A/N Moving right along...
"So they'll have two other projects beyond this one?"
"I'll bring him back to you."
"Have you ever heard of Remote Desktop?"
He looked like he was sleeping. Casey held his torso, Morgan pulled his second leg up and over the lip of the crater to join the first, but Sarah only held her man's head, brushing her fingers through his curls and …the back of his head felt funny. She stroked it, felt bare skin. He'd been shaved.
Casey was being more practical. "He's alive. Got a pulse, respiration."
Somehow she knew that, feeling curiously calm. The drug Shaw gave her kept her from panicking but that had worn off, leaving her in the heart of her storm. Numb? She pressed her hand to Chuck's chest, felt it rise and fall. Lub. Dub. So calming.
No shirt, just bandages. "Why doesn't he wake up?" Why bandages? Did Shaw do that? He must have, the Ring wouldn't have. Would they? What did they have planned? Did Shaw know? How could he die knowing something like that?
"Is my name Ellie?" asked Casey, sounding utterly unlike himself. He pulled his hand out from under, found smears of blood all over it. "Or Devon?" Sarah traced a finger over his palm, her face still. He folded Chuck's arms across his chest.
"It's your bedside manner, Casey, so similar," said Morgan, nodding.
"Shut up, Grimes," said Casey. He slid his hand under Chuck's head, under Sarah's hand. "Sarah, you and Grimes take his legs. Let's get him…where he needs to go."
Carina felt the ground tremble, or maybe that was just the pounding of her heart. The sounds from inside the warehouse, and the cloud of dust billowing from the doors and windows, were a bit more definitive. Her life didn't do her the favor or flashing before her eyes, so she went and hunted it down. It hadn't gone far. She'd only traded one box for another, and there wasn't much else to do in either one, although this one had a more interesting view.
They came out, staggering, and for a second she contemplated going to help but decided that would be more than a little inappropriate. They were carrying Chuck out, Casey holding his shoulders, Sarah and Morgan each had a knee. Shaw was nowhere in sight.
They brought him over to Casey's car, where the big man opened the rear door and laid Chuck's upper body on the seat, before switching places with Morgan. Morgan climbed in and guided Chuck's head as the others pushed his legs, backing up and climbing out the other door. Sarah got in with Chuck as Casey got in the driver's seat. Morgan opened the side door but didn't get in. He caught something and shut the door, and the Crown Vic roared out of the lot.
Morgan walked over to the Porsche, and got in the passenger side. "They said Ellie's location was classified," he said, handing her the keys.
"I'm sorry," she said, taking them and plugging them into the ignition without looking directly at him. She knew where he'd rather be.
"It's not your fault." He was looking out the window, at the warehouse, Shaw's sweet ride, anything but her.
She noticed. "It's about the only thing that isn't." Thanks for the reminder.
He shrugged, unwilling to belabor the point. He had other things on his mind, and he didn't want to think about her anymore. Didn't want to tell her about Shaw and add to her obvious sense of guilt. That would only be cruel and Morgan wasn't a cruel man. "What are we waiting for?"
"Someone has to watch the building until the rest of the team arrives. I mean–"
"I know what you meant. For what it's worth, they haven't dropped you from the team yet."
"They've got bigger fish to fry than me."
Morgan looked at his hands, saw the blood he'd picked up helping move Chuck. "True." He caught her not looking and turned them palms down. "Sorry."
Just then a car pulled into the lot, followed moments later by a black panel wagon that might as well have screamed 'Federal Agents'.
"That's it?" asked Morgan. "No tank? No air support?"
The Lensmen twins got out of the car, but aside from a nod in their direction ignored the pair in the Porsche. Men poured out of the truck, preparing to rappel down into the hole and secure the site.
"Now we can go." She turned the key. "What happened to Shaw?"
Ellie's phone rang and she leaped to answer it. Diane had told her that a quick response would likely be a good response, so she did her part to make it quicker. "What's the word, General?"
Oh, God, a first name. Was that good news or bad? Was she softening the blow?
"–I just heard from Sarah, they've recovered Chuck and are bringing him to you now."
Oh, God! "Why?"
Beckman looked unhappy. "I'd like to say it's because you're his sister, but according to Sarah he's been injured, and he's not responding in any way."
Not responding? "What kind of injuries?"
"They can't tell. Agent Shaw wrapped him in bandages, and I don't imagine they were blood-soaked when he did."
"Didn't they ask him why?"
"He's dead, Ellie. Threw Chuck to his team as the base collapsed under him. Whatever he did, whatever his reasons, they went down with him."
"What do you mean, 'whatever he did'?"
"He went into the base alone, Ellie, he drugged Sarah and left her behind. According to her, he felt she wasn't in shape for it."
"She wasn't. Bone glue is no substitute for healing."
"Yes, well, going in alone is no substitute for proper procedures. The name of this game is the recovery of actionable intelligence, not James Bond heroics."
"He saved my brother!"
"Believe me, that will be the keynote of my eulogy." General Beckman's image vanished.
Ellie had nothing further to think about Beckman that she hadn't already thought before, so she didn't bother. Instead she put on her doctor face, and got ready for the imminent arrival of a person with his own blood on the outside of his body.
Ellie stood by with a gurney, ready and waiting for a call from wherever Casey decided to access the building, when the doors crashed inward, and a man in coveralls pushed a box on wheels into her domain. "John?"
Casey turned and pointed to his name patch. "Please, Doctor, call me Ladyfeelings. I have a reputation to uphold." He spotted the gurney, reached into his bin and pulled out a bunch of cloth, which he threw on the floor. "We're here."
"One second," said a muffled voice inside the box, and then Sarah rose, straight up, with Chuck in her arms. Casey held the bin tightly so it wouldn't shift under her as Ellie brought up the gurney, letting go only to grab his end of Chuck's body and lay it face down. Sarah climbed out of the bin while Ellie sprayed warm water on her brother's back, and pulled the stand holding her tools over to the gurney. She picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting through the bandages. "What happened?"
"Unknown," said Ladyfeelings, gathering up the cloth he'd used as camouflage and throwing it in the bin. "Shaw carried him out of there like that, threw him to us as the floor collapsed." He watched as she used cotton swabs to loosen the cloth from the skin without opening whatever wounds had put the blood there in the first place.
"I'm seeing lots of little holes in him, like hundreds of needle marks up and down the length of his back, along his spine."
"They injected something?"
"Looks like," she replied, her attention focused elsewhere. They left her to it as they went into the other room, Sarah to call Beckman, and Casey to check in with the team at the warehouse.
"You don't have to do this, you know," said Morgan.
"I know," said Carina. Sarah could hunt her down no matter where she went. "I left something here, though." They turned the corner to where the cells were. "Hey!"
The man in coveralls turned, spray bottle in one hand, squeegee in the other. "Can I help you, Agent Miller?"
"Yes, you can, Mister…Muffin. I need three things from you. First, put that stuff away. Second, get some kind of fixative or sealant, to make sure that–" she pointed at the bloody handprint "–isn't accidentally washed off." She put her hand on the cell control, and the door slid open.
"What's the third thing?" asked Muffin, putting his equipment back in the cart.
She walked right by him into the cell, head high, and turned. "Close the door, please."
Muffin nodded, and obliged her. As the door slid shut he turned to Morgan. "You coming back down to IM, Mr. Grimes?"
Morgan stopped looking at Carina. "No, not unless they've got a bed that looks softer than that one." He gestured at the pallet in the cell, yawning. "I've been up all day, and I work nights." Not to mention that he'd been brought in by Casey's team, wasn't entirely sure where he was, and certainly didn't know how he'd get back home from here if he did. Probably wouldn't be worth it anyway, since he'd just have to go to work in a few hours.
"Nothing like that down here, sir," said Muffin. "I can lock the door open on this cell here, if you like, and you can get some shuteye in there."
"You read my mind."
"Good afternoon, team," said General Beckman, looking rather down. "I hope you've all had a better—Ellie? What's Chuck's status?"
"It's…unchanged, General. His autonomic nervous system is functioning, but that's the only thing that is. Whatever they did to him down there, it involved shutting down all of Chuck's higher brain functions. I see only the one wave, even on my father's machine."
"That damn Shaw," fumed Casey. "If he weren't dead I'd kill him myself, leaving us in the dark like this."
"Before you vent any further, Ladyfeelings, " said Ellie, "You should know that your superior officer already expressed many of the same sentiments before you came in, and I examined Chuck with as much an eye for 'actionable intelligence' as his actual welfare."
"You found something?" asked Sarah.
Ellie lifted a tray and placed it on the table. "I found these in some of the holes in his back." With a pair of tweezers she picked up…nothing. "You can't see it unless you're real close, but this is a microfilament sensor. The injections were apparently made to put these into place. I'm guessing that when Shaw freed Chuck he did it the hard way, and some of these were broken off."
"Can you determine what they were for?"
Ellie blew out a sigh. "I can try, but, as a first approximation, there's really not a lot to measure in the spine except electro-chemical activity, and with his brain shut down there's not a lot of that, except for his reflexes."
Sarah stiffened. "The skills are reflexes, aren't they?"
"They're a big part, yes, and for some they're the only part. But if they were trying to study the skills, they would have needed a way to force Chuck's brain to access them and they couldn't have been one hundred percent successful in the short time they had him."
Casey snorted, more dismissive than a mere grunt. "So Shaw cut their little brain-drain short, huh? That's better than nothing, I suppose, but since I doubt he saw those little hairs any more than I can, I stand by my statement."
"Then maybe this will change your mind." Ellie lifted a second try onto the table, with a couple of disks and even a flash drive.
"Where did you find those?" asked the General.
"They were wrapped up in the bandages against his stomach, I didn't see them until after I rolled him into the bed. Hopefully there's something on them we can use."
"Can you do it?"
"I've got Manoosh, he's been a real godsend…"
"If he can pull this off I'll put him on salary."
Casey picked up a disk. "Probably loaded with viruses."
"Obviously precautions will need to be taken," agreed the General. "Ellie, you've changed my mind. Even if these disks yield nothing, clearly Daniel Shaw knew his duty and went above and beyond to do it. If anyone deserves this medal he does."
"What medal, General?"
Beckman sighed. "Brace yourself, Colonel, you're not going to like this…"
Morgan was twisting in bed when Casey walked into the cell. "Grimes, Grimes, wake up!"
Morgan sat up, shouting. "Casey! Casey, thank God it's you! I was having the worst dream, man, I dreamed they took Chuck's brain and transplanted it into Frankenstein–"
"Shut up, Morgan. I need your phone."
"My phone? What's wrong with your phone?"
"My phone doesn't have that nifty Star Wars version of Angry Birds on it."
"Oh!" Morgan fished it out of his twisted clothing and handed it over. "I didn't know you played–"
Casey snatched it from his hand. "I don't, idiot, but I need to call your job and this was the easiest way to get the number."
"My job? What are you calling my job for? You're not gonna get me fired, are you?"
"I wish," muttered Casey. "Hello, can I speak to your manager please?...Good evening sir, I'm Colonel John Casey, United States Marines…Thank you, sir. I'm calling about one of your assistant managers, Mr. Morgan Grimes. No, sir, nothing like that. I'm calling to inform you that Mr. Grimes will not be available to work for the next several days…No sir, that's classified. He'll be dining with the President tomorrow night, sir, with more public honors to follow. Thank you, sir, for your cooperation." He tossed the phone back to Morgan in disgust and walked away.
"Casey! Casey, man, wait up! What the hell was that all about, who's giving me honors? I didn't do anything. It's dishonest, I won't accept."
Dammit, now Casey had to respect him again. "You know that and I know that, but no one else knows that and that's the way it's gotta be."
"Because if anyone in authority finds out what really happened in that attic she goes to prison at the very least," said Casey, pointing at Carina. "You saved Agent Miller, that's the story I told, God help me. You materially contributed to and participated in the rescue of Agent Carmichael, and that is the truth. And because the damn Costa Gravans have already given you their Medal of Valor we have to do the same or look stingy."
Carina applauded, lightly.
"Shut it, Miller," snapped Casey. "None of this would have happened if you'd kept your trap shut."
"Hey, don't yell at her, Casey, she's sorry, already," said Morgan, surprising himself. "Fine, I'll take the medal, but that doesn't mean I'm going to keep it. I'll give it away, like I did the last one."
Well, there goes that moment of respect. "You don't give away national honors, you idiot! You have to appear on that stage with that medal or it'll cause an international incident. Granted, not much of one, but still…" Casey grabbed him by the shoulders, resisting the urge to strangle a national-hero-to-be. "Who'd you give it to?"
"Anna, of course. She did all the work, she deserved it–"
"Great." Casey fished out his own phone, pressed speed dial. "General? Ma'am, you're not going to like this…"
A/N2 Comments appreciated, as always.