A/N: Fun fact. It's been so long since I updated this story that I almost forgot my password to log into the site. So. Sorry about that.
Chuck slung the rifle on his back and shrugged apologetically. "How'd you find us? Satellite imaging?"
Casey shook his head. "You called out for pizza."
"No, seriously," The Major just looked at him and Chuck wilted. "Seriously?"
"You were pretty good about it up until then. We'd completely lost track of you after France. Which is saying something given the FUBAR that turned into."
"Yeah. About that..."
"Not here," Casey said. "Where are you two staying?"
"You don't know?" Sarah said.
Casey growled. "Like I said, you've been doing pretty good at staying off the grid. Trying to catch you on voice recognition and back tracing you off the nearest cell tower only gets us so far when you've disabled the GPS. At least it got us in the right city"
Jackson was finally getting his breath back. "And how the hell did you two coordinate that ambush? We were still monitoring cell traffic for your voice print, right Major?"
"Our phones' push-to-talk is a dedicated private VOIP circuit. Burst encrypted VPN with a 1 meg AES cypher. Additionally they have an asynchronous random IP-hopping step-through proxy tree that changes every seven seconds. Not completely crack-proof, I admit, but it's still leaps and bounds better than all the old STU-4s that glutted the market a couple years back. And I've got us behind a handful of proxies so you'd have to be pretty lucky to know where to look to find the bitstream in the first place."
Everyone looked at him oddly. Even Sarah. "What?" Chuck said. He was a little confused by the baffled expressions.
She finally remembered to hand Jackson his sidearm back and put an arm around Chuck's shoulders. "We talked about how no one understands it when you go into nerd-jargon like that, right?"
"Oh. Yeah. I like computers," Chuck said, folding his arms defensively. "Sue me."
Casey and his NSA and FBI buddies caravaned back to the pier with them and now the ship seemed all too crowded. The galley had originally been intended to feed an entire crew but before the sale most of the tables had been removed, so they had to make do with the one remaining table. Sarah shifted the majority of their charts and such over to the galley counter while Chuck got a pot of coffee going.
Finally, once they were squeezed around the table, Chuck broached the subject again. "So..." he said. "On a scale of one to life in prison, exactly how much trouble are we in?"
Casey grunted. "Probably a two. You certainly don't want to go back to France right away. You're wanted for questioning; at the moment that's all though. Well, they've got a decent sketch of Blondie. But the guy Decker sicced on you at the beach, he's a CIA worker bee and he knows what the game is now. Since he's not going to be pressing charges, the worst they can do is deport you if you went back, really."
"Oh," Chuck said.
"There were a couple of bodies I was a little worried about..." Sarah began.
Casey just grunted. "Bad guys cleaned up after themselves. Other than Decker, who I really doubt you killed. And anyway, we're not exactly broken up about him biting the big one."
"Do what?" Chuck said.
"You're 'not that broken up' about a CIA deputy director getting killed?" Sarah said, crossing her arms.
"We were investigating him for corruption." The FBI agent shrugged. "But, investigation abated by death of subject looks just fine on a closed casefile to me. So, nice work."
"We didn't kill him!"
"Of course not." Jackson's eyelid flickered.
"Did you just wink at me?" Chuck said, pointing in accusation. "He just winked at me! They do think we killed Decker!"
Sarah patted him on the shoulder soothingly. "I'm sure they don't think-"
"There, you just did it again!"
"I have something in my eye." Jackson said. He rubbed vigorously for a moment and grimaced. "I didn't wink at you."
"Moving on," Casey said, "to the entire reason we bothered tracking you two numb-skulls down. What did Decker want to talk about with you?"
"Oh. I figured you already knew," Sarah said.
"The NSA is not magic," Casey said. "So, before you get up to three on that trouble meter Bartowski was going on about earlier, kindly spill."
"Long story short?" Sarah said.
"Please, God, yes," Casey grunted.
"Decker claimed there's a lost Nazi U-boat full of plutonium somewhere in the Caribbean. Claimed he wanted us to recover it, you know for the common good. 'Rah, rah, America' speech. Then he died. We were at the National Archives a couple days ago, and we think we figured out where to start looking."
"So, that's why you bought this heap? You're going after it."
"Yup," Chuck said. "Originally, we were doing it just to clear our names from the whole Decker thing once the CIA figured out his last meeting was with us. But since you're saying Decker was crooked, I assume he wanted to sell the plutonium to the people who are after us now. Which, by the way Casey, what happened to Graham?"
"Classified," he said.
Chuck rolled his eyes. "Fine, be that way. I just want to be clear. We are officially not in trouble though. Or, well there's still goons after us, so we're just not in official trouble. That's what you are willing to tell us?"
"Okay. So… right. Got a little sidetracked. Where was I?"
"Why we're going after the U-boat," Sarah said. "And why don't you let me take it from here. You tend to babble."
"I do not babble."
Sarah rolled her eyes. Casey grunted. Was that a faint hint of a smile? Couldn't be. Casey never smiled, in Chuck's memory.
"The goon squad that tried to take us at the National Archives weren't government," Sarah said, with a little pause built in for Casey to volunteer any information about said goons. After a moment she went on. "So at the very least we want to make sure they don't get their hands on any plutonium that may or may not be aboard that U-boat."
"May or may not?"
"Decker thought it was there and assuming the same people at the National Archives are the people who hit Decker in the south of France, they might have been his buyers. It tracks with the fact they didn't kill Chuck during that first raid, too. And the goons had orders to take us alive 'if possible.' They must not know the location of the sub."
"And anyway, most of the last minute WWII U-boat exports were monetary, not war-fighting materiel. Rats fleeing a sinking ship kind of a deal," Sarah said. "And since they're bad guys, we probably don't want them getting their claws into a boatload of old nazi blood money, even if it doesn't include twenty pounds of plutonium. I think that'd be something your agencies might want to assist with?"
"Officially our investigation is over," FBI said. "Somebody else is running the Decker murder investigation at the Bureau. And we don't actually have any jurisdiction wherever that submarine went down."
"Okay, way to pass the buck, there. How about you, Casey?"
"Officially, NSA doesn't have operational authority anywhere at all."
"Yeah, 'officially'," Chuck said. "But we've got a pretty big boat. I'm sure we could make room. Who's up to help us find some buried treasure?" Chuck glanced around at them. "I'm sure you've all got some time off coming. Little Caribbean vacation? You know you want to..."
Casey shook his head and grunted. Then he shrugged. "I would come along if I could. What I want has nothing to do with it. Even if we're not exactly crying crocodile tears over Decker, CIA lost both their number 1 and number 2 guys in the same week. I've got Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearings starting tomorrow and going on until God knows when."
"And they're going to want results on Decker's case," Sarah said. "Couldn't make it to the hearing because you're personally following up leads on the people who might have done it would look good, wouldn't it?"
"Congress doesn't work that way," Casey groused. "You don't show up, for any reason, and they slap you with a contempt of congress charge." He didn't look happy about it. "Best I can do, is have my boss pull some strings, maybe move some naval support close enough to do you some good if you run into trouble."
"And by naval support you mean..."
"Well it ain't going to be an aircraft carrier, I can tell you that much. And I doubt I could get a SEAL team kicked loose on such short notice," Casey shrugged helplessly. "I'm guessing a Destroyer or maybe a SAR ship, they'd have a chopper they could drop off a team with. I'll give it some more thought on my flight back to DC. Anything you can give me on the bad guys? If we have more intel on the bad guys, maybe I can get some more support."
"Like, if they're a known terrorist group or something, we'll get that SEAL team after all?"
Chuck nodded to Sarah and she pulled the card they'd taken off the goons at the National Archives, slid it across the table to him.
Casey let out a slow whistle. "You tangoed with these guys?"
"You know something?"
"Just that they're bad news. Not a lot of information gets out. Officially speaking, they don't exist. Fell off the black budget years ago."
"Wait, so they are government?"
"Not anymore," Casey shrugged. "The way I understand it is that this," he held up the business card to demonstrate, "is how they make their operations money. It's their corporate face. But nobody really knows what they get up to any more. Their communications security is so good we don't even get a whiff since they dropped out of the Intel-sharing net."
"So… I'm actually a little confused." Chuck said. "If they're not government affiliated, and they're bad guys, why don't you bust them?"
"Because we've never been able to link them to doing anything illegal," Casey said. "They pull employees from ex-CIA and other intelligence agencies and they only take the best. We've had suspicions that they're up to no good but usually their shenanigans have been outside the US. When we even know that they even have anybody in a country where something happened, there are always like half a dozen locals who vouch for their alibis. And not locals that could have been bought. Two times, we had one of these guys actually interviewing an outgoing CIA station chief for a job, as his alibi the same time we had something we thought was them."
"So they're the boogeyman," Sarah said, rolling her eyes. She was not impressed. "They can take credit for anything, even if they really didn't do anything. They probably even gave themselves some meaningless name trying to make themselves more mysterious sounding."
Casey grunted. "They're still bad news. If that's who Decker was working for, it explains him trying to get somebody else to do the recovery. He'd want a fall guy, somebody he could blame if it all fell through."
"Oh, great, so not only was their DDO corrupt, but also planning to throw us to the wolves after we did his dirty work. CIA sure knows how to pick 'em."
That brought out a grin. "Didn't they try to hire you, Walker?" Casey said. "A couple of times?"
Sarah narrowed her eyes. And did not in fact, stick her tongue out at him. From where Chuck was sitting though, it seemed like a close shave.
With that, the mood was broken and the FBI-NSA task force drifted out after finishing off a second pot of coffee. Once Sarah was sure they had actually driven off and weren't still staking out the ship, she sighed and shook her head, leaning her elbows on the counter in the galley. "Well. I guess we're on our own, then."
Chuck opened his mouth, but another voice answered. "Alone's putting it a little strongly," the voice said. Chuck spun and fell out of his chair. Sarah was a little more collected, going for the shotgun stashed under the counter.
"Easy there, Tex," Bryce said, hands raised.
"Ugh, it's you," She said, and lowered the weapon. "I thought you were supposed to be dead?"
"Faking your death is a CIA rite of passage," Bryce explained.
Chuck finally managed to recover from the shock. "You- how the hell are you alive. They said-"
"Well I didn't exactly get out unscathed. There was an explosion and…" He stepped forward out of the shadows. His left eye was covered by an eye-patch and a raw red scab disappeared under it.
"Holy. You lost an eye?"
"Oh, this? Nah. I got lucky. Debris scratched my retina. I'm supposed to keep this on for another week. Worked out though! I did hear right that we're going after another sunken treasure, right? I'm thematically appropriate!" Chuck and Sarah stared at him for a moment. "You know, pirates? Yar?" A beat late he put up one hand with his index finger crooked pantomiming a hook-hand.
Sarah scrunched up her nose and glanced at Chuck. "Has he been drinking? I don't remember him being so… talkative."
Chuck pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's an act. He's trying to distract us from the million questions he doesn't want to answer," he said to Sarah by way of explaining his friend's odd behavior. "And nice try Bryce. QA time. First, how do you know about the sunken treasure?"
"Um, that one's easy," Bryce was standing near the door into the galley. He pointed at a panel next to the light switch. "You know this thing's got an intercom, right?"
"How'd you even find us?" Sarah wanted to know.
"Well, remember how you used your watch to make that bomb that time, Chuck? And I promised to buy you a new one?" Bryce said. Chuck sighed and looked down at his wrist, where the offending wristwatch still perched. "There's a GPS in it."
"Of course there is."
"So when I heard about Decker and looked at the GPS logs, I figured something was going down. And since I was already 'dead' I figured I'd stay that way for a while and come help out."
"How did you get onto the ship without us seeing you?"
"I parked my submarine under your ship and scuba dived up, came over the rail on the harbor side."
"I figured we might need one."
"You did a lot of figuring," Sarah said.
Bryce shrugged and gave her a sour look. "It's my training. I like to plan ahead."
"Where did you even find a submarine?" Chuck wanted to know.
"Hey, I've got questions too," Bryce said. He went over to the table and scooped up the business card they had shown Casey. "You really went up against the Ring?"
"We went up against security goons," Chuck said. "And their cards had big circles on them, from what Casey said though, it looks that way. Was he playing it straight about who they are?"
"Yeah. They're capital B-Bad news, and up until you and Sarah got the drop on two of their guys, no operational mistakes, ever. That's gotta be some kind of record. I know Casey likes keeping things close, but he gave it to you about as honest as they'll ever let us get in our line of work. Of course he didn't tell you everything but hey, I doubt you told him everything you know either. I could kind of tell you were holding something back. What was it?"
"We should probably wait for the rest of this talk until after we get your submarine loaded up and stowed."
"Wait what?" Chuck said half a heartbeat ahead of Bryce.
Sarah rolled her eyes at the pair of them. "What, did you want to drive it all the way to the Bahamas yourself? This thing isn't exactly a cruise ship. It's going to take us at least a couple days. Assuming your sub isn't a navy Fast-Attack boat, it'll be even slower. We're going to need to get it out of the water and tied down aft before we leave. And how did you even know how to pilot a submarine?"
"I pretended it was a plane, just underwater. I know how to fly planes. The controls are similar."
Sarah massaged her temples with both hands. "I'm going to get a migraine. We'll be lucky if you didn't break the thing. How deep did you leave it? Do I need to break out my scuba gear. Ugh, I hate night dives!"
"Oh, it's tied to your anchor chain, like maybe a foot under water. You could probably see it if it was daytime. Funny enough submarines don't have anchors. Who knew."
Chuck and Sarah both raised their hands.
"Where's your scuba gear?" Sarah said thoughtfully. Bryce wasn't soaking wet; but if he'd had a wet suit-
"I put it in with yours. I had some time to check the place out while you were gone. I availed myself of the shower."
"You were snooping around my ship?" Sarah said.
"Well. I am a spy. It's kind of part of the job."
Sarah glared at him for a moment and then stormed out.
"Man. Is she still mad about that thing in the Philippines?"
"I don't think so." Chuck shrugged. "Just to be safe though, don't mention clothes if you can avoid it. Come on, let's go help out," as they passed onto the deck, Chuck frowned. "How did you get out of the sub when it was still under water?"
"It's a DSRV. That's short for-"
"I know what a DSRV is, Bryce. I'm an amateur treasure hunter. Made the cover of Wired and everything."
"You haven't seen the latest issue?"
"Get outta here! That's amazing. What did you find?"
"Doubloons. Whole ship full; granted we only get to keep like 8 percent after taxes. Still it ain't bad. We donated most of the find to the Museum. And how did you not know this? I thought you had GPS tabs on me." Chuck waved away his own question. "Nevermind. Back to the sub. Since it's a DSRV, I assume that means it's got an airlock and everything. But that only raises further questions. How the hell did you get your mitts on a DSRV, Bryce? There are like four in the world."
"That you know about," Bryce said. He had that smarmy grin he sometimes got. Chuck rolled his eyes at his friend. "Anyway. I stole this one from drug dealers."
Chuck nearly choked on his own tongue for a moment. "Wha- but- how- why- drug dealers!? I thought helping us out with the submarine was supposed to make this easier! Not make things three times more dangerous!"
"Relax," Bryce said as they came out on deck. Sarah was nowhere to be found. "The DEA was going to bust them anyway. I just got there a little ahead of time and sneaked off during the confusion. And where'd you girlfriend go, by the way?"
"A little help?" Sarah's voice echoed from over the side. "I got her hooked up, Chuck. Hit the crane."
"Your boat has a crane?"
"Ship. And yes," Chuck quick-stepped over to the crane controls and poised his finger above the levers before he shouted back. "I got it! You ready?"
"Take it up!"
Chuck fiddled with the controls and the crane winch whined as it retracted its thick cable. "The whole point of buying this ship was that it was already outfitted for sea salvage."
"What's the rush getting my sub out of the drink? It's night time. Nobody can see it."
"They have these newfangled things called spotlights."
"But who would be checking for that kind of thing?"
"The harbor patrol. The coast guard. FBI is amping up harbor checks because of terrorism."
"Okay, I think I get the point."
"Also, didn't you just get through telling me how the DEA might have a search on for a stolen submarine?"
The sub inched up the side of the ship and Sarah's head poked over the railing. She was riding the submarine as it ascended. Chuck winced. "That's dangerous, you know?" She merely shrugged and hopped off, vaulted over the railing and jogged over to them. Her deck shoes squelched with every step.
They had to raise their voices over the sound of the crane. Sarah took over the controls to swing the sub aboard, and Chuck went to grab the tarp. A submarine in the water alongside a boat was so much more suspicious than a neatly tarp-covered 'life boat' any day of the week.
Finally, when Sarah let down the sub, Chuck went a little closer and with Sarah and Bryce's help, began shimmying the tarp up over the large undersea vessel. Chuck frowned, spotting something clinging to the aft propeller shroud.
"Um, Bryce?" Chuck said. "I'm sure this is just me being silly. But you did check the submarine for tracking devices before you stole it, right?"
"Of course. I found three. Those drug cartels don't like to lose their big ticket submarine investments."
"And you checked it inside and out?"
"Why would they put a tracker on the outside? Wouldn't it get wet and short out?"
"Not if somebody else was trying to track it," Sarah said, coming over in a rush.
"Oh, crap," Bryce said. "That's how she knew where to be to make the bust."
"She who?" Sarah asked.
"Hey, Carina," Bryce said sheepishly.
TO BE CONTINUED...
A/N: I would really appreciate your honest reviews of this chapter. I know it has been a while; in point of fact, the longest gap I've had between updates ever, probably. I can only say it won't happen again and strive to make it so. I'm going to set myself an arbitrary update deadline of 8/1. Also, I imagine bryce saying that last line of this chapter like Buster Bluth from Arrested Development's signature line: Hey, brother. Ymmv. Also also, I would like to give Aerox a shout out for being up to beta this chapter after almost ten months of silence. And doing a nice job.