She froze for a few moments, as she took time to assimilate what he’d said. Eventually, the outburst he was waiting on appeared.
“I don’t work for terrorists! You’re wrong! I screen every single person who comes knocking on my door looking for my help. Just because I’ve left CTU doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what kind of people are out there!”
“Nobody’s accusing you of collaborating with terrorists, Chloe,” Bill attempted to soothe her.
She snorted, “Really? Cos that last part about me building a security system for them, sure sounded like one!”
Buchanon sighed, and lifted a manila folder on the corner of the desk. Opening it, he took out a glossy photo and pushed it across the desk to her.
“Do you recognise this man?”
Chloe scrutinised the photo, at the man who stared back at her. His blonde hair, pale skin and shirt with a pin of the American flag didn’t make him look like the average terrorist.
She frowned, her mouth turning downwards. “I’ve never seen this man before. I’m sorry.”
“How about these?” Buchanon asked, placing three more photos in front of her. She looked at each of them intently, not recognising them, but the last one….
Her stomach roiled and she felt her gut pull to the right. Her face devoid of all colour and expression met Buchanon’s gaze across the table. Silently she pointed to the dark haired man in the third picture.
Buchanon closed his eyes, though whether in relief or sympathy she didn’t know.
“What name did he go by?” Jack pressed her.
“Ryan Tennyson,” she let out a shaky breath, “he had a small legal practice and was worried about people getting onto their systems. Lawyers have sensitive information.”
“Thank you, Chloe,” Buchanon said reassuringly.
“I checked him out,” Chloe said fiercely, “I know I don’t have the resources of CTU, but I checked him out. This has to be a mistake. You have the wrong man.”
“It’s okay, Chloe,” Jack said, standing up and placing a hand on her shoulder.
Her head immediately snapped towards him. “No, it’s not, Jack! I spent nearly a decade of my life trying to fight terrorists, according to you, only to end up helping them!”
She was beginning to shut down, Jack could see that. He remembered when Edgar had died, how she’d seem to just switch off, unable to focus or function. They couldn’t let that happen again.
Dragging the chair by her side closer to her, he sat down and grabbed her arm forcefully enough to make her look at him. “We need your help, Chloe. Nobody knows this system better than you.”
She closed her eyes, her head dropping forward.
Jack leaned forward in his chair, his hands pressed together as if in prayer. “Look, Chloe, we know one of the warehouses where they’re keeping three vials of the virus. Only yesterday we became aware that there was another location. He has a supplier Chloe, but we don’t know who. Harrison’s not the most trusting of people, he doesn’t share all his information with the men working for him. But he does keep track of it on his computer system, and you’re the only one who can get that information for us. We have reason to believe they’re planning an attack within the next seventy two hours, but we need your help.”
She opened her eyes, suddenly and looked at him. Her lips pursed in consideration and her eyebrows drew together, causing a crease to form on her forehead.
“If you’re working undercover, how can you find the time to fly across the country to pick me up?”
Jack frowned, obviously annoyed. “This morning, Harrison told us to scatter, he told us to meet him back at his place later this evening. I thought I’d make use of that time and make sure you’d help us.”
“And what were you going to do if I said no?” she challenged him.
“I knew you wouldn’t.”
Buchanon cleared his throat, “that’s all the information we can tell you right now, Chloe. Do we have your co-operation?”
Her mouth twisted, and she rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she muttered. “Whatever.”
“Good.” Jack got up and led her out the door and down the steps towards the hub of CTU, the Comm centre.
“Shari, move to station five,” Jack ordered, and the woman complied, her eyes widening a little as she saw her former boss. Chloe just rolled her eyes and sat gracelessly down at the computer.
A dark haired man that Chloe had never seen before appeared at Jack’s side, resentment shining from his tanned face.
“This her?” he asked brusquely.
Jack sighed, “yes, Milo, this is her.” He glanced down at Chloe, an apologetic expression flitting briefly over his features. “Chloe, this is Milo Pressman. He’s the new floor manager; he just started two weeks ago.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said not bothering to look at him, her curious face trained on Jack. “What happened to the last one?”
“We’ve had trouble finding a permanent replacement.” Jack admitted.
“Until me,” Milo interjected.
Chloe sent a disgusted glance his way. “Great, Milo!”
“Enough chitchat. How much time do you need?” Jack asked, looking at the screen, but he was so close, her hair danced with his breath. Annoyed with herself for the racing pulse his proximity caused, she bit out harshly.
“If I really did design this…twenty minutes maybe. Less if you’re not standing over my shoulder.”
He moved away silently, and she bit her bottom lip, feeling a pang of guilt in her chest. It wasn’t his fault she was attracted to him.
Clearing her mind of all thought, she allowed her fingers to settle over the keyboard. The feel of them lying motionless for a moment on the hard keys, with the dark screen in front of her popping up windows of information, brought all her experiences back to her. Days spent sorting through Internet chatter and terrorist profiles.
In a second, her nostalgia was over and her fingers flew over the keyboard, typing algorithms and passwords, dodging firewalls and spam detectors.
She paused suddenly in her work, it lasted only a second, but it was noticed.
“What is it?” Jack asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, lifting one shoulder in a half shrug.
She sighed, “it’s just…I did design this. I recognise the initial anti blocking software. I just….I can’t believe I’ve actually helped a bunch of gun toting terrorists.”
“This isn’t your fault, Chloe,” Jack told her quietly, but said nothing more. They weren’t in the right environment to begin quelling her concerns and insecurities.
Ten minutes later she smiled triumphantly. “I’m in.”
Shari snorted, “seventeen minutes? You’re slipping Chloe!”
Chloe shot her a withering look, “I design the best in security software, it’s pretty much impenetrable unless you know the backdoor system, of course.”
“Where’s the location?” Bill asked urgently, appearing at Shari’s side.
Chloe frowned, “I don’t know. I have the file, but it’s encrypted. I’ll need to work it over again.”
“How long will it take?”
“I don’t know. Anything from five minutes to five hours.”
“We need it done as quickly as possible, Chloe.” Jack replied. “I’m meant to be meeting Harrison in less than three hours.”
“On it,” she replied automatically, “Milo, I’m sending you over a copy of the file, if you could use some of the beta programmes to try and decrypt it, it will save us more time.”
Milo’s mouth twisted but he nodded. “Send it to station twelve.”
Jack looked between the two of them in relief. “Good work, Chloe. Let me know when you get something.”
Jack walked off towards his office, determination in his every stride. It was almost as if she’d never left. There she was working to get the information Jack needed to make the right decisions and save his ass.
Two hours later, her eyes scrunched together in confusion and concern. She sat back, her fingers finally stilling above the keyboard, still poised to strike if necessary.
Buchanon stood behind her, leaning over her shoulder and looking at the screen, a frown appearing suddenly on his face.
“Call Jack,” Buchanon ordered, “bring him to the situation room.”
It was only after she’d done as Buchanon had requested, that she even realised she’d fallen back into her old routine at CTU, taking orders and being Jack’s part time PA. She growled in annoyance at herself and entered Buchanon’s office just as Jack did, holding the door open for her. She sent him what she hoped was an appreciative smile but feared appeared to be more like a grimace.
“I decoded Harrison’s files. The other location is a water reserve outside Washington DC. He’s got a partner.”
“What?” Jack asked, his face contorting with confusion. “That can’t be right, Harrison’s the leader, and he doesn’t share power. He’s a power monger he needs to be in control of every facet of the operation. He wouldn’t trust anybody else to work with them.”
“I’m telling you Jack, there’s someone else in this,” Chloe insisted, flicking on the large screen at the end of the room and calling up the recently decoded document. “I have Shari running the name through now to see if we get anything.”
Jack frowned, a vertical line marring his features. “I know that name,” he whispered more to himself than anyone else.
“Jack?” Buchanon enquired.
The phone in the middle of the table bleeped, and Chloe glanced down to see Shari staring up at them, the phone clutched to her ear.
“Yes,” Buchanon answered.
“Sir, I ran the name through the system like Chloe requested. Damien Mason, is a former-”
“CIA,” Jack interrupted suddenly, “he’s CIA.”
“Mason was on the botched CIA/CTU mission two years ago. His partner was killed and he was so badly injured and forced to a desk job,” Shari continued. “He didn’t take to it very well by all accounts and left the CIA five months later. Nobody heard from him again.”
“All right, Shari. Thank you.” Buchanon switched off the phone and leaned heavily against the desk, watching as Jack paced a few feet back and forth.
“What would make a former CIA man suddenly turn against the people he’s sworn to protect? He was injured on duty, I understand, but why turn around and try to poison everyone?” Chloe asked.
“Because it was his life,” Jack answered easily, too easily for Chloe’s comfort. “He has no family, nothing apart from his job and it was taken away from him. By us. And his superiors at Washington. He wants them to pay for what they did. LA & Washington. They’re the two targets.”
“You’re meant to be meeting Harrison in forty minutes, Jack,” Buchanon reminded him. “You better get ready.” Buchanon called down to station twelve. “Milo, I want to know every single bit of information we have on former CIA agent Damien Mason.” He put the phone down and turned to Chloe. “Chloe, get DoD and the Washington branch on the phone for me.”
“Audrey?” Jack asked.
Buchanon nodded, “she’s still the best contact we have, Jack.”
“I know,” he said quietly, head bent as he left the office, Chloe following his every movement.
Behind her she heard Buchanon sigh, and turned to him.
“Audrey’s in Washington?”
“Has been for the past eighteen months.”
Chloe’s forehead wrinkled in confusion, her eyebrows drawing together. “But Jack’s here.”
Buchanon shrugged, “I’m hardly Jack’s confidante Chloe, but it seemed when push came to shove Jack couldn’t leave LA and Audrey couldn’t live in it. Just get her on the phone, Chloe.”
Chloe glanced back towards the door and shifted uneasily. “I’ll get right on it, sir.
“Thank you, Chloe. We need to get this guy and we need to find out everything about him.”
Chloe got in contact with the DoD and was told Ms Raines was unavailable for the moment. Her cell phone was also inconveniently switched off. She cursed silently and slammed down the phone.
Spying Jack, her guilt got the better of her. She hadn’t exactly been Little Miss Sunshine since he’d walked back into her life earlier that day. She supposed she should apologise to him, and followed Jack down to the armoury, where she found him checking out his .9mm.
He looked up at her entry and smiled tightly at her. A smile that changed to curiosity when he noticed her uncomfortable stance.
“Everything all right, Chloe?”
“Yeah, Jack, everything’s fine. Apart from the whole terrorist thing.” She bit her lip and he cocked his head at her.
“Chloe, is something wrong?”
She took a noticeable deep breath and met his eyes, “I’ve been a bitch ever since you walked into my class this afternoon and I wanted to apologise.”
He looked at her in surprise. “You’re apologising to me? Chloe, if anyone should be apologising it’s me.”
He stepped forward and placed a hand on her arm, stroking it gently. “God, I’m so sorry. About everything. About how I treated you the last few months you worked here, I’m sorry I barged into your class this afternoon. I don’t blame you for being angry, Chloe. If I managed to get out of this place and start a new life for myself, I’d be pissed to be dragged back to it.”
She looked confused. “But, I thought…I thought you liked working here. Isn’t that why you didn’t move with Audrey to Washington?” she coloured, realising she shouldn’t have said anything. “Sorry, as you can see some things never change.”
“It’s okay, Chloe. I missed that about you. And Audrey wanting to move to Washington was just one reason we broke up. I wasn’t ready to leave CTU then, but I don’t plan on staying here forever.”
“Just make sure you come back safe today, okay. I think we need to talk.”
His eyes softened and he nodded in agreement. “I always come back, Chloe, remember?”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “Well, I’m at the end of the phone if you need me for anything.”
“Thanks,” he squeezed her arm again as he walked away.
“Jack,” she called out to him just as he opened the door. He turned, and she glanced around nervously, making sure nobody else was around. She crossed her arms, a little uncomfortable. “I just wanted you to know…” she bit her lip and took small, quick steps towards him before she could change her mind. “I missed you too, Jack.” Before she could think too much about it, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly.
He was shocked at first, but quickly got over it and returned her enthusiastic embrace, burrowing his nose in he fine strands of her auburn hair and revelling in the feel of her once more. “You have no idea,” he whispered into her neck, and she felt tears smarting at the corner of her eyes.
All too soon he pulled back and looked away. “I have to go.”
She nodded, keeping her hands locked tightly together. He smiled crookedly at her, and left the building.
To be continued…