IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac 2019-05-24 17:49:07
"A locking closet is the best answer I have right now," Operations suggests. "I'll go share the good news with them. In the meantime, think of something that'll actually hold them when we're not watching. "

As Operations wanders off, Alira motions for Blake and Mason to approach. Looking around to make sure that nobody else is watching them, she pulls out her phone.

"So, since Jessica dropped her name, I reached out to some friends," Alira explains quietly. "I have a source says he has a line on her...but he wants to meet face to face. Didn't respond yet. What do I tell him?"
Gatac 2019-05-24 17:52:37
"There's the rub, he's in 'straya," Alira says. "Can't bloody well ask him to fly out all the way here without...the right kinda motivation." She looks over to Operations. "And that's our checkbook over there."
punkey 2019-05-24 17:54:01
"Did he say why he wants one of you to fly halfway around the world for something that's too sensitive for an encrypted chat?" Mason asks.
Gatac 2019-05-24 17:58:39
"Because he's a paranoid, powertripping little bastard of an informant and getting us to jump his hoops is how he gets his jollies, I think," Alira says, disgust obvious in her voice. "But I haven't known him to lead me on. Intel's usually solid as, just the man I could do without." She takes a breath. "Screw him. I'll see if literally anyone else responds instead."
Gatac 2019-05-29 17:27:14
"I don't think it is," Alira comments, "but it's best to listen to our tummy, I reckon. No iffy deals. I'll find another source."
Gatac 2019-06-02 16:41:05
With the question of a source on "Jessica Spiner" resolved for the moment, the inevitable happens: a bit of downtime. It's quiet and relaxed enough that the music coming from the resort bar's speakers is actually noticeable again. There seems to be quite the discussion between Operations and Laith, wrap-up time TBD. On the other hand, Clayton and his team are still sitting at the table, watching the last few ice cubes in their otherwise empty plastic cups melt. They're not making any moves to escape, but they do seem to be tired of waiting on word about when they'll be shipped off to CONUS. Lamb in particular looks like a nervous wreck, fidgeting in place, while Clayton taps his fingers on the table - and looks up to meet Mason's gaze. Mason had been chewing over the idea of what to do with the Clayton and his merry band of trouble for a few minutes. His first idea was a bad one, so that got pushed to the side - but then all his other ideas were worse. That didn't make the first idea a good one though, so the search went on, but nothing better than that first bad idea.

Finally, he sighs and looks over to Operations. "Boss, I got a bad idea," Mason says.
Operations stops her chat with Laith and turns in her chair, leaning over the backrest. "Let's hear it," she says.
"I want to put them to work," Mason says.
"I assume you don't mean as live-in maids," Operations says. "I also assume you will offer to let them walk away as an incentive."
"If they're extra-good, maybe," Mason says. "A good word with the AUSA, if nothing else."
"One's worth a crap in my hand, the other's disobeying direct orders...even if they are extremely half-assed orders," Operations says. "What's extra-good in your book? What do you want to do with them?"
"We're short-handed since Hamburg," Mason says. "And we could use backup on the Fractal deal that they won't see coming."
Operations ponders that for a moment. "We could," she says. "Go ahead and feel them out, but stick to SOP. No promises. If they run off, you're on lost puppy duty."

Mason nods, stands up, and drags his chair over to the group.

"So, I figure you guys are thinking about what's next." He sits down, the back of the chair facing them.
"Yeah," Elroy says. "Frap, house lemonade, whatever Drav's having -"
"Sweet iced tea," Walker says.
"What's the word, Sir?" Clayton says. "Do we have time for another round before we get stuffed into diplomatic pouches?"
"That's the open question," Mason says. "Given that you all just got fired by your previous employer, and would probably like to avoid an extended stay in a Supermax, your future's looking a little bleak at the moment." He crosses his arms and rests them on the top of his chair. "How'd you like some help with that?"
"Go on," Clayton says. Walker's trying to play it cool but he's listening. Lamb is, of course, all ears. Elroy's got his head turned but you're pretty sure he's paying attention, too.
"I'm sure you've noticed we're down a couple from when we met in Amsterdam," Mason says. "We could use the extra backup. You guys aren't bad at what you do, you just need better direction. The deal is, you help us out, we do what we can to make your future look more like an ankle bracelet than The Shawshank Redemption. Plus, you're not stupid, you know that Khoury and his friends are up to some serious shit. Let me confirm that we are fighting some very bad people, and that this is a no-shit 'saving the world' mission. Plus, you guys made out all right, pride aside. No harm, no foul, just don't grab a flashbang next time."

Mason clears his throat and leans back.

"The catch is, we don't give you shit until we're out of the country," he says. "You fuck us, the CIA knows your names and makes you public enemy number one for every security apparatus in the world, and you're stranded in North Africa with no IDs, no money, and no way out. Plus, terrorists start World War 3 and you have that on your shoulders until the day you die, which probably won't be long after you fuck us." He taps his fingers on his chair. "That's the deal."
"Guys?" Clayton asks.
"Sounds good," Walker says.
"...yeah, sure," Elroy adds.
Lamb says nothing.
"Dana, we got a crossroads type deal here," Clayton says. "Would appreciate your input."
"...I want a pardon," Lamb says. "We do this and we come through for you, I want a full pardon."
"You can ask," Mason says. "But unless you got a prosecutor in your pocket, there's no one here to make a deal with. This isn't the kind of situation where you get a handshake and a written agreement that everything's going to be okay. This is the kind of situation where you take the shit you're in, make a sandwich out of it, and take a bite."
"Fuck," Lamb mutters.
"Grow a fucking pair already," Elroy says.
"Hey!" Clayton interrupts. "I'm not having this kind of shit in my team. This is serious. Right now is the exact fucking time to talk about this. Hooah?"
"...hooah," Elroy confirms. "Just saying, man, it's obvious we gotta do this."
"It's not," Walker cuts in. "We've taken plenty of risks. There's nothing wrong with wanting a sure thing. The problem is that there's no sure thing on the table." He looks at Lamb. "When was the last time you think we made the right choice?"
Lamb looks down and swallows hard. "...I don't know," he admits. "I just...I want to..."
"Get the best possible shit sandwich? Yeah, that's the most natural thing in the world," Clayton says. "Still, I'm gonna need a yes or no from you."
"Yes," Lamb says quietly.
Clayton looks back to Mason. "Looks like you've just hired us, Sir."
"Good deal," Mason says. He turns around and gives Operations a nod. "Then let's get the fuck out of here. We've got an asshole to snatch and grab."
Gatac 2019-06-23 09:21:52
Laith pulls you together for a quick intel update.


Marrakech Air Show

Biennial air show featuring mostly North African and Western European participants, but with a long-standing ties to the US as well. While the show runs for the better part of a week, the actual demonstration flights take place on a single public day and are projected to draw a crowd of several thousand spectators. Aerobatics demonstrations aside, this is also a decently big trade show for professional visitors looking to conclude technology deals. Prince Khoury has his hands in both sides of the event, being both an avid spectator of the flying demonstrations and an important envoy to military representatives and arms dealers. The trade show part does not make allowances for journalist visitors, requiring registration as either an expositor or contractor representative for a company. Most business deals are initiated at pre-booked meetings and then concluded off-site. Long story short, while we might be able to register last-minute as professional visitors, there's no legit way into any of Khoury's meetings for us.

What the CIA wants us to do is instead enter the air show's demonstration half, disguised as Marine ground crew. Khoury likes to dress in his flight suit and get pictures with the crews of foreign fighter jets, so this is seen as a prime opportunity to get close to him and bug him while he's distracted and his bodyguards are away from him. However, it'll still be in broad daylight inside a military security area, making any overt action here difficult.

La Maison Arabe

A venerable restaurant and (more recently) five-star hotel in the heart of Marrakech's market district. Boasts some of the finest dining in the city and is no slouch at the other amenities, either. Khoury's a repeat customer here, taking the royal suite for himself and at least three more suites for his bodyguard and assistants. The hotel's small size and upscale clientèle complicate infiltration, though there are no unusual security measures taken by the hotel itself. Although the compound was extensively rebuilt to open the hotel, only the builders know what lies underneath. Considering the age of the structures involved and the hotel's placement in the middle of a souk, we can assume that there are more ways into and out of the building than the front door.
punkey 2019-06-23 10:10:38
Mason looks over the background docs on Khoury's next 24 hours. "Looks to me like the play is bug him at the airport and follow him back to the hotel. We all spread out at the airshow, blend in, and then either Operations, Blake, or myself drop the bug."
skullandscythe 2019-06-25 03:13:25
Blake grunts. Marine crew is something we can work with. "That's all Spook Central wants? Bug Khoury?"

Gatac 2019-06-26 05:35:43
"I doubt it's all they want," Laith comments, looking to Operations, "but those are the orders." He leaves that hanging.
"You got a theory?" Operations asks.
"Yeah," Laith says. "What if the retrieval team that's too busy for getting Clayton's men is already here to do whatever the CIA wants done to Khoury and this is just busy work to keep us on a shorter leash while they do it?"
Gatac 2019-06-26 16:03:01
"Whatever the real game is," Operations says, "we're playing along still. We'll show up, blend in and do the job, assuming we'll get the opportunity to do it by the book. You boys feel free to cover contingencies, though. We do have four new pieces on the board and I want to see them put to use. Idle hands are the devil's playthings after all."
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:08:42
It's just past noon and beyond scorching outside as you're driven in yet another black SUV towards a security gate somewhere in the endless expanse of concrete that is Menara Airport's military section. Subbing in for Laith (who's currently setting up in a far more spacious van just outside the perimeter) is one 1st Lieutenant Kevin Ward, one of the go-getters of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 13 aka "The Black Widows", which seems a bit weird as Ward looks a) extremely white, b) extremely heteronormatively male and c) exceedingly concerned with making sure nobody gets killed on his watch.

"100 and fuck out there," Ward comments, checking that nice, neutral thermometer readout on the SUV's infotainment system. "You know the drill. Hydrate, keep to the shade, tell a fella if you're feeling woozy. Now, 'bout that paperwork" - he eyes Operations in the passenger seat - "figure if I don't know I don't lie. Colonel says you're Marines, that's my story, too. Just, ah, let my guys do their job, yeah?"
The SUV pulls up to the checkpoint proper. Ward's credentials are checked, then you're waved through.

"We're hangar 13," Ward says. "Lucky, right? Our number. Figure you're good for 12 and 14, too, don't get too close to those Chair Force flyboys, they take that personally. Italians are good dudes. Spaniards, shit, you know I habla, we get on great. French, not as snooty as you'd think but then I don't know what you're thinking. Oh, and don't go wandering off too far, please? We're supposed to be up to our asses in prep work. No time scheduled for sightseeing, yeah? Word is Khoury's gonna be by for his photo ops at 1400. Got to shake his hand last year. I don't know a lot of Saudi princes but he seemed pretty all right to me. You guys want an autograph or something, huh? Well, keep it clean, keep it tight, don't make no paperwork for me, I'd appreciate it." He pauses for a moment, clearly going over some sort of mental checklist without a hint of irony. "That's the widgets as I see 'em. You got any questions before I let you loose?"

"Strong backs and weak minds, ready to go," Mason says.

"How 'bout you, ah, play gofer?" Ward suggests. "You know your way 'round a toolbox, yeah? Get the guys what they need. If any of you can wrangle the ALIS for us while we're actually wrenching on the birds, we'd sure appreciate that, too." Operations looks over to Blake - dealing with cutting-edge aircraft maintenance software would be in his remit.

"We'll handle it," Operations comments. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

The SUV stops out of sight behind the hangar, letting you get out. The heat in the open, reflected from the tarmac, slams into your faces. Ward wasn't kidding about hydration. Mason's eyes wander to Alira, who - dare we admit it - still looks damn good even in the baggy set of MCCUU and with her hair tied back into a ponytail.

"Bloody hell," she mutters, then looks over to Mason. "God's truth, Masie, I just know they shoot fire out their arse and then go up in the sky. How are we going to spend two hours looking like we know what we're doing?"
"That's the beauty of the US military, babe," Mason says. "The less you do, the more you look like you know what you're doing."
"Careful with military secrets around foreign nationals," Alira says, grinning for Mason.
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:09:05
Hangar 13 is, indeed, abuzz with activities. Marine maintainers are wrenching on two F-35 jets; you recognize someone taking samples of engine oil, someone browsing the tablet-like computer system, probably for looking something up in the Interactive Electronic Technical Manual, while a crew of young Marines with a somewhat saltier NCO are apparently performing some emergency surgery on the avionics bay of one of the aircraft. They're cursing rather a lot and as more Marines walk by, they're drafted into the circle. This thankfully keeps them from acknowledging or even noticing your arrival.

"Keep it stealth," Operations advises. "I'm going to check if I can get more intel on Khoury's schedule."

On the lookout for something to actually pretend to do, Mason clocks another young Marine yet to be drawn into the circle of despair. She's trying to wrangle a rather beefy motorized hand truck holding a pallet of training "missiles" all by herself and it's not going well as she keeps pulling it back and forth, trying and failing to get it positioned where it needs to be for the photo op without much success.

Mason and Alira walk over and grab a handle. "Where are we going?" he asks.

"Chalked it out," the Marine replies, nodding towards some small marks on the ground, framing exactly where the pallet should be deposited. "Combat Camera flew through an hour ago and said it'd look right exactly there. I was like, motherfucker, do it like Hollywood and add it in post." She grins. "I mean, I still gotta do it now but it felt real nice to call him on his prima donna bullshit. So, yeah, if we can get it an inch to the left -"

Long story short, you do, indeed, get it an inch to the left. With an audible sigh, the Marine drops the pallet into millimeter-perfect position and pulls the truck free.

"Thanks," she says. "All hands on deck for the show, huh? Where'd they grab you guys from?"
"Just shipped in to Rota," Mason says.
"You could do worse," the Marine comments. "Pretty chill posting." She glances over to the circle of despair. "Unless you're working on the COMA."
"...COMA?" Alira can't quite keep herself from asking.
"Control system for Optionally Manned Aircraft," the Marine says. "Supposed to turn that bird into a drone fighter. They basically just wanna livestream our pilot taking hands off and getting a course change input from the ground. But who'd thunk a prototype expansion module that plugs directly into the ICP and interfaces with a dozen mission systems could be a hot piece of shit?" She scoffs. "Whatever. Not my lane and definitely not my paygrade. I just hope we get the damn thing working before wheels up."
"That's what he's fiddling with?" Mason asks, nodding to the guy with the tablet.
"My last was he's actually chatting with the techs back in CONUS," the Marine says. "Nobody here knows a damn thing about it." She looks at the circle of despair again. "Until we get word, all we've got is resetting it and trying different orders of plugging everything in."
"I think one of our guys touched that system once upon a time," Mason says. "I'll see if he can give it a look."
"Hey, you guys wanna swoop in and hero that shit, it's not my ego getting bruises," the Marine says. "Well, enough chitchat. I got some flags to hang. Can't have photos without at least three flags in them." She wanders off.

Mason walks over to Blake and Operations. "That tablet is a control for COMA - Control system for Optionally Manned Aircraft," he whispers. "It's for turning the plane into a drone, and it's having signal problems. Sound like anything we've dealt with recently?"

"You mean advanced tech that should not exist? Yeah...except I haven't heard of this." Blake looks uncomfortable as he admits this, giving a weird half-shrug. "It's something I like to think I'd've heard too. If it's more signal trouble, I can probably do something about it, maybe find out more about this...wondrous device." He turns to Ops. "We still want to keep this stealth?"
"When in doubt, neither confirm nor deny," Operations says. She looks at the circle of despair. "I don't think they're gonna need a lot of convincing to let you try your hand at it."
"Then I'll see what I can learn," Blake says, then makes a few passes by the circle of despair doing small odds and ends. He doesn't wish to seem eager, and in fact kind of isn't? But he figures he'll get sucked in quick regardless.

One Mississippi, Blake counts, handing a panicked-looking PFC a pair of insulated pliers. Two Mississippi, that's holding a RAM panel up while two Marines scurry underneath to look for a misbehaving connector with flashlights. Three Mississippi - "Hey, devil dog!" the local Gunnery Sergeant says. "You look nice and rested. I need a fresh pair of steady hands over here." He indicates the main avionics bay, where a sweaty-looking Sergeant desists from his attempts to get a new board inserted into a reticent rail. He's baby-faced with the biggest pair of Birth Control Glasses Blake has ever seen, and the chevrons have spent about as much time on said young dude's sleeves as Blake's been in the Marine Corps, i.e. not very long.

"Sir, Yes Sir," Blake replies, somehow managing to hide his pity for the fresh meat and gets to work fixing shit.

Such is the desperation in the circle that Blake even gets away with the "Sir", the "I work for a living!" line on hold to see how Blake acquits himself - and wouldn't you know it, he seats the radar controller daughterboard first try. As he does so, he glances at a diagnostic monitor. That should light up the interface to the sensor fusion input at the main hub - nada. Probably a frayed cable - so these guys have wasted twenty minutes panicking and doing stuff that won't fix it because nobody had the guts to take five minutes pulling the cable loom and replacing it. The Gunny looks at Blake, almost as if he's come to the same realization in the same moment.

"...I'll look for the dud cable and swap it out, Gunny."
"Get after it," Gunny says, then looks to the Sergeant. "You gonna stand there with your ass on your back or you gonna grab a spare loom?"
"On it, Gunny!" the Sergeant says and takes off.
"What are you looking at?" Gunny tells the others in the circle. "We've got more connections to check! Who's on the alpha sensors?"

With great haste, the circle scatters. Blake swiftly pulls the cable and, wouldn't you know it, electrical tape ate up from too much heat exposure, probably too close to the lift fan housing during an over-length test. With the Sergeant's help, Blake gets the new loom plugged in and run. One final connection latter, the diagnostic screen goes green and the Sergeant sighs in relief.

"Good eyes, devil dog," Gunny says. "That's primary sorted but we're having a hell of a time with the COMA. You one of the techs that were supposed to come with it? The hell are you doing out of the shipping crate?"
Blake decides to go for quasi-honesty - what if the real techs show up? - "No, Gunny, I'm a Marine - I get broke things, then I fix 'em."
"Just as well," Gunny says. He cocks a head towards the ALIS tablet on a toolbench behind Blake. "I've been through the manual for that COMA module - what's there to read next to all the black bars. I think I know where it's all supposed to go but every time we boot it with the radar connected, it goes haywire." He shrugs. "If you want to take a look -"

Blake takes a look. Gunny's not kidding about that manual - most of the sections on maintenance and system specs are redacted. All it essentially is is a checklist of what to plug into what. This is exactly the kind of tech that should be at Groom Lake still, but it seems to have skipped the "development" part of the process, jumping fully-formed from someone's diseased mind into the avionics bay of this jet. No wonder this thing's finicky - this must be pre-prototype tech. He's reminded of the SA80 rifle: Designed by the Ignorant, Built by the Incompetent, Issued to the Unfortunate. What the hell is it doing out here?

(Blake spends Electronic Surveillance)

...it's a cuckoo, Blake suddenly thinks, even as he figures out what's wrong with the module. (Wonky voltage regulator causing crosstalk on a signal circuit, probably came loose during transport, ten minutes with a soldering iron would sort it.) He could get it to run, then, but everything tells him this COMA module shouldn't exist and even if it did, shouldn't be here of all places. He scrolls through the waveforms from the radar set, recorded when the COMA went "haywire" - and while signal analysis will take more than a glance, it looks more like a tightbeam encrypted radio signal than any sort of radar pattern. Which is probably how it leaked out at all; a radiation warning woulda gone off if the radar had been fully powered on by accident.

The resulting implications are manifold. This thing came from somewhere, with orders. Who build it, who sent it, who's in on it? What's it squawking and what would it do after they get the bird in the air?

"You look like you got an idea," Gunny says.

...what do you tell the Marines?

Too many questions, so much wrong with it... " 'S a shot in the dark, Gunny," Blake cautions, as his brain grinds out a stall tactic. "Signal interference of some kind? Radar's haywire, but connectivity is fine, and we've got data, so it's doing something. I've only just started looking, so I'll need some more time before I can say anything certain."
"Take ten and see what you can figure out," Gunny says. "If we can't get the damn thing up and running by then, it's going back in the crate. Colonel might have his orders but we're behind on preflight as is."
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:09:33
As Blake gets to wrenching on the COMA module, the others keep up their "meld into the background of the hangar" routine. Mason's just momentarily distracted by Alira flashing him a quick smile when he gets a little buzz in his ear from Laith patching in comms.

"Major, do you copy?" Clayton's voice comes in.
"I do," Mason replies.
"Couple things," Clayton says. "I'm on Khoury's tail. He's still in the exhibition area, talking to some Dassault reps on the floor. Looks more like another photo op to me. Elroy's on a perimeter check, so far we're not seeing any big security lapses for anyone else to infiltrate the area. I've got Dravin and Dana on standby in a quiet service area. I don't want to park them on a roof just yet, with all those low-level overflights about to go down, but say the word and they'll go on overwatch." He pauses. "How are you doing out there?"
"Quiet so far, but something is off," Mason says. "Possible drone hijacking threat. Tell your boys to keep their eyes out for autonomous vehicles acting weird."
"Stand by one," Clayton says. There's a few moments, then a few more. Too long just for a change of position, too short to worry about...yet. "Sir, I just had a chat with Elroy. He says there's a couple different drones on the tarmac being prepped for demonstrations. We've got some light surveillance and interdiction from Israel, a quadcopter utility carrier from Italy and a tracked drone with an AA loadout. Are we looking for anything in particular?"
"Which ones are armed?" Mason asks.
"All three," Clayton says. "Israeli one has a 40mm grenade launcher, the quad has a sort automatic shotgun thing for suppressive fire on a hot LZ, and the ground drone's got dual 30mm autocannons and - quoting Elroy here, Sir - some 'Macross shit' mini-missile launchers."
"Sounds like you guys will be busy," Mason says. "Past threat profile is hijacked or false flag drone attacks, or bombing attacks."
"Do you want Elroy on a closer approach or do you want observation via spotting optics?" Clayton asks.
"Blending in is job one," Mason says. "Stick with the crowds."
"Copy," Clayton says. "Khoury is on the move, heading to his private box. I'll break off here and see if I can get some background on the drone demos."
"Keep me posted," Mason says. "If you guys spot something weird or people start acting surprised something is doing something it's not supposed to, come up on the line."
"Copy that," Clayton says. "...we won't let you down, Major."
"These fucks want to start World War 3," Mason says. "Do it for everyone else."
"Jesus," Clayton says, not expanding further on that reaction.

"Yo," Laith chimes in on the line. "Three guesses who I just clocked on the security cameras coming into the exhibition hall. Oh, also I hacked the security cameras in the exhibition hall if that wasn't clear from context."
"Khoury?" Mason says.
"No, special friend of ours," Laith says. "Second guess?"
"Laith," Mason grunts, patience for bullshit when lives are on the line apparent.
"deSilva," Laith says. "Different facial disguise than in Amsterdam but I scrubbed enough surveillance of her to recognize the walk."
"Get a picture to everyone," Operations cuts in.
"On the way," Laith says. Moments later, your burners buzz with a new message.

Mason checks his burner. It's just a quick shot from the outside, from before deSilva(?) disappeared into the crowds:


"Zoomed and cleaned as best as I can make it," Laith adds.
Mason puts the phone away. "I'm on the move," he says. "Clayton, I'm entering your zone."
"Copy," Laith says, typing becoming furious enough that it's audible even through his microphone. "There's a shuttle bus from Hangar 10 to the exhibition area, scheduled to leave in seven minutes. Won't get you into the hall but it'll get you there."
"Keep tracking her," Mason says.
"I can take her," Clayton chimes in.
"Negative, you stay on the drones," Mason says. "Laith, if you don't have her tagged already I'll be very disappointed."
"Solid track," Laith says. "Scrubbed through the entrance footage, though. She flashed some sort of badge to get past security." He sighs. "I'll try to find out what that's about." More typing. "Okay, I've got her locked on three interior cams. Looks like she's settling in on the show floor. Just walking the displays for now. Will keep you posted."
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:09:51
Meanwhile, Blake's efforts with the COMA module have brought him to the point of trying to decrypt the burst message sent via the plane's AESA radar. Would be easier with access to his milspec software analysis tools, but the pad does have rather extensive diagnostics and - as one might expect from prototype software - it's anything but properly hardened against debugging its memory allocation. Blake recognizes some code from an open-source transmission control package, steers the debugger towards the right address to grab the key from memory, then runs a quick decryption algorithm and gets...image files. Opening the lot, he sees views of the hangar and the crew, apparently shot by the aircraft's own surveillance systems at regular intervals and buffered in a transmission queue until Blake got the radar hookup working. The last image is of him, even, staring intently at the guts of the machine.

Blake scowls, and sets priorities. First - clear the queue. No more free pics. Second - where's the signal going? Time to find out, and perhaps deal with it. Besides, he can sell the brokenness of the module better if he looks like he's tested it first.

Blake clears the queue easily and, for good measure, soft-disables the recording "feature". The COMA software really is wide open to manipulation by anyone with half a clue. Sort of like Baby's First Ada Project, it all seems to work, it's just...a shockingly naive approach to something incredibly complex. Similarly, while the AESA radar hack is technically impressive, it's also easy to trace by seeing where the waveforms generated come into focus. Which, if Blake's calculations are right, is somewhere inside the eastern wing of the Air Show's exhibition hall.

"Mason, while you're snobbing it on on the exhibit floor, drop by the east wing for me, will you? Someone's been using jet cams to take naughty pics." Blake sighs. "Gonna stay here for the meet, and keep an eye on this piece of crap."
Having passed on the message, Blake seeks out the Gunny. "Still not running right, Gunny. I think we're gonna have to call it quits."
"Figured," Gunny says. "We're going all out on the other bird, then. I can't in good conscience clear that Lightning for flight even if we do spend another hour ripping its guts out and verifying that it all works again." Gunny muses. "Still, thanks for the assist. Swing by the AF hangar and grab whatever passes for an OST, yeah? Somebody needs to download the ammo and flares from the bird before we defuel it. Don't want nothing cooking off in this heat."

As Gunny hurries away to coordinate efforts to get the backup plane ready, the pad in Blake's hand suddenly vibrates subtly. Looking at it, there's a very unauthorized looking app open on it, something like a...chat program? As Blake watches, somebody types out a message.

"Inquiry: Status"
"On it, Gunny." Blake nods and heads for the hanger. He checks the pad in transit, and types a response if he believes no one is watching:
"Still having power issue. Marines won't launch."

There's a good few seconds where nothing happens, except various scenarios playing through his head in escalation order of severity. The other side realized they're compromised and cut the line. Hidden self-destruct charges. Drone strike on his last. Orbital superlaser...well, no, not that. Blake's done enough math on orbital weaponry to fight that doomsday scenario back. But just then, a new message does actually arrive.

"Mission Status: Critical. Directive: Ensure launch of COMA host. Fallback: Acquire alternate host and relocate COMA module."
"On it." Blake sticks with terse, as it's working out well, then closes the app and puts it away. Time to phone a friend.
"Ops, Alira - someone was assisting with the repairs on the COMA earlier. We need to find them - I think we all want to know who's op we just screwed up."

Blake does some discreet inquiries of his own while he's helping to stand the plane down - now that he's gone and made himself somewhat visible, he has to keep up (some) appearances.

"Copy," Alira says. "I think I saw some security cameras. Probably had them turned off for OPSEC but maybe they missed one."
"Go for it," Operations says, "but be ready to switch gears. I'm curious as well but with that jet deadlined in the hangar, it's not currently a threat to anyone. Blake, stay in the thick. Khoury's expected soon and I need someone in place to drop the bug on him."
"Copy." Khoury is the objective here, anything more is a bonus.
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:10:08
At the exhibition hall shuttle parking, another bus pulls in. Its pneumatic system hisses as it lowers its side and opens its doors, disgorging its eager passengers from its poorly air-conditioned interior into a very well heated outside air. It's mostly pilots getting a chance to see the sights after finishing their preflight workups and a few staff officers cycling back, alongside anonymous company reps with enough security clearances that they won't fit on a business card. A few of the French pilots raise their hands to their foreheads to block out the sun, apparently regretting being too cool for sunglasses. Walking alongside them is Mason, out of coveralls, following the group towards the little security checkpoint manned by two Moroccan royal air force security soldiers under a tarp with folding tables but - alas! - no chairs for them.

"Track on deSilva still good," Laith radios. "Showing you at the service entrance to the hall, Mason. What's the strategy?"
"Strategy is to walk in the front door," Mason says, adjusting the gold oak leaves he pinned on himself on the bus. "Major Mason is going to go check out the wares."
"Major Mason, heh," Laith says. "Okay, after the usual service corridor bullshit, you'll be straight into Hall B, that's the eastern wing. You got your Dassaults and Eurocopters to the left, Sukhoi to the right and straight ahead there's Boeing, not like you can miss them - they have about a third of the floor space in the hall, total. deSilva's wandering around in there."
"Location of Blake's bogey?" Mason asks.
"Somewhere in here," Laith says. "I'll work that once you have eyes on deSilva."
"Sounds like a plan," Mason says.

Mason hardly sticks out in the throng of pilots, passing through the checkpoint without even being asked his name. Inside, the full power of actual working air con hits like a brick, leading one of the French pilots to jokingly wrap his arms around himself and feign shivering with a "Brrrrr" sound. The service corridor has a few branches, all roped off, and there are French/English/German/Russian/Chinese standees with photogenic stock models gently guiding you towards the exhibition hall. (Also the restrooms, if anybody needs to pee and has been holding it in from the rather more spartan facilities at the hangars.) Past that, it's into the exhibition hall proper. The layout is as described by Laith, with one critical omission: the corridor exits right behind the drink court, which is like a food court except it seemingly only contains stands that sell booze. Tan women in tight business casual approach, offering tablets full of champagne flutes and plenty of OJ for the pilots - can't get them drunk before the flying, after all.

Mason grabs two champagne flutes and head off for one aisle over from the Boeing booth, keeping an eye out for deSilva across the couple racks of missiles on display between him and the Boeing booth. The salespeople, to their credit, seem to have finely calibrated senses for "potential customers/decision makers" and ignore the hell out of Mason as he maneuvers through the missile racks, trying to get a good angle on deSilva. And finally, there she is - talking to a Boeing rep, making no big effort to hide. Mason doesn't have to read lips to see that it's just pleasantries - apparently deSilva's cover is as a business rep and as such, a little schmoozing is required.
Mason waits for her to finish before he walks right up next to deSilva. "Your champagne?" he says with a smirk.
"Oh, thank you, darling," deSilva says, loud enough for the rep to make a polite, quiet exit. Still smiling, she beckons Mason to walk with her. "Now what the hell do you think you're doing here," she says through clenched teeth.
"Khoury is here, we're tagging him to find out where his hidey hole is," Mason says. "And you?"

"Picked up credible threat against the show," deSilva says. "Looks like RoI are back to terror drone attacks as a tactic, but whatever they're using is probably already on the tarmac, disguised as a demonstration model. So I'm going through the booths trying to sniff out who might be working for them. Which, by the way, is not made easier by having to factor in your bunch of professional saboteurs."

"That's not a nice thing to say to the guy who knows what they're targeting, how they're doing it, and can provide a signal frequency," Mason says.
"No, I guess it isn't," deSilva says. "But apparently we lost a very expensive, cutting edge surveillance drone just this morning. A drone that happened to be looking at you guys after you made a hell of a lot of noise in the suburbs. A drone that was gone by the time you had left and we came in to check on it. So, not exactly in the mood for 'nice'."
"We have it if you want it back," Mason says. "We even gave it a new ventilation hole or two."
"That implies you haven't shipped it off to CIA tech services," deSilva says. "Interesting."
"Sharing toys with the CIA is low on our priority list at the moment," Mason replies.
"Then I guess my next question is, whose side are you on now?" deSilva asks, looking directly into Mason's eyes.
"On the side that actually puts stopping terrorists before field testing unethical surgery victims - or covering our own asses," Mason answers, not hesitating to return the look.
deSilva breaks eye contact and keeps walking, steering you both into a quieter corner of the hall. "So, off the reservation," deSilva says. "Are you looking to trade the information you say you have about the drone threat?"
"Trade's a bit of a strong word, I thought we were working together," Mason says.
"We could be," deSilva says. "But I think we've proven several times over that that only lasts until the heat is on. It would be better for my blood pressure if we limit ourselves to...favors." She sighs. "Since you're skipping the chance to get rid of Khoury here, I assume you mean to take him alive and question him?"
"At least until we find out the full scope of his operation," Mason says. "And we're trying to turn over a new leaf - spirit of cooperation and all that, since we're so far 'off the reservation'. I'm looking to move past the getting-to-know-you phase jitters. You've got a boss, I get that. What matters more is being straight with each other out here. Yes?"
"You realize the absurdity of trying to convince a spy to be honest with another spy, right?" deSilva asks, but smiles. "It does seem like I'm a little light on field support right now. How about this: you pitch in your technical intel and muscle here and help me stop the latest atrocity in the making, then I will help you get Khoury out from under his rock. I'll even bring some new friends. Deal?"
"Deal," Mason says. "Did you see those F-35s in the Marines hangar?"
"Not up close," deSilva says. "What about them?"
"And have you heard of Control system for Optionally Manned Aircraft?" Mason adds.
"...no," deSilva says. With a slight pull on Mason's arm, she gets him close to a service exit, then pulls a Fractal phone from her handbag. The screen only briefly shows "SAINT" as she quickly browses through the menu and then dials. "Mission priority," she tells whoever's on the other side. "I need a download on a...Control system for Optionally Manned Aircraft." She listens for a few seconds. "Copy. Update me when you have more." Stashing the phone again, she turns back to Mason. "If that's a real thing, our expert doesn't know about it," deSilva says. "Which is...a very unlikely thing to happen."
"US military toy to dronify aircraft?" Mason asks. "Works off a tablet?"
"Our strategic warning analysts don't have F-35 autonomous flight on the board for at least another decade," deSilva says. "There's a lot of software upgrades still stuck in validation, but nothing like that in the pipeline that we know of."
"Well, that's what they've installed on one of the F-35s - and it's what RoI has compromised, so your analysts might want to check their crystal balls," Mason says. "Probably want to use it to RC the plane into attacking the crowd."
"It'd be a credible kinetic threat," deSilva says. "You don't need live weapons when you have a supercruising 15 ton missile." deSilva thinks. "I assume you have a way to stop it?" she asks.
"Already disabled," Mason says. "What we need is help tracking the control signal, which is on..." He pauses for the voices in his ear to give him the numbers.
"9.67 GHz," Laith says, relaying signal info from Blake. "Probably a small receiver, but wall penetration is approximately zero. Likely outside or at an open window of some sort with direct line of sight."
"9.67 GHz, likely something in a window or mounted outside," Mason finishes.

deSilva taps the numbers onto the phone. Seconds later, it reconfigures itself into something like a signal meter display, just showing some jagglies below the noise floor - probably backscatter from some wireless tech inside the exhibition hall. She rotates it around herself, trying to make it look like she's just searching for the best selfie angle. "This is where a stealthy surveillance drone would be really useful," she comments dryly. "I don't suppose you brought the phone I left with your friend?"
"He's outside," Mason says.
"I didn't bring another spare with me," deSilva says. "So unless you have a sensitive enough tracking tool with you, you can either stick with me or I can get started on my own while you get your friend inside."
"He's busy keeping RoI on the hook," Mason says, looking around for anything to use. It's an arms show, someone's gonna have IW shit on the floor.

(Mason uses Notice.)

Mason mentally backtracks to the Dassault booth he passed on the way in. They have a demo model for a drone-spec radar-warning receiver: sensitive enough to tell when you're spiked by low-power search radar, runs off the same 3.7 Volt power as a small drone's lithium-ion battery and while it's kinda big for a microdrone to schlep, it's also only 150 grams. Just two minor problems, really: a) Mason's not 100% sure it can be hacked to search for one specific frequency, and b) that demo model is in a glass case at the booth on public display. A quick glance over to BAE's booth shows them trying to interest someone - anyone - in their take on a software-defined radio set that can do all the waveforms, all the crypto and has Bluetooth and 4G and it's a WiFi hotspot, too! Even the salesmen look about ten years late to the market, however, clearly looking forward to Beer O'Clock.

Mason nods to the BAE booth. "Do you guys have a unidirectional antenna that can plug into that?"
"We certainly do!" one of the salesmen perks up, half a bit mad at Mason for disrupting his daydreaming but one and a half times excited that he's got someone who might maybe potentially be looking at an option to declare intent towards becoming a customer. He quickly motions for his colleague to get the good stuff from the lockbox.
"Hi there!" a saleswoman with a very strategic amount of closed buttons on her shirt chirps at Mason, rushing up to the very border of his personal space. "You're interested in our LONGSWORD communications system? Good for you, Sir. May I ask who you're representing?"
"The glory of the Marine Corps," Mason replies. "It's the lady with me who has the interest." He takes a sip of his champagne.
"Bethany Freudenburg," deSilva says, adopting a smile and mirroring the saleswoman's accent without missing a beat. "I represent a consortium of regional interests with heavy investments in security and relief missions."
"A PMC?" the saleswoman asks.
deSilva laughs. "I'm afraid Academi has ruined that term," she says. "We prefer 'operations provider'. I'm sure you can imagine that when we deploy to disaster areas, we need a comms solution that is rugged and can function without much infrastructure - in fact, I'm quite interested in the cellular relay node option. Nothing quite says 'We'll help you get through this' like having a phone signal."
"Oh, indeed!" the saleswoman says. "If I could just get your contact details -"

While deSilva distracts the saleswoman, the salesman comes up with a triumphant smile, holding a demo model of the radio receiver brick with a mounted antenna that's so mint in box it still has the protective plastic on it.

"Go on, Sir," he says, "give it a try!"
For what it's worth, the system is easy enough to dial in, and in a moment Mason is waving it around, pointing the box around hunting for the strongest signal from the mysterious source.
"Notice the excellent signal discrimination," the salesman says as Mason sweeps the radio around. "This whole hall is flooded with radio signals from mobile devices but the signal finder is accurate to within 10 kHz of the target frequency. Pair that with the right signal beacons and you can establish RDF-based location services, find cellphones buried under rubble, even detect running generators." Mason stops when he points the radio straight up - there's a signal reflection coming from above. He squints and just barely makes out a shadowy shape in the rafters, apparently wedged in between HVAC vents and cable ducts.
"Sounds like something a friend of mine might be interested in," Mason says. "He likes to crawl around in accessways and rafters."
"...I'm sure he does, Sir," the salesman says, putting on a tired 'boffins amiright' smile. "Is there anything else you would like demonstrated?"
"Let me think," Mason says, still pointing it around. "My friend left me some questions, just gotta remember all the terms."
"Ask if we can get a phase shift angle read against a reference waveform," Laith radios. "And an attenuation survey between two reference points to determine source signal directionality."
"Can it get a phase shift angle read against a reference?" Mason asks. "And...I think it was an attenuation survey between two points for direction?"
"...I'm sure that's possible," the salesman says with a big, fake smile. "Oh, Belinda?"
The saleswoman interrupts her chat with deSilva. "Yes?"
"We're trying to get a...I'm sorry, Sir, could you repeat your question?"

Mason repeats the question.

"I'm sorry to say the first won't be demonstrable here," Belinda says. "The radio could do it but the software just isn't designed for it. I'm sure we could do some spot development to make it happen, however. The second ones is fairly straightforward." She takes the radio off Mason's hands and does a few taps through menus, explaining it in a not at all straightforward way. "...and now that you have the base map area configured and the reference beacon dialed in, you just walk and let the radio map the signal for you. Ten feet each way should suffice."
Mason nods, and walks down to the other end of the BAE booth.

The radio beeps every two seconds or so, indicating that it is taking its signal readings. At the end of it, it gives a long beep. Belinda comes over and fiddles with the radio again. "The boys are really proud of this one, Sir," she says with a smile, then enables a camera on the radio. It shows a 5 MegaPixel view of the scenery, but as Mason aims it upwards, a superimposed cardioid shape is drawn into view, showing the signal's direction - aimed right out at the air field through a nearby open roof hatch, it seems. "What are we locking on to?" Belinda asks. "That's...weird. Maybe we shouldn't be so naughty and snoop around. I suggest we use our WiFi router instead, that way we can play around with the antenna direction and signal strength."
"It's something we've got set up just for beaming maintenance data," Mason says. "Figured no one would mind me snooping in on our own traffic."
"Oh, that's so sneaky!" Belinda says. "Good job, Sir. You know, even most dedicated scanners don't pick up frequencies past 6 GHz. I wonder how many other booths here could pass your little exam."
"I wonder what my friend will think of this little device," Mason says.
"Well, my birthday's coming up," Laith snarks.
"Do you have an account ready for a purchase?" Mason asks.

"I really don't think -" deSilva tries.
"Yes, we're not supposed to -" the salesman cuts in.
"It is against the rules to do business on the expo floor, Sir, I'm sorry to say," Belinda says, putting a hand on Mason's shoulder and giving him her best shark smile. "Maybe I could let you...evaluate one of our units at your leisure, and we'll let your HQ square up things with our home office?" She eyes him from top to bottom. "Provided I can explain some of the...finer points to you later. You do seem like you could use someone who knows what she's doing."

Mason smirks. "I always appreciate additional instruction from someone who knows what they're doing."

"I bet you do, Sir," Belinda purrs at him.
"Someday you need to tell me what brand aftershave you use," Laith weighs in on the radio. "Appreciate the personal sacrifice, though."
"Stop messing around," Operations cuts through. "Mason, if you have eyes on the target, don't dawdle. And don't take your eyes off deSilva. I don't trust the Good Samaritan act after Hamburg."
Mason rings one of his burners with his main phone in his pocket. "Duty calls," he says with a sigh. "I'll have someone swing by and pick that up later. Until later?"
"Quite, Sir," Belinda says. One more smile and then she's off. deSilva coughs at Mason to leave.
"Upstairs, in the rafters," Mason says, all business again. "Right above us."
"Are you going to flirt him into our reach, too?" deSilva asks, walking quickly to gain distance from the BAE booth.
"Maintains cover, blends us right in," Mason replies, stepping lively himself. "Have a problem with it?"
"I do, but that's neither here nor there," deSilva says. "Let's just figure out how to take care of him."
"You're off-limits, anyway," Mason says. "That was the deal."
"Your fiancé doesn't need to worry about me," deSilva says. "Not playing for that team."
"Makes it even easier," Mason replies. "Must have been popular with the FARC."
deSilva's mask of polite non-interest turns sour at the mention of FARC. "Yes, and now they're all dead," deSilva says. "Very convenient. Nobody left to leverage against me."
Mason nods. "Sorry."
"Thank you," deSilva says.
Gatac 2019-10-03 20:10:24
It doesn't take very long for the pace in the hangar to pick up. All consideration of repairing the COMA'd F-35 is abandoned in favor of just getting it closed up against and wiped down to look presentable. Blake pitches in best as he can, listening to Alira's comments as she first locates the security station, then makes use of the All Hands On Deck commotion to quickly scrub through the footage, and then -

"Fuck me dead," Alira mutters. "Only one who's wrenched on that COMA alone is the Gunny."
"Could be legitimate," Ops weighs in. "Blake, you got eyes on?"
"Mmh-hmm," Blake hums, shoulder to shoulder with Gunny as they push the final RAM panel back into place. It clicks satisfyingly, at least. Your tax dollars at work.
"Everyone step back!" Gunny says. "Are we inspection ready?"
"Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!" comes the cacophony from the Marines around them as they let their eyes sweep the plane, the hangar, themselves...anything that could ruin the photo op.
"Places!" Gunny barks over the nearing hum of a SUV's engine. As he steps away, he pauses and then tilts his head towards Blake. "How about it, Marine? Want to shake hands with a no-shit Saudi prince?"
Blake nods slowly. "Done worse for my country."

(BS Detect to see if he's got an ulterior motive to put me next to Khoury)

Blake's read on the Gunny is...fuzzy. Define 'ulterior motive': is he just offering this as a kudos for helping out, does he genuinely think Blake would be a good choice as pointman for the photo op, does he think Khoury might have technical questions Blake is best qualified to answer? But Blake gets the sense that Gunny's not doing this to put him in harm's way, so to speak. That's gonna have to be good enough, because here comes the black SUV.


Prince Khoury is one of the few royals you've seen who's actually dressed down, compared to the immaculate suits of his security detail. His whole outfit looks sober and plain, but it is neatly fitted and absolutely spotless at that. With his short-cropped hair and thin-frame glasses, he looks every bit the bright young military officer.

"Salam aleikum, your Excellency," Gunny says, stepping forward to welcome Khoury.
"Aleikum a salam," Khoury replies with utmost politeness and a modest smile. Slight American accent on his Arabic...east coast, west coast? "Thank you for taking the time to indulge my request, Gunnery Sergeant." East coast.
Gunny nudges Blake forward.
"Salam aleikum," Blake steps forward. "Corporal Stan Larsen. A pleasure to meet you, your Excellency."
"Aleikum a salam, Corporal," Khoury says pleasantly. His look betrays nothing of his plans, if any. From the way he shakes your hand without any sign of fight-or-flight tension, it does however seem clear that he doesn't know you from Adam.

As Blake shakes on it with Khoury, he times a brief moment of security inattention to slip the tracker bug against a dark patch of fabric on Khoury's outfit. Khoury seems to not notice, either. Though respectful of the hierarchy, he does take a moment to shake everyone's hands, at least from the Marines who didn't think to get gone in time.

"What a magnificent plane!" Khoury says, regarding the F-35. "God willing, I will be able to fly one myself soon." He then turns to look at the marked-out places on the tarmac. "We take the photos now?"
"Yes, your Excellency," Gunny says, motioning for the Combat Camera Marine to get herself in position.
"Hey," Khoury says to Blake. "Do you want a selfie with a real prince, Corporal? One time offer!" He laughs quietly, as if he thinks his little gesture is just a bit across the line.
Mentally, Blake files that observation away for later. For now, he needs to play the part.
"Of course, Your Excellency." Blake acts all business, though he does offer a genuine smile for the camera(s).
"Say, 'America!'" Khoury jokes, his bright smile easily captured by the clicking of several cameras. The Gunny gets the more sober pictures, sharing an Important Handshake with Khoury, then it's all over with. Khoury thanks you all, then he and his entourage make for the SUV and disappear.
"That's the CIA off our backs, for now," Operations radios in. "Good job, Blake. Now, everybody start thinking exfil. Mason, how's it going with deSilva?"