A/N My thanks to phnxgrl for her advice on how to handle the brainwave scenes.
"You know he's gonna make me play Colt."
"Are you volunteering?"
"Get out of my brother!"
"All ballerinas are tall."
"I wish they'd wake up," said Ellie, perched on a stool. She hated being alone. Dr. Dreyfus was standing right there, but he was no substitute, not when almost her entire family was inert on the floor in front of her. The attendants who weren't knocked out had quickly removed those who were, as well as the patients, leaving the four agents lying on mats on the floor.
At least he had some medical training, could offer her that comfort. "The two agents just took tranq darts, they should be fine," he pointed out. "Chuck, on the other hand, has just experienced severe psychological trauma. His mind needs to process it, and it's probably for the best he not wake up until he's ready. I'm most concerned about Agent Walker–"
"Her name is Bartowski." She was family.
He'd read the file, but that was all. "Quite. I apologize. She should have woken up before this, unless there was some damage inflicted when Carmichael struck her down. I've called for an ambulance."
Ellie nodded. Just to have something to do she walked over and checked her brother's pulse, and Sarah's, kneeling between them. Idly she brushed the curls from his forehead, reminded of younger days, not necessarily better days. At least now he had Sarah. She looked up. "Thank you."
She took him by surprise. "For what?"
"For saying Carmichael, and not my brother." Ellie sniffed. "Chuck's going to feel guilty enough as it is."
"He's got nothing to feel sorry about."
"He created Charles Carmichael. Believe me, he will."
"I believe that is a mistake."
Ellie looked like she was about to argue the matter, but then she just looked confused. "Which part?"
Dreyfus smiled, and clarified. "I fully agree that he will feel guilty, but I believe he will be mistaken to do so. The Charles Carmichael he just destroyed was not the one he created."
Ellie paled. "You can't mean there were two of them."
"You would be able to tell that better than me. My only point is that Chuck called Carmichael a work in progress, and I believe he was. He was evolving."
Ellie pointed at Sarah."That was not evolution! That was a radical discontinuity!"
"The asteroid hitting the Earth was a radical discontinuity, and the dinosaurs died. Had they been virtual they might have changed to meet the need. Chuck was captured and tormented, his brain shut down forcibly. I have no idea what that would have done to Carmichael, but I'm quite sure it must have done something."
She couldn't wait to get her brother back to the lab. "Chuck's flashes are causing him a lot of pain…"
"Exactly." Dreyfus came up on Chuck's other side, looking down speculatively. "Something changed, and Carmichael changed with it. And since he seems to have changed for the worse I'm just as glad Chuck was able to stop him running off and turning into one of those comic-book supervillains he's always going on about."
Ellie smiled at that, running her fingers through Chuck's hair again. "Lex Luthor and Brainiac were both bald, too." Much as she preferred her brother not have funny animal shapes on his head, she didn't want that.
Dreyfus shrugged, running a hand over his own head. "So was Uncle Fester, so you see that doesn't prove anything."
Ellie tried not to laugh, and stood up instead. "That's the best you can do?"
Dreyfus chuckled. "You'll have to ask Chuck, I was tapped out with the dinosaur analogy."
"Good afternoon, General."
Diane Beckman looked up, surprised for the first time a long while, and not a nice sort of surprise, either. To a General, an NSA officer, and her personally, there were no nice surprises. The sight on her monitor, flowing with purple pixels in the vague outline of a man, was even less nice than that. He probably adopted the look just because he knew how viscerally unpleasant she found it. "Orion," she said, "To what do I owe this dubious pleasure? You could have made an appointment with my aide."
Orion laughed. "I suppose, but…the twelfth of Never isn't soon enough, and besides, this way there are no records."
Beckman stiffened. "And why would you want there to be no records?"
The pixels stilled as the perpetually nervous and twitchy man stilled to stare at her. "You've put both of my children in danger, Diane."
It took more than purple pixels to scare her. "If Chuck wasn't operating under our umbrella he'd be the guest of honor in an international feeding frenzy. He doesn't have your gifts, they'd kill him rather than see him working for someone else. I've done far more for him than you have."
"Don't expect gratitude, Diane, you're a necessary evil, nothing more."
"What do you want, Orion?"
"My daughter was assaulted last night."
"I'm aware of that." The thought of it, the shame of it, caused her almost physical pain.
"Lax security to one side," said Orion, knowing it would bother Beckman simply by being true, "I paid a visit to her lab today, and guess what I found?"
"An empty lab?"
"Her assistant, who isn't even allowed to leave the lab, is the only one searching for the attacker, because your team has already turned on Chuck and had him committed. That's what you've done for my boy."
God save her from the self-righteous. "He's not your boy anymore, Orion. He's a man, doing what men do. If you wanted to keep him in a box, why'd you ever have him?"
"I don't want him in a box, I just want him safe, happy…"
"He is happy, Stephen, or haven't you noticed?" snapped the General. "As for safe, he makes himself less safe so that other people will be more safe, that's the kind of man he is, the man Ellie made him into after you ran away." Her tone became dismissive. "So don't talk to me about safe. What do you want?"
"I want my boy, my son, released."
"I can't do that, Orion. Charles Carmichael is the only viable suspect."
"What if I could prove to you that he's not?"
Casey tried to grunt, but it came out a groan. Tranq darts always gave him a really good feeling going in and a really horrible feeling coming out.
"Oh, Casey, good, you're up."
Is that what they're calling it? "Ellie? What are you doing here?"
"Long story." Ellie started putting her coat. "The stalker called again, while you were here, so Sarah and I knew Chuck wasn't him. Sarah dragged me along to get her husband out of here and we walked smack into Carmichael, right after he'd taken most of you out. He hit Sarah, I'm going with her to the hospital right now. The ambulance finally got here."
"Chuck hit Sarah?"
She grabbed her purse. "Carmichael hit Sarah, John. Chuck would never hit anyone, but Dr. Dreyfus thinks Carmichael was somehow separated from Chuck by the Ring, and believe you me, the second I get him back to the lab I'm going to find any evidence I can to support that theory."
Casey tried to sit up, then tried again. "Where's Chu-Carmichael now?"
Ellie smiled. "Dead and gone, John, dead and gone. Chuck got rid of him after I knocked him cold."
Casey felt like he should be lying down again. "Chuck? You? What?"
"No time, John. I have to run. Look after Chuck for me."
He started out nodding but his head ended up in his hands. He really hated tranq-head.
Carina started shrieking next to him. "Oh, God, kill me now!"
He was so minded to grant her wish but he really didn't have the energy for it. "What's the matter with you, Miller?"
"We had to administer a tranq antagonist," said Dreyfus as he walked in. "Agent Miller has half your mass, Colonel, the dart would have taken considerably longer to wear off for her."
Carina's continued shrieking finally drove Casey to his feet. "You know why they don't use those things anymore, don't you, Doctor? Because the people they gave them to bitched and moaned so much they had to be tranqed again just to shut them up."
His pocket buzzed, and he pulled out his phone. Eight voicemails from Grimes and one from the General. He selected that one. "Great," he snarled when it finished. "She wants a sit-rep. What the hell even happened?"
"Come to my office, Colonel. The man I had running the camera on this side of the glass wasn't knocked out by anybody, so I had him put all the recordings on a disk for you."
"One second." Casey pulled the mats he and Sarah had been lying on out of the way, and tugged Carina's over next to Chuck. "Miller!" he said, putting her hand delicately around her gun. "You're on watch. I have to go report to the General." He watched carefully and noticed the slight nodding.
They closed the door on her renewed bitching and moaning. "Let Chuck listen to that," said Casey.
How'd it go with North Star?
ABOUT AS WELL AS YOU CAN EXPECT WHEN DEALING WITH U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES.
I have something strange you should see. Screen two.
OKAY, I'M SEEING IT. WHAT AM I SEEING? WHY THE COLORS?
I like the colors. It bothered me that the individual lines were all white, so I color-coded them.
WHY BOTHER? THE COLORS ARE ONLY TO HELP TELL THE LINES APART IN THE GLOBAL VIEW. SO THESE ARE THE SEPARATE WAVES. WHAT'S SO STRANGE?
These are the waves we recorded from the Host after we got him back from the Ring.
These are from a recording prior to his capture.
WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE?
No need to curse. They look like hidden waves, embedded somehow in the ones we normally see.
SORRY. SO HE HAD THESE PRIOR TO HIS CAPTURE BUT NOT AFTER. AND NOW HE FEELS PAIN…CAN YOU REMOVE THE OUTER WAVE?
Yeah. Setting the color to clear.
What's interesting? They don't look the same.
I NEED TO PLAY WITH THIS A BIT.
That wasn't an answer. Manoosh took that as a challenge, and started playing with it himself.
Casey tapped lightly on the door. "Miller. I'm coming in." Only then did he open the door. Carina lay there, no longer bitching and moaning but still looking a little green around the gills with a gun in her hand. "Will you be okay to watch Chuck alone?"
She nodded her head very carefully. "What's up?"
"The General has some new intel from Orion, he's taking his son getting detained kind'a personal. Apparently he eavesdropped on Manoosh and analyzed the Ring data. I have to go back and get a briefing on it, and drop off this disk with the recordings of this snafu on it."
Carina actually lifted her head. "His son? Chuck?"
"Yep. There may be other guys out there who can do what Chuck does, oh joy. I'm supposed to take that to Ellie at the hospital."
"Other guys, so…Chuck's not the only suspect? He can go home?"
Casey nodded. "Tomorrow, if he checks out all right, and both doctors have to sign off on that." He held up a set of keys, put them next to her on the mat. "Sarah's Porsche. Your problem now."
On the drive back to Langley Morgan phoned again. Casey had better things to do and declined. "Geez, that guy just doesn't give up."
He noticed the time on his phone. Dammit! He'll be cutting it close, the guys in IM will be taking their afternoon cigar break soon. All kinds of awkward for all kinds of reasons, just nip in, do what he had to do, and nip out again. At least he didn't have his regular car, they'd recognize that one.
The back lot was full of cars, but thankfully, not full of guys in coveralls standing outside. Casey pulled his POS into the nearest available space and headed for the door.
He looked around. No one should be calling him that here. Then he spotted her walking toward him with a determined look to her face.
"Are you my father?"
Morgan, that damn troll. I told him to keep it under his hat! "That's classified. I can't answer your question." He turned and headed for the door.
So much the wrong answer. "Are you?" she yelled, "Or are you a coward, afraid of a little girl and a simple question?"
Oh, great! The yelling was attracting attention. Dimples and Showtunes, and God knows who else in a few more minutes.
"Who's the liar here, you or Morgan?" Her voice was beginning to break, or maybe that was her heart.
He could…he could…no, he couldn't. "Morgan Grimes has never once lied to you, to the best of my knowledge," he said, to the wall, to his feet. He turned, the hardest action of his life. "My name is Alex Coburn. I proposed to Kathleen McHugh in a bus station in Niagara Falls right before I shipped out. I died in Honduras, 1989. And I…I am your father."
He watched her face, still, neither crying nor smiling. She was trembling, although it wasn't cold. When she stepped closer to him, he made no attempt to back away. When she punched him, hard, he made no attempt to stop her in any of the several dozen ways he knew. When she jabbed him in the throat he choked, when she kicked him where it hurts he fell to his knees. When she gripped his hair and pulled up, he lifted his face.
"Liar." The vilest curse she knew.
I do that. He couldn't say it but he didn't have to. He kept his head up, watched her as she walked away, drove away, ran away. He looked down at the disk in his hand.
"Well, Ladyfeelings, what are you gonna do now?" asked Dimples.
He cleared his throat, didn't look up. "My duty." Always duty.
They walked away from the door. "Well, best get about it, then."
Carina lay still on the floor, gun in hand. Chuck lay next to her, moaning softly as if to punish her for all the noise she'd recently stopped making.
When the lights went out she sat up.
When the door opened she started shooting.
No one saw Casey as he exited the building. Not that they weren't all there, chatting quietly, a good bit further from the door than they usually stood. None of them looked his way, a bit of forbearance for which he was grateful. Automatically he walked to his usual spot and…there was his car, a tiny bright spot of mercy in his day.
He called ahead on the way to the hospital, wanting to hand off Ellie's lockbox and get back to Carina as soon as possible.
No one answered the page. There was no record of a Sarah Bartowski seen or admitted. He got disconnected, and when he called back he got a busy signal. He called Devon. "Can you get in touch with Ellie, find out where she is? I have a package for her."
"Isn't she with you? She left a message she was heading out with Sarah to meet up."
"We did meet, Devon. But Sarah was injured and Ellie rode with her to the hospital. I tried to page her but now I can't even get through."
"You ain't kiddin'. Right about the time I left an ambulance went missing, and people were starting to climb the walls–"
Casey hung up, chose a new number. "General, we have a situation. An ambulance is missing, and Ellie and Sarah never made it to the hospital."
"It's worse than that, Colonel. The psychiatric facility has been penetrated. Agent Miller discharged her weapon several times, but she and several guards were overcome. No fatalities, but Chuck is missing."
Something made a noise, and Ellie Woodcombe awoke, blinking in the harsh lighting.
"Oh, my head."
Sarah's voice. Ellie turned her head and there she was, lying on another gurney in the little room, her hands over her eyes. Ellie moved to get off her own transport, almost collapsing when her weight landed on her knees. But Sarah needed her and she forced her legs to work. "Sarah? How do you feel?" She tried to move Sarah's hands to get a look at her eyes.
Sarah resisted. "So bright. Head hurts. Where are we?"
"I don't know," said Ellie, moving to cast Sarah into her shadow. "We were in an ambulance, and then I woke up here. What do you remember?"
Sarah opened her eyes, blinking even now. "We were on our way to pick up…my husband." Shhh, she breathed into Ellie's face. When she saw she had Ellie's attention, she mouthed the words Not Secure.
Ellie mouthed back Carmichael hit you, and said, "We found your husband, but you fell and hit your head. You might have a concussion." Ellie took out a handkerchief, unfolded it into a long strip.
"I find that…hard to believe."
Ellie laid the strip over Sarah's eyes. "Most people do," she said, backing away toward the door. "It's the memory loss, you don't remember the last few hours so it seems like reality shifted around you. Just rest. I'll see if I can find some first–" The door handle wouldn't turn. "Well, scratch that plan. Looks like we'll have to wait until someone comes to talk to us."
The minion stopped by Leader's workstation, waiting patiently until Leader could and did spare some attention for him.
"Have we learned anything of interest?"
"No, Leader. The Bartowski woman complained of pain, and Dr. Woodcombe obscured the view of our cameras rendering triage. They discussed symptoms, but no meaningful conversation has taken place since. They seem to be hoping for some assistance."
"Render it. Be friendly, and perhaps she'll tell us where our experiment went without us having to torture it out of her. Go."
Chuck Bartowski awoke, in his own robe and his own pajamas, lying on the couch in his own living room. His mouth was dry and his head hurt, and he groaned.
"Ah, the sleeper wakes," said a cold, unpleasant voice. "I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get a chance to kill you, Bartowski."
Chuck raised his head, looking for the speaker in the dark. "Kill me?"
"Of course," said the voice, as a dark shape moved against the window, black on black. "You can't imagine that I'd let you live with what you've done, keep what you've stolen from me?"
"Stolen? I haven't stolen anything. I haven't even borrowed anything." He reached down, felt under the edge of the couch.
"Taken everything, you and your sister. But turnabout is fair play, Chuck, fair play. She killed me and you stole my body, and now I'll return the favor. Once I have my body back, I'll kill your sister and then we'll be even."
Slowly, quietly, he unzipped the bag, felt around inside. "My sister never killed anyone."
The black shape lunged. "Liar!"
Chuck swung his hand up, smashing the chemical light against the hard planes of a face. A familiar face. "Shaw! But you're dead! They saw you die!"
"I know I'm dead, Chuck. But my name's not Shaw. It's Carmichael. Charles Carmichael."
A/N2 Well what do you know about that? Another cliffhanger…