Title: After the EMP
Disclaimer: Don't own them, just taking them out to play
Summary: This was inspired by the end episode 8x12, aired on 3/15/10, . Of course, being a chlacker, it is skewed that way.
“Chloe, can you hear me?”
Speeding through the streets of New York City, the silence from the other end of the comm line echoed inside the CTU SUV, drowning out the wail of their siren. Ignoring the concerned looks from Agents Cole Ortiz and Owen Burke, Jack Bauer continued, “Those drones right now are our only way of tracking down those terrorists. You need to pass them off to the NSA.”
Again, silence. Jack knew Chloe would have answered him if she could and felt dread rising up in his throat. “Damn it, we’re blind! Chloe did you cop…CHLOE!”
From the passenger seat, an increasingly agitated Ortiz asked, “What the hell is happening?”
Again it struck Jack how very young and inexperienced the New York field team seemed to be and he wondered what Hastings was thinking. Ortiz was ostensibly the head of field ops and he was little more than a kid himself and Owen, who had proven himself a brave young man, well, there was still no missing how green he was.
Hands tightening on the steering wheel, Jack took a breath and said, “We need to contact the NSA. Terrorists just took out CTU.”
Several seconds passed by before Jack slammed a hand down and swore, “Shit! All right, new plan. Bennett, do you copy?”
Agent Bennett, in one of the other SUV’s, was prompt to reply, “Yes, sir.”
With CTU disabled, for the time being, they’d lost their chance to track the terrorists. There was the outside possibility that control of the surveillance drones had been transferred to the NSA before the EMP, but Jack wasn’t holding his breath. So heading out to Brooklyn would be a wasted effort. Instead, he chose to focus his concern on an issue he had some chance of resolving.
“Take point and head over to Brooklyn. Liaise with NSA, see if they got the drone feeds before CTU went dark. Keep me updated,” Jack instructed the other agent. “We’re going to assess the damage at CTU and hopefully send some of our techs over to them to help with the transition.”
What Jack didn’t say was what he feared in his gut was happening. CTU was dark, defenses down, all field agents out. The only line of defense they had left were the uniformed security guards whose track record at keeping out hostiles was less than stellar. It would be easy to have a strike team infiltrate the facility and snatch personnel who knew codes and other classified intel or even to steal the wrecked computers, hoping to restore the intel they contained.
Chloe was aware of this, he knew, but it didn’t stop his stomach from twisting uncomfortably. She would be prepared, he tried to assure himself, an attempt that failed spectacularly and he offered up a quick word of prayer to a God he questioned the existence of, begging for her safety. There were very few people in this world that Jack counted among his friends and she was by far the most important to him. After all they’d been through, to lose her would be….no, he wasn’t even going to think about it.
From the sharp intake of breath, Jack was sure Cole was belatedly coming to a similar conclusion and without further warning, he banked left around a sharp corner, heading back toward Roosevelt Island, foot pressing the accelerator to the mat.
Darkness, then flickering, strobe like flashes of bright white light casting things in relief, never allowing anyone’s eyes to fully adjust to the dark before flaring blindingly. Screams and shouts. Broken glass crunching underfoot as frightened people stumbled into each other, dazed from the shock of the EMP’s pulse and the resulting feedback that had shrieked in everyone’s earpiece.
From her position, still seated behind her desk, Chloe O’Brien tried to make out what was going on around her. The EMP had detonated in the entrance tunnel and the worst of the physical damage would be centered out there. But the shock wave had blown out all the glass walls and shorted out all of their electronics, some overloading and causing smaller explosions. She flinched as a shower of sparks exploded above her and the faint sting galvanized her into action.
The computers here on the comm floor were unsalvageable, close enough to the EMP that there was no was anything could have survived. There was a chance, unlikely though, that some data could be retrieved from the shielded servers but right now they had other concerns.
Like Jack, she was a veteran of several attacks on the LA CTU and had developed a healthy sense of paranoia. She knew any number of unfriendly parties would just love to take advantage of the assets that were now defenseless and confused. Plus, they had Hassan’s daughter to look after. It would cause an international incident if anything happened to her while she was in their care and, frankly, that was the last thing they needed to deal with today.
Yanking open the lower drawer of her desk, she plunged her hand under the file folders and retrieved an item few data analysts bothered to keep with them. The Browning Hi-Power 9mm semi-automatic was cold in her hand, as were the spare clips that she slid into her pockets. With a quick, silent word of hope that her paranoia was unfounded, Chloe pushed back from her desk and rose.
It wasn’t easy to cross the room, as she kept stumbling into overturned furniture and startled, disoriented or injured co-workers. No one seemed to be moving with any purpose, just staggering about aimlessly. It was understandable though, cause Chloe’s own head was pounding in a very distracting way, ears ringing and she knew there had to be other people with more serious injuries.
The closer she got to the entryway, the more obvious the structural damage became. Some of the metallic supports that had once surrounded the heavy glass were now bowed Chloe hoped the tunnel had survived the explosion. Then again, if it hadn’t, that was one less point of entry they had to worry about defending in the event of an attack. On the other hand, it was one less egress, should an attack wave come from the floors above.
Sometimes she wished she could be as oblivious to the threats of her job as she once was.
She was approaching what was left of the security doors and desk when she nearly tripped over Dana, who was huddled against a low wall with a shaking Kayla Hassan. Crouching down beside them, Chloe tried to do a visual check for injuries, but the lack of good light made it difficult. There was a small smear of blood on Dana’s otherwise pale cheek, but other than that, they seemed fine.
“Are you hurt?” Chloe asked loudly, hoping to be heard over shouts and the wails from the alarm system.
Both women shook their heads and Kayla asked, “What happened?”
“There was an EMP bomb in the trunk of the car. It was a set up,” Chloe said, then jerked her head and weapon up when she heard someone approaching, footsteps loud on the glass covered floor. It was only Hastings though, so she allowed her arm to drop back to her side.
She saw the surprise in the CTU director’s eyes when he noted her side arm, but he chose not to comment. Instead, he just loomed over them and said, “We need to get Ms. Hassan to a secure location.”
Chloe and Dana nodded over Kayla’s near frantic insistence that she had no idea there was a weapon in the car. As Hasting looked around at the chaos that was once his calm, ordered comm floor, Dana assured Kayla that they believed her, which was true. The poor girl had been betrayed more than once by Tarin Faroush, but then again, so had many other, none of whom had the excuse of being naive and in love.
“Listen up, people,” Hastings shouted, trying to make himself heard over the cacophonous din. “The elevators won’t work with the power down, so make your way to the tunnel and exit….”
That was when they heard the resounding echo of gunfire in the tunnel. It was far too close for Chloe’s comfort, so she grabbed Dana, who was still holding Kayla, and gave her a push. “Move!”
As they scrambled away, Hastings said, “Head for the armory.”
Glad for the darkness that hid her rapidly paling face, Chloe swallowed unhappily and let herself be drawn along with a few other techs that heard Hastings and were hurrying to obey. All CTU employees were required to qualify with a hand gun, but she was willing to bet she was among the few who had ever used a weapon in a life or death situation. This fact did not bode well for their survival.
They tumbled into the room to find it was occupied. Dr. Laura Hendricks, the medical officer on duty, was standing by the far wall, holding up a large flashlight to illuminate the room. Agent Jo Reese, a field agent on restricted duty after a badly sprained knee, was dumping ammunition into a bag, but paused when she saw them. Some random part of Chloe’s mind recalled that Reese had been taking night duty at the field call desk since her injury.
Chloe knew the people she worked with, even though she hadn’t been at the office long, knew their capabilities and what their records contained. Of everyone present, the only person with tactical experience was a young woman with a bum knee. Accepting a Kevlar vest from Hastings, Chloe slipped it on, sticking her gun into her waist band as she secured the Velcro fasteners.
All around the room, her fellow analysts were taking weapons and flashlights in shaking hands. Arlo was looking at the handgun like it was a totally foreign creature and his vest wasn’t secured properly. Though not his biggest fan, Chloe felt bad for him, as the reality of life or death action was very different than video games would have led him to believe.
“Here,” she said, reaching over and tugging the Velcro into place. “It needs to be tight.”
He looked at her in surprise, but she only nodded, stepping away to Reese’s side and holding out a hand. “I’ve used one of those before.”
The field agent had just handed off a 12 gauge tactical shot gun to Hastings and was slinging XM8 assault rifles across her torso. Taking Chloe at her word, Reese pulled another weapon out and passed it to her, along with ammunition.
It was heavier in her hands than the M16 she had used to dispatch an assassin some years ago, but the design was similar enough to be comforting. That thought almost made her laugh and she wondered when holding a big ass gun became comforting.
“All right, fall back into the facility,” Reese said, then glanced at Hastings, who nodded in deference to her field experience. He had come from the administrative side of federal law enforcement and was realizing he was in over his head. “Only use your mag-lites if you have no other choice. Otherwise, you’re painting a bulls eye on your chest. The fact that we know the building is probably the only advantage we have right now. The elevators are out of commission and the stairwells are inaccessible. We need to take them out and get out through the tunnels.”
Another gunshot echoed through the halls and Hastings said, “I’ll take point. Reese, cover our rear.”
Since that would be where the hostile people with the weapons and the presumably bad attitudes were, putting their trained combatant between them and the analysts seemed a good plan. Chloe gave the other woman credit, as she just nodded and stepped out into the hall, raising a rifle to bear, covering their exit from the room. A flash of light glinted off of the hinged joint on the side of Reese’s knee brace and Chloe hoped her leg held up under the stress no doubt about to be piled on her.
Without further ado, Hastings led their small group out of the armory. Chloe found herself beside Kayla Hassan, who was grimly holding a Browning with far more ease and familiarity than Arlo, who was trailing close behind with Dana. In any other circumstance, Chloe would have accused him of being a letch, but not here, not now. Everyone was confused and scared, out of their element and it showed in the palpable tension everyone was radiating.
Hurrying further into the facility at a light jog, she hoped her co-workers were flexible enough to adjust to their new roles…or else they likely wouldn’t survive.
The first sign that that Jack’s ponderings were not merely paranoid but prescient was the large black van parked in the CTU entrance tunnel, obscuring the path, preventing vehicle access and the two heavily armed thugs standing guard. The terrorists must have had them waiting near CTU, prepared to infiltrate the crippled facility after the EMP detonation, when everyone was confused and disoriented.
“Get down,” he barked at Cole and Owen, moments before slamming on the parking brake and yanking the wheel sharply, causing the tires to scream and the SUV to swing in a wild arc. The unpredictable path threw off the aim of the hostiles and, with the smell of burnt rubber lingering in the air, Jack threw himself out of the car and fired.
The first combatant’s head exploded in an arching spray of red and grey against the wall, but the other man tried dove for the partial cover offered by the van‘s open door. Two bullets in his legs dropped the man and Jack gave a pleased grunt. Having someone to interrogate could prove useful. As he hurried forward, another shot rang out and the terrorist’s twitching legs became still. Not waiting for Cole and Owen to pick themselves up off of the floor of the SUV, he made to circle the vehicle blocking the tunnel.
Knowing what had happened even before he rounded the side of the van, Jack was not surprised to find the man had taken his own life in order to avoid capture and interrogation. It seemed to be the order of the night. Cole and Owen soon joined him, scanning the are for other combatants and finding none.
“Damn it,” he muttered, reaching down and grabbing the rifle from the dead man then flicked his head to indicate to the younger men that they should follow him into the darkened CTU.
Moving quickly and quietly, they passed the blown out wreck of the sedan Kayla had driven into CTU, unwittingly delivering the bomb. Several tan uniformed CTU security officers lay fallen around the area, some victims of the blast, others clearly cut down by a hail of bullets, killed while trying to defend their unarmed colleagues inside the office.
The formerly gleaming, glass filled CTU was an apocalyptic shell of it’s former glory. Jack grimaced as glass crunched under their boots and he tried to peer into the dark with little success. The only solace he could take was in the knowledge that their enemy was equally blind, unable to use night vision without being blinded by the occasional flares from damaged cables.
“Jesus,” he heard Owen breath in shock as they moved past the prone forms of a pair of CTU employees, analysts like Chloe from the look of their clothes. Cole crouched to check their pulses, but the short shake of his head confirmed they were dead. Checking over the room, they found another body, but no sign of anyone else. This made Jack’s stomach clench in both fear and relief.
Before they left the comm floor, Cole, showing good initiative, set a trip wire by the door, so as to alert them to any more guests. Giving the young agent an approving nod, Jack took a step towards the halls that led deeper into the complex. Then he hesitated. He hated not taking point, but he didn’t know the layout of this CTU, not like the two men who worked there every day.
He opened his mouth to say something when they heard the faint sound of gunfire, echoing up from the depths of the facility.
Breaking into a run, Jack followed the sounds of combat, hoping that Chloe was not involved, or, if she was, had a very big gun and a fortified position from which to fire it. He knew she would fight. After all, she had put the first bullets in David Palmer’s assassin and had used a rifle to cut down another professional assassin. She was strong and determined and would not surrender without drawing blood herself.
Chloe would be all right.
She had to be.
They had kept the terrorists off of their backs for over twenty minutes, weaving a circuitous route through the maze like halls and rooms of the CTU. A few times, Chloe thought they’d lost Reese, who was trailing them at a slight distance, trying to get some idea as to what they were up against, but then the woman would reappear.
While they were traversing one of the cavernous server rooms, Hastings paused to ask, “Any idea how many are following us?”
“Five, maybe six,” Reese replied and Chloe barely made out the grimace on the other woman’s face. “From the glimpses I got, we’re talking serious firepower. And the way they move…these guys are trained. They‘re avoiding being clustered, but staying close enough that it would be very hard to pick them off one by one.”
Chloe watched Hastings take a breath and say, in a tone that led her to believe he was trying not to let on that he was scared out of his fucking mind, “Well, we’re trained. Maybe some of us should hang back, try to pick them off one at a time.”
Of all the bad ideas Hastings had tried to put into action in the past several hours, this was one of the ones most likely to get him dead. The darkness hid Chloe’s massive eye roll and from the sound of Reese’s voice, she’d had a similar reaction. “Have you ever shot anyone sir? Killed? Has anyone other than me ever even seen combat?”
“Well, no…” Hastings began, but stopped when Chloe spoke up.
“I have,” she said, then internally cursed. It wasn’t like she was a trained field agent, but she knew she had handled herself well in the past. On the plus side, the surprised, shocked looks she got from Dana and Arlo were kind of funny. “I’ve shot and killed someone…shot two someones, but only actually killed one. Jack finished off the other guy.”
Another random flash of light glinted off the round, shocked eyes of her co-workers and Chloe didn’t bother to repress her smirk. Maybe if she’d mentioned this before they’d have gotten off of her back and let her get used to the new systems on her own pace. The knowledge that one had taken a life tended to cause people to give you room to breathe.
Oddly though, since the crisis had begun last night, she’d been having an easier time with things. Over the years, she’d gotten good at performing miracles while under life or death pressure, far more so than with a bureaucrat breathing down her neck.
Chloe caught Hastings giving her an odd look, which made Chloe wonder what exactly her record said about her out of the office activities…or even if they were mentioned. Sometimes, in their business, things got redacted for odd reasons.
“Okay, good to know,” Reese said, “but we need to move on now.”
“I think we need to make some kind of stand,” Hastings insisted, pointing at the huge banks of computers and circuitry that stood all over the room. “There’s plenty of options for cover in here…We could send the others on ahead and take defensible positions….”
A tiny crunch of glass was the only warning they had before bullets slammed into the bank of consoles beside Reese, who hip checked Hastings behind another tower of circuits and wires before diving for cover herself.
Chloe dropped into a crouch behind a big console of computers, raising her rifle and checking to make sure the safety was off. She could feel the reverberations of bullets hitting the heavy metal shielding behind her, the shots echoing deafeningly in the concrete and metal room.
Directly across from her, she saw Reese shouting and waving at Dana and the other staffers, instructing them to duck out and run if they could safely reach the doors. Then the young woman spun and began returning fire, rifle barking, shell casings flying.
Turning, Chloe joined her in providing cover for the others to escape and noted Hastings trying to do the same. Apparently, however, he didn’t expect the shotgun’s recoil and the kick back nearly knocked the weapon from his hands.
Then Reese paused her firing to yank something from a pocket and lob whatever it was in the terrorists general direction, before shouting, “Fire in the hole!”
Eyes widening, Chloe dropped, tucking herself into a neat little ball seconds before an explosion rocked the room and a wave of pressure and small debris buffeted them. Before the shaking stopped, Reese was already firing again. Shaking herself, Chloe returned to her firing position, noting that the explosion had taken out at least two of their attackers.
“Did you just throw a grenade in here!” Hastings demanded of Reese, who couldn’t be bothered to reply. They were still outnumbered and outmatched, despite the use of small explosives.
Unfortunately, the remaining terrorists seemed angered by this turn of events and redoubled their efforts to put a whole bunch of bullets in them. Starting to run low on ammunition, Chloe felt a sense of dread creeping up in her throat and hoped she’d get the chance to see her son again….when suddenly the terrorist’s barrage eased, some of them turning to fire behind them and quickly falling themselves.
With fewer people firing at her, Reese broke from cover and plugged the one of the two remaining shooters before taking a round in the chest and falling against the wall.
In order to hit the field agent, the terrorist had stepped out into the open, giving Chloe a clean shot. Inhaling, she quickly aimed, then squeezed the trigger, not releasing her breath until her bullets slammed into their target. At least two in the chest and one in the throat, the final shot being the fatal one.
The last shell casing hit the floor, ringing echo hanging in the smoky air. Hands still tight on her weapon, Chloe swallowed convulsively. That was all of them, right? Reese had said five or six and there were six bodies on the ground….
Jack! He must have been the one who had fired on their attackers from the rear.
Letting out a shaking, relieved breath that sounded a bit like a dry sob, Chloe shouted, “I’m here Jack!”
Following the sounds of gunfire through the acoustically sound halls was an easy task and it took barely a minute of flat out running to reach the conflict. Just before they rounded the final corner, an explosion rocked the facility, but the exchange of shots resumed almost immediately.
The rapid fire of automatic weapons covered the sound of their approach and Jack could see several hostiles firing deeper into the room. From their position, he couldn’t see who was returning fire, but it heartened him to see at least some of the CTU staff was fighting back.
Using various stacks of equipment for cover, he, Cole and Owen opened fire. Their concern, for the moment, was not to wound but to kill. The priority was keeping their people alive.
Aiming was difficult, with the flashing of lights and muzzle flares, but one IRK terrorist fell, alerting the others to their location. Another spun and, from his fortified position, returned fire.
Moments later, either Owen or Cole took down the man shooting at them, then there was another short, unseen exchange of fire.
Exchanging glances with Cole and Owen, Jack took a deep breath and bellowed, “CHLOE!”
The next two seconds of silence were some of the longest Jack could ever recall suffering through and that was including the 20 months he spent being tortured in a Chinese prison. Then he heard her reply, the words he’d heard in his ear so many times, assuring him that she was there to guide him through whatever insanity he found himself facing. Today, they allowed him to breathe again. “I’m here Jack!”
Relief coursed through Jack with a strength that he’d never felt before and it was stubborn determination and force of will that kept him standing instead of allowing the sheer magnitude of his joy to cause his knees to fold. Instead, he urged his body into motion and soon muscle memory took over and he was running, slipping on shattered glass and blood as her rounded a corner into a server room.
From the smoking rubble, it was obvious someone had a fondness for explosive ordinance and the bullet riddled walls and banks of computers were visible even amidst the darkness and the shadows. He peered into the room and, hearing the sounds of someone moving, turned his gaze in that direction.
From behind a twisted column of…well, he really had no idea what it used to be, but now it was junk metal, Chloe’s pale face appeared, her dark hair and clothes camouflaging her until she started moving towards him. He heard the clatter of her weapon hitting the floor as she dropped it and started to run. Thumbing the safety on his rifle, Jack slung it around behind his back as he rushed to meet her.
It occurred to him, as he caught her slim frame in his arms, that they’d met like this too often over the course of their relationship. On the adrenaline crash after one potentially deadly crisis or another, a little bit desperate and afraid, never sure if one or both of them was not going to survive the day.
But they always did.
Closing his eyes with relief, Jack bent his head and buried his face in her hair, his arms tight around her, hands feeling the tremulous flutters running through the long muscles of her back. In turn, she wound deceptively strong arms around his neck and shoulders, fingers scrabbling for purchase on his Kevlar vest, so similar to the one she herself wore. For a moment, she hid her face against his neck and he felt a shuddering breath ghost over his skin.
Around them, he was only peripherally aware of Cole shouting for Dana and trotting out a door with Hastings, while Owen knelt by someone who was leaning against a wall, carefully helping remove her vest.
“Are you all right?” he murmured, not quite ready to release her yet, despite the niggling idea that propriety said he should. Well, he’d always thought propriety was a pain in the ass, made you worry about unimportant things when your concern should be elsewhere. At the moment, his whole focus was on the woman in his arms and that was right.
“Yeah.” The word was spoken against his skin, easing the fearful tension in his spine in a single syllable. Then she continued, “Don’t worry, I sent Renee off to your place before all this happened.”
“Oh. Good.” He didn’t know how to say he hadn’t even thought about the possibility that Renee might have been in danger. She was his friend and he cared about her, wanted to be there to help her through the hard times she was facing, but he knew a romantic relationship would just be a disaster. When there was time to actually discuss things, he’d have to make her see that anything more than friendship would be a bit unhealthy, considering how their respective traumas would just exacerbate each other.
Plus, there was the fact that he was in love with someone else.
The realization hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks. Standing in the middle of the combat zone that was the CTU, he realized he was in love. He was in love with Chloe, his best friend, constant ally and partner in slightly extra legal apocalypse averting activities… his married best friend, constant ally and partner in slightly extra legal apocalypse averting activities.
Well, this was just….oh, hell, they still had nukes to find. Best focus on that. He was far more comfortable in his ability to do that than he was with this new, emotional epiphany.
Standing in the comforting circle of Jack’s strong arms, Chloe inhaled the scent of his skin, the sweat, blood and cordite somewhat masking whatever cologne he may have applied before his world suddenly went nuts again.
When she assured him that Renee was all right, his response was less intense than she had expected. From what Renee had said, she and Jack had some sort of understanding regarding the future of their relationship, but their enthusiasm for said relationship seemed to differ. Not that she would say anything. Offering her opinions on Jack’s relationships was not something she was comfortable doing, especially when her own track record was less than stellar.
Which was why she hadn’t told him that, once again, her marriage had imploded. It was a little embarrassing to be filing for divorce for the second time…from the same husband. The only upshot was that Morris, despite his failings as a husband, was a dedicated and wonderful father to their son. When the first inklings of impending disaster had crept into Chloe’s head, she’d called Morris and told him to go to Vermont.
It was their code. She couldn’t say anything that might compromise national security, so when she said Vermont, he knew to pack up Prescott and get the hell out of the city until he heard from her again. Knowing her son was not in danger from the nuclear weapons was one of the things that allowed her to focus and do her job.
She wondered if Jack was still planning on heading out to LA when this was over. Renee certainly didn’t think so, but Kim and her family did. Chloe was torn. She wanted him to have the happiness that she had seen in him when his family was around, but she ached to think he’d be so far away again. The past couple of years had been nice, the first time in a long time that they had been together for an extended period of time barring crisis’s. Spending time together, just talking and enjoying each others company had only strengthened the connection she had felt to him for years.
Okay, so maybe Morris’s lapse back to straying wasn’t the only reason their marriage didn’t work out this time, but that was something to think about at a later date, when the world wasn’t in danger of collapsing around them.
Lifting her face from Jack’s neck but not yet stepping back from his arms, Chloe glanced around. Hastings was returning to the room with the others in tow. Chloe saw Arlo, still looking shell shocked and about to vomit with Kayla Hassan and Cole had his arm around Dana. Various analysts were shakily picking their way through the wrecked area, while Reese, stripped of her vest and arms wrapped around her obviously bruised torso, was allowing Owen to pull her towards Dr. Hendricks. About as normal as one could expect on this insane day…except for the one man she didn’t know.
“Jack,” she said, trying not to let on that something was amiss, in case the man was planning something. After the stress of the past hours though, she was unable to keep her voice entirely steady. An unknown should not be here, not now, not after an assault on a federal facility. “That guy in the tan jacket…he’s not a CTU employee.”
As expected, Jack did not take kindly to the presence of an unauthorized person in CTU. His spine stiffened under Chloe’s hands, and giving her a squeeze, he released her and stalked directly towards the man. Chloe had to smile. Apparently, Jack was done with subtle for today.
Pulling his side arm, Jack stopped in front of the unknown individual and leveled the weapon at the man’s head. “You have five seconds to tell me what the hell you’re doing here.”
The man’s eyes were wide, crossing as he focused on the gun in front of his nose and he looked about ready to piss himself. “What! I…No….”
“Jack, for God sakes,” Hastings sighed, but didn’t push his luck by demanding Jack put down his weapon. Maybe the man was learning, Jack mused, but kept his focus on the intruder.
“”My name’s Prady…Bill Prady. I’m a parole officer. I was just here asking Ms. Walsh over there for her assistance when….” the man identified himself, fumbling for his wallet and official identification.
Jack snatched it, then glared harder at the man. “So you thought you’d just interrupt a federal agent during a national security crisis to make tracking some idiot parolee easier on yourself. Does this person have anything to do with what we’re doing?”
The last question was directed at Dana, who shook her head and said, “No, just someone I used to know.”
Jack ticked his eyes over to Chloe, silently asking her if she believed Dana and at her nod, returned his gaze to Prady. “We’re leaving now. There’s still a lot of work we have to do. You are going to go away and not bother anyone with your little problems until the crisis has passed. Clear?”
Prady nodded his head so hard he looked like one of those foolish bobble head dolls and Jack smoothly stepped away from him and remoistened his weapon. Turning to face Hastings, he said, “I have Bennett liaising with NSA. Anyone who’s feeling up to it should relocate to another Federal building, try to see what they can do with their intel.”
“Any idea how wide spread the effects of the EMP are?” Chloe asked, stepping up to Jack’s side as the group slowly proceeded out of CTU. “We had a fairly intricate remote set up at President Hassan’s location. If they were outside the blast radius, then we might be able to reconstruct some of our resources from there.”
Jack smiled. There it was. He could always count on Chloe. “About 4 blocks out, everything was dark. Hassan’s location is well beyond that.”
“Fine,” Hastings said. “Chloe, Dana, Arlo, we’ll go to Hassan’s. The rest of you, report to 26 Federal Plaza….”
With a sigh, Jack interrupted, “Someone should go over to deal with the NYPD. They’re going to be mad about their officers, out for revenge, unpredictable…”
Hastings grimaced, then said, “All right…Reese, you up to dealing with the local LEO’s?”
The young woman looked over at him and said, “Always sir.”
That bit of business handled, Jack went back to carefully moving through the darkened halls. His hand kept finding it’s way back to the small of Chloe’s back, reassuring himself that she was indeed there and unhurt. To break the tense silence that had settled over the entire group, he said, “So…got to use the assault rifle again?”
“Yeah,” she said, then cocked her head to the side. “I took down the last guy.”
Again, there was silence, then she said, “Jack?”
He didn’t like the hesitant tone. “Yes?”
“I’m really sorry I asked you to stay. I know you didn’t want to do this any more and….”
“Chloe.” He stopped her from continuing to apologize. It wasn’t that he wanted to work for the CTU anymore, but he couldn’t imagine not being here to deal with the current crisis. “I’m glad you did. I’m sorry it took me so long to listen to you. I regret that, but not as much as I would have if I had left and something had happened to you.”
It was more than he generally would have said in such a public venue, but it needed to be said. It needed to be said in that moment.
Chloe glanced over at him, eyes bright in the glow of her flashlight, and offered a smile. Her foot slid on some loose rubble and he grasped her hand to steady her. Balance restored, neither immediately moved to reclaim their space, instead grasping at each other more tightly.
When this crisis was over and they survived, as they always did, they’d talk, but for the time being, a stolen moment was all they had. There were still nuclear weapons and terrorists to find.