Genre: Action/Adventure/Spy Thriller
Possibility for SWP: If Sarah isn't stripped down to her underwear in the first eight pages, Maximus is a monkey's uncle.
Flantering Rating: Pretty much the equivalent of Chuck vs. the Role Models, but, you know, fewer tigers
Movie Influences: Sahara, Are the Gods Crazy?, Escape from New York
Synopsis: What if Chuck had had the choice to join the CIA in college, and had said no? Driven back to the Agency's arms by a crisis of conscience, Chuck enlists and find the CIA is not exactly a cakewalk. This is the story of Chuck Bartowski, Charles Carmichael, Bryce Larkin, Sarah Walker, and the things they did to land them into the CIA's Hall of Fame...or was that the Hall of Infamy?
Why You Want to Vote for this Story: So that all of Frea's research into dehydration wasn't for naught. And to make mxpw actually listen to all of one of Frea's plots.
Author's Notes: The first time I told Chris about this story, he was like, "So it's your version of Twist of Fate, huh?" And in a way, it might be, but I don't think the stories are actually all that similar. For one thing, I can promise you no Red Test drama. This is a story that will feature a confident version of Chuck, and competent versions of Sarah and Bryce.
Dust eddies swirled and danced in front of him, giving away his position entirely in a way that should have sent shivers down his spine. Unfortunately, dust was just his reality now. And even more unfortunately, Chuck Bartowski hadn’t been cool enough to know what it meant to shudder in over six months. So whenever he did the rounds, he didn’t bother with the stealth and silence the Farm had driven into him until it was just second nature. He didn’t precisely crash through bushes and scrub, but neither did he tiptoe. He could sneak all he liked, but the damned dust would always give him away.
He knew how to say, “I am not your enemy” in four of the local dialects, but given that protocol demanded he carry an M-4 on his rounds, he doubted it would do much good.
“Carmichael,” the comm unit at his shoulder chirped.
They’d been at the outpost long enough that even radio protocol had gone out the window. Chuck clicked the radio on. “Yeah, Jensen?”
“What’d you do with your share of the beef jerky that came in on the last shipment?”
“What do you think? I ate it. Wait, are you in my office?”
There was a pause before Jensen answered. “Negative.”
“Yeah, right. You’re in my office.” Though Chuck didn’t blame Jensen, at all. Communications and Control was the only temperature-regulated room in the entire outpost, which meant it was only mildly sweltering instead of downright dismal. Even when night dropped over the Kalahari, yanking temperatures down to frigid, the rest of the outpost seemed to radiate the heat from the day without stopping. “Don’t you dare get crumbs on my keyboard again.”
“Yeah, yeah. Finding anything out there?”
Chuck shifted the M-4 so that he could get to his canteen. “Somebody set up an ice cream stand in the middle of the desert. It’s magical.”
“Gotcha. See you back at base. Bring me back a slushie.”
Chuck just clicked the radio once to acknowledge. Jensen was the younger of his two companions, a Company man for ten years looking to get out. He could get annoying, but his company was preferable to that of the taciturn Donaldson, who’d strung together two whole sentences three months before. It was the most Chuck had heard him speak. Life at the outpost was generally a quiet one, which had been strange at first for the gregarious Chuck, but eventually he’d learned not to fill the silence with chatter.
Now, he turned southwest, heading into the final leg of his patrol. The sun had set an hour and a half before, and the desert would cool to freezing before long, except for the patch of scrub that held the outpost. The rocks beneath the outpost held heat like a sponge, keeping the outpost well-warmed all throughout the night and providing very little relief to its occupants. The outpost itself wasn’t large: living quarters for the three men posted there, a small garage for their shared Jeep, and two offices, one of which Chuck had been granted his first day there. He served as the outpost’s “computer guy.” There was an official term for it, but all three men had forgotten it.
Nobody was quite sure why exactly there needed to be a CIA-sanctioned outpost in the middle of the desert, but Chuck had to figure it made the bosses sleep better at night. However, that hardly mattered when he was a world away from everything he knew, walking through the desert in the middle of the night without any idea when this post would be over. He loped along at an easy pace, keeping an eye out for any bogies. He severely doubted he’d come across anything. He never had before, and it wasn’t like tonight would be any different.
Something singed the edge of his vision. A brilliant light cut across the desert sky, arcing through the air and making Chuck rip off his nightvision goggles with an “argh!” He blinked past the afterimage, the dust and sudden light making his eyes stream. Instinct had him radioing back to base. “Jensen, you copy?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve actually found an ice cream stand, Carmichael. If you have, I’ll kiss you.”
“Well, thank God it’s just a flare.”
“Somebody’s shooting off flares, looks to be about a klick northeast of GKW. I’m going to investigate.”
“Do you need assistance?”
“Affirmative. I’m going to get closer, but head east and keep in touch. I’ll radio you a better position when I know more.”
Chuck pulled his goggles back on, adjusted the bandanna he wore over his mouth and nose, and took off across the dirt and the dust. He heard his old instructors’ adages about fear and rejected them; though he could feel his heart pounding against his throat, he couldn’t help but feel excited.
Friggin’ rookie, the doubting voice at the back of his mind whispered. Gets excited over the smallest thing to break up the monotony.
It’d be one thing, Chuck thought, if it were just movement in the bushes, as that always provided a fun little scare with the local fauna. He’d seen a whole Meerkat family once, a crowning moment. But somebody had shot up a flare, which could only mean one thing: they knew the outpost was around there somewhere, and they wanted attention. Or they wanted to draw one of its operatives into a trap, but that seemed a bit excessive when Chuck, Jensen, and Donaldson basically took the same route every night at the same time. Even so, Chuck was cautious as he crested the hill overlooking the small valley that housed the GKW. He hadn’t gotten a good look, but it seemed like the flare had come from somewhere around this point...
If asked later, he’d deny it, but when the figure popped up, Chuck yelped. Zombie, was his first thought. Something lurched toward him over the side of the hill, shuffling hard enough to kick up a cloud of dust every which way. After a second, Chuck could tell that it was a man carrying something large, but his first observation made his heart hammer even harder as he held the M-4 up. “Stop! Identify yourself!”
And those were the famous last words of any red-shirt sentry.
“Help,” the figure rasped in a voice that told Chuck water had been in short supply for a long time. “Please, help.”
Every instinct screamed to go forward and help, but Chuck didn’t lower the gun. “Identify yourself!”
“Help,” the man said again. He had cloth over the lower half of his face, just like Chuck, and no night goggles. But he continued to shuffle forward. “Help. Help. Help.”
Don’t let the enemy get too close, Chuck’s training whispered at him.
The man staggered and took a knee. “Help,” he said again, barely audible. “Looking for... Golf Kilo...Whiskey.”
Chuck immediately lowered the gun. “Who sent you?”
He received nothing but a rattling cough. Carefully, he ventured forward a few steps, cautious. “Take this,” the man said, and shoved the large bundle at Chuck without any finesse whatsoever. Even as the man collapsed forward, Chuck staggered under the weight of—a person?
“Holy hell,” Chuck said aloud.
“Carmichael, status,” the radio chirped.
“Jensen, you’re not going to believe this. Two bogies, they used the code name. Both unconscious now.” Chuck laid the person on the sand with some difficulty and turned him over. The two were dressed similarly, in what looked like nice clothing torn up and altered to take the brunt of the desert’s heat and light. They were also filthy, and radiating heat like nothing else, making Chuck wince as he began to search for identification. When his hand brushed something, he nearly fell back on his butt. “And one of them’s a woman, for the record.”
“Looking now. Uh...” Finding nothing in any of the pockets but a spent flare gun and some Tic-Tacs, Chuck resorted to yanking the cloth down off of the woman’s face. She coughed, and nearly had Chuck falling on his butt again, but she didn’t open her eyes. Unsurprisingly, Chuck didn’t recognize her. He moved on to the man and this time, did recognize him. “What the hell?”
“Who is it?” Jensen demanded, as Chuck had left his radio live.
“It’s my old college buddy.” Chuck swallowed hard. “And, uh, Vicki Vale.”
“Old college buddy? Damn it, Carmichael, you getting desert sickness? Too cold for your California boy blood?”
Chuck triggered the radio. “Not hallucinating, Jensen. Bryce Larkin’s here in the middle of the freaking desert.”
What the hell?
“Pulse is strong,” Chuck went on, “but they’re both out. I’m going to guess severe dehydration, and we need to get them inside right away. Donaldson, you awake?”
“Can’t sleep with you rookies yammering away all night, now, can I?”
From Donaldson, that was practically a soliloquy. “Does that mean you’re on your way?”
“Keep your tracker on.”
“Affirmative.” His first, non-Agency-honed instinct was to freak out and wonder what the hell his old roommate would ever be doing wandering around the Kalahari desert in the middle of the night. The Farm, however, had taught him better than that. Priorities, he told himself. Find out as much as you can, assess the situation, and deal with it. Chuck sent up a mental apology to the unnamed Vicki Vale as he patted her down, checking for injuries. When he felt around the woman’s ribcage, she let out a cry.
What happened next happened almost too fast for him. Instinct made the woman grab his wrist; Farm training had Chuck immediately counter before she could snap his ulna like a twig. Immediately, her grip relaxed, the short surge of strength gone. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. Nobody’s going to hurt you. I was just checking for injury. “
The woman tried to gasp, but nothing emerged but a rattle. Chuck could see her eyes widen, panicked, in the darkness as she tried to make sense of any of it. “Oh,” he said, fumbling for his canteen. “Here, don’t move. I’ve got some water right here. Have a drink, but drink slowly, okay?”
She did, though he had to hold the canteen up for her, as the wrist-grab seemed to have sapped up all of her strength. When she’d gulped back a few mouthfuls, she laid her head back in the sand.
“What’s your name?” Chuck asked.
She croaked something that sounded like Sam, and passed out.