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Re: Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang

Gatac posted in Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang on 2019-10-19 17:34:32
"Agreed," Hug'sh says. "Even if we do nothing, we cannot predict what events might transpire that lead to the hostages coming to harm. Their safety is our top priority - and their rescue will, I hope, embolden people everywhere to stand up."

"After that, I believe we may want to tackle Ibash. From what I have heard in the briefing, it strikes me that there is little historic precedent for a five-way split of power. If the corruption is truly as far-spread as reported, then those five yard bosses must be devious people indeed. This does make it more difficult to gain breathing room, but bears one important advantage: liars and cheats do not trust other people."


He smiles.

"Imagine the surprise when I place a call to them all and inform them that one of them - to be determined by further research - has secretly agreed to provide the Free Wherren with spacecraft, at appropriately extortionate prices. Which would be all fine and good and not worth the fuss if they had delivered after taking our money. Instead, I will report that they have absconded with our payment and not replied to our messages, leaving us with no choice beyond this...escalation. And, I will threaten, a report of the scheme to the Imperial authorities, who I am sure would take the provision of war materiel to a hostile nation as something that cannot be overlooked."

He turns to Luis.

"Provided we can doctor up some supporting documents to strengthen our claims, we should be able to play off their paranoia and set a few dominos a-tumbling. This way, we leave most of the skulduggery to the local - ahem - experts and watch them tear each other down. The resulting chaos should create plenty of opportunities to tip the scales further in our favor."

Re: Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang

e of pi posted in Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang on 2019-10-19 17:13:34
Luis leans forward during the three briefings as Paul runs down the targets. "They all seem like they're splashy and likely to be influential, though in different ways. It strikes me, though, that Grinacanne seems to need our help first. It's an unstable situation with a lot of local lives at risk. Someone needs to hit that camp and liberate the hostages, but do it before those four quads can do anything to the hostages in response. If we can pull it off, we have the local Steward in our debt along with other locals, and the Bashakra'i would be well positioned to turn that into a push for massive local support and all-out revolution. However, if the situation goes wrong before we can get there or if an attempt to liberate the hostages goes wrong, it could turn completely the other way, with the Steward and locals blaming us, and seriously impairing local operations. Ibash is stable with no active threats, and while Aikoro is seeing active damage to the planet, damage to lives appears to be more limited."

He looks to Onas. "I say we need to know what local Gate security is like for getting onto Grinacanne, local transport to help us get to the camp and run recon, then assistance to be ready to get the hostages transported to safety and carefully returned to their families while getting ready for a unified push in the aftermath of liberating the camp. Is that within local resources?"

Re: Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang

punkey updated in Jade Imperium - Came To Make A Bang on 2019-10-19 08:46:30
Bello seems to be very satisfied with Paul’s training - by the time the whole of the 815 are in their briefing room, Bello is just seated off to one side while Paul shuffles a few folders around on the holo built into the table. He even stands straight up as he waits for everyone to settle in, looking for all the world like, well, like Onas’ husband but Bello’s protogé.

“I just want to make it clear that I think you’re biting off more than you can chew here,” Paul says.
“You’re even starting to sound like Bello,” Ngawai cracks from her seat against the wall.
“If by that you mean ‘sensible and not looking to get a bunch of you killed’, then I’ll take that as a compliment,” Paul says. “Hopefully you decide to just kill one or two of these people, but as has been made clear to me that the 815 are beyond any accountability, so just do what you want.”
”Feel better now?” Swims-the-Black grunts.
“A bit,” Paul says, and claps his hands together. “All right, let’s lay this out.”

----

Ibash could take the award for “Most Average Imperial World” in a walkoff. Population just under 2 billion, climate not too wet for deserts, not too hot for forests, classic temperate world from the first big push that gave Expansion their name. The main thing they’re known for is raw materials and shipbuilding - the system has an extensive asteroid belt just beyond Ibash’s orbit, and nearly a quarter of the Imperium’s skimmers and a third of the civilian ships come from the Ibash yards and fab facilities. Nothing military, nothing too strategically important, but still plenty of lats flowing around, which gives the system the perfect combination of plenty of money and lax oversight to breed corruption.

Oh, and what corruption has grown. What Bello’s network estimates started as simple cooperation to loosen up rules keeping mining and shipbuilding separate and reduce taxes has turned into a full on five-membered cabal that has the whole star system under their thumbs. The heads of the five shipyards, Ralon Toa, Arlomai Teon, Nana Vaoth, Hoa Yarruis, and Zaakon Quaj, started out “taking leadership roles” in the mining industria in return for hefty “consulting fees”, directing the raw materials direct to their concerns, and then reselling the excess themselves rather than through the mining concerns, bypassing Imperial quotas and price controls in the process in return for hefty “consulting fees”. Now, their control has grown beyond just mining and shipbuilding: they control the trade going through the Gateways (gotta make sure it serves the “concerns of Ibash”), they run protection rackets and control the industrium certifications (is that business truly serving Ibash if it’s not serving them?), and have the Kansat in their pocket as well as a reputation amongst the less-scrupulous mercenaries as a place where the jobs might be dirty but they pay well and there’s always more. Basically, a lat doesn’t move from one pocket on Ibash to another until they get a piece of it.

Normally the Imperium would round this little cabal up with a few quads of Turai and they’d be dragged out in front of the Steward’s office and executed for seditious economic influence, but they’ve been smart. Aside from making sure the Steward gets enough to look the other way, they keep outside appearances all in tip-top shape. The resources demanded by Napai are on time and on quota, the deliveries from the yards and forges keep on going, and the cabal is very careful to not traffic in anything specifically outlawed. It’s about as above board as illegal market collusion and racketeering can be, and combine that with the non-descript nature of the system, the Imperium never has a reason to give it a second glance amongst the thousand other worlds they have to worry about. What does the Imperium care if the local industria are terrified of having their businesses burned down and their family members kidnapped, or how many people disappear after trying to get word out? The Bashakra’i have a healthy network on Ibash thanks to all this corruption and fear, but with the utter domineering focus that the cabal puts on controlling every aspect of Ibash, they don’t have any opportunity to make a move.

The solution is simple - kill the head (or heads, in this case) and the beast will die. But considering they own the Kansat, have their own separate mercenary army, and run every inch of the system from the orbital Gateway to the ground, it’ll be easier said than done.

----

The planet of Grinacanne is hot, dry, and has roughly 500,000 people living a hard existence on its surface. It’s been a hotspot for the Bashakra’i for the last few years - the planet’s wealth of heavy metals and rare elements due to the extensive volcanic activity the planet experiences makes it a valuable resource but also mean a large population of lower-class workers in tough conditions, which makes it a prime target for Bashakra’i influence and infiltration. Controlling Grinacanne would give the Bashakra’i their first revolution and would also solve their resource and cash flow problems for the foreseeable future, while the Imperium both doesn’t want to lose the resource flow and definitely doesn’t want to give the Bashakra’i the win. This means that both sides have invested heavily in the struggle to overthrow the government on Grinacanne.

The planet has more or less broken up into a patchwork of areas either directly under Imperial control, or nominally under Imperial control that the Turai conspicuously avoid patrolling. It hasn’t erupted into full-blown war (mostly because if it did, the Bashakra’i would lose), mostly skirmishes surrounding the few Imperial raids into Bashakra’i territory. The planet’s business keeps on going, but the Bashakra’i keep on peeling away neighborhoods and loyalties. It’s usually not more than a day on planet before they make their intro to any new workers. The Imperium does what it can to maintain control, but Grinacanne has been a losing cause for the better part of a year now for them.

That is, until two months ago. As a part of Emperor Thrax’s “get tough on terrorists” campaigns, a whole hand of Turai (a hand being five digits, a digit being four sections, and a section being six quads for a grand total of 480 Turai) were sent there with the expressed purpose of crushing any Bashakra’i cells on the planet. They proceeded to do what the Imperial Turai do best - kick in doors, round up people on no evidence, and execute anyone they can link to the Bashakra’i. That alone would be bad enough for the rebellion there, but given how poorly the population at large is reacting, it could also be just what the medicae ordered for the start of a real revolution - if the Turai were just normal military thugs.

Instead, four quads, personally selected by the hand’s Rav-Odun, have been rounding up families of the community leaders to keep them in line - Steward included, just to be safe. These quads have been authorized to start running down a very long list of loved ones, friends, and associates of anyone even remotely of influence in Grinacanne’s city. As much as the people of Grinacanne want the Imperium out, they want their families to live more. And so the rebellion is caught between a rock and a hard place; too high a threat to not move to open warfare, but no support from the people until the threat to their families and friends are out of danger. The four death quads live in a segregated encampment out in the desert, moving around daily to keep the rebels from mounting a rescue mission. Temporary shelters means no emplacements, but it also means having to hunt down the base, eliminate the patrols, and kick the tent flaps open before it turns into a bloodbath.

----

Things have not exactly gone smoothly on Aikoro since the 815 last visited the planet. The escape of the Akamu and the terrorists on board - not to mention all the damage and havoc wreaked by your escapades - lead to the removal of the planet’s native-born Steward and her replacement with someone from off-world. The new Steward, Aksa Olona, differs from the old Steward in one very key way: he has zero interest in maintaining the natural splendor of Aikoro when there’s resources to be captured instead. The beautiful picturesque mountains and forests, well, that’s plenty of wood and resources to be harvested, and it’s about high time Aikoro stopped being one of those lazy, layabout tourist worlds and truly become a productive member of the Imperium.

To that end, the Steward has brought in the latest large-scale harvesting automation. Fifty-foot-tall gantries to harvest the trees and cut them down for wood, giant crawler-diggers that whittle mountains from the top-down into their constituent components, and vast streams of automated loader/haulers to carry it to the ports off-world. In the last six months alone, over 10,000 square kilometers have been stripped bare and mined smooth. The Aikoro paradise forests are literally being paved flat.

This, not unreasonably, has agitated the locals quite a bit. Several interest groups sprang up in response, first to petition the Steward to change course, then to condemn and organize against the decisions, and then after the arrests and re-educations, the majority of the surviving groups have all separately contacted the Bashakra’i to ask for aid in saving their planet. Keeping the Imperium from strip-mining the beauty and nature of a world and shipping it off strikes an obvious chord with the Bashakra’i, and they’ve been working the last month or so to figure out a good way in.

The main obstacle - there’s no one easy target to strike. The Bashakra’i excel at making corrupt bureaucrats and bloodthirsty Turai dead, but almost all of this system of environmental destruction is automated. There’s no one central node to strike and no hand on the controls. The Steward simply selects an area to be processed, and away the drones go. There’s enough Turai there to slow the kind of massed manpower attack long enough for the Needleships in orbit to come to bear, and the system is simply too large for smaller acts of sabotage to really make a dent. Let it never be said that the Bashakra’i don’t like the classics - they already looked into simply killing the Steward and making it clear that he died for his crimes against the planet, but Thrax likes the idea of taking Aikoro and “making something useful out of it”, so the next one will probably pick up right where he left off. The Bashakra’i are stuck, and really looking for a big idea to shake things up.

----

“So, there you have it,” Paul says. Onas has since joined the briefing, and is standing behind his husband. “You wanted big problems, these are our three biggest. Hopefully, you see the wisdom in taking on maybe just one of them, given that you want to do this within the next week.”
“If you have any questions on what we can supply, I can answer them,” Onas says. “Between Paul and myself, we’re fully up to speed on all three of these.”
Brinai and Bello sit together off to the side. “As much as Paul and Bello would object...I think now is the time to remind the Imperium what this alliance, and especially what the Bashakra’i, can do if we don’t let the Narsai’i dictate our goals,” Brinai says. “We have dreamed too small as of late. It’s time to make a splash.”

Re: Shadow Warriors

Gatac updated in Shadow Warriors on 2019-10-17 18:38:31
You make it about two thirds of the way back to the palace when Matsumoto signals for a halt; not that you have much time to spare, but the horses are spent and what wounded could be carried away need their wounds tended to. You dismount for the moment and help Matsumoto's men set up on a hill close to the road. Several men look like they won't make it through the night, their wounds deep and rotten, but they hardly complain as Matsumoto's surgeons browse through the lot and go on to save what can be saved, trying to get as many of the wounded back on their feet as possible.

"You must hurry on without us, I fear," Matsumoto tells you. "Heavens willing, we will be at the palace in time to flank the demons."
"Father, I cannot permit you to to leave yourself so vulnerable," Yukio says. "What if the shadow army falls upon you here?"
Matsumoto smiles grimly. "Even better," he says. "Then we will buy you as much time as we can."
"Father..." Yukio begins. But she can't bear to continue, staring at him instead.

Matsumoto nods. Then, he hands off his sword to his retainer and walks up to Yukio, drawing her into a deep hug.

"I have always been proud of you, Yukio," he whispers to her, tears forcing their way from his eyes. "Never more than today."
"I will avenge you," she whispers back.
"No, you won't," he says. "Yukio, I beg of you, obey me one last time. Do not let me cloud your thoughts. You must...you must do more than win today. You must be more than ready to die. You must be ready to live."
"...I don't know if I can," Yukio says.
"Funny how all we were taught at the academy was about death, isn't it?" Matsumoto says. "You are what I was never brave enough to be. You are kind, and uncertain, and desperately in love. Do not run away from that now."
Yukio heaves a big sigh, threatening to collapse. But then she stiffens her back, draws new breath and straightens up. "I love you, father," she says, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"And I love you, daughter," Matsumoto replies.

The two separate and Yukio turns away, striding over to Kirika, where the freshest horses have been saved for the two of them.

"Let's go, dearest," Yukio says.
Kirika looks at Matsumoto - he’s trying to put on a brave face, but he knows that he is throwing his life and the life of his men on the fire to save time for Yukio, Toshi, and herself. She turns to Yukio, who knows the exact same thing and is trying not to let on how much this might exhaust the last bit of strength she has. And she looks over her shoulder, back to the advancing horde, and feels the power and strength surge in her again. Her tattoos only glow slightly brighter, but she feels like she could slice through a forest and punch a hole in a mountain if it was what it would take to set things right.

Kirika looks back to Yukio. “You should stay here and help your father and his men,” she says. “I will buy you enough time to make it back to the castle.”
“If they overwhelm us here,” Yukio says, “then they win.” Her voice seems distant, but resolved. “And who knows what is happening at the palace right now? No, we...we have to go there. That is where the battle will be.”
“The battle will be where I am,” Kirika replies. “I will bring them to me.” She kisses Yukio. “I will carry the load, love.”
Yukio closes her eyes and leans into the kiss. It is a desperate one, with the salty taste of tears following it. “If,” she breathes. “If, perhaps, you could...draw them to the West, and then to the palace?” She looks at Kirika. “You would do much to protect us. But you need not win this battle alone.” She puts a hand on Kirika’s shoulder. “This is our fight. Not yours.”
“I have to do this alone, Yukio,” Kirika says, her voice hoarse. “I will see you at the palace.” She looks down to Matsumoto. “I am counting on you to get her there, Matsumoto-sama.”
Matsumoto bows his head. “It will be done, Shadowguard,” he says. “And if the last drop of my blood should be spilled beforehand and the Heavens and the Hells themselves come to claim me, I shall be fighting them off, too.”
Kirika nods, and looks back to Yukio. “To the West, then to the palace,” she confirms. “Tell Shira that is where they will be, and to not hold back for my sake.”
“We will be ready,” Yukio says. Then, she pulls Kirika in for another kiss. “Come back to me,” she says. “Your Empress commands it.”
“And I will obey, Empress,” Kirika replies, unable to hold back a bit of a smirk. One more kiss shared, and she bolts off, leaving the horse behind - not that she needs it with how fast she finds herself running.

---

After Kirika leaves and Yukio goes to survey the site and set up defenses, Matsumoto turns to Toshiba, who has restocked the thunder-gonne with what few shells he didn't take on the previous assault. Desperately few of them remain...and he hopes Ueki can pull one more trick out of his sleeve for the battle.

"Oni," Matsumoto says. "You must make haste as well."
"In a moment," Toshiba says. With no more words, he refills the bandolier slung over his chest.
"Perhaps I am mistaken, then," Matsumoto says, "but did I not see you freeze up after the beast disappeared?"
Toshiba remains silent.
"What did you see?" Matsumoto asks.
"Nothing," Toshiba lies.

---

It wasn't nothing, of course. An endless void without substance, light or sound...was still not nothing. A poet like Toshiba could appreciate that distinction. An immortal like the Blue Oni could suffer the experience. Suffer...Toshiba felt like he could finally plumb the depths of the Blue Oni's suffering through the ages. Cursed to know neither the Heavens nor the Hells, cursed to roam the shadows of empire and see to its continued prosperity through means most dishonorable. All because a thief had sworn it so many lifetimes ago. Was the foolishness of humans truly this powerful a force in the world?

"Such arrogance," Master Sinan told him, the voice echoing in his head. "Must it all be about you? How can a single being look at the world through so many eyes and still only see their own reflection?"

No, Toshiba protested, that was not an all what this was about. His pain and privations were real, damn it, not to be swept away with some highfalutin' babble about perspective. How could he not see this from his own point of view? What was he supposed to do? Sit back and give it all for the greater good? Wasn't that the whole story of what the Blue Oni had done, time and again, only to be mocked now? It wasn't -

"Fair?" Sinan asked. "Of course it's not fair. Did I teach you nothing? The only fair fight is the one you lose. Do you think the universe plays by different rules?"

Yes it does, Toshiba said. The Heavens and the Hells were proof enough that there was order in the worlds beyond.

"Order is not justice, another lesson you refuse to learn," Sinan said. "Truly, your self-enforced ignorance must be something like a magical power. Leave it to the apes to believe a falsehood so strongly that they can bend the world to their desires."

I know who you are, Toshiba said. I know what you are. Yokai. Rotbeast. You spit ceaseless prattle of our shortcomings, but nothing you say will justify the evils you have done for your own petty reasons. Everything started with your own attempt to defy the order -

"It started with humans craving power beyond their station!" Sinan screeched, his voice fading into something darker.

And you took it upon yourself to punish them and all others, then, Toshiba said. But you achieved nothing. Your pawns are defeated. Your scheme unmade.

"THEN I WILL JUST HAVE TO SETTLE FOR TORTURING YOU MYSELF," the yokai thundered, dropping its disguise. "I HAVE BROUGHT YOU TO THIS PLACE WHERE ALL YOUR GUILE AND YOUR PHYSICAL PROWESS MEAN NOTHING, APE. HERE YOU WILL LEARN THE FINAL, TERRIBLE LESSON: YOU. DO NOT. MATTER."

And then, there was light. A pale blue glow, at first, but as it drew closer, it cast its rays upon the nothingness, revealing shape where there had been none before. Toshiba looked down to see the Oni's armor, empty...yet still moving in accordance with his thoughts.

"You are quite the tiresome fellow," the Oracle said, a soft drone that filled the entirety of the measureless cavern. As it spoke, the glowing spirit of the dragon traced a path through darkness, leaving a bit of its glow behind as ghostly scales dropped from its body. "Did I not tell you you would lose, in the end?"

"YOU PROMISED ME REVENGE!" the yokai said.

"I said you would see the ones who tried to use you poorly come to a bitter end and I should say you have," the Oracle said. "One can get a most fond desire and still lose in the end. If you did not understand that, then I feel only pity for you, yokai. If you understood the order as well as you claim you do, you would give up now, before you are ended."

"YOU DO NOT SCARE ME, DRAGON-GHOST!" the yokai said. "YOU'RE JUST AN ECHO! YOU HAVE NO POWER."

"If by that you mean that I have no parlor tricks to inflict injury upon your form here, then you are quite correct," the Oracle said, swirling around Toshiba. "I gave that up a long time ago to prolong my own existence...and to help one hopeless romantic. A thief, so grieved by his own inadequacies that he wished to be better. He was never perfect, I should admit, but none of us are."

"...IMPOSSIBLE!" the yokai cried. "YOU MADE THIS...ABOMINATION?"

"I helped many mortals, some more than was wise," the Oracle said. It dove straight through the Blue Oni's armor, shedding its glowing scales and the rest of its substance as it did so. "My time in this world is long past. As is yours, Blue Oni. Toshiba Shiretoko, you shall have the only boon I can still grant you...freedom."

And then there was light again, and a battlefield, and Kirika and Yukio about to kill one another. Toshiba knew, all too clearly, what to do. With his hands moving like lightning, he caught two blades in mid-strike and held on.

---

"Nothing at all," Toshiba confirms. "But all will be right, Matsumoto-sama. When this day is over, the past shall finally be at peace...and the empire made whole."
"You seem quite confident in this," Matsumoto says.
Toshiba smirks. "Call it a hunch."

Re: Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

punkey posted in Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3 on 2019-10-17 07:23:25
There will always be noodles. At the end of everything, as the universe blinks out of existence, there will be two stands - one of them selling noodles, and one of them selling grilled meat on a stick.

Damn I’m hungry.


It’s only a couple extra stops down the local transit line to the 815’s favored noodle shop from the docks, and so Angel takes advantage and heads down there, carapace and all. The man behind the counter - does he ever go home? Does he live above the shop? - smiles as he sees Angel walk up, helm snapped to his hip and beamer on his back.

“Mr. Kesh! Good to see you today,” he says. “The usual?”
Angel smiled back, fishing a few Lat coins out of his pocket he kept for those occasions - there was something that felt wrong about paying for a bowl of noodles out of an effectively infinite account. “Yep. How’s business?”
“Oh, same old same old,” the man said, pulling some drying noodles off of a rack behind him and tossing them into a basket in hot water. He gives the basket a bit of a shake before peeling off some scrofa flank and green vegetables and tossing them with a splash of red oil into something that looks remarkably like but is not called a wok. “Coming back from somewhere or going to somewhere?”

Angel shrugs, a combination of operational security and genuine lack of certainty regarding the actual answer to that question. “In transit.” He takes the resulting bowl, admitting to himself that he’s glad that while the wok is a universal construct that chopsticks aren’t, raising it slightly in acknowledgement. “Thanks.”
“Enjoy, Mr. Kesh,” the man says, returning to his prep work.

Right on time as the first mouthful of spicy noodles and scrofa enters Angel’s mouth, the vox clipped to his ear chimes gently. “Connection from Erika.”
Angel rolls his eyes, letting out a muffled “Connect” as he swallows a slightly too-hot mouthful. “Erika. Been meaning to call you. There are no tacos on Atea. This is a major failing on humanity’s part. This is why we’re losing the war.”
“Franchise tacos to Bashakra’i,” Erika notes down. “Everything went well on your end, boss?”
“You mean besides the whole ‘The Imperium just handed China a bunch of rail guns, they went power mad, slaughtered thousands of people, and the best the Turai can muster is ‘gauche’?”
“But you’ve got a way to kick them out, right?” Erika asks.
Angel looks around for a moment to make sure he’s not being watched too closely. “Remember what I said about losing the war? We’re trying to put something together, but it’ll be a bit, and it’ll be dicey.”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. “’Jesus Christ,’” Erika swears. “Okay, okay. That’s...that’s something. What are we going to do in the meantime? What’s the plan? This whole ultimatum from the Sheen and Wherren and Bashakra’i turns into a pumpkin in two days, and after what you sent back about the NSA and all of that, not to mention the rest of the world, it’s sounding like things are getting a bit hot here, boss.” Erika sighs. “What do you want to do?”

“What I want to do is the part of your bosses life that involves a lot of firearms and blood and you thinking hard about whether or not you want the answers to questions.” Angel sighs slightly, using the pause to take another bite of his meal. “But from a corporate perspective? I know I’ve been leaning on your heavily, and the bad news is that isn’t going to stop. The two most pressing things seem to be here on Earth stepping up and doing what we can to make up for the sudden shortfall in manufacturing capability that’s going to come from China cutting itself off. There’s a void there, and I want people remembering that we stepped into fill it on reasonable terms.”

The second thing takes a little longer to voice. “We also need to get with the Bashakra’i. See about getting some space on Atea. If not, at least on Whirr. We need to start thinking about what happens if this goes south, and people like...well...you...suddenly need to very much not be on Earth.”
“Uhh, right,” Erika says. “We’ll...you’ll need to talk to your brother about getting a lot more nanoforges to Narsai if we’re going to replace…China. And we’ll need to hire people to run them, probably Bashakra’i. That’ll make Brinai happy, and she’ll probably be more willing to give us space on her ship if we’re going to be using it to help her people become more self-sufficient.” She takes a deep breath. “All right. And...the rest of it?”
“The rest of it is you’re not going to be hearing from me for awhile in all likelihood,” Angel says. “Right now the Imperium is content to use this as a propaganda victory by the looks of it - a toe-hold on the homeworld, a compliant regime that happens to be bloodthirsty enough that they can be used as an illustration of why this whole war is justified in the first place. We...need to counter that. And that means killing important people, publically, in places where they’re supposed to feel safe.” He pauses again, thinking. “Hire as many Bashakra’i as you need, but if it’s optional, see if you can hire a fair number of Terrans as well. Stupid as this is when you’re talking about battleships potentially orbiting Earth, ‘new nanomanufacturing jobs for American workers’ plays well with people we need to play well with.”

“And Erika? I’m going to need to talk to my brother.”
“Well, you have his code,” Erika says. “I’ll talk to Brinai, start the ball rolling there.”
“Thanks. Call me if you hit any speed bumps I can help smooth over.”

Angel pauses for a moment. “One more thing. Start putting together a list of every plane, tank and weapon’s manufacturer that it won’t be politically impossible to work with, and see what you can do about getting them in a room face to face. Earth’s going to need an entirely new suite of weapons systems, and as much as I’d like to sell them all, I think that’ll freak some folks out. But if nothing else, they’re going to need a wakeup call about how Abrams tanks aren’t nearly as impressive as they were before we walked through the Gate.”

"Will do, boss," Erika says, and breaks the connection.

---

The call with Erika out of the way - and noodles consumed - Angel makes his way back to the 815 Annex and punches in Gorlan’s code, waiting for the few moments while several layers of Sheen-designed encryption and obfuscation algorithms obscure where the call is originating from - as well as from who.

He can’t help but smile slightly when Gorlan’s face appears - in his office. Shows how well the “take things easier” efforts are going; at least it’s at home. “Brother. It’s good to see you. It’s been too long. How much have you heard about what’s happening here?”
“Maq has kept me up to date as best he can through his couriers,” Gorlan says. “What is going on...it is horrible. Tell me you and your friends have a plan.”
“We do. Well...we have the beginning of one. But part of that is opening up a new front, not letting Earth politics dictate the tempo of what’s going on. Which is why I’m calling. I’m thinking about relocating to Hedion. Permanently.” Angel holds up his hand. “But I want you to think about that first. It’ll mean more risk for you. For everyone.”
“Brother, the Ethics Gradient and Wandering Gallows hanging over our home were not enough to scare me off,” Gorlan says. “The staff misses having you around, and I’m sure your paramour wouldn’t mind seeing more of you either.” He smirks at that, a smile that turns wistful.
“Having you finally living here, with me, in our house...it’s what I’ve wanted for months.” He pauses. “It’s what Tora wanted. Us, together.”

“Fair. It’s what she wanted. It’s what I want. But I wanted to give you the chance. And I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. The last few months have been...frustrating.” Angel didn’t want to particularly admit that his mood had turned actively murderous. “A change of scenery and good company will do me good. Erika will probably be in touch about transferring some things, but I’ll make the arrangements. There’s something Garrett and I have to take care of before hand but...I’ll be home soon.”
Gorlan smiles. "I'll have Zarohan start stockpiling your favorites and let the staff know to freshen up your part of the house. And I’ll bring on some extra help to finish your training area in the basement.” He pauses. “Anything else you need or want me to handle?”
“Knowing Faxom-Io they’re going to get wind of this about five minutes after we get done speaking,” Angel remarks dryly. “If you could handle the fallout from that if there is any so I don’t throttle a bureaucrat on your side of the Gate that would probably go well. That and set aside a night in your calendar for polishing off several bottles of very nice Terran alcohol?”

“They’ve been wanting an update on Kesh Holdings, anyway,” Gorlan says. “They’re happy with the infrastructure purchases for now, but the real lats are all in the manufacturing partnerships, so they want to know when Kesh Holdings will be making arrangements with Narsai’i companies. Your work getting Boronai moved off of Haar’aiesh and bringing the Bashakra’i on board has bought you a lot of time, but there’s a lot of interest in getting Narsai really up and running. I’ve tried to make the point that this isn’t just another Imperium world with a ready industrium base, but…”
“I’ve got some plans in that direction,” Angel replies. “A little bit awkward, because we can’t flood the market, and some of those ideas involve blowing up Mantas, but we’re reaching the point where Narsai pretending it’s industrial base matters is untenable. Grim as it is, this fiasco in China’s probably pushed that up.”
“Well, it’s not like we need to worry about the Imperium confiscating Kesh Holdings for illegal trans-Gateway coordination,” Gorlan remarks grimly. “We just need to find someone local to hand off to, if we’re to avoid owning the whole First-damned planet.”
“Yeah,” Angel says. “Trying to build more industrial partnerships. You might also have to sit through some tech demos to convince the folks who make airplanes and tanks that they’re hopelessly outclassed. I apologize in advance.”
Gorlan nods. “Full pressure, got it. It was going to come to this eventually, better do it now while we both have the time. What are you thinking we prop up first?”

“After I indulge in a small amount of shockingly graphic violence to distract the ravilars...” Angel shrugs. “Honestly, it’ll probably be infantry small-arms first. Pilots and tank drivers are specialists, it’ll take them time to retrain. But as you’ve seen, higher tech versions of ‘Shooty End Towards Enemy’ are pretty easy to adapt.”
“Not enough widespread adoption for consumer lines?” Gorlan asks.
Angel smiles. “I’ll admit that’s not where my bias lies. But we’ve made some progress there too. There’s sort of an eloquent urgency to ‘The planet’s about to be invaded’ that I’m hoping pushes past some barriers. But I think Kesh Pharmaceuticals is going to be able to make some inroads with a lot of local partners. Erika tells me the ‘small company develops it, sells the patent, someone else makes it’ model is already pretty much how things run, so it won’t be much of a shift for that small company to be...well...a really big company.”
Gorlan sighs. “I told the Board that trying to push voxes on a planet hundreds of years behind the curve in telecom was a poor goal, but…” He shakes his head. “Arms, biomedical, infrastructure and construction will make them happy enough, but just be ready to be asked when we can expect the Narsai’i to be wearing the latest generation of our vox hardware.”
“It’ll come,” Angel sighs. “Some Marine coming home will be wondering why that cool headset isn’t available on the civilian market, and we’re not so far behind that we won’t be able to figure out how to put Candy Crush on it. It’s mostly a political thing - change is scary, on Narsai or the Imperium - and it’s important we look like we’re playing nicely with the local kids. It’s important to me that we are playing nicely with the local kids. But this China thing will help there too - in addition to massacring a bunch of innocent people, they’ve also gone from the world’s largest electronics manufacturer to some sort of Alien-aligned rogue state.” Angel nods apologetically. “No offense.”
“Considering you are one of those Aliens now, none taken,” Gorlan replies with a smirk.

“So I’ve got Erika working on how we can step in there to help,” Angel says. “But that’s going to be a hard transition. You’re going to have people who on Narsai are highly educated specialists doing things that feel an awful lot like semi-skilled labor. But we’ll figure it out. We have to. Me and the Killbots can only hold off the Imperium for so long.”
Gorlan nods. “At least you figured out a way to make it work. How long do you figure before we can have the first nanoforge facility up and running?”
“Based on some reports I’ve seen, probably less than half a year,” Angel replies. “The land’s bought, the local government’s objections have been eased by some goodwill investment in schools and the like, it’s just a matter of getting them up, and getting our people training local specialists.”
“Then I know what you and I are doing for the next six months,” Gorlan says. “Come back safe from whatever it is you won’t tell me about, brother. It’ll be nice to work alongside you.”
“It’ll be nice to actually get a chance to work with you. This is...not my area of expertise,” Angel says.
“Considering you’ve brought two different worlds into our orbit and are making headway on the most reticent planet I’ve ever seen, I might be learning a thing or two from you,” Gorlan says with a smile. “You should give your assistant a raise, as well, and bring her with you when you return home. Asking for some instruction on how business really works here will also calm a few people down.”
“I’ll extend the invitation, and let her know that the pay bump is courtesy of my brother,” Angel says.
“Then I will see you both in…” Gorlan asks, trying to weasel a bit more info out of Angel.
Angel chuckles, shaking his head. “That’s classified.”
“Damn,” Gorlan says, laughing himself. “Well, your half of the house will be ready in a week, and the rest a week or so after that. Will that be quick enough?”
“That’ll be fine. I’m fast, but I’m not that fast.” Angel winks. “Be well brother.”
“Stay safe, brother,” Gorlan says, and disconnects.

Angel gives himself a couple minutes after the connection goes dark to sends a quick message to Erika.

Have a bag packed for when I get back, Gorlan’s invited you to Hedion and it’s probably time for you to meet the...other side of things...face to face. I’d suggest a good balance of business and evening wear. Also give yourself a 10% raise. He says I’m not paying you enough, and given your IRA is probably going to go weird for the next few years, I agree. ~ A.

Time for a nap before Garrett gets me entangled in...whatever it is he’s planning.

Re: Jade Imperium - The War At Home

punkey updated in Jade Imperium - The War At Home on 2019-10-17 06:05:39
Hugh raises an eyebrow. “Well, fuck me.”
Luis’s face forms a “WHAT?” that he is momentarily unable to enunciate. Finally, he manages to get out a single word. “...Sturgis?”
Hunter takes into account the neat surroundings, the Narsai’i features, and the countless encounters he’s had with clandestine and covert operatives. “Let me guess. Off the books extracurriculars with The Company?”
Sturgis looks surprised at the suggestion. “Uh, not quite.” He motions towards the kitchen. “Seriously, do you guys want something to drink? We’ve got juice and protein shakes in the cooler.” Sturgis walks into the kitchen, pulls four glasses off one of the many open storage shelves, pops open a panel on the counter-top, then pulls out a plastic container of a red fruit juice. He looks subtly different than Hugh and Luis remember him appearing when they last saw him - it must have been at least eight months ago, at the final prep for invading Boranai. He looks more athletic than before, and there’s a tattoo running out of his sleeve and down his right arm to his hand. But his hair is still the same short cut and his English still has that hint of Midwestern accent, not an Imperial one.

“I think...” Sturgis sighs and stops pouring drinks to brace himself on the counter, “I think I owe you guys an explanation as to what I’m doing out here - and why you don’t know about it.”
"We're all ears," Hugh says. "And I'll have some of that juice, please."
Sturgis carries the four glasses back to the table and sets them down before taking a seat himself. “Well...after the team that Onas and I lead captured the Needleship at the Boranai outsystem gate, we were ordered to hold position until we were relieved. That was two weeks later, and by that point in time...” Sturgis pauses to take a drink and ponder his next move, “well, by that point things were moving pretty fast on Earth and Boranai. I was told to stay behind on Boranai and wait for further instructions - and that’s the last I’ve heard from Earth. After a week of waiting, I decided to get more involved in helping stabilize relations between our military and the Boranai’i - and then all of a sudden it’s almost a month later, I’m wondering if I’m ever going to get word from Langley again, and then Brinai dials into my vox. She had heard that Boranai wasn’t doing too well, and said she was sending Onas back to Boranai to help out. And...”

Sturgis stops mid-sentence, looks back behind him towards the rest of the hab, then back at his glass. The business-like, get-the-job-done demeanor that Hugh and Luis remember is gone from his expression. “Okay. Let me start over. On the Needleship. Onas and I were playing gin, just bullshitting and passing the time, when I asked him about his life back home on Atea. He said he didn’t have much time for one, and when I joked that a guy like him should at least have a girl back there waiting for him, he replied, “Guess I haven’t found a man willing to wait around.’ And...well...fuck.” Sturgis looks at the others at the table, then just starts going point-by-point. “Okay, look. I’m a homosexual. Have been since I was a teen, just never told anyone, ever. And we connected on the Needleship, and then again when he came back to Boranai. We’ve been working and living together for seven months, and got married a little over a month ago, and that’s why I didn’t tell you, or Barnes, or Russell, or anyone else what I’ve been doing with Onas and keeping things on an even keel with the military and the Boranai’i.” He sighs and looks Hugh, Luis and Hunter in the eyes in turn, trying to read their reactions.

Hugh’s face reads like a combination of a shrug and a “Wait, that’s it?”, which is somewhat impressive when he’s moving neither his shoulders nor his mouth.
Hunter buries his face in his palm, relieved at least that there’s no terrible secret society to deal with, just one that dare not speak its name on Narsai. “It pains me how much sense that makes.”
Luis raises an eyebrow. “So...you’ve been running some deep-cover local network because you weren’t willing to tell anyone back home you were gay? You couldn’t have...just left that part out of the debrief?”
“And said what?” Sturgis asks. “I’ve been secretly working with the Bashakra’i for the last six months on an unauthorized operation because...you forgot to put me in your new address book? It’s not like they wouldn’t have noticed, either.” He raises his right hand to show the long scar across his palm and the portion of his tattoo winding down the back of his hand and in a ring around his ring finger. “Besides, you know what Russell would have done even if I hadn’t married Onas, you’ve worked with him. I’d be banished Earth-side just for working this operation without his say-so.”
Luis exchanges a glance with Hugh. “We’ve done slightly more than just work with him. How much have you heard about the situation Earth-side?”
“A fair amount, but we’re a week or so behind here, that’s what Onas is reading now.” Sturgis gets up and walks back towards what is probably the bedroom. “Onas, you can come out now.”

The Napai’i soldier follows Sturgis out of the bedroom, and instead of his usually gruff demeanor, the most eye-catching thing about him is the White Sox button-up jersey and blue jeans he’s wearing. “Brinai has sent us her collected information on the Narsai’i attempts to destroy the GRHDI and smear your names,” Onas says. ”The attacks are cowardly, but effective. I told Paul that I believe you can be trusted, but I certainly would not say the same for any other Narsai’i.” He takes Sturgis’ hand as he speaks. ”You have no idea how hard it was to convince him to even do this.” Onas gives Hunter a curious - and slightly threatening - look. ”But I do not know who this is. Stanhill, Verrill, can he be trusted?”
“Barnes hired him to translate what we’ve been doing into a doctrine they can teach others if the Congress can be convinced not to shut us down,” Luis says. “So far, he seems all right.”
”Yeah, he’s on the level,” Hugh adds.
”I should mention he’s not fluent in Imperial,” Luis says.
Onas bows slightly to Hunter. “Apologies. I was not aware that you do not speak Imperial.” His voice is deep, unlike his accent, which is miles better than that of Brinai or Bello. “I was just giving Stanhill and Verrill my thoughts on the attacks against the 815 and the GRHDI - and asking if you can be trusted.” The inquisitive look returns. “Can you be trusted?”

“Well, I’m well aware that I was brought in as a compromise, a neutral recorder of how things are. The longer I’m out here, the better a picture I get, but the more likely the odds are that someone will accuse me of going native. Ultimately, I have to find the truth, and translate it into a form that the Earthside military culture understands. This could be difficult. I think I can be trusted. But right now I’m mostly worried about getting the folks back home to trust me.”
Onas’ expression darkens as Hunter finishes speaking. “That is not what I asked. I agree with Brinai and Bello - if the Narsai’i wish to get rid of their best assets, that just means more for us. What I want to know is can you be trusted with Paul’s secret - the organization we’ve built and his becoming a Viiam’i?”
“Anonymity is not something I have a problem with,” Hunter replies. “Sources need protection, and this is a situation where a lot of things are better left shadowy. I am curious what exactly the Viiam’i are, though.”
Onas rolls up the sleeve on his right arm - revealing that not only does he have a matching tattoo trail running down his arm to a “ring” on his ring finger, but a very impressively detailed image of a chistled-looking man in Turai armor standing in protection of three Imperial citizens while explosions go off in the starry sky behind him. “The Viiam’i are an honor society that pays tribute to Viiam Manketani, a Turai that single-handedly stopped a pirate attack on Vou Anns more than five hundred years ago. The men who live in his image - honorable, brave, homo-sexual -” he stumbles over the word, “- and skilled fighters are invited to join. I was a proud member of the Viiam’i when I was in the Turai, and I deserted when what we were being forced to do stopped being in line with what Viiam would have done.”

Hugh’s facial expression makes clear that he listened to half of that and doesn’t intend to remember that part, either. “So, everything’s cool now?” he asks. Luis looks exasperated as Hugh clumsily tries to change the subject, but waits for the answer to the question.
Hunter thinks for a second, and asks, “You said that you deserted when you felt that the Turai were no longer in line with the ideals of the Viiam’i. How do honor societies work in the Turai, and how does allegiance to the society differ from allegiance to the Turai?”
“There was...disagreement.” A moment of sadness passes over Onas’ usually stoic face. “But I believed in the values that Viiam did before I joined the Turai, it was not just an excuse to get together with the men, drink and tell war stories. My allegiance was to the Viiam’i values, not the Hand that Guides and killing unarmed civilians.”
“I regret that you had to be in that position. Do many Viiam’i feel the same way?” Hunter asks.
“Not as many as I would like,” Onas says.
“Is that kind of honor society common?” Luis asks.
“For homo-sexual men, no, but there are others in the Turai for like-minded individuals. Most of them are more concerned with advancing their members up the ranks, or inducting their members into the Khiraba.” Onas looks like he ate a whole lemon with the word “Khiraba”.
“What are the more idealistic societies? And is there any sort of contact between active Turai and those who’ve gone over?” Hunter asks, thinking about means of splintering a fighting force of over 200 million.
“I will work on putting together a list, if you want,” Onas says. He looks less than pleased that this has turned from Sturgis’ big moment to be honest about who he’s become to a Q&A about Turai society, and gives Sturgis an apologetic look. Sturgis squeezes Onas’ hand in return before Onas looks back to Hunter. “And I can only say what happened to me - no. There is no contact. Ever.”

“I understand. It’s good to actually know who you are, and what you’re about.” Turning to Sturgis, Hunter asks, “and I’m fairly curious about how you came to join the Viiam’i. It sounds like you’ve been doing some pretty deep soul-searching, lately.”
“Onas inducted me as part of our marriage ceremony,” Sturgis says, and rolls up his own right sleeve to reveal a slightly different version of the same tattoo that Onas has. “He told me about Viiam’i values on the Needleship, and I asked to join on the spot.”
“Which was the first time Paul was honest about who he is,” Onas adds.
Sturgis smiles awkwardly. “Onas, Jesus fucking Christ.”
Onas puts an arm around Sturgis’ shoulder. “I am proud to see you become a better man, Paul. I will not hide that.”
Luis smiles at the two of them and says, “I’m glad that you two found each other.” However, the grin turns into a slight frown as he continues. “I can understand why you might be worried about how Russell or some of the others would take this. Have you been back to Earth since?”
“Well, no. But I had some of the Bashakra’i help me ship all the stuff out of my apartment to Boranai,” Sturgis says. “And I get all the White Sox games the same way, so, it’s not like I’ve needed to go back. But one of these days, I want to take Onas to a game at Comisky Park, so I’ll go back eventually.”
“Well, things have a habit of moving from impossible to inevitable pretty quickly back there. I don’t think it’ll be that long before you see one of those rare Chicago summer days that almost make the winter worth it.” Hunter smiles.
Sturgis smiles and nods. “Let’s hope so.”
“One question I am thinking about, though: what I report will probably contain some fragmentary truths that fit with what people already know. How well-known is it that the hidden power on Boranai are Viiam’i?” Hunter asks.
“Pretty well known, that’s been our cover,” Sturgis says. “Almost everyone thinks we’re just two disillusioned Turai.”
“Instead of just one,” Onas adds.
“Tei and a few others are the only ones who know the truth,” Sturgis finishes.
“That’ll work.” Hunter nods. “I mean, it’s more or less the truth. And sometimes more or less is the best you can get.”

Re: Jade Imperium - The War At Home

punkey updated in Jade Imperium - The War At Home on 2019-10-17 06:04:14
As they sit or stand near the two Humvees in the Boranai’i afternoon near the northern green zone checkpoint, Hugh, Luis and Hunter take in the lesson in planetary ecology that Boranai provides: Just because the outcome is similar does not mean there are not significant differences in the details. The persistent hint of that odd bubble-gum smell in the air (a byproduct of ancient microorganisms, according to the Keeper reports), the Boranai’i day is a full four hours longer than on Earth, but with the sole star in the system dimmer than that of Earth, the planet is merely a hot desert for the most part, rather than uninhabitable. This also takes sunglasses from being an absolute necessity to be able to cut through the brightness and glare of the desert surroundings to merely a comfortable luxury.

Elsewhere nearby, Angel, Davis, Swims-the-Black, Arketta and Zaef stand by, ready to spring into action in the event that this meeting turns into an ambush right away. The soldiers either sit in the Humvees or on the benches nearby, or are walking patrol around the vehicles. Children play in the road down the block and a few pedestrians walk by across the street - business as usual in the shops near the green zone and nothing to suggest any kind of drastic ambush, which is just enough to engender suspicion that’s exactly what’s about to happen.

A skimmer flies back from its second lap around the block and settles down next to the convoy. The soldiers immediately rush towards it and take up positions, shouting for the driver to shut down the vehicle and keep her hands where they can see them. As Hugh, Luis and Hunter are about to be rushed away by their escorts and squawks come over the vox from the various members of 815 on overwatch, Hugh sees through the clear dome on the skimmer that the woman behind the driver’s wheel is Tei. She gives Hugh a relaxed nod towards the soldiers, more "can you call off your goons" than "see you in Hell".

Hugh holds up his left hand balled into a fist, the universal sign for 'Hold up.' He then keys his vox. "All units, bogey is a friendly. Hold your fire." He steps forward, beam rifle slung across his chest. "Let me guess, you're here to take us to the real meeting place."
Tei smirks at Hugh. "Aren't you clever. You didn't really expect that the Viiam'i would just let you lead your Narsai'i friends to their door, did you?"
Hugh smirks right back. "No, but I did expect that they would honor the choice of meeting place. If they didn't want me to bring my friends, all they had to do was say that up front." He looks to Hunter. "Best kept in mind for future deals. For the sake of some goodwill, we'll come along."
Tei looks at the group. "I assume it's going to be you, 'Stan-hill' and the other one coming with us." She points at Hunter. "You're the only ones not shitting your pants."
"That's the deal," Hugh confirms with a nod. "We'll stay armed, though - after all, we don't know where you're taking us and how many friends you have waiting for us there. I hope that's agreeable."
Tei nods. "That's fair - as long as you leave your voxes and any tracking devices behind. It's not just for us - when I engage the EM shielding, it'll fry anything with an antenna. 'Stan-hill' will need to plug this in -" she tosses Hugh a small device that looks like it would fit into the jack in Luis' neck, "- and put a shield over his head."
"We're not wearing trackers, you can scan us if you want," Hugh says. "And we'll need at least one vox with us to call back in case there are strategic-level decisions to be made. We will keep that powered off and out in the open, though, so you can confirm we're not bugging the meet. If we do need to call in, we will tell you so you can shuttle us away from the meeting point. Okay?"
Tei digs around in her pocket and fishes out the small ring of another vox from her pants. "Got you covered." She cocks an eyebrow. "Well?"
Hugh's eyes narrow. He should insist on testing that vox, but things are tense enough as is. "Fine by me. Let's go."

Hugh turns to Hunter and Luis. "Last chance for second thoughts, guys. Anyone got an overwhelming feeling of incoming dread I should hear about?"
“Nope,” Luis says, shaking his head then points at the blocker (which he recognizes as a debugger set to monitor and supress traffic). “Pass me that, will you?”
Hugh tosses the blocker - rather carelessly - to Luis’s waiting hands. “Major Brand?” Hugh asks.
“Existentially, yes. But my situational awareness doesn’t read anything particularly hinky.”
“That’s good,” Hugh says, “mine’s looking for the buffet line still.”

Tei tosses the vox into a small silver bag and slides that back into her pants as the three of you remove your voxes and climb into the back seat of the skimmer. Luis' SMG is not a problem, while Hugh's beam rifle fights for space with Hunter's machine gun and the shield sitting in the back seat - it looks just like a motorcycle helmet without a flip-up visor or any provision to see out of it at all, but with Luis' antennae already disconnected at the hardware level, he simply puts it on the floor. The door, simply a movable section of the clear dome over the top of the skimmer, slides and locks into place, and almost immediately you're off. Tei takes the skimmer up about 20 meters in the air and flies north into the bulk of Gate City before your view of the outside world abruptly goes away. The skimmer's clear plastic dome goes opaque in an instant as small strips light up in the roof to illuminate the interior.

A moment later, Tei nods behind her at the group. "Hitting the EM blocker now." Everyone's hair stands on end for a moment, and Luis gets a slight headache even with his antennae off, but it passes quickly. All the while, you can all feel the skimmer juke and turn - Tei is obviously trying to shake off whatever tail the military has put on her. After a few minutes of the rough treatment, the skimmer's flight settles down and it's a few more minutes of smooth flight until you all feel the skimmer come to a stop and hover down to land.

The back door and driver's door slide open as Tei turns around. "We're here. Keep that plug in, 'Stan-hill', and don't try anything clever."
“No problem,” Luis says.
“I’m taking point,” Hugh says. “Major Brand, you mind bringing up the rear? I want our firepower hanging back a little.”
“Makes sense to me. I’ll keep an eye on dead angles.”

Tei climbs out of the skimmer first, with Luis, Hugh and finally Hunter following her. She's landed you in a courtyard of sorts - more like a skimmer parking area, with several other skimmers sitting on the ground nearby. She leads you up a flight of stairs, and it's just now you feel the weight of exactly how many eyes are upon you. The stairs lead up the middle of an open courtyard in between two hab blocks, an area with benches and a few children's toys on the ground. You can hear families talking through open doorways and see the normal detritus that day-to-day life leaves behind - but mostly, you see everyone staring at the three of you. Not all of them look like they're guards, but not all of them have to be. Adults, kids, the elderly, every eye in your immediate vicinity is staring at the three interlopers into their little haven.

You stop on the third floor and walk a few doors down before Tei motions for you to wait outside. "I'll be back in a minute." She presses the panel to slide the door open, which shuts behind her.
“Looks like a little exclave to me,” Hugh says. “Wonder who these people are that they’re cooped up here.”
“Dunno,” Luis says, “But it suggests the locals at least don’t think they’re dangerous.”
“You ever done any drug interdictions?” Hunter asks, “Dangerous all depends on who you are.”
“Can’t say we have,” Hugh says. “I’m the Herald of Fire, though. Does that rate as dangerous?” He gives the children a ‘Hey, kids, do your parents know you’re out here watching us?’ smile.
The kids run back to a walkway between the two habs and peer over the edge, smiling at Hugh as the door slides back open and Tei steps out. "Okay, go on inside. I will be out here."
Hugh nods as Luis takes the first step inside and quickly follows him. Hunter lingers a second longer and gives Tei a glance, she simply narrows her eyebrows and nods towards the open doorway, impatient for him to get inside, before he follows the rest of the group in.

The inside of the hab doesn't conform to any sort of "secret hideout" stereotype - in fact, it looks just like every other Imperial hab Hugh and Luis have ever been in. The front door leads into the kitchen/dining area/living area combination area, with a couch and seats, a table and chairs, and the cooking area. It's obviously kept scrupulously clean, there's no dishes, cups, clothes or anything else out of place, a model of military-like cleanliness.

What it's lacking, however, is a person inside of it. There is an uncomfortable pause for a moment as the possibility that this is one giant trap flashes across everyone's mind before a man turns the corner from the bedroom and steps into the room - a man Hugh and Luis recognize instantly.

CIA Agent Paul Sturgis smiles awkwardly in his grey T-shirt and loose-fitting Imperial pants. "Hey, guys. Err...would you like something to drink?"

Re: Shadow Warriors

Gatac posted in Shadow Warriors on 2019-10-06 18:18:25
Life is short and strategy is long, Kirika observes. A sword-saint she may be, but no general. This is where Yukio shines. Her training at the Imperial War Academy has steeled her nerves and sharpened her mind, and as she arranges defenses with Shira-dono, the palace guards and the motley crew of helpers that came with her father, it's clear that this is where she was supposed to be all along: a War-Empress, wielding thousands of swords as one.

"This ridgeline will grant them concealment," she says, pointing at a truly ancient map of the fortifications and their surroundings. "Can we spare any scouts to watch from -"

Boom comes the noise from afar, echoing through the valley from the direction that Lord Matsumoto rode to "recon" the attackers. At once, her hand grabs her sword.

"Empress," Shira-dono cautions, "the defenses -"
"Are well in hand," Yukio says. She turns to Kirika. "I don't know what that noise was, but I intend to find out. Would you join me, dearest?"

"Right behind you," Kirika says. Both her desires and her family are pushing her towards whatever is out there, and without even noticing it, her stride carriers her past Yukio's steps. It's time.

A perk of being Empress and Shadowguard, respectively, is that you never have to wait for a horse. As soon as you stride out, two of the best mounts stand ready for your use. Without further ado, you saddle up and ride. The fortress behind you will take care of itself. It's not a long ride, especially not with the way you're pushing the horses. Already smoke and dust rises over the horizon, with yet more explosions peppering the soundscape. On one hand, it's bad that the fighting is still ongoing - so much for reconnaissance - but on the other hand, it's good that the fighting is still ongoing, because that means Matsumoto's vanguard is still fighting back.

The battlefield itself is utter chaos. You ride through and over a few shadow-shapes that seem torn asunder, somehow still ambulatory but not a threat unless they somehow manage to pull themselves back together. Matsumoto's warriors line the road, having dismounted to hold off the hordes of darkness and cover the retreat of the wounded. The Blue Oni thunders overhead on feet of fire, firing a strange oversize gonne into the crowd of shadows and BOOOM! goes the next explosion, throwing shadows and bits of long-rotted bodies all over the place. But what of Lord Matsumoto? Why, he's engaged their leader! Twin blades out, he's exchanging blows with the larger-than-life shadow beast and somehow holding his own, though the torn shoulders and shattered helmet of his armor tell that he is, despite all, only a mortal mixing it up with a terror from beyond.

"Father!" Yukio shouts. "Hold fast!"

Kirika doesn't say anything. She only draws her sword, and as she does so, her tattoos glow and burst into flame once more, but this time the fire doesn't stop at a licking frame of her form. Blue flames spread down her back, the heat lifting her hair without consuming it. The fire races down her arms and legs - and doesn't stop there. Reins, saddle, and even the horse are swathed in a billowing blue fire that her raw speed stretches out behind her. Her eyes are locked on the thing that Matsumoto is fighting - the lord's stubborn refusal to die has made it bored of appearing human, and Kirika sees a third arm tipped with a blade of shadow emerge from its back. She angles her horse towards the creature's back, and readies for a slash to sever it.

"Die, abomination!" Yukio shouts, leaping to her father's aide -
- Matsumoto's wakizashi deflects the beast's strike as his katana comes down on its shoulder -
- and Kirika thunders towards its back, Crane's Dance thirsty for the raw darkness ahead!

All three strike true. Yukio's strike slashes the beast's belly, and something almost entirely unlike blood spills from it. Matsumoto's blade bites deep into the darkness, until it lodges on something of substance. Crane's Dance sings through the creature's arm, and it goes flying with the momentum of Kirika's charge, withering away into a dead branch before it even hits the ground.

"PATHETIC," the beast's voice echoes in your heads.

As Kirika brings her horse around, she watches the beast seize Matsumoto by the arm and fling him away, his sword dropping straight through the shadow as the creature wills itself to briefly lose substance there. Yukio comes in for another slash, but a newly-formed leg kicks her away before she can connect. As Matsumoto's vanguard move to assist their lord and his daughter, Toshiba hovers overhead, his massive gonne hinging open in the middle and relieving itself of blackpowder smoke.

"YOU ARE NOTHING TO ME," the beast says. Yet, the leaking stump that would have been its third arm does show that it can be hurt.
"Well met, Kirika," Toshiba comments, his voice almost entirely lost in the Blue Oni's. "I dare say we have successfully located the aggressor. As it happens, we were just on our way to report back."
Toshiba's aerial attacks have scattered the lesser shadow beings for now, but Kirika can feel every single one of them, and they're still pushing closer. "No need now," Kirika replies. No air passes her lips, no breath fills her lungs, but still she speaks. "Figured you'd find the trouble and get stuck in."
"I am as ever at the service of your expectations," Toshiba says. As he reloads, Yukio and Matsumoto approach the beast again, having sorted themselves out, while the vanguard covers their backs and hacks away at the approaching shadows.
"ENOUGH OF THIS," the beast says. Its skin begins to bubble and pop like a hot cauldron of pitch.

Kirika feels a strange heat start to radiate from the beast as she sees a dimming around it, like it's pulling in the energy closest to it. The echoes of whatever is contained inside it grow more distant, but one whisper comes through loud and clear.

"It's talking too much," Aunt Kaede says.
"I couldn't agree more," Kirika says, and rears back before plunging the flaming Crane's Dance into the center of the beast.

Crane's Dance meets no resistance as it cuts through the dark, plunging straight into the rotten core of - light?
"No!" Ameda Kamura shouts from beyond, realizing too late that -

---

"Kasumi?"

Kasumi Kagawa blinks. Her brow is covered in sweat and her hand gripped tight around the wooden stick the carpenter made for her. The balance is almost right...almost.

"Kasumi!" the voice hisses. "We have customers!"

No, we don't, Kasumi thinks. But we...we do? Of course we do. It is Friday evening. The busiest night of the week. And she's gotten to caught up in practicing her katas, the only thing left of her family -

"Kasumi!" Obasan Ikishi says, walking into Kasumi's room with worry breaking through her makeup. "What are you doing? Why aren't you dressed?"

Kasumi doesn't know. She's...not supposed to work? There's an ache inside her head.

"I'll stall them!" Ikishi says. 'Lady' Ikishi, the owner of the teahouse, can be demanding, true, and a miser to boot, but she's stuck her neck out for Kasumi more than once. "Put on your makeup and join us in the lounge! Quick, quick!" With that, she hurries out.

Kasumi steps up to the simple mirror, the most expensive possession in her simple quarters. The fine kimonos are not hers, nor the makeup she is supposed to cake onto her face. Her face...so gaunt and sad. Not a good night. But there are customers. She has to hurry.
Kasumi rubs the exhaustion out of her eyes and sweat from her brow and quickly gets to work applying her makeup. Base first, then eyes, cheeks, and finally red pigment to her lips. It's careful, detailed work, and she can't have a single line smudged, a single mark out of place. Finally, she looks ready, and slides the fine kimono on, tying it tight. It's..."form-fitting" over her fit but slight frame, and she steps out towards the lounge as fast as the kimono allows her. The smell of the incense is like a punch in her face, but Kasumi is used to it by now. Smile plastered on, she approaches the table. It's...exactly as she feared. Matsumoto's brat is here again, all muscle and no tact.

"What is this swill?" Yukio Matsumoto demands, shattering the porcelain cup of sake on the floor. She's lazily splayed over a couch, with Morita-kun, one of Kasumi's fellow courtesans, already drawn up against her. The fear on Morita's face is barely disguised by her makeup, and she winces when Yukio grips her arm tighter. "Get me the good stuff!"
"Of course, Matsumoto-sama," Ikishi says, bowing deeply. "A thousand apologies, Matsumoto-sama." As she sees Kasumi approach, relief plays over her face. "Heavens's sake, Kasumi, calm her down," Ikishi pleads as she hurries to fetch new sake.

Kasumi's heart is racing as she sits down next to Matsumoto-sama. The brat has a reputation for roughing up courtesans that fail to find her favor, but Kasumi has a job to do. Her heart tells her that someone needs to stand up to that spoiled brat and teach her a lesson about treating people the right way, and there's something nagging in the back of her mind that she just can't place.

"Matsumoto-sama," Kasumi starts. "How was your journey here tonight?"
"Fine," Yukio says. She looks Kasumi over, then pushes Morita off the couch and beckons Kasumi. "Come here."
Kasumi helps Morita up, then gently sits down next to Matsumoto-sama.
Yukio glares at Kasumi. "My shoulders are sore. Massage them."
Matsumoto-sama doesn't move from her spot on the lounge, so Kasumi has to crawl on her hands and knees behind her to start to rub her shoulders. It feels...familiar, massaging Yukio's shoulders, which it shouldn't, as Kasumi can't ever remember getting this close to her before.
"Wha...what brings you here today?" Kasumi asks.
"None of your business," Yukio barks, but as Kasumi works her shoulders, she relents a bit. "16 hours in the saddle today. These damn peasants just won't settle down."
"Oh?" Kasumi asks.
"Not for you to worry about," Yukio says. "Mmh," she adds. "Little to the left."
As Kasumi gets into the massage, Obasan Ikishi finally shows up with a new jug of warm sake. "There you go, Matsumoto-sama!" Ikishi says, putting down the jug and filling a new cup. "On the house, of course."
"Hrm," Yukio scoffs. She takes a sip from the new sake, frowns, then holds the cup up for Kasumi. "Here, taste this."
The sake is...okay. It's all they were able to get for this week, though. "It's smooth, just a little sweet," Kasumi says, which isn't entirely a lie.
"It's cheap," Yukio says. "Just like everything in here. Watch this." She sneers at Ikishi. "How much for this one?" she says, cocking her head towards Kasumi.
"I...I beg your pardon?" Ikishi asks.
"500 silver?" Yukio says. "Don't tell me you couldn't use the money." She looks back up to Kasumi. "And my place could use some new...furniture."

Ikishi looks at Kasumi. Obasan has looked out for Kasumi for years now, but...it's been a long time that this house has had 500 coins to rub together. Kasumi nods to Ikishi. She knows how much Ikishi needs the coin, and...well, after all Obasan has done for her, this is the least she could do.

"That is...very generous of you, Matsumoto-sama," Ikishi says. "Oh, Kasumi-kun, isn't that wonderful? Serving a house of such renown is a great honor indeed."
Yukio pats Kasumi's hand. "I take good care of my things," she purrs. "Actually, why don't we continue this at my place? The cushions here stink." Before anyone can intervene, Yukio rises from the couch and seizes Kasumi by the wrist, dragging her with her. "Come on," Yukio says. "My saddle's big enough for you, too."
"Ah, Matsumoto-sama -" Ikishi tries.
"You'll get your money, don't you worry," Yukio says, continuing to the door - and dragging Kasumi with her.
"Yukio, wait -" Kasumi says instinctively.
Yukio whips around at that. "What did you just call me?" she growls, but between the flash of anger in her eyes, there is also...confusion?
Kasumi stammers. "I - I -"
"I..." Yukio tries. Then it seems like she remembers who she's supposed to be. Her grip around Kasumi's wrist tightens. "You will refer to me as Matsumoto-sama, always. Do not test me again."

Dragging Kirika outside, there's a harsh wind blowing outside. Winter has come in force, and it cuts right through the silken kimono Kasumi is dolled up in.

"This way," Yukio barks, stomping off towards the horse. As she does so, Kasumi's mind flashes back to her room. The manuals she had redrawn, the practice stick...they're all still there, and she doubts Yukio would ever let her go back for them if she leaves them behind now.
Kasumi pulls her hand out of Yukio's. "I need to gather my things," she says. "It will just take a moment."
Yukio seems stunned for another moment at the sign of further defiance, but then a sneer settles on her face. "I'll buy you new things," she says. "Now come on. Or do I have to make you?"
Kirika - no, that's not right. Kasumi is her name. Kasumi chances a look back at the teahouse. The droning in her head is becoming stronger.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWDYAJ2-Y1E)

"I - I will be right back, Yukio," Kasumi stammers as she backs towards the rear entrance, and her practice sword, and her manuals.
"You will not -" Yukio stammers. "You can't...you can't leave me." More confusion on her face. "I own you!" she shouts, suddenly full of fire. "You are a whore! My whore! Without me, you are nothing! Take one more step and I will cut you down where you stand!"

Kasumi finds herself turning to look at Yukio. Her hand hovers at the grip of her sword, while her eyes sparkle with tears.

Kirika

Kasumi cocks her head into the wind reflexively. Was that...what did she just hear? Her hand tightens around nothing. Something is missing...

"I am not leaving you," Kasumi says. "I would never leave you."
"You...." Yukio stammers, drawing her sword. "Who...are you?"

Kirika

"I...I am Kasumi -" Kirika shakes her head. "Kirika Kamura. I am Kirika Kamura."

Thunder claps in the air as the weather fouls around them. The wind slices across Kirika's face, shredding the fine lines of her makeup. There is no more cold on her skin; in fact, Kirika feels distinctly warmer and warmer. Smoke seems to rise from the sleeves of her kimono.

Kirika!

Her hand tightens around something. A sword? A sword, in her hand. Not the stick, though it weighs about as much. It feels....right.

"No!" Yukio cries, then breaks into a charge, swinging her sword at Kirika!

Kirika's head and shoulders barely move, but her feet and hands snap into the defensive stance her father taught her, sword raised to block any blow. Blades flash like lightning as Yukio's blow meets Kirika's counter. Again and again the blades clash, Yukio's strikes growing faster and less precise while tears of stream down her face.

"Stop!" Yukio cries. "Kirika, stop!"

Kirika!

Yukio's last blow slips just past Kirika's defense, nicking her shoulder. It hurts. It hurts like it's supposed to hurt, like this is...like this is coming from another place more real than this nightmare. But the blow has left Yukio overextended, and Kirika's hands stand ready to guide her blade into Yukio's middle and finish this fight...

Kirika suddenly remembers the name for the voice - Toshiba. And Yukio - that's not Yukio Matsumoto, brat thug, but Yukio Matsumoto, her love. And they are both telling her one thing.

Kirika lowers Crane's Dance to her side, and closes her eyes.

---

A blade clangs against metal and Kirika greedily sucks in a breath. Suddenly she's back on that battlefield, surrounded by heat and death. Just inches from her face is Yukio's blade, while the tip of Crane's Dance has already pierced lightly into Yukio's armor. Gripping both blades with all his strength is Toshiba.

"Kirika!" he shouts right in her face. "By all the Heavens, stop!"
"What..." Yukio stammers, looking around. Just then, her father finally manages to get a good grip on her shoulders and pull her away.

Kirika's eyes take in the situation. Yukio: confused, but mostly unhurt. Kirika herself, same. Toshiba and Matsumoto, freaked out. Shadow warriors: all around them, barely being held back by a defensive circle of Matsumoto's warriors. The big shadow beast they were fighting? Nowhere to be seen. Only the third arm it was growing remains on the ground, still shrinking away to nothingness - but also still proof that it has been hurt.

Kirika's hands untense on her sword as she bursts back into blue flame - sending Toshiba recoiling back. "Wha...what happened? Where did it go?" She looks back to Yukio. "Love, I -"
"A most excellent question," Toshiba says. After assuring himself that neither Yukio or Kirika are going to cross swords again, he turns to the ring of shadow warriors, tossing a knife through the head of a particularly audacious one. "There was but a glimpse of light, then it was gone - and you two turned on each other." Another knife. Kirika chances a look at the empty munitions satchel slung over Toshiba's shoulder. "Might we continue this line of inquiry at the redoubt?" Toshiba asks.
Kirika nods, and falls in next to Yukio, putting her arm around her and delivering a kiss through her love's armor. "Are you all right?"
Yukio's eyes close as she receives the kiss. The fire doesn't seem to hurt her. "I...I think..." Yukio says, opening her eyes again.
"Is this - hah - all you lot have?" Matsumoto bellows, slashing two shadows in half with his blade while two retainers work to keep shadows off his flanks. "Who would have thought - hah!" Another shadow falls before him. "That demons are such - cowards!"
"Not cowards," Kirika says, holding close to Yukio for just a moment. "Tricksters." She stands tall and looks around. "Until we have total victory, we must be vigilant for any tricks."

Kirika's gaze sweeps across devastation. The army of shadows around them is several columns deep, and yet more are pouring onto the fight. They seem only marginally more animated and combat-ready than the shambling souls of the Shadowwatch agents under Ikishi's mansion, but there's a lot of them. More alarmingly, the very ground underneath is grey and lifeless, with grass wilted and once humid earth cracked and broken as if a merciless sun scorched it for weeks at a time. The vanguard holds on still, and Matsumoto's fury seems all but inexhaustible, but this is not the battle you wanted to fight, all alone and surrounded by the enemy.

Kirika looks towards Yukio and her father. "I think it is time we made our way back to the fortress."

With three mighty blades all working in the same direction, you cut a literal swathe through the shadows, thinning out the ring of warriors until you finally break through. As Kirika covers the rear with wide, flaming swipes of Crane's Dance, the vanguard drag the wounded - and a few dead - off the ground and towards the horses, where a few terrified low-rank samurai of Matsumoto's guard still hold position.

Saddled up and knowing that there's no more call for holding anything back, you ride back towards the fortress, leaving the shadows behind. If you spend the horses, it might buy you an hour until the army from beyond arrives at the fortress - enough time, you hope, to prepare for a stand.

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac updated in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 2019-10-03 20:21:44
The hustle and bustle of the show floor underneath is a rather more indistinct, if still very audible sonic floor underneath Mason and deSilva as they make their way to the second floor. Between empty office areas - cleared and locked today for the show - and the various open spaces where gantries cross under the rafters of the exhibition halls, there's an eerie loneliness to the place despite the many people below.

"Hold for a moment," deSilva comments as you pass a trashcan by an empty office. She lifts off the top and retrieves a package from inside, revealing a handgun and a screw-on suppressor. "That should solve the reach problem, but we'll still have to get close - and keep them from dropping onto the floor underneath. Ideas?"
Mason peeks out - the guy is clipped in on the access rails running between the upper floors of the hangar. "How's your Arabic?"
"Conversational," deSilva replies in Arabic. Good enough to carry on a conversation, maybe, but Mason can still make out a faint trill in the vowels - deSilva's obviously not a native speaker.
"Good enough," Mason says. "How do you feel about a change of wardrobe?"
"Depends on the wardrobe," deSilva says. "And who's watching me change."
"How about a job in the exciting world of janitorial services?" Mason replies.
"Making my abuela proud," deSilva says.

Downstairs shopping trip! Mason and deSilva descend again, this time heading for the backstage. deSilva seems to know the way, dodging security and real workers, until you're faced with the locked door to the custodian changing area.

"You're on lookout duty," deSilva tells Mason, sliding a tension wrench and a rake from the case of the Fractalphone - didn't know it had tools built in - then taking a quick snapshot of the lock. Mason watches the phone's screen flash through hundreds of different makes of model, apparently trying to ID the precise model so it can give her instructions on how to defeat it.

While deSilva stares nervously at her phone, waiting for it to deduce the type of lock, any security pins or measures, and the best tools for the job at hand, Mason looks at the door and sees an easier way. Hanging on a rack nearby are some black security jackets on wire coat hangers - Mason grabs one, untwists the end, and quickly bends it into a long L shape. "Excuse me," he says, and after looking under the door the best he can, slides the bent wire underneath and twists it upright to slap against the handle.

It takes a second try, but the wire hooks the interior handle. Mason gives it a tug and after a moment, the tension on the wire overcomes the handle's resistance. It rotates down and the door springs open. You hurry inside and close the door before anyone can see you.

"I did not expect this level of...finesse," deSilva says, then looks at the array of lockers to each side of them. At the far end of the room, there's a clothes rack with a row of neat and clean jumpsuits. "You first," she says.
"You know the thing about the legends of Jacob Mason, man of many explosions?" Mason asks as he grabs the first jumpsuit that looks like it fits him. "No one ever talks about the time I just walked in through an open door."
"I can see that," deSilva says. She puts the gun aside. "Let's hurry."
All changed and with deSilva's handgun stashed in a convenient toolbox, you roll out again, make your way past the exhibitions again - so sorry, AC failure over there, coming through - and up to the second level. Mason tries to gauge whether anyone's caught on to them yet, but so far security's eyes seem more on the other attendees. Back at the second floor equipment locker, deSilva helps herself to one of the safety harnesses, then hands it to Mason and grabs another one for herself.

"So now we look like cleaners," deSilva says, "and we can speak Arabic to each other. How does this help us?"
Mason steps into his own harness and slaps his hook onto the gantry above. "Because some bigwig is complaining about his cell phone dropping out, we have go all the way out here," he complains loudly as he steps out onto the railing.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Mason can see the shadow stir just a bit at the loud noise. Moments later, the signal tracker on deSilva's phone goes dark.

"Maybe it's something about having three thousand phones in the same hall all trying to livestream the Arsenal game?" deSilva replies loudly, catching on. She clips into the gantry behind Mason. "Let's just get to the other side."
"Come on, let's get this over with," Mason says, and moves at what would be a brisk pace for a safety-cautious janitor, but just short of a run.

As Mason and deSilva step briskly, the gantry underneath vibrates and the safety karabiner squeaks as it slides over the metal rail above. The man in the rafters, however, neither moves nor makes a sound, obviously hoping to be overlooked.

Now that they're both closer, Mason is pretty sure there's no way this guy and his equipment aren't strapped in tight to whatever perch they're on. Which means getting him off should be a snap. "Hey, you got that tool handy? The driver?"
"Always," deSilva comments. Nonchalantly, she grabs the pistol from the toolbox and, after a moment's hesitation, hands it to Mason.
"Thanks," Mason says, then pivots on his heel, snaps the pistol up with one hand and takes the shot.

(1d6+2 Mason Shooting = (5)+2 = 7)

Pwhip! The suppressed shot still seems too loud - don't they ever - but Mason's pretty sure it bounced right off the wall of sound underneath. The operative twitches his last, little flecks of blood spatter painting the window he was perched by. After a moment, the device glides from his hands, but continues to dangle next to him. By Mason's estimation, it is indeed secured to the roof - some sort of Bad Black sniper rifle, with a bulky signal transmitter on a side rail, wired to something clipped to the operative's harness.

"My gun, please," deSilva says. "You'll need your hands free to go up there and get the device, I believe."

Mason hands the pistol back and carefully climbs up towards the man's perch.

(1d6+2 Mason Athletics = (5)+2 = 7)

Mason pulls himself onto the upper gantry, then works the steel cable that suspends it from the roof. You don't get far through jump school with vertigo, after all, and Mason's in good shape, even getting some of that Ethan Hunt in when he transitions to the parallel rail with a little swing & jump. Clambering towards the operative, Mason can see that the man really is dead, bits of drool and blood soaking through the balaclava that hides his face. His eyes are open, but rolled back. The device dangles in his reach, just slightly out of balance from hanging perfectly level. The rifle's loaded, too. One has to wonder what kind of orders this guy had, if the intention was to engage targets out at the US hangar. The .30 cal rifle would indicate it was to shoot someone, rather than something.
Mason reels the rifle in and checks out the device strapped to it.
Mason's look confirms the make and model of rifle - a Remington 700 in .300 WinMag, fitted into a TAC21 chassis - and gets eyes on the device. It looks stunningly ordinary, almost, the size of a large taclight or small multi-mode laser designator. There are precisely zero controls on it, however; Mason wouldn't be sure this thing even has a way to recharge its battery. No, this is disposable tech to the highest degree. Best get this to Blake or Laith, fast, before it dies. The brick-like item it's wired to is equally light on user-controllable parts. Mason does, however, collect a new clue: the operative was wearing an earbud radio, and it's still receiving.

Mason slides the earbud into his ear - while being sure to flip the mute switch. He detaches the device from the rifle and carefully leans over to hand it off to deSilva. "Get this to Laith." As Mason climbs down to the gantry and passes the parts off to deSilva, the radio earbud crackles to life.

"Inquiry," a voice says, obviously a recording from someone who does number stations VO for a living. "Status. Khoury."

Mason hands it off and climbs up as best he can back to the perch, sighting down the rifle at the biggest collection of black SUVs he can see. After another adventurous climb, Mason gets hands on handware and sights in. The variable zoom on the optic is a little off-putting, but he dials in Khoury's convoy easily enough. Looks like His Excellency is currently hobknobbing with the French aerobatics team, getting some pictures taken in front of a Rafale. Mason looks at the dead body he's cuddling with - his gear looks like a tumble through a high-end PMC catalogue. Like, this is a guy for whom Academi only rates as Fucking Basic. Much more expensive than the gear the Chinese handed to Clayton's team. All Western, too. Under the balaclava, the dude looks vaguely Slavic. Mason doesn't immediately recognize the face. He checks the guy's pockets, and as he does, the synthetic voice on the radio repeats its message. The dude's pockets are not as sanitized as they probably should be. He doesn't get any ID, but he does have a hotel keycard for one of the resorts just out of town. Just for fun, he also has what Mason recognizes as a cyanide capsule.

"French contingent," Mason says, trying to run his voice through his collar as much as possible.
"Voice. Print. Mismatch," the voice on the other end says. "Confirm. Delta."

(Mason spends Notice.)

The operatives wallet yields no convenient note with the right countersign, but Mason's eyes flick across the blood-spattered window, making out a vague shape of "F" where some greasy residue on the glass has made the glass a bit stickier than elsewhere. Could it be that the operative got bored and traced a letter on the glass? Well, hard to think of someone else who would have been close enough to touch it recently enough to matter. That might explain why Mason doesn't know this guy, too: good bet you'd find someone who shoots straight and follows orders at a bargain, but this guy wasn't the type to have a long dwell time in The Game, and perhaps never intended to be.

"Foxtrot," Mason answers automatically.
"Confirmed," the voice says. "Directive. Maintain. Observation."
"Understood," Mason replies, and nods to deSilva as he clicks the mic back on mute. "We're clear. You know where Laith is?"
"I'll find him," deSilva confirms. "Your next move?"
"I'll slot in here until we know that that device does," Mason says. "No need to tip them off. Also, hostile control? It's a computer. Clipped speech, voiceprint ID. Does that ring a bell?"
What little natural color deSilva's face is still capable of showing drains from it. "No," she lies through her teeth.
"Really?" Mason says, tilting his head at deSilva. "We killed a guy together, doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"This is not the time for that discussion," she says. "I...I need to get this to your man. I don't know what's going on here but I don't think it's over."
"Fine," Mason says, "but right now, is there anything we need to know? Threat profile, new targets? I've got people to look after, and I'm not getting them killed over Secret Squirrel bullshit."
deSilva hesitates. It seems she can't wait to storm out and get away from this conversation, and technically delivering the gear to Laith is a rush job, but - "I think we need to consider the possibility that Khoury is a target." She thinks. "The biggest risk for collateral damage would be him going down with his plane during flight ops later. Everything else...well, if RoI wants him dead I want him alive by default, but this" - she waves up at the rig and weapon - "is pretty surgical. There must be easier, messier ways of getting to Khoury." She pauses again. "I don't know all of what that implies, but I know I don't like it. We're not seeing anything close to the whole picture here."
"Cool, super-fun," Mason says. "Go. We need to know what that is."
"On it," deSilva says. She goes, but then hesitates some more. "Sorry. I...maybe when we're done here." She hurries away after that.
"Okay, folks," Mason says, "new threat profile. Listen up."