Chuck vs. The Secret
"Here you go, el Piranha mas Grande," said Morgan, holding out the large paper bag.
Chuck took out the bottle. "Sure you got enough this time, buddy?"
"I asked them for the giant economy size and they said this was the giant economy size."
"Giant, at least. I don't know if I'll be able to lift it. This is an important hack, Morgan, it'll make Carmichael Industries profitable, finally. I don't need the distraction."
"Yeah, and you do need the money, even with selling the Buy More and Beckman finally unfreezing your forty mil, you're drinking chardonnay like it's going out of style! So I got you a funnel." He held it up like a trophy. "I figured we can pour some off into that bottle you like."
"The wine's the least of it. Like I said, you want to hack the best, you have to have the best. Even with Verbanski taking all that military stuff off our hands, we spend it all on computers anyway. You should see our electric bill."
Morgan rolled his eyes. "I have enough problems with my own. It's amazing how much harder it is to afford an apartment when Uncle Sam isn't paying the bills."
"You and Alex can always move in with us."
"And what, move out again in two months? Plus deal with a hormonally-hopped-up Sarah? No thanks, I'll stay at home, where my significant other is just a karate instructor and not an assassin."
"She only tried to kill you that one time."
"Once is enough. I know, it was my own fault. I spent too much time sneaking around your sister's bedroom, man. Old habits."
Chuck's smile glazed over. "More than I needed to know. Can you hand me the corkscrew?"
Fingers flew. Chardonnay swilled. Window after window popped up and went down again, screens and links and passwords flying by faster than Morgan's eyes could follow. Fortunately Morgan wasn't doing the hack. "Where's the little password? C'mon little password, I'm not gonna hurt you," crooned the Piranha. Suddenly he grinned in triumph, and his voice hardened. "Ha ha, foolish password, now pay the price for your lack of vision!"
Morgan shook his head. "Dude, you are just entirely too scary. Evil gods cackle like that."
"Everything is proceeding as I–"
Morgan looked up instantly. Chuck never left quotes unfinished.
"No! No, no, no, no, no. Ow!" Hands clutching his head, Chucked stared at the screen in terror. "This can't be happening!"
"Dude, talk to me! Talk to the Morgan!"
"I flashed! I flashed in the middle of a hack and–No, it's all falling down. I've lost it!" He started playing his board, far less assured than before. Lights started flashing.
Morgan looked up at the system graphic, saw red lines creeping toward their home icon. "He's tracing us!"
"Cry-baby!" Chuck smacked his hand down on a big red button, the Cry-Baby, spawning a half-dozen processes to divert his opponent while his own system shut down safely. It also wiped his IP address and forced him to rebuild his network but that was a small price to pay.
"Dude," said Morgan. "Whatever happened to 'pineapple'?"
"Chuck, we had an entire team waiting for your thread! Your target now knows he was targeted. What happened?"
Chuck slumped, ashamed. Again. "I'm sorry, General. I was in the middle of the hack and everything was going fine, and then…I flashed…and the whole thing fell apart."
Beckman sat back. He'd seen lots of reactions from her for his various failures but that wasn't one of them. "You flashed? On what?"
"Numbers," he said, "Lots and lots of numbers, like I'd just uploaded a Swiss bank." Nothing nice and neat like images. His head still hurt.
"Do you remember them?" Her sympathy was underwhelming.
"Good, Write it up and send it in to our team. Maybe it's data they can use." The call terminated.
Hours later, report sent and painkillers taken, Chuck was slowly piecing his system back together when his watch chimed. Beckman again. Morgan looked at him, drew a finger across his throat, and sat out of camera range as Chuck pressed the button. "Good evening General."
"Chuck, the intel you sent us is good."
Well! He sat up straight, grinning. "That's great!" They weren't fired! Maybe they'd get paid after all.
"Greater than you know. The accounts we asked you to find must have been dummies. These accounts have the bulk of our target's funds, and we've had them all frozen. Thanks to you."
"My pleasure, General. A man who'll cheat at Uno deserves whatever you can do to him."
Morgan swung his chair around. "What'd I tell you Chuck? I knew it would work. Not a problem."
"I'm afraid there is a problem, Mr. Grimes. Chuck, I'm afraid we can't pay you."
Chuck's happy grin faded. "Wh—wha—what? But General, we got you the intel you wanted!"
"From the Intersect, and by the terms of our agreement with Carmichael Industries Intersect data is to be turned over to the appropriate authorities free of charge." Seeing as it was theirs in the first place.
"Yes, political data. Operational data. Not my stock in trade. Why would that even be in the Intersect? How could it be, if these accounts are so new? I haven't had any updates." He couldn't, someone at the DARPA labs had found his disk in the Intersect room during cleanup and loaded the virus when they were trying to restore their system.
"And if it was why were you even asking for it?" Morgan pounced, ever ready to defend his best bud. "Don't you have it already?
Beckman looked intrigued, either by the thought or by the source. Possibly both. "The point is well taken, Mr. Grimes. The contract was written up based on the assumption that only operational intel was in the Intersect."
"General, this really didn't feel like Intersect data, not pictures." Plus it hurt a lot more.
She looked concerned. "Chuck, is it possible the Intersect is malfunctioning in you, after all this time, like it did in the others we've tried it on?"
Morgan turned to his best friend. "Chuck, who's the most annoying person in the old Republic?"
"Jar-Jar Binks, everybody knows tha–"
Morgan slapped the table. "I didn't, not after I'd had the Intersect in my head for a month, much less six!" He looked up at the screen, to see the General looking down at him with something approaching respect.
"Chuck," she said, "I'm sending my top man out, to examine you and the Intersect. Your full cooperation is expected."
"He'll get it, General. But can you ask him to keep it low-key, please? The less to disturb Sarah the better we'll all be."
"Agreed." She ended the call without a goodbye, as usual.
The door opened, but Sarah didn't look up. The exaggerated slapping of sneakered feet on the linoleum told her everything. "Hi, Morgan."
She looked up, saw him standing there, hands open and empty. Boy, try to kill a guy just one time… She kept her irritation hidden, right where she kept everything else hidden. "How'd the hack go?"
He sat down. "A few problems." Obviously, or Chuck would be here himself. "It turned out the lead was a trap. Chuck saw it in time, of course, but…"
"He had to use the Crybaby?" He'll be a while. She wasn't good with the ELINT stuff like Chuck but she knew that much. "How'd the client take it?" General Beckman never took failure well. So odd to think of her as a client instead of a superior officer, but she was equally demanding either way.
"She's happy. We got what she wanted anyway, even though she didn't know it's what she wanted."
"And you're here because…?"
"Well, you know Chuck, anything worth doing is worth doing in person. He wanted me to fill you in, and let you know that Beckman may be sending someone out, so please don't kill him."
"What kind of someone?"
Morgan started to sweat. "Uh, some accountant boffin, I guess."
"You guess? What could an accountant get from Chuck in person that couldn't be sent just as well electronically?" She considered her own question. "It was in the Intersect, wasn't it?"
"Great. So now we're not even going to get paid." God, she hated this…mercenary life she was stuck in. Sarah Walker served her country, and her country took care of her, took all the skills she'd gathered running cons all her life and gave them a meaning. Chuck was a nice guy and all, but it was so hard to imagine him replacing that. So few memories, the only things that got her through the day sometimes. Or this. She rested a hand on her stomach.
"Kicking?" asked Morgan, grateful for what he no doubt thought was a neutral topic.
"Yeah," she said, the usual lie. Just a few months to go. This will all be over. I can get out of this couch, out of this house, out of this dress.
Out of this life.
"How'd it go?"
"Boy did you underestimate her. Five minutes, you said. She had it out of me in two!" He sounded happy about it, practically shouting into his phone. Fortunately he was in his car and no one heard it.
"So she wasn't upset about the Intersect at all?"
"Not more than usual. We got as far as the accountant and not getting paid, and then the baby started to kick and I was out of there!"
"You're gonna have to face that music some time, buddy."
"Hey, no way, pal. Me and Alex are strictly ballroom." And there was their studio now.
The phone was silent for a second. "Do you even know what that means, Morgan?"
"Not at all, but as long as it keeps Alex happy, and the Colonel happy, it's enough to keep me happy."
"Yeah, wherever John Casey is, you can bet he'll come back for that."
"And not in a good way. Hey, I'm here, and Alex is here, so I gotta go learn the tango."
Another pause. "Morgan, did you see her smile?"
Morgan shook his head before he remembered Chuck couldn't see it. "No, man."
The doorbell rang, early the next morning, startling Chuck so much he dropped his spoon in his cereal and splashed milk all over himself. So soon? What'd he do, hitch a ride on a fighter jet? "I'll get it!"
Sarah was faster. "I've got it, sweetie. You're not even dressed yet."
Da—gnabit. He fumbled to get his robe on as she checked the peephole. With a sigh she safed her gun and stuck it into waistband of her pants. Then she pulled open the door, smiling. "Ellie! Hi!"
Eleanor Bartowski-Woodcomb stepped through the doorway, hands reaching around Sarah's expanded middle for a hug. Naturally she felt the gun, and pulled back. "Same old Sarah."
She patted her expanded belly, smiled a Sarah smile. "Not hardly." Give me a couple of months, though…
Chuck came out of the kitchen for his hug. "Hey, sis. What's up? Not that I mind in the slightest but what are you doing here? Everybody in Chicago feeling better?" Gaze shifted back and forth between his two favorite ladies, searching for the conspiracy. "Where's Awesome?"
Ellie made the sad face he knew so well. "He couldn't come. Fortunately mine is a research position so I could claim a little family leave. You know me, I wanted to see the baby for myself, so when Sarah called me–"
Chuck stared at his wife, pointing a finger. "You called her? I thought you didn't remember her."
Sarah linked elbows, pulled him away from the door so their guest could enter. "They're called wedding videos, sweetie. You should watch them some time." She looked back at Ellie. "I wanted to meet my maid of honor."
"And sister-in-law. Aunt, soon. I always hoped I'd be an aunt someday." Ellie took Sarah's hand. "Did you watch Jeff's video, too? I thought that was so sweet."
Sarah smiled. She'd turned the thing off after only a few minutes. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
Ellie held up her bag. "Do you mind if I–?"
Sarah laughed. "Always a doctor." She let go of her husband's arm. "We'll be…in the bedroom. This way, I can give you a little tour while we're at it."
The door closed softly, and Chuck looked up. "Sarah's not with you?"
His sister smiled. "I suggested she rest." She flashed a quick glance over her shoulder and lowered her voice. "She's still trying to be Sarah Walker, I think." Then she continued at a more normal volume, "I was wondering if you could take me to the Buy More. I'd like to get her one of those kneeling chairs. She said she wasn't happy sitting, that the uzi-toting gunmen would finish their raid before she could dig her way out of the couch."
Chuck went to get his shoes, and incidentally check on his wife's needs ("Nothing, thanks"). The Buy More was…the Buy More, about what she expected, a little better now that Jeff and Lester were gone. Big Mike was a bit bigger, now that there was a Subway franchise in-house, but Morgan was still Morgan. Alex was good for him.
On their way back to the car, Chuck said, "All right sis, what's this all about?"
"What do you mean?"
"You hate the Buy More. But now you go in without a second thought, you don't even check to see if they carry it, and it's even on sale. You didn't even check on-line."
"My brother the spy. You're right, I wanted to talk to you privately."
"My living room–"
"Is probably bugged. Sarah is CIA, assigned to protect you. Your shoes probably have trackers, but you probably aren't wearing a mike–"
"I took it off this morning." He checked his clothes every day.
"And even if you were the car has a frequency scrambler in the trunk."
She sighed, older sister to younger brother. "Chuck, I didn't want you to find out this way, but… I work for the CIA."
Chuck vs. The Intersect
"My sister's a spy?"
Ellie whacked him in the arm. "No, silly. The CIA isn't just spies. Someone has to make all the gadgets and stuff."
He rubbed the spot. "So you're Q?"
"No. I'm your general's intersect team." She held a finger up to her lips. "Otherwise I work in Chicago under a research fellowship."
"You're the best man she said she was sending?"
Ellie nodded. "Fortunately Sarah'd already called, made a nice cover story, don't you think?"
He nodded, smiled. "Yeah. Especially from Sarah."
She nodded, then stopped smiling, all business. "We need to get to your base, are there any entrances around here?"
"No, we blocked them all off when we sold the place. We'll have to go home, first, drop off the chair, otherwise she'll get suspicious. We can always say we're going out for a catch-up, she'll understand that."
Ellie waved her hands in surrender. "Okay, I'll let you handle the spy stuff. I never was good at lying."
Chuck looked up as his sister started removing the contacts from around his head. "That was fast."
"Chuck, I've been working with this program for the last six months. There's no one who knows more about it than me except possibly Dad, and he's probably dead."
"Probably? Ellie, we both saw him shot in cold blood."
"Outside a resurrection chamber. I won't count him as dead until I perform the autopsy. Anyway. As far as I know, aside from the one in your head, I have the only pristine copy of the Intersect left in the world." She moved the screen aside, and raised the chair.
"Which you said was destroyed. For someone who's terrible at lying you sure hit one out of the park your first time at bat!"
"I didn't lie, Chuck. You asked General Beckman, she lied, and then I didn't disagree with her."
"Which means she wanted you to have it. Why?"
The screen lit up behind him, General Beckman staring down. "Because your sister was and is the only person in the world I could trust to make sure it never got used again. Every time the Intersect gets loose in the world it always comes around to you, and no one's more devoted to protecting you and your family than she is. Continue, Dr. Bartowski."
"Chuck, General, as my mother said, the Intersect was originally designed as a learning tool. I've examined it from that perspective, and I now believe the malfunctions seen six months ago and Chuck's experience yesterday are symptoms of this origin."
Chack raised his hand. "How does erasing memories fit in with a learning tool?"
"Because learning is a very slow process. Experience is fast. Memory is fast. Integrating the two is the bottleneck. By removing the memory, the insertion of the new data proceeds immediately. The problem is putting the old memories back again."
He raised his eyebrows. "So they're stored?"
"Yes. Like a zip file, they're compressed, only it's supposed to be temporary. Unfortunately my father was a computer scientist and engineer, not a neuroscientist. My supposition is that the program given to Morgan and Sarah was corrupted, and the code that restored the memories failed.. I'll never really know."
Beckman frowned. "I wanted to get her a copy of the corrupted version at DARPA but somebody destroyed it first."
Chuck smiled weakly. Not his hand, but his virus. "So…we know what happened to Sarah and Morgan. How does this explain what happened to me?"
"Okay, this is pure conjecture on my part, but it fits what I know of the code, and the scans I just did of your brain function support it. I'm thinking that the DARPA team was trying to make an Intersect that didn't need updates. It would load its own data from the user's environment, tailored to his needs."
"So this Intersect, in me, was picking up all that financial data I'd been researching, and then spontaneously dumped it during my hack?"
"Exactly. But your version has the key so the memory decompression didn't fail."
"Still hurts like hell."
"That's the image encoding. I guess they never got that far."
"Or maybe it was just that I was only looking at numbers?"
"Possible. If you'd been walking down a street in Jakarta you may have had better images to work with. We'll know the next time you flash on something newer than your last update."
Beckman cleared her throat. "A problem for another time. Chuck, in light of this new information, I'll authorize a payment for your work, and see about drawing up a new contract for Carmichael Industries. Is that all, Doctor?"
"These memories, the old ones. You say they're compressed?" Ellie nodded. "Can they be restored?"
Ellie paled. "Sarah and Morgan?"
Beckman leaned forward, her face filling the screen. "Can it be done, Doctor?"
"Hey!" Sarah looked past him, confused. "Where's Ellie?"
"Castle," he said. "Emergency conference call."
"Oh. Will she be home for dinner?"
"I hope so. Chicken Pepperoni good for tonight?"
Sarah put on her smile, the fake one. "Sure."
"He's here, General."
Chuck took the stairs two at a time. "What have you got for me? Sis, we haven't got a lot of time, Sarah's expecting us back for dinner soon, and chicken pepperoni doesn't take long to make."
"You made that? Chuck…"
He tapped his watch. "Briefing."
"Right." She took a deep breath. "There does appear to be a way to reverse the effects of the Intersect. The compression modules are separate from the download module, and always have been. It appears that what happened is that the new version changes those files. As a result the compressed files got lost to the decompressor, and are never uncompressed. Even if we reloaded the same version of the Intersect into them those memories would stay lost."
"And the fix is…?"
"There's a device, it removes the intersect from people. When this device is used, the decompression module is supposed to decompress any compressed modules before it deletes, but it looks like the changes that were made to the intersect weren't carried through. If we can modify one of these devices to match the new intersect version, upload the intersect and then remove it, the memories should decompress automatically."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, time out. Upload?"
"Can't remove what isn't there."
"Can you modify this code?"
"Chuck, I am dreaming in this code, okay. For Sarah, and for Morgan, I'll do whatever I have to do."
"Okay, we have a plan!"
"Bartowskis." Beckman looked less enthusiastic. "We have no suppressors available. We checked after the DARPA break-in. Quinn seems to have destroyed them all."
"That makes no sense."Ellie was glad of this new puzzle, it kept her mind off her brother's driving as he raced home.
"It makes perfect sense, Sis. Quinn was a rogue who wanted the Intersect for himself. If he got it he'd want to make damn sure no one could take it away from him."
"Make up your mind, Chuck. He's either a master manipulator or a mad scientist, which is it?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Only mad scientists test the only sample of something experimental on themselves without some way to fix it if something goes wrong."
"You're saying he'd want to have a cure." One copy. Somewhere.
"If he's the brilliant rogue you say he is, I'd bet on it."
"We have to find it." He pulled out his phone, pressed speed-dial. "Morgan, I need to talk to Alex…"
The phone rang, as Chuck was stacking the dishes from dinner. He looked at the display. "Hey, buddy, what's up? Oh. Right, I was going to–yes, look, Ellie came out and–"
Ellie picked up her cue. "What's the matter, Chuck?"
"Hold on a sec, Morgan." He put his hand on the pickup. "I told him I'd help him with his new strategies for the Call of Duty tournament. I didn't know you'd be here, though. I'll just–" He waved his hand dismissively.
Ellie put out a hand to stop the gesture. "Don't do that. You boys go do your thing, it'll give Sarah and me a chance to catch up. Have an intelligent conversation for once."
Not in the script but Chuck let it pass. He turned to his wife. "Are you sure–"
Sarah waved her own hand. "You had her all afternoon, Chuck. It's my turn."
"Okay, call me if you need anything."
Morgan opened the door before he could knock.
"Are they here yet?"
In answer his friend simply cleared his throat and jerked his head. They went into the living room, where John Casey and Gertrude Verbanski were having lemonade with Alex. "John, Gertrude, thanks for coming–"
Casey stood. "Grimes said you had a plan for fixing whatever's wrong with Agent Walker. Spill it, Bartowski." Yeah, they were in.
Chuck spilled. "Quinn had a safe house in the city, where he made the bomb. He probably planned to go back there to upload the intersect and test it. I have to go check it out and I can't take Sarah."
Casey grunted an affirmative. "It's a starting point at least."
Chuck nodded a belated greeting to Alex, whose primary job tonight would be to keep Morgan from climbing the walls. "Morgan, if we get lucky, we'll be back soon. If not–"
"You'll be back later."
Casey was unimpressed. "Shaw may have been a psychotic murderer, but at least he had style."
Chuck had to agree. Shaw's refuge had been a full apartment, with clothes, food, a government-installed safe, and a copy of the Kama Sutra. Quinn's safehouse was just a hole. A bare mattress, an empty closet, debris from the bomb he'd put in the theater. "Look at the bright side, not many places to search."
Casey gestured with his flashlight. "You start with the trash. We'll sweep for traps."
Chuck examined the trashcan carefully, not because he thought it was booby-trapped but because he wanted something to focus on other than Casey and Verbanski and their bomb-squad foreplay. Did he and Sarah sound like that? He tipped the can over and scattered the contents and gave them a quick scan. "Guys! Guys, I flashed."
"Good," said Verbanski. "There's nothing else here."
Casey took the little slip of paper from Chuck's hand. "Looks like a ticket stub."
Chuck took it back. "It is. How long has it been since you two crazy kids went to the drive-in?"
"Now we know why Quinn needed that chopper."
Chuck could barely hear him over the wind and the noise, but he caught the gist. Yeah, the same reason we do. Barstow was no easy commute, but General Beckman gave them her best.
"How do we know this is the right place?"
"You know any other drive-in theaters with hidden Fulcrum bases under them?"
"Probably booby-trapped all to hell and gone." Verbanski sounded like she was looking forward to it.
Casey shook his head. "I called in an air strike on it. Probably too unstable for that. I'd want to be able to clear out in a hurry."
Gertrude gave him a look that made Chuck turn his head away. "Look!" He pointed. "Is that a car?"
Casey checked with his scope. "Yeah. Probably an entrance around that way too." The pilot made a quick pass and they spotted the entrance, a small structure, easily. With no place to set down nearby they dropped from lines.
"Lead on, Macduff," said Casey.
"That's 'Lay on, Macduff'," said Chuck. "Honestly, no one gets that one right."
"Ro-MEE-o, Ro-MAY-o," snarled Casey, "Get a move on, Fearless Leader."
"Wow. A Shakespeare pun, from you, Casey? I'm impressed." Chuck looked around. "Okay, first stop, ticket booth."
"Why the ticket booth?" asked Verbanski.
Chuck flourished the stub. "Ticket."
The booth was empty.
"Now what, genius?"
Chuck scrutinized the booth. It looked like all the other ticket booths he'd ever seen, except… why was the microphone pointed outward? He stepped forward, tapped the head. Casey and Verbanski flinched, and he froze.
"Chuck! You've been targeted! Say something, quick!"
What do you say to an empty ticket booth in a bombed-out movie theater? "Uh…three, please."
For a second nothing happened, and Chuck closed his eyes, anticipating a hail of bullets, or lasers, or whatever it was that Fulcrum used. He heard a noise, like machine-gun fire in the distance. Funny. He'd expected being shot to hurt.
"Take the tickets, Chuck."
He opened his eyes. Three tickets lay on the counter. "Ha!" When he pulled the strip from the slot, a door opened in the back of the booth. Fingers trembling, he tore off two and handed them to his comrades.
"I'll go first," said Casey, "That car's engine was warm."
Door led to stairs, stairs led down. At the bottom was a slot, set in a recess. Casey looked unhappy, but stuck the ticket in the slot. "Ow!"
"What happened?" asked Gertrude.
"Burned me. I've got a barcode on the back of my hand!" He dropped the stub in disgust.
"No, Casey, keep it." Chuck picked the scrap off the floor and put it in Casey's hand.
Why? "Because the other guy did."
The door opened, and Casey stepped through. It snapped shut behind him. 'Admit one.'
When Chuck and Gertrude came through, Casey pointed at the side of the door. "Good instincts, Chuck." On the other side was another scanner, and a slot for the second half of the ticket.
All the doors had scanners. One of them had a dead body. Chuck didn't flash on his face.
"Probably Quinn's Fulcrum contact," said Casey. "Came down here after Quinn failed, to see what he left behind."
"Found more than he bargained for," added Gertrude. They both shrugged. "One less booby-trap for us to disarm." They left the body where it was, a doorstop.
The outer room was bare of anything except a cheap chair and a cheaper desk. Even the bulb was bare. The inner room had carpeting, a much better desk, a leather chair, a box of cigars, several pairs of sunglasses on a shelf in the back, and a flashing red light on the phone. "Jackpot," said Chuck.
"Deathtrap," said Casey and Verbanski together.
Casey smiled at Gertrude. "You take it."
She smiled back, then pointed with the gun at Chuck's feet. "Tripwire at the door, cable runs up the jamb to the ceiling. Probably a deadfall, since the room's ready to cave in anyway."
"What about the light?" Chuck pointed at the phone.
"Might be a phone call. Might also mean the trap's armed, numb-nuts."
"So that means we can disarm it."
Casey shook his head. "Why bother? He's not going in there to do his business. That room's for people like you to stumble into."
Casey turned back to the modest outer office. "Here. Plain sight, oldest trick in the book, because it usually works." Skipping the drawers entirely, he reached under the desk, felt around. "Uh-huh."
Chuck took the package. "And what if you'd been wrong?"
"Taped up inside the drawers, or in back of one, would've been my next guess," said Gertrude.
"Thank God for Recon."
The package held two panels, but only one looked like a suppressor. Casey held up the other one. "What's this for?"
Chuck winced in pain. "Ahh! Oh, that hurts!" Hands clutching his temples, he reeled back from the desk.
Too late. Chuck stumbled into the chair, and sent it rolling through the doorway into the inner office. It was a deadfall, as Verbanski had predicted.
Unfortunately, what Casey predicted came true as well. All around them the ground started to rumble, a sound anyone who lived in an earthquake zone would recognize. "It's unstable! Let's get out of here. Now!" He grabbed the wavering Chuck by one arm as Gertrude scooped up the panels.
Getting out was a lot easier than getting in, since Quinn hadn't wanted to get trapped in a cave-in either, and had gimmicked the exit scanner. The helicopter got off the ground just before the whole area collapsed, and they flashed their lights for pickup.
"Alright, Chuck, what the hell was that all about?" Maybe Casey was shouting at him just to be heard. Or maybe not.
"That card. It made me flash, but there was nothing there to flash on."
"I don't get it, why would Quinn want that?" He looked over to Gertrude, but she had no experience with Intersect strangeness, and he once again missed his former partner. They'd have to wait until they got back. Ellie would know.
"You guys wouldn't happen to have any Advil, would you? Nuprin, maybe?"
"Morgan? We're back."
Strangely, neither Morgan nor Alex came to the door to greet them, even though Chuck had phoned from the air to let them know they were returning. He hoped they weren't practicing their tango. That could get a little embarrassing.
"We're in here, sweetie."
Chuck vs. Sarah vs. Sarah
Morgan and Alex had waited up for them all this time. And Ellie, too. It would have seemed sweet except that they were all sitting bolt upright on Morgan's couch, while Sarah sat in a chair between them and the door, drinking lemonade. She didn't appear threatening in any way, no gun in her hands or anything, but that meant nothing. She knew twenty-six ways to kill a man without one.
"I know twenty-six ways to kill a man with my bare hands," she said, getting to her feet. "Granted, most of them don't work with this…watermelon stapled to my belly but there are only three of you." She put her glass down but that did not make any of them feel better. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
Chuck tried to paste on a smile, but it felt a little crooked. "Wh–what do you think's going on, uh, sweetie?"
"I'm sure I don't know, husband, since you've all gone to extreme lengths to keep me in the dark. It's enough to make a girl feel paranoid. You don't want me to feel paranoid, do you, Chuck?"
He raised his hands, palms out. No weapons here. "Absolutely not, dear."
"Good. So you want to tell me why Beckman sent her number one Intersect specialist, who just happens to be my sister-in-law, to visit us? Or why I would hear an Apache helicopter pass overhead? Or why the tracker in your shoe positioned you a hundred miles away? Well, I guess that explains the helicopter, at least. What's in Barstow, Chuck?"
Deep breath. Tell the truth. "A defunct Fulcrum base. You and I rescued my father from it, and Colonel Casey called in an air strike. We discovered Quinn was using it after a raid on his safehouse."
"You have been busy."
"It was all for you, Sarah!"
"I don't have the Intersect."
"But you did!"
"I don't have the Intersect, I don't want the Intersect. It and Quinn robbed me of my life, and now I just want to move on. I just want to have this baby and get out of here!" Oops. She hadn't meant to say that. Her face fell.
His face fell. "You want to leave?"
"I have to leave! I have to get as far away from you as it's possible to get and I will do everything in my power to never think of you again."
"I never saw you smile, not a real smile. Do you care for me so little? Do you want to be a spy that much?"
Sarah launched herself at him. "Do you think I don't feel it?" Her slap spun his head around and threw him against the wall. Ellie stood up, but Casey waved her off. Sarah grabbed Chuck's shirt, yelled into his face. "Do you think I remember nothing? I'm not a blank slate. I wish Quinn had stolen all of me!" She dropped her head onto his shoulder. "I remember…cups! Broken watches! Beaches, and walls, and every single one of these microscopic moments of my life glows with the love she felt for you!" She pushed away from him, desperately, and he didn't try to hold on to her. "This child is her child, and it may be a consolation for you but it's only pain for me!"
"But we can fix that!"
"How? Can you remove these last few memories?"
He shook his head. "We can put the others back!"
That brought her up short. "You can do that? They told me you couldn't do that!"
"Ellie…Ellie thinks maybe we can. But we weren't sure. We just didn't want to tell you until after we went to Barstow. We didn't want to get your hopes up."
"My hopes up? What makes you think you'll get my hopes up?"
"But…you're my wife!"
"No. She's your wife. I'm your handler. I burn assets like you, I don't fall in love with them."
"No, she did. She was willing to pay for that love with an ocean of pain but I'm not, and I'm not going to let you destroy me just so you can have your precious Sarah Bartowski back. You're in love with another woman who happens to be me!"
"I don't want Sarah Bartowski back. I want Sarah back. I want you."
Sarah shook her head. "You can't have us both."
"What are you afraid of?" asked Gertrude suddenly. "It can't be pain, Sarah Walker would never fear pain."
She didn't fear pain. She feared what was bought with pain. "You don't know how it feels."
Verbanski smiled. "I don't? You think you're the only woman who loves in this room?" She took Casey's hand, and he let her. "You think you're the only woman who fears to love? We all do. Love burns, yes, but only because you keep turning away from it."
Sarah turned away, but on her other side was Alex, holding Morgan's hand fiercely. Before her was Chuck. She stared at the floor.
"Sarah," said Ellie, "It's not you or her. She won't overwrite you. It'll be you and her."
Everyone was gathered in Castle's conference room, even General Beckman watched from her office. Ellie placed two items on the table, a pair of sunglasses, and the suppressor panel. "I've modified both devices. The Intersect has no download capacity, all it can do is compress and decompress your memories. The decompression module and the suppressor have both been fixed to look in the correct place for where the altered memories should be. Do you have any questions?"
"The Intersect won't hurt me? Take any more of the memories I have?"
Ellie shook her head. "It won't flash. All we'll do is upload it and then suppress it. The suppressor activates the decompressor."
Sarah was scared, of course. They all knew it. They supported her completely. She knew it. She reached out a hand that thankfully didn't shake and picked up the glasses. "Here goes." She put the glasses on. Something flashed, and was gone. "Did it work?"
"I think so," said Ellie. "Unfortunately we can't test this, without the ability to flash. There are tests, but my lab's back in Chicago."
Sarah rested her head in her hands. She could have mentioned that! God her head hurt.
"Pain?" asked Ellie.
"Good," said Ellie. "Everyone except Chuck complains of headaches, so I'd say it worked."
"Hurray for the empirical method," Sarah croaked. She raised her head. "Can we get it out now?"
"Absolutely," said Ellie, holding up the suppressor. "Look at this."
She blinked in the afterglow of the suppressor flash. "Ow, that's bright!" No one replied. She looked up. Ellie was still holding the panel out, but it was a dull gray now. Ellie's eyes didn't track her motion. She seemed frozen. They all did. "Ellie? Chuck?" She got up out her chair. No one moved. She turned.
Sarah stood on the stairs, leather catsuit and all. "Where do you think you're going?"
She had to go, had to get back to… Her clothes smelled like sausage. She looked down.
"Not bad, as cover identities go," said catsuit-Sarah, walking over. "Most people would underestimate you. Even me."
"He didn't." She threw a punch.
Catsuit-Sarah dodged it easily. Like she knew it was coming. "Maybe not, but what did he know? Easy to impress the yokels."
"I kept him alive." She kicked air.
"Did you?" Catsuit-Sarah pushed, sending the other girl to her knees. "How many times did he save your life?"
She couldn't count. "Often enough," she hedged.
Catsuit-Sarah laughed. "That little? Oh my, someone's not being honest." She kicked her opponent, laid her out flat.
She rolled out of range, coming to her feet in an orange tank-top and slacks.
"That's a better look for you, I have to admit. I'm sure he liked it better." Catsuit-Sarah moved in swinging.
Tanktop-Sarah caught the blow with a forearm block. "He didn't care what I looked like."
Catsuit-Sarah laughed. "I'm sure he didn't. That's why you went to such lengths to dress up for him. Because he didn't care."
"I didn't dress up for him." She aimed a punch, only to get tangled in the folds of her red evening gown.
"Of course you didn't." Catsuit-Sarah grabbed a fold of the gown and swung Gown-Sarah into the corners, into the dark. "And all the men you oh-so-conveniently met. Just doing your job."
She flew out of the dark in full tactical gear. "Yes! He was my responsibility. He was my job."
Catsuit-Sarah fell back under her assault."My job is my life."
Tactical-Sarah moved in. "Yes. He is my life. No."
"Yes," said Catsuit-Sarah. "He is your life."
She looked down at the bridal gown she wore.
"Fight me," said Catsuit-Sarah, grinning. "If you can, in that."
Bride-Sarah looked at her other, former self, panting, waiting, ready, like she could go on forever. Like she would. "No."
Catsuit-Sarah stood straight, dropping her defense. "You're weak."
Bride-Sarah walked closer, slowly. "No. You're weak. You need opposition, your defenses are always up. How many names have you had? How many lives? I need only the one." Sarah Bartowski gripped the leather catsuit and tore it like paper. Under it were jeans, a blouse.
Her former self smiled. "I couldn't let it be easy. That's not what we're made of."
Sarah smiled back. "No, it isn't. Have a nice life." She pushed…
Sarah slammed back into her chair, gasping and choking. Ellie was already at her side and Chuck wasn't far behind. "Sarah!"
Her name, his voice. "Chuck!" She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck, his hair, breathing in the scent of him for the first time in…months. Her life. He kept her alive, every day. Cacophony reigned but she tuned it all out until she heard an imperious voice she couldn't ignore.
She turned her head, staring up at the screen from the shelter of her husband's arms. "Agent Walker-Bartowski, General."
"Well, Doctor Bartowski?"
"She appears to be fully recovered, General. Physically fit, and she responded correctly to some basic questions. I want to give her some time to recover before I try anything more strenuous, and of course my lab in Chicago…"
"Yes, I'll arrange some leave. We'll send a courier for the suppressor and that other card of Quinn's, they'll be waiting for you when you get back. I'll expect your full report ASAP."
"You'll have it, General." The screen went blank. "I hate it when she does that."
Then Casey stuck something in her hand, a glass filled from Chuck's very large bottle of chardonnay. "Congratulations, Doctor."
"To all of us, John. And to Sarah." They all drank to that. "Morgan, you had the Intersect too, didn't you?"
"Ellie," Morgan took Alex' hand, "Sarah lost her life, she needed the cure. Me, I think I'm a better man now, and I want to stay that way. I mean, what did I lose, a few hundred hours of old video games?"
"Thousands," Ellie murmured.
"I got back the important stuff, like Episode IV, although if you could figure a way to get Jar-Jar out of my head I'd be much obliged. But I'll pass."
Casey smiled. "Cheers."