Disclaimer: Chuck is likely to be eaten by a Grue and isn't owned by me.
Real Life 20: Meanwhile, Back at the Lab.
Chuck awoke hot and uncomfortable. It wasn't an unusual sensation. When they'd first started living together Sarah would go to sleep on her own side of the bed and somehow over the course of the night end up curled around him. It wasn't something he complained about. Having the hottest woman you've ever known pressed up against you wasn't exactly the sort of thing that needed to be complained about. However, in recent weeks since they'd started clicking better out of bed, Sarah had given up the pretense of unintentional cuddling.
When she came to bed in the wee hours of the morning she generally just collapsed on top of him. Again, not something he was prepared to complain about, but it was quite warm sleeping under another person and he almost always woke up with either an arm or a leg asleep and frequently part of his anatomy showing very little discretion. He really hoped that Sarah didn't mind, because there was little if anything he could do about it.
Today was a big day. Today they were taking the bus together and walking into the NSA together and saying goodbye in front of the crew. It wasn't actually that big of a deal and Chuck didn't know why he felt such anticipation. Just one less thing to lie about he guessed.
Chuck took his knuckles and brushed them along Sarah's cheek. He'd found over the last week or so, that she was much less grumpy when woken gently and with the proper motivation. He supposed that was his job in this relationship, to find things that made Sarah happy.
Her eyelids flickered and her lips curled into a smile. Chuck could only barely see as her head was using his shoulder for a pillow. .
"Time to get up already?" Sarah mumbled.
"Sorry," Chuck replied.
"Don't be sorry," she sighed.
Chuck worked his arm out from underneath Sarah and started brushing his hand up and down her tank top towards the small of her back. Then, rather impertinently, he slipped his hand underneath and brushed against her soft skin.
Chuck worked his arm up as far as his elbow could bend with Sarah making small contented noises against his shoulder.
"Oh, don't stop," Sarah whined.
"Time for work, Sweetie."
"I'm trying it out," Chuck replied.
"Okay, but the alarm hasn't even…" Sarah's complaint was interrupted by the wail of the Police's Roxanne blaring from the clock radio. "Damn."
They disentangled for a moment to shut off the alarm. Sarah usually went straight into the bathroom after that, but today, she flopped back down and propped her head on her elbow.
"Hi," Chuck said.
"Hi," Sarah grinned.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Oh?" Chuck raised an eyebrow. At least he hoped it was only one, he'd been practicing.
"Yeah, look, Derrick's cooperating and based on a tip he gave us, we acquired something."
"Yeah, it is. We captured a phone, unfortunately the agent it belongs to escaped."
"I know, but we have one of their phones and we think it might be a big deal on figuring out how Fulcrum communicates without anyone ever picking up their communications."
"Okaaay?" He was at a loss for why they needed to talk about his now.
"Well I submitted to phone to the NSA for analysis, but I left very specific instructions on who was to work on it. It's coming to you."
"Ah," Chuck nodded. "Um why?"
"The phone has some weird encryption on it. Derrick helped develop it, but they've changed it somehow and he's not quite sure how to break it. He has notes, but apparently they modified the encryption algorithm he used after he gave it to them. He's not sure what they did, but Chuck, if we can crack their encryption, we could possibly listen to their communications!"
"Okay, sure," Chuck nodded along. "But why me? Wouldn't Derrick be the best person to break the encryption?"
"Possibly, yes." Sarah agreed. "But Director Arvil isn't going to let him. He's still under indictment for several crimes including treason. It's sealed right now, but unless information Derrick provides leads to the direct capture of significant Fulcrum operatives, they're going to push forward with the case. Derrick's not going to be touching a phone anytime soon."
Chuck ran his fingers through his hair. "So why me? I'm like the least senior member of my department."
"Because," Sarah smiled. "You're brilliant and you're the only one I trust with something this important."
Sarah's expression was so innocent and honest, that her compliment was almost too big for him. He was intelligent, he'd been able to get himself through Stanford, but Sarah went to Harvard, she certainly wasn't a slouch in the brains department. Rather, it was because he was the only one she trusted with something this important. That was…
Chuck was momentarily distracted when Sarah slithered up his body and kissed him.
"What was that for?"
"You're so cute, when you have that momentary doubt right before you get the burst of inspiration that lets you solve the problem. I love that."
Chuck blinked. Loves. She loves that. Granted she hadn't said that she loved him. Just that she loved that thing about him. He glanced back at her face and she was giving him the grin of a serious troublemaker.
Then she was gone.
"We're late!" She yelled. "Race you to the front door!"
Chuck was so preoccupied by their previous conversation that he'd forgotten that they were going to work together. Sarah sat down beside him on the bus and breathlessly said. "Hi Chuck, how are you this morning?"
The other passengers on the bus watched them for a moment as they exchanged idle chit-chat, but lost interest soon enough in what they were saying.
They talked about the weather and the book Sarah always read on the way to work. It was trash she admitted, but she loved love stories. Chuck filed this away to find out if it was really true or not. Chuck asked her if she'd seen any good movies lately and she lamented that she hadn't been to a movie in ages.
She countered to Chuck with the same question and he lamented since moving to Maryland he hadn't had a chance see any movies and he didn't really know anybody to go with. Going to the movies by yourself was kind of depressing.
"Oh," Sarah said. "Maybe I could go with you?"
"Really?" Chuck asked.
"Sure, I have some time this weekend." Sarah assured him.
Chuck wasn't sure if this was real time, or if they were still just play acting. "Like on Saturday?"
Sarah pulled a disgruntled face. "No Saturday's no good. I might have to work. But I'm free on Sunday!"
"Really?" Chuck asked.
Sarah nodded in reply.
"Do you maybe want to go catch a movie on Sunday? "
"Sure! It's a date!" Sarah agreed.
Just like that NSA Chuck and CIA Sarah had their first official cover date.
There was a business man who always rode the bus with them that routinely got off two stops before them. When Chuck looked up from this exchange he noticed that the man was staring at him in disbelief. His mouth hung open and he glanced from Chuck to Sarah as if he couldn't believe what just happened. They passed his stop and in his stupor the man didn't so much as glance at the exit. In fact he was still sitting there shaking his head as Chuck and Sarah excited the bus and started walking to NSA building.
Walking alongside Sarah in the NSA was a completely different experience than his normal schlep from the bus stop. Chuck was rarely noticed as he wound his way through the building most days. Walking alongside Sarah and chatting idly EVERYONE noticed. It was as if he'd suddenly grown two heads.
It wasn't like he'd never experienced the phenomenon before, but it had been several months and he'd forgotten what it felt like.
"Well, have a good day," Sarah said as she left him by his cube.
"You too, see you tonight?" Chuck asked. "You know, on the return bus?"
Sarah smiled brilliantly at him. "Sure, see you tonight!"
Chuck turned back towards the cubicles to find heads poking up from about half of them, watching Chuck say goodbye to Sarah.
"Nice!" Simon cheered as Chuck walked back towards his cubicle.
"Wait until Van hears about this." Richard shook his head. "She's going to flip her lid."
Van, notorious for being the last member of the team to her cube in the morning would just have to wait, Chuck smiled.
"Chuck can you step into my office for a minute?"
Chuck wasn't exactly surprised by the request. He'd been expecting it since this morning. It still felt a little unnerving having his boss call him into his office. He'd not stepped foot in there since his first day.
"Sure, Tom," Chuck replied. He followed Tom back to his office and was a bit surprised to see Van sitting in one of the two chairs on the 'visitor' side of Tom's desk. She was smiling and as Chuck slipped into the other seat she gave him a wink.
"So, Chuck," Tom began, "You've been doing a great job for Michael up here. He says you really have an eye for helping make code efficient. So now that you've gotten your feet wet, I was thinking about letting you tackle a new project. How's that sound?"
"Uh, sure," Chuck replied. He was making it sound like, Chuck had passed some sort of test, but Chuck knew for a fact that Sarah had specifically asked for him to work on the project. It sounded kind of odd spun that way and Chuck was confused as to why Van would be here for this conversation.
"Great!" Tom smiled. "Well, I've just gotten a new assignment for our group and I want you to work on it. " Tom beamed at Chuck, as if Chuck should take this as a great promotion. Chuck glanced uncertainly at Van.
Tom finally deciding he wasn't going to get an excited reaction from Chuck continued. "You're going to be the project lead, but this is an important project and I didn't want to just throw you to the wolves the first time out. Van, here has agreed to help you with the project and show you the ropes when it comes to project management. Plus she has a lot of experience with cell phone encryption, so I think she can really help you when it comes to breaking the encryption on this." Tom pulled a large locked box out from under his desk.
"I haven't seen it yet, but it's supposed to be pretty cool. The boys in tech only got to look at it for a few minutes before they sent it up here to be decrypted. They're anxious to get their hands on it when you've broken the decryption. Might even let you play with it a little once they figure out how it works," Tom said encouragingly.
"Uh thanks," Tom passed the box over to him. The box was marked Confidential: Level Three:ONLY. Chuck glanced down at his badge which showed his security clearance to be level two.
"Oh, right," Tom shook his head and then fished around in his desk for a moment. He passed Chuck a new badge. It declared him Charles Carmichael, Security Clearance Level Three. Vanessa held up her badge to show that they matched.
"Cool huh?" she said.
"You'll be working in the lab for the duration of the project," Tom explained. "Can't have any extraneous eyes getting on this." He passed the box to Chuck and gave the key to Vanessa.
"You know the rules, Vanessa. Good luck, I look forward to your first progress report!" Tom waved them off and Chuck followed Vanessa down the hallway. They eventually got to a steel door marked "2" and Vanessa scanned her badge at the door and put her finger on a pad.
"You have to do it too," she said.
She took her finger off the pad and the sign above the door changed from a green:Open to a red:Restricted.
"Pretty cool, huh?" Van said as she pressed the locked code on the door. "Now we're the only two people in the whole world that can get in here. She smirked at him. "Whatever will we get up to?"
She propped the door open with her back and led Chuck inside. It was a bit like the cage at the Buy More, except everything was spotlessly clean and every tool appeared to brand new.
Vanessa smiled. "Behind this wall," she ran her fingers across a gleaming white wall, "Is a Cray CX1000 and it's ours…all ours, until the end of the project." She was practically purring by the end of her explanation.
"Wow…" was all Chuck could say. He was left in a state of shock and awe by what he was faced with.
Vanessa showed him around the rest of the lab, including the safe where their subject equipment was to be locked whenever the door to the lab was opened. It was all very super secretive and Chuck had to admit he was a little surprised that this facility was just down the hall from his cubicle. He'd had no idea. Did everyone else in the cube know about this facility? What other things secrets were hidden in this building?
"Shall we take a look at our project?" Vanessa asked.
Chuck put the box on the work bench and Van used the key Tom had given her to unlock the box. Van picked up the odd looking device and poked at it for a bit. It turned on briefly when she attempted to press what appeared to be the power button, but then a message popped up that said access denied and it shut back down.
Van gave it a pouty frown. "I don't think it likes me."
Vanessa's knowledge of cell phones proved extensive. Chuck had worked on hundreds of different models in his time at the Nerd Herd, but Vanessa had disassembled the phone practically down to just the circuit board in about two and half minutes. The display was still attached but off to the side, the various keys were still connected, but Van had a volt meter hooked up to the wires leading to the keys and various connectors tied across different wires. In almost no time they were getting little bits of code flitting by, but it all looked like gibberish.
"Well there's the task, boss," she said. "How do you want to break it?"
Chuck had initially been somewhat annoyed that Tom had assigned Van to the project. From talking to Sarah that morning it was just supposed to be him working on this, but he had to admit, there was no way he'd have broken into the substructure of the phone that quickly. He was impressed to say the least.
"Um, I don't know," Chuck admitted. He was actually quite glad Van was here to help him on this, it wouldn't do to not know what was going on his first time out. "Let me take a look."
Chuck got out a huge magnifying lens that swung out over the work table and started examining the circuit board.
"That's a huge processor," Van commented at Chuck poked at the different parts of the phone's circuitry.
"There's no video screen or fancy graphics, but that looks like a GPU, what do you suppose it's for?" Van asked.
Chuck had seen the innards of hundreds of phones during his time at the Buy More, but this phone confused him.
Van was looking at the battery. "How do you suppose they powered it? This doesn't look big enough to run a processor that size."
Chuck had to admit he didn't know. "Think of the heat this must put off… This phone would burn your ear off."
"Depends on the voltage I guess, they could step it down."
"Then why use the giant processor…there had to be a better way."
Van started clipping wires to the contacts. "Well thankfully, we're not here to fix the design, we just get to figure out how to break into it." She turned and gave him a devilish smile.
Chuck had to admit that it had sounded like fun, a couple hours before. Now it seemed kind of tedious. After they'd gotten the contacts connected, they'd set a computer program up to probe different inputs to the device. It was just cycling through to see what kind of a response it was getting and then collecting the output.
That left a lot of time to talk, which Van clearly enjoyed. They talked about a lot of things. Her trip to Comicon the previous year, their competitions as high school matheletes, which was better, Star Trek original or The Next Generation (obviously original). Van was easy to talk to once you got past the flirting, in fact, once alone she seemed slightly disarmed which was a project could take weeks and it would have been a major pain if she'd been flirting the entire time.
Chuck didn't realize how late it had gotten until a noisy buzz permeated the room. They looked up to the monitor that showed who was outside the door and Chuck saw Sarah standing there. "Oh crap," he said checking his watch and realizing it was thirty minutes after they were supposed to leave.
"What's she doing here?" Van asked somewhat acidly.
"I was supposed to meet up with her, we're taking the bus back together," Chuck replied.
Chuck couldn't quite reconcile the anger on Van's face. Why was she so upset? Chuck went to open the door, but Van stopped him. "You can't open the door when this is out of the safe." Van pointed to the phone they'd disassembled.
"Oh crap, right."
"There's an intercom next to the door, just tell her I'll give you a ride home," Van suggested.
Chuck pressed the button on the intercom. "Hey, Sarah, just a sec, I'll be right out." Turning back to Van he said. "Why don't we call it a day?"
"But we're making good progress," Van argued.
"The test cycle still has hours, we can start it again tomorrow."
"But…" Van started.
"We're not going to finish it in a day, so let's just not burn ourselves out."
Van huffed, but she started disconnecting the equipment. "I thought I told you to stay away from her."
Chuck rolled his eyes. "She's not like you think."
Van glared at him. "She's exactly like I think, trust me."
"Really," Chuck shook his head. "We're friends. We're going to see a movie this weekend."
This time Van's glare could have melted metal. "You're dating her?"
For the first time, Chuck began to feel a bit hot under the collar. "Well…" Chuck hedged.
"Men," Van grumbled. "I can't believe after what I told you, you'd just go and ask her out anyway. She's dangerous, Chuck."
"Van, relax, it's fine."
Van didn't speak to him while she packed up the lab. Chuck tried to help out but by the way he was rebuffed, he was better off standing out of her way.
When she sealed the phone in the safe she said. "We need a code." Her voice was still frosty.
"For the safe?"
Chuck grunted at the attitude, but decided to make a piece offering. "How about NCC-1701?"
This got a brief smile from Van. "Told you the original was better." She punched the code into safe and locked it.
The button to release the door lit up and Chuck opened it.
Sarah was waiting for him on the other side, all smiles. "We're still riding the bus together?" she asked.
"Yeah, of course." Then, as a means of apology: "We lost track of time."
Sarah's eyes narrowed as she looked behind him into the lab. Van brushed passed both of them, without even glancing at Sarah. "See you tomorrow, Chuck," she called. "Enjoy your bus ride."
When Van walked far enough to be out of earshot Sarah turned towards him. "What the hell is she doing in here?"
They were in the car on the way home before Chuck really got a chance to explain.
"What part of secret, your eyes only, do they not understand?" Sarah fumed.
"Tom didn't think it was a good idea for me to go solo on my first project lead."
"I don't care what he thinks, this is a matter of national security, he works for the National Security Administration, does he not understand National Security?"
Chuck was too afraid to hedge a response but the tension from the silence was even worse.
"He does, it was impressed upon him how important this was, so he didn't want to have his least experienced person working on it alone."
Sarah huffed again.
"Look, she knows a lot about cell phones and she's been a huge help already. This is good; the two of us will make much better progress on this than we would alone."
"She's not interested in the project, Chuck."
"That's not fair. She worked really hard today and she took her work very seriously."
Sarah took her eyes off the road. "I can't believe you want her on this, when you know what she's really after."
Chuck rolled his eyes, which was a mistake because Sarah caught him. She glared at him. "Look, I know she likes to flirt and all, but it's not just with me. Even if she is interested, you don't have anything to worry about."
"Right," Sarah said sarcastically.
"Do you think so little of me?" Chuck asked.
"No," Sarah shook her head. Her anger instantly defused. "Of course not, but that doesn't mean I trust Vanessa Thompson."
They'd rolled to a stop in front of the house and Chuck knew Sarah needed to get to the FBI, but he didn't really want to leave it like this.
"You're the one I want. The only one." Chuck tried to assure her.
Sarah nodded half heartedly and Chuck knew she didn't really believe him. He didn't know what else to say however.
"Are we really going to movie on Sunday?" Chuck asked.
"I've got the day off," Sarah shrugged. "We'll do whatever you want to do."
"A movie sounds great. Will I see you tonight?"
"I'll try," Sarah replied sadly.
"Okay… I'll see you soon."
Sarah kissed him goodbye, but she was shaking her head as she pulled away in the car. Chuck didn't know what else he could say to reassure her. Van was pretty and she was nice, but she wasn't Sarah.
A/N: You should all thank Malamoo for this update. She got this back to me on Sunday despite being exhausted and sunburned. If she hadn't you all would have had to wait until next week. So yeah…there.