Disclaimer: 'Chuck' and all its affiliated characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. This fiction is written for entertainment only.
No profit was made. Just FYI.
Note: I'm sorry…you'll see why.
"We're clear." Closing the van's rear door, Chuck slumped down. "Nice driving, Anna."
"Yeah... yeah, no problem." She replied shakily as Morgan turned to look at them. "Is everyone okay back there?"
Quickly glancing around, Chuck gave him a thumbs up. "Looks like we all have the same number of holes we started with."
Morgan fell back into his seat with a shuddering sigh. "Thank god! From now on, we're sticking to first-person shooters."
"Speaking of shooters, those were some nice moves with the Intersect." Sarah commented, eyeing Chuck curiously. "Since when can you flash-on-demand?"
"Heh...er... I can't really." Chuck smiled sheepishly. "I mean, I can try. Whether or not it actually works is kind of a crapshoot."
"And you bet our lives on that?"
"Come on, Sarah." Chuck frowned slightly. "It wasn't exactly Plan A."
She chose not to pursue the issue further, shaking her head as she pulled out her phone.
"I hate to interrupt, but this is my stop." Bryce noted, directing Anna to pull onto the highway shoulder as he pulled the van's side door open.
"Bryce." Chuck grabbed the other man's arm on his way out. "Thanks... you know, for being here."
"Don't worry about it." Bryce grinned, shouldering his pack. "Like you said, I owe you. If you ever need me, I'll be there"
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm really hoping I never see you again."
"Fair enough." With that, Bryce turned and sprinted away into the shadows as Anna smoothly pulled back onto the road.
Ellie had been sitting silently in the corner, struggling to come to terms with everything that was happening. Chuck was back. Her baby brother, who'd been missing for months, was back. Her sweet, wonderful baby brother who'd never hurt a fly...had just gunned down at least three men without even breaking stride.
Ellie was pulled from her silent conflict by a gentle hand on her shoulder and she turned to see Sarah - or whatever the hell her name was - holding out a cell phone. "I think you'll want to take this."
She took the phone uncertainly, trying to keep her tone steady as she answered. "Hello?"
"Ellie? Is that you?"
"Oh God, Devon!" Ellie sobbed, her voice breaking. "I'm so sorry! They made me write that letter! They said they'd kill you if I didn't!"
"Shhhh. It's okay." Devon replied softly. "I love you and everything is gonna be okay."
"Where are you? Why aren't you here?"
"All part of the plan, babe." He assured her. "Chuck needed me to take care of a couple of things, but I promise I'll see you real soon."
Pulling her knees against her chest and clutching the phone to her ear, Ellie let her fiancée's voice comfort her as the van sped away into the night.
It was a little over an hour later that the van slowly pulled up to a nondescript motel in Wrightwood, just outside the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. As the individual least likely to be recognized or remembered later on, Morgan headed into the motel's shabby office. As planned, Devon had set up a reservation under an alias. In his nervousness, he failed to notice either the small television behind the clerk's desk, or the news report displaying Chuck and Sarah's faces with a grainy video of their van. As he signed the check in sheet, he didn't see the clerk peering past him at the van idling in the parking lot.
Instead he accepted the room key with an anxious smile and rushed out. He certainly didn't see the clerk watch them pull the van up to a room at the furthest end of the motel, reaching for his phone and dial the number on the TV.
The moment they were safely inside their room, Chuck wearily dropped his backpack. "Alright, everyone. We're going to catch a few hours of sleep, then we're hitting the road agai..."
"Forget that." Anna cut him off, pulling her laptop from her bag and turning to look Chuck in the eye. "I have something you need to know about."
"Uh," Chuck blinked, mouth agape. "Okay."
"There's something I found while you were...I pulled it off the secure network." Anna hit a few keys and spun the laptop around for everyone to see. "It's called Project Horizon. It started out with the Intersect, but the more research they did the more they understood that the Intersect only really worked when filtered through the human brain. It was the only way to get it to make the intuitive leaps it was designed for."
"Like the nonsense in my head?" Chuck asked sarcastically.
"Right, but then...then they discovered that what one mind could do well, two could do better and three even better than that. And then they decided to take the conscious mind out for the equation." She paused. "They figured out how to...I mean...they're putting people into comas and...and they're networking their fucking brains together!"
Chuck stared, jaw hanging open in disbelief. "How do they...? Where do they...?
"They use academic programs, science fairs, and even online games to identify people who're compatible." She scowled angrily. "And when they find someone, then some kid out there vanishes. The news cycle lasts a couple of weeks, the cops find nothing, and a month later it's just another statistic. Meanwhile that kid is getting wired into an organic supercomputer and getting the entire collective intelligence database of the US Government getting pumped through their brain."
"Maybe it was just a theoretical project?" Chuck ventured, sitting down and peering out the window.
"It sure as hell didn't look theoretical." Anna squeezed her eyes shut. "All they need to make the whole thing operational is you. They've got the infrastructure, and they just need to isolate how your brain is able to do…whatever the hell it does."
Chuck sat quietly, not knowing how to respond as Ellie moved to sit next to Anna. Pulling the laptop from the smaller girl's hands, the neurologist began pouring over the data. "Anna, I want you to show me everything you got."
A few hours later...
Ellie sat silently on the floor, leaning against the wall. The cup of coffee held loosely in her hand had long-since gone cold, as her mind processed everything she'd been exposed to in the last 12 hours. She didn't even respond, at first, when Sarah came over and sat down next to her.
She turned regard Sarah coolly, staring silently until even the experienced espionage agent began to fidget. "Thank you for getting me out of there."
"Oh...you're welcome." Sarah replied hesitantly. "I just want to say…"
"Now get out of my sight."
"Stop." Ellie raised her hand to silence the shorter woman. "You tried to kill my little brother, then you helped break me out. I'm generous enough to call that a push, so you and I are even."
"Woah." Chuck cut in, staring incredulously at his older sister. "Hold on now...you thought Sarah tried to kill me?"
Ellie clenched her eyes shut in frustration. "Of course she..."
"Sarah did not try to kill me." He interrupted. "This should be fairly obvious considering I'm still alive!"
"Chuck, you need to stop defending her!" Ellie snapped, throwing her cold coffee on the floor. "I watched her get arrested for your murder."
"Ellie..." Chuck spoke slowly. "Sarah was just ordered to kill me..."
"I saw her and John being taken away in handcuffs." His sister insisted. "I was at the trial when they acquitted her!"
"Uh, guys? Morgan piped up from the window.
"Not mine...exactly." Sarah cut her off. "You were at Sarah Walker's trial."
Ellie gaped at her. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!"
"Guys…we might have a little situation here." Morgan said, a little more insistently.
"Sarah Walker was a cover identity and she couldn't just vanish. There was enough media stir already. They needed to close the loop." Sarah explained. "I got reassigned to Seattle under a new name and effectively buried."
"Sarah is, without a doubt, the only reason I'm still alive." Chuck insisted. Taking advantage of Ellie's stunned silence, he continued. "She had me dead to rights, but despite the consequences she chose to help me escape."
"Hey!" Morgan barked, flinching as all eyes turned on him.
Chuck gestured impatiently. "What is it, Morgan?"
"Uhh...there are some cops here. Lots of cops." He informed them distractedly as flashing blue and red lights began to filter through the curtains. "Quite possibly all of the cops."
"Well." Chuck groaned. "That's just perfect."
San Bernardino County Sheriff Richard Marlowe eyed the motel floor plan, generously provided by the night manager. It was little more than a basic layout of the rooms and fire exits, but it was enough. Going over the entrances and exits, he nodded slightly. He'd been doing this long enough to know that no cordon was impenetrable, but this was damn close; he made a note to acknowledge the excellent work by his deputies.
"Well, seems we've got the place buttoned up tight." He confirmed, turning to address the masked tactical officer standing nearby. "Suppose they're all yours."
Marlowe didn't even try to disguise his displeasure. His Specialized Enforcement deputies were more than capable of handling this situation, but the Governor had called him personally to inform him that these fugitives were the sole jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department. Minutes later, a pair of black SUVs had arrived on the scene, revealing a dozen officers in tactical gear; all with the trademark swagger of LAPD SWAT.
Nodding curtly, the masked officer gestured his team over.
"Alright, gentlemen. This one is pretty straightforward." Leaning over, he indicated several points on the map. "The only points of egress are here, here, and here. We've got all of them covered, so we can pretty much walk in whenever we like. So let's get this job done, neutralize the target and get the hell outta here."
Marlowe didn't say anything as he watched them walk away, but the way the officer said 'neutralize' left him feeling decidedly uneasy. They weren't fielding a negotiator, they hadn't even floated the idea of employing less-lethal options. And if he was being honest, those officers seemed almost...enthusiastic. In his 22 years of law enforcement, he hadn't met a single tactical officer worth spit who didn't want to explore every possible option before they went in shooting.
He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was off here. He ruminated on that thought for a moment, then motioned to the lead Specialized Enforcement deputy on site, Deputy Mark Cleary. The camouflage-clad man jogged over smartly. "Sheriff?"
"Deputy, I think this is an excellent opportunity for your team to learn a thing or two from LAPD SWAT."
The deputy blinked in surprise, then scowled. "Beg pardon, Sheriff, but my boys are every bit as capable as…"
"I'm not asking, deputy." Marlowe calmly interrupted. "Assemble your team and stack up behind the SWAT officers. You'll be going in right behind them."
The deputy paused before giving a clipped response. "Yes, sir."
"Excellent. And Cleary?" The Sheriff added before the deputy could walk away. "I want you and your men to watch exactly how the LAPD officers conduct this operation...very closely."
Cleary nodded slowly, understanding dawning in his eyes as the Sheriff continued. "And make sure to let them know you'll be observing. We want them to bring their A game, after all."
"Understood, sir. I'll be sure that my team takes in every detail." He responded seriously. "Not every day you get to work with the pros, right?"
"Right you are, Deputy." Marlowe agreed with a faint smile. "Carry on."
"What do we do?" Ellie asked.
"We aren't doing anything." Chuck stated, glancing out the motel window. "I'm going to surrender."
"What!?" Ellie and Morgan cried in unison.
"It's the only way this can go, trust me." Chuck insisted. "I'm the one they're after and it was only a matter of time before some Black Ops team caught up with me. If I publicly turn myself over to the LAPD, they'll probably let the rest of you go."
Ellie turned to Sarah in disbelief. "Tell me he's not serious."
"He's right." Sarah agreed, reluctantly. "They can't kill you or even vanish you with that many cops and reporters as witnesses. And they definitely can't charge you with anything without exposing themselves."
"Sorry to rescue and run, Ellie." Chuck smiled ruefully, giving his sister one last hug and heading toward the door.
Grabbing his jacket off the chair, he paused to take Sarah's hand. "I'm sorry I have to go"
"That's okay." She smiled sadly. "Say what you will about our relationship, at least it's consistent."
"I'll give you that." He chuckled, leaning in to kiss her. "If I ever see a phone again, I promise I'll call."
"You better. Otherwise I'll just have to come rescue you."
Outside, the SWAT team was preparing to make their approach on the motel room when they heard the sound of soft footfalls approaching from behind. The rear man felt a light squeeze on his upper arm, then a voice whispered. "San Bernardino Specialized Enforcement. We'll be backing you up – ordered to watch and learn."
The LAPD officer gave a faint sound of annoyance, but followed protocol as he reached forward, squeezing the arm of the man in front of him and passing on the message. When it reached the team lead, he twisted round to glare at the deputies before turning his scowl on Sheriff Marlowe. The older man was unfazed, his expression seeming to say 'Well? Whenever you're ready, tough guy.'.
Indignant, the SWAT lead nonetheless gestured for his team to prepare, then began to advance toward the motel room door.
They were only a few feet away when the door opened slowly. Chuck stepped out, his arms held high and squinting in the light of a dozen spotlights. He held his jacket in one hand and turned in a slow circle to show the police that he was unarmed.
"I surrend..." He began.
He never had the chance to finish as the crack of a rifle sounded over the motel parking lot. Everything seemed to freeze in place when Chuck's head snapped backward violently. A faint halo of red mist hung in the air, illuminated by the police lights. Sarah, seemingly unaware of the blood spattered across her face and chest, watched in horror as Chuck collapsed bonelessly to the ground. "Chuck...?"
A small part of her mind was aware of the SWAT team storming the room, forcing the occupants to the ground without a second's hesitation and barely acknowledged the jarring sensation of being thrown to the floor. As the crushing weight of the knee between her shoulder blades drove the air from her lungs, she felt the unfortunately familiar sensation of a gun pressing into the base of her skull. She expected to die without ever hearing the shot that killed her when a second tac team moved in, their MP5's smoothly sweeping to cover the room. The officer on her back growled, and the cold steel of the gun was shortly replaced by the pinch of handcuffs tightening around her wrists.
She felt no relief at her stay of execution. No anger, or sorrow, or pain. As they were hauled from the room one-by-one, all she could do was stare numbly into Chuck's empty eyes.
"Room secure!" Deputy Cleary barked into his radio as the suspects were cuffed and hauled outside. "We need a medic up here now!"
Seconds later, two paramedics came running up to the room. One of them knelt beside Chuck, rattling off a string of medical jargon as he carefully checked for vital signs, looked up to his partner and gave a slight headshake.
The other medic nodded and turned to the SWAT officers standing nearby. "You two, get over here. We need a hand."
The first EMT carefully rolled Chuck onto a spine board, then they lifted him onto the waiting stretcher. Hefting the stretcher, they headed to the waiting ambulance. "C'mon, c'mon! Move!"
"What's the goddamn hurry?" One of the LAPD officers muttered as they lifted the stretcher into the vehicle. "I think it's safe to say the sumbitch is dead."
"Not our call." The medic replied tersely while he secured the stretcher to the ambulance bed. "Alright, he's secured! Let's go!"
The officer shook his head as the ambulance's door shut. As the vehicle sped away, neither paramedic noticed when Chuck's hand twitched.
A few days later...
"It's pretty messy, ma'am." The analyst standing across the desk glanced briefly at the folder in his hands. "Three charred corpses in a burnt-out ambulance. It appears that the driver lost control of the vehicle. One theory is that the subject may have attacked the EMTs."
"After being shot in the head?" She asked, skeptically.
"With that level of hardwired combat knowledge, it could very well have been a reflex. There have been recorded cases of an agent's reflexes firing after they've been declared clinically dead." He shrugged. "Regardless, ambulances are top-heavy – it's not unlikely that a struggle inside might've caused it to tip. It's probable that all three either died on impact, or soon thereafter when the vehicle caught fire."
"The bodies were positively identified?"
"More or less. San Bernardino County records weren't overly detailed." He glanced at the file again. "All we know for sure is that all three bodies were male. Normally we'd have run dental records, but that wasn't an option in this case."
"The driver's head was heavily damaged when a highway sign went through the windshield. The portions that have been recovered indicate that his teeth likely shattered on impact. Of the two bodies in the back, one was damaged beyond recovery when the oxygen tank next to it went up. If it hadn't been inside the ambulance, it would have been scattered over a quarter-mile area."
"The third body matches the approximate physical dimensions of the subject, and possessed a bullet wound consistent with on-scene reports. Unfortunately, there was too much damage for fingerprint analysis and what was left of the teeth were mostly embedded in the back of the driver's seat."
"Some were embedded in the driver."
"Lovely." The woman behind the desk frowned at the thought. "DNA?"
"Not much to go on." The analyst commented. "Every container in the vehicle ruptured when it burned, including an ammonia cleaning solution. With that level of chemical contamination, any sample from inside the vehicle would almost certainly come up inconclusive. However, we were able to recover a few some used bandages that had been thrown free in the crash. Those samples were an 86% match to the subject. In addition, the body did have a deactivated GPS transmitter imbedded in the left arm. The Intersect had one implanted for a mission, since rendered inactive but never removed."
"Is it the same transmitter?"
"We only got a partial serial number off it, but what we have matches the one on file."
"That can't possibly be all! What else was recovered from the wreckage?"
"Nothing remarkable. What you'd expect to find in an ambulance."
"Hardly an open and shut case, is it?"
"Based on the information we have, I'd put money on it being Bartowski." The analyst concluded. "He's dead, General."
General Diane Beckman sighed, and shook her head. "For all his faults, Chuck was a good man. It was a shame for him to go out that way."
The analyst remained silent.
"But it's just as well. I'm closing this case file once and for all." Beckman concluded, gesturing to the folder in the analyst's hands. "Good riddance."
Taking the comment as a dismissal, the analyst left the General's office and made his way directly to the archives. Waiting until the door closed, the General picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.
"I've had the files sealed. There shouldn't be any chance of some limp-wristed congressional subcommittee getting wind of the project." She leaned back in her chair. "As for Walker – or whatever the hell her name is – I'm ordering her records be expunged and having her transferred to Facility Nine."
Four Weeks Later...
Ellie sighed as she regarded the bright sunshine, as the warm June breeze rustled the leaves. Overhead the birds dove and danced happily, unaware of the sombre crowd below them. She took a deep breath and leaned against Devon, clasping his hand in her own. It wasn't right that it should be such a beautiful day.
Making her way to the front of the crowd, pausing occasionally to squeeze a hand or accept a comforting hug, she tried to find the right words for what she was feeling. And as always, her mind came to a shuddering halt when it tried to process the last month.
After the motel they'd all lied to keep from going to prison. They told the police that Chuck and Sarah had gone off the rails. That they'd been the ones to kidnap Ellie, and that they'd made up a story to convince the others to help them break into some kind of government office. They'd especially had to lie about Bryce Larkin, who they assured the authorities was just some guy Chuck and Sarah grabbed off the street as a hostage and thrown from the van when he'd ceased to be useful.
It had taken nearly a month to get their lives sorted out, and all the while she'd had to see her brother's name being dragged through the mud. Hearing people call him a lunatic and a traitor had tested Ellie's willpower almost to the breaking point.
Steeling herself, she stepped forward onto the small podium and turned to face the crowd. So many familiar faces lay before her, filled with so much sorrow. In the front row she could see Morgan looking stricken and clutching Anna's hand for support. Onward to the right sat the staff of the Buy More, sorrow evident on each of them. In the back row Ellie thought she could see John Casey sitting quietly, his face as expressionless as a wooden carving, eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.
Scanning the crowd, she cleared her throat and all eyes fixed on her. She took one last deep breath and did what she'd come to do. "Chuck once said to me that if he disappeared one day, no one would notice till he was late for work. I remember teasing him that I'd notice sooner when he didn't do the dishes. It seemed so absurd that... that when he did disappear it shook us all to our core. When he suddenly came back, there was a moment when I actually thought everything was going to be okay."
She paused, holding back her tears for the moment.
"But everything wasn't okay. The man that came back wasn't the same as the man who left, and as we..." Her voice hitched. "...as we remember him today I hope we all remember him as he was, as one of the sweetest men who ever lived. A brother, a friend and good man."
Raising her eyes to meet those in the audience, she was moved by the emotion she saw there. How could Chuck have ever thought of himself as unloved or unimportant?
Strengthened, she stood a little straighter, and told the story of Chuck Bartowski.
Later that evening, long after the last of the well-wishers had left, a lone figure crept through the quiet Echo Park apartment complex. They reached the street, careful to avoid any lights, and climbed into the back seat of an old station wagon.
"Fancy meeting you here." The driver commented as their new passenger settled in.
"Well, I was in the neighborhood."
"That looked like a nice ceremony. A lot of people came out."
"You sound a little surprised."
"I guess I predicted a smaller turnout. Y'know...with the treason and everything." He shrugged. "I wish I could've said something."
He didn't have to look back to sense their eyes roll. "Considering you've been legally dead for almost two years, delivering somebody else's eulogy might have been a bit awkward."
"Good point." Bryce Larkin admitted, putting the car in gear and pulling out of the parking lot. Moments later, the car merged onto the freeway and headed east. As Los Angeles began to fade over the horizon, Bryce glanced at the other man in the rear view mirror. "You really think we can pull this off?"
"We have to."
"It won't be easy." Bryce persisted. "I can still take you home."
"I'm good." His passenger grinned. "Just gotta stay positive."
"Very encouraging attitude." The spy commented as he turned east and made for Route 66. "What about Ellie?"
"She knows what's at stake." There was no doubt in the reply. "She'll be alright."
The two of them sat in silence for some time as the mile markers passed by.
"How long till we reach Black Ridge?"
"A few days." Bryce ventured. "Unless you want to hit any tourist traps on the way."
"We'll see. Wake me when it's my turn to drive?"
The other man pulled a worn baseball cap over his eyes and leaned back in his seat. "Awesome."
End Part Two