Chapter 6

"Hey," Kyle said with deliberately pitched reserve as he descended the last few steps of the fire escape, and then spoiled it by glancing back up to the third floor.

"Hey." Jake grinned, still recovering his breath as he flopped on the ground next to the very unconscious DoD guy and, more importantly, the unconscious DoD guy's briefcase.

Kyle holstered his gun and held out a hand to help pull Jake up. "That was quite a jump. Are you all right? I'm not sure I dare face Diane if anything's broken."

"No, I'm good. I'm fine." He brushed himself off while Kyle rolled the unconscious man over onto his front and efficiently handcuffed him; picked up the briefcase. "That jump? Man, that jump was nothing. You should've seen me on the rooftops a few weeks ago, before..." He faltered. He hadn't wanted to think about that. But he'd forgotten, in the midst of everything else that had been happening - it had been a hell of a jump. He rallied and chivvied the grin back onto his face. "I had this whole Spider-man thing going on. That was a cool jump. Way better than the simulator, too." He frowned. "I never did tell Diane about that."

"You should tell her," Kyle said. He opened the case only briefly before snapping it shut again. "Looks like the documents are here." He reached up to switch on his earpiece. "Tell Lou we have it and we're coming home." On the other end of the wire, Jake heard Agent Carver's voice acknowledge. Then Kyle was lowering his hand and carrying on as though the interruption had never happened. "Diane's the one that calculates your limits and keeps the rest of us up to date." He frowned down at the unconscious man.

"What kinda worries me is, if I tell Diane I can jump fifty feet, does that mean I'll be expected to do it again for an audience? One thing I don't think the nanites can do is stop me going splat on the pavement if I fall fifty feet."

Kyle gestured expectantly to the unconscious body at his feet. "You want to lend a hand here, Nano-Man? The car's three blocks away, thanks to this guy."

"Right - yeah. Yeah, of course." Jake hurriedly slung the DoD guy over his shoulder and jogged to catch up with Kyle, who'd set off down the back street. "Guy must spend his time off at the track when he's not selling out his country to the Chinese. I've had workouts with Diane's treadmill that were less taxing." He grinned. "So how do you want to work this? We swap over halfway, and I'll take the briefcase?"

"That's very funny," Kyle said dryly. "Unfortunately I'd just have to remind you that even if you weren't the one with super powers, I'm still your boss."

It was a crisp, pleasant morning and the sun filtered down through the skeleton framework of the fire escapes on the backs of the big old terraces, dappling the ground. Jokes aside, the guy on his shoulder didn't weigh enough to slow him down and Kyle, still breathing heavily after the chase, wasn't exactly in a hurry. For once, everything had gone smoothly, at least as these things went. It was nice. It was a nice feeling, success.

Also a nice feeling that the three lost weeks and the events just before were finally starting to recede in his mind, to be replaced by other things. According to Diane, his actual memories of those weeks had been stored primarily in the chip. He would likely never regain any more than the fragments he'd remembered in his captivity, when the chip had been in its death throes.

"Speaking of last month," Kyle piped up then, and Jake groaned - because he had, hadn't he? He should've known Kyle wouldn't be keeping his considerate silence on that score forever. But his partner gave him a sharp look for the response and carried on, "I heard this morning that Agent Cayman's coming back to work next week."

"He is? That's great!" Jake meant it. The last he'd heard was that Cayman was out of danger. It had been a huge relief to hear that that the guy who'd been shot with his gun was going to live. It was even more a relief that he'd recovered sufficiently to be returning to work so soon.

Kyle nodded. "I thought it would interest you to know. He'll be on light duties for a while, but he should be back in the field within a month or two."

And - oh, crap. That also meant that Jake was very likely going to have to work with him again. Agent Green was bad enough, and he didn't have to feel guilty about Green hating him - well, not so much, anyway.

They both thought you were ridiculous to start with, he reminded himself, the NSA agent who got elevated from Tech Support. And he grinned at Kyle. Cayman would return to work. Things weren't fixed - there had been six civilian deaths, in the end, from the blast he might've prevented - but they were improving.

"You know," said Kyle, as if reading his mind, "Chances of stopping that bomb were always very low."

"I've heard it said."

"You should believe it. Lou was never angry because you failed. She was angry because you went in."

"--and failed."

"No." Kyle stopped, catching his shoulder and swinging him around so they were face to face in the alley. "Well, maybe a little. But the point is, she'd have been just as pissed at you if you'd succeeded. It's not about gung-ho heroics."

"...It's about following orders?" Jake suggested. "Tried that, too, remember?" Well, Kyle would have to remember, since he didn't.

"No," Kyle said again. "It's... I don't know how to put this. There are orders, and there's instinct, and you need both. It's about finding a balance. And you can't... program that in, or read it in a book, or download it from a database. You have to find it for yourself. From experience, and even from mistakes."

"Yes, Master Yoda." Jake saluted - and staggered, trying with difficulty to re-balance the unconscious guy on his shoulder.

Kyle gave him a rather intense frown. "Yoda's the ugly little green guy. Mark Hamill's teacher. Am I right?"

"Yeah." Oh, cool - Kyle had at least watched The Empire Strikes Back; maybe there was hope for him yet. "Yoda's the green guy."

"You think I could be someone less ugly and green?" Kyle asked a bit plaintively, as they resumed walking.

"But Yoda's cool!" Jake protested. "That's totally a compliment, man."

Kyle looked sceptically like he suspected he was being had.

No hope, he corrected himself. No hope at all.

"Hey, Diane." He held out both arms in a 'look at me' pose as he walked into the lab. "Not a bruise. How about that?"

"Very good." She nodded approvingly. "You and Kyle got the bad guys, then?"

"One bad guy. I think Kyle and Agent Bell are still grilling him downstairs... and I realise that possibly makes it sound less impressive with the coming-back-in-one-piece part. Kinda fast on his feet, though."

"Never mind." She beamed at him, finished up whatever she was doing to a couple of glass vials, and picked up the PDA from the table beside her. She'd been keeping that thing pretty close lately. "Maybe you can catch two bad guys tomorrow without a scratch, and - you know - work your way up." She waggled her hands. The PDA narrowly missed a metal stand. "Here, let me do a quick diagnostic anyway."

She meant it - she was reaching for the penlight. Jake sighed and hoisted himself onto the edge of the exam table. It seemed to him that having super-powers really ought to involve less time being poked, prodded, and stuck with needles.

Definitely the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Still, at least Diane was back to talking to him like a normal human being. His friendship with her, and with Kyle, made this new life of his bearable.

He sat still while she took some more of his blood. It was a good thing he did have nano-healing, else he'd look like he'd been used for a pincushion by now, the number of blood work-ups she'd done this week. Diane was worried about him. Or maybe overcompensating from guilt.

"You've gone quiet," she said, her cheer a bit skittish and forced. They both knew there was no shortage of material for introspection.

He smiled for her, though it maybe came out a little crumpled. "Just thinking about how things seem to be getting back to normal around here. I guess soon it'll be like nothing even happened."

"Yeah." She focused on the blood sample and, seeming satisfied, turned away to deposit it in a tray for later examination. "It'll be nice to have things back to normal."

"That's not--" Jake shook his head. "No. No, it's not nice. Because I can't believe that that's just going to be it. I get... mind-frelled, and Lou... Lou does nothing at all."

Her face fell. "Okay, that part's not so good, but at least they should leave you alone now, for a while. We got something out of this. Lou's right, I don't think it would help us if we pushed things." She paused. "If there was something I could do about it, I would. I'm... really not happy that these people hurt my friend." She tentatively touched her hand to his shoulder; patted it shyly. "Almost made me hate my friend. Because I didn't know... I didn't see what they'd done. And I should have seen, I really should have, but it was only Lou that saw it. I guess maybe Kyle and I were... too close. Too busy feeling hurt to see the truth. And I totally have to find a tissue now before I drip on you." She lunged away from him to rummage under a lab bench, pulling a box of tissues out like a magic trick. "I guess it's just the, uh, the chemicals in the latest batch of... sorry."

Jake shifted his eyes side to side and tried a wary smile. "I guess Lou is right. It's all over now, after all."

He almost jumped out of his skin when Diane threw the box of tissues at the wall. It bounced back and skidded across the floor with one cardboard corner caved in. "Oh, it just makes me so mad! I want to - to rip out their eyeballs. Or... possibly something just as painful but less gross..."

"Memo to self, I really have to never get you mad at me," Jake said wonderingly.

She turned on him, finger brandished. "Don't you try to joke this off! I know how you feel. I know you." She played a tissue between her hands, twisting it around her fingers, and seemed to calm just a little. "When it happened, before - I thought - I think we both thought, me and Kyle - that we had done this to you. We'd taken this sweet, funny, naive guy and... well, turned him into a protocol-obsessed killing machine."

"Sweet and funny? You think that?" His brain belatedly caught up to the rest of what she'd said-- "Hey, I am not naive! Well, I'm not that naive. I'm really not. Am I? Stop looking at me like that."

Diane laughed. He felt the odd tension in the air ease, and supposed he really wasn't going to get an answer to that question that he'd like. He watched her pick up the tissue box and try to straighten it out, then finally give up on it and hide it under the lab bench again. "You can get off the table," she said, "Things all seem a-okay. Super, in fact." A flash of a smile. "Try not to get beat up tomorrow if they send you after two guys?"

"I'll try. Look, you wanna come get some lunch? I know it's early, but..."

She shook her head. "I should run your blood and get the numbers onto the computers. But maybe I'll come join you in quarter of an hour, huh?" She turned away, and he watched her sit down at the computer and start tapping on the keyboard, while he fastened the last few buttons on his shirt slowly.

He was turning to leave when she made a noise of frustration that drew him back. "What's up?"

She jumped slightly in her chair. "Oh! I thought you'd gone..." She beat at a key with her index finger. "These computers are so weird the last few weeks. I can't find anything wrong, and Tech Support say they can't find anything, and I guess you'd know how those guys know what they're doing, right? Oh, look - it's worked now." She laughed, and made to carry on.

"Let me take a crack at it," Jake suggested. "Maybe I can get them to co-operate."

She shrugged and pushed back from the desk. "Sure. Crack away, If you can fix it, I'll come to lunch. And I'll even let you eat something other than fruit for dessert."

"If that means 'yoghurt', no deal," he muttered, sliding into place in front of the offending machine. He focused his interface and delved into the workings of its electronic mind. "That is odd..."

"I knew it!"

"No, no, no - not odd. Bad. Really bad. Diane, I think we're gonna have to scratch lunch. In fact, I think we need Lou here, right now."

She gave a small gasp. "You think someone's been in my computers? Jake! Someone after the nanites?"

"It's..." He grimaced. "I don't know if I can say it's not that bad. I think it's more complicated... uh, I know whose handiwork this is. I know this guy's trail. I'm sure of it."

"Really?" she asked with surprise. "How? Who?"

"Diane... it's me."

Deputy Director Sleet walked into the lab just as Diane was picking up the scalpel. "What exactly do you people think you're doing?" he demanded, his corpse-like face actually animated in rage. "I submitted in writing a request for my team to extract the Agent Chip from Foley. Examining it could prove vital to our research! My team should be handling this - why, you could do incalculable damage, cause crucial data to be lost!"

"Good afternoon, Eustace," Lou said dryly. "Won't you join us?"

Diane put the scalpel down, and Jake rolled over and sat up. Kyle folded his arms.

Sleet's eyes narrowed. "Shouldn't Foley be under anaesthetic?"

"Observant of you," Lou commented. "On the other hand, I find your reaction particularly interesting to observe - especially taking into account what we found when we examined the chip that was removed from Agent Foley this morning."

"Nano-healing?" Jake prompted, seeing Sleet's eyes go sharply to his unmarked neck.

"Sorry about the improvisational theatre," Lou continued, "But we wouldn't want you making any claims that you didn't know exactly what additional program was embedded into that chip. Agent Foley?"

Jake slid off the exam table. Something in his face - or more likely it was just a memory of the guy he'd temporarily been, the one who'd been an efficient killer, because he had a hard time believing anyone could be that afraid of him, Jake Foley, geek extraordinaire - made Sleet lose what composure he had left. He made a bolt for the door.

Kyle was waiting for it, and intercepted him ready with an armlock and twisting manoeuvre that looked like it really hurt. Jake couldn't quite manage not to be too unduly gleeful about that, but then Kyle was smiling, too. Now there was a guy who could do scary pretty well.

"Going somewhere?" Kyle twisted Sleet's arm around until he got a choked cry of pain and Lou shot an arch look in their direction.

"I find that reaction even more interesting." Lou turned to address the camera that was so well hidden it was to all practical purposes invisible, and touched her hand to the wire at her ear. "Executive Director Warner? I believe I've made my point."

The cool female voice on the other side of the monitoring cameras responded dryly into Lou's earpiece, "I believe you have. If you could escort Mr Sleet to a cell, I'll see he gets all the TLC that he deserves."

Lou's delighted smile was positively feral. It only lasted a moment before melting back into her set professionalism as she nodded to Kyle, a gesture apparently enough to convey her superior's instructions because Kyle turned and marched Sleet out of the door. Outside, two more agents waited to lend a hand, and he left Sleet to their care.

Diane laughed with giddy relief, but Lou glared and swiped one hand sharply. Apparently the brass was still on the line.

"For the record, Lou," the cold-voiced Warner said, "I'm still a long way from convinced about having an agent around who's this easily compromised - against his will or not. Not even one as clever as Agent Foley."

"Compromised by another member of our agency," Lou said, her eyes on Jake. And he thought, that was a threat. He'd been meant to overhear it. Both women knew he could hear every word. "An outsider couldn't hope to gain access to try anything similar. Even in a worst case scenario, none of our enemies have the knowledge of nanotechnology we do."

"By happy accident, on this occasion," Warner said sharply, and cut the link.

Lou reached up and ripped the wire from her ear. "Switch off that camera," she ordered Jake.

He interfaced with it and did so, with some bemusement, leaving them alone and unmonitored. Given what he'd just overheard, he kind of hoped the brass wouldn't hold it against him.

"Now, that - that was worth seeing," Diane said, still jubilant. "Do you think we can get copies of that tape? I want to watch the bit where Kyle did that arm-twisting thing again."

"This incident doesn't go beyond these walls," Lou said sharply. "We're very lucky that the brass let us prove Sleet's involvement in this. The only trace in the computer was Jake. Fortunately Jake was also the only person who could have caught it, and we had him back in time to do so."

"Pretty clever, really," Kyle said. "Who else do we have who is exempt from metal detector tests - and who has a data storage device implanted in his neck? Why risk selling out in person when you can program someone else to do the work for you, with none of the risk? I just wish we knew for sure how much he'd got out, and where it went."

"They'll get it from him. And we caught it early. The Agent Program worked against Sleet's own plans - Diane's been so damn pissed at Jake she hardly let him set foot in her labs for more than ten minutes while the chip was working." Lou arched an eyebrow at Diane, who ducked her head to hide her reddening face.

Jake cleared his throat. "Speaking of, when are you gonna get this chip out of my neck? I know it's broken, but it kind of freaks me out to think of it still in there. Plus, don't you - you know - want to get the evidence against Sleet?"

Diane beamed at him. "Oh, the chip's useless now." She blinked as all three of them looked sharply at her, and stuttered a bit before continuing on, "Um, I thought I'd outlined the process? In the lab report...? Oh. Well, I guess none of you here are scientists... and it's a really good job Sleet doesn't know the nanites like I do..."

"Diane!" Jake protested.

Lou said, less patiently, "Get on with it."

"Well, the nanites are self-replicating, which you know, but they need materials from an exterior source to do that. Now, normally they'd take that from the trace minerals present in Jake. We, um, had to include in the nanite reprogramming before the chip was implanted an instruction to leave the chip alone, but... we erased that new program a week ago with the rest of its associated instructions. So even if there had been anything left on the chip to salvage after the original damage, the nanites have had a week to scavenge it for materials." She shrugged. "I really doubt there's anything left by now. I mean, the data will be completely corrupted. And eventually there won't even be anything left of the chip any more. It'll maybe take a year or two - the nanites are tiny, after all - but, see?" She smiled at Jake. "Nothing to worry about." And to Lou and Kyle she added quickly, "But it was a really fantastic bluff. I mean, as far as knowledge regarding the physical effects of the nanites is concerned, Sleet's team? Pffft."

"The cut-throat, competitive world of the scientist. Such an ugly thing," Kyle murmured.

Lou's grin was huge.

"I was kinda looking forward to telling him," Diane said, almost regretfully. "Sleet, I mean, when he was all hot to get his 'precious chip back'." She made air-quotes as she mocked Sleet's graveyard tones. "I guess now I won't be allowed to... What's so funny?"

Kyle shook his head and leaned over resting his hands on his knees, trying to regain control. Lou rolled her eyes and exited herself from the room and, presumably, from all association with them by implication. And Jake surprised Diane into silence by folding her in a fond hug.