IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

skullandscythe 2019-04-11 12:40:29
Blake looks over the report he's got at Ops and gives her a nod. Every once in a while, his gaze flicks over to Laith as well, frowning.

Mason and Alira seem to have Ops handled, and there's concerns about...meeting Jessica again. They'll have to confront each other at some point, but Blake won't push it right now.

But he will ask Laith to sit out tonight's session with him. Ops isn't the only one here with baggage, and no one seems to be talking to Laith much about it.
Gatac 2019-04-17 15:56:46
Blake groans as he stands up, leaving the file on the table. "Need some fresh air and a walk," he says, a little smile forming as he sees Lucy perk up at the word. "Wanna come with, girl? Go on a walk?"
Lucy gets up and starts wagging her tail emphatically.
"Good girl." Blake looks over at Laith as he gives Lucy ear scritches. "How bout you, man? Get some fresh air?"
"Sounds great," Laith says. He runs his hand over Lucy's head. "She could use it."

Getting down the stairs is a bit of a production, but Laith waves off all attempts at help. "Been spending too much time on my butt," he explains through the grimacing. Finally, back at ground level, you pick a side alley leading out of the souk towards a little square with a park on it.

"Thanks for getting me out of there," Laith says. "Things are a little bit...too real right now."
"I can only imagine," Blake replies. "It's must've been a while since you've been in a place where the faith is accepted, not merely tolerated."
"Oh," Laith says. "Oh, yeah, that's good. It's more what's going with...Jessica."
Blake nods. "How so?"
"Grow up the only Iranian-American kid in your town," Laith begins. "Claw your way up into fieldwork for the CIA. Find the one, exactly one person who gets you, have a whirlwind romance, then get fucking blown sky high by a mortar attack." He winces as his prosthetic leg hits the curb at a bad angle. "Recover while you think she's dead. Find out six months later she isn't but you can never get back together ever, but fuck it, she's alive, she's doing what she loves, don't be so fucking selfish you fucking asshole. And then...find out that's all a lie, probably. I can't tell you at how many levels this whole thing is fucking with me. I feel like half my life is suddenly up for debate."
Blake is silent for a bit. "What is it that you believe is a lie, Laith?"
"At this point?" Laith says. "I'm going big. Don't know if she ever actually loved me to start. It hurts to think but fuck, at least that's the whole thing taken care of. I'm not gonna play that game where I go halfway, forgive her and then it turns out there's still more lies underneath." His eyes are fixed forward. "I thought if Operations really wasn't her at all, just the body and the memories, that was...that hurt, too, but at least I still had her, I still had Jessica in my past. I thought the Operations thing was like a one-in-a-million miracle cure. But to hear that it was a program and she was a candidate and...I don't know. What made her so damn special, then? What didn't she tell me?" He sighs, then looks at Blake. "I probably sound like a paranoid headcase."
Blake shakes his head. "No, Laith, you sound like you're in pain and confused more than anything. You've been burned, and don't want to be burned again. She lied to you, so you don't know whether to believe anything she ever said. And given how readily we've been lied to lately..." Blake scowls. "Well, let's say it's understandable you feel this way." The scowl disappears, and Blake looks over at Laith sheepishly. "S'not healthy, though. It's a kind of denial - you're about to declare the entire relationship fake because you're not sure how many lies you've been told. Now, there's a lot that I'm still missing here, since I don't know how you met or how connected to the program she was before or what its method was SO I'm asking you - What's her agenda, then? What's in it for her to start a fake relationship with you?"
"Excellent question," Laith says. "I didn't have time for a conspiracy board but I asked myself that, of course." He looks at Blake. "I mean, tell me you don't try to get power over the things that scare you by trying to understand them rationally. That'd be a lie and we both know it." He smiles, but then shakes his head. "I don't know. There are no reasons I can think of. It's completely, bottom to top, illogical to think that." He looks back at Blake while Lucy rubs against his leg. "Tell that to my feelings, though."
Blake scratches his burgeoning stubble. "Well, when something nuts is going down and I can't deal, I write." He pulls out his little pocket notebook, flaps it back and forth a couple times. "Jot down a couple verses and I feel a little lighter. Writing's probably not your thing, but I think we can find you something. Don't need to be art, either - maybe take some time to just sit and pray, or grab me or Mason. Don't think he or Alira'll just leave you in the lurch." He puts a hand on Laith's shoulder. "We're not here to just help Jessica, or Ops. We're here for you, too."
Laith listens patiently to what Blake has to say. "Okay," he finally says, stopping his walk and looking straight at Blake. "Fair warning: I'm gonna hug you now." Just as quickly as he met Blake's eyes, he looks away, though. "If that's...okay."
Blake nods. "Course it is."
Laith brings it in and gives Blake a big hug. "Thanks," he says.
Blake allows himself a little smile. "No problem."

---

(Mason spends a point of Streetwise to track down the strike team)

Working off both the list of Bad Dudes (tm) and Alira's fix on the rental agency of Dana Lamb's ride, Mason narrows down the probable base of operations of the strike team to Tamensourt. A "new" development town just Northwest of Marrakech city limits, Tamensourt was built up massively with high-end tenement blocks in anticipation of a buying boom, which subsequently failed to materialize. Years later, the whole town is still only 20% occupied - legally, that is. Combine with a lack of police presence, season with criminals, then let boil over for a decade and you end up with what's unofficially known as the Rue de l'angoisse, a street's worth of light ochre tenement blocks that are deathly quiet during the day and quite deadly during the night. Word on the street is that a couple of larger-than-life foreigner assholes rolled up here a couple days ago and have claimed the fifth floor of entrance 4 for their use, "evicting" the prior tenants of floors 6 and 4 at gunpoint and barricading the stairwells. Even the customary house security guard - paid for by the absent owners and living in the block with his family - only admits this much after three small stacks of Euros have been slid over the coffee house table. He wouldn't mind seeing those guys gone, you see, but he also doesn't wanna get dead. Reasonable enough, one supposes.
Gatac 2019-04-17 16:39:00
With dinner finished, targets located but Operations way past her bedtime - as the rather insistent vibration alarm on her watch tells her - you decide to head back to the mansion. Qamari is there to greet you, of course.

"Ah, my friends," he says. "I found a replacement van for you to use."

He's just so helpful, isn't he? You thank him and bid him goodnight, which he takes as his cue to leave you alone, finally. In the mansion, Blake splits off to do more research on Prince Khoury and other pressing issues while the rest of the team piles into a bedroom. It's time for another round of Let's Talk To Jessica. All the same security precautions are taken, Operations confirms she's sure about this, then the regulator comes off. This time, it seems to go faster; the lock of composure melts from Operations's face and the suspicious glances of Jessica return. She looks around the sumptuously decorated room and takes a step back towards the next wall.

"Where am I?" she says. "Take me back."
"We're in Marrakesh, Jessica," Mason says.
"We've found some people that can help you and Operations," Alira says. "They know what's been done do you, and we - and Operations - are working with them to help you."
"Operations", Jessica repeats. "She's not me." She takes a breath. Lucidity seems to be coming on faster this time, too. "Tell me. Who are those people? What kind of help?"
"Fractal - Silent Leges before," Mason says. "They definitely know a few things about...about this stuff."
"What do they know about me?" Jessica asks.
"They have the complete file on WILDCHILD," Alira replies. "We have it too."
"No no no," Jessica says, folding her hands in front of her face and closing her eyes. "Not me." She looks back up. "That's 14K. That's her. Not me. You have to find out what they know about me. I have enemies."

Alira has a moment's lapse of caution, and takes a knee next to her and puts a hand on her shoulder. Mason's eyes go wide, but he doesn't move. His danger sense doesn't miss that Jessica's hand twitches at the approach. He knows the feeling - trained fighters have to respond to movement in their personal space faster than they can think.

"And we are working to protect you from them so you can get better," Alira says.
"You," Jessica says. "What do you know about me?"
"Not much," Alira admits. "Operations has been very careful to protect you. All we know is your first name, and that you...know Laith."
Jessica sucks a breath through her teeth. She seems to relax a bit after that. "Jessica Spiner," she says. "Look me up - but don't ask the Agency. If they're not already after you that would cinch it."

As Jessica seems to be calm and in the moment now, Mason thinks to a folded note in his pocket - the questions Operations was asked to write down ahead of time so someone could ask Jessica. It's a short note: all it says is Do you want to kill me?.

"She had a question for you," Mason says, and hands Jessica the note.

Jessica takes the note and unfolds it. There's a good ten seconds of staring at it, her eyes flicking back and forth as she reads it again and again, as if trying to read something that isn't there, anything but what's written.

"She's not me," Jessica says. "She's not real. She's gonna go away." She looks up at Mason. "She should know that."
"I don't think that's what she's asking," Mason says. "She's asking if you want to kill her."
Jessica cocks her head. "Yes," she says bluntly. "And I would if I had the chance. But it doesn't matter. I don't. And whatever Silent Leges plans to do, if it works, only one of us...maybe neither...is gonna be there after it. Isn't that right?"
"We don't know," Alira admits. "It might mean that you are more stable, but she is still there. It might combine her memories with yours. And there is what they put in your head and what the regulator does still, too. That's part of why Operations is who she is."
"Are you worried?" Jessica asks.
"Yes," Mason says.
"You should be," Jessica says. "There's..." She closes her eyes and takes a breath. "The house at the end of the dirt road."
"We think we know where it is," Mason says.
Jessica just stares blankly ahead. Her hand starts twitching again. "Marsh?" she asks.
"Doesn't know we know," Mason says.
"A gun in the mailbox," Jessica says. Her head starts to sway. "I need to...I need to talk to Bravo..."
"Jessica, focus just for a moment," Mason says. "Look at me."
Jessica's arm starts to shiver. With a snap, she brushes off Alira's touch and makes a fist, banging it against the nearest wall. When she looks up, tears start to stream from her eyes. "What?" she barks. "What do you want now?"
"Jessica, please," Laith finally jumps in. He approaches her with his hands up. "It's me. Everything is alright."
"No..." Jessica whimpers.
"We're gonna make this right, okay?" Laith says. "Look, I'm here, you're here, Lucy's here, it'll be fine. Just...stay with us for a moment longer. Okay?"
Jessica nods.
"She wanted to know if you have any questions for her," Mason says. "Not what they did to both of you. For her."
Jessica sniffles, then nods. "Same question," she says. Her head jerks to the side and she looks up at the ceiling. "The horses are long gone..."
"Okay, Laith," Mason says, standing up.
"It's okay," Laith whispers to Jessica.
"Oh God," Jessica says.

Alira brings over the tranquilizers and has Jessica swallow the pills. She's still tearing up when Alira leads her out to her bedroom.

"Fuck," Laith says. "They're both so scared of each other."
"They're both facing down an opponent that could kill them that they can't get away from," Mason says. "That'd scare the shit out of me, too."
"We have to find out more about what the Fractal procedure will actually do to them," Laith says. "There's gotta be a way to get around their vague and get some real fucking answers."
"We meet with our new 'team' tomorrow," Mason says. "We'll see what we can learn then. deSilva doesn't seem to share her boss' perspective on watching terrorists kill people from the sidelines, maybe she's not the only one."
"Let's fucking hope," Laith says.
skullandscythe 2019-04-18 19:20:16
Just outside the door, Blake is leaning against the wall, looking up after trying to bore holes into his little pocket notebook. "Couple questions. I'll be quick," he appends with a questioning tone. Alira just raises an eyebrow; Ops - Jessica, still, just blinking at him. So Blake leaps into it. "You say you have enemies. Anyone we should be aware of?"

"The Chinese," Jessica answers drowsily. "They've been trying to...take me out..."

Thirteen is
our lucky number
maybe?


Blake glances up as he jots down. "Did you go by any aliases in your reports?"

"Yes, I..." Jessica says, then seems to catch herself. "I have...many aliases. I'll...try to remember them..."

Blake frowns. Could be trust issues...could be tranqs. Only one thing to say either way. "I understand." A short pause. "I am sorry for ignoring you, and locking you away again.

She looks at him. "You just did your job," she tells him. Blake shakes his head. "I try not to hurt people when I do my job. Sometimes it's unavoidable. I'm...not sure that one counts."

"Okay," Jessica says weakly, the tranqs clearly having kicked in by now. Alira gives Blake a "She's done" look and leads her away to get some rest. Blake himself stays against the wall, looking at his notes and wondering when he'll get to follow up. Sotelo, Khoury, Fractal...Now MSS and Jess/Ops.
Gatac 2019-04-22 08:38:44
You all get a quick catnap and a few too short hours later, it's 0430 - time to get the party started. One entrance over from the strike team's hidey-hole out in the wastelands, you've quietly made your way into an apartment sharing a wall with the targets. Mason keeps watch at the apartment door and motions to the scared-shitless evicted resident of their entry point that no, he's not about to be killed or hurt, they just need him to not run out and alert anyone for a minute yet. Inside the apartment, Blake's hard at work gently sticking shards of C4 to the wallpaper and wiring them up for a nice little mousehole. Ideally they'd have the fridge or something else in front of it on their side to direct the blast, but scraping heavy furniture over the floor would rather defeat the purpose of keeping their approach quiet. Plus there's no fridge in here. One of the downsides of going through a never-sold, squatted apartment.

Finally, Blake has everything rigged and backs out of the "bedroom" into the foyer, where Operations has already taken position with a ballistic vest and C8 automatic carbine, as well as the thickest piece of earpro you could find in the stash. Blake signs for Mason to stack up behind him, then checks his own weapons one last time. Clap on the shoulder from Mason to signal that he's ready, too, then Blake says a quick prayer and hits the big red button.

Remember kids: when you know there's gonna be a boom, keep your mouth open.

(Blake's Explosive Devices to initiate Player-Facing Combat = (3)+5 = 8)

The BANG! is a hell of a go code as Blake, Operations and Mason rush in, darting through the dust and debris into the apartment occupied by the strike team. Looks like you've come out in the "bedroom" there as well, with nobody inside but a couple of rolled up sleeping bags and other sundries. The foyer outside has a muscle-packed man in a t-shirt and 5.11 pants standing with his hand against the wall, MAWPing and shaking his head as he tries to stay on his feet. That's Elroy Mcdonald, if the pictures from the file are correctly labelled. To his right in the foyer (if that apartment has the same floorplan as your point of entry, just mirrored) should be the "kitchen", to the left the "bathroom" and apartment door, and straight through around a little corner, the "living room". Woulda been nice to get eyes on more than one hostile right on entry, but woulda coulda shoulda - if you want to use the element of shock you've got, now's the time to motor.

Blake moves to secure Elroy, stopping more than an arm's lunge away with a gun pointed directly at Elroy's head. He'll notice soon, and if he doesn't cooperate, that's fine by Blake. He'd prefer alive, but he'll take dead. This careful and measured approach to Elroy Mcdonald has it's place, but what it seems to be saying to Mason is "go ahead, I'll be your safety". And so Mason charges in, intent on feeding Elroy some buttstock for breakfast.

(Mason Weapons = (1)+2 = 3 NAH)

It's a close shave for sure, but young Elroy's just that bit faster than Mason was expecting and whips his arm up in time, taking the butt stroke to his chin on his block instead, shoving Mason off him. Well, shit, are we shooting him now?

(Operations Weapons = (6)+3 = 9 More like it)

No, we're not. Just as Blake's finger tightens on the trigger, Operations strides in and - this is a technical term, pay attention - Krav Magas the shit out of Elroy. Stab with the carbine's muzzle to Elroy's side, whip around the carbine's buttstock to slam it into his now-open head and then a quick forward kick that sends Elroy against the wall, from where he tumbles to the floor. In a flash, Operations is on him, knee pressed into his spine to keep him down.

(Mason Weapons = (2)+4 = 6 That'll do)

Mason's got no time for his ego to be bruised - on hearing more movement from the living room, he unclips a flashbang from his assault gear and pitches it down the hallway into the living room. There's a flash and also a bang. Does what it says on the tin, you gotta give it that. Mason pushes into the devastated room to find Dana Lamb on the floor, right next to a pistol, also on the floor. Dana Lamb isn't just lying on the floor, though: he's rolling around and holding his left hand, which looks like it's got some first-degree burns from getting too grabby with the still hot flashbang casing. Why you'd go to a place in your mind where you try to throw back a device that has already gone off is a question best left to combat psychologists, but sometimes stupid shit happens under stress and Dana's in no condition to resist Mason applying a generous dose of zip tie. Mason pointedly does not miss the laptop on the wooden table, either, whose exterior took a bit of a beating from the flashbang but whose internals are probably salvageable.

Blake, meanwhile, kicks down the door to the "kitchen" and does a quick Z sweep - no hostiles, but four bowls with little bits of Instant Ramen (Shrimp Flavor) and a cellphone on the kitchen table. "Clear!" he shouts because somebody needs to start actually communicating here, but seeing as both Operations and Mason have a prisoner to handle, he proceeds to do the "bathroom", too. This one's gear storage, apparently: Blake gets eyes on several sets of export versions of Chinese "Protector" type medium body armor, as well as H&K G36E assault rifles and older-gen Glock pistols for days. One gets the rather distinct impression that the whole lot is part of a very hasty effort to reequip the strike team after the loss of far more expensive gear in Amsterdam.

"All clear!" Operations calls, having finished her own wrangling of Elroy.
"Smash and grab!" Mason replies.

It ain't pretty but it is what it is: with two hostiles down, two in the wind and a hell of a ruckus you just made in hostile territory, you do not want to be here when people come investigating. While Operations babysits the captives, Blake and Mason go apeshit on the apartment's decor, smashing open as many potential slicks as possible as quickly as possible. The usual stuff, then: backup pistol in a kitchen drawer, passports and money in a watertight plastic bag sunk in the toilet's reservoir, yet more passports in the mounting hole of an LED spot in the living room, plus a hole behind the bathroom mirror that yields a Chinese codephrase book. If there ever was the pretense that this team is not working for the MSS, it's been blown wide open now.

"Hurry up, boys," Operations says.

It's a good bit of loot, almost too big for your pockets, but they don't ask how, they ask how many. Three minutes later, you bust out of the apartment block entrance, prisoners in your center, duffel bags over your shoulders and guns up - definitely warranted, as you can spot several groups of local bad guys on something of a perimeter behind parked cars, AKs and Galils at the ready. However, they see two things: one, you're obviously Americans and two, you're after the foreigner assholes, not any of them. At this point, someone with authority seems to file you under "Do Not Fuck With" and gives a quick signal to the rest of the crowd. Quickly as they appeared, they disperse again, clearing the way for your escape.

The one local faction that didn't show up for the occasion: the cops. Well, no time to second-guess your good fortune. Laith brings the van around, you pile literally everything and everyone into the back and then it's off to the highways again.
Gatac 2019-05-01 08:54:43
After the usual work of driving a quick surveillance detection route through a quiet neighborhood to smoke out anyone who might be following you, you hit the highway - and Elroy Mcdonald immediately decides to worsen his situation from "zip-tied and buckled in on a seat" to "wrestled to the van floor with Operations sitting on him and his left thumb hyperextended". Usually they at least wait until the black bags come off, but Elroy - "FUCK YOU!" - Mcdonald is not one for knowing when to fold 'em, resuming his attempts to thrash about and free himself whenever Operations slightly eases up on the pain button. What a tedious kind of guy! Dana Lamb, on the other hand, is still upright and deathly quiet by contrast. Mason's seen that one in SERE: focus up, make a plan, wait for an opportunity. He does quietly mutter "Fuck" to himself occasionally.

Mason reaches over and pulls the head bag off of Lamb. "So. You're having a hell of a day, huh?"
Lamb's eyes clamp shut in reflex as the bag gets pulled off, and he turns his head to the side before daring to open them again. Dude's got serious flinch. "...yeah," he says, not tough enough for clever quips but smart enough to sound out the situation first.
"So, we've got..." Mason looks at the bags. "Pretty much all the shit the MSS gave your team. And what looks like your only way out of the country that told us exactly where to find you."
"Sounds like you got us by the balls, huh?" Lamb replies to that. "Look, this doesn't have to be so -"
"FUCK YOU!" Elroy shouts from the floor.
"Jesus," Lamb mutters. "Will you just fucking give it a rest, Mac."

Elroy grunts, not precisely in agreement but at least he simmers down a bit.

"There," Lamb says. "Okay." If he had free hands, he'd be pinching the bridge of his nose here. "Okay," he says again. "The boys and I are not after you. I was just driving when I spotted you at the gardens and I figured, fuck, better get eyes on what the hell you're doing before we get blindsided again. Okay? It's like, it looks like to me that we're after the same things you guys are after. Right? We're not in this for some ideology bullshit." He looks directly at Mason. "We're hired guns. Mercenaries. Soldiers of fortune, whatever the fuck you wanna call it. I ain't got a problem with you, right? I don't want a fucking problem with you. I just want my money and my flight home. But I seem to have a King-size problem with you and I'm asking you, right here, what's it gonna take?"
"Well, let's clear the air a bit then," Mason says. "Who are you working for, what are you after?"
"Don't fucking tell him, man!" Elroy barks from the floor.
"I ain't getting paid to have my nuts in a vice!" Lamb hisses back at him.
"Don't you fucking talk," Elroy says. "You rat bastard son of a bitch!"
"Would you -" Lamb begins, and Operations applies more pressure on Elroy's thumb. "Yes, thank you," Lamb continues. "Okay, we tell you who we work for and our primary objective, you give us back our escape package and we're on the first flight back to CONUS, that's the deal I'm hearing. Yeah?"
"Okay, so, gun for hire 101 - deals aren't done until all the cards are on the table," Mason says. "You killed a lot of good people back in Amsterdam, so you're starting in a deep fucking hole."
"Friends of yours?" Lamb asks. Not quite cool enough to be derisive...no, he knows he's getting pushed on a potential pressure point, and he's trying to hit one of Mason's in turn.
"I don't know, you just didn't strike me as a cop killer," Mason says.
"You think I enjoyed that?" Lamb spits back. "Cops were on us way too fucking early. We had to improvise. It was either give it up or shoot our way out. And I ain't rotting in no fucking prison."
"From the sicario's mouths to your own," Mason replies.
Lamb glares at Mason. "You done moralizing now?" he asks.
"If you were guns for hire, the MSS wouldn't have busted you out of prison," Mason says. "They're yanking your chain pretty hard, which means you have a chain to yank. But now you're a liability." Mason holds up the codebook. "What do you think is gonna happen when your buddies go to the Chinese and say that half their team got busted and all your sensitive items got snatched, can we have some passports to leave the country?"
Lamb continues to glare at Mason. "Still not hearing the fucking deal here," he says. "I told you my terms. Return our passports and money and we walk away from this. What's it gonna take to make it happen? What do you want?" He smirks. "Because if it's that Chinese fucker who orchestrated the whole thing? You can have him. Lead you right to his doorstep."
Mason looks at Operations. "When the CIA captures enemy agents -" he looks back to Lamb for a moment, "- which is what all four of you have been classified as, agents of an enemy state - what does the CIA usually do with them?"
"Rendition to an interrogation facility," Operations says. "Interrogation until we're very sure we've got the whole story. Then we go from there. Regular criminal types we throw to the courts so they can rot in a Supermax. Special friends, we keep close."
"So, that's where you two are headed," Mason says, looking back to Lamb. "And your buddies, well, the MSS doesn't like fuck-ups and they definitely don't like loose ends. So, as a sign of cooperation, and probably to save your buddies' lives, you're gonna call them and tell them to meet us, unarmed, and we're all gonna go on a road trip together."

(Mason spends 1 point of Military Science to leverage the strike team's bond)

"Fuck," Lamb says.
"Don't you fucking talk," Elroy says. Says, not shouts, so yay, progress on the whole "manners" front.
"The fuck else can we do, Mac? CI-fucking-A, you think they're fucking around?" Lamb tells his comrade. Then he looks back to Mason. "Okay, man, look. You got it, okay? I'll call Clay and Drav and give 'em the Come To Jesus talk. And we're gonna get you the Chinese guy and you can keep him and whatever else you find, okay, I don't give a fuck, that dude is not my problem. But man, I got a wife, I got two kids, I..." He looks at Mason, pleading. "I can't just fucking go in a hole. Okay? I just can't. I gotta go back."
Mason extends his hand, a burner phone in it, but doesn't ask Lamb for a number yet. "I'm gonna be honest with you - it's gonna be a long time before you go back. I've been in a lot of shitty places and seen guys just like you think they'll make a quick score and wash their hands of this one little job. They end up dead in a ditch and no one ever knows what happened to them. You made a smart move. It's your first one in a minute. But you're starting to climb out of the hole. You aren't out of it yet. But we can get you there."
"Just...just fucking call him," Lamb says, out of witty repartee and self-justifications and pleas for leniency.

He rattles off a local number. Mason dials the number and puts the burner on speaker. After a few rings, the other side picks up.

"Buddy," comes what must be the voice of Connor James Clayton, "you just blind-dialed the wrong fucking number. The fuck is this?"

Lamb mouths "Let me talk to him" and Mason nods.

"Yo, Clay, this is Dana," Lamb says out loud.
"Fuck," Clayton says. "What happened to your phone? Where the hell did you get this one? I told you to stay put. That apartment better be on fucking fire."
"Uh, yeah, actually," Lamb says.
"And why the fuck am I on speaker and you're in a fucking car?" Clayton repeats. "Sitrep, right now."
"I'm fine, Mac's fine," Lamb says. "But we got a real all-in type situation here."
"...let me guess," Clayton says. "Our special friends."
"Yeah," Lamb says.
"But you're okay?" Clayton asks. "And Mac? Mac, sound off if you can hear this."
"I'm gonna kill these fuckers," Elroy barks from the floor.
"Guess he's okay," Clayton mutters. "Okay, hang in there. We're gonna get you out."
"No, you're not," Lamb says. "You're not gonna try anything stupid, okay?"
"You listen to me -" Clayton begins.
"Shut up, Clay," Lamb says. "Shut the fuck up. They've got us by the short and curlies and there's nothing you or Drav can do to change that, okay? These guys are fucking C-I-A."
"...fuck," Clayton says.
"Yeah, that's right," Lamb says. "So forget about the fucking Khoury job. They want us to come in, no weapons, and then we put it all on the table."
"Shitty fucking deal," Clayton says.
"Only deal we're getting," Lamb says.
"Okay, let me fucking think for a moment," Clayton says.

Lamb leans back in his seat.

"Before you think about going to the MSS for help, we have your codebook and laptop," Mason says. "And before you think about running, we have 12 passports here. There's four of you, so I figure we got all your passports. So the MSS will kill you, the DST are the ones who told us where you are, and DHS and Europol have all four of you on every watch list known to man."
"Guess you're the man, huh?" Clayton says. "You fucked us up in Amsterdam, too." He pauses for a moment. "You got a name, big dog?"
"Jacob Mason," Mason says.
"The 'killed 13 Chechen gangsters with their own car bomb' Jacob Mason?" Clayton asks.
"The same," Mason replies.
"Fuck this," Clayton says. "I ain't playing fucking pickup against Michael Jordan. Fine, we're coming in. Give me a time and a place."
"La Pause, let's call it 0700," Mason says.
"Copy that," Clayton says. "We'll be there." He hangs up after that.
"Sorry, Sir," Elroy pipes up from the ground. "My language was out of line."
"You got a C4 wakeup call and have someone dislocating your thumb," Mason says with a chuckle. "Sounds perfectly in line to me."
"I'm gonna laugh on the flight home," Lamb responds.
skullandscythe 2019-05-01 14:36:50
Something mentioned during the phone call catches Blake's ear. These chucklefucks, and thus the MSS, are after Khoury as well.

Another race to an unknown prize. Amsterdam all over again. Which means a Sage and a crew is probably close by as well.

"I'm going with you, Mason," Blake calls from the front. "Things will probably get hot."
punkey 2019-05-02 01:46:41
"We're all going, because it's almost certainly going to get hot," Mason replies. He looks back over to Lamb. "What are the odds your friend does something stupid, like go to his MSS handler and offer up the CIA strike team that fucked his op in Amsterdam?"
Gatac 2019-05-02 16:33:59
Lamb takes a while to answer that question. How much should he give away? Is there some remote chance his friends could turn the tables on you and get them all out of this mess? What's the outcome if this escalates into a shootout?

"Look, you want a guarantee, buy a mail-order penis pump," Lamb says, obviously trying to play over his own nervousness with a bit of crass. "Clay knows what's up. He's a hothead but he's not this stupid. You said it yourself, if we run to the Chinese, best case scenario is they kill us after they're done with you." He takes a breath. "But that doesn't mean there's no threat. If I were a betting man, I'd put money on the Chinese watching us after all that Holland shit. So, if they know what's up - shit, they're not getting a better opportunity to kill two birds with one stone than the meeting."
"Fucking hell," Elroy says from the floor. "I knew that money was too good."
"It was the last fucking job," Lamb replies.
"Last job my ass," Elroy counters. "It's like you guys ain't never seen a fucking movie. Told ya, we got fucking greedy and now we're about to get fucked. If I wanted to die in some sand-blasted shithole, I coulda done it eight years ago."
"Yeah, yeah, you were right, Mac, how's that feel?" Lamb says.
"What, getting walked into a possible deathtrap without a gun?" Elroy says. "Just fucking dandy. Thanks for asking."
Gatac 2019-05-13 16:17:01
Mason looks at Lamb for a moment, then shakes his head. "Okay, quiet time for you two," he says, and grabs a pair of earmuffs and puts them on Lamb before tossing another pair to Operations and putting the bag back on Lamb's head.

Operations wrangles a pair on Elroy and bags him, then makes sure to apply a few more zipcuffs.

"So, Clayton's gonna do something stupid," Mason says.
"That's the smart bet," Operations says. "What are we going to do about that?"
"Well, if you're a Sage, you want this CIA team in the bag, you use your now very disposable mercs as distractions while your other team moves in from the outside," Mason says. "We very thoughtfully are meeting in a wide open area, so they'll try to approach that way. Sage is there to 'make the deal', other team surrounds us, he ices his mercs, and is back in time for green tea." He taps a finger on the door. "What was in that goodie bag you grabbed before we left Hamburg?"
"Plenty," Operations says. "But most pertinent to our situation are bigger guns, I think. I have a Mk 48 machine gun and an M110 rifle for precision work, plus all the nice sniper toys. That ought to give us an edge in firepower, at least."
"Hmm," Mason says. "IR gear, IR blankets?"
"Not much good to have a sniper who can't see shit and gets spotted from the air, so yes to both," Operations comments with a smirk.
"Now, if only we had air support with FLIR, we'd be somebody," Mason says.

(Mason uses his MOS to automatically succeed at a Preparedness check.)

"Air support," Operations muses. "Well, I do have a medium octocopter drone with experimental optics from an Army trial. Too bad it's junked beyond repair, according to the paperwork. I don't know why I brought it along."
"Special Forces gets to do a lot of those field trials, and let's just say that while procurement might not want to pay for much, they don't look twice at DD-1842s," Mason says. "It works."
"Oh, good," Operations says. "Here I thought I was getting sentimental. That about covers it, I think...I would call the Marines but I don't know if they'll make it in time."
"We won't need them," Mason says. "Classic linear ambush - I want you and Laith in concealment fifteen to twenty meters 45 degrees off the approach for the meet, you on the Mk48 and Laith running the drone, under concealment. Backstop me with the van. Blake, I want you 90 degrees from the meeting approach and across the wadi, with the M110, under concealment and surrounded by as many booby traps as you can make. Laith keeps an eye out for the second team, Operations and Blake cover me and the meet, I handle Nit and Dim here." He looks around. "Questions?"

"Solid plan, mostly," Blake muses, raising one finger. "Nothing for Alira to do. Guessing that's a misstep there, but what do I know?"
"...I think I'll bail," Alira says, exchanging a glance with Mason. "Lamb almost put a bloody bullet in me on the avenue. I'm happy to leave the hard yakka to you. 'sides, once Masie's plan goes tits up you're gonna need someone to run in and save your arse."
Mason nods back and gives Alira a smirk - but a kind one, not a joking one. "You'll be the first one on my speed dial."
"Is that not me already?" Alira jokes.
"Forgot to change it since Mike got sent back stateside," Mason jokes.
Blake's Finger No. 2 comes up. "We've talked guns, what about armor? For Mason, if no one else."
"I do have a really nice suit," Mason says.
"Is that gonna turn an AK?" Alira asks.
"Let's not find out," Mason says. "Anything goes sideways, I do have you to cover me."
Blake goes to Finger No. 3, now. "No traps for anyone else? Seems Laith and Ops might want a couple."
"I'll take all the C4 around me that I can get," Laith says. "Not gonna be doing much retreating."
"...I'm good on danger close fireworks," Operations demurs.

---

After a very quick trip to the mansion to grab the heavy gear - and collecting some pre-packed "second breakfast" bags from Qumari - you race off to La Pause, arriving about thirty minutes before the rendezvous. During this time, the staff and the few guests there are gently persuaded by Operations that maybe it's a good idea to beat the crowds and do their things in the city now-ish. Blake helps Laith set up in the shrubbery, then goes looking for a suitable perch and digs in there. Mason stays with the now very quiet Elroy and Lamb at the parked van as the minutes tick down.

0658 and you see a jeep approach. Not a rental or at least not one you'd get insurance on: this is a local vehicle, probably jacked. Either Clayton's got no money left to burn or he's figured out that you getting eyes on Lamb's rental is what gave away the game. Out climbs Dravin Walker looking, to say the least, extremely thrilled to be here in this kind of situation. At his side, Connor James Clayton walks. Both have their shirts tucked in and their pistols in obvious hip holsters - ready to throw down if needed, but very much don't want anyone getting the idea that they're here to pull a fast one. For a couple of remorseless trigger-pullers, that's almost alarmingly reasonable.

"Jacob fucking Mason," Clayton greets Mason. "Guess it's true, then. How are my boys?"
"We're fine, Clay," Lamb says. Elroy is very fucking quiet.
"All right, here's what I think we should do," Clayton says. "Chinaman's gonna smell a rat if somebody comes close to his hideout and it ain't us. How about we drive on ahead, you tail us to the hideout. You go overwatch, we go in and grab his ass. Risk's all on us. You don't like what goes down, you can still light the place up. On delivery of the package, we turn ourselves in."
"Don't fuck around, Clay," Lamb says. "These guys mean business."
"Yeah," Clayton says. "So do I. I'm offering to take care of this shit. Rangers lead the way." He nods to Mason. "Your call, Sir."

As Mason scans the scene, he gets a buzz from Laith in his earbud.

"Something's...hinky," Laith says. "Getting a second signal from the vicinity. Looks like another tactical drone, but I have no visual."
punkey 2019-05-13 16:33:59
"Keep looking," Mason sub-vocalizes into his mic. "We going to war with the MSS?"
"They grabbed Luc in Amsterdam," Operations answers. "Turnabout is fair play, as long as we don't make more holes in warm bodies than we need to."
"But we're agreed that this is a trap, right?" Mason asks.
"Yeah," Operations says. "Question is whether the cheese is in on it. Keep 'em talking."

"Well, let's get the lowdown on what you're doing here," Mason says. "What do you guys want with Khoury?"
Gatac 2019-05-18 16:48:27
"Bag job," Clayton says. "Chinaman says Khoury's some kinda Islamist terrorist and they gotta put him on trial for 'Ürümqi', whatever the fuck that is." He smirks. "Shoulda asked us to put a bullet between his eyes. Woulda been out of here before you even knew it. But no, they want him alive and in condition to testify on TV. I'm sure you know that's where these kinda jobs always get complicated."
punkey 2019-05-18 18:50:50
"Operations?" Mason asks.
"Chinese don't like to talk about it but things have been ugly in Xinjiang for a long time. The Uyghur don't like the Han. Last publicly acknowledged unrests were 10 years ago...but frankly, who knows what they're talking about. Do you buy it? Hiring these guys for something that requires...finesse?"
"I know the area - have you heard of anything happening there?" Mason asks.
"I got an inkling," Operations says. "Wasn't in the news, but there was an attempted kidnapping of the provincial Party Secretary three months ago. He's real popular with the locals because he built them all those nice internment camps, you see. Ten Uyghurs got arrested for it and disappeared to God knows where, we don't have access to trace that kind of move. If they think Khoury masterminded that...I guess that's motive. The Han Chinese really don't like anyone trying to challenge their control of the region."
"Awfully low key for RoI," Mason says.
"Agreed, but they can't all be flashy," Operations muses. "And this might not be an RoI op to begin with. Maybe a pet project of Khoury's." She sighs. "I'd really like to ask him in person."
"Sounds like our MSS friend does too," Mason suggests.
"Then we have a new problem," Operations says. "Because the vibe I got from Fractal is that they'd just as soon fill Khoury with lead the first chance they get. Not that I object on principle but right now I'd take some solid answers over another dead terrorist on my scoreboard. You?"
"How much time until the Fractal meet?" Mason asks.
"19 hours," Operations says.

"Yo!" Clayton shouts. "What's the word, Major?"
"Call your friend," Mason says. "I want a chat."
"You sure?" Clayton says. "Might as well tell him to cut tail and run. I told you, we have a line on that Chinese bastard. We can bag him. But it's gotta be fast and it's gotta be ninja."
"I'm pretty sure he'll drive right up here," Mason says. "Make the call."
"Hey, I'm just trying to be useful," Clayton says. "Gonna get my phone now. Nobody twitch." Slowly, he reaches for his pants pocket and retrieves a featurephone - obvious burner, the same kind you found in the apartment. He gets on the phone and starts to make a call.
"Getting that second drone signal again," Laith radios. "Still no visual."
"No joy here," Alira says.
"I don't see anything, either," Operations comments.
"Just stay cool," Mason says.

After a terse minute or so - Clayton's part of the convo too quiet to make out, but him obviously trying and failing to paint their current predicament as anything less than a total rout - he finally clicks the phone closed. "Guess now I know how you beat us, Major, you're a fucking psychic," he says. "Got word that he's on his way here now. ETA 20 minutes." He looks around. "Any chance we can do the waiting sitting down? This is a resort after all and I could use a fucking iced mocha or something."
Mason motions to the benches.
skullandscythe 2019-05-18 21:29:48
Blake's frown deepens when the signal is mentioned again. "Send me what you have, Laith."

(Blake spends a point of Electronic Surveillance.)

Blake can tell at a glance that the signal is *not* Commercial Off The Shelf. It's Russian military. Blake recalls reports of blurry telephoto pics and stuffy old white suits...Still, the control signal is definitely one he's seen before. The Gryphon UAV, that's what it was called! Battlefield recon, no weapons, almost too heavy to fly. But it's small and quiet with cutting-edge camouflage tech. Fucking good spy with super-detail A/V, topo map, tightbeam radar. Blake feels his stomach drop - little bastard isn't supposed to be operational yet, and that's not the first time he's said that recently.

Signal is live - Gryphon could record and run an autopilot path, but it could stream lower-quality feedback live if needed. Either the op wanted to fly it himself or he/she doesn't know how to set up auto-fly. Blake decides to cut the feed, and quick. He just needs to find it.

(Blake follows that up with a Spend of Notice)

Blake notices some sand trailing off a dune in a gentle breeze, which is weird because there's been no wind. There's a little flicker just a few moments after - part of the bush's color moves out of sync with the rest before sky takes its' place. Bingo.

(Blake uses the Sniping Cherry to lower the Shoot 6 to a Shoot 4, and spends 3. He then uses the Technothriller Monologue cherry for a 3-point refresh.)

The rippling sand tells him where and how high the drone is: about two feet off the ground, and a couple feet from the bush. No wind, which is what lets him see the ripples in the first place, so no need to adjust for pull. Target at about 11 o clock, 30-40 degrees up and 175 m away. Blake adjusts upwards angle to 45 degrees for Newton. Now the hard part. Breath in, exhale. Breathe in, exhale. "Mason, tell your friends-" exhale, breathe in, "-to be cool." Exhale. Squeeze. The drone is shot right through its power supply. It sparks and spins out, clattering down the dune it was hovering over. Blake's shoulders fall a little.

"Drone down. Laith, the weird signal should be gone now. So, good news. No more eavesdropper. Bad news, that was another one of those bits of tech that should not be - high-level Russian recon drone, adaptive camo and all the telemetry you'd need for a missile strike. Handy spy too. Somebody knew about this meet and wanted the best eyes and ears here. That's a short list, with no one we like on it."
Gatac 2019-05-19 05:29:51
"Everybody be cool," Mason tells Clayton and Walker.
"...?" Clayton says, while Walker's head swivels slowly.

Then the crack of Blake's rifle, suppressed enough that the blast is hard to localize, but still echoing through the dunes. Mason clocks the spark and then the tumbly little drone wreck a good hundred yards away from them.

"...fuck was that?" Clayton says.
"Hostile drone, friendly sniper," Walker finally speaks up.
"The fuck you're just standing around for, then?" Clayton says.
"Major told me to be cool," Walker says. He looks over to the resort's bar. "I'll take some iced tea, please and thank you."

---

It's a very, very tense coffee break with Clayton's team finally reunited and Mason looming over them like a teacher settling down an unruly table in a school cafeteria, but finally there's movement on the perimeter - a rental Kia Picanto approaches. Hardly the kind of rugged, powerful car you'd expect from someone trying to make an impression, but then again, good tradecraft for a spy. The man who gets out looks more like a Chinese playboy millionaire out on an extended pleasure trip than a spy. He raises said his breezy shirt and does a 360 turn, letting you see that he's neither armed nor armored. With Mason's nod of approval, he approaches the table.

"Major," Sage 13 says, keeping both arms at his side. "I assume you'll want to search me before I speak to your boss."
Gatac 2019-05-19 08:22:57
Mason motions to the smoldering wreck of the drone on the dunes. Lithium ion packs really don't like being shot, it seems. "Yours?"
"I wish," Sage 13 comments. "I wouldn't mind a look. I've had to develop quite an interest in unmanned vehicles through recent events. We might all stand to gain from sharing some of what we've learned so far."
Mason motions for the Sage to walk towards him. "CIA switchboard has a phone number, you know," he says. "It's in the yellow pages and everything."
"So does the MSS, I should add," Sage 13 says, approaching as far as Mason lets him. "Considering you knew Lagarde worked with us and had him with you until recently, it really would have been the courteous thing to give us a call. But we're here now, aren't we. Speaking of, where is your boss? I expect you have someone in overwatch but I assure you, I came alone and unarmed."
"Shirt and pant legs anyway, just because I'm old fashioned that way," Mason says.

Sage 13 nods. Another lift of the shirt, then drawing up his pants legs, then he turns around for Mason to pat him down.

"No thanks," Mason says. "Saw a guy hold up a 'Special Operations Forces sergeant at gunpoint once. He made him eat the slide of his pistol - after he stripped it off the gun in his hand."
"You get squirrely, I'll just shoot you."
"That matches my experience with Americans," Sage 13 says, glaring at Clayton. "Now, your boss," he tells Mason.
"Boss?" Mason asks.
"Moving," Operations says.

After a few seconds, she appears from behind the resort - not where she was hiding - with some more sand on her clothes. Looks like she's not too proud to commando crawl. Or keep carrying the Mk48.

"Cut the crap, 13," Operations says. "I got half a mind to ship your ass back to Beijing in a diplomatic pouch. You better tell me something good."
"I see you don't disappoint my expectations with your attitude, either," Sage 13 says. He indicates an empty table nearby. "Let's chat."

Mason remains nearby, watching the proceedings - slightly worried about Operations still.

"Gladly," Operations says. It might qualify as a gesture of goodwill that she puts the Mark 48 down on the table, to the side of her and Sage 13. "What's your objective here?"
"As I informed Mr. Clayton," Sage 13 begins, "we are rolling up Edil Varajev's support network in connection with his efforts to undermine the security of our citizens in Xiajing province. Unfortunately, we were unable to extract either Mr. Varajev or his files in Amsterdam. Therefore, we have gone after a secondary target - Prince Khoury, one of his financiers."
"So you're really after Varajev?" Operations asks.
"If Mr. Clayton's efforts in Amsterdam didn't make that all too obvious," Sage 13 says.
"The only obvious thing is that you bought yourself a couple of attack dogs and let them loose with no regard for civilian casualties," Operations counters.
"Yes," Sage 13 says. "At no point did I order Mr. Clayton's men to engage in unnecessary mayhem, however. I am...limited by the quality of freelance operators available on the open market. It is immensely frustrating."
"Is that the word?" Operations pokes. "I'd call it reckless."
"Your men have been leaving their own trail of destruction," Sage 13. "Fortunately they only hurt the right people, so your moral superiority can remain intact. I congratulate you on your luck thus far."
"It's easy when you don't include 'shoot your way through the police' in the mission briefing," Mason says.
"It wasn't," Sage 13 says.
"You'll have to excuse the Major," Operations says. "It's just that the whole 'mysterious intelligence operative with blood on his hands tries to equivocate his actions with ours' thing was already tried on us yesterday and we're all a little tired of it."

Sage 13 raises an eyebrow.

"Let's play some word association games," Operations says. "Renewal of Islam?"
"Varajev's people," Sage 13 counters. "He's well connected and difficult to pin down, I'll give him that. My mission is to bring him in for his involvement in an attempt on a party secretary's life, but I am not blind to his other crimes. I can at least assure you that if we get him, he will never trouble you again."
"Leaving the rest of his connections intact," Operations says. "It's our understanding that this is bigger than Varajev."
"I can't comment on that," Sage 13 says.
"They'll care when they trace that tank," Mason says.
"Please don't take my efforts to secure the intelligence about the drone tanks origins as an endorsement of its existence or its mission," Sage 13 says. "It is not in China's interest to become publicly known as a manufacturer of terror weapons. Unfortunately, in a country of 1.386 billion people, we do not all act according to the same will. And there are people in places I cannot touch who let foreign investment dollars cloud their critical thinking. I dearly hope this whole incident will be an object lesson to them, but I understand that it is not a very satisfying answer considering the potential for mayhem." He pauses. "And for what it's worth, I am genuinely grateful you destroyed it."
"That's what you want the laptop for," Mason says.
"The data on it is far too dangerous to be allowed to exist," Sage 13 says. "China considers it as potentially destructive as a rogue nuclear device. You understand why we are very interested in seeing it captured, verified and then destroyed. Unfortunately, it seems only one agency can have that satisfaction."
"What Major Mason is driving at is that you want to destroy all evidence of China's complicity," Operations says. "The laptop being a key piece of that."
"A factor, sure," Sage 13 admits. "However, you know and you could go public with that information any time you think it politically convenient. As far as I am concerned, that fight is already lost. My chief concern really is the rest of the data."
"Such as?" Mason asks. "Say please and we can make something happen, maybe."

"It is my understanding that it contains PAL codes for Pakistani nuclear devices," Sage 13 says. "We have already approached the Pakistani government and urged them to change their security precautions, but without hard proof they've taken to believing that we are attempting to trick them. An understandable reaction. I'm sure I don't have to explain to you that anything that might escalate tensions in Southern Asia is very much our concern, considering we border both belligerents and fallout from a nuclear exchange stands to irradiate fishing grounds critical to world food security. Not to mention the refugee crisis that would ensue."
"Hard to do more of that at this point," Mason says.
"What I am proposing," Sage 13 says, "is that you - having access to the data - hold a conference of sorts. It is time our bosses' bosses sat around the same table and had access to the same intelligence, then determine a way forward. All this unilateral thinking that got us working at cross-purposes to begin with has created nothing but chaos and confusion that our common enemies have used to remain in the shadows."
"That's a very forward-thinking approach," Operations says.
"Thank you," Sage 13.
"We'll take it under advisement," she says. "One more thing. Fractal."
"Sounds mysterious," Sage 13 comments.
"They are," Operations counters.
"Then I'll tell you what I know, as a gesture of goodwill," Sage 13 says. "It is our understanding that certain elements of the Soviet intelligence apparatus did not approve of post-1991 events. A large number of assets - both personnel and funding - disappeared in the chaos, and Russian proclivity for secrecy has kept this fact contained so far. It doesn't surprise me that you would not know - the KGB was always very interested in keeping secrets from you - but we've had an easier time of it, to put it succinctly. However, it has been almost thirty years since then. This detachment has obviously undergone many changes since then. Anything we might know about the original formation has become outdated and it would be a mistake to think that they in any way, shape or form represent any current interests of Russia." He pauses. "This is somewhat above my paygrade and I cannot make guarantees, but assuming we receive the PAL data needed to make our case to Pakistan, I'll do what I can to have our files on the rogue operatives released to you."
"I'll be sure to pass that up the chain," Operations says.
"Then I think this conversation has run its course," Sage 13 says. He withdraws a business card from his wallet and hands it over. It reads "Simon Sinclair - UNIVERSAL EXPORTS LTD" with a phone number underneath. "Our intermediary in Hong Kong," he says.
Operations raises an eyebrow. "That Simon Sinclair?"
"The British are occasionally useful," Sage 13 says. "I'm sure we'll hear from your people."
"That's a given," Operations says.
"Oh, one more thing," Sage 13 says and turns to the mercs. "Mr. Clayton, your service will no longer be required. Contingency payment will be made in the agreed upon manner. I would appreciate it if you forget all about me."
"...yessir," Clayton says.