This is the story version of the three-episode arc I wrote with "Chuck vs. the Fighting Illini," "Chuck vs. The Knack," and "Chuck vs. the Three Rooms." The events in this story take place in Season 3. A few guesses are taken with regards to the Chuck universe, including the return of Morgan and Anna, Chuck retaining the new Intersect, and Chuck and Sarah finally admitting their feelings for each other. (about time, right?)
I hope you like it, and please feel free to comment.
October 22, 1990
11:15 AM CDT
It was a typical chilly Saturday in Champaign, IL. The cool temperatures of fall made their traditional early visit to the heartland. Somehow, it wouldn't be appropriate to play football in this part of the country at any temperature above 70 degrees. The team was supposed to be good this year. They had a new quarterback, and the defense was one of the best in the Big Ten. This 3rd year coach, John Mackovic, seemed to be the answer the team was looking for. Expectations were high against a ranked opponent. The fans filing in for this early game, courtesy of a national television broadcast, felt the excitement. At least the ones who weren't still hung over from the Friday night parties.
Of the 65,000 people in Memorial Stadium, Jimmy Slade cared about the game the least. Making it through the day alive had a slightly higher priority.
In a way, the events of the past 48 hours shouldn't have surprised him. Jimmy was used to things going wrong. He couldn't even get people to call him "Jim" or "James," thanks to that damn Osmonds variety show back in the 70's. He was the kid that everybody picked on. Every school had one of those, and Shermer Township School District 262 had Jimmy in the role. One would not have expected the son of an NFL player to be the target of ridicule and scorn. 99 times out of 100, having a dad in the NFL added some caché to your existence. But it would seem that getting the holding penalty that prevented the winning touchdown in the NFC Championship qualified you for the 1 time out of 100.
Playing off of his father's originally-intimidating moniker of "Mad Dog" Slade, Jimmy quickly became known as "Bad Dog." This probably would have qualified him for therapy alone without constantly getting smacked in the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Or having students grab you by the neck and sticking your face in dog crap. And if the girls treated him this bad, one could imagine what the boys did.
Compared to now, however, Jimmy would gladly eat that dog crap with a knife and fork made of sterling silver. He'd even spring for a bottle of Merlot.
There was still no way to know what happened. He regained consciousness, as far as he knew, about four hours ago. He came around in a train wreck of a room he barely recognized. Looking at his hands and wrists, there were cut marks all over them of varying sizes and degrees, as if he was cut by different sizes of broken glass. Some of them looked like knife wounds. He was having a hard time trying to put the pieces together.
There was something even more wrong than cut marks or a lack of memory. Something kept happening at random times, something he couldn't control. Something that caused him severe pain. The general parameters were the same each time. He would see a series of images, typically 2 or 3. He would see information about different people or locations. People or locations that were featured in the news over the years, usually not in a positive light. As the images went through his mind, he felt searing pain. It knocked him off balance; it forced him to shut his eyes to cope with it.
He wasn't sure why this is happening. What happened in the National Center for Supercomputing Applications seemed innocent enough at the outset. A group of students were told the NCSA was experimenting in making teaching techniques more efficient. It sounded good to him, especially when he was told he had high scores from the initial testing. It was the only thing in his life that he could take pride in: testing well, especially in mathematics and science. Test scores never cared if you're fat, lonely, or sad. The highlight of his high school career was scoring a 33 on the ACT tests. He never bothered attending his graduation, and not a single girl in school would even go near him, much less show any interest.
He went into the second part of the experiment with an optimism he hadn't felt in a long time. He remembered the initial written tests being of a highly technical nature. There were questions on physics, calculus, statistical analysis, chemistry, and algorithm development. There were also several essay questions that had to be written based on articles they gave him, but he wasn't nearly as proud of those. He was a math person, not an English or Literature person.
The second part of the experiment was nothing that he expected. He walked into that room with a single chair. The other 9 students were not in the room. All he saw was a large projector screen and the female student who had accompanied the group through the first part of the tests. He noticed the student had made up her mind about Jimmy after 5 seconds, constantly looking at him like he was something she scraped off the bottom of her shoe. Not that this was new to Jimmy; women had a habit of looking at him like he was the scum of the earth.
She walked out of the room, turning out the lights as she did so. On the projector screen, he saw pictures. They were common everyday items: buildings, flowers, pets, people, locations, events in history. For some reason, he couldn't move his eyes away: it's possible he didn't blink when he needed to. The images had an almost hypnotic effect. The speed by which the images flickered by increased as time went on. Something in his mind screamed a warning his body chose to ignore. He couldn't look away, no matter what he tried. It felt like his blood pressure rose 100 points. Suddenly he collapsed, falling out of the lone chair in the room. He was still uncertain when exactly that happened.
After he came to, something in his mind told him to disappear, to run away. He bounded out of the NCSA, kicking, punching, and throwing anybody that attempted to stop him. He ran through the Illini Union, across the quad, and he kept running south. He stopped behind the Education building to catch his breath. He could hear the noise from Memorial Stadium 4 blocks away. He had planned to go to the game originally; he had been raised in a football household, after all. He headed towards the stadium. For reasons he could not explain, he had a feeling he was being followed. The streets weren't particularly crowded where he was, since most people were already at the stadium for the game. Still, he felt like someone was behind him. He quickened his pace as he headed for the stadium.
Behind Jimmy, two figures were giving pursuit without making an ostentatious showing of it. They couldn't send a SWAT team after him, since they were trying to keep their interest in Jimmy to a bare minimum to outsiders. The direction they were heading led them to believe that Jimmy might try to lose himself in the crowd at Memorial Stadium. They already had someone staked out by Jimmy's seat at the game, but the veteran agent already concluded Jimmy wouldn't be that stupid. They'd have to do this the hard way.
Jimmy was already dressed for the occasion with a blue ILLINOIS sweater on. After entering the stadium, he made a beeline to the nearest souvenir stand and purchased a hat. He was hoping to make himself less conspicuous. Of course, being 60 pounds overweight would not help accomplish this. Damn cafeteria food and alcohol, anyway. He darted through the crowd, bumping into the occasional person. He was trying to put some distance between himself and the people he was now certain are behind him, even though he never looked. He ducked behind a post and looked back. He noticed two men in their mid-40's heading in his direction. He focused on the taller one. He felt another flash coming on. He saw images of a restaurant and a group of dogs, and then saw a CIA file of the man who was pursuing him. There was a focus on a line in the file that indicated this man was supposed to be dead, killed aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The pain hit him hard.
Jimmy was almost in tears from the pain. Part of it was physical, part of it psychological. He couldn't control what was happening. Now it had happened for the 7th time since he awoke. Four times he was looking at something when it happened, twice he heard something, and once he detected a smell he never encountered before. All of them ended with the same results, the same pain. The pain was bad enough, but not being able to control it or stop it took an even greater toll on his psyche. As an extra added bonus, something just occurred to him: someone WAS following him.
Jimmy started looking around for an exit. He spotted a door near one of the concession stands. He ducked inside, hoping there was a service exit out of the stadium. However, the only other door led back to the concourse 10 yards further down. Jimmy was breathing heavily, partly from exhaustion, partly from fear. He walked to the other door while surveying his options. He saw a tunnel across the concourse leading down. Looking down the tunnel, he could make out the I in "Illinois" painted on the Astro-Turf in the end zone. He looked back into the crowd. The man he spotted earlier and his partner were about 15 yards away. He decided to chance it and darted for the tunnel.
The downward angle of the tunnel accelerated him. He leaped over the short brick wall and past a surprised Champaign Police officer. Jimmy figured running on the field itself was a lot easier than ducking people on the concourse. He sprinted down the sideline behind the Michigan State bench. People were more surprised than anything else. Fortunately for Jimmy, nobody on the Spartans made any attempt to stop him; few of them even turned their attention away from the game. Jimmy stayed along the sidelines, hoping not to attract any more attention than he already was. When he hit the other end zone, he made a sharp turn, ducking in the middle of the Illinois marching band. Weaving through them, he ended up in the tunnel behind the end zone. He spotted a ramp leading to the upper levels. His only other option was a gate, but he would have to get around a dozen security guards and 4 police officers. He chose the path of least resistance and ascended to the upper deck.
Jimmy was winded as he made it to the top of the stadium. He was in the corner section all alone. He stopped to catch up on his breathing. Maybe he eluded the men following him. Maybe he could escape, head to the Greyhound station, and take a bus to any destination far away from here. Maybe he would have time to figure out what the hell was happening to him.
The appearance of the two agents a minute later answered all of those maybes in one fell swoop. How? How did they find me?
Jimmy didn't know if they carried guns or not. Perhaps they wouldn't have drawn them in the middle of the crowd. But the fact there was not a soul around ended that argument. The two agents stepped slowly towards Jimmy with their weapons out.
The shorter agent spoke first. "Come on, Jimmy. We don't have to do this. Let's bring you back and see what we can do to help you."
Jimmy started to back up. Considering what happened to him, he was not in a position where he was willing to take this man at his word. Especially a man he never met before that knew his name. He backed up against the brick wall. Jimmy was running out of real estate.
The tall agent who somehow survived Pan Am Flight 103 sounded a little more menacing. "You know we can't let you go. Just come back and you'll be fine."
Jimmy had never been more scared in his life. He was physically exhausted, his mind was no longer under his control, and there were people with guns after him. In the back of his mind, he started to think that he'd be better off if the two men just shot him and ended this now. That seemed to be a more palatable option than returning to the lab. He had a hard time believing they could fix something that went so horribly wrong. He looked around and saw an opening in the stadium to his left. At any other time, his mind might have registered that the opening wouldn't lead anyplace, except straight down to the concrete 10 stories beneath. He might have considered charging the two men and try another escape. He might have had more time to figure out what is happening to him.
None of those things happened. He rolled to his left, got up, and dived out of the opening.