IC 2 - Amsterdam - Day 2

Gatac 2017-03-27 06:52:59
You've gotten in touch with some helpful people in Amsterdam, recruited an insider to get past Edil Varajev's security and made a temporary truce with the shadowy group calling themselves "Fractal" - oh, and you prevented a terrorist plot by blowing a warehouse sky-high. Now you just need to actually get into Varajev's apartment and grab the laptop. Piece of cake, right?
Gatac 2017-03-27 06:53:49
After what passes for good night's sleep among covert operatives, it's time to face a new day and discover a different kind of Amsterdam - you know, one with sunshine and traffic and people. Unsurprisingly, yesterday's warehouse explosion is front page news on the paper you snag on the way to the business breakfast with Operations, but the article's tight-lipped about investigative findings - very tight-lipped, in fact. You can almost picture the editor pulling the journalist into his office and telling him to rewrite it without using the word "terrorism". Still, you have to figure that unease about terror attacks is better than actually having that drone tank open up on a downtown crowd.

As you drive up to Hannekes Boom, it occurs to you that this area of Amsterdam isn't very suitable for cars; nice quiet area, though, lots of houseboats and water and a couple of ducks enjoying the morning sun. At the cafe itself, you arrive just early enough to have to dodge to the side to let a departing van through, while Operations is standing in the entrance door, waving you in. As you enter the cafe, you notice that there's a pretty decent breakfast buffet set up for you - and only you, as the whole place seems deserted. Operations locks the entrance behind you, then saunters over to the buffet and starts piling some fresh fruit on a plate.

"We have the place to ourselves for the next hour," Operations says. "So, the good news first. Agent Braun from our Frankfurt office is on his way with the Stingray you requested. I'll be picking him up at the train station after this. And I'm sure you noticed that Amsterdam is open for business now - I recommend you take care of the car situation before Agent Abbing has a heart attack about exposure. Plus, you know, whatever else you need. I brought some more money, if you're running low."

She tastes a strawberry. "That'll do," she mumbles.

"Also, Director Marsh called to tell me that he got a call from the DNI about Brahmvir Singh. Apparently the DNI wants him bagged and shipped to the Craiova blacksite for 'processing'. Not sure if they want to put the screws to him or just disappear him at this point." She shrugs. "Anyway, Marsh told the DNI the same thing he told the Indians and the Pakistanis: they aren't going to get their hands on Singh. Not as long as we still need him. Just figured you should know how popular our friend is."

Having piled up a sufficiently high mountain of fruit, Operations leaves the buffer for the only table with place settings and finds herself a chair to sit in. Sits down, stretches her back, kinks her head from side to side with eyes closed.

"All right, that's better," she says. "So, I guess we get to the elephant in the room now: the exploding warehouse. It makes our hosts nervous when things explode around their capital city, especially when they find half-vaporized corpses and the busted wreck of an armored vehicle at ground zero. Anything you can tell me about that, boys?"
punkey 2017-03-28 16:12:14
Mason sticks with eggs and some kind of local sausage. "Varayev smuggled a Uran-9 tank into Amsterdam - one modified with additional armor, Claymore mounts, and RPO-A launchers, then had it hidden in the back of a container on a truck, waiting for delivery."
The expression on Operations' face falters, briefly. "So you blew it up, then," she says. "Good riddance. I'll make sure that Agent Abbing knows to clean up the fallout. The last thing we need is a new terror scare in Europe. What about the bodies? Anyone who will be missed?"
"Two Crips that were threatening a contact," Mason replies. "Didn't look like they had a strong parental presence in their lives."
"Hrm," Operations hums. "Well, when they gotta go, they gotta go. But for future reference, I prefer not leaving bodies for the cops, no matter how charred. That just creates awkward questions."
"It was cover for the explosion - two idiots playing with their new toy," Mason replies.
"I'm sure the official report will reflect that working theory," Operations says. "Anything else?"
skullandscythe 2017-03-30 11:28:00
Blake sits down with a plate bearing enough breakfast for two people, and does not share. He gives Operations pictures of the vehicle if she's interested, but doesn't have anything to add on the current topic aside from what Mason's already said. Besides, those bacon strips aren't going to eat themselves.
Gatac 2017-03-30 11:47:17
Operations checks out the pictures and the manuals you rescued from the warehouse, leafing through the papers.

"Well, this should keep our analysts busy," she says. "Anything else?"
"Papeurs from ve office," Luc adds, sharing his own bounty. "Vey show many crooked ahr-runge-mahnnts. Chine, Allemagne, Mer Noire...vey are a merry international conspiracy, are vey not?"
"China," Operations mumbles, looking through the shipping papers. "Okay. We have Russian explosives going missing, now Russian drone tanks...but it's coming through China? I thought the MSS wanted Varajev shut down, but this looks like he's got involvement in their own backyard."
"Vey did not share much wiv me," Luc says. "Perhaps, it is too embarrassing? Imagine your boss is making ve deal for 'imself - who do you go to?"
"His boss," Operations says. "But I get what you're saying. They've got a mess, it's safer to let us clean it up for them, all the leverage we might get from it only implicates the people they wanted to get rid of anyway. Anyway, how did you stumble across this?"
"A friend," Luc says. "'e will not be sorry when 'e reads ve paper today."
"Loose end?" Operations asks.
"Asset," Luc says.
"Well then," Operations concludes. "I'll get this home, too, see if Marsh can turn any of this into leverage for us." She turns to Tim. "Anything you'd like to add, Agent Barstow?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-03-31 11:57:07
"Yeah," Tim says around a danish, which almost seems treasonous here. "I ran into the same bike ninja here who tried to ice me in Delhi. Her name's probably Valentina de Silva, ex-motorcycle racer, ex-FARC, aka The Cleaner" - Tim's finger-quotes spread crumbs farther than he wants here - "and supposedly working for some blacker-than-black no-really-we're-the-good-guys bunch of secretive fuckjobs called Fractal."

Tim sighs here, because no really, Wildcard's the good guys too. Right?

"Also known as Silent Leges, Chamber 17, The Network, Fuller White... they change their name more than Sean Combs, and now you know how out of touch I am with celebrity culture. They want what's on the hard drive too, but I don't have enough intel to know if we should be fucking them over."
Gatac 2017-03-31 12:25:30
Operations's eyes narrow.

"Let me guess, doing your job constitutes fucking them over in their view?" she asks. "I haven't heard of Fractal but I've...dealt with Chamber 17. Made it very clear to them that I don't play well with people who act holier-than-thou while threatening me or my agents - I thought that was the end of it, but apparently they have a very unfortunate learning disability. Then again, that you have a probable ID on one of their operatives isn't something I take lightly. That might be the foot in the door we need to gain leverage on them."

She sips on her coffee.

"The way I see it, you get your hands on the harddrive, then we'll see what we're working with," she says. "After that, as a gesture of goodwill, we might want to provide a partial clone to the MSS, and maybe to Fractal, too - then we can hear them out on what they're willing to offer for the whole thing. But we're not going to throw unredacted critical intel into a black hole on the off-chance it might get a couple of blowhards off our back. Your call on how you want to deal with them, Agent Barstow, but if they give you any more crap, feel free to remind them who they are fucking with."
punkey 2017-04-01 13:02:56
"If we decide to make contact with Fractal, I have a way that's less likely to respond with a magazine of 9mm," Mason says. "I was approached a few years back by someone that claimed to be recruiting for Silent Leges, and I can still make contact. Man in Black like that never loses a phone number, so he'll pick up when I call."
Gatac 2017-04-01 13:08:33
"That's not in any debriefing of yours that I read, but I can't say I'm surprised," Operations replies. "Let's save the phonecalls for after we have the stingray ready, though. Anything else before I let you get back to it?"
punkey 2017-04-01 13:10:08
"Not in the habit of sharing illegal solicitations to join some black-ops shadow paramilitary group," Mason says. "I like my job too much."
Gatac 2017-04-01 13:22:58
"I noticed," Operations says. "So, back to my previous question...anything else, boys?"
Gatac 2017-04-14 06:28:51
"I'll leave you to your breakfast," Operations says. "Be back in fifteen. I need to take care of some things."

These are the fifteen minutes after a job interview after the smiles and the final handshake where they ask you wait outside while they deliberate. The fifteen minutes you showed up early to your dentist appointment so now you get to work yourself up in the waiting room while staring holes in two-months-old gardening magazines. The fifteen minutes between seeing that you have three missed calls from your parents and actually getting them on the damn phone when you call back.

But hey, they have those funky Turkish sausages that are beastly cold cuts on rye.

Fourteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds later, Operations returns - except not quite. Her hair has been done up into a bun, with a few strategic short tresses over her ear augmented with a subtle-esque red color spray and matching makeup. Gone too is the more austere business look in favor of cream-colored shirt and airy white pants with matching sandals. A big smile and big sunglasses, as well as a glitzy handbag, complete the transformation.

"All right, boys," she says. "Mason, you ordered the Stingray, you're with me, we'll take a little walk to the station. Barstow, I understand you're also headed to the central station, I recommend you go the other way - hang a right between the cafe, take the tram. There's a rental car service on the way, so you can take care of the new car issue, too, and whatever else you boys put on the shopping list. I've pushed your reports on Fractal to the analysts, we'll be the first to know when they connect the dots. Blake, I've arranged a sit-down for you with a munitions expert - he'll be waiting from 1100 at the cafe next to the Anne Frank house, order a double cappucino to go for Randall, he'll take it from there. Pick his mind on the technical materials you found in the warehouse - if we're going to drop this drone tank thing on Russia's doorstep and get some answers from them, we need to be damn sure it was one of theirs and not a knockoff. He also has a workshop he's willing to let us use - that should suffice to prep the devices you need to get into Varajev's apartment. Lagarde, I want you to take the old car to the drop point. Agent Coemans will pick you up and get you to the safe house for an interview. Singh says he's got something to say, but he'll only talk to you. We'll reconvene at Neiuwmarkt by 1400. One more thing: let's try to have no more explosions before lunch. So, no questions? Good."

And then, the inevitable quick exit, Operations going for the back door with Mason begrudgingly following. Bam, briefing done.

Did anyone bring doggie bags for the buffet?

---

Operations and Mason end up on a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, as it's only about half a kilometer to the train station. Nice weather, few pedestrians though. Well clear of the cafe and anyone else who might hear you, the so-far silent stroll changes volume when Operations indicates an empty bench and speaks up. "We need to talk about Amrita Bhaduri, Mason."
Mason nods to that, and they both sit down. "Unless you're looking for a hat stand, not much to talk about anymore," he replies.
"Case closed from your perspective, hm?" Operations says. "Fact of the matter is, Bhaduri played all sides. She knew things. I don't know how much of what she knew is in the wind. That concerns me. And since you were the last one with her, I'm asking you: is there anything you can tell me about your dealings with her that you didn't feel like putting in the report?"
"She liked to be on top," Mason says. "And had pretty good taste in beer. Other than that, all she knew was that we were here to snatch and grab Singh, or if we couldn't do that, put a few bullets in him. She managed our escape route - over the mountains into Tibet."
"China?" Operations probes.
"There's a lot of local tribes in that part of China that don't have a lot of love for Beijing," Mason replies. "I've worked with them before to get in and out of Pakistan."
"How did you get in touch with her?" Operations asks. "Mutual friends, I assume?"
"Lots of people looking to put Singh in a dark hole, it wasn't hard to find someone that was willing to work off the books," Mason says.
"And that was all there is to it?" Operations asks. "Right price, right product?"
"Spies for hire tend not to be the sentimental type," Mason says.
"Neither are you," Operations says. "How'd you leave things with Ms. Akkermans?"
"She's incentivised to keep things quiet - we're paying for a very nice vacation for her," Mason replies.
"If she lives to see it," Operations says. There's a coldness to her as the wind briefly tussles her hair. "And where are you at, Mason? I know you special ops types tend to look fine until you keel over dead, but there's not a lot of people on this planet who could live the last 24 hours in your shoes and come out without a scratch."
"Danny and Mike are on their way back no worse for wear, and we stopped a tank from slaughtering a crowd marching for peace," Mason replies. "I'm better than fine."
"You slept with a woman you hardly even met less than a day after executing your last partner," Operations says. "You can see why I'm wondering what's going in the squishy center between fuck and kill. If you're fine, you're fine, if you're not, it would be smart to tell me now while you still have options."
"She wasn't my partner," Mason replies, almost snapping at Operations. After the outburst, he leans back against the bench. "Just two adults having fun."
"That's what we tell ourselves," Operations says. "Do you care for my opinion?"
"That going to stop you from giving it?" Mason asks.
"No, but I figured asking first was the nice thing to do," Operations says.

Mason says nothing, so Operations pauses for a moment.

"Everything you enjoy, everything you care about, everything that makes you feel like a human being," she says, "is better off with you as far away from it as possible." She puts on a fake smile. "I love my job. Do you?"
"Usually, but this conversation might change my mind," Mason replies.
"I've made my point, then," Operations says. She sucks in a breath of fresh morning air. "What are you going to tell the next person who asks about Amrita Bhudari?"
Mason doesn't move from his gaze at the waterfront. "Who?"
Operations smirks. "Let's go, then."
skullandscythe 2017-04-16 17:27:42
Blake watches the two leave with a raised eyebrow before turning back to the remaining two diners and Blake's stack of plates. Fifteen minutes was enough time to sample most of the buffet, and it was good enough that he'd have to come back here again.

"Now she decides to blend," he snarks with an eye roll. "Tim, you alright meeting with this bitch? No offense, but there's still so much we don't know about her. Or her bosses. You have a holdout with ya?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-17 14:20:44
"I don't usually carry," Tim says. "Clashes with how I like to work. As for Ops... I figure we stopped a drone tank being rolled out at a parade, that's good enough for now. For now."
Gatac 2017-04-17 14:24:40
"You want I look into ve boss lady?" Luc says, sipping on a bit of coffee. "It would be - what is it you say - due diligence?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-17 14:26:37
Tim nods his assent to Luc, wondering if Operations left the breakfast wired for sound. "Gotta go get us some wheels. Catch you later."
skullandscythe 2017-04-17 16:34:47
"Wait."
Blake holds up a hand. "I don't mean Ops, Tim. I mean the motorcycle assassin who's tried to ice you. That bitch."

Blake shrugs sheepishly. "Not that I'm not a fan of diligence, per se. Just, you know. Not the point I'm trying to get at right now."
Gatac 2017-04-18 10:16:21
"Ah, her," Luc says. "You have not introduced us to ve mademoiselle motocyclette, Timothée."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-21 13:11:42
"Right, had a 50/50 shot and still got it wrong," Tim jokes. "Valentina de Silva... I mean, I had a conversation with her and she didn't kill me. I also think we should go along with them, at least to quell their distrust, because I'm betting I have a lead on one of her FARC buddies they don't know I know about. We do this job and then we can flank Fractal via this contact of hers in Marrakech."