After two days with little sleep, Chuck was slow to wake. For a long time, there was only the sensation of swimming through a thick syrupy haze, a haze that grew lighter as he struggled back towards consciousness. Then, one by one, his senses came back online. First came hearing. A whisper in the background gradually grew into a muffled roar. Waterfall, his sleepy mind identified. There was a waterfall nearby. Why again?
Before he could solve that puzzle, he became uncomfortably aware of the stiffness in his muscles. The sensation made him want to shift positions, but his body felt constricted. Something pinned his upper arm and intertwined with his legs, making any movement difficult. His other hand quested for more information, and found it just in front of him. Warm. Soft.
His body demanded air, and as he drew a breath, he detected a light familiar scent. He inhaled again, more deeply this time, wanting to be filled by it. His expanding chest triggered movement against him, a stirring and a cute little noise accompanying a shifting of the weight against him.
His eyes opened to find Sarah's eyes smiling at him. He smiled back. Happy.
Chuck lay on his side, his upper arm providing a pillow for her head, his other hand resting on the smoothness of her hip. She tensed the arm wrapped around the small of his back, pressing their bodies closer in all kinds of interesting places. Before he could speak, she leaned her head over and kissed him.
Their lips separated. His eyes stayed closed a few extra seconds, savoring every facet of the kiss. The feeling of her skin against his overwhelmed him. Once more, his eyes opened to find Sarah's eyes smiling at him. He could get used to this.
He said, "I was about to say 'Good morning,' but I think I like your way better."
"Good morning, Chuck."
His heart swelled. The way she spoke was light-hearted and caring, a side of Sarah he'd seen all too rarely. Of course, under the covers was also a side of Sarah he'd never seen, except once when he had inadvertently stolen an illicit peek during a mission. He liked this way better, too.
She kissed him again, a bit more seriously this time. His breath caught, then quickened. Her playful mouth evoked memories of their night together, a prurient flurry of highlight clips running through his mind. Like last night, he let us his unconscious mind take over. His response was driven by instinct and fueled by passion.
And then, unbidden, the highlight reel froze on an image of Sarah pointing her gun at him. Even now, especially now, it made no sense. The image was a bucket of cold water. He slowed.
She pulled away, her eyes searching his. Words were tough. What did a guy say to his handler after he talked her out of shooting him, and they had instead ended up in bed together? It was hard to imagine anyone having a good answer. Even Dear Abby probably wouldn't have much to say.
Dear Nerdy in Niagara-
You'll need to seek professional help on this one.
Kindest regards, Abby
P.S.: Please don't write again.
Unable to come up with an appropriate comment, he folded his arms around her. That seemed to work well enough. The scratchy sheets rustled atop them as she rolled over and wriggled around, squirming until her back rested against his stomach. She arranged his arms around her to ensure he held her close. For a time, worries were set aside and all was right. He thought of nothing but having Sarah in his arms, at last, as he so often had hoped could happen, someday, somehow.
In the distance, the falls roared. While he had been with her, the noise had faded into the background as other senses had demanded his attention. Chuck was surprised that such a loud and constant sound could disappear from his conscious mind, only to be noticed again later, a reminder of realities that existed outside of their haven. Those realities could only be ignored for so long.
Early morning light crept in through the shabby curtains. His eyes wandered, examining the room's faded wallpaper and dated paintings. Their haven was hardly worry-free. Last night had been about the release of pent-up emotion and adrenaline, with few words and even less thought. But there were things that he and Sarah needed to discuss, things that had been tossed aside in the heat of the moment. They, too, could not be ignored for much longer.
Sarah wasn't immune to such thoughts. He detected signs of her growing tension – a tautening of muscles, a rough edge to a breath here and there. Not ready for their interlude to end, his forearm levered against the front of her body and pulled her closer so he could plant a line of kisses along the nape of her neck. A bit of her tension fled as she pressed back against his lips, arching her neck into yet another pleasing curve to be explored.
Still, he could no longer shut out the rumble of the waterfalls. Drops of water tumbled like grains of sand in an hourglass, a constant reminder that time was passing all too quickly. As much as he wanted to pretend they could keep lying there, he knew that they couldn't. And before they could leave, he needed some answers.
His soft voice cut through the din. "Listen, Sarah–"
"I know," she said. "We have some things to talk about."
"I don't like bringing it all up, after last night and everything. But I need to understand."
"No, you deserve to know. Besides, it might affect what we decide to do from here."
His defenses rose. Despite her inability to carry out the order, the fact that she could even make that choice confused and bothered him. Sarah had always been straight with him about the job coming first, but while that had hinted at potentially bad things, he never would have left the trail for her had he imagined there was any chance she would try to kill him.
Dear Abby was going to be sending him a cease-and-desist letter before all was said and done.
Chuck pulled back from her, leaving only his forearm loosely wrapped around her midsection. The covers tried to tug him back as she shifted in response. She drew her knees towards her chest and leaned towards him, seemingly inviting him to pull her close again. He declined the invitation. This wasn't a conversation he could have while holding her close. "Tell me about the order," he said.
She lay there, unresponsive. Her body rose and fell and rose again in time with her measured breaths. Just when he was starting to wonder if he was going to need to prompt her again, she stirred, slipping a hand under her pillow. She said, "After I found your message telling me where to find you, I picked up some things from my apartment and arranged for a plane to drop me at the airport just outside of town. I went dark the minute I left my apartment, but after I landed, I decided to take a chance and check my messages. I thought if there were some small things I could manage with Director Graham, it would seem less strange when I didn't check in for a while, and that could buy us some extra time. Instead, the kill order was waiting for me."
He gave her some time, thinking there had to be more than that. Her prolonged silence said differently. "And?" he prompted.
"And I came to find you."
Bile rose into the back of his throat. His tone became as bitter as the taste in his mouth. "That's it? Really? You got the order and you decided to kill me?"
"That's what you need to understand, Chuck. It was never my decision. When I became your handler, I became responsible for your safety. I also became responsible for cleaning up if things went bad."
"Seems that last part was omitted from my asset orientation sessions."
"We suspected assets would react badly if given that information."
He had to concede the point. "So from day one you knew there was a chance you might end up killing me."
"That's a possibility with any random person off the street."
"Except you asked me to trust you."
"With good reason. My job was to protect you to the best of my abilities, and to do anything I could to keep this endgame out of play. But despite our efforts, Fulcrum became too powerful. They figured out you had the Intersect. When that happened, you became a huge national security risk, and the order was issued. It became my responsibility to carry out that order."
He couldn't get his head around it all. A dozen thoughts flitted through his mind, stretching his emotions in all kinds of different directions. Anger, confusion, and fear took turns banging around the inside of his head like grasshoppers trying to escape a jar.
He wanted to let them loose, let them fly out of him in a stream of hurt accusations. And he would have, except for one thing. The way she trailed off, Chuck could almost hear her tack on a self-admonition. And I failed. That brought him up short, causing him to bite back his next comment.
Sarah was obviously glad he was still alive – last night she had demonstrated that in spades – but her failure to carry out the mission genuinely stung her. The question became why.
He drew a long, steadying breath. She was trying to explain; the least he could do was to listen. He resolved not to flinch, even when the details chilled him. That resolve was tested with her very next words.
"I'd planned on killing you quickly," she said.
"Holy crap on a cracker," he said under his breath.
"It was the best choice, and the fairest to you. There was no point in delaying. Nothing I could say would have made it right."
"Was it right with you?"
"No, but I would have figured out how to live with myself another day."
"Very James Bond."
"You'd be the one doing the dying. Dealing with the guilt seemed like the least I could do." She sighed, a heavy, sad sound. "On any mission, you need to go in fully prepared to do what needs doing. If you'll need to kill somebody, you need to be ready to kill somebody. If you might need to sacrifice your life, you need to be ready to die. So I went to the hotel, ready to carry out my plan. Or so I thought."
Her body tensed as if bracing for impact. She said, "I got to the hotel, and you weren't in the room, and I found the cake, and suddenly you were there, and … I couldn't do it."
He found himself frowning as he processed the rush of words. "Is that such a bad thing?"
"That depends. How many other lives is your life worth?"
He propped himself up onto an elbow. "What?"
"Our lives aren't the only ones affected by this, Chuck. Fulcrum has plans for the intel in the Intersect, and their operations tend to involve a body count."
"But you could just hide me somewhere. You're one of the CIA's best. Our chances would have to be pretty good."
"You did a good job covering your trail, so our chances would be decent if we ran. But when the stakes are this high, it becomes a numbers game, and an individual almost never wins in a numbers game."
"Wait, you accepted the order because of the math?"
She said, "That's an oversimplification, but statistical analysis plays into it, yes."
"That sounds even worse. It makes it sound like I came out on the wrong side of a 60/40 split and off you went."
"Like I said, math plays into it, but it isn't everything. It's really more a question of knowing how these things tend to work out." She hesitated. "There's an exercise for first-year agents to illustrate why we are sometimes asked to carry out orders like this. It's not fun, but it is instructive. Do you want me to take you through it?"
"Not really, but I don't have a choice, do I?"
"Of course you have a choice. You just might not understand unless we go through it."
He looked down at her, the woman he cared about so much. No, there wasn't a choice. He still held out hope that all of this would turn out to make some kind of sense. "I need to know."
She cast a glance back over her shoulder at him. "The goal of the exercise is to create an oversimplified model and draw conclusions from it. In this case, we'll start out simple, with only two possible outcomes: Fulcrum captures you, and we elude capture. We can add other outcomes later if we think they prove useful."
"First we need some base assumptions. What percentage chance do you think you and I would have of successfully eluding pursuit until everyone gives up?"
Chuck's lips pursed slightly. "Ninety percent. Maybe ninety-five."
"Keep in mind that there would be a massive search for us. We're talking CIA, NSA, FBI, not to mention Fulcrum and intelligence agencies around the world. You and I would vault to the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list. We'd be accused of crimes we didn't commit so our photos could be distributed to state and local authorities. There would be a large cash reward for any information leading to our capture, and people wouldn't stop looking for us for, let's say, five years."
"So, what, like seventy-five percent?"
"You have a lot of faith in me," she said, her voice carrying a hint of a smile.
"You are one of the best."
"Fine. For the sake of argument, let's say there's a seventy-five percent chance of us getting away. Now the tougher question: what kind of impact would there be if Fulcrum got the Intersect?"
He thought about that for a moment. "It's hard to say. We don't know what they're after."
"So, take what you know from your encounters with Fulcrum and extrapolate."
His eyes lost focus as he tried to recall his personal experiences with Fulcrum. Tommy had threatened to kill every person in the Buy More to get the Intersect. Chuck had found a pair of Fulcrum's cowboy boots with acid and explosive concealed in the heels, which seemed to be preparation for hijacking and possibly blowing up a passenger aircraft. The last Fulcrum agents they had encountered had been waiting for a shipment of uranium. Every step of the way, Fulcrum plans pointed towards death and mayhem. And if the intel in the Intersect facilitated any of those plans...
"Deaths, anywhere from a few to a few hundred people," he said. "A number of others would likely be affected, either by being injured or losing somebody they care about."
"That's right. It's a range, with a minimal level of casualties being pretty likely and the upper extreme being pretty scary. Also, don't forget that if Fulcrum successfully completes any missions, it's likely to have some kind of significant but negative impact on the country. We're looking to keep things simple to start, so make a conservative projection of casualties and forget the rest for now."
"Is ten about right?"
"Ten will work. Now, close your eyes, and think about the kinds of people that might become casualties. Put faces to as many of them as you can and picture them standing together in a group."
Chuck closed his eyes. He pictured a vast dark warehouse with a raised circle on the floor, spot-lit from above. Inside the circle, he started seeing the kinds of people who might be affected if Fulcrum grew stronger. An airline pilot wearing his navy blue hat and uniform, who would be killed during a hijacking. A mustached undercover agent from some Middle Eastern country, who would be tortured and killed for what he knew or what he had done. A female scientist in a white lab coat, who would be killed during a raid to acquire her top secret research. A little boy with a soup-bowl haircut, who at some point would be caught in the crossfire.
The circle kept filling until he had ten people, ten strangers, all of whom would be killed if he were caught. They stared back at him, impassively, as if waiting for him to do something. "OK."
Very softly, she asked, "Is Ellie in the group?"
"She should be. Everybody is somebody's Ellie."
He grimaced. The group shifted. The scientist vanished, and was replaced by Ellie. The little boy vanished, and was replaced by Morgan. One by one the members of the group changed, until the circle was filled with the people he cared about, including the Buy More crew and, somewhat surprisingly, Casey. Sarah, the only active participant, stood at the front of the group.
"Now remember," she said, her voice echoing through the warehouse, "you estimated we had a seventy-five percent chance of escaping. So if you flip a coin twice and it comes up tails each time, the people in the group all die."
He looked down and saw a silver dollar resting, ominously, tail-side up in his hand. The coin glinted as he moved it in his palm. Two flips of the coin. One in four, and ten people died.
She asked, "Is your life worth so much that you'd risk ten others?"
Everyone in the circle watched Chuck expectantly. Ellie looked nervous. Morgan looked scared. Big Mike looked angry. Casey looked, well, bored with the whole thing.
"Wait," Chuck said. "It's one in four that I get caught, but that doesn't mean Fulcrum gets me. A loyal agent could find me, and I'd just be killed, which is what you were going to do anyway."
"True. But seventy-five percent was a generous estimate, as were the ten casualties. We've also ignored the other people indirectly affected and the implications of Fulcrum obtaining the Intersect. But go ahead and change the model. See if you can find a way to make the numbers work."
Chuck looked at the circle of people as he tried to balance the equation in a way that would justify keeping him alive. He tried reducing the chance that Fulcrum would get him, but couldn't lower it past five percent. But if he adjusted that side of the equation, it was only fair to adjust the other side as well. The warehouse became fuller and fuller. The number of people in the circle increased. A second circle appeared, this one filled with people wounded by the attacks, physically or emotionally. Tommy Delgado stood to one side, hands in suit-pants pockets, smirking at Fulcrum's increased power. And in the background were a pair of literally distant possibilities, the kinds of missions that might be facilitated by Chuck's capture – the wreckage of an airplane, and a small nuclear device with red LED numbers slowly counting down.
There was no way to make the numbers work.
He opened his eyes. Sarah had rolled over and was propped up on her elbow, mirroring him. "That's why I accepted the order. As much as I care about you, this is about far more than you and me."
"I hadn't thought about all the impacts."
"It's a hard thing to realize until you force yourself through an exercise like this – or until you've been a spy long enough to see the consequences first-hand. The abstract always seems different than the reality. But it's not just the other people's lives, Chuck. You need to remember that there are worse things than a quick and painless death. If Fulcrum ever gets their hands on you, the extraction process would make you wish you were dead, and you'd die knowing that Fulcrum will use what's in your head to hurt innocent people."
He gaped at her, a bit horrified. "Well, I would now."
"Sorry, Chuck. You wanted to know."
"I take it back."
That brought a small, fond smile to her face.
He looked down at the threadbare comforter, looking for something to do with his hands, but judiciously decided not to touch it. "There's a problem with all this, you know."
"According to all this logic, the right thing for you to do is to walk across the room, pick up the gun and shoot me. Or for me to shoot myself."
"That is exactly why a handler should never get emotionally involved with her asset. Nobody could reasonably expect you to take your own life, and an agent's logic fails once these kinds of emotions are involved." He felt her fingers and palm touch his face, and he let her direct his gaze to her. Her eyes shone back at him. "And even though I know it's the right thing to do, even though I swore I would sacrifice anything to protect my country, even though I freely accepted the responsibility of being your handler and all that entails, there is no way I could do it. Not any more. Last night was my best and only chance."
Again, the unspoken addendum. And I failed.
It was all so bittersweet. Sarah had finally chosen him over the job, and it was tearing her apart.
And there was something else. Her posture was rigid, her breaths were shallow. Her eyes didn't have the distant look of somebody focused on self-recriminations; they were focused on him. Only then did he realize that she had managed to hide some of her emotions once again. Sarah was scared. She was scared that he couldn't get past what she had done. Now she was waiting to see how he would react.
The thing was, he finally understood the logic behind the decision. Without realizing it, he had touched upon it during their confrontation, when he made a distinction between Sarah the agent and Sarah the woman. Her choice pitted professional responsibilities versus personal wishes, and logic versus emotion. Whatever her decision, she was going to be left hurting. It was a no-win situation.
It was the Kobayashi Maru.
In Star Trek, a Kobayashi Maru was a test simulation administered to starship captains-in-training. Instructors set up a simulation where students would command a ship in a scenario specifically designed to be unwinnable. The classic case involved a choice between letting the crew of another ship perish and attempting to rescue the crew, risking both his own ship as well as the start of a war. The simulation was programmed so that there was no way to win, making the point of the exercise to evaluate a person's reaction to the situation itself. And in that regard, he couldn't fault Sarah. She had tried to remain true to her sense of responsibility, knowing all too well the consequences of failing to carry out the order. She had faltered when she saw him. In the end, her feelings for him had trumped everything else.
What more could a man ask from one of the world's top agents? The one thing stronger than Sarah's desire to do right was her desire to be with him.
He said, "Sarah, I honestly don't know whether I'm completely past everything that happened last night. I don't think it's something I can just shake off."
He held out his hand, gently pressing two fingers to her lips to hush her. Her eyes widened. "But I understand why you did what you did, and given enough time, I'm pretty sure I will get past it."
He stared at her for a moment to drive the point home, then rotated onto his back and slid an arm through the loop between her head and its supporting arm, inviting her into his embrace. A little gasp of relief escaped her lips. She gratefully rolled over on top of him, her upper leg crooked over the top of his legs, her head settling into a nook between his shoulder and chest. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled herself close.
He put his arms around her, leaned down and kissed the crown of her head. Her body relaxed. She closed her eyes, and for the moment at least, seemed to find some peace.
They stayed like that for a while. She sprawled atop him with closed eyes while he cradled her gently. Given everyone who was after them, it wasn't the smartest move to stay put, but sometimes wounds needed tending.
Chuck revisited memories of when he first found Sarah in the hotel room. Part of him wanted to let it all go, at least for the time being, but there were still things he needed to know so he could start to put all this behind him.
In the end, he opted to probe, but gently. "So that whole time you were pointing the gun at me, you knew you weren't going to shoot me?"
"I'd be lying if I said part of me wasn't trying to finish the job."
"Wow. That's amazing."
She opened her eyes into slits so she could look at him.
He clarified. "You seemed perfectly calm."
Her eyes shut again. "Hardly. I couldn't even answer some of your questions. My voice would have given me away."
"I couldn't tell at all. Not until the end."
"It's part of our training. Any feelings we show can be exploited, so early on we learn how to put up a front, no matter what's going on inside our head."
"Well, remind me never to play poker with you. I've never seen you that dispassionate before."
She said, "That's more my normal mode. When I was on missions with you, a key part of my job was to keep you grounded, and you relate better to an empathetic figure."
"That's a pretty clinical way of saying that you didn't want to freak me out."
"The missions tended to do a good job of that on their own."
He glanced down at her. A corner of her mouth turned up. "Oh, really?" he said, liking her playfulness. "I made it halfway across the country on my own, thank you very much. I eluded CIA, NSA, and Fulcrum agents without your help."
"So you're saying you were never freaked out?"
"Only most of the time." Her eyes popped open in time to see him grin. A similar grin grew on her face.
It faded all too quickly. "We'd better get going."
"What, and leave all this behind?"
"I need to get you somewhere safe."
"And where is that?"
She sighed. "I have no idea. But we can't stay here."
"That's too bad. This place was starting to grow on me. Literally." He gave a mock shudder and brushed off his shoulder for emphasis.
Sarah giggled. If there was a better sound in this world, he didn't know what it was.
She pushed herself up and gave him a lingering kiss. She reluctantly pulled away and said, "Mind if I use the bathroom first?"
Not quite as romantic an end as some of their other kisses, but he was hardly complaining. "Be my guest."
After giving him another quick peck for a thank-you, she sat up, turning her naked back to him as she scooted to the edge of the bed. He was slightly disappointed when she managed to retrieve her underwear and his button-down shirt without too much trouble. She slipped on the clothes, grabbed a few things from her bag and disappeared into the bathroom. Soon he heard the sound of running water.
Chuck set about grabbing the rest of his clothes from where they were strewn about the floor. He hadn't packed much clothing, so he opted to re-wear the same pants and socks. He'd need to see about reclaiming his shirt from Sarah.
The water cut off. She said, "I don't really have a plan, but our best move is probably to cross into Canada, as long as we're already so close to the border. I'll need to find you some credentials first. That'll take a bit of time."
"I've already got credentials."
"You can't use ones the CIA gave you. They'll know the minute you use those."
"I picked up a pair of fake passports in Dallas."
"No, really, Mei-Ling Cho met me in Dallas and gave me two fake passports. They look pretty good to me, but you may want to double-check."
She peeked around the edge of the bathroom door. Her face scanned his. "I thought you were joking, but you're not. You really called in Mei-Ling."
He flinched. "It seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't have many allies, and she owed me a favor. Desperate times call for desperate measures, etc."
"I'm not angry. I'm impressed."
It was his turn to scan her face. "Wait, really?"
"It was a great tactical maneuver. She doesn't know you're the Intersect, she's not currently aligned to any government intelligence agency, and she owes you for helping to rescue her brother." She went back into the bathroom. "You've been busy. What else have you been doing?"
His eyes lit up. "That's it!"
Between his lack of sleep and his roller coaster of emotions since Sarah arrived, Chuck had completely forgotten about his own plan. "The solution to the Kobayashi Maru. We need to change the game."
"You're not making any sense."
Sarah came out of the bathroom, bag in one hand, his shirt in the other. She had completely changed clothes and looked as though she had put on make-up as well. In the same amount of time, Chuck had managed to pick up his laundry and change into a new pair of boxers. "How did you…? Never mind." He got busy putting on the rest of his clothes.
"I couldn't make out what you were saying. Something about somebody named Kobayashi?" She threw his button-down over the back of the chair before setting her bag on the bed and gathering her clothes from the floor.
"The Kobayashi Maru is a–" He cut himself off. He had enough to explain without telling her his inspiration stemmed from Star Trek. "Forget that. The kill order only came out after Fulcrum knew who I was. That means, up until that point, the risk of my capture must have been balanced by the reward of keeping the Intersect in the field."
"That's right. Graham and Beckman were reasonably happy with us, because with the Intersect, our team was the only one that was consistently successful against Fulcrum. But once Fulcrum found out who you were, that made you less of a danger to Fulcrum and more likely to be captured."
"Right, the balance got shifted. We need to shift it back."
"Sounds great. How?"
He took a deep breath. He had a fairly good idea how she was going to react to his proposal. "What if we stole the new version of the Intersect?"
At that, she dropped the last of her neatly folded clothes into her bag. She walked across the room to him, took his chin in her hands, and examined his eyes clinically.
"Um, Sarah, what are you doing"
"Checking for signs of a concussion. Did you fall and hit your head while you were escaping?"
"No, think about it, Sarah. The new version of the Intersect came online yesterday. If we–"
"Slow down. How do you know the new version is online?"
So much he needed to tell her. "Somebody sent me a package at the Buy More yesterday. There was a phone in it. Whoever sent it to me called and told me the new version of the Intersect came online yesterday in Maryland, and that I should upload the new version to figure out who the leaders of Fulcrum are."
"That could have been anyone on the phone. He could be manipulating you. He could have been lying."
"He's right about the Intersect coming online."
"How can you know that?"
"Because I found Professor Fleming."
"Professor Fleming – you mean Glass Castle? He recovered from the crossbow wound?"
"And then some. He's been working sixteen-hour days for the past three months."
Her mouth gaped. "Chuck, how the hell do you know all this?"
"Like you said, I've been busy."
Her eyes lit up in sudden understanding. "You called Cush, didn't you."
He nodded, a bit reluctantly. He had wanted to keep Cush's name out of it.
Jeremy Cushman was a top-notch computer expert who had worked for a private consulting company until Fulcrum hired the company to conduct a "security exercise". The exercise turned out to be an attempt to compromise one of the CIA's most important servers. Cush had no way of knowing he had been hired by Fulcrum or who actually owned the server in question, but that hadn't stopped Director Graham from wanting to put Cush into the ground. Chuck had convinced Graham that the CIA would be better served to use Cush to fix their security issues. Cush and Chuck had been becoming fast friends even before then, but Chuck's advocacy had sealed their friendship.
Cush was amazing. He went wherever he wanted in the CIA network as if there was no security at all. Whenever Chuck wanted to talk, all he had to do was attempt to establish an FTP connection to a particular port on a low-priority server. It was like knocking on a door. A script would notify Cush of the failed FTP attempt, and he would be in contact with Chuck within minutes. Chuck had rung that doorbell several times since deciding to go after the Intersect, and Cush had come through time and again.
Chuck said, "Cush was able to track Fleming's work habits from his use of badge and biometric scanners. He also found out that, starting on Sunday, the power consumption in the facility he works in nearly doubled. That has to be from new Intersect coming online."
"Isn't that a bit of a reach?"
"I don't think so. Not with the timing of the kill order on me."
For the first time, she seemed to take his idea seriously. "That would line up. Director Graham thought the new Intersect would be ready around now, and if the new version is online, that's all the more reason you'd be seen as expendable."
"Graham and Beckman don't think they need me any more, Sarah, but they do. Uploading the new version of the Intersect could merge the old and new data together. Assuming Fulcrum has managed to destroy some of the data from the original version, I might be the only one able to figure out who is running Fulcrum."
"Except loading the new version might not work at all. It might even mess up your mind."
"We need to take that chance. Our only other option is to run and hide, and hope the coin flips go our way."
"Look, if we can pull this off, we can take down Fulcrum, which is obviously great in its own right, and it will get you back on good terms with the CIA. Besides, I've wasted five years of my life before. The only thing worse than doing that at the Buy More is doing that hiding in some rat-infested hole-in-the-wall in Bangladesh. I want my life to be mine again, Sarah. I want us to have a chance to choose what comes next for us."
She stared at him. "Let me get this straight. You, Chuck Bartowski, are suggesting that we risk our lives breaking into a government facility to steal all the government's top secrets while we are being chased by dozens of agents, some of whom want to kill you and some of whom want to torture you to death, on the chance that the new version of the Intersect will merge with the old so we can take down a particularly nasty international spy conglomerate?"
"It's high-risk, but it's high-reward, too. We need to do this, Sarah. It's the right thing to do, for you, for me, for us, for everybody. It's a win-win-win-win- … I don't know how many wins it is, but it's full of win, and not in an Internet fanboy kind of way."
She mulled it over. "I'm not saying yes, but how far is the facility?"
"We can be there tonight if we drive fast."
"OK, Chuck. Right now one direction is as good as another as long as we keep moving. You can brief me on what you're thinking along the way, and we can decide later whether this really makes sense."
Chuck grin grew huge. He knew he should be scared, but somehow he wasn't. Right now, Sarah was with him, and he felt like he could do anything.
Ed. note - The reviews made it pretty clear that some people were unhappy with how Sarah's decision to try to carry out the order. I took up the challenge and spent a great deal of time trying to make sure to get this chapter right to try to explain her motivations. (BTW, this shouldn't affect your reviews. As usual, don't hold back.)
I don't ask that you agree with my take. It is, after all, my job to convince you, and I do wander away from canon from time-to-time, especially with my treatment of Sarah's character. But hopefully this chapter explained my take on Sarah's thinking.
One last thing – my next update probably won't be until next weekend. This week is a busy one for me.