A/N The last dominoes.
"We're lost, dude."
"You guys know what to do."
"They're going to 'jog our memories.'"
"How nice to make your acquaintance."
Chuck sat quite still as the car jostled and bumped its way into the dilapidated parking lot.
"Here we are, Chuck," said Daniel Shaw unnecessarily. He pulled out his gun and Chuck flinched. "It's just a gun, Chuck, nothing to be alarmed about. You know I would never hurt you, right?"
"I know, Agent Shaw."
"Good. Now I'm going to go kill Agent Walker and be right back. Be a good boy and stay in the car."
"I will, Agent Shaw."
Shaw nodded. "I know you will." Then he got out of the car and moved into the shadows of the lot, to a rusty door set into a graffiti-marked brick wall.
The second he went in Chuck got out of the car, shuffled over to the parking lot ramp and waved. Instantly a pair of headlights blinded him, as the Lensmen pulled up and into the lot next to Shaw's vehicle. Chuck shuffled over as they got out. "Hey, guys."
"You made us?" asked Two, giving One a dirty look.
Chuck shook his head. "I knew you'd have my back, though. I mean, come on, you're Lensmen." They only looked confused. "You do know who the Lensmen are, don't you?"
One shrugged. "I thought it was just part of the whole Eagle-Eye motif, you know?"
"You also thought zombies could drive," muttered Two.
Chuck had no time for petty squabbles. "Come on guys, this is no time to you what?"
"There, you see?" said Two. Time to get down to business. "Where are we, Eagle-Eye?"
"Ring Base. Daniel Shaw has them all in his head, don't ask me how, but he brought me to this one to kill Agent Carmichael."
Both Lensmen went for their guns. "What's he wanna do that for?"
This was not the time for the truth. "Short version…" Chuck took a deep breath. "There is no short version. He's not in his right mind, the Ring must have done something very nasty to him after the floor caved in, but he's also still functional and extremely dangerous."
"And you think we should follow him into a Ring base with just these?" Two held up his weapon.
Chuck looked at the two guns skeptically. "Maybe you're right," he said. He unzipped his coveralls. "You should use these instead." He pulled his uniform apart, revealing the armory he had hung all over his body, the entire contents of Sarah's weapons cache, that she kept stored in their bedroom closet.
The Lensmen's eyes bugged out, all four of them.
"If you could take some of this stuff off me, that'd be great," said Chuck. "I can barely stand up, and forget running." As his team lightened his burden, Chuck breathed a sigh of relief. "Spare magazines in the pockets." They delved. "Oh, thank God. Leave the non-lethal stuff, I'll use that." He removed the coveralls, folded them neatly, and stuck them in their car.
The two Lensmen looked at each other, and him, in surprise. "You're coming with us?"
Chuck's face settled in resolved lines. "They call me Charles Carmichael, gentlemen, and this is why." He watched as his team almost saluted, and added, "But please, don't tell the wife if you don't have to. She'll kick my ass if I get hurt."
Orion looked at his code, the last thing he would ever have to write for this damned project. So simple, so basic. It would save his son's life, save his mind. And then it would save his life, make him useless to the government forever. Orion had broken him, all those years ago, blighted his life with a unique ability that governments would kill for. It was Orion's responsibility to fix that. His son would be free.
Whether he wanted to be or not.
Beckman was right about one thing, damn her. Chuck would do what he thought he needed to do, to help others. He would, he might, refuse his father's gift in the name of some idea of duty, or even love, lock himself and his sister in a CIA cage. That mustn't be allowed to happen. Manoosh would happily take Ellie's place, but only he could…Orion had never lied to his son and he regretted the necessity now, but Chuck couldn't be allowed to know about the second block until after he'd uploaded it.
Orion took a pair of sunglasses and loaded his trap, then baited it.
"Is it just me, or does this feel too easy?" asked Ellie, in low tones, as she crept along behind Sarah.
"It's just you," said Sarah. "You remember what Carina said, how the Ring seems to be doing things on the cheap. That camera you crushed is an example. Normally–" she stopped to look around the corner "Normally, this whole place would be wired, with a central security booth and everything."
"So that's good, right? Less coverage?"
"Decentralized coverage. Harder to see, and you have to keep looking." Sarah looked all around, and up. "I've been trying to stick to dark places, the cameras require a certain light level, but we're going to run out of those eventually."
"You do have a plan, right?"
As much of a plan as I can have when I was brought in unconscious. Not that Ellie needed to hear that just now. "Yes. It involves that stairwell–" she pointed with her stolen gun. Then she opened the door to a closet "And this dark room. Now all we have to do is wait for the–"
Lights flared everywhere, and bells rang.
Sarah pushed Ellie into the closet and ran for the stairwell door. She popped it open and took a number of precise shots before racing back to the closet. She closed the door most of the way, keeping it open just a little to watch the stairwell door.
"What was that all about?"
"Probably found those guards I took out. They're expecting us to try to escape, so I gave them an escape attempt. The stairs would be one of the few places they'd monitor, so I shot out all the sensors above and below us. Now we let the guards chase upstairs after us and wonder where we went."
"Where are we going?"
"Down. Shaw was always saying how the Ring always has a back door, so I think we should see if he was right."
General Beckman's email was not one of those things that Orion had ever hacked, so he never saw the image Carina sent her boss. He was practically standing over that boss' shoulder when she started tasking satellites for scans of a variety of sites all over the country, though. Warehouses in some cities, office buildings in others, none of them were in places where she could just lob a missile down their throats and call it a good days' work. She could, however, set agents in motion watching and infiltrating those sites. She wanted as much intel as possible for her emergency meeting with the National Security Advisor and the FBI, enough to make sure they got the job done while her team got the credit. As for the local sites, well, they had assets on the ground there, they had to do something.
Orion didn't care about credit. He cared about getting these glasses to his son. Since Carina's hand had shut off the security in his son's house, he'd put a trace on her phone. Hopefully it would lead to Charles' location in time to do him some good.
Carina opened her door. "Wait right here, Showtunes."
"You got it, Agent Miller."
She ran to the gate, peeking around it to verify the sensors, guards, or the lack of same. The two cars parked right in front were reassuring, in a way, any alarms to be tripped would already be tripped, so no one should notice her.
She recognized the Lensmen's car, so she went to the other one first. It wasn't a Tesla or a Matrix, so Shaw probably stole it to get Chuck. Neither man was in it, and Carina hoped Shaw hadn't dragged Chuck into the lion's den with him. Sarah would have all their hides. But of course, that's exactly what Shaw must have done, and the Lensmen went in to get their protectee back. It's the only scenario that made sense.
Until she looked in the other car. Why would Shaw have made Chuck take off his clothes? Why would Chuck's detail fold them? Carina opened the door and took the folded coveralls back to her ride.
"What you got there, Agent Miller?" asked Showtunes.
She showed him the outfit.
Showtunes lost his smile. "That's whose house we was at?"
Carina frowned. "Yeah?"
"And he's been captured?"
"Kidnapped, yeah. And his…Agent Walker." While I was supposed to be guarding him. "I need to get him back. The kidnapper's going after Walker, to kill her, and he dragged Chuck along with him."
Showtunes was surprisingly quick on the uptake. "Wait, you're saying we got two kidnappings at the same time?"
Carina nodded. "With our guys caught in the middle."
"Muffin ain't gonna like that." Showtunes leapt on the radio, changing the frequency. "Dimples, this is Showtunes! Dimples, please respond!"
The radio crackled. "Go for Dimples."
"Code Red One for Tough Guy, sir. And Agent Walker too."
"I'll call out the troops, and inform Ladyfeelings. Leave a light on for us."
"We'll be waiting." Showtunes racked the mike, noticed his passenger staring at him. "What? Janitors gotta stick together." He opened the door and got out of the car, popping the trunk. "Let's gear up."
Somewhere across town, John Casey's phone rang, but John Casey was in no shape to answer it. The minion who'd been tasked with inventorying his possessions heard the unusual ringtone. He checked the prisoner's clothes, finding the phone in a hidden pocket, and checked the screen. "Dimples?" What kind of name was that? Probably some broad. He removed the battery and tossed the pieces to one side.
Dimples didn't waste any time over the sudden loss of signal. He sent out a general call. "Gentlemen, it looks like Ladyfeelings is among the missing as well. Converge on Showtunes' location and we'll take it from there."
"Leader, our agents report no movement among the troops assigned to John Casey's command. No local mobilizations of any kind."
This was getting on Leader's nerves. "You expect me to believe that Marine Colonel of the NSA came here alone? Simply to protect a daughter that no one even knew he had?"
The minion started to sweat. "That explanation…would fit the facts as we have gathered them so far."
So far. "You are correct, Agent. What of the women?"
Much safer ground. "Search teams are working their way downward but have not retrieved them yet."
Leader considered all the elements of the problem, and found the minion's report…lacking. "Why downward?"
The upside to going down was that it was a lot easier than going up. The downside was that there really wasn't a lot of down to go.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Ellie, panting.
Sarah scanned the room, full of electrical panels and high voltage switches. "It's better than going up and being captured again."
"I am…unable to argue with your logic."
Thought you might be. "Look at it this way. If there was no back door down here, wouldn't this be where you'd put your prison, not the middle?"
"I give up."
Somebody calm and male said, from behind her, "That's not what she means, Agent Walker."
Sarah spun and aimed faster than ever in her life, but too late. The man with the calm voice wasn't the man with the razor held at Ellie's throat. He was exposed, but the man standing behind with the gun to her head wasn't. Now she heard footsteps, as more men moved in behind her. Sarah moved her thumb, pressing the release, and the magazine fell out the grip. Then she ejected the one loaded round, making no effort to catch the bullet.
"Very wise, Mrs. Bartowski," said the Task Force Leader. "Or do you prefer Agent Carmichael? No?" The operative smiled a shark's smile, turning to Ellie. "And you, Dr. Woodcombe? That is your married name, isn't it? I find myself wondering what your maiden name was. Bartowski, by any chance?"
Sarah threw her gun at him, as accurate as any knife.
But slower. The operative reached out and caught without even turning his head. Then he turned his head, and nodded, prompting his men behind Sarah to cuff her. "Feet too." Her feet were shackled, with only enough chain to allow her to walk. Only then did the Force Leader say, "Leader, the room is secure."
Leader swept into the hall from the electrical room they'd just passed, and all the minions stood to one side. Ellie, it seemed, wasn't worth even a single Leader-ish glance, not that she felt motivated to complain.
With her feet restrained, Leader was free to move within kicking distance, and even closer than that. She saw herself reflected in the eyepieces of Leader's mask, and wondered what he was staring at.
Sarah smirked in his masked face. "Wrong on both counts, Lord Vader. I'm Mrs. Bartowski."
"Agent Carmichael made a similar joke about my appearance, right before I ended his life. So I find myself wondering, who is your true husband, the famously elusive and now dead Agent Carmichael, or the not so famous or especially intelligent Charles Irving Bartowski?"
Sarah struggled forward, even cuffed and held as she was. "Do not insult him! Charles Bartowski is a hero! He took that laudanol capsule himself, rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands."
"My hands, as it turns out, Mrs. Carmichael. I had been wondering why the mission failed. Your 'hero' must have become quite the monster."
"I've just discovered a new definition of 'monster'," growled Sarah.
Leader turned away. "Level Three containment. Put her with her friend."
Carina stood in stunned amazement as a horde of very large men descended upon the parking lot, moving to 'gear up' in incredible silence. One of them walked over to her. "You're Agent Miller?"
"Welcome to the Janitors."
The who? "You're not going to make me clean something?"
He smiled. "Only as much as Tough Guy does." The men standing around laughed.
A shrill squealing sound drew their attention to the gate, where somebody on a bicycle practically crashed in to a post. "Looking…for…Miller," he puffed out, chest heaving.
Carina pushed forward. "I'm Miller." The other men continued their preparations, faces turned discreetly away but listening closely.
"Package for you." He pushed himself away from the post and doffed his backpack, from which he pulled out a slim package. "He told me he'd pay me triple if I got it here in a half hour."
"The guy who gave me this," said the messenger, holding out a plastic disk with a red spot in the center. "I need your thumbprint to get paid."
Carina pressed her thumb against the red spot, mostly out of curiosity to see what would happen. The spot lit up and the disk made a 'ping' sound.
"Thank you." The man pedaled off, very slowly.
The big man walked over to her. "What is it?"
"No idea." Carina looked it over, found a flap of paper with her name on it. She lifted the flap. Give this to my son. "But I know who it's from."
The minions had just finished securing the prisoners when Leader appeared at the door. "Leave us." The guards scurried out, and Leader continued, "You look great, Walker. Love suits you, I guess."
Sarah looked from side to side, as if either of her allies had any better idea what was going on than she did. "What?"
"It didn't suit me," said Leader. "It's a useful tool, and a means to power, nothing more."
"If that's what you truly believe then I feel sorry for you."
"Don't bother, Agent Walker. Soon enough you will be dead, while I will be anything but."
"My name is Bartowski."
"I know. But our first meeting was so brief, so shattering, that you will always be Agent Walker in my eyes."
"Most of the men I meet briefly and shatteringly don't live to have a second meeting."
"Neither did I."
"I'm sorry. You know what they say, I never forget a face, but…" Sarah shrugged.
"Let me jog your memory," said Leader, reaching up into the cowl. Several snaps were heard, and the mask came loose, as Leader's hands came down.
Sarah paled, teeth clenched, a keening noise coming out of her nose as she forced herself back against the stone wall of the cell.
"What's the matter, Sarah?" said Eve Shaw. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
A/N2 Oh yes. Moo-ha-ha. (Stupid Shaw couldn't even say 'mwah-ha-ha' right.)