IC 2 - Amsterdam - Day 2

Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-28 13:50:20
"Just can't stay away, right?" Tim calls to De Silva. He walks over to her, smiling like he's always meeting old friends who wear full-body concealing bike leathers in parking garages. "Did you lose your bike again? Do you need a ride?"
Gatac 2017-04-28 13:57:50
de Silva actually chuckles a bit.

"I'm just here to warn you," she says. "The MSS has surveillance teams crawling all over Centraal today. I recommend you change your looks before you go in there." She cocks her head. "Also, our lookout confirms that Varajev has left town for Rotterdam last night. The laptop did not leave with him. You're still going after that, aren't you?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-28 14:03:33
Tim nods. "You'll get your prize." He walks to the Talisman and climbs in, checking the mirrors, futzing with the rental paperwork, adjusting the seat, checking for bugs.
Gatac 2017-04-28 14:24:32
(Tim's Conceal to check for bugs: 1d6 = 5)

It's not quite The French Connection, but Tim still gives the Talisman a thorough check. There's dozens of ways to compromise a vehicle and they keep adding more with every model year, but fortunately, in a way, bug evolution is converging on things that are essentially tiny smartphones using 4G signals to transmit - that way, there's no need to keep a receiver close to the car where it might be noticed. Tricked-out as the Talisman may be, it's got no OnStar or similar "mobile internet" stuff on board, and the garage is not exactly brimming with other phone signals, either. Tuning the detector to the right frequencies, Tim starts the engine (just in case the bug is waiting for ignition to turn on) and sweeps the detector along the likely antenna hiding places, listening for the telltale patterns of a phone trying to ping a cell tower - nothing. That doesn't rule out recording devices or GPS loggers hidden somewhere in the car, but it does mean that nothing is actively screaming "I'm here! I'm here!". And there'll hopefully be time for a thorough sanitizing and search of the car before they have to turn it back in.
skullandscythe 2017-04-28 15:08:13
After scanning the coffee cup in his hands (and shaking it around as though not sure how full it is for the benefit of anyone watching), Blake starts wondering about the security hoops he's jumping through. Breadcrumbs like this are good tradecraft - if you're being watched, or suspect you are. He didn't figure anyone had worked out his part in the explosion recently; might be time to re-evaluate that.

Blake waits a little before heading out to the meet, and tries to keep an eye out for pursuers, while also shaking them off.
Gatac 2017-04-28 15:53:36
(Blake's Surveillance to fade into the crowds and suss out pursuers: 1d6+2 = 6)

While the phrase "SERE" might summon images of running through a forest at night while bloodhounds bark in the distance, Blake's always been a fan of applying the principles to urban operations: big crowds at, say, a major tourist destination make for ideal cover to slip into, and Amsterdam's narrow little streets and many small shops make it easy to break contact and double back. It doesn't take Blake very long to expose a "tourist" couple who seem awfully fond of pointing to random houses without the man ever stopping to take pictures with that fat Nikon slung around his neck, and the woman is wearing a wig and sunglasses while her handbag swings far too lightly off her arm for the size of it - if there's one universal law, it's that the stuff carried in handbags expands to fill the bag, after all.

Blake keeps walking, staying off a direct route to the meet until he's in the clear, when he spots a squeaky yellow water taxi sitting at the side of the canal, waiting for customers. Blake's pretty sure he could shake the couple with a circuit around the block and then lose them completely via the canals, but then again, it'd be rude to leave without introducing himself to his fan club...
skullandscythe 2017-05-01 08:19:59
The thought is tempting, but Blake has an appointment and it's not with the evening news. He heads over to the water taxi, and gives the driver directions for a circuitous route that ends not too far from the meeting place.
Gatac 2017-05-13 07:35:35
Turns out water taxis go pretty much any route if you flash some cash, so Blake takes a short impromptu tour of the canals around the meeting place while the "tourists" get to spin their wheels and try to reacquire their tail. Fun Amsterdam fact: Did you know that the Prinsengracht was originally the canal where big industries and poor people settled? That's why the canal sides are comparatively low: to make it easier to load and unload boats. Not a bad place, then, to have one's workshop. Blake makes it with two minutes left on the clock and nobody following him, as confirmed when "Randall" quickly buzzes him through the front door of the nondescript building. There's a basic mimicry of a regular hallway there, with a nice little shoerack, but right next to that is a dispenser for plastic shoe covers, which might be Blake's first clue that he's about to step into something serious. Behind the next door hides a little dressing room with labcoats on hooks and dispensers for vinyl gloves, hair covers and surgical masks. Suitably dressed, Blake advances through the next door, whose soft hiss reveals the positive air pressure beyond it.

And just like that, he's standing in a clean room, maybe Class 1000 or 100 on a good day, but that's pretty good for the size of the facility still. All of it is achingly white. There's a steady hum from beyond the plastic sheeting hanging off the ceiling as filtered air is streamed into the room. Along the walls, various contraptions involving glass vitrines and expensive-looking lab gear are mostly out of the way, while the heavyset man from the bench - "Randall" - is under the literal spotlight in the center of the room, all wrapped in white overalls with a head cover and safety glasses, leaving barely any skin exposed. He's bent over a lab table, with a few metal fragments in a plastic specimen bin before him. A few more sideways glances at the vitrines reveal that other metal parts are undergoing some semi-automated testing - Blake would bet those are drone tank shrapnel.

"I'm quite sorry about all the cloak & dagger with the coffee shop, Mr. Johnson," Randall says. "But I was paid well to do what was asked and paid just as well not to ask any questions of my own. To answer the first of yours, however, yes, these are some of the parts found at ground zero of yesterday's explosion. I hope to establish their provenance within the hour through metallurgical analysis, if that is all right with you."


After a fifteen minute search for a parking spot that leaves him little closer to Centraal Station than the damn car rental place is in the first place, Tim darts between bikes and trams over the plaza in front of the station, entering on the tails of what looks like a guided walking tour of the place led by a spunky twentysomething Dutch girl with slightly-accented English. Tim semi-organically detaches from the tour before anyone can question his presence in the group, makes a detour through a chocolate shop, then finagles his way into the station proper, where he heads for the lockers. Locker located, code entered, and bam, the door opens.

Withdraw little carry-on case with an extendable handle and wheels on the bottom. Close locker. Walk aw-

"Hey!" a thirty-something dude in a suit shouts as he stomps up to Tim. "What are you doing? That's my bag!"
skullandscythe 2017-05-14 23:32:28
Blake slips into the protective gear, though he notes that there's no lockbox to store any weapons. He keeps his holdouts (a combat knife and one of the Glock-19s) with him, and hopes his tails don't pick up the scent - doubly so after entering the clean room. Firefight in here would be bad.


Blake smirks at "Randall's" simplification - he's doing far more than just metallurgy in here. The first sample he saw was undergoing solvent extraction for accelerant residue testing, the one next to it ablating adhesive layers for a more thorough analysis. Both would still need time in a mass spectrometer for any actionable results could be produced, which means he has one sitting around here, given the time frame. Man's got one hell of a workshop.

"Well that's fine by me...sir," Blake affirms with a nod, "I have a great many questions for you, but I think we'll start with the three biggest. What have you found so far? How can I help? And - I do apologize," he says gesturing to the pieces of drone, "- How did you get your hands on these?"
Gatac 2017-05-15 13:03:29
Randall smiles behind his mask. "I cannot compromise my sources," he says. "You understand, Mr. Johnson. But I have found...several things you may want to know. This piece" - he points to a torn piece of steel plate - "is face-hardened steel, with an unusually high percentage of titanium - observe the minimal micro-deformation around the fringes of penetrations here and here. This other piece" - he points to about half of a machine cannon's chamber and barrel extension - "is built from maraging steel, alloyed with about 10% Nickel and 7% Manganese. Usually one or the other. Both paint a picture of Russian metallurgy being used to build the device, or at least some parts of it." He nods to the exit. "If you wish to contribute, my regular lab is upstairs - back to the hallway, there's a ceiling panel you can pull down with a ladder. I'm running tests on some of the chemicals there - in particular, I've managed to secure a warhead that did not cook off in the inferno; apparently it was thrown clear of the fire by the initial blast. Anything you can figure out with that would help us understand the bigger picture."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-05-15 15:27:21
Tim smiles but inside he's frowning. There's no chance he got the wrong bag - locker wouldn't have opened. Did the Dane screw him over? Maybe, but Tim didn't get that vibe from the old man. Coincidence? Tim laughs to himself. No way.

Tim keeps walking - he's not getting bogged down in Centraal Station by whoever the hell this guy is. "Go fuck yourself."

Mr. Suit'll have to either be the aggressor, in which case Tim is going to have to stomp on his nuts until he can't walk anymore, or he's gonna have to find a cop, and as soon as he turns, Tim'll be gone.
Gatac 2017-05-15 15:47:48
"Hey!" the man calls after Tim, following him along the row of lockers. "Hey, buddy! I'm talking to you!"

Out of the corner of his eyes, Tim can make out some people staring at the scene. Nobody's rushing off to grab the nearest cop yet, but walking out of here while getting followed by Crazynuts Suit Guy is not gonna be the stealthiest exit.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-05-18 10:17:18
"This is my bag, buddy," Tim replies. "Why would you even say that? What's wrong with you, harassing people like this?"

Tim has to slow, but he tries to time it so he ends up near the restrooms if he can't get to the exit.
skullandscythe 2017-05-18 23:45:25
"Of course. Trade secrets," Blake murmurs wryly, though he didn't expect any other response. Except for the warhead; the mention of it pushes the question forward again, and it's with restraint that Blake keeps his reaction muted.

"I will be happy to help with the warhead as long as I still have time to tinker with my other projects. I was told that I might be able to use a workbench around here later, to sharpen some tools - this other workshop, I assume?"

Before Blake leaves to get started on some science, he fixes 'Randall' with a level stare. "Oh, about the coffeeshop. Was that your idea, or someone else's ?"
Gatac 2017-05-20 11:56:44
"Uh," the suited man says, looking around Centraal Station but obviously not finding what he's looking for.

(Bullshit Detector!)

Of course. He's not angry. Nobody who's actually angry sounds like that, looks like that, carefully keeps his distance like that.

He's not angry. He's acting.

"Oh, God, sorry, I blew it," he says. "Cut, I guess. Was that too much? Too little? I wanted to go more physical but we didn't rehearse so I figured I'd better give you some space to do your thing. You're kinda off-script but that's cool, that's cool. Just tell me what you need, dude. You know, I think after we reset, we could, ah, you know...what if I wait around the corner, come at you when you're already wheeling it away? I felt like I entered the scene too early, you know, I think instead of chasing you away I need to stop you, give this another kind of energy, like a High Noon showdown..."


"Yes, the workshop upstairs is yours for the next few hours," Randall says. "And the café was my idea, yes - I don't usually hit the coffeeshops until after work, you know?" He chuckles at his own semi-joke.

(assuming that answers Blake's questions for the time being)

Blake makes his way through the airlock into the entrance hallway, locates the ceiling panel Randall spoke of and pulls it down, climbing up the extendable ladder. The next floor is plainly the well-stocked main workshop and rather bigger than expected, both due the deletion of the normal stairwell (no doubt because the clean room space downstairs needs a lot of hidden machinery) and due to actually stretching into the next building over - which is where a proper stairwell does lead down to a garage/small metal shop and up to another floor, where Randall presumably makes his home. The whole shebang looks like it's been expanded, remodelled and refined over years, and with what Blake supposes is the tacit agreement if not actual material support of certain elements in the Dutch military intelligence community.

And on the central workbench, there is, indeed, a scorched and dented but otherwise intact thermobaric warhead, set up under an overhead light with a camera on a tripod, obviously for documentation purposes. Randall's nothing if not thorough.
skullandscythe 2017-05-20 22:26:46
Blake looks around with a low whistle, making a note to ask Ops more about 'Randall' and whether he accepts cash. He shuffles over the warhead, keeping his features out of the camera's profile instinctually. Blake looks over the warhead for identifying marks, possible ways to open it up, and...other complications. Traps and the like.
Gatac 2017-05-29 14:35:11
(Blake's Explosive Devices vs 4 to disarm the warhead safely = 1d6 + 2 = 8)

(Blake also spends his point of Military Science to check the markings on the warhead and his 2 points of Mechanics to examine the general construction.)

Here's some fun #WarsawPactItIn trivia: one of Belarus's most useful exports are loose-lipped Lieutenant-Colonels whose only job perks (besides free detail jobs for their Ladas) are the semi-annual trips abroad to various European arms fairs. Blake encountered just such a Podpolkovnik three years ago, and over the good stuff they got to talking about how Soviets like their anti-tamper measures tagged into the main trigger mechanism - easier to build, and easier to render them safe that way. A short browse of the workstation yields a piece of thin sheet metal scrap that only needs to be worked over the edge of the bench with a hammer to get in the proper shape, then Blake slots it into the warhead's disassembly lock. The warhead pops open nice and simple-like...almost too simple. Blake tests the sheet metal again - pretty soft alloy, that. A proper Russian lock should have more resistance than this, enough to bend the "key" out of shape. Still, that's not conclusive, it could just be a Friday Afternoon model.

One thing that definitely speaks against this being Russian surplus: the explosive filler is too new. Blake doesn't need to check the serial ranges to see that it matches the plastique he'd been tracking to New Delhi. The SEMTEX that's not supposed to exist. But that poses a new, worrying problem: the amounts don't match up. There's simply not enough in the wind at this point for it to have gone into all the warheads the drone tank sported, even if you discounted the bombs they already built with it in Delhi. So either this warhead is the most special of all snowflakes, or...there were more than 30 kilos of this stuff. Possibly much more, if they're willing to (literally) blow it on a drone tank like this. That pretty much entirely eliminates Explosia as a source: 30 kilos of untagged product was already stretching the bounds of credibility, but more than that, there's got to be someone with the original recipe who's cooking this stuff elsewhere - someone with a decent chemical supply chain and no international oversight whatsoever.

But the shitty part is, they'd have gotten away with passing the warhead off as Russian surplus despite that. The markings are almost right; Blake's seen enough munitions stockpiles inspected and "rendered safe" (i.e. blown the hell up) to recognize that the font on the warhead label does not match it's (probably very fake) serial number. It's too new, in fact; the Soviets had nice, rounded little descenders on the Shcha and De, but the new Russian script is more angular. It's a bit like somebody googled "Russian military font" and stuck it on there, and somebody else got a high-res picture of old RPO-A serial tags and made up a new number, but then nobody who's handled a real shell checked the overall result.

So it probably wouldn't matter. If this had blown up as intended, they'd have been lucky to find half a letter's worth of paint and two digits of the serial tag, and Russia would have denied it and nobody would have believed the Russians in any event. But this...this might be it, hard proof that the munitions on the drone tank were "knockoffs" - no less dangerous, but not provided from Russian military stores.

The other thing that gives it away are the stabilizer fins - or rather, the springs that are supposed to pop them out after launch. Blake fully believes Randall's assertion that the armor plating of the drone looks like Russian metallurgy, but those are the parts that would be scrutinized after the drone's deployment - while all the little springs for the warhead stabilizer fins would be blown to bits. And not to put too fine of a point on it, but Blake's spent more time with Russian springs than some people have spent with their kids. Russian springs are always, always stronger than they have to be, because what if we are in Siberia in the winter and the rockets fell into the water and froze over on the way to the fight, comrade engineer? They use the kinds of springs that would pop out the fins even if you dug out a warhead that'd been buried in the permafrost for a decade. Whoever built the knockoffs, however, bought their steel springs COTS, Chinese-off-the-shelf.

In fact, Blake's pretty sure he could get the exact parts number and manufacturer with a laptop and ten minutes on Alibaba. And when you get that far, well, put it together with the shipping papers from Shenzhen and a few not too long leaps of logic, you'd have a pretty good case that the machine was built in China, top to bottom, and with a company to begin your investigation, too. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and China's gotten really good at copying Russian tech - make no mistake, this little project piece needed a lot of high-tech manufacturing capability to mock up so closely, and if it's not China, it pretty much has to be another state actor. "China builds drone tank to terrorize Amsterdam"...hell of a headline. Hell of a pretext for - well, not war per se, but for a lot of Western pushback, trade sanctions, a seismic shift in political power in the Pacific. Russia, China...neither one very high up on the "We didn't do it!" credibility list. Which of course begs a couple other questions, but that's getting into conjecture, and Blake's focus are facts. They need facts for leverage. And this warhead, and the video of Blake disassembling it and his discoveries in the process - that's a lot of leverage.

It all comes back to one question: qui bono?
skullandscythe 2017-05-29 23:26:00
When Humpty Dumpty Fell
all the king’s men found him
still alive

Humpty they said
for an old egg you sure
don’t smell rotten

I am New Humpty said he and
there are many more of me
but I still taste good

New Humpty popped
open with broken springs his
curves sharpened to points

So they rebuilt him as a
nesting doll lying inside
is a fortune cookie

The Fortune Reads
Your Lucky Numbers are
Zero Nine Zero Three One Six

Blake shut his notebook, musing that putting the date of the Dehli U bombing at the end there was not subtle enough to escape scrutiny. But that's the best he can do after some nerve-wracking dissection for an audience. He was careful to leave his face out of sight whenever possible, but he still got everyone close-ups of the forged serial numbers (and fake text) and the bad springs from the fins. He takes one with him when he leaves, heading downstairs to talk to Randall, pale as death.

"Randall - or whatever your name is - are you absolutely sure the warhead was brought here from ground zero?"
Gatac 2017-05-30 12:11:25
Randall takes a moment to appreciate Blake's expression and very particular wording. "No, I am not," he says. "For obvious reasons, I am not in the chain of custody. I trust my source implicitly, but there remains a nonzero chance that I might have received a facsimile." Pause. "Judging from how you look, however, the implications of that are no more pleasant than if we assume it is one of the ground zero munitions. If I may ask, what did you find that has you so concerned?"
skullandscythe 2017-06-02 10:57:10
Blake hesitates for a moment. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but everything you've found so far says Russian origins," he says, pulling out the spring he brought with him, "but the warhead upstairs is not. A sample for you - my money's on Chinese make." He places the spring on the table, then motions for Randall to follow.

"The thing is, while I know it's not Russian made, someone went to great lengths to make it look Russian. Did a damn good job too. I've found a few small imperfections - everything's too new." A grunt as he hauls himself into the upstairs workshop, then helps Randall up. "The serial number, which I haven't confirmed yet but suspect is fake, uses the new, more angular font, not the old round characters from the Soviet era. The stabilizer fins didn't pop either - cheap ass fake springs."

Blake gestures to each piece in question with a stabbing finger, then points to the filler he's recovered. "This worries me, too. It seems too fresh to be Cold War era. I'd like you to look for chemical tags in this, as well."

Blake fears that he's right, and there are no tags in this stuff. But being able to present the team with the proof of it is important - more than potentially giving too much away to 'Randall.' And a thorough analysis might help Blake track this stuff back to its source.

Assuming 'Randall' has no further questions, Blake jots down any more info he needs to trace the materials, and starts working on some implements for the team's insertion into Varajev's apartment and other security measures like safes. Some nonlethal stuff too, in case of a messy exfil.