A/N: Ever since I got hooked on "Chuck", I was wondering what it'd be like if She was the secret and He was the Agent. Hence this story. As it would border on the sacrilegious to turn John Casey into Joan Casey, I opted for his female equivalent in the series, Alexandra Forrest. I still wanted Casey in my story, however, and Wepdiggy's "Sarah vs the Alternate Universe" was the source of inspiration for his role. Kudos to Wep, btw.
In this chapter I chose to rewrite the first episode, in order to properly introduce the characters (after the role shuffle), but I'll hopefully be following with more original chapters, some of which may be loosely intertwined with or inspired by the series' story line.
And, as usual, standard disclaimers apply.
I hope you enjoy reading it.
Major Alexandra Forrest, US Army, was tired. Paperwork was definitely not her forte. She preferred action to just sitting around and writing mission reports, which required the inclusion of an incredible amount of detail. Still, it had to be done, and Alex Forrest was not one to shirk work. Orders were orders, protocol was protocol and procedures were procedures. She had always been the 'by-the-book' type both as an Army officer and as an agent of the NSA. Well, if not always, at least most of the time. She signed the last form and let out a contented sigh as she rubbed her tired eyes. Getting up from behind her desk she moved over to a big fax machine with an encryption module that was connected to a secure line. She fed the report sheets into it and then dialed the number and required authorization code and pressed the 'send' button. She mentally ran through her post mission checklist for the twentieth time: send the written reports, check; submit the appropriate digitized forms via secure satellite connection, check; clear and secure weapons, check; check, check, check. Everything was in order, so it was time for a little R&R before going to bed. In the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of the expensive, aged-to-perfection Irish whisky that she liked and dropped on the living room couch, switching on the TV at the same time. Her eyes wandered over to the framed photographs on one of the bookshelves and came to rest on one particular photo that showed her with another, younger, blonde woman sitting in that very living room and smiling at the camera. The other woman had her arms around Forrest in a sisterly hug, while Forrest herself had an arm over the younger woman's shoulders holding her in a protective embrace. She had to admit that they really did look like sisters, not looks wise, there being no family resemblance between them, but they did share a unique bond… And then she couldn't suppress a smile as she remembered how it all began a few years ago…
Chapter 1. Sarah Versus The Intersect.
September 24th 2007, Echo Park area, Burbank, CA.
"You got all you need?" asked a hushed male voice from the window.
"I think so," replied a feminine voice from inside the darkened room.
"Don't forget the keys for the Herder," said the man. "My bicycle is not made for two people."
Suddenly, the light in the room is turned on.
"Sarah, what in the blazes are you doing here?" asked the brunette at the door.
"Umm… Escaping?" the pretty blue eyed blonde half-asked hesitantly. The brunette, Dr. Eleanor Faye Woodcomb, MD, frowned. "From your own birthday party?" she said, incredulous.
"And, Morgan, what are you doing here?" she continued, starting to get angry.
"Hi Ellie, I just came over to help my best buddy," the short bearded man replied defensively. Ellie, however, was in no mood for games.
"Sarah Lisa Walker," she said sternly, "Your brother and I worked really hard to make this party a memorable and enjoyable occasion for you. And I'm not about to let you and Morgan here ruin it. Plus there are a lot of nice guys here today. It's about time for you to start going out with men again and get over Bryce." She pronounced that last name with distaste. Sarah still protested. "But, Ellie, I don't know anyone. They are all your friends, plus they are all doctors."
"SARAH!" Ellie bellowed.
"Okay, okay, I'm coming," Sarah said, the resignation and defeat evident in her voice. "C'mon, Morgan," she got up, helped her best friend inside and they both meekly followed her brother's girlfriend to the courtyard, where the party was in full swing. A few minutes later, Sarah was talking to, or rather was being talked to by, a handsome, confident fellow by the fountain.
"So, Sarah, are you currently seeing anyone?" he asked with a calculated detached interest.
"Not for some time now, not since college," she replied absentmindedly, "not since Bryce."
"Bryce?" the man asked.
"Yes, Bryce Larkin, my ex. He dumped me for my roommate and – then – best friend Jill," she looked pained by the memory. Jill had not just stolen her boyfriend, but she had also framed her for cheating and gotten her kicked out of Stanford on her senior year. "She's a big shot banking executive somewhere," she finished.
DNI building, Washington DC, in the meantime.
Jill Roberts, who was definitely not a banking executive, dropped from a vent into a brightly lit white room that had a fancy looking computer terminal jutting out from the floor in the center. Her white shirt was stained with blood from a nasty cut on her left temple just below the hairline. She half ran, half skidded over to the terminal and activated it. Plugging a PDA to the computer, she made sure the connection was live before she punched in a sequence of access codes and then a few commands. She paused only to put on a pair of dark glasses and then hit the 'enter' key on the terminal's keyboard. Suddenly the whole room was filled with images projected on the walls in a seemingly interminable and very fast slideshow sequence, while the contents of the terminal were being downloaded to Jill's PDA. When the download was complete, she removed the PDA and stashed it in a pocket. "It's hard to say goodbye," she muttered sarcastically as she attached a small time bomb to the terminal and activated it. Ten seconds. She paused for a couple of seconds to admire her handiwork and take a deep breath before taking off running for the door. The blast from the small but powerful explosive device blew the door off its hinges just as Jill reached it. The three security guards trying to break it open were thrown down on the long corridor and knocked out. Jill ran for the exit, taking out a couple more guards on the way. Running up the stairs, she furiously typed something on her PDA and scrolled through her email contacts looking for one particular name. She made it to the roof and, after avoiding more guards, shimmied down a drain pipe to the parking lot. She took one last look behind her and one at the PDA to confirm the recipient, when a sharp crack shattered the stillness of the night air. Jill felt a burning sensation and a stabbing pain in her chest as she fell backwards on to the asphalt.
"Don't move," commanded a voice. Jill looked up and saw a blonde woman approach her, pistol in hand and pointed right at her. She smiled venomously and said "You're too late, Forrest," and then pressed the send button on her PDA, just before her world went black.
A couple of hours later, back in Burbank
Finally, the party was over. Sarah felt relieved that it was. To her the whole exercise was a waste of time, not to mention a disaster. All the guys she had talked to had listened to her lament about Bryce's and Jill's betrayal and apparently lost interest. She didn't care, really. She was back in her room, playing video games with her best friend since childhood to drown her sorrows plus her guilt for pretty much ruining what her brother Devon and his girlfriend had obviously taken pains to organize for her.
Their gaming marathon was interrupted by her computer beeping, announcing an incoming email. Pausing the game of Halo, Morgan took a look. "Whoa, Sarah, talk about a blast from the past… Jill remembered your birthday!"
"What? Jill?" She put the controller down and moved to the computer. Opening the email, she saw an attachment titled 'stanford .zrk'. She clicked it and the phrase 'the terrible troll raises its ugly head' appeared on the screen.
"What's that?" Morgan asked.
"It's a line from Zork," she replied with an amused half-frown on her face.
"Yeah, y' know, that old text based video game… Jill and I programmed our own version back in Stanford using the TRS-80."
"Wow, you were really cool!"
"What can I say? I'm a professional nerd," she laughed pointing to a post-it note stuck on the computer monitor with these very words scrawled on it in her handwriting. "If I could only remember what was in my hero satchel… The weapon I'd use to kill the terrible troll," she said, answering Morgan's unspoken query. "And, Morgan, I think it's time for you to go home."
"Yes. Pedal safe, pal."
"Thanks. See you tomorrow."
After Morgan left, she just stood thinking about Jill's puzzle. Then it came to her. She bent over her chair, typed 'attack troll with nasty knife' and entered the answer. All of a sudden pictures, lots and lots of them flashed from the screen. She stood upright, confused and unable to take her eyes off it. It went on and on for hours… When it was finally over, the sun was up and Sarah, dazed and exhausted, fell flat on her back and lay on the floor unconscious.
September 25th 2007, Echo Park area, Burbank, CA. 0712 hours.
"Sarah. Sarah! SARAH! SARAH, ARE YOU OK? WAKE UP!" The voice was distorted, as was the image of the man kneeling over her. Other images danced before her eyes, adding to the general fuzziness.
"Morgan?" she said weakly, realizing that she was lying on the floor of her room.
"That's me. C'mon, get up. We gotta go to work, or Big Mike will have our asses," he said as he pulled her to her feet. She stood there for a moment, swaying drunkenly, trying to focus and get her bearings.
"Take a shower, get dressed, and I'll be waiting in the kitchen, OK Sarah?"
"Ugh, yeah, OK. And, Morgan?"
"Did you by any chance spike the punch?"
"We've been friends for so many years, and where's the trust?" he feigned being hurt by the question, but a second later he admitted the truth "Yes, I did." He could not lie to his best friend.
In the bathroom, under the shower, while listening to the morning news over the radio, Sarah had a strange experience, like a brief blast of epiphany. It was triggered by the morning traffic situation report. What's wrong with me today she wondered. Shaking the thought from her head, she toweled herself dry, got dressed, quickly downed a glass of chocolate milk in the kitchen, kissed her brother goodbye and went with Morgan to the parking space outside the apartment complex, where the Nerd Herder was parked.
"Morgan? You drive today. I've got a splitting headache," she told him cutting his video game related rambling short.
"You serious, Sarah?"
"Yes. It's just a company car," she said of the red and white Toyota Matrix that sported the Nerd Herd 'running man' logo. "No big deal."
"No big deal? A company car is a status symbol, Sarah. I mean, this baby here's sitting on chrome… or plastic."
"Yeah, whatever. But, buddy, do me a big one and stay off the I5. The cops are in a … phased… deployment… or something."
"OK… sure, no problem. Get in and buckle up."
In the meantime, at the DNI building, Washington DC.
CIA Director Langston Graham angrily paced the destroyed room. NSA Director Brig. Gen. John Casey, USMC, looked up from the file that he was reading. "Dammit, Graham, Jill Roberts was CIA. It was your job to find her," he said, visibly annoyed.
"And it was the NSA's job to keep this facility secure," he retorted, coming menacingly close to the other man and eliciting a grunt in reply. "And thanks to T-X here, we don't know what she did with the Intersect; we've got nothing."
"We have a dead CIA agent," the tall attractive blonde said. "That's a gold star in my book."
"Does she have to be here, General Casey?" Graham asked.
"Major Forrest is heading up this investigation, so, yes. She has."
"General, sir, what did this Intersect computer do?" Forrest inquired.
"It did everything," came the somber reply. "After 9/11 the NSA and the CIA were ordered to play nice. All the intel gathered by both agencies was put into that computer and the data was encoded into thousands of images. Whoever received Roberts' email now possesses all of our secrets."
Forrest held up Jill's self-destructed PDA. "The hard drive was fried," she said, but we picked up a trace signature on the email she sent."
Casey was immediately interested. "Really? Where to?"
"Greater LA area. Which is perfectly fine by me. I'm feeling a bit pasty," Forrest quipped with a smug grin.
September 25th 2007, Buy More store, Burbank, CA. 0910 hours.
Sarah was at the Nerd Herd desk in the Buy More, with her team members, at least those that were not at the time working in the cage or out on off-site installs and service calls. The men, Jeff Barnes and Lester Patel, wore regulation black slacks, white dress shirts and grey ties. Jeff wore a pocket protector and employee ID badge on his breast pocket, while Lester's ID badge hung from his belt. Anna Wu, the other woman in the group, wore a similar outfit, but with an obscenely short black skirt, fishnet stockings, large amounts of makeup and a wild hairstyle. Sarah herself was more conservatively dressed, shirt neatly tucked in the black skirt that came down to her knees, blonde hair savagely pulled back in a ponytail and no makeup at all. She took a sip of coffee from her mug and started giving her customary morning pep talk.
"Fellow Nerds," she began, "today we have a difficult day ahead of us. There is a new computer virus around, and a really nasty one. It's a computer killer. They call it the 'Irene Demova' virus."
Lester let out a long low whistle and a laugh.
"Yes, I know," she continued, "it's named after the Slovakian porn star. Lonely dude - and dudette - call volume will be high. To give you an example: Last night, our display version of the Prism Express laptop was fried when someone (she glanced at a guilty-looking Morgan for added emphasis) tried to access Ms. Demova's fake website. This is what happens," she said and entered the offending site on the just repaired laptop. Everyone looked on as the screen flickered and went black. "Understand?" she asked, drawing nods from the other Herders.
As she had predicted, the day was rather hectic, with the new virus adding to their usual service and install workload. Shortly before it was time for her lunch break, a tall, well dressed, good looking man entered the store. He was talking on his phone.
"… and the mark has a past association with Jill Roberts," droned the voice on the other end of the line. "Local. Bright but something of an underachiever. Had her heart broken recently. I'm sending you her picture now."
The man looked at the file photo of the young blonde that appeared on the screen of his mobile phone. Looking around the store, he spotted her behind the Nerd Herd desk. He grinned like a shark. "Piece of cake," he muttered to himself and strode towards her.
Sarah was on the phone, trying to get through to a Buy More corporate warehouse and order parts to restock the Nerd Herd supplies of computer spares. Morgan was across the desk from her, in his green Buy More polo and khaki pants, being the perfect best friend and trying to convince her that Devon and Ellie had a point about Sarah needing to start dating again, even with the first guy that caught her fancy. Like the one that he saw entering the store.
"What about this dude there, Sarah? He does look like James Bond," he said.
"My name is Bond, James Bond," she parroted in a mock Scottish accent.
"Ahem…" the newly arrived man cleared his throat. Somewhat startled, Sarah looked up at him and dropped the phone.
"That was quite a good imitation of Sean Connery there…" he glanced at her badge "…Sarah," he said. She felt herself blushing almost immediately. She had to put her business face back on, quickly, and she knew it.
"How may I help you…"
"Bartowski. Charles Bartowski," he said, also mimicking Sean Connery, and quite successfully, too, before switching back to his normal voice "But you can call me Chuck," he said with a smile. The smile made Sarah swallow hard and he noticed it.
"I didn't know that parents still named their kids 'Chuck'. I'm Morgan, by the way," Morgan interrupted, extending his hand.
"I didn't know that parents still named their kids 'Morgan' either," Chuck shot back shaking hands with Morgan. Sarah decided to intervene. "What can I do for you, Chuck?"
"I have a small problem with this," he said placing a mobile phone on the counter.
"Ah, yes, the Intelicell. That's a quick and easy fix." She removed the back cover and the battery and produced a small screwdriver. "There is a screw back here that has a tendency to work itself loose… Now, just a couple of quick turns… And… Good as new!"
"Wow, you geeks are good."
"Nerds, actually. We prefer the term 'Nerds'. See? Nerd Herd 'n' all?"
"Yes, I see. Cool name…"
"Excuse me, excuse me, please…" interrupted a newly arrived customer. He looked really upset. "I bought this camera here and filmed my daughter's entire dance recital, but now it won't play back… Can you please help me?"
Sarah gave the man a reassuring smile, took the camera and opened it. "You don't have tape in here," she said finding the cause of the problem.
"But… It's digital…"
"You still need digital tape."
"Oh no. Oh, no. My wife's gonna kill me…" the man said miserably.
"We can do something about it, sir… Morgan, I need The Wall, pronto," Morgan nodded and scampered off. Smiling sweetly, Sarah excused herself from Chuck and moved to the wall where the late model HD TVs were displayed and, with the help of other Buy More employees set up an impromptu dance recital, which was successfully caught on digital tape and also drew applause from both employees and customers. Looking at her from the Nerd Herd desk, Chuck was quite impressed with the way the blonde went out of her way to help people. It was something he definitely did not see every day, especially in his line of work. Feeling good with what she'd accomplished, Sarah started back towards her work station, only to be intercepted by her arch-rival and general pain in the ass Harry Tang. "Been up to your usual tricks again, Walker?" he said testily.
"Don't worry, Harry, we'll have the wall back up in five," she replied calmly.
"Five minutes? You know what five minutes means in Buy More dollars?"
"We have our own currency? Didn't know that," she said sarcastically.
"No wonder Big Mike wants me to be the assistant manager…"
"There is an opening for that? Big Mike did not tell me anything."
"And why should he? He knows you can't cut it. He knows you won't leave the comfort of the Herd."
"Lay off, Harry." She dismissed Tang and returned to her position. Her face dropped in disappointment when she realized that Chuck was gone. Morgan was already at the Nerd Herd desk, smiling. "Sarah, this dude left you his card," he said brandishing the small rectangular piece of paper. "I strongly suggest that you give him a call, sister."
"I don't know, Morgan, maybe later."
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. When they finished their shift at the Buy More, Sarah gave Morgan a ride to her place in the Herder. They planned to gorge themselves in some junk food and do some serious online ass kicking in Call Of Duty. They entered the apartment laughing at the lameness of some joke Morgan had heard from one of the green shirts at the store, but immediately froze at the sight of a figure clad entirely in forbidding black, not even the eyes being visible, that was apparently in the act of stealing her computer.
"No, please, not the computer," Sarah gasped.
Morgan went into combat mode; grabbing a plaster statuette from a nearby shelf, he hurled it at the intruder, who deftly bounced it back in mid-air, sending it flying towards the pair at the door. It hit Sarah knocking the wind out of her. Morgan was furious. "Hey, THAT is my BEST FRIEND," he yelled and launched himself at the thief, who placed the computer on a shelf and got ready to deal with the short bearded man. For his effort Morgan got a spin kick to the chest that sent him reeling backwards right into Sarah and the two crashed down on the floor in a tangle of limbs. The intruder paused to briefly savor his small triumph, but it was short-lived, as the shelf gave way under the weight of the computer, which followed its owner to the floor, where it broke apart. The thief immediately ran out of the apartment complex, got behind the wheel of a dark blue Dodge Charger and sped off. Removing his mask, the thief, who was none other than Chuck, roundly cursed his bad luck. He would have to think of some other way to recover the Intersect.
September 26th 2007, Buy More store, Burbank, CA. 0945 hours.
"Nothing we can do here, Sarah. It's not just smashed. It was dead before it hit the floor. Everything inside, hard drive, processor, every piece of hardware, is fried, sorry," Lester said.
"Did you consider that you may be a victim in a ninja vendetta?" droned Jeff.
"Ha-ha… Very funny, Jeff," replied a very miserable Sarah. "I'll just go next door to Large Mart and buy new locks…"
While looking for the hardware section at Large Mart, Sarah saw a dark skinned guy browsing for something on a shelf. Her eyes rolled upwards.
A picture of a canary
A file photo of the man
His military record
A picture of a canary
She swayed on her feet and blinked trying to regain her balance, rubbing her temples to make the sudden headache go away. When she looked again, the man was gone. She bought the new locks and hurried back to the Buy More, unaware of someone watching her.
"I've got eyes on her right now, Graham," Chuck said.
"It's over Chuck, I want you back to DC post haste; the computer was destroyed, right?" the CIA director said.
"Yes, beyond repair. But what if she's got an external drive? I can find it."
"No use, Chuck. You couldn't have known. You couldn't have stopped it. The damage is done."
"I can fix-"
"No, Chuck. The NSA is taking it from here. Major Forrest will handle it from now on."
"Forrest? She's a psycho burnout!"
"She's a killer, son, cold school."
"No, Graham, I said I can fix it. Just give me one more day."
"You know I won't be able to help you if it goes south. You're on your own there, Chuck."
Chuck got out of the Charger and headed towards the Buy More. Entering the store, he went straight to the Nerd Herd desk.
"Hello Sarah," he flashed her his trademark smile.
"Oh, hello Chuck. Phone trouble again?" she inquired holding up her screwdriver.
"Yeah, kinda. I'm not certain I can receive calls any more, cause… I never got one from you."
She blushed immediately.
"Anyway," continued Chuck, "I also wanted to apologize for leaving so abruptly yesterday. I'm new in town and had an appointment with a realtor. And, as I don't know anyone here, except you, that is, would you like to show me around, say, tonight?"
"Sure she can!" Morgan said, "She's got nothing but free time!"
"It appears that my schedule is open," she said sheepishly.
"Good," he fairly beamed, "seven-thirty okay?" he scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to her. "You can pick me up at my apartment."
"It's a date," she said.
Chuck left the Buy More with a contented smile on his face, unaware of the murderous glare cast his way by a blonde sitting in a black Suburban in the parking lot.
Sarah's place, Echo Park area, Burbank, CA.
Sarah opened the door and saw Devon and Ellie cuddling on the couch still in their hospital scrubs.
"Ellie, Captain," she said, "I've got some news, don't freak out." The two were immediately interested and cast inquiring looks at Sarah.
"Sarah's got a date!" hollered an exuberant Morgan, jumping in through the open door, picking Sarah up in the air and whirling while still holding her aloft.
"What? When? How?" stammered a mildly shocked Ellie.
"Way to go, sis. That's awesome," her brother said.
"Wait, what are you going to wear?" Ellie added. Sarah just shrugged helplessly.
Later, all four were gathered in Sarah's room, various items of clothing strewn about on the bed. Ellie kicked off the conversation, picking up where they had left off.
"So, this Chuck guy, is he nice?"
"Looks like it… Morgan actually met him online in a gaming chat board… I'm kidding, Ellie," she said noticing the funny look the brunette gave her.
Ellie was unfazed. "Try this," she said, "I'm a girl. I know what guys like."
"And as guys, we two also know what guys like on a girl, right Morgan?" Devon interjected. Morgan nodded in agreement and the two men high-fived.
"I'd totally go for this, if I were this Chuck fellow. Ellie's got one just like this and it worked on me," Devon said pointing to one of the potential outfits for Sarah.
"Too revealing for a first date," Ellie said disapprovingly, "get out you guys, I've got it well in hand."
Chuck's place, 1926 hours.
"She's coming to pick me up for a date, show me around town, Graham."
"Good. You know what you have to do."
"I don't know about this girl, boss."
"Nice girls are not sent government secrets, Chuck."
Chuck made sure his Para Ordnance 14-45 automatic was locked and loaded and tucked it in the waistband of his pants.
"What should I do if she runs?"
"Kill her," Graham answered coldly. There was a knock on the door. Chuck opened it and saw a smiling Sarah, looking positively stunning in the outfit Ellie had helped her pick out.
"Ready for a night out in Burbank?" she asked innocently and somewhat shyly.
"As ready as I'll ever be, Sarah. Lead the way."
They ended up in a Tex-Mex restaurant and took a booth not too close to the mariachi band. The conversation was mostly light hearted and both, especially Chuck, were quite surprised to discover that they were actually having a good time.
"… So, let me get this straight," Chuck said, desperately trying to keep a straight face, "you call your brother 'Captain Awesome'?"
"You'll see why when you meet him. Everything he does is awesome. Jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, rafting… flossing."
"What about other guys in your life? Morgan, for instance?"
"He's been my best friend ever since we were six years old. He's... Well, he's family. Like a brother to me. And to Devon, too. As for other guys, there was one a few years ago, in college – but it's all over now," she said remembering the admonishment she got about the 'old boyfriend rule'. "What about you, Chuck? Any skeletons in your closet?"
"I just got out of a rough breakup, so I may come with baggage," he admitted.
"Well, I can be your own personal baggage handler," she said with a comforting smile.
"Yeah, thanks. Thing is, I moved here from DC when I realized that everything there reminded me of… Julia… I needed a change of scenery real bad."
"Welcome to Burbank, then." Her smile was even sweeter when she said that.
After a pleasant dinner they went for a walk. While on an overpass, they paused to take in the view of the still busy streets. An official motorcade was passing below them. Sarah saw the vehicles, and all of a sudden her eyes lost focus. Images started dancing before her, photographs, documents and files detailing who was in the motorcade, his itinerary and business.
"Sarah? You okay?" Chuck's voice brought her back to reality.
"Yes, I just kinda zoned out for a moment there," she replied. "Hey, Chuck, wanna check out a club or something?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Sarah Walker's your mark," the dangerous blonde said to her team watching from the black Suburban as the couple strolled towards the club after leaving the Herder parked in the street. "NSA Director wants her with a pulse. Till we find out who she's working with and what she knows, she lives. The CIA prick you can kill," she said, cocking her weapon.
The club was nice. Not too crowded, the music not uncomfortably loud and the drinks good. Chuck had insisted that they dance, over Sarah's objections that she was a terrible dancer. Fortunately for her the band played a slow piece and she was able to swing to the rhythm in sync with Chuck, the two holding each other, her head resting lightly on his chest, feeling completely relaxed. Chuck also appeared relaxed, but he was carefully scanning the surroundings for any sign of trouble. He stiffened imperceptibly when he saw several men in dark suits entering the club. One of these men headed straight for him and Sarah. He pretended not to notice and when the man was directly behind him, he elbowed him in the face. That's when he saw the grim faced blonde by the entrance. There was only one thing left to do; he grabbed Sarah's hand and ran out the side exit dragging her behind him.
"Chuck, what's going on?" she asked, visibly alarmed.
"Give me the keys to your car, Sarah."
"What? No, only employees are allowed to drive a Herder… Wait… How, how did you open it?"
"GET IN!" he yelled when he saw a black Suburban coming straight at them. He started the Herder and gunned the engine, trying to put some distance between them and the hulking SUV pursuing them. The other car had too much horsepower to outrun, however, and it soon caught up with them, driving straight into the Matrix's rear bumper, jolting both the little car's occupants. Unfortunately, Chuck was not yet familiar with the streets in the area, so he turned to a very scared Sarah for directions. "Left or right?" he asked urgently. She could only stare at him, eyes wide with fear.
"Wha- What?" she stammered.
"Too late," he growled, taking a hard left turn, sending the Matrix flying down some pedestrian stairs towards another street. "Wow, computer emergency…" commented a teenager to his friends when they saw the Herder's antics.
Chuck slammed on the brakes when they reached the street, near an office building parking lot.
"Sarah, listen to me. These people are here for you, possibly to harm you."
"What? Me? Why? I'm just a Nerd Herd supervisor at a Buy More. One day I may even get to be assistant store manager, and I'm not so sure if that's what I want. But we have a bigger pro-" She never finished the sentence as the Suburban T-boned them on the driver's side, spinning the Matrix around and scattering pieces of it all over the street. The Suburban braked and started coming around for another go at them. Chuck freed himself from the wrecked Matrix and pulled Sarah out as well. He led her by the hand as they started running towards the nearest building. Despite her panic, she noticed the big automatic pistol that had appeared in his hand as if by magic; she tripped on the Matrix's bumper that had been detached from the car by the impact and fell flat on the street. The Suburban was now really close to them and its driver was obviously intending to run Chuck down.
"CHUCK, LOOK OUT!" she screamed. He assessed the situation and noticed the guard shack at the parking lot entrance just to his left. He brought his gun up and fired, hitting the emergency barrier activation button. In the same move, he crouched and faced away from the onrushing SUV, which crashed into the barrier in a shower of sparks and vehicle parts. Pausing for a second to catch his breath, he helped Sarah to her feet and led her to the nearest building, requesting a helicopter for emergency extraction on his phone. Soon, they reached the helipad on the roof.
"What is your connection with Jill Roberts?" he asked brusquely.
"What? Jill? How do you know Jill?" she asked, incredulous.
"We worked together at the CIA."
"The CIA? Jill is a spy? Jill Roberts is a spy?"
"A rogue spy, Sarah. Did she try to contact you?"
"I haven't heard from Jill in… No, wait. She… She sent me an email on my birthday…"
"Did you open it?"
"Yes. It was a line from Zork."
"A line from what?"
"Zork. A video game we used to play. It was a riddle, I solved it and then I saw pictures. Lots and lots of pictures."
"YOU SAW THEM?"
"Yes. Wait, I wasn't supposed to-"
"Your computer, did you back it up? Is there an external drive?"
"It crashed last week…"
"Sarah, listen, I may have to aim my gun at you, but don't freak out."
"Aim your gun at-"
"It's late, I'm tired…" said a new feminine voice. "… So cut the crap, hand her over to me and we'll call it a night. She belongs to the NSA."
"CIA gets her first," Chuck growled, pointing his gun at Sarah. Forrest aimed her own gun at Chuck. "You shoot her, I shoot you, then leave both your bodies here and go out for a late snack. I was thinking, maybe pancakes," she teased. Sarah had had enough. She bolted for the relative safety of the building ventilation machinery just below the edge of the helipad.
"Sarah, no!" Chuck called after her. She didn't go far. She froze in her tracks looking at a luxury hotel across the street. Images started dancing before her eyes again. She tried to regain her composure and turned to face the two agents, who were still engaged in their standoff.
"They are going to kill him!" she shouted.
"Kill who?" asked Forrest.
"Stanfield, the General, the Army guy. Look, something's wrong with me, don't know what, but, but I remember things I should not. For example, I saw a Salvadorian demolitions expert at the Large Mart today, also, you guys, the NSA, intercepted blueprints of a hotel; THAT HOTEL! And last week the CIA found schematics for a bomb in Mexico City. The bomb is in the hotel right now!"
"She WAS working with Jill!" Forrest concluded, pointing her gun at Sarah.
"NO!" Chuck's gun was now aimed at Forrest's head. "She opened Jill's email! Sarah, these pictures were encoded with secrets. Government secrets. If you saw them, you know them."
Sarah was stunned. "There were thousands of them," she managed to say.
"Are you telling me that ALL of our secrets are in her head?"
"Sarah IS the computer, Forrest!"
"You said there is a bomb," Forrest said, "Is there any way to stop it? We're the good guys; we're paid to keep bombs from exploding,"
"What? I dunno… Call Jill. She's the one who can save the day."
"Jill's dead Sarah… She died sending those secrets to you," said Chuck tersely.
"Jill… dead?" Sarah was visibly shocked. Forrest needed to break the impasse, so she fired her gun into the air to get the others' attention.
"Yes, and she's gonna have a lot of company, unless you start talking, so, pretty please," she growled. Sarah thought for a moment. "According to the schedule, the General is already on stage. We gotta hurry!"
When they reached the hotel lobby, Chuck suddenly stopped. "Wait, Forrest, we can't take Sarah with us! She's too valuable!"
"Right," the female agent said, roughly shoving Sarah into a chair, "Which way?" she asked her.
"The easiest way?"
"The fastest way, Walker!"
"The fastest, right… Follow me!"
"Sarah, STOP!" it was no use. The two agents had no choice but to follow her to the hotel's conference center, where the convention on the military's contribution to counter-narcotics operations in the Americas was taking place, and she soon spotted the bomb. There was a commotion when they uncovered it and security personnel rushed to evacuate the conference hall. They had less than two minutes to defuse it, when Sarah's phone rang.
"Morgan, it's not a good moment, is anything wrong?"
"Nope. I'm in your room, 'cause my computer has a case of the 'Demova's', the Captain's out with Ellie and-" She broke the connection. Morgan had given her an idea. She flexed her fingers and knelt by the food cart that held the bomb. Forrest reached out to stop her. "That's not a video game," she admonished.
"No, but the timer is running on a Prism Express laptop," Sarah replied calmly, "We sell these at the store. It's got a DOS override. I can do this, trust me!" Forrest pulled back, realizing it was maybe their only shot at preventing a bloodbath in the hotel. Sarah's fingers flew over the keyboard.
"Mr. Bomb, meet Mr. Internet," she quipped and typed the keywords in the search bar of the browser.
"You're surfing for porn?" Forrest couldn't believe what she was seeing.
"Hold on," Sarah said, closed her eyes and entered the infected site. Sure enough, the virus did a number on the computer, stopping the detonation sequence with only a second to spare.
"You did it, Sarah!" Chuck was enthusiastic. Sarah finally opened her eyes.
"I did it! I defused a real bomb! Who-hooo! Oh, wait… What if I was wrong?"
"Don't puke on the C4, Walker," said Forrest.
Afterwards, the two agents had an argument about what they should do with Sarah. Forrest wanted to move her to a secure government facility ASAP, while Chuck opposed that move and said he'd prefer to keep her in Burbank with her family and friends. Sarah did not want to disappear from the face of the earth and told them in so many words, adding that it was them who needed her, as she knew the Intersect's secrets, and they would have to play nice. She left them to settle the matter between them.
September 27th, Santa Monica, CA, 0642 hours
Sarah was sitting on the beach, her shoes off, idly playing with the sand as it shifted between her toes and watching the ocean in the early morning sun. She became aware of a presence as Chuck walked on the beach and sat down next to her.
"How long have you been here?" she asked him.
"All night," came the simple answer.
"There is nowhere I can run, is there?"
"No. Not from us."
"So, what happens next?"
"You go back to your life, Sarah. We'll protect you and you'll work with us."
"My family, my friends?"
"Tell them nothing. It's the best way to keep them safe."
He saw how she was looking at him. His eyes met hers.
"There is one more thing you can do for me, Sarah," he said.
"What is that?"
He gently lifted her chin with a finger and said "Trust me, Sarah…" and he hugged her to comfort her; she gratefully accepted the hug. She had looked into his brown eyes and realized that she could begin to trust him.
September 27th, Sarah's place, 0730 hours
Sarah was bone tired as she opened the door to the apartment she shared with Devon and Ellie. The latter intercepted her with Morgan in tow, before she had taken two steps inside. She had proven time and again that she was considerably more of a worrywart than her easygoing boyfriend, even on matters pertaining to said boyfriend's little sister.
"All night? You know how worried I was, Sarah? I even called Morgan here! Can you imagine that? I called Morgan!"
Sarah said nothing; she just pulled Ellie and Morgan into a big hug. Devon saw them while leaving for the hospital.
"Group hug, huh?" he said, embracing all three. "Awesome!"
September 27th, Burbank Buy More, 0932 hours
"Well, guys, that's it," Sarah said, signing a form. "Wish me luck."
"Go get them sister!" encouraged Morgan after seeing her face off with Harry Tang as she headed toward Big Mike's office to the sound of Ennio Moricone's music from the movie 'For A Fistful Of Dollars' that he played over the store's sound system. Big Mike did not look up from his paperwork, but silently indicated that she place her application form in his 'in' basket.
"Didn't think you'd apply," he finally drawled.
"I think I'm ready for this, Big Mike," she said, "responsibility, decisive leadership-"
"Save it for the interview. Now go train the new gal."
"OK, Big Mike," she said and left the office looking for the new employee. She was smiling, because training newbies at the store was always interesting. The next moment though, her jaw dropped when she saw a smugly grinning Alex Forrest clad in a Buy More sales team uniform waiting for her. Her surprise was complete when she saw Chuck doing his shopping in the store. She noticed the belt buckle he was wearing and had another flash, this time it was surveillance footage of Chuck engaged in a firefight with several men and gunning them all down before shooting out the camera as well.
"Don't freak out…" she told herself.