Chapter 375: The Gathering Storm
A/N: I know some of you aren't Americans... In US schools grades are done A (Excellent), B (Above Average) C (Average) D (Below Average) and F (Failing.) Why is this important? You'll see in a minute.
Okay, on with the story…
Tim gets in a bit early on Monday, wanted to make sure he'd gotten everything clear before meeting with SecNav.
And yes, he did.
When he heads up to Vance's office, he's feeling excited about this. The test he's got planned is beyond awesome, and he cannot wait to put it in action.
He gets up there and there's the usual 'Hello-how-are-you-doing' pleasantries. And to some degree it blows his mind that he's been invited to refer to Jarvis as Clayt. That doesn't feel real, but it is, and he only stumbles over it the first few times. In addition to Jarvis, there's his secretary, a meticulously precise young man named Remy James, and, of course, Vance.
Tim's already sent the emails detailing how he wants the general flow of the test to work, but they still have to settle on a specific ship to put everything into play. He's going to run the first test, on the first ship, and then write up his notes, write up how he came up with the test and design a protocol for doing this to other ships, and from there he's handing it off to someone in the Navy.
He takes a moment to go over the idea of the test again for all three men, how he's got it set so that he'll be slipping a program from his computers here to Norfolk, and from Norfolk a sub-program will hit the target ship, making one of the computers on the ship produce a program that tells the ship to target another ship in whatever combat group he's got. Communications with the outside world will then crash. A second later, the techs will see that the test ship is targeting another ship in the combat group. The tested ship will see the targeted's ships sensors spring on-line and start to aim to fire back. From inside the computer stations, it'll look like a catastrophe.
Tim wraps up his explanation with, "The test will last less than ten minutes, and real targeting as well firing will be off-line. Don't want anyone completely freaking out and actually firing. But this should result in a complete all hands on deck situation while the techs try to figure out what's going on."
"Then once the main part of the test is done?" Jarvis asks.
"I keep an eye on them. Track what they're doing. Full passing marks is them noticing it's up and shutting it down before the test really gets going. Say, a B would be them getting it stopped before the ship "fires." C work means they don't manage to get it stopped but they stay cool and in less than five hours figure out what happened. And anything beyond that… Well, you know what's after C."
Jarvis smiles dryly at that. "Lt. James has drawn up a list of test ships. The first one you'll run personally, on site, and from there…"
"I'll write it up so I can hand it off. Not a problem," Tim says, eager to see the list. He's pulling his phone out of his jacket, because the number of ships he knows by name is smaller than five, as James slides the paper in front of him.
He's looking at the list. Of course. Because that's how life always works. He sighs.
When he'd written up his idea for the test he'd been thinking of a few cruisers, or maybe, if one could be found, a nuclear sub (Using a nuclear sub for his test would have caused literal pants-wetting. Nuclear sub targeting a neighboring ship… That would have been fun.)
|USS John C Stennis Strike Group|
So, on a logical level, he knows this is an excellent test ship. All the requirements are right. It'll work perfectly for the test. If he does it right he can get multiple ships all on full alert at once and see exactly how good an entire battle division is.
It's the perfect test.
That does nothing to quell his first response, which is an almost overwhelming desire to beg to not go on that ship.
It's the Stennis. The Stennis is a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. It is the operational hub of the entire Pacific fleet, and it is the operational hub of the entire Pacific fleet because it is the flag ship of Admiral John McGee, Commander of the US Pacific Fleet.
Jarvis, his secretary Lt. James, and Vance are all sitting in Vance's office, waiting to see what he has to say about this, and maybe it's stupid pride, but he cannot make himself say, "That's my Dad's ship. I can't go on it without throwing up." So, instead he says, looking up at Jarvis "You can't let anyone on that ship know I'm coming aboard. Not if you want this test to work properly."
"Excuse me, McGee?" He sees the light start to flick on for Jarvis as he says his name.
"The Stennis is my father's flagship. As soon as he sees my name is on the visitors' list he's going to get antsy and will put everyone on high alert. He won't know what's up, but he'll know it's something, because he knows I don't belong on his, or any, ship, and he'll know it has something to do with computers. He's going to figure out what's going on in a matter of seconds after he realizes I'm on the ship and his computer guys start yelling, but by then he won't be able to swing the test."
"Would he 'swing the test?'" Jarvis asks.
Tim turns his hands up in an I don't know gesture. "If he knew it was a test, and he knew it was coming, he might not do anything 'intentionally,' but he'd probably beef up security and make sure his guys are on high alert. We're officially there for an inspection, right?"
"Well, he'll be making sure everything's in ultra-ship-shape for that. And it's not like he's trying to swing the inspection, he just wants everything to look good, right?"
"So, that'll probably be what his computer guys will be doing if he's got a hint of me on the ship." Tim feels pretty satisfied that that's a good reason for him to not be on that ship.
Jarvis thinks about it. "What would make this go best?"
"Probably work best if we picked a different ship. No one's going to know me on the Atlantic command."
Jarvis looks over to Lt. James. James spends a moment checking something on his phone. "Doable, but not a good plan if we want to keep this secret. We'd end up rescheduling everything, 'cause we can't do it the same day, and that'll cause scuttlebutt as to why exactly everyone's plans are upside down."
Tim nods. Classified ops work best with minimal scuttlebutt. So, plan B. What is plan B? "Okay. Just… stick someone else's name on the visitor's list. Someone who isn't a tech guy. Lt. James comes along on things like this, right?" James nods. "Put your name on the list, and then you take a few days off. As long as he," he nods to Jarvis, "doesn't mind carrying his own bag for a day or two, it'll work."
James smirks at that and rolls his eyes. Jarvis looks amused. "Lt. James does a bit more than just carry my bags."
Tim realizes how insulting that probably sounded. "Sorry." It's genuine, so James nods, accepting it. "I'm sure you do. Just… spinning my wheels looking for something."
"Unless you're also offering to keep my schedule straight, run my correspondence, and make sure the rest of the Navy functions while you run this test, it's probably a good idea for James to come along," Jarvis says with a smile.
"Point taken." He looks back to James. "I really am sorry. I don't have a secretary, so I don't actually know what you guys do. Who else usually comes along on things like this?"
"Usually a visitor or two." Jarvis smiles, if a new name needs to go on this, they should do it up right. "Do you have any undercover experience?"
"A very tiny bit. Been undercover fewer than ten times in fourteen years, and once I was playing myself."
Jarvis raises an eyebrow at that, and Vance doesn't look like he knows that story either. "Few years before you were here," Tim says to Vance. "We had to get into a club. No reasonable cause for a search warrant. Metro was working it with us, but they had someone leaking their moves. All of their people got turned away, 'not hot enough.' Anyway, my first book was out; I was on the New York Time's Bestseller list for the first time, so, Thom E. Gemcity and his three lady friends were able to get into the club. But most of my undercover work has been along the lines of being the guy who blends into the background and makes sure all the tech gear is working."
Jarvis thinks about that, looking at Tim. "Stand up."
"Can you pull off Navy posture?"
Tim tries, after all, not like he didn't get years of yelling at on how to stand up properly. He's got it, but it's fairly obvious it's not his natural posture.
"You hair isn't usually black is it?" Jarvis asks.
"Uh, no." Yeah, that looked cool Saturday night, but it's looking a bit dull and fake right now. According to Abby, it should be gone next shampoo or the one after.
"Will it be black on the eleventh?"
"I'd doubt that intensely."
"Good. Grow a beard. And… no nail polish, okay?" Jarvis is looking at Vance as he says that you let him wear nail polish? on his face, and Vance has a computer guys are weird, but this one is really good, so I humor him look on his.
"Not a problem."
"Wonderful. Feel like being a liaison to the British Navy?"
Tim smiles at that. He has an idea where this was going, and how he'll hide in plain sight. "What, Ireland doesn't have a Navy of its own?"
He'd meant it as a cute aside, but Jarvis' eyes light up and he grins. "Actually, it does. And it's tiny enough that just about no one knows anyone in it. So we don't have to worry about, the, 'Oh, do you know, Blah' trap." The smile gets wider. "James, add Captain T. McGee from the Irish Naval Service to the guest list. They've been expanding lately, looking at bigger ships, the Stennis is still a few classes beyond what they're building, but maybe not beyond their dreams. I have a feeling Captain McGee is going to be coming along for the inspection and looking at the feasibility of an Nimitz-class aircraft carrier for the Irish Naval Service. My guess is that should float by whomever on your dad's staff actually checks things like that."
Tim's feeling pretty amused by that. "I'd imagine so."
They wrap things up from there. Test day is June 11th. They'll meet again on the 10th, make sure everything is in order, and from there…
The more he thinks about it, the more calm he feels about it.
By the time he's back in his office, doing the coding, putting the test into play, nervous is bleeding away with the pleasure of doing this.
It is an awesome test. And getting an aircraft carrier involved does mean he's got an extra challenge, which he's looking forward to. He's got to make sure they don't scramble the jets and shoot the… according to his notes the Borealis and the Aether will be nearby, so that'll be the ships the Stennis targets.
He spends two hours messing with the code, and finally decides the easiest way to make sure that the Stennis doesn't send any of the planes after the Borealis or the Aether is to make sure that the Stennis doesn't see themtargeting. If their tech guys are calm and alert, that'll probably make them notice something is wrong, but… It's more important to make sure no one gets killed on this than making sure it's a perfect replica of an actual attack.
He takes a break, heading to grab himself some more coffee, thinking about why he's so nervous. After all, he's not walking into his dad's ship naked and alone. He's walking in as the personal guest of Clayt, the freaking Secretary of the Navy, besides the President, he's pretty much the only guy left who outranks his dad.
Nothing is going to happen.
Okay, that's not true. His dad'll see him, and then he'll try to play that slightly sarcastic version of the happy family charade they always used to live under. It'd be annoying and uncomfortable, but that's it. Just like it was when he was sitting there with Gibbs. There's no way the man is going to flip out on him when he's standing next to his Boss following Jarvis' orders.
That's who he is. Assuming there's someone around who's keeping an eye on things, that's always who he is. God forbid anyone see them not being the perfect, happy family.
Tim thinks about it more. This is a covert test. He's not Tim McGee, NCIS Director of Cybercrime, not on this mission. He's Captain T. McGee, Irish Naval Service, as long as he's on this test, as long as someone else is around, The Admiral can't even admit to knowing him.
Tim smiles at that as he heads back to his computer. That'll drive the old man buggy.
So, why does his voice sound nervous when he says to Abby and Gibbs that night as they have dinner, "I talked to SecNav today. Got the official time for the test."
"Great." She's excited for him, because as the only one of the group who gets all the ins and outs of what he's doing, she knows this is mad difficult and stratosphere-level computer geek sexy, so she, also, can't wait to see how it goes. "When are you going?" She puts the fajita vegetables on the table in front of them, while Tim grabs cheddar cheese and sour cream from the fridge.
Abby smiles at him. "You excited?" Gibbs looks happy for him as he pats Kelly's back.
He half-smiles back, and she looks at him, curious. He should be having a better time with this. Gibbs catches it, too. He might not get all the ins and outs, but he knows Tim's been enjoying this. So, getting to show it off should be fun. "What?"
"It's on the Stennis." Tim says as he pours the tortilla chips into a bowl, not looking at either of them.
"Oh." Abby says, stopping in the middle of the kitchen, bowl with grilled chicken in her hands, staring at Tim. Gibbs' eyes narrow. He doesn't know what John's flagship is, but he's not having a hard time figuring it out from the way Abby's looking at Tim.
"Yeah." All the nervous Tim talked himself out of comes back in a rush as he sees both of them looking really angry and sad. He sort of half smiles at them, taking the chicken from Abby, and putting it on the table, and the grabbing the tortillas.
"Don't go!" Abby says hot and fast, stopping him mid-stride, holding him by his shoulders. "You can do it from land. Do it from land!"
"It's already set."
"Unset it. Do not get onto his ship! It'll be bad."
He's looking at Gibbs for help, figuring if anyone'll get the whole 'just because it won't be fun doesn't mean I can't do it' aspect of this, but Gibbs is shaking his head, too.
Okay, at this point nervous is back, and it's brought it's buddy, fear. Tim closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, tries to kill the butterflies dancing in his gut, and doesn't really succeed. "Look, I don't want to go, but, come on, nothing's going to happen. Sure, he'll be annoyed, but… He's not going to cuss me out in front of the Secretary of the Navy for doing the job he's asked me to do."
"Tim…" Abby looks scared, and scared is making her angry. Gibbs is just flat out angry.
"I know." He caresses her face. "The little kid part of my brain is scared, too. The rational part knows this'll be fine. I'm an adult. I will not allow myself to be alone with him. It'll be fine. Call it practice for the wedding or something like that. I'm sure we can be in the same room for a few hours… We did it before, remember," he looks to Gibbs, who was there, "during that case. It wasn't fun, but nothing really bad happened."
Gibbs eyes narrow, he was there, so he saw the kind of shit John pulled during the twenty or so minutes they were together. And yeah, it wasn't fun, and nothing 'really' bad happened, but… "Don't go. Call it… a conflict of interest. Hell, tell SecNav what happened to you as a kid. But don't go."
Tim shakes his head, hard. "I am not talking to SecNav about that! Look, this is the job. I have to do it. He's lived his whole life for the Navy. The Navy is sending me to him. It'll be okay."
Abby doesn't look convinced, probably because he's not exactly doing a great job of being convincing. Probably because he's not convinced. Gibbs is shaking his head. "I'll go with you."
Tim's turn to narrow his eyes. He kisses Abby, and then goes to sit next to Jethro, putting his hand on Jethro's shoulder. "You go with me, you'll pick a fight with him, and it will become a problem. Might screw the test, and will get you arrested. Let's not do that. I want you home for Kelly's birthday party, not in jail for punching the shit out of The Admiral."
"He deserves to have someone pick a fight with him."
Tim lets that go. He agrees. But if anyone is going to pick a fight, it'll be him. "He's never disobeyed an order in his life. He'll be ordered to secrecy because it's a classified op. Being seen doing anything that blows my cover as Capt. McGee of the Irish Naval Service would violate that order. It'll be fine. When we're on the ship, he won't even be able to admit he knows me."
"Captain McGee?" Abby asks.
"That's the official reason I'll be on board. Jarvis is getting it squared away with the Irish Navy so they don't get any surprises with this, and if The Admiral's people check, my background will pass. I'll go in. I'll be 'inspecting the Stennis and working on a report about the feasibility of adding one to the Irish Naval Service.' Get there, do the test, monitor their progress until they find out they were hacked, and then, depending on how long it takes, helio or fly back to land. Won't be there a minute longer than necessary."
"You better not be," Abby's staring at him, looking worried.
Gibbs doesn't look any more secure about that.
Tim shrugs. There's something here, something he needs to say, but he's not sure what. Picking the fight himself triggered some faint understanding of what's going on… and then he gets it, knows why nervous fell away before, and how to make it go away again. "The test is perfect. It's…" he smiles shaking his head, thinking of a way to translate this into Gibbs, "It's a dead center head shot at three klicks out in high winds and the target has cover. And I want to do it to him." And beyond anything else, beyond nervous, there's that. He thinks about it more and knows that's why he didn't press for the Atlantic command. "He always thought the computer stuff was a waste of time, literally told me that MIT was 'me fucking away the best years of my life,' and I want to hit him with that. I want to do it. Once I get onboard, all he'll be able to do is sit there and watch as I throw his entire fleet," he makes a note to check and see exactly how many missiles are on the Stennis, because he's going to target every ship even remotely near the Stennis, and as he thinks about it more, if he can do it, he's going to have the smaller ships start targeting each other. "into disarray, with a computer, while his Boss sits there and smiles at me while I do it."
Gibbs and Abby both get that. And Gibbs remembers Tim saying that if he was ever going to do anything about his dad, it would be his, his tools, his attack. He'd own it from top to bottom.
So, Gibbs says it before Abby does but only by a second, he's still nervous about this, it feels bad in his gut, but he gets it, and she's getting it, too. "Okay."
They're getting ready for bed, brushing teeth, doing that traditional last pre-bed moments of the day routine.
When she's done with her teeth, Abby puts her brush back in its holder and stares at him. He finishes his teeth and says, "What?"
She sighs, steps in close, rests her head on his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I get it. Saw the way you were looking when you were talking about the test. I know you need this, but… God, Tim, be careful. I've got a bad feeling on this, and Gibbs does, too."
He squeezes her tight, kissing her forehead. He's not sure how 'careful' he can be. Not like this is something where a vest'll come in handy.
He tilts her lips towards his and kisses her again. "All he ever had were words and my fear. His words can't hurt me anymore because you make me fearless."
She kisses him, and then nips his bottom lip. "You're being sweet, and I appreciate that, but I also know bullshit when I smell it, and that's a dairy farm's worth."
He shrugs. Of course she can read when he's 'trying to be brave.' "Yeah. I'm nervous, but…" He sighs again. The more he thinks about this, the more he wants it. He's got extra code dancing in his head. By the time this test is done, PacFleet will be so thoroughly fucked over The Admiral'll walk bowlegged for a month.
"I know. Like I said, I can see it. I know you need to be able to pull the rug out from under his feet and get some of your own back. I get it. But, be careful, stay near Jarvis, make sure you're locked in your quarters or you've got people around. Don't let yourself be alone with him."
"I won't. I'll be with Jarvis or James or in my quarters the whole time. I'm not going to spend a minute longer with him than I have to."
She's holding his face in her hands, staring into his eyes, "Okay."