A/N The plot thickens, and thins, and thickens some more.
"We haven't been able to find Agent Miller."
"She didn't say why she was worried but I think we can guess."
"It's not the same man."
"I'm done now."
As Sarah crossed the lobby the desk clerk called to her. Carina had left her phone. She immediately took the backplate off and checked for bugs. Then she called in, but could contact no one in her immediate circle, so she escalated.
"This is General Beckman."
Sarah guessed her superior's day had been just full of surprises. "General, I had an encounter with Carina."
"I'm going to guess from the word 'encounter' that she's not with you."
"Correct, General. I tracked her down at the apartment we shared as trainees, but she anticipated me and drew first." Surprise!
The General lost her cool tone. "She drew on you?"
"I'm afraid so. Fortunately she was satisfied just to warn me off, this time. She delayed me in the apartment and left."
"Are you tracking her now?"
"No, General. She mentioned my husband several times, but only as Charles, not Chuck. I'm thinking she may have a wire."
The General sounded happier about that. "Which implies she's being coerced."
"That was my thought, ma'am. When I asked her why she was doing this, she said to ask Charles." And that's what I plan to do.
"You think she made a plan with him in the vault? In less than a minute?"
"It makes sense, ma'am. If Morgan was a hostage and she was wired, the only place she could come clean would have been the vault, and one minute would have been plenty of time when Chuck was there. He would know that what she was doing wasn't treason. Has any progress been made restoring his memory?" Please say yes.
"No, although we are exploring a number of approaches. And the situation is more critical than you suspect, even if he does remember and does clear her name." And her name would need clearing, regardless of what her superiors privately thought.
"Why? What did she take?"
"Any progress to report?"
"None, sir. The CIA discovered the breach sooner than expected and detained all their operatives, except Agent Miller. She's been constantly on the move since then. None of the specified drop sites have been accessed."
She must not have opened the other vault box when he did, the system would have picked up the signals separately. "Do they know what she took?"
"Unlikely, sir. The search is being kept in-house so far."
Curious. "What is the status of this Martin character?"
"She paid him a visit immediately after completing the mission, and left. He played his games for several hours and then left for his duties as breakfast chef."
"You searched his room?"
"Of course. Several drives were found, but none were our target. Maybe her attachment to him isn't as great as we thought. Should we terminate him?"
"No," said Leader. "He's still a connection to several of the others, regardless of his potential as a handle on her. Besides, Heinrich can't walk upright yet and that job is his. I promised Agent Miller." Around the room, eyes winced and legs closed.
"Sir, if the CIA do escalate the search, they could also drive her back to him. Agent Walker called him earlier and laid that groundwork."
Leader considered his underling's idea, and agreed. "Increase the monitoring on Carmichael. We'll let this play out for a while longer." He noted the man's name, for his report.
"The Fulcrum Intersect?" Maybe it was the noise her car made, but Sarah wanted to make sure she'd heard right.
"A backup copy."
"I thought that was defective," said Casey.
"Yes, fatally so." Fatal to the project, that is. Some of the test subjects survived. "Our analysis of the files retrieved by Agent Barker indicated that their system would never have been viable. Only Chuck could have survived it intact, and even his long-term prospects would have been dim at best."
"So why does the Ring want it?"
"The Ring is not like Fulcrum, Colonel, they're more parasitical, a power behind a multitude of thrones. They take bits and pieces from a variety of sources. Perhaps they discovered a technology somewhere that would repair the flaws, or plan to put it to a different use entirely."
"I saw what it did when put to its intended use, General."
"Let's hope they haven't ironed out those bugs, Colonel. Sarah, we've arranged for a company psychiatrist to come and try to hypnotically enhance Chuck's recollection of events last night. Ellie's very busy looking into other aspects of the event, so I need you to be here, for Chuck's sake." And Chuck, being Chuck, would go above and beyond, for Sarah's sake. General Beckman patted herself on the back yet again, as she had at least once a week since sanctioning their marriage. Best decision I ever made.
"I'm on my way in now."
"Good afternoon, Agent Carmichael. My name is Dreyfus, Dr. Leo Dreyfus. You can call me Leo, if you wish."
"Thanks, Doc. Please, call me Chuck." He offered his guest one of the Spartan chairs, the best the room had, which wasn't saying much.
Dr. Dreyfus smiled, and sat, placing his case on the table. Chuck sat across from him, while Sarah settled on the bed, keeping out of the direct line of sight as Dr. Dreyfus had requested. "Okay, Chuck. Do you know why I'm here, Chuck?"
Chuck glanced over at Sarah, who smiled back, and he set his attention on his guest. "Something to do with my memory lapses, I presume."
The Doctor's voice was low and steady. "A very small something, Chuck. You are not a patient, and I am not here as your doctor. I am here in a technical capacity only, to hypnotically regress you through the events of last night, in order to improve your recollection of certain key details. I am not privy to all the details of your file, but I have clearance to become so if it should be necessary. Everything we do is being recorded. Is this clear?"
"It is, Doctor."
"Will you cooperate with this procedure?"
"Thank you, Chuck. Your wife is here as a familiar presence, but she will remain silent during the procedure, unless I decide otherwise or circumstances require it. Is this clear to you both?" They nodded, caught up in the slow solemnity of his voice. "Good." He opened his case and got out a small electronic metronome. "Let's get started."
One hypnotically induced trance later…
"Can you describe the state of this room when we entered, Chuck?"
"Your chair was in its original position, I haven't sat in it, my chair and this table were off-kilter from each other, I spilled some coffee and I had just wiped it up. The lights were on in the number two position…"
"Stop, Chuck. You have a very good memory, and clear perceptions."
"It's what makes me special."
Dr, Dreyfus looked over at Sarah, who was shaking her head. "I've seen the way your wife looks at you, Chuck, and I'm familiar with Agent Walker's record. I very much doubt that your memory is the only special thing about you."
"Her name isn't Walker, it's–"
"Chuck, stop!" said Sarah.
Dreyfus looked at Sarah, and she subsided. "Chuck, I expect that you will keep unnecessary or classified details private. I do not need to know. If I ask such a question just say 'it's classified'. Do you understand?"
"Then we'll continue. How did you wake up this morning?"
"A quartet of agents approached our house, two from the front, two in back. The two in front opened our bedroom door, and my wife disarmed them in her underwear."
Sarah blushed, of course he would remember that.
"While she was occupied with them, the other two took up positions on either side of our bed."
"Did you resist?"
Carmichael would have, Bartowski would not. "It's classified."
"Did you expect them?"
He'd asked the wrong question. "Did you expect them before the incursion began?"
"I don't know."
"For how long were you expecting the incursion?"
"Since the vault."
"Do you remember what happened in the vault, Chuck?"
"Why did you pause just now, Chuck?"
"I can remember the vault, but I can't remember everything about the vault. My sight is blurry, I can't hear very well."
"Why not? Were you injured?"
Sarah shook her head.
"I…don't know. I don't feel pain."
"What can you see?"
"I see the vault box, I see my hands putting on the electronic lockpick, I see the display, I see…nothing, I hear sounds, like people talking but I can't make out the words. I see the vault box again, the lock picked. Then I grab the handle and I can hear myself say, 'Now'. Then I turn the handle and I get the note. It says–"
"Stop, Chuck. We know what the note says. Why did you say 'now'?"
"I don't know."
"Were you talking to someone?"
"Who were you talking to, Chuck? Were you talking to Agent Miller?"
"I don't know."
"Is she in the vault with you, Chuck?"
"Yes, we entered together. Casey is watching the door."
"Do you remember passing the test on level fifteen, Chuck?"
"Yes, it was easy."
"What about level fourteen, Chuck?"
"Yes, Chuck. You had to match colors."
"Dancing on colors. I…he couldn't…"
Dreyfus and Sarah both leaned forward. Dreyfus kept his voice calm. "Who is 'he', Chuck?"
"Is it Colonel Casey?"
"Is there anyone else there with you?"
"No, just the four of us."
"Three. Me, Casey, Carina."
"Do you remember level thirteen, Chuck?"
Dreyfus checked a piece of paper. "Level nine?"
"What about eight?"
"I was juggling grenades."
"Yes you were. How many grenades, Chuck?"
"Six. That way the others had their hands free. But the ceiling was too low, I couldn't take any more."
"Did you drop the grenades, Chuck?"
"Casey was hurt, I…threw them away to help him. He knocked the last one out of my hand."
"They went off, didn't they?"
"Do you remember what happened after they went off?"
"We need to know what happened after they went off, Chuck. Do you want to help us?" He gestured to Sarah.
"Chuck, we need to know, Carina's in danger."
"I have to help Carina."
"Yes, please, Chuck."
"What do I do?"
"You listen to my voice, Chuck," said Dr. Dreyfus, waving Sarah back. "Listen to me as I count backwards. I'll start at fifteen, you remember fifteen, you were there. Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve. Eleven. Ten. Nine. Eight. You are there, Chuck, you are there on level eight, you are in that stairwell, Chuck. What happened, Chuck?"
Sarah leaned forward. "Now, Chuck!"
Chuck slumped in his chair, his head falling forward to hit the table with a thud!
Dreyfus and Sarah looked at each other, and Dreyfus reached out a hand to touch Chuck. As he touched two fingers to Chuck's neck, Chuck's head came up, his expression firm and cold. He pushed against the table, knocking the doctor away. Chuck leaped over the table in a handspring and came down on top of the doctor's chair, pinning him against the floor with his own pen pointed at his eye. "Who are you?"
"I'm Dr. Dreyfus," said Leo as calmly as he could. "Who are you?"
"Charles," said Sarah, and Chuck's head turned in her direction fast enough to be heard. "Charles Carmichael, we meet at last. It's your plan Carina's following, isn't it?"
He knelt there, unmoving.
Charles nodded once, slowly. "I'm sorry, Sarah." Leo's pen fell from limp fingers as Charles Carmichael slumped once again.
Sarah came over and pulled her husband over to lie on the floor as Leo retrieved his pen and stood up. "What was that?" he asked, putting down the pen to fix himself, his clothes, his chair, setting his world right.
Sarah pulled out her phone. "Keep the pen, doctor," she said, pressing a contact, "You're going to need it. Ellie…?"
"But Charles Carmichael doesn't exist."
"He does now, General. And Carina's out there, following a plan than no one knows about but her and a figment of Chuck's imagination."
"Colonel Casey, your thoughts?"
"'Mad Dog' may be madder than we thought, but as far as Carina's concerned, this changes nothing. She's out there with dangerous intel, and we need to bring her in before they do. The treason issue is secondary, and I'm inclined to agree with Agent Bartowski that it's a ruse. Let Ellie worry about how many Intersects are bunking together."
"But General, if we issue a BOLO all that will do is convince her that she's been abandoned by us. She's expecting some kind of contact signal from Chuck–"
"And she won't be getting one any time soon. I'm sorry, Sarah, but Colonel Casey's right, we have to worry about the effects here, not the cause. You'll have to kiss and make up later."
Carina stood on the balcony of a small penthouse suite she'd used once before. She couldn't stay long, but she got a shower in while she waited. She pulled out her new burner phone, checked the one app that mattered. Still no contact. Damn you, Chuck.
She heard a knock on the door, and shut the balcony doors, closing the inside catch with a loop of thread. "Miss Gruber, we have an urgent matter at the front desk that needs your attention." She stepped over the railing.
Yeah, Chuck, you have my back all right.
She heard the door open, could visualize the police officers efficiently searching every room, including the balcony no one could see her from. "Dispatch, she's flown the coop…"
She looked out at the city, a city slowly being closed off to her, by people she'd once called friends. Not yet. There's something I need to do first.
A/N2 A bit of a cliffhanger, only without the cliff, or the hanging. These next few episodes are much more tightly connected than they were in canon.
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