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Re: Shadow Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

"Kasumi?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirika

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

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

Kirika

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

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

Kirika!

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

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

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

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

Kirika!

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

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

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

---

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mason spends Notice.)

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

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

Re: OOC

Gatac posted in OOC on 2019-10-03 20:14:41
You may have noticed that I've finally put up the most recent Discord stuff. You may have also noticed that nothing has moved since then. Well, here's the resolution to that mystery at least, a short and snappy one.

I ran out of players.

Therefore, I must put Wildcard on indefinite hiatus. Sad we didn't get further, but I had a lot of fun with this and I hope everyone else had, too.

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5934339/mediaviewer/rm1024997120

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?"

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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.

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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.

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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:

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1567113/mediaviewer/rm1403180288

"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."

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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."

Re: IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac posted in IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1 on 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.

Re: Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3

e of pi updated in Jade Imperium - Afghanistan, Pt. 3 on 2019-09-22 04:21:06
Unlike some of the others, Luis and Arketta don't need to head to the 815 annex. Instead, they just make their way out into Atea proper and then back home to their berth. After being out in the field, it's good to be home.

Arketta immediately hits the toggle for her chestplate, letting the two halves hang from her shoulders by the internal strapping. "Vidas Lam, this feels good," she says, stretching her arms up into the air.
Luis pauses in the middle of stripping off his own armor to appreciate the sight, and grins. "It's really nice to be back someplace I'm pretty sure no one's shooting at us."
Arketta continues shedding parts of her armor as she makes her way through the berth back to the bedroom, leaving a trail of carapace parts before finally falling over onto their bed, down to just her skinsuit. "I need to call my watch commander and let him know to put me back in the patrol schedule," she says from her back, staring at the ceiling as she stretches, her hands touching the shelving behind the bed while her feet hang well off the edge. "And you need to talk to Yisai about wing assignment. And we need to talk to Brinai about a family berth. And we need to stop by requisitions for neonatal issue. And we need to schedule medicae visits for me. And...and a whole bunch of other stuff."
Luis sighs, adding it all to a list in his vox. "And we need to get something fresh in the galley, and a lot more. Who knew coming home was this much work?" He sorts through the list further, then sits up. "We never told my folks."
"Told them?" Arketta asks.
"Before we left, I was making sure they knew about evac strategies if we didn't come back, I didn't tell them we're having a baby," Luis says. "I didn't want them to worry about being in the field."
Arketta props herself up on her elbows. "You mean told them told them. Well, is the gateway open?"
Luis checks, his vox pulling it off the public schedule. "Not for another half hour or so," he says. "I'm sort of glad...gives me some time to think about how to tell them. They're going to worry."
"Worry about?" Arketta asks.
"About you and I going back into the field, even more than they already do," Luis says.
"My mother was in the field until she couldn't fit in her carapace anymore," Arketta says. "And we are taking a pause after this, so I'll just be on Kansatai duty. Nothing to worry about."
"True, that's just not how they do it on Narsai'i," Luis says. "They're going to want to wrap you up in bubble wrap. Hell, maybe we can use it to finally get them to come visit more."
"To have them fuss over me?" Arketta asks, wrinkling her nose. "...maybe we can convince them that we have a terrifying gang problem."
"You can just say you're too busy chasing them through the streets in your maternity carapace," Luis chuckles.
Arketta falls back onto the bed. "As long as they come after we get a break. And a real one. You, me, and one of the personal care annexes for a whole day."
"Sounds like a plan," Luis says.
Arketta props herself back up. "How long do I have to lay here in my skinsuit until you lay down here with me?" she asks with a smile.
Luis chuckles, and sets an alarm for the Gate window before flopping down onto the bed. "Long enough for me to stop being dazzled by the view and remember how my boots work," he says.

By the time the alarm chimes on his vox, Luis' boots have managed to make their way into an untidy pile near the bed, along with the rest of his carapace. "Gate's open," he mumbles into the rumpled covers.
"Mhmm," Arketta mutters as she rubs her hand on Luis' behind. "Make the connection."
Luis pulls up his vox, and punches in the connections to his parent's phone.
There's a miniscule pause - entirely on the Narsai'i end and just enough that Luis' vox makes it impossible for him not to notice - as the bridging system decodes the vox connection prefix and dials a Narsai'i phone number. There's a bit of a ring, and then the other end connects. "'Hello, Stanhill residence,'" Martha Stanhill says.
"'Hi Mom,'" Luis says. "'Do you have a few minutes?'"
"'Luis!'" Martha says. "'Always for you.'"
"'Thanks,'" Luis says. "'Arketta and I had some news we wanted to tell you, but last time we talked just wasn't the right time. Is Dad around too? It might be easier to tell you both.'"
"'Of course,'" Martha says. "'Don, come here! Luis is on the phone!'" There's a pause, then a click. "'Okay, Luis, we're both here now.'"
"'Hey Dad,'" Luis says. "'Arketta and I just wanted to let you both know that...well you're going to be grandparents!'"
There's a pause. "'Oh my god, Luis!'" Martha squeals.
"'Congratulations, son,'" Don says.
"'Thanks, Dad,'" Luis says. "'Arketta's here with me if you'd like to talk to her. Everything seems fine so far, there's a lot we're still getting worked out, but so far they both seem fine. We're really happy, and we wanted to make sure you knew.'"
"'Oh, how are you doing, dear?'" Martha asks.
"'I am fine, Mrs. Stanhill,'" Arketta says. "'Just very excited to be back.'"
"'Well, we will have to make time to come and see you,'" Martha says. "'It'll be so nice, having Arketta stay home.'"
Arketta raises her eyebrows but says nothing.
Luis shrugs a told you so in response before continuing. "'We're going to be between missions for a little while, so we'd love to see you,'" Luis says. "'We're going to be applying for a larger berth, so maybe you can help us take a look at them.'"
"'Oh, that would be great!'" Martha says.
"'Martha, we're going to be late,'" Don says. "'Son, before we go, I'm proud of you both.'"
"'You'll both make such great parents,'" Martha says. "'We'll talk again soon. Love you, Luis and Arketta.'"
"'Love you, Mr. and Mrs. Stanhill,'" Arketta says.
"'Love you Mom and Dad,'" Luis says.
"'We'll see you soon, son,'" Don says, and the line goes dead.

"You do know that all the family berths are the same," Arketta says.
"They don't," Luis says. "And there's still the location to consider. Besides, with more room, maybe we can actually think about some furniture that doesn't come bolted to the walls."
"Maybe," Arketta says. She gives Luis a kiss. "How much time until we need to be back at the briefing room?"
Luis smiles. "An hour or so," he says, then smiles. "You have plans?"
"Well, there's one more thing we haven't been able to do while we've been gone," Arketta whispers with a smile of her own. "And I think it's very important we take care of it as soon as possible."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Luis says.

edited by punkey on 2019-09-22 00:09:06