A/N I was rewatching Final Exam for this chapter, and the thing that stuck out most was Sarah's bizarre posture when Chuck was going down the stairs to Castle. Who stands like that? Just one of the unnatural things in this episode.
My great thanks to phnxgirl, who helped me with the brain imaging scene. I was just trying to work with standard medical technology, but she remembered the device from somewhere in the wilds of season 4.
"She drew on you?"
"I very much doubt that your memory is the only special thing about you."
"I have to help Carina."
"Charles Carmichael doesn't exist."
The city was dark and cold, harsh and unforgiving.
The running man was a creature of the dark. To him this was home, or as close to home as one of his sort ever got. The night protected him, lost his scent, muffled his sounds, blinded his enemies. Even his allies, and those who worked his will without ever realizing it, did not see him there as he orchestrated their every action.
Nonetheless someone had found him, pulled him momentarily into the light, and now he ran, his shoes slippery, the ground stony and uneven. He was in the train yard, walled in by locomotives and vast freight cars on all sides. Clouds of steam obscured his sight, noises buried the sounds of those who pursued him as they buried his own.
He couldn't let himself be taken, he had intel for his team that couldn't be lost. Merely running further was to chance losing it. Making it to safety would make that chance a certainty. He could take nothing with him into his Fortress of Solitude, his Cave of Steel.
He had to leave it here, hide it in plain sight, someplace where only those who knew where to look could find it. Only then could he seek safety for himself.
She sat on top of the building, needing a place to hide for herself, watching without moving as they were swiftly and methodically taken from her. She'd stolen her adversary's phone, not only to keep it out of her hands for a crucial few minutes but also to turn the GPS tracking feature back on. Now she could track her every movement, and presumably, those of Casey as well, going wherever she didn't. "Sloppy, Bartowski, very sloppy." See what that bastard husband of yours has done to you?
"Okay, now why would you go there?" said Ellie to herself, watching the orange track of her brother's lone beta-wave pattern as it correlated with activity in the occipital lobe. She tightened her focus.
The running man fled, his package secured, free to look out for himself. He'd lost time and ground, and now those who pursued him could track his every panting breath, each stumbling footfall. The ground didn't suit him, he preferred order and precision, but you can't always pick your battles.
He fell, the shadows that followed him getting nearer as he twisted himself around to look his pursuers in the face. "Don't," he shouted, raising his hands in supplication. "Please don't. I had no choice! You'd do the same in my shoes."
The activity spread outward, Ellie couldn't get a good read on the main nexus. "Dammit. Too late again."
He sensed rather than saw his pursuer slow, its purpose distracted, its steps more hesitant. Like lightning he reached for his backup piece, drew and aimed. Fool! No one beats Charles Carmichael! He fired, and the world went away.
"What the hell was that?"
Manoosh came to the door at her sudden volume, and looked at the holographic display in awe. "What do you mean, 'what the hell was that'? What the hell is this?"
Ellie sat back and blew her bangs from her eyes. "This is a holographic brain imager my Dad invented. It takes about three different technologies and blends them into one, so I can see cellular and electrical activity imaged here, nowhere near real time, with wave patterns indicated there, more or less real time. And one of my wave patterns just disappeared."
She made a face. "Oh, it's pretty, all right, but it's not very useful. The imaging components lag behind the graphing components by about a thousand to one, so I can see the pretty little wave forms go, but not where they went to. I'm sure it meant a lot to my dad, but he was a computer scientist and an engineer, not a neuroscientist. I'm not trying to tell the brain what to do, I'm trying to figure out what it's already doing."
"Can I help?"
"Aren't you working on that flash-bang problem?"
He shook his head. "Not much I can do with it. I'm not an optical physicist, for one thing, and this was not a controlled experiment, for another. Without precisely calculated distances anything I had to say would be guesswork and speculation at best, so I just cut to the chase. Report's in your email."
Ellie sighed. "Fine, I'll go read it for my next briefing. Meanwhile…" Ellie shunted the live feed off to one side, and brought up the playback, rewinding to the event she'd witnessed. "Can you figure out what caused this?" They watched as the orange beta pattern suddenly swirled and vanished.
"Do brain waves normally do that?"
"No. Somewhere in a thousand milliseconds is a brain body suddenly acting funny, and I need to know which one it was." She checked her watch, and stood. "My briefing's in a little while. Let me go read your report while you play around with this." The look in his eyes made her immediately regret her choice of words.
She checked her watch. Time was running out.
She turned off her app, and made a call. "Hi Martin. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I came over tonight. You were worried about me? But I was worried about you. Oh, you and Sarah, huh? She called? Yes, I'm sure she did. Could you do me a favor and not tell her I called you back? See, I'm in a bit of a sticky situation right now and the fewer civilians–yes, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you but–Martin! Does 'federal agent' important trump 'Orange Orange' important? I thought you'd see it my way, so don't call anyone. You got that? Good. I'll see you tonight." She ended the call. And hopefully no one else.
"Good afternoon, Ellie. It'll just be us today. Sarah, Casey, and Shaw are out paying visits to whatever known haunts Carina might have in the area."
"What is that supposed to accomplish? Surely she has more than three."
"When Carina waylaid Sarah earlier, she took her phone and reactivated the GPS signal. We're using that to our advantage. Carina won't dare go to a house we've already visited, and if she's tracking Sarah she'll know we've visited them all. With her safe houses unavailable to her, she'll have no choice but to go to the only place Sarah won't be visiting today."
"Which is where?"
"Morgan Grimes' apartment. When our sensors pick her up, we move in and it's done."
"Let's hope so."
Beckman frowned, her default expression. "This is the NSA, Ellie. We don't hope, we plan. Now, what is the status of the Intersect?"
"The Intersect is still offline, and my brother is still unconscious," said Ellie, a bit annoyed at the way General Beckman seemed to habitually conflate the two. "I have a report from Manoosh about the alleged cause. The best he can do is ballpark it for us, since the event didn't occur under controlled conditions, but the gist of it is that the lights could have affected the Intersect much like random data would, and it simply crashed."
"Can he be un-crashed?"
Ellie refrained from pointing out the stupidity of her nominal superior's question. "I'm running an experiment right now, General, I have some suspicions that I'd like to verify. If what I suspect is true, he should wake up on his own. If I'm wrong, I'm going to attempt an upload to reboot his system."
"You're experimenting on your own brother?" Without authorization?
"Not an active experiment, just a waiting game. According to the record of the hypnotic regression, Chuck came back on level fourteen. His specific words were 'I', followed by 'he couldn't'. I believe Charles Carmichael is 'he', and what he couldn't do was figure out the pattern. He needed Chuck. I'm waiting to see if Chuck comes back on his own, and when."
"To quote a certain Doctor I know, 'what is that supposed to accomplish'?"
"I've been thinking about all the problems Chuck's been having lately, and I'm not at all sure that they were all Intersect related. If I get a good 'when', not only does it verify 'who', but I can also use that to figure out 'where'. From that we should be able to figure out 'why', and eventually, between Chuck, Manoosh, and myself, we'll get to 'how'. We can run Charles Carmichael to ground."
Beckman's frown lightened up, the closest she normally got to a smile. "Very good, let's hope that works, since we can't exactly plan it beyond what you've already done. And whatever you 'think about', please make sure to document for me." Beckman sat back. "Now I have one last order of business, which makes it especially fortunate that we are the only two on this call."
"Can you explain why I was subjected to a variety of extremely salacious images of Agent Miller's body in my inbox?"
Oh, yes. That. Ellie turned beet red. "I'm sorry, General, that was my fault. When I asked Mr. Fitzroy for an analysis of the contents of Carina's pockets, it didn't occur to me to think where most of those pockets were located."
When the phone rang, Sarah lunged for it so fast her car almost swerved out of the not-fast-enough lane. "Talk to me, Ellie."
"One hundred and eight minutes."
She almost dropped the phone. "Oh thank God." Now would be a good time for the slower-than-this lane.
"You've done enough grandstanding, Sarah. Now get in here, your husband needs you."
"Yes, ma'am," she said shakily, happily. She looked up to check the next lane and…finally noticed the police car behind her. "Crap."
The pair navigated the slowing traffic until she pulled off to the side of the road and stopped, not really minding as she suddenly felt too tired to move the steering wheel. So tense for so long, so suddenly relieved. Mission nerves had nothing on my-husband-is-in-a-coma nerves.
"You don't look so good."
She looked up, barely able to see. "Officer Davis?" The blurred figure handed her a cloth, and she wiped her eyes with trembling hands. "How long have you been following me?"
He smiled. "Long enough to know that you weren't looking behind you all that often. Where's the fire?"
She smiled. "No fire, just…chasing shadows." Running from phantoms. She handed him his handkerchief. "Thanks."
"No problem. Your husband again?"
"Sort of." She gave him a look. "How can you tell?"
He shrugged. "Fifty-fifty. Got lucky."
For some reason this struck her as terribly funny.
"So he's alive, then?" asked Davis, over her sudden fit of giggles.
She beamed. "And conscious." And still her husband…
He gave her a compassionate look. "You weren't sure, were you?"
She remembered the sound of his head hitting the table. That settled her right down. "No."
"Shouldn't you be with him?"
She shook her head. "He has other people than me, people I trust. Now that he's awake I'll head back."
He looked up and down the road. "What were you doing out here anyway?"
"My best friend's out here, somewhere. Alone. And she has no one but me."
"Miss Single?" That got him an odd look. "Carina?"
"Another lucky guess?"
"No, I got the BOLO. Is she in some kind of trouble?"
"It's complicated." The familiar refrain. "She was, but now she isn't, except she doesn't know that, so I guess she still is, and she might be in more if we don't find her first." Her head dropped. "And she hates me. Or she thinks I hate her. Or something."
He shook his head. "I remember the way you two sniped at each other, and here you left your husband to look for her. You have to be best friends for that."
Don't tell me, tell her. "She'll be glad to know you remembered her."
He backed away, hands raised defensively. "Please don't say anything. She looked kind of…predatory."
Carina was right, he was kind of cute. "She prefers the Catch and Release method, but I think after all that's happened she'll be off boyfriends for a while. You should be safe."
"Thanks. Now, you, go back to your husband, and stay off the runways."
She saluted. "Yes, sir, officer."
"Report, Force Leader."
"Contact with our mole has not yet been made. The Agency detected her breach, and forced her to run. Since then they have issued a BOLO and made it even harder for her to come in."
"Have you killed the hostage?"
"No. Operative 72 noted a call made to the hostage by Agent Walker. He suggested it might be possible they would try to drive the mole to him by a process of elimination. Agency actions so far have supported that theory."
"They'll have his room monitored."
"We have their bugs located. When the time is right we'll jam the signal. I expect we'll have the drive in our possession within a day, Leader."
"Kill them all. Make it painful."
"Yes sir, Heinrich is standing by."
A/N2 See you in a few days with chapter 2. I'll be sitting by the comment box with my laptop.