Chuck Bartowski, Super Spy

Chapter 4: There's a Good Chance You're Going to Die Today

CAST (in order of appearance):
Lt. Colonel John Casey – Adam Baldwin
Sarah Walker – Yvonne Strahovski
Chuck Bartowski – Zachary Levi
Lt. Colonel Pat Bouton – Don Cheadle
Agent Michaels – Michael Cera
Agent Zimmer – Kristen Bell

March 28th, 2010
Fort Meade, Maryland

The reality was, Chuck Bartowski did not need John Casey present during the Congressional hearing for the Commerce Committee, any more than Casey needed Bartowski present during his quarterly dental exam. Both were painful for the man experiencing them, and the other had no need or desire to be involved.

As a result, Casey had decided that during Bartowski's testimony before the Commerce Committee, he would leave the younger man in Sarah Walker's capable hands, and depart Washington for a little while. "Where are you going to be?" Sarah had wanted to know as he was departing.

"Fort Meade," Casey replied. "Gonna catch up with some of the old folks."

Chuck had laughed at that. "John Casey's getting nostalgic," he teased. "Far too amusing."

Casey had replied with grunt #2, variant c - Shut your mouth Bartowski, modified by, Unless you want to be nostalgic for your teeth.

And so Chuck had shut up, and Casey had departed for Fort Meade in a borrowed government car. And truthfully, Casey found that he missed driving around the DC area in a crappy lowest-bidder government contract car. As much as he hated to admit that Bartowski was right, he DID have a certain sense of nostalgia for the days when he worked at NSA headquarters.

"Colonel Casey!" the Army SFC at the guard shack onto the base exclaimed when he pulled up. "Long time, no see, sir!"

"Tell me about it," Casey replied, turning over his ID for verification. "Two and a half years now."

"Aw, can't be ALL bad, sir," the sergeant said. "It IS Southern California."

Casey sighed as his ID was returned. "My point exactly."

With the sergeant satisfied that Casey was who he said he was, he was allowed onto the base, where he had to pass through a veritable maze of K-rails before he was back on an open street again. "Obnoxious, but necessary, I guess," Casey grumbled. It would certainly make a charging terrorist think twice.

Upon reaching the parking garage for the special operations department, Casey pulled onto the first level, made two lefts -

And there it was. "MAJOR JOHN CASEY," the sign in front of the parking spot said. "Gotta get them to update that," Casey muttered to himself. Made sense that they hadn't – after all, he hadn't worked at Fort Meade on a regular basis since 2007.

Casey parked and locked the government car, then headed for the elevator that would take him into the facility. One thumbprint and two voice scans later, he exited the elevator on the floor he knew quite well -

"JOHN MOTHEREFFIN' CASEY!" he heard as soon as he stepped off the elevator – and the pronouncement was followed by a thunderous round of applause.

Casey looked for the party responsible for the rather unorthodox announcement, and quickly picked out Major Patrick Bouton – no, it looked like Pat Bouton was ALSO now a Lieutenant Colonel – albeit an Army one, which Casey always looked down on a little bit.

"Ladies and gentlemen, all hail the mighty conqueror of Fulcrum!" Colonel Bouton proclaimed as he crossed the room toward Casey, generating another round of applause from the analysts on the floor. "Much as I hate to say it about a Marine, the man is a testament to the NSA and the United States military!"

"Pat, how ya doin'," Casey greeted his old colleague, smiling as he shook the other man's hand. "Been a while since Beirut, huh?"

"Heh," Bouton chuckled. "Beirut, and Serbia, and Johannesburg... you know."

Casey nodded. "We're gettin' old, Pat," he said, with chagrined humor in his voice.

"Speak for yourself," Bouton shot back. "I plan to live forever, John."

"Well, aren't you special," Casey replied, heading toward his office. "And just how do you plan to accomplish that?"

Bouton grinned as Casey unlocked his office. "By keeping my happy ass right here in this building, John," he said. "And not running around Los Angeles with a CIA skirt."

Casey grunted as he walked into his dusty, long-unused office. "Eh, Walker's a good agent," he replied. "Damn good shot, knows her business."

As he flipped on the lights, he realized that Bouton had not followed him in, but rather, frozen outside his office. "What?" Casey asked, confused. "Was it something I said?"

"Yeah, actually," Bouton said. "Did you say Walker? As in SARAH Walker?"

"Uh, yes, I did," Casey replied. "Why? You know her?"

"You kidding?" Bouton shot back, entering Casey's office and shutting the door behind him. "Walker's a goddamn legend. And if you're working with her, that means -"

Casey's face turned to stone, cutting Bouton's voice off immediately. "Patrick, I don't know what you've heard, but I'm willing to bet it's above your paygrade," Casey growled.

Bouton put his hands up in surrender. "Casey, I've just heard that Sarah Walker's been babysitting the Human Intersect. I don't know any specifics, aside from his name being Carmichael."

"And that is ALL you need to know," Casey replied. "That mission is classified so deep that I'm rather surprised that you've heard anything about it."

"What can I say," Bouton answered. "When Fulcrum fell, a lot of information got into hands it shouldn't have been in. We spent the entire summer cleaning up their shit."

"Yeah, well, I can't say I'm sorry to have done that to you," Casey said. "We're better off without Fulcrum."

"Oh, no doubt," Bouton agreed. "They were terrorist scum."

Casey grunted in agreement. "Here's the thing, Casey. I mean, don't you realize you've made it? You're working with one of the most important projects the agency has to offer. You were part of the team that took down Fulcrum. You've really got everything going for you."

Casey frowned. "Yeah, except for the fact that I'm stuck in Los Angeles with a CIA skirt and a numbnuts amateur," he replied.

"See, that's not what I'm hearing," Bouton said. "Scuttlebutt has it that said numbnuts amateur – Carmichael – is actually a remarkably gifted asset, with the potential to be a hell of an agent."

"Well..." Casey sighed. "I guess you're right. It's just that I've known him since he really was a rank, numbnuts amateur who didn't know a Glock from a crock-pot, and that first impression is hard to shake."

Bouton was quiet for a moment, and then he spoke again. "You know, I probably shouldn't do this, but there's something I think you need to hear," he said quietly.

"What?" Casey asked.

"Come out here onto the floor with me," Bouton replied.

A confused look crossed Casey's face, but as his colleague stood and opened the door, curiosity got the best of Casey, and so he stood and followed Bouton out the door. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN," Bouton called. "I need everybody's attention for just a moment."

"Please raise your hand if you have some knowledge of the Human Intersect project," Bouton called. Instantly, the hand of each of the twenty-two analysts in the room went up.

"Well, THAT's comforting," Casey grumbled sarcastically.

Bouton ignored his crack. "Please leave your hand up if you would sacrifice half your paycheck to work on the Human Intersect project."

Each of the twenty-two hands stayed in the air. Casey's eyes widened. "What the hell..."

Bouton grinned, and pointed at an analyst sitting near him who Casey was pretty sure was barely old enough to shave. "Michaels, why do you want to work for the Human Intersect project?"

"Sir, because Sarah Walker is without question one of the best agents in the service of the United States government, sir!" Michaels barked.

"But that's not all, is it, Michaels?"

"No, sir! Agent Carmichael's reputation precedes him, sir! I have studied the Sasha Banacek and Missile Command missions at great length, in addition to the Cole Barker debacle, and without Agent Carmichael's actions in each case, the missions would've ended in disaster, with the likely loss of most if not all of the team."

"What on earth are you tal-" But John Casey cut himself short, as he thought over the missions in his head. Yeah, Bartowski had been the one who designed the entire trap to lure Banacek into custody. Yes, he had reached the kill screen on Missile Command. And yeah, without Bartowski, Cole Barker would've merrily led them all directly to hell.

"Alright, I'll give you those," Casey replied. "But -"

"But, sir, without him, Fulcrum never would've fallen!" another analyst replied, jumping up out of her chair.

"Ah, yes, Agent Zimmer," Pat Bouton said, a twinkle in his eye. "She has a bit of a crush on Agent Carmichael, and she doesn't even know what he looks like."

Zimmer's eyes went wide, and her face turned bright red, but she managed to (mostly) keep her composure. "Sir, was it not Agent Carmichael's plan that allowed the Intersect team to infiltrate Fulcrum headquarters in Studio City, California?"

"Yes, but he also allowed a Fulcrum agent to escape to God knows where."

"Sir, Jill Roberts did not pose a perceivable threat!" Agent Zimmer insisted. "I have analyzed the Fulcrum case from every imaginable angle, and it is my expert opinion that without Agent Carmichael, Fulcrum would still be very much alive and well!"

Casey scoffed. "Your expert opinion, Agent Zimmer?" he scoffed. "You're what, fourteen?"

"Uh, John," Bouton muttered. "Zimmer has a Ph.D in foreign policy from Georgetown."

Casey looked from Bouton to the waifish agent and back, a look of amazement on his face. "You're kidding."

Bouton just shook his head. "My apologies, Agent Zimmer," Casey said. "Far be it from me to question your credentials."

Shaking his head, Casey turned back to Bouton. "Does this all have a point, Pat?" he asked.

"Yeah," Bouton replied. "The point is that you've got a prime assignment. You've got a gig that any agent in the NSA would probably kill to get."

"Oh, that's comforting," Casey said dryly.

"You get the point, though," Bouton said. "The thing is, I really think that it being an interagency operation hampers it. Have we looked at bringing it solely under the auspices of the NSA?"

Casey shrugged. "It was considered after Langston Graham was killed, but the National Security Council chose to keep it as a joint NSA-CIA operation. Fact of the matter is, Walker keeps Carmichael in line, and there's no way she leaves the CIA for the NSA."

Bouton grinned as he headed back into Casey's office. "Have you asked her?"

Casey frowned. "What, if she'd transfer to the NSA? No. There's no way she would."

"Which you don't know until you ask," Bouton shot back as he closed the door once more. "Think about it, Casey. You get Walker to transfer to the NSA, this operation goes solely under the auspices of Fort Meade. It becomes more streamlined, more cost-effective, and you probably get more leeway to do what you want.

"But most of all, John," Bouton said, "think about how it would make you look. Your star with the NSA has been on the rise for a long time. This would just kick it into an even higher gear."

Casey looked at his old friend and colleague for a long minute before finally speaking. "Pat," he finally said, "you have no idea what's at work here. You don't know, those agents out there don't know. The House Select Committee for Intelligence doesn't know – hell, I'm pretty sure Carmichael himself doesn't even fully understand. The Pentagon is trying to take full control of this project. They think that time is being wasted with it being run the way it is right now."

He sighed. "But that's not all. When we took down Fulcrum, one of the agents we captured told us that Fulcrum was just part of a much larger organization called the Ring, about which we know precisely jack."

Bouton looked confused. "I've never heard of the Ring."

"My point exactly," Casey replied. "Y'all here at Fort Meade fantasize about joining the Human Intersect project, but I will tell you right now – it might be one of the most dangerous gigs in the national security business right now."

"Come on, Casey," Bouton said, shaking his head. "It can't be as bad as you're making it out to be."

Casey fell quiet. Bouton really had no idea. "You know, Pat," Casey finally said, "you say you want to live forever? My assignment is definitely not for you. You see..."

Casey paused, considering all the times what he was about to say had almost come true. "You see, every morning, when I wake up, I look in the mirror, and say to myself, 'John, there's a good chance you're going to die today.' That's the reality I face on a daily basis. Do you really think that Agent Michaels or Zimmer has what it takes to face that?"

Bouton didn't say anything, but rather shook his head and looked at the floor. "Yeah, that's kinda what I thought."