The flight back to LA was uncomfortably quiet. Having left Jack at the café, she silently walked up to her nearby apartment, quickly packed an overnight bag and stalked back to the café well within his designated fifteen minutes.
“This better not mess up with my job at the IT. I happen to enjoy going to work now,” she snapped.
“Don’t worry; it’s been cleared with the Dean.”
“Of course it has,” she answered bitterly, slinging her bag over her left shoulder.
They drove to the airfield in silence, and boarded the small aircraft in similar fashion. She settled back into her seat and stared out of the window as the plane took off. She left her new life in Massachusetts behind and re-entered her old life, only as a new person. She hoped.
She scowled and clenched her fists in her lap.
“Chloe, are you okay?”
He didn’t ask for an explanation and she didn’t offer one. Instead she turned her face away and continued looking out of the window.
The afternoon was gradually disappearing into the burnt amber colours of dusk, and cast a golden glow across the aeroplane interior. Her fingers thrummed nervously on the armrest and she blew out a frustrated breath.
“I hate flying,” she admitted with a scowl. “There’s nothing natural about being in a tin can flying 30,000 feet above the ground.”
He shot her amused look. “You’re not afraid to risk your job, your friendship and your freedom, when it’s asked of you, but you’re scared to fly?”
“I’m not scared,” she clarified, “I just don’t like it. Besides flying is different. I have no control over how the pilot flies the plane.”
She sighed and closed her eyes, leaning back into the seat and hoping to relax.
By the time they were approaching LA, night had well and truly fallen. Below them lights twinkled magically and above them, the stars shone like beacons in the sky. She stared up at the gleaming patterns of the night sky. She always regretted not being able to see the stars properly in LA. The bright lights and thick smog made it impossible. It was a shame because they were so pretty. Taking a deep breath she traced a pattern on the window with her index finger, wishing they had landed already.
“I know you call Chase,” she said suddenly, turning to Jack and fixing him with her stringent gaze.
He considered her appraisingly before nodding slowly. “Yes, I do. Occasionally.”
She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and bit down lightly. “I call Chase too, sometimes.” She admitted quietly, diverting her gaze away.
She could feel his covert gaze tracing the side of her face, and she wished his attention didn’t make her heart beat quicker.
“I missed you.”
It was said so quietly, in a voice so low, but filled with emotion that she stopped breathing, frozen, her mind replaying those three words. By the time she gathered herself together and turned to say something, anything to him, his attention was drawn by the captain’s announcement that they were about to land. She pursed her lips, in contemplation.
It was still there, that strange connection between them, but it was a bit rusty due to lack of use. They were out of sync with each other, a semi-tone off key from being in tune.
All too soon, they had touched down and appeared at the doors of CTU LA. She took a moment to look at it. Not a thing had changed, it was still the same non-descript building it had always been.
“Come on,” Jack said tersely looking at his watch, “we don’t have a lot of time to spare.”
She glared at his retreating back, “I’m here aren’t I?”
He barely spared her a glance as he held the door open for her and she took a deep breath as she took a step into her past.
She walked through the familiar corridors and rooms filled with unfamiliar people. Her eyebrows drew together as she followed Jack through the main floor of CTU and up the stairs to the situation room.
The burnout for workers at CTU was generally five years, six if you were lucky, and that was just for those who worked exclusively on the floor. The field agents’ time span was considerably shorter. Still, it irked her how many faces and personnel she didn’t recognise. She’d been gone for two years, but it may as well have been two decades for the small number of people she knew.
As she looked out over the floor, she saw her last recruit, Macy, a girl with a flirtatious smile and legs that went on forever, standing at what used to be her station and chatting with one of the field agents and Shari.
She turned at the sound of her name and felt a genuine feeling of pleasure at seeing her former supervisor.
“It’s good to see you,” he enclosed her small hand in his two larger ones, as if he was hugging her hand. “I hear you’re doing good work at MIT.”
She shrugged, “I do okay. What’s this all about?”
Buchanon exchanged glances with Jack who had yet to make eye contact with her.
“Straight to the point I see. Very well. Over the past two months we’ve become aware of a Terrorist threat against this country that warranted our attention. Unfortunately, we didn’t know enough about this threat to know how to deal with it properly and so Jack’s been working undercover.”
Chloe’s gaze flickered to Jack who remained seated silently focused on Bill Buchanon. The bleeping of the phone interrupted her thoughts.
“Excuse me,” Buchanon apologised hitting the speaker button on the phone.
“Mr Buchanon, Dr Rockford’s here for you.”
“Rockford?” Chloe echoed him.
“Thank you, Jane, send him up.” He hit the end button and looked up at Jack, “I take it you didn’t tell her?”
Jack shrugged, “I thought it best to wait until we got here. I didn’t fill her in on any of the details.”
“Does someone want to tell me what’s going on here?” Chloe snapped.
Buchanon was spared the ordeal of answering her by the arrival of small man, with a beer gut, badly shaven jaw and quick, intelligent eyes.
Buchanon stood up and extended his hand, giving the man a friendly smile.
“Evening, Dr. Rockford. Good to see you again.”
Dr Rockford nodded in acknowledgment, “you too Bill, Jack.” His gaze went by Jack and rested on the petite Computer Analyst to his left, her arms crossed and a defiant look on her face. His own was filled with curiosity, and some amusement at her scowling expression.
“Dr. Rockford, this is Chloe O’Brian our former Head Computer Analyst. Chloe, this is Dr. Martin Rockford, a Marine specialist.”
“Nice to meet you.” She answered caustically. “What’s he doing here?”
“He’s helping us with this latest threat,” Jack answered leaning forward in his chair.
“Water,” Dr Rockford responded sitting down easily in the other vacant chair.
“Water?” Chloe repeated in confusion.
Bill cleared his throat, gaining her attention. “The terrorists have devised a water based unknown disease and plan to unleash it within the water supply of LA. It will have deadly consequences if it’s allowed access among the general populace. Not only will consumption help contract the virus, but any contact with water at all will produce symptoms. The worst of it is the sufferers won’t even know they’ve contracted it until it’s too late. We were lucky enough to ascertain a sample for analysis.”
Bill turned his attention to the doctor. “Progress?”
Rockford leaned back easily in the chair, “not really. We’ve ascertained that the infection is highly contagious, once contracted it lies dormant in the body for up to forty eight hours before symptoms start showing. Once the symptoms appear any person within five hundred yards has a high risk probability of contracting the disease. We haven’t managed to come up with a vaccine yet, but we’re working on it.” He sighed, “if it wasn’t so malicious, I’d say whoever thought this up was quite brilliant. It’s fascinating.”
“Yeah, water that can go around killing people without drowning them. Never heard of anything more fascinating in my life before,” Chloe glared at him. “But what does this have to do with me?”
Dr Rockford’s eyebrows shot up and he cleared his throat. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve to get back to my colleagues. I’ll give you another update in an hour Bill.” He pushed back his chair and stepped out of the room.
Buchanon and Jack exchanged glances, before Jack addressed Chloe’s question. “It soon became apparent that these terrorists had money and were using the highest spec technological assistance available. It also became clear that they’re using some of the best bespoke security systems available on the market, and I’ve managed to acquire the IP address of their computer system.”
Buchanon made eye contact with Jack, before turning back to Chloe, and leaning forward in his chair. “We understand that apart from your lucrative teaching career, you also design security systems for companies?”
“Yeah, it’s not exactly a crime. I declare it on my tax return!” Chloe huffed, crossing her arms and scowling at the desk in front of her. “So…what? You think because I design personal, high tech security systems, I can somehow hack into this thing for you?”
“No,” Jack replied, meeting her eyes clearly, “we know you can. The security system they’re using was designed by you.”
To be continued…..