just cut the Wing's budget, but to turn around and devote additional funds to that money-pit of a signal intercept station. Every time the base's command staff tried to shut the station down, somehow the funds would appear to keep the godforsaken thing open for another quarter.
As a matter of professionalism, he made a point of never publicly voicing such negative opinions, but even he found it difficult to keep quiet in the face of such staggering absurdity.
"Unbelievable." He muttered, eyeing the bartender. "It's just un-fucking-believable. Giving an intercept station priority over a goddamn ICBM Unit."
For his part, the bartender didn't respond; he smiled awkwardly as he scanned the mostly-empty bar for someone – anyone – in need of a refill.
"And a Navy intercept station, no less!" The Colonel growled, bringing his fist down on the bar. "A useless gaggle of land-locked squids under the command of a Jarhead; a forty-year-old butterbar!"
Guilford paused as his brain caught up with his mouth. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he took a deep breath and willed himself to calm down. Cathartic as it may have been, his outburst had been totally inappropriate – the kind of temper tantrum that was unbecoming of a senior officer and a detriment to base morale.
He peered into his glass again and wondered – not for the first time – whether it was time to move on. Ella had been dropping increasingly frequent hints about retirement, and to be honest it didn't seem as frightening as it had a few years ago. He had more than enough years to retire on a full pension.
Pushing the remainder of his drink away, he resolved to bring the topic up that night at dinner. But as he turned to leave, idly chewing on a few bar peanuts, he was alarmed to find Second Lieutenant Casey glaring at him from across the room.
Guilford stumbled back a step when Casey rose from his seat with unsettling speed; the murderous glint in the Marine's eyes was more than slightly unsettling. He opened his mouth to address the junior officer, but no sound came out. Though a sudden irrational panic gripped the Colonel when he realized his inability to breathe, it was somehow less terrifying than Casey's steady approach.
As tinges of red began to creep into the edges of his vision, the last thing Edwin Guilford felt was the inescapable pressure of Casey's iron grip.
That said, the Colonel isn't actually relevant to this story.
HIDDEN FILE RECOVERY
Second Lieutenant John Casey (USMC) sat outside the small bungalow house he begrudgingly called home, nursing a beer and faintly growling as he skimmed over a recent batch of reports.
After the dust settled following the debacle in Los Angeles - and in the wake of the ensuing Congressional witch-hunt - the Pentagon had bust him all the way down to the bottom of the food chain and banished him to the deepest, darkest hole they could find; the Naval Computer Transmission/Telecommunications Area Master Intercept Station Central Detachment located at 3800 feet ASL and about 16 miles south of Great Falls, Montana.
On paper, the strategic purpose of the NCTTAMIS-CENT-DET (or "Nactattamiscentdett" if you were in a hurry) was the detection and tracking of signals between potential domestic terrorist elements through the interception and investigation of transmissions in the localized area. In reality, Casey and a team of perpetually terrified technicians sat in a small concrete room listening to truckers on the Interstate compare truck stop waitresses over their CB radios and recording them for posterity - for eleven hours a day.
The nearest sign of civilization was the town of Eden, though to call it a town was impossibly generous. Comprised of only eleven buildings – seventeen, if you counted garden sheds – and home to exactly one family, it would be more accurate to describe Eden as a decent-sized farm. The official reasoning for its placement was to avoid interference by Air Traffic Control signals from nearby Malmstrom Air Force Base. In truth, it was because the base command element regarded the intercept station as a spectacular waste of taxpayer money and deigned to push it as far from their sight as the Pentagon would allow.
Since his arrival, he had not shown himself to be a particularly friendly man. In fact, he had quickly proven to be the bane of every poor soul under his command. He was well-aware of how most base personnel regarded the DCS station – as a useless waste of time and money - and there had been a time when they rarely missed an opportunity to voice this opinion out loud. But since Casey's arrival - and although he privately agreed with them – he'd made a point of coming down hard on anyone he heard making any derogatory remarks about the DCS. So much so, in fact, that he'd recently caught wind of a rumor that he'd actually killed Colonel Guilford for speaking ill of the DCS.
Depending on who you asked, he'd either beat the Colonel to death or choked the life out of him with pure focused rage. Regardless, he'd been particularly satisfied with the fearsome reputation it had earned him. Life was always easier when everyone was just a little bit afraid of you, and so he had deliberately done nothing to confirm or deny the allegation.
The truth was that he'd been in the Officer's Club when he overheard the Colonel making some untoward comments about the men under his command. Although John Casey might not have shown his men much in the way of warmth, friendliness or mercy, they were still his men. He had marched over, intent on firmly reminding the Colonel that that kind of talk was highly inappropriate for a senior officer, when the man began to choke on a damn bar nut. Immediately forgetting his grievance, Casey had leaped forward and performed the Heimlich Manoeuver, likely saving the man's life.
Guilford had lost consciousness during the ordeal, been transported to the base hospital, and diagnosed with two cracked ribs (for which Casey had duly apologized) and a slightly bruised ego. Casey had volunteered to drive him home, and they'd gotten to talking on the way. Casey had mentioned the comments made in the bar (for which Guilford had duly apologized) and the Colonel had mentioned his thoughts on retirement.
Even he'd been surprised when he agreed with Guilford's assessment, agreeing that giving such serious thought to leaving the military probably meant that it was time to do so. Guilford had put in his release papers two days later, been granted an immediate Honorable Discharge from the Air Force and moved to Florida with his wife.
As a result, John could now go entire days without being spoken to or even looked at directly, which was fantastic.
What wasn't fantastic was the thought the former Colonel had planted in John's mind. The idea that maybe it was time to return to civilian life, if for no other reason than the fact that military service had very little left to offer him. He knew that he could kiss every ass from here to Washington and he'd never get promoted as high as Captain again or be involved in any operation of any importance. All he could hope for was to spend the remainder of his career drowning in mediocrity; was it really worth spending the next twenty years that way?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the gravel path that meandered through the officer's housing. Nobody ever used that path, so annoying was the sound it made. Those footfalls either meant that whoever was approaching was either ignorant, or they wanted him to know they were coming. Both pointed to some idiot boot caught between the fear of not completing whatever asinine task had brought him here and the fear of being beaten to death by 'Casey the Colonel-Killer'.
Finishing off the last of his beer, he rose from his seat and prepared to tear a strip off whoever saw fit to bother him in his off-duty hours. Then he caught sight of his visitor, and the words died in his throat.
"Hey Casey, how've you been?"
Slowly, John's entire universe collapsed down to a single point in front of him.
"So... err... Montana seems to have nice weather."
As his eye began to twitch, John Casey quite rationally decided to knock Chuck Bartowski's skull into the next state.
"Easy now, Casey." The younger man backed away, hands held up. "Deep breaths, nice and calm."
"I am calm, Bartowski. Don't I seem calm?" Casey growled, flexing his hands menacingly. "You'll see. I'm going to calmly beat you to death. Then I'm going to calmly mail you to eight different states."
As he advanced on Chuck, his foot caught the leg of his small table and spilled its contents across the ground. Reflexively, Chuck's gaze fell to the scattered government paperwork. His eyes widened fearfully as the flash began to take hold. "Oh shi-"
Taken off guard, the battle-hardened marine stumbled back from the agonized scream that followed. The younger man fell to his knees, clutching his head in pain; he didn't even have the opportunity to catch his breath before he was retching his lunch all over the grass. He remained on the ground for several minutes, balanced unsteadily on hands and knees as he continued to dry-heave. When it seemed apparent that nothing was left to come up, he let himself fall back to sit on the grass. Shakily lifting his hands, he pushed the ball cap he was wearing off as he clutched his head in pain. His ridiculous haircut was gone, replaced by what looked like a self-administered buzz cut that did nothing to hide the scar that ran nearly the entire length of his skull.
As the haze of anger cleared from his vision, Casey suddenly noticed how bad Bartowski looked. He knew injuries – he'd certainly earned his share over the years – and there was no question that the impressive scar was very recent. Although the wound had been stitched up professionally, it had obviously been a rush job. The tremors in the kid's hands, the way his clothes looked like they were hanging off him, and his sunken cheeks all spoke of a man who hadn't had a proper meal in weeks.
"I'm sorry." Chuck finally croaked, pressing his palms to his eyes. "That... that happens sometimes."
Sighing, Casey reached down and hauled Chuck to his feet.
"Get in the goddamn house, moron." He growled, ignoring the look of fear in the young man's eyes. "The last thing I need is you dying on my damn lawn."
End Part 1