10/10/09

Chuck versus LuthorCorp

Author's Notes

The usual disclaimer – Both Chuck and Smallville are, unfortunately, owned by someone else.

Hi! Since Kristin Kreuk is joining Chuck for Season 3, I thought a Chuck/Smallville crossover story would be fun. Although what I have in mind is more of a Chuck/Lana Lang crossover. Now, from what I have seen, Lana gets diss'ed a lot on the internet forums. Personally, I don't think the issue is with the character of Lana or with Kristin's acting abilities, but rather the annoying way the writers have portrayed her relationship with Clark. And since I don't intend to have Clark in this story, I don't think that issue should be a problem. Well, Clark may not actually be in the story, but at least in the beginning Lana may experience some angst over her relationship with him for simple continuity's sake.

This story begins shortly after Smallville's Season 8 Episode 14, 'Requiem'. For those of you who are not hardcore Smallville fans, and as a brief refresher for those who are, here is a little background to set up the story.

Lana and Clark first got together way back in high school about eight years before the start of this story. They have had an on-and-off relationship ever since although Lana has had a number of other relatively long term relationships along the way. Her first boy friend, technically pre-Clark, was Whitney Fordman. He ended up dead. Then a couple years later there was Jason Teague, who she met in Paris. He ended up dead. Then she married and divorced Lex Luthor, who . . . wait for it . . . is now apparently DEAD. Sensing a pattern here?

The underlying problem in Lana and Clark's relationship during the first five or six years was the big 'secret' of Clark's heritage. Clark just would never man up and tell her the truth even though it seemed like half the town knew and sometimes he would blurt it out five minutes after meeting someone, but with Lana it just drug on and on. Around the sixth year of their relationship Lana finally learns about Clark's abilities and that would seem to solve everything, but of course it didn't. Oh, their friendship is more solid, but as a 'couple' things still didn't always click. However Lana wasn't stupid and came to realize things only really worked between them on those rare occasions when either she had acquired superpowers through some accident or when Clark's abilities had been stripped away. Only when they were on equal footing were they both truly happy.

So Lana set about acquiring permanent superpowers of her own. Oh, she made a lot of noises, and perhaps even somewhat convinced herself, that the superpowers would be for the benefit of mankind and also would be an important counter to Lex Luthor's grand evil designs, but deep down inside she knew she needed them to make a relationship with Clark work.

Lex, whose body had been seriously crippled in an accident, was secretly funding a project called 'Prometheus'. The concept was that his damaged skin would be permanently replaced with a 'nanosuit', which, while looking like normal human skin, would give him a range of superhuman abilities to rival Clark's. Lana, through her connections as the ex-Mrs. Luthor, managed to uncover the project and convinced the lead scientist, Dr. Edward Groll, to bestow the nanosuit on her instead. Through a long, extremely painful process, her skin was removed and the nanosuit was grafted into place.

Her abilities with the nanosuit have only been hinted at so far. Like Clark, she has the ability to move at an extremely accelerated pace that makes her effectively invisible and allows her to do things like catch bullets in mid-flight. She also has demonstrated super strength by ripping the armored door off a vault. On the positive side that is all that has been revealed, but I think some other positive attributes will probably be revealed over the course of this story. On the negative side, and the aspect that sets up the basic premise of this story, is that the nanosuit absorbs all Kryptonite it comes into contact with, while not harming the wearer. Unfortunately for Lana and Clark, Lex threatened to unleash a large Kryptonite-filled bomb that would have destroyed Metropolis. The only way to stop it was for Lana to absorb the Kryptonite, which meant forever after, close proximity of her Kryptonite charged nanosuit would be lethal to Clark. Unable to handle seeing Clark on a daily basis, but never able to touch him, Lana decided the only solution was to leave Metropolis.

On the Chuck side of things, I will admit while I have seen most episodes, I am not quite as much the hardcore fan. So I am going to say for the moment this story is set at some nebulous time during the second season after they get the secret underground command center and when Chuck, Sarah, and Casey are working more or less as a team. Assuming this story ends up like most of my others, it will probably head off on a tangent of its own, as I don't tend to worry much about maintaining continuity with the shows.

I think that is enough background for now, as I don't want the readers to get bored and give up before the story even begins!

Chapter 1

Part 1

Lana once again felt the tears welling up in her eyes. L.A. was supposed to be this bright, cheery place to help her forget Metropolis. However, cruising the late night streets utterly alone, it felt anything but. Perhaps she should have chosen Paris instead, but that would have only exchanged thoughts of Clark for the equally bittersweet memories of her time with Jason. Or perhaps she should have returned to Shanghai; she had been happy there for awhile. But with the gifts she had struggled so long and hard to acquire, she could make best use of them in a place where she spoke more than a smattering of the local language.

Fortunately, a sharp, staccato chirp from the car's enhanced navigation system gave her mind something to fix on besides thoughts of the life she and Clark should be sharing at this moment, but now, through the actions of Lex, never would.

With a quick glance over her shoulder, she slid the car into the right lane and then found an available parking spot less than a block further ahead. In only a few moments she was parked and able to give the display her full attention.

Lana had been in L.A. just over three weeks. After finding a luxury condo in a high rise in Westwood, she had acquired office space on Wilshire for 'Isis West', a base of operations for her plans to utilize her abilities to help those in need. One aspect of Isis West would certainly be to help the meteor rock infected and others with superhuman gifts, much like Chloe continued to do at the original Isis Foundation back in Metropolis. But L.A. didn't have nearly the quantity of cases Smallville and Metropolis had, and therefore she intended to provide help to normal people who were in trouble, too.

And to help her find the people who most immediately needed her help, she had had Chloe send her one of the three 'Brainiac-upgraded' computers Isis possessed. The machine had arrived just this afternoon and she was in the process of giving it its first test run.

At present the machine, hidden in a secret back room of Isis West, was tapped into all the major cellphone systems. It had the ability to access the microphone in every cellphone in the greater L.A. area, whether the phone was in use, in standby mode, or even turned off. Only the NSA's mainframes could rival the machine's data collection abilities, but for the moment Lana had it configured to only register the sound of gunshots. Via a complex algorithm involving the time it took the sound to reach various phones and the relative signal strength of the phones at the surrounding towers, the computer could pinpoint gunfire within a few feet and forward the data to the navigation system in Lana's car.

Lana studied the screen. The system was reporting twenty-three shots fired within a one block area in Pasadena in the last forty-seven seconds and even as she watched the count continued jumping up every couple of seconds. Whatever was going on had to be major, she thought, if that many rounds were being fired. Quickly, she shut down the engine and grabbed her satchel of gear from the passenger seat. The location was just over six miles from her current position and she could cover the distance a lot faster running than driving.

Sliding out of the car and easing the door shut, she hit the door lock button on her key fob as she made a mental note to talk to Chloe and see if she could help with a solution to miniaturize the computer interface to work in her phone or on a portable GPS. Then thoughts about her phone reminded her to stow it in the small Faraday bag she kept in her satchel; it wouldn't do to have someone else use a similar trick to track her movements through her own phone.

Lana took a moment to glance around before accelerating up into what she called 'Prometheus Time' after the name of the project which had created the nanosuit. Although calling it a 'suit' felt like such a misnomer, as it implied it was something that could be removed at will. But for good or bad, the nanosuit was as much a permanent part of her body now as the layer of skin it had replaced.

Mostly mollified no one was watching, as she didn't want tonight's activities to result in a public reputation like Clark's 'red-blue blur', Lana initiated the mental sequence which would shift her mind and nanosuit-equipped body into 'Prometheus Time'. From her perspective it felt like ten seconds passed while the traffic and everything else around her ground to a halt, but she knew to an outside observer those apparent ten seconds were actually less than a millisecond.

Slinging her satchel over her shoulder, she set off at a brisk run in the direction indicated by the navigation system. As she ran, she realized a portable nav system would have only limited utility. She could carry things while she was in P.T., but nothing outside her body truly shifted into that alternate time. So she would have to drop out of P.T. to use any normal electronics. After the month she had had the nanosuit, she was still learning its true capabilities and limitations.

And one of its truly miraculous capabilities was her ability to run nonstop for what felt like forever. At first when she had been exploring her capabilities with Clark back in Metropolis before 'the event', it felt like she was running at a six minute mile pace and could maintain it for mile after mile and hour after hour. But for extremely long distances the limitation had turned out to be mental stamina rather than physical stamina. Running a twenty-six mile marathon distance felt like three hours in P.T. just like it would in the real world. And running hundreds of miles? Forget about it. Or at least so she thought until she discovered the trick to put the nanosuit into quasi-autopilot mode and allow her mind to shift most of the way back towards real time. Now her nanosuit equipped body could cover the six miles to the location of the gun fire in eight milliseconds while it felt to her like twenty seconds rather than the forty minutes it would have in the beginning.

By the time Lana reached the scene of the activity, she felt a broad grin spreading across her face and helping to dispel many of her earlier gloomy thoughts. Even after a month, it was still fun and exhilarating to run at this incredible speed.

It hadn't been clear on the tiny navigation screen, but Lana found herself in familiar territory. She was less than a mile from the edge of the Cal Tech campus. She had made several recruiting trips to Cal Tech when she had been setting up some of the Isis Foundation's secret labs and hadn't been able to poach someone with the right background from LuthorCorp or Star Labs. Now she found herself in a light industrial park that she remembered was filled with small hi-tech startup and spin-off firms. This certainly wouldn't have been her first guess at the location of a major gun battle.

Shifting her mind back up to the full P.T. state, she resumed complete control of the nanosuit and slowed to a jog as she read the street signs. Finally, after three more blocks she spotted the sign for the side street she had been looking for. Maintaining her pace she jogged down the street to her right.

At three fifteen in the morning the street was almost completely deserted. Only two cars were visible in the next couple of blocks and they weren't parked in a normal manner. No, they were parked nose-to-nose in a Vee-pattern with the point of the Vee facing the street and other side straddling the driveway into one of the small parking lots. The arrangement struck Lana as odd until she approached a little closer and spotted three people crouched in the protective area between the cars.

And the cars were hardly what she expected to find involved in a major shootout. No, she had been expecting cop cars or large sedans or some flavor of the pimped out SUVs favored by drug dealers. Instead she saw one of the small electric cars used by the BuyMore Nerd Herders and a silver convertible Porsche 911.

Lana had expected it to be immediately obvious who were the 'good guys' and who were the 'bad guys' and therefore know who to help. But so far she hadn't spotted anyone except the three people by the cars, so she couldn't see anything to do but check them out first.

Quickly she ran around the cars and paused behind the three people. She had done some experiments with Chloe while she had still been back in Metropolis and knew that while she was in P.T. she would have to stand perfectly still for what felt like twenty minutes before she would appear visible to anyone nearby. So she had plenty of time to check these three out.

The three were two men and a woman. One man had a beefy build, looked in his upper thirties, and was wearing a green BuyMore shirt. The other man looked taller, younger, and ganglier and was wearing the white shirt and black tie of a Nerd Herder and even had one of their pocket protectors. The woman had blonde hair and was wearing the white peasant blouse and dark orange skirt that was the uniform of the girls who worked in the Orange-Orange shops. And the woman's attire struck Lana as odd or at least more odd then the attire of the two men, because the woman was very attractive and definitely in her upper twenties. And while you frequently saw attractive girls aged sixteen to eighteen working there, by their upper twenties all the attractive ones would have long since moved on to bigger and better things. Or at least that was Lana's observation after spending the better part of five years running a small coffee shop.

Of course, even more odd was seeing the guy in the green shirt and the woman brandishing guns. Geeky guys who worked in electronic stores and girls who sold fruit drinks don't typically go around packing – even in gun-happy Los Angeles. So what was going on here?

Then Lana noticed how both the man in green and the woman each had one hand holding the second man down and how he was the only one not carrying a gun. It took a second before it suddenly clicked. Several times while she had been married to Lex, she had been in dangerous situations like this and every time her bodyguards positioned themselves exactly like this. Who was the guy in the white shirt and black tie of the Nerd Herders?

Lana leaned in close and read the badge clipped to the man's pocket protector. Chuck Bartowski – the name didn't ring any bells. After thinking about it for a second, she reached into his back pocket and fished out his wallet. The name on his driver's license matched the one on his nametag.

Straightening up, Lana reached into her satchel and pulled out a pencil and a small notebook. Quickly, she wrote down all the information on his driver's license, the numbers on the two Visa cards and the social security card, and even the number on the Burbank Public Library Card. Perhaps one of these numbers would help her figure out who he really was and why he had a pair of undercover bodyguards.

After returning his wallet to his pocket, she repeated the process with the other man who turned out to be a 'John Casey'. His name didn't ring any bells either, but as she was writing down his info, she realized he lived the same apartment complex as Bartowski. Again that seemed very odd unless he was a bodyguard, then it would make sense that he would want to be close 24/7. However if Bartowski was rich enough to have a bodyguard, why would he be living in an apartment complex?

Stuffing Casey's wallet back into place, Lana turned to the woman. A quick search didn't turn up a purse or any ID. Stepping back, Lana pondered the situation for a moment. These three seemed odd and out of place, but they didn't instantly strike her as 'the bad guys'. And they were obviously in a defensive position. If they were in a shoot out with the cops, why weren't any of the cops or at least their cars with the flashing lights visible? No, whoever was shooting at them was definitely doing it from places of cover.

Lana slowly moved to one side while studying the air in front of the cars. The street and the nearby parking lots had a lot of large lights making things reasonably well lit. A bullet frozen in place by her highly accelerated existence would still be difficult to spot, but as she moved, she saw the line of turbulence one bullet was making. Quickly, she strode around the Porsche until she found the bullet still about six feet away. Positioning herself between the bullet and its intended target, she sighted back along its line of flight. It led to the rooftop of a two story building across the street. Turning and looking forward along its flight path, she realized it would pass dangerously near the three crouched behind the car. She still wasn't sure who the good guys and who the bad guys were, but until she figured it out, it was best to assume these three were the good guys. Therefore she plucked the frozen bullet out of the air before setting off to investigate the shooter on the roof.

Dashing across the street, Lana discovered the windows along the front of the building were all dark. Before breaking into the building, she decided to circle around to see if there was easy rooftop access from the side or back. Reaching the side of the building, she spotted a ladder whose bottom rung would be an easy ten foot vertical jump. Suddenly feeling like Jaime Sommers from the old 'Bionic Woman' TV show, Lana leaped hard and grabbed the ladder more than two-thirds of the way up. With a quick series of hand-over-hand motions, she reached the top without her feet ever touching a rung.

Swinging lightly over the parapet, Lana landed on her feet and straightened to look around. The roof was filled with the usual array air conditioning units and antennas. After moving twenty feet to her left she had a clear line of sight to where the shooter was crouched along the front edge of the roof. Continuing to scan the roof for any other things of interest or things that didn't seem to belong, Lana jogged over to the shooter.

The man was dressed in black from head to toe without any immediately identifying insignia like POLICE or FBI spelled out in giant letters. Pulling off his black ski mask, she found a dark haired twenty-something man, who, while admittedly kind of cute, she had definitely not seen before. Searching his pockets, she found nothing but a cellphone – a cheap, prepaid one that would be nearly impossible to trace. The complete lack of ID was certainly a strong indicator that this was a 'bad guy'.

After dropping his phone into the Faraday bag in her satchel to join her own, Lana pulled out several extra-long plastic twist-ties and proceeded to bind the man's arms behind his back and then bound his legs at knees and ankles. Then she picked up his sniper rifle to dispose of it somewhere else, just in case the guy managed to work his way loose. As she was raising it to sling it from her shoulder, she noticed the digital display on the high-powered scope. And then a wire leading from the scope to a small black box mounted on the side of the stock. It had to be a transmitter, she realized. And a pretty short ranged one at that. So there had to be at least one more guy around. And if this had been her operation, she would have had several shooters and a central commander or coordinator.

Quickly, Lana scanned the other nearby rooftops. But she didn't spot anyone as they were all poorly lit and she didn't have Clark's enhanced vision, or at least not yet, as Dr. Groll had been optimistic additional enhancements to her nanosuit were possible the last time she had talked to him.

So instead of focusing on the rooftops, Lana prowled the perimeter of building searching the better lit streets below. And when she reached the back of the building, she saw what she had been looking for – a large black utility truck, which at least from the distance appeared to be completely clean of logos and numbers and which simply shouted 'covert surveillance van' to her experienced eye.

After a quick glance back at where the bound shooter still lay, Lana vaulted over the rear edge of the roof and dropped lightly the twenty-five feet to the ground.

Jogging over to the van, Lana gave the handle of the door on the back a light twist. Locked. Hmm, not unexpected, she thought. Applying a little of the nanosuit's power, she twisted until something popped and the door swung free. Climbing inside, she found one man staring at a bank of four computer monitors. Looking at the images, she saw the two cars from across the street being shown from four different angles including one that had to be from the shooter she had just taken out. As always, it seemed way cool that she could move so fast the rifle slung from her shoulder was still displaying the image from the roof up on the monitor.

Then focusing back on the situation at hand, Lana thought about what the pictures on the monitor were trying to tell her. They had four well-placed shooters, which indicated a planned ambush. Hmm.

Looking around the interior of the van, Lana didn't see any noteworthy except for a couple of 8 x 10s of Bartowski taped to the wall near the monitors. Otherwise there was nothing to indicate who the guys with this van were anymore than the empty pockets of the first shooter had. Certainly, if they were SWAT it would have been extremely obvious. No, everything was definitely indicating these were the 'bad guys'.

Hoping to figure out who they were or who they worked for, Lana turned to the van's sole occupant. And suddenly she realized she recognized him, but at first couldn't remember from where. Staring at his thinning dark blonde hair which was graying at the temples, Lana tried picturing him a little younger and then she had it. He was Dominic something. Ah, Dominic Senatori! She had first encountered him skulking around when she was trying to convince Lex to let her turn the old Talon movie theater in Smallville into a coffee shop rather than tearing the building down to turn it into a parking lot. After seeing him talking to Lex one time, she had asked and Lex had admitted Senatori worked security for LuthorCorp and he had been doing a background check of her before Lex would sign off on her proposal.

Lana hadn't seen Senatori for at least five years, but suspected he was still working for LuthorCorp in some capacity. LuthorCorp. She had never expected to run into one of their black ops out here barely three weeks after her arrival in L.A. What interest could LuthorCorp have in this Bartowski guy?

And more importantly, she suddenly wondered, who at LuthorCorp was behind this operation? The three most logical candidates were Tess Mercer, Oliver Queen, or most scary of all, Lex. Oh, she had been present when the truck he had been in had blown up and had seen the post-mortem DNA results, but face it; she had used the 'cloned dead body' ploy before herself in an almost identical car bomb way. No, Lex had been declared dead almost more times than she could count and had always come back stronger and more evil than before. She wasn't anywhere near ready to say 'Elvis had left the building'.

Not really expecting to find anything, Lana went through the motions of checking Senatori's pockets. Surprisingly, she found a phone, one of the big bulky satellite jobs that would bypass the local cell tower system. Not having had much dealings with them before, she wasn't sure if it could tell her anything useful, but she added it to the growing collection of phones in her Faraday bag. It was a tight fit and in the end she wrote herself a note in her notebook to carry a spare one in the future.

Then Lana leaned back against the wall of the truck and stared blankly at Senatori and the row of monitors while trying to decide how to proceed. She had never expected to get tangled up with a LuthorCorp operation, or at least not this soon. With anyone else the seemingly instantaneous things she could do would be a simple unexplained mystery. But in reality, there were three people she knew of who could do that sort of thing – Clark, Bart, or her – and Lex, Tess, and Oliver were each aware of at least two of them. However while she hadn't tried to keep her move to L.A. a big secret, she didn't know that that fact had necessarily crossed any of their personal radars. And she would prefer to keep it that way.

So dropping out of P.T. and directly questioning Senatori was definitely out as he would instantly recognize her. She could simply let him go and try to track him back to whoever was pulling his strings. But that would mean letting him complete his mission and that wasn't an acceptable option now that the three people out by the cars were starting to look like the 'good guys'.

No, the best solution for the moment seemed to be to tie Senatori and his shooters up here in the van and then call in the cops. It should keep him on ice for at least twenty-four hours. And she still had enough contacts within LuthorCorp to make a few discreet inquiries into who was really running this op. Plus it would give her a little time to research this Bartowski guy and see what LuthorCorp wanted with him. Because as she sat there, she realized if the powers at LuthorCorp wanted him dead, they would have used a lot more force than four snipers. No, the plan must have been to use the snipers to take out the two bodyguards and then take Bartowski alive. And until she understood what was going on, her number one priority was to keep him alive and out of LuthorCorp's hands.

With her course of action decided, it took less than a second of real-time before the four snipers were secured in the van along with Senatori. Then moving to a rooftop on the other side of the street near where the Porsche and the Nerd Herder car were sitting, Lana finally dropped out of P.T. and used one of the snipers' pre-paid phones to make an anonymous call to the police. Oh, doubtlessly by now someone else had reported the gunfire, but she wanted to be sure they didn't miss the black van parked one block over.

It was nearly five minutes before the three down below seemed to believe their opponents had suddenly departed. And Lana wasn't certain if they would have even moved then if not for the sound of approaching cop cars. Obviously, they weren't interested in becoming entangled with the police either. Quickly, once they decided to move, the woman hopped into the Porsche while the two men climbed into the Nerd Herder vehicle. With a whirr, the little electric car followed the roaring Porsche down the street until they disappeared around the corner just as the first cop car turned onto the street from the opposite direction.

Lana considered following 'the good guys', but decided her time would be better spent on research. They should be safe from LuthorCorp for at least the next few hours. And she knew where the two men lived. And finding out which store they were using for cover couldn't be too hard, as it was most likely the one nearest the apartment complex. And the woman? Well, she doubtlessly wouldn't stray too far from Bartowski tonight. Lana hung around just long enough to ensure the cops had discovered the black van before shifting to P.T. and heading back to her car and then on to Isis West.

Part 2

Lana grinned at her reflection in the mirror in the large master bath of her condo. It had been awhile since she had gone undercover. And it had taken a trip to a 24-hour Target to complete her ensemble, but now she looked like the perfect little Nerd Herder – white button down shirt, black tie, black slacks, and brown penny loafers. Well, not quite perfect, it needed at least one more touch to make her look a little geekier.

She went to the drawer where she had dumped all the assorted jewelry she had accumulated down through the years. Well, all the cheap, fake jewelry – the good stuff she had gotten from Lex was all stashed safely in a safety deposit box in the vault behind the building's concierge desk. It was certainly nice to be able to afford a first class lifestyle. This building would barely have been within reach with the ten million dollars she had received in the divorce settlement from Lex, assuming she hadn't used most of that money to set up the Isis Foundation. But it was only after she awoke from the three month Brainiac-induced coma that she had received the shock of learning Lionel Luthor was dead and that he had left her ten percent of LuthorCorp in his will. Boy, he must have hated/feared Lex in the end if he felt it was necessary to give that much power to Lex's Ex. Of course, if he had expected her to go toe-to-toe with Lex in the boardroom, he would have been sadly mistaken. Lana had liquidated most of her new-found holdings as quickly as she could. She had no desire to be trapped that tightly in Lex's orbit.

Digging through the drawer she came across a gold eyeglass case. Opening it exposed a pair of white cat's eye glasses that brought back memories of the last time, the only time, she had worn them. She and Lex had hosted a gala costume charity ball with glamorous 1950s Hollywood as the theme. She had borrowed a little from Audrey Hepburn, a little from Lauren Bacall, and a little from Grace Kelly to end up with an ensemble consisting of a black shimmering evening gown, fifteen strands of tightly wound pearls, a diamond encrusted tiara, an eighteen inch white cigarette holder, and this pair of white pearlescent cat's eye glasses. She had to admit they had had some fun times before Lex's lies had torn everything apart.

Slipping the glasses on, she walked back over to the mirror. Perfect. While they had looked glamorous when worn with a beautiful evening gown, they looked down right nerdy when paired with a shirt and tie.

After grabbing her purse and her car keys, she stepped briefly into her home office to pickup the papers she had printed on the official BuyMore letterhead. It informed the manager, Michael Tucker, of store 637 in Burbank that she was being reassigned from store 682 in Encino. Hopefully all the tricks she had learned down through the years from Chloe and the lingering aftereffects from Brainiac's mind probe would be enough for her to fake some prior experience.

As she walked down the hallway and then rode the elevator down to the garage, she mentally ran through what she had learned in the last few hours, not that it had been that much.

When she had started looking into Chuck Bartowski's background, she had half expected to find a dead-end trail. While she had been driving back to Isis West, the only thing that came to mind to explain why a guy working at a BuyMore would have bodyguards was if it was some kind of witness protection thing. What else would explain bodyguards for someone making little more than the minimum wage? But when she started looking, she found background information going way back.

Charles 'Chuck' Bartowski had been a student at Stanford until he was kicked out for cheating during his senior year. 'The Stanford Daily' newspaper had even included a photo, which confirmed it was the same guy. After college he had moved to Burbank and started sharing an apartment with his sister. He had then spent the past six years working at the BuyMore and there was sufficient evidence within the BuyMore HR computer system to convince Lana he had been there the whole time. So why would he have bodyguards?

A generic internet search turned up twenty-three Charles Bartowski's scattered around the world, but nothing new or useful regarding the one of interest to her. No, it wasn't until she let loose the big 'Brainiac' machine that she came across a couple of interesting tidbits. The first was a small, but measurable spike in searches for the terms 'Chuck Bartowski' and 'BuyMore' from computers in both the NSA and CIA main campuses over a six day period eighteen months earlier, and then absolutely nothing. There had been noise level searches on these terms during the months and years leading up to that week and then nothing, as though they had been designated as banned search terms. And the total lack of searches was just as telling as a huge spike in searches – the intelligence agencies seemed to have some interest in Chuck Bartowski. It just wasn't clear what that interest was.

The second item was a solitary entry from eight months earlier on one of the GRU's (the Russian Foreign Military Intelligence Agency) message boards commenting that twenty-five people, including a Charles Bartowski, had been added to Fulcrum's internal 'people of interest' list. Fulcrum – a name Lana had heard before. LuthorCorp had occasionally hired their services when it needed intelligence or black ops in the geopolitical arena and deniability was required. From what Lana knew or could glean without hacking too deeply into dangerous computer networks, Fulcrum was an independent intelligence gathering agency which primarily contracted out to the highest bidder and was composed mainly of former CIA agents. Of course, if Lex had significant dealings with them, how independent they truly were was open to question. But assuming they were independent, what intelligence did they think they could acquire from Bartowski that would turn them a profit?

So at the moment Lana had a lot more questions than answers about Bartowski, but if LuthorCorp and Fulcrum where both actively pursuing him, she needed to determine for certain if he was one of the 'good guys' and if so, how she could best help him. And that was when she decided she needed to get closer to him to keep a better eye on things. She wasn't too concerned about Fulcrum, they would probably stick to gathering intel. But LuthorCorp was another matter. They had already made one attempt to grab him and had almost overwhelmed his bodyguards. What if they tried again and pulled in some 33.1 resources? At least she had a lot of experience with meteor freaks, meta-humans, and alien mutants plus, if necessary, the abilities to handle most of them.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Lana thought, as she exited the elevator on the garage level. There might be a simple explanation for everything and things might not escalate into a battle involving superpowered beings.

As she walked up to her car, it suddenly occurred to her that maybe she should visit 'Rent a Wreck' before showing up at the BuyMore. But then she remembered the Orange-Orange girl from the previous evening with the 911 convertible. Climbing behind the wheel of her bright copper-colored Infiniti FX50 SUV, she reminded herself that this was California – the car you drove didn't necessarily have any relationship to your financial situation.

Part 3

Chuck sat behind the counter at the BuyMore help desk and stared down at his right hand. He was holding it down out of view below the counter and it wouldn't stop shaking. Last night had been one of the scariest evenings of his life and it wasn't just the gun battle. In the eighteen months since he had had the Intersect jammed into his head he had been involved in seven shooting incidents, almost enough to begin getting used to it.

No, the extremely bad part had been finding out the message from General Beckman to go to Pasadena to see if he 'flashed' on anything at LiftPort Industries had been a fake. Someone not only knew about him and the Intersect, but also had been able to penetrate their secure datalink to Washington. At the moment they were under orders to only accept instructions which came from the General via live videolink.

Chuck had been really freaking out that this time they, whoever the mystery 'they' were, knew about him and they could come for him at anytime. Sarah and Casey had tried to reassure him by reminding him the opponents had lured them to a secluded, late night trap and therefore a public location like the BuyMore was the safest place at the moment. But as Chuck sat there, and felt his body jump at every unexpected noise, he wasn't so certain.

He tried to force a smile, as the situation at least had had the side benefit of Sarah spending the night in his bedroom on guard duty while Casey had gone back to their command center to report in and start a search to figure out who had unexpectedly attacked them and then just as unexpectedly stopped. But Sarah had been one hundred ten percent business all night and he had seen how it had jangled even her nerves when Casey had texted that their secure datalink had been compromised.

So far it had been a quiet Thursday morning at the BuyMore. Although Chuck wasn't sure if that was a good thing, as it left him just sitting there fidgeting. At least Lester and Jeff, the two other Nerd Herders working the day shift, had been hanging out in the breakroom and not annoying him with their usual inane conversations and stupid schemes.

Suddenly, Chuck realized someone had been standing at the counter staring at him for several seconds. Looking guiltily up, he was just starting his normal opening spiel when he recognized the broad shoulders and the green BuyMore shirt.

"Casey?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

John Casey leaned forward and said in an attempt at a low rumble, but which was still at the same volume as anyone else's normal voice. "The cops caught five men last night only one block from last night's . . . ah . . . incident. The strange thing is that they were tied up and locked inside a van. They have only identified one of them so far, a mid-level security operative for LuthorCorp. It is not clear yet what is going on. If they were the shooters, who took them down? And if they are just fall guys to lead us in the wrong direction, then who was really behind things?"

Chuck just stared at Casey. It was unusual for the NSA agent to be this forthcoming with information. Then he saw the haunted look in the older man's eyes. They had walked into a well-laid trap and both Sarah and Casey were lucky to be alive. Chuck didn't need to see it in black and white to know the opposition had had every intention of killing the two agents before abducting him. Then he would have disappeared into some dark obscure hole until all of the data stored in his head could be extracted, doubtlessly by some extremely painful means, and then he too would have been killed.

Before Chuck could respond, Lester came bounding up to the counter at almost a dead run.

"Chuck," Lester began and then paused to catch his breathe, as though he had run a couple of miles rather than seventy-five feet. "Chuck, Big Mike wants you back at his office. He has this woman in there and . . . and . . . and I think I'm in love. She has to be the hottest girl who has ever been in the store. And I didn't get a good look, but I think she is actually wearing a Nerd Herd uniform. Did I mention how hot she is? Ah, remind me again, there isn't a policy against dating coworkers, right? I mean look at Morgan and Anna. . . ." Lester's voice just faded away as he stared off in the direction of Big Mike's office even though it wasn't visible from the help desk.

Chuck glanced at Casey, who gave a small nod. They were both thinking the same thing – in the middle of a crisis, unexpected things were seldom coincidences.

Chuck stood up and headed towards the back of the store. Casey grabbed a couple of open boxes, which had been sitting on the counter, and headed in the direction of the rear supply room a bare eight feet behind Chuck. Chuck knew Casey had a secret weapons compartment just inside the back area and that he would use the boxes as cover while grabbing one of the guns. To give him a little extra time and to distract anyone in the area if it became necessary, Chuck dawdled for a moment at the employee bulletin board. At a nod from Casey, Chuck strode briskly over to Big Mike's door; if there was one thing he had learned in the last year and a half, it was that procrastinating in these situations just twisted his stomach into knots.

Chuck rapped on the glass office door and at a gesture from Big Mike stepped in. The woman Lester had been blathering about was standing in front of Mike's desk with her back to Chuck. At first glance all Chuck saw was a relatively short, say 5'4" compared to his own 6'4", petite girl with black hair cut just short of her shoulders.

"Bartowski," began Big Mike, putting down the half-eaten 12" Subway sandwich he had been holding in his right hand before gesturing towards the girl. "This young woman will be joining your team. She is transferring over from Billy Tate's store in Encino."

At this the young woman turned in Chuck's direction while flashing a megawatt smile. And for once Chuck found himself in agreement with one of Lester's assessments. The girl was incredibly beautiful. He wasn't quite ready to admit she was in the same league as Sarah, but he knew he had definite bias in Sarah's direction.

And the second thing he noticed after the smile was the glasses. Every true nerd he had known seemed to have at thing for girls who wore glasses. He remembered countless drinking parties at college with other nerds from the Physics department where the topic had always come up. And then looking passed the glasses he saw a slight oriental cast to her eyes like she had a grandparent or great-grandparent of Asian descent. Damn, maybe Lester was right and this was the hottest babe who had ever been in the store. Certainly, she was the hottest babe who was ever going to work there. He didn't feel quite so much like he was betraying Sarah after adding that stipulation.

"Hello, I'm Chuck, Chuck Bartowski," said Chuck with just the slightest hint of a stutter, as he stuck out his hand.

The woman slipped her cool hand into his.

"Lana Fordman," she answered in a pleasant voice.

Her fingers were just tightening for the obligatory handshake when Chuck 'flashed'.

In an instant it felt like gigabytes of data that had been lying dormant in his head came rushing forth, each bit screaming for his undivided attention. It had to be the biggest flash he had ever experienced. The thousands of images, hours of video, and hundreds of documents nearly overwhelmed his mind. After a fraction of a second some built-in safety mechanism shunted most of it to his memory and only the most important summary remained in the forefront of his mind. And that alone was enough to scare the shit out of him.

Overlaid on an image of this woman was her true name, Lana Lang. And along with it came a brief bio:

Lana Lang – Age: 24. Born: Smallville, Kansas. Estimated net worth: $1.2 Billion. Lang is the ex-wife of Lex Luthor. She has been involved in the deaths of four men – all ultimately deemed self-defense (and here a montage of gruesome crime scene and morgue photos flashed through Chuck's mind including one of a man with a pitchfork thrust through his torso from the back.) Lang faked her own death to frame her husband by using a car bomb on a cloned copy of her body (Clone?). After separating from her husband, she established 'The Isis Foundation' to supposedly help mutant humans (See also Meteor Rocks). The Isis Foundation is currently number three on Homeland Securities' terrorism watch list due to activities of its supposed 'clients'. Lang recently spent three months in a coma in the Belle Reve Sanitarium, cause of coma is unknown. After leaving Belle Reve, she disappeared from NSA and Homeland Securities' radar. Lang is categorized as extremely dangerous by the NSA. Current whereabouts: UNKNOWN.

Known Associates:

Chloe Sullivan – (The image of a mid-twenties girl with short blonde hair flashed through Chuck's head.) Age: 24. Born: Metropolis, Kansas. Estimated net worth: minimal. Sullivan is the acting head of The Isis Foundation. She is currently ranked number 1 on the NSA's alpha-red hacker watch list. She is believed to be in possession of advanced alien computer technology. (Alien?) Sullivan has twice been arrested by Homeland Security for illegal access to NSA, CIA, and NASA computer systems. On both occasions all charges were dropped and she was released within twenty-four hours at the behest of unnamed authorities. Sullivan is categorized as extremely dangerous by Homeland Security. Current whereabouts: Metropolis

Tess Mercer – (The image of another knockout woman, this one in her early thirties with auburn hair next flashed through Chuck's mind.) Age: 32. Born: Billings, Montana. Estimated net worth: $47 million. Mercer is acting CEO of LuthorCorp. Former head of the 33.1 Project, a LuthorCorp program to identify, detain, and gain control of mutant and meta-humans. During Mercer's rise to power she has been implicated in the deaths of fourteen LuthorCorp employees, but has never been charged. The FBI categorizes Mercer as extremely dangerous. Current whereabouts: Metropolis

Oliver Queen – (The image of a blonde man, who definitely could be a high-paid model, flashed through Chuck's mind.) Age: 29. Born: Star City, Illinois. Estimated net worth: $16 Billion. Queen is the CEO of Queen Industries. He has been in the same city on the same day as terrorist attacks against eighteen LuthorCorp facilities on five continents, but no connection has ever been officially established. The CIA has associated Queen's name with 'The Justice League of America', a vigilant group with unknown affiliations or agenda. Queen is categorized as dangerous by the CIA. Current whereabouts: Star City

Lex Luthor – (An image of a bald headed man formed in Chuck's mind – a face even he instantly recognized.) Age: 29. Born: Metropolis, Kansas. Estimated net worth: $11 Billion. CEO of LuthorCorp at the time of his disappearance. Suspected, but never proven to be involved in the death of his father, Lionel, which resulted in Luthor's gaining control of the company. Luthor headed up Project Ares, a DARPA-funded LuthorCorp project to create super-soldiers through the use of alien DNA. Primary suspect behind the events of 'Black Thursday', the cyber-attack which collapsed power and telecommunication grids throughout the Midwest. Luthor is categorized as extremely dangerous by the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Homeland Security. Current whereabouts: UNKNOWN.

And then as abruptly as it had started, the 'flash' was over. Chuck just managed to suppress the gasp which tried to escape when he regained control of his body, but couldn't suppress the associated shudder. And for the next few seconds, a paraphrased version of the most famous line from the classic geek horror movie, 'The Fly', repeated over and over in his head:

'Be afraid, Chuck Bartowski. Be VERY afraid.'

End of Chapter 1