"These three," Lou said, pointing at the pictures on the screen, "we don't know much about. According to our intel, they claim to be Saudi businessmen, and that might very well be true. But that's not all they are. Which brings us to suspect number four."
Her finger rested on the fourth picture, a man whose large pale eyes made him stand out not only compared to the other three, but in general.
"Lucas Vela. First caught the authorities' attention in Spain, where he manufactured explosives for the ETA. He escaped custody there and was later spotted in Peru with members of El Sendero Luminoso. Unconfirmed reports claim he has also been in touch with the more violent branches of Hamas - possibly even the IRA."
"Pretty much equal opportunity boom guy, huh?" Jake said.
Lou cast him a quick disparaging glance and kept speaking: "These four have met together on a couple of occasions, and the obvious conclusion is that they're planning something. Now, we could contact immigrations about Vela and be rid of him that way, but that would leave us the other three. I would prefer it if we could get something on them before Vela gets suspicious - and he gets suspicious very easily."
She turned to Jake, giving him a long, hard look this time. "Agent Foley. Your assignment is to establish surveillance in the hotel rooms of the three Saudi. Connect with whatever you can and bypass the information to us. Once the connection is established, agents Hartnell and Bayati will take over. Kyle, you're with Foley here. It's vital that this operation remains covert. Any sign of trouble and you're out."
Kyle breathed out hard through his nose, but nodded.
"Hang on," Jake said, frowning. "He's there to babysit me? I can manage. It's a simple stakeout, it's not as if..."
"That will be all, agent Foley," Lou interrupted.
Jake forced himself to shut up for the rest of the briefing, but as they left, he complained quietly to Kyle: "I've been 'agent Foley' for weeks now. When is she going to get over herself?"
"Get over herself?" Kyle asked.
"Not get over you shooting yourself up with more nanites after Diane specifically told you not to, and nearly crippling yourself in the process?"
Jake made a grimace. "It was ten hours. I'm fine now. And I caught the Ninja, didn't I?"
Kyle raised his eyebrow. "Yeah, I guess you did."
His voice was level - too level. Jake scowled.
With the new nanite upgrade, Jake found that he could sit in the car and feel every computerized gadget in the hotel. Even knowing the right floor, it took quite a while to rule them all out.
"Getting anywhere?" Kyle asked.
Jake had just moved from one laptop to another, and found some writings in a pretty strange alphabet. He blinked and held up his hand to signal 'wait' as he absorbed the document. For all he knew, it could be a shopping list, but he fed the data into his own laptop and sent it to agent Bayati with the simple question: Arabic?
The reply took only about a minute. Yup.
Okay, he sent back. Will keep connecting to the other machines.
"Progress at last!" he told Kyle. "I found one of the rooms. Now all I got to do is bug everything in there."
"Good," Kyle said.
"Kind of makes it worth it, don't you think?" Jake cast a glance at Kyle from the corner of his eye. "Shooting myself up with extra nanites."
"End results aren't everything."
Jake leaned back in his seat, arms crossed, though his mind was still making connections to the computers inside the building. "So we're back to that again."
"Jake..." Kyle rubbed his forehead. "You've improved a hell of a lot as an agent, but you still go and do things that are simply stupid, and then you act like everything's our fault. We're not giving you orders to be mean, we're trying to save lives."
"You could have fooled me," Jake snapped.
"What are you talking about?"
"You and Lou, when Warner tried to pull the plug on me. Do you have any idea how scared I was?"
Kyle started to say something, stopped, and stared at Jake, who tried to meet his gaze steadily. If only he could keep those damned tears down.
"That's what this is about?" Kyle asked slowly. The dry edge was gone from his voice now, and for once he sounded like someone who didn't think he had all the answers.
Jake looked out the window. "I thought you were going along with it."
"You thought I killed that guy, didn't you?"
Kyle sighed. "Yes. I don't know. Maybe."
"Diane never did," Jake said softly.
"Diane's a doctor," Kyle said. "It's against her instincts to give up on people."
"And what are your instincts? To shoot first and ask questions later?"
"No." From the reflection in the glass, Jake could see that Kyle was rubbing his forehead. "But I had to consider all possibilities... If Diane had been wrong and your subconscious was really running haywire, you could have put a lot of people in danger. Not to mention that if the nanites weren't healing you... That's not any way to live."
"You really thought of letting her kill me, then?" Jake asked in a low voice. "Out of mercy?"
"For a second there, yes."
Jake turned back, studying Kyle. "It wouldn't have been mercy where Warner was concerned. It would have been an execution. For a murder I didn't commit."
"That I wouldn't commit."
Now it was Kyle's turn to look out the window. "I wish I had your confidence in that."
"So do I," Jake said quietly.
There was an awkward pause, and then Kyle suggested, "You may want to look into making a living will... for next time."
"You think there's going to be a next time?"
"Don't you?" Kyle asked, eyebrow raised.
Jake wondered if that was some kind of veiled criticism of his abilities as an agent, but didn't even have time to get his shackles up before he heard the unmistakable click of a gun being cocked. He hurried to throw them both down to the floor of the car, but nanite speed kicked in just a split of a second too late, and he felt a burning pain go through his midriff. He groaned, and heard Kyle draw in a sharp breath. The rest of the round of bullets flew past them, and Jake tracked them as they went by. They were pretty scattered – whoever was shooting, he didn't have a very good aim.
"Are you okay?" he managed to push out, even though speaking hurt something awful. Breathing hurt something awful. Nanites worked fast, but they weren't instant.
"Hit my arm," Kyle replied.
For a second, Jake thought Kyle meant he had hurt his arm on an edge or something, but then he moved away and saw the blood stains. His blood, but Kyle's too. The bullet had gone straight through him and into Kyle.
"Oh," he said, feeling a bit dizzy, and added stupidly: "Sorry.
Kyle grunted and pushed open the car door, reaching for his gun. Jake followed his lead and opened the other door. Among the noises of the street he could hear the shooter on the other side of the parking lot, heart racing and breath heavy as he reloaded his gun. Cocking his own, Jake leaned out far enough to shoot. Halfway through Jake's round, Kyle started shooting from the other end of the car. The bullets hit various surfaces, and a couple of them ricocheted, though nothing came back to the two of them. And then he heard the unmistakable sound of flesh being hit. One – two – three. He peeked out further and saw their target going down, blood seeping from the lips. The breaths he'd been hearing became labored and wet, and then the stopped completely. After the while, the heart did too.
"He's dead," Jake said, standing up. He was feeling a bit better now; the pain had eased into a dull ache and some really awful itching.
Kyle nodded and holstered his gun. He'd been holding it in his left hand, Jake noticed.
"How's your arm?" he asked.
"Been better, been worse." Kyle crossed the parking lot with Jake in tow. People had started to gather now, curious and shocked by the shooting. When they reached the body, Kyle gave it a quick glance and then sighed deeply. "Damn it."
Jake looked down. "Vela."
"So much for being inconspicuous. Great. Now the others will become twice as cautious."
Jake stared at the dead face, trying to figure this one out. "How did he know who we were?"
"He didn't," Kyle said. "He knew we were people sitting in a parked car, and he was a paranoid kind of guy." Casting a glance at Jake, he added, "Please tell me you finished the connection, at least."
Jake made a grimace. Their argument had interrupted his work a bit. "I finished it to some of the units."
"We'll just have to hope some is enough," Kyle said. He turned abruptly from the corpse and fished out his cell phone, pressing a speed dial number. "This is Duarte speaking. Unfortunately, Vela saw us and started fire. He's dead."
"Any injuries on our side?"
"Yeah, me and Foley both. Nothing serious."
"Do you need an ambulance?"
Turning to Jake, he asked, "Do you need an ambulance?"
Jake shook his head, not bothering to point out that he had heard the question the first time. His shirt was wet with blood, but the wound itself had healed. "Do you?"
"Can you drive?"
"No ambulance," Kyle said into the phone. "We'll drive."
After a few more short-clipped answers to the various questions from the other end, Kyle hung up. His expression was no different from usual, but there was something about the way he held his shoulder that told Jake he was in pain.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Tie me up and drive me, and I will be." Kyle grimaced, and as they went back to the car he asked, "Let me guess, you're healed already?"
"Mm." It made no sense that Jake should be embarrassed for that, but he was.
"Figures," Kyle muttered, but the corner of his mouth moved ever so slightly as he said it.
After that, neither said much of anything for a while, not until Kyle's wound was tied up, Jake had changed his shirt, and they were on their way to the hospital.
"This assignment..." Kyle said, and then seemingly changed the subject. "You're gonna think about what I said, about the living will?"
His heartbeat was racing as he said the words, and though Jake would never say anything, he recognized the fear, and it scared him too. "You don't think we're gonna catch them?"
"Oh, we're gonna catch them." Kyle actually smiled saying that, and it was reassuring – almost reassuring anyway. "That's not the issue."
He didn't say what the issue was, but Jake got it. Warner would take any excuse to screw things up for him. They'd fucked up by fighting when they should have been working, and as excuses went, that was a pretty good one.
So things were gonna get even worse around the NSA, and yet Jake couldn't help grinning as he drove. Kyle had given him a warning, which meant that he was still on Jake's side. Scowling and criticizing, sure, but then, what else was new?