A/N: This story is yet another AU take on how Chuck and Sarah meet.
Naturally, the standard disclaimers apply to all chapters.
Chuck vs the Twist of Fate
The ancient Greeks had a saying. That it is impossible to escape one's destiny. The same applies to the characters of this story.
Chapter 1 – Hi, I'm Chuck
Charles Irving Bartowski, Chuck to his family and friends, was a happy man. He had every right to be. Even though his mother had left when he was young and his father did the same while he was in his teens, his older sister Eleanor had done a creditable job raising him.
Chuck had been a scholarship student in Stanford University, and graduated with top honors earning a degree in electrical engineering. While in Stanford he'd aced every class with one exception. In Professor Fleming's class he scored a low (to him) but still respectable (objectively) sixty percent in the encoded images section. He didn't mind, as he'd admitted that his answers were kind of a shot in the dark. His best friend and roommate even joked that they both sucked in subliminal image recognition and retention. Even the breakup with his college girlfriend, who was going away to continue her studies did not dampen his spirits. It had saddened them both, but they knew that they had a very small chance of making a long-distance relationship work.
Anyway, after graduation Chuck found that he had a lot of ideas, of the kind that could generate enough money to allow him to make a comfortable living, but he'd definitely need some sort of start up capital. He was loath to ask his sister for a loan, since she still had her own student loans to pay off, so he'd continued working at the Burbank Buy More – his summer job during high school and college – as the supervisor of the Nerd Herd, the IT service section, while simultaneously being a freelance programmer. After three years he'd scraped together enough money to launch his own small software business.
His right hand was his best friend Morgan Grimes. They had known each other since they were six years old and grew up together. They were practically brothers. Morgan was a short, bearded, funny looking guy with a heart of gold. He had been immature and irresponsible, content to work as a sales associate, or green shirt, at the Buy More, until Chuck's positive influence helped him earn a management degree from the local community college. Now he helped Chuck run Orion Games and Software. The idea for the company's name had been Chuck's. His father had given him a picture of the constellation for his room, which he'd hanged next to the Tron poster.
On the dating front Chuck wasn't doing too well. His sister constantly tried to set him up with various girls, mostly friends of hers from the hospital where she and her boyfriend Devon worked. But Chuck was too busy to commit to a relationship and also did not like flings and one-night stands. He was too respectful of women for that, not to mention his natural shyness. No amount of prodding from Ellie, Morgan and Devon, the three most important people in his life, could change that.
For a relative newcomer in a crowded field Chuck's company was doing rather well, but he still avoided any unnecessary expenses. That's why he still shared an apartment with Ellie and Devon in Echo Park.
His greatest success was in computer game development. He had worked as a subcontractor for major gaming companies, where he had earned praise for the quality of his work, and had gone on to develop two game engines: the Orion Engine for single player games and the Constellation Engine for multiplayer games. Licensing them out to other companies for use with their own games was another source of valuable income.
Right now Chuck was in San Francisco, attending a video game conference, and hoping he'd get enough interest in his latest game to get the ball rolling on full development and eventual production. He'd already made a demo, which he was hoping to show to distribution company executives. With a bit of luck he might get some advance orders and maybe even some down payments.
"What is your new game called, Mr. Bartowski?" The question came from a distribution company executive Chuck was meeting with.
"It's called '38th Parallel'."
"It's about the Korean War, as this era has been ignored by game developers."
"I see… What about specifications?"
"The game will use our proprietary engines for both single player and multiplayer modes. The players will be able to select nationality and the gameplay will be adjusted accordingly. You won't see any glaring historical inaccuracies."
"You sound like you've done research on the subject, Mr. Bartowski."
"We have devoted considerable time and effort on historical research, yes."
"Would I be asking too much if I told you I'd like to see a teaser?"
"Uh, no, I came prepared. I have a short video you can watch. It's not a playable demo, that comes later, but it is representative of the graphics."
"I'm impressed. When can I see it?"
"Right now, if you want."
"I'd love to."
Chuck opened his laptop computer and started the video. By the time it was over, the executive was already mentally counting how much money his company would make by distributing such an excellent game. His conviction was reinforced when Chuck played a short demo. The realism was breathtaking, while the game did not tax the hardware too much. He expressed interest in getting the exclusive distribution rights to the game and offered Orion Games & Software a mutually satisfactory deal. Naturally, Chuck agreed and promised that they would sign the final contracts soon.
He was on his way to the parking lot after wandering around the stands and meeting a few more people, including some he had licensed the use of his gaming engines to. His cell phone rang.
"Hey Morgan," he said when he saw the caller ID.
"Dude, how's San Francisco?"
"Haven't seen much of it. I've been quite busy."
"Tell me the good news."
"I found a company willing to distribute our new game, little buddy."
"You did? Already? Nah, I shouldn't be acting so surprised. After all, you went all out on this one."
"I couldn't do it without you."
"It's nice to be appreciated. Oh, I almost forgot. Ellie's planning a surprise party for your birthday."
"Chuck, it'll be fun."
"No, it won't. She'll try to set me up with one of her doctor friends again. I'll try to think of a way out of it. Maybe I'll stay here for a few days."
"And let all her efforts go to waste? What kind of party will it be if you'll be absent?"
"I'll talk her out of it. At least I'll try to."
"You know, all work and no play makes Chuck a dull Nerd."
"Call of Duty and Halo marathons when I get back, with all the pizza you can eat and all the grape soda you can drink."
"Are you trying to bribe me into helping you avoid the party?"
"No, I'm trying to squeeze some quality time in our schedule."
"It's good, but you need to put yourself back on the market. There are many eligible ladies out there."
"Can we talk about that when I get back to Burbank?"
"Fine. Well, enjoy your stay there and have a safe trip back. I'll call you if anything comes up."
"You do that. See you tomorrow."
Chuck hung up and thought for a couple of minutes. Instead of heading to his car he dialed another number.
"Hello little brother," Ellie answered.
"Hi sis. How are things in Burbank?"
"The same. What about you?"
"I made a good deal for our new game."
"That's great, Chuck! Congratulations," she practically squealed.
"One more thing; a little bird told me that you are planning something behind my back. Call the whole thing off, as I don't think I'll be available."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play with me, Ellie. I'm talking about the birthday party you want to throw me."
"Who told you about that?"
"Like I said, it was a little bird."
"Was it a little bearded bird? How on earth did Morgan find out? I deliberately kept him out of the loop so that he would not be able to warn you."
"Well, he found out somehow and was kind enough to give me a heads-up."
"I'm gonna kill him."
"So, are you going to cancel your plans?"
"No," Ellie said stubbornly. "You will celebrate your birthday."
"Can we at least invite some of my friends as well and not only your doctor friends?"
"Who do you have in mind?"
"I was thinking about calling some people from the Buy More and…"
"Not that creepy serial killer what's his name…"
"You mean Jeff? No, I think it'd be best to keep him and Lester off of the list. But we can still invite Big Mike, Skip, Anna and a couple of others."
"Oh, well, at least these people are harmless."
"Coordinate with Morgan on the Buy More issue. He'll give the invitations. He knows exactly what to do."
"Okay Chuck. When are you coming back?"
"Tomorrow as planned, unless something comes up. Don't worry; I'll call you if I have to change or modify my plans."
"Great! Enjoy your stay there."
"Give Captain Awesome my best regards."
"I will. Bye Chuck. And try to get some rest. You sound tired."
"I am tired and I was going back to the motel anyway. I think I'll get something to eat first."
He finally walked to his blue Ford Focus. He would go back to the cheap but clean motel where he had booked a room. He believed in avoiding unnecessary expenses and instead investing in future projects as well as saving money. He needed a rest. The conference had been fun, but it was also exhausting. Little did he know as he drove out of the parking lot that his quiet life would soon be turned upside down.