It began with a sheet of looseleaf notebook paper. In Diane's neat handwriting, it read:
Things the Nanites Don't Help With
1. Metal detectors (need to fix asap!!!)
On the second day after signing the stack of papers that made him a provisional agent, Jake noticed the paper taped to an out-of-the-way countertop.
"What's this?" he asked Diane. "Are you tracking my weaknesses so you can bend me to your own will?"
Diane smiled at his joke. "No. There's only so much we can test on the mice, is all. You're bound to be exposed to a lot of things we haven't even thought about testing on them. Think of this as a personal Known Issues database. Any aspect of having nanites that affects your life in a way we don't know about goes on the list. We might not be able to fix everything, but the knowledge is important."
"Beats being locked up in a cage," he said, and added another item to the list.
2) Spicy foods
"I tried to eat couscous last night and the sauce about knocked me out," Jake explained. "And I used to love the stuff. I checked with the restaurant and they didn't change their recipe or their suppliers or anything."
"Huh. I'll see what I can do about reprogramming them to cool down about your sense of taste."
"I don't know. If you make the nanites stronger instead, I could have a lucrative career as somebody's poison tester."
Kyle wrote the next item on the list three days later while picking Jake up for his first date with the simulator.
3. Showing up to work on time!
"That's not my fault," Jake protested. "I set my alarm! I heard it ring! But then it turned off. I didn't even touch it. It must have been the nanites. They knew I wanted to turn the alarm off, so they did, and I fell back asleep."
"I don't care if the President himself turned it off. You're going to come in on time from now on." Kyle turned around and beckoned for Jake to follow. Jake followed.
The next day, Jake found an old-style mechanical alarm clock on his desk. When he asked Diane about it, she claimed she knew nothing about it.
Neither of them noticed Kyle's look of satisfaction when he saw Jake pick up the clock.
A bleary-eyed Jake added the next pair of items to the list after a particularly busy night at the deli below his new apartment.
4) Any chance these things can make me like the smell of fried peppers? Or at least ignore it?
4a) Being able to turn the super-hearing OFF when I want to would be a nice bonus.
"Jake, the nanites respond to you. I mean, they can't turn your senses off, but once you're more aware of them--" Diane said upon seeing the additions.
"I'm already plenty aware of them!"
"Once you're more aware of them, mentally speaking, they'll respond better to when you do and don't want to hear anything."
"You hear that?" Kyle said. "You just have to learn to focus. Speaking of which, we're due at the firing range in five minutes."
Jake rolled his eyes as soon as he was sure Kyle wouldn't see. "Lead the way, Master Kenobi."
"When you can pass the simulator blindfolded, then you can call me Master Kenobi," Kyle replied.
"See? I knew it! You're a closet geek!" Jake said.
"Or I went to see Star Wars in 1978 with everybody else my age."
"Sure. Whatever you say."
"Just get your butt into the firing range."
So they did.
The next item on the list appeared after Jake failed the simulator for the fourth time. Nobody saw Kyle write it, but it was in his handwriting.
5. Counting to twelve
Jake's reply came quickly:
Dirty Harry didn't even need to count to six.
Kyle wrote back:
Dirty Harry had a stunt double. And a script. You don't have either.
Neither of them said anything out loud about the exchange.
Jake became a full agent not long afterward, and for a while he was too busy redefining "normal" to add anything to the list. He hadn't gone on any big missions yet, though he had helped decrypt some odd-seeming e-mails that had turned out to be a series of love notes between the head of one of the big computer companies and his mistress.
Juicy details aside, he was bored. But at least he got to spend time with Sarah.
And then he and Kyle went to the Chinese embassy.
His entry the next morning -- and he'd been up until sunrise, so it was just cruel that he even had to be in that early -- wasn't about the mission, or following orders, or turning off his earpiece. It wasn't even about Sarah. It read:
6. Are the nanites supposed to keep me from getting drunk? Off-duty, of course.
Diane approached him that afternoon.
"Yeah, they are," she said.
Jake frowned slightly. "Why?"
"Well, they're not programmed for-- for that, specifically," Diane said, and Jake was grateful that she didn't spell out exactly what they were talking about. The list was one thing, but there were some things a giant room full of spies didn't need to know. "It's a side effect of their ability to heal you, really. They process a lot of things as toxins and immediately flush them out of your system."
"But can't you just whitelist it or something?" he asked.
"We could get around it if we really had to, but it'd take a lot of programming that we can't really afford while we're still busy trying to make sure the nanites don't kill you. Plus, it'd probably make you vulnerable to a lot of other things. Keep doing the list -- it's really useful, and some things are much easier fixes than others -- but you've got to understand, some things are lower priority than others."
Jake grunted noncommittally.
"Besides, it's probably better to keep them as they are. You might need that, uh, specific ability on a mission," Diane explained.
Diane turned to leave, stopped as if she had something more to say, decided not to say anything, and left Sat Ops.
The seventh item on the list was in Jake's handwriting, added just before he left for Kevin's wedding.
7) Public speaking still makes me nervous -- I'm worried I'll smash a table or something!
Once he got back and was given a clean bill of health, he made to cross it out, only to find that Diane had already done it.
Kyle wrote the next item on the list after the incident with the bank robber.
8. Following orders!
By the time Jake saw the note, Diane had added to the list's title. It now read:
Things the Nanites Don't Help With -- issues Jake has with the nanites, NOT issues YOU have with Jake.
For quite a while after that, the list remained untouched, as nobody wanted to incur Diane's wrath.
The next item was one of Jake's.
9) Not a bug, but you should document it -- I can tell when people I've known for a while are lying.
"Yes, ma'am," Jake said when Deputy Director Beckett called him into her office to question him about the entry. "And I didn't know you knew about the list."
"I make it my business to know what's going on with my people," Beckett said. "About how long have you known about this?"
"A few days. It's not all that useful, though. It seems to work only for people I've known for a while since I was, uh, enhanced. Once I know the person and I'm used to the sounds they make and the way they move -- the little things, like hearing a person's heartbeat or seeing them tense up -- I know when something's different," Jake replied.
"So it wouldn't work on a person you just met, or if the person were doing something to change their baseline--"
"No dice. And if somebody's really really good at lying, I think that makes it harder. At least, Kyle looked close to normal all the time we were undercover the other day, but he gets twitchy when he bluffs at poker. Most useless superpower ever," Jake said, smiling.
"Not necessarily. This may well prevent another incident like the one with Steve Clemens."
"You want me to spy on our own people?"
"Not at all. I just want you to alert me if you happen to see anyone lying about something they shouldn't be lying about."
Jake nodded. He could do that.
After the Santa Costa mission, they moved the list into a locked drawer to prevent certain people from getting at it, and updates became fewer.
The next few items on the list were self-explanatory.
10. EMPs -- program some kind of memory redundancy in event of pulse
11. Ditto for tracking
12. Some kind of security? Nanites should key themselves to their initial recipient? Something to avoid theft
Underneath which, Jake wrote:
10-12a) Or just get people to think you've encrypted them. I'd prefer all three, but in the meantime why not make it a little bit harder for that SOB?
"Good idea," Diane whispered to herself as she read Jake's addition. "Now you're thinking like a secret agent."
Jake was only a little surprised when he awoke from his explosion-induced coma and found an addition to the list, in Kyle's handwriting:
13. Pain management. If morphine does this to Jake, surely the nanites could do a better job without interfering with his healing.
Jake stood and smiled at the thought of Kyle caring enough to write this note. Really, he was more surprised at how unsurprising it was.
After a moment, he shook himself into motion and had the new coffeemaker pour a fresh cup for Kyle.
Nobody added to the list again until after Jake's self-induced upgrade. Jake unlocked the drawer early one morning after an obviously sleepless night and added:
14) Note to any future nano-enhanced agents: the nanites don't let you forget things. Not even things you desperately want to forget.
15. Nanites do not prevent a person from turning himself purple. Nor do they help get rid of the color.
Kyle laughed softly as he added to the list, which attracted Diane, who'd been working with one of the lab mice. She read the entry over his shoulder.
"He did what? How?"
"It's OK. Everything's fine, Diane," Kyle said. "He just looks like he's been holding his breath for way too long."
"What happened? Tell me."
"Well, we were chasing some guys who'd been on our watch list for a while. They ended up leading us into a dye factory. One of them shot at Jake and ended up exploding the vat of dye next to him."
Diane rolled her eyes. "And let me guess. The dye was purple."
"And now he is too. At least this was in West Virginia and not somewhere we'd have had to fly home."
"Where is he?" Diane asked.
"I dropped him off at his apartment, after we stopped by the local pharmacy and bought every single soap and skin scrubber they have. We tried the shower at the hotel, but it didn't do much good. The water pressure was pretty low."
"Damn. At least he's OK. And the dye should wear off, eventually. Hopefully not before he gets back into the office."
"Oh, don't worry. I got a picture on my phone. Just promise not to share it with all of Sat Ops. Or anyone. Ever," Kyle said, with the look on his face he usually reserved for getting criminals to talk.
"Cross my heart," Diane said.
Entries on the list became less common after that, not because of fewer interesting things happening, but because everybody was finally getting used to his new life.
Item sixteen was another one of Jake's.
16) Electrical farms = OW. They make my ears hurt and my skin itch.
Oh, Diane thought when she read it. So that's what that spike in his readings was.
17) Vocabulary: easy to learn when you have an enhanced memory. Pronunciation: still a challenge.
"In all fairness," Kyle said, "your pronunciation was great right up until you asked him to 'fart again.' And he was very understanding of your mistake."
Jake thought he might be able to laugh about that in the morning. In the meantime, it was going to go on the list.
The next items on the list were written after the first time post-nanites that Jake got to visit his parents. They also marked the bottom of the first sheet of paper.
18) My parents' dog doesn't recognize my scent anymore.
19) Their cat suddenly won't leave me alone. (Conclusion: Nanites are weird, but pets are weirder.)
"That's it?" Kyle asked Jake after he read the entries. "No 'the nanites don't help me lie to my parents about what I do for a living'? No 'I can't walk in their house because of the creaky floorboards'?"
"Nope. I didn't even use them to fix their computer. All they needed was a virus scan and a defrag," Jake said.
"Good job," Kyle replied. "I know it's tough to lie like that to people you love."
"Yeah, it is. But I'm getting used to it. And it's gotten easier to handle."
"It does. And I always knew you could do it, you know."
"You were good at hiding it," Jake replied.
"I had to be. Great agents aren't the ones who get coddled early on," Kyle said. "They're the ones who learn that they have to discover their own merits instead of being told what they are."
"I certainly did that."
"You did. And you did it well," Kyle said, and started to leave to refill his coffee.
"Kyle?" Jake asked, just as Kyle was almost out the door.
"Don't mention it," Kyle said, and they left together.