IC 0 - Prelude

Gatac 2016-09-03 01:59:46
Operation STEADY RESOLVE has gone completely off the rails, and Wildcard is activated to pick up the pieces and figure out what went down.
Gatac 2016-09-03 02:01:14
(Housekeeping goes here)

Freeform, first rule of improv. Keep it light and fast.
Gatac 2016-09-03 02:34:05
It was a dark and stormy night in Langley, Virginia, but Agent Hoi Yan Ng had no way of knowing that. She’d spent the last seven hours in the bowels of The Company, where the only weather was fluorescent lighting and the soft whirr of the A/C. Her mouth was dry, her palms were sweaty and her eyes were puffy, but a quick glance around her showed the rest of the team looking similarly worse for wear. She fidgeted with the secure phone in her hand, waiting for the next call - the next bit of bad news - but her eyes were fixed on the frosted ballistic glass doors that separated South Asia Clandestine Operations from the less secure hallways outside. For a moment there, she almost hoped that nobody would come through them.

But then Deputy Director Marsh walked through them, flanked by his bleary-eyed aide. Marsh, only a half-hour drive out of bed, wasn’t looking particularly rested, either, but he had about him a fresh air of anger that made him look more awake than anyone else in the room.

“Ng,” he said, nodding to her. Well, he said “Ing”, but that was close enough for Zero Dark Thirty.
“Sir,” she said, nodding back. “I’m sorry to call you in at this hour, but -”
“Save it,” Marsh said. “What’s the word from the station chief?”
“Current word as of” - Hoi Yan checked her watch - “seven minutes ago, Pakistani forces are mobilizing along the border into the Kashmir region. Mushaf is on full alert and fueling up No. 9 Squadron. Indian units are on alert and assuming defensive posture.”
“Any border incidents?” Marsh asked.
“Nothing we can substantiate at this point,” Hoi Yan said.
“Alright,” Marsh said. “I need troop movements of the last 72 hours and somebody in Kabul who can get me eyes on the regional airspace. Get State on the horn, too, and tell them to make those Paki cowboys settle down while we sort this mess out.” He looked to Hoi Yan. “Did we start it, Ng?”
“No, Sir,” Hoi Yan said. “High confidence that we did not start it.”

The secure phone rang.

“Operations?” Marsh asked; Hoi Yan nodded quickly and handed the phone to him. He took the call as he walked towards the center of the room, past the workstations of the operations officers on duty and towards the central map screen. “Marsh here,” he said. “Give me some good news.”
“Good news,” Operations said. “The good news is that we just took off and all local officers are on board. The bad news is that we don’t exactly have a flight plan. I’d appreciate if you could keep the IAF from shooting us down.”
“We’re working on it, but stay on your toes,” Marsh said. “What’s your heading?”
Thumrait,” Operations said, “but we can divert to DG if needed. Either way we’re looking at an hour until we clear Indian airspace.”
“I see,” Marsh said. “Sounds like you’ve got some time to talk to your new coworkers.”
“I think you know what I’m going to suggest now,” Operations said.
“Yeah, I’m calling it,” Marsh said, glancing at the clock on the screen. He turned to see Hoi Yan standing beside him, and he made sure to speak loud enough for her to hear it, too. “Zero Three Hundred Forty Eight hours. Wildcard is in effect. You have final action authority, Operations.”
“Wildcard in effect, acknowledged,” Operations said. “I’ll call when I know what we need.”
“We’ll send you everything we can,” Marsh said. “Godspeed.”


“Sir,” Hoi Yan said, “State is setting up a conference call, they’re ready for you in Briefing One.”
“Good,” Marsh said, then clapped his hands together a few times, ensuring that he had everyone’s eyes on him. “Okay, everybody, listen up. Operation Steady Resolve is now at Wildcard status. Nobody leaves or enters this room without my say-so, absolutely no exceptions. When I get out of that conference call, I want to know what the fuck just happened in South Asia, and I don’t care whose dick you have to suck or whose grandma you have to sell. Make it happen.” He took a breath. “And would somebody please get me some coffee? Thank you.”
Gatac 2016-09-03 02:44:02
The plane was the first thing you saw when you stepped out of the air-conditioned SUV onto the sweltering tarmac. It looked like a business turboprop, from the outside. Maybe it even started life as one. But once inside, it became clear that it wasn’t. Might be that glance into the cockpit showing two pilots with NVGs. Might be that the interior furniture looked like blood would wipe right off it. Or it might be that you had known the brown-haired woman who pulled you out of New Delhi for all of half an hour and already knew that although she might actually be CIA as she claimed, she was not just your average case officer. Still, as you climbed into the plane, found a seat and buckled in, nobody seemed to be trying to kill you - that’s more than you could say for the city you just so hastily evacuated.

Then there was a roar and a push and a couple minutes later, against all odds, you were starting to feel like you might have actually made good on your exfiltration. The phone call the woman placed sounded straightforward enough, until you heard her mention “Wildcard”.

You weren’t supposed to know about Wildcard, nobody outside the program was, but that idea was pretty much dead on arrival. Wildcard was many things to many people, and it had left the requisite amount of scattered, inconclusive footprints. If you did anything in the last five years more exciting than stapling papers together for a morning brief, chances were that your professional life had touched Wildcard, even if only glancingly. Satellite time you had spent three fucking weeks waiting for pulled at the last second for a high-priority walk-in op you hadn’t been briefed on...would never be briefed on, even after the fact. Another targeted killing of a terrorist leader based on supposed intel so thin that it was either a lottery win...or someone finding out stuff that could not be acknowledged even inside the community. Or that guy you knew who knew a guy who met a dude who was only ever referred to as Mr. X, by actual, serious adults. No matter how much Special Activities had restyled itself as a military special operations force, no matter how much direct action mandates now blurred the lines between assassinations and a Delta Force raid...there was something beyond that. Something deeper, darker...weirder.


While you were still figuring out how you felt about shaking hands with a rumor, the woman ended the call. For a moment there, she seemed lost and ran a hand through her brown hair, mumbling something indistinct to herself. Then that moment passed, and she unbuckled from her seat and stood up to address you.

“Okay, here’s how this is going to work,” she said, her look sweeping the small cabin. “We’re all going to take a walk through that door.” She nodded towards a bulkhead behind the seat, bisecting the cabin of the plane. “Any and all electronics you’re carrying stay here. Phones, wearables, cameras, flashdrives, absolutely everything. Anyone I catch trying to sneak rogue devices into my SCIF will have to continue flying under their own power.” She ducked down and retrieved a milky plastic storebox from underneath one of the seats, then held it out. “Give generously,” she said. “Once we’re inside, I’ll read you in on what I know and we can start to piece this mess together.”
punkey 2016-09-03 03:08:54
Mason stands up, takes his big Suunto GPS watch off and his smartphone out of his pocket, and then his barely-tinted sunglasses - with just the barest hint to the built in pico-HUD in the frame and complete with microcamera clipped to one side - and then lifts his shirt up to unvelcro a biometrics wrap from around his chest, pulls it free along with the transmitter/recorder box clipped to his belt, and puts the whole mess in the bin. He gives the Agency Operative a wink - more to rile her up than anything - before dropping his shirt and unstrapping the drop holster around his right thigh. "Figure you'd have asked for this a while back, Ms. Wildcard," he says as he drops it in the bin.
Gatac 2016-09-03 03:15:20
"I like my men armed, Mason," Operations answers with a smirk before her expression grows more serious again. "Okay, everybody, pat yourselves down for injuries. Anybody feeling dizzy, sick or faint, say something before you take a dive."
Gatac 2016-09-05 13:01:32

One of the problems that any official operation has is borders. Bad guys, by definition, ignore rules and simply do what they want - which includes international borders, treaties, agreements, and handshake deals. So, oftentimes a taskforce or mission or operations team has to stop cold at a border and watch the bad guys sail on by. This is especially complicated when the local authorities are susceptible enough to graft and bribery that roadblocks seem to appear out of nowhere any time a real pursuit is on. Mason - Major Jacob Mason if you’re looking for him to never speak to you again - has known this feeling more than once in his Army career.

Which is why it is a mere coincidence that he and his operations team are vacationing in New Delhi, the city that supposedly hosts their assigned quarry: “Muhammed” Brahmvir Singh, the head of the AQ affiliate running ops throughout the whole subcontinent. The way Mason sees it, he’s doing them a favor. Part of that favor would be picking up the phone when it rings. It’s a cheap burner, with a ringtone barely louder than the hotel room’s creaky AC, but it does get his attention when it starts beeping and trying to vibrate itself across the nightstand.

“Yep,” Mason says.
“Grab your shit, Mason,” God says. “God”, in this particular instance, being Michael Schiavelli, the team sniper with a nice perch opposite the Hyatt Regency’s front exit. “We’ve got movement, two limos rolling up and a truck in a side alley. Could be Brahmvir.”
“Rich fucks always roll deep,” Mason says, already on his feet before “movement”. “You see the shot, take it.” His bag is in his hands, and he’s out the door. “Otherwise, observe and report.”
“You got it,” God says. “Get on comms, I’m ditching the phone.”
“Done,” Mason says, and hangs up. The next moment, the cheap flip-phone is snapped in half, the battery and SIM on the floor. A moment’s rummage in his bag, and an earwig comes out and goes in his left ear. “On comms, guide us in.”
“Okay,” God says. “You got two guys getting out of the first limo, suits and shades, probably subguns under their jackets. Another two from the second limo. They’re all meeting up with another suit at the hotel’s front steps, he looks...he looks fancy, but it’s not Brahmvir. Caucasian, balding salt and pepper, I’m gonna say fifties. Ringing any bells?”
“I got nothing,” Daniel Holtz, the team’s tech, weighs in. “Facial recog isn’t grabbing anything at this distance. Mason, can you get closer?”
“Limp on the left side?” Mason asks as he clears the bottom floor stairwell and steps into the lobby of the shitbag hotel.
“Yep,” God answers. “Who are you thinking?”
“Edil Varayev, mean Chechen fuck,” Mason says. “Mostly sticks to his part of the world, though.”
“See, Danny?” God says. “That’s why your gear will never replace old fucks like Mason.”
“Eat a dick,” Daniel answers. “And when you’re done with that, I still need a better shot to confirm.”
“Do you one better - that cliche briefcase, does it have a dent in one corner?” Mason asks.
“Hard to tell from here, but could be,” God says. “Talk to me, Mason, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that we should be thinking about why a Chechen crime boss is paying a visit to a jihadi terrorist in New Delhi,” Mason says. “Everyone, whatever your ETA is, it just got halved. I want to give Edil a second chance at putting a dent in me with that stupid briefcase.”
“I can have the van there in three,” Amrita Bhaduri, your local fixer, chimes in. “But it’ll be noisy.”
“I have the solution on Edil,” God says. “Seeing more movement over at the truck. One guy, untucked shirt. He’s walking towards the little scumbag meeting. We going in hard on this, Mason?”
“Hold, hold,” Mason replies. “Let’s see how this plays out - besides, you ice Edil, we lose Brahmvir.”
“Not sure we have Brahmvir,” God says.
“And it’s just a coincidence that Edil is there?” Mason asks as he rounds the last corner, and sees Edil’s entourage 150 meters out. “Brahmvir is there.” He reaches into his bag again, and pulls out a MP5K and suppressor. “In position. Hurry your asses up.”
“Two minutes out,” Amrita squawks, over the sound of squealing tires in the background.
“Coming to you, Mason,” Daniel adds between breaths.
“You got eyes on Brahmvir, Mason?” God asks.

Well, does he? Mason scopes the situation before him. Four goons and a Chechen asshole with a personal grudge against this seasoned operator, all standing around on the marble front steps of the hotel like they’re waiting for the bus to a gangster convention. And then there’s that guy from the truck in the side alley walking up to join them there. Coming through the little greenery in front of the hotel, he seems to stick to the shadows of the trees there, making it difficult for any snipers to get a good shot at him, and his face is mostly hidden behind shades and a beard...but height and age would match Brahmvir Singh. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s the best chance they’ll get to take this bastard down. It all comes down to how Mason calls it before their window closes.

“How tight is the cordon?” Mason asks.
“There’s a lot of traffic,” Amrita says between untranslatable cussing. “Won’t be easy to escape. Won’t be easy to pursue, either.”
“Ten seconds out,” Daniel says.
“Mason, do we have Brahmvir?” God asks. “I need a red or green here.”
“Green,” Mason says. “Fifteen seconds.”
“Ready on your go,” God says.

A sideways glance shows Daniel entering the picture, hefting his surveillance kit over the back in a black pack while his open leather jacket has released the slung MP5K beneath it into his hands. While he doesn’t radio in, he gives a nod as he takes cover about twenty meters away from Mason, ready to put down some cover fire on Bad Guy Central. As Mason and Daniel mentally divide fields of fire, the bearded man leaves the cover of the trees and jogs across the entryway of the hotel, past the limos and towards the assembled suits.

“Ready for pickup in the back,” Amrita radios. “Scoping some cops going the other way, better make it quick, guys.”
“Three, two…” Mason raises his MP5K to his shoulder. “One.” And rips off two three-round bursts at the driver of the far limo - the one blocking the only good way out.

The MP5K braap-braaps as its bullets dance over the limo’s windscreen, spiderwebbing the glass to hell and back. Nothing penetrates, but try telling that to the driver - he’s taking a dive down into the footwell, and so five tons of armored car are now sitting smack in the narrow driveway of the hotel. To their credit, the goons react quickly and efficiently, producing their hidden subguns - looking like Uzis on steroids, but that’s to be expected for arms dealer henchmen. Edil, not quite so swift, is pressed down into a crouch by one of his gorillas as they rush him towards the second limo while one member of the security team goes for the disabled limo, trying to take cover behind the engine block - but eats a bullet before he gets there.

“One down,” God says.
“Brahmvir’s running!” Daniel calls out, and Mason’s look is temporarily drawn towards the bearded man who’s trying to retrace his steps at a substantially faster clip, running back through the green and towards his truck. “Cover me!” Daniel cries, firing off a burst over the heads of Edil’s group as he sprints to catch up with Brahmvir.

Mason does him one better - he hits the ground on the side and looses a long burst along the path of the fastest running feet. Brahmvir falls flat as Daniel races over to him, and Mason turns his attention back to Edil’s security detachment, who are understandably busy trying to cram their boss into the backup limo. It seems they’re also too busy to return fire beyond a few token shots that sail clear over Mason’s head. Glancing out of cover one more time, Mason can see the driver of the disabled limo crawl out on the far side and towards the second limo. It’s a tense few moments until the second limo’s engine roars to life and the car haphazardly backs up, pushing a small Mini idling behind it out of the way as if it was a stack of empty cardboard boxes.

“HVT secure!” Daniel radios.
“Guys, you have to move,” Amrita adds.
“Then let’s move,” Mason says.

The second limo has by now finished reversing and guns it down the hotel’s driveway against the waiting traffic, pushing aside the smaller cars as it slaloms past trees and other more solid obstacles. Daniel jogs back towards Mason with a zipcuffed Brahmvir in front of him as police sirens light up in the distance. Brahmvir’s dirty - hitting the deck in a white shirt will do that to you - but seems otherwise unharmed. Daniel taps his magazine dump pouch, now obviously containing a small pistol.

“They don’t believe in holsters around here,” Daniel says.
“Guys!” Amrita radios. “Get a move on!”

At this moment, the limo has finally pushed all the way to the main street, where it is now faced with the impossibility of going against the traffic flow there - the only way out is to drive right past where Mason and Daniel have taken cover, and so it does, merging into traffic but pointedly keeping its ballistic glass windows all the way up. As it does, Mason looks in the windows - and sees Edil looking right at him. He gives him a cheeky wave and a smile as he drives past.

“Well, I’m glad someone’s happy,” Daniel says, manhandling Brahmvir toward the alley going around the hotel - which would, ironically, be his best shot at getting to his own escape vehicle, if he wasn’t zipcuffed and safety-lined to Daniel. “We’re coming in,” Daniel adds. “Get that motor running, Rita.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” Amrita replies. “Thirty seconds, guys, then I have to go, with or without you.”
“We’re ten seconds out,” Mason replies.

Ten seconds is a pretty accurate guess for how long it takes to jog down the back alley and onto the next main road, where Amrita and her off-white panel van are already idling at the side of the road. Guns roughly hidden from casual view, Mason and Daniel proceed, Daniel giving Amrita a short wave.

“God, we’re good on the exfil, what’s your status?” Daniel radios. “God?” Hearing nothing more, he pushes Brahmvir further towards the van. “Mason, you hearing anything from Mike?” he asks.
“Check in, Mike,” Mason says, even though he hasn’t heard anything.
“Guys?” Amrita radios. “Get in, now.”
“Goddamn it, Mike, this isn’t funny,” Daniel radios. “Say something.”
“Get in the van,” Mason says, pushing both Daniel and Brahmvir into the side door.

Brahmvir, if he was ever resisting, has completely given up on holding out, and so easily lets himself be shoved into the panel van. The sound of police sirens is getting uncomfortably close.

“Fucking finally,” Amrita cusses from the driver’s seat.
“What about Mike?” Daniel protests as he climbs in after Brahmvir and moves to secure him.
“He’ll come up on comms when he’s clear, and he knows the rally point,” Mason says. “We have to go.” He nods to Amrita. “Go.”
Amrita doesn’t acknowledge that; she steps on the gas instead, and it’s all Mason can do to pull the side door closed as the van accelerates and tries to merge into traffic.
“Mike, we’re going dark,” Daniel radios. “See you at the rally point.” That said, he clicks off the radio on his belt and starts pulling out his earpiece. “He’s fine, right?” he asks Mason. “He’s fine.”
“Gentlemen,” Brahmvir says, the first time he’s opened his mouth. “What do you think you are doing here?”
“Okay, quiet time,” Mason says, and starts wrapping Brahmvir’s mouth with duct tape. “Bind his hands, Daniel.”
“You got it,” Daniel says.
“Yo, cowboy!” Amrita calls from the front, an exclamation that is bound up in a noticeable deceleration of the van. “We’re hitting a lot of traffic over here.” After a moment, she adds “Sidewalk’s free, though.”
Mason leans forward and looks out the window - the sirens behind them are fading, and there’s more on the bridge above. “Keep it cool, Rita.” He moves up to the passenger seat. “Let’s all just stay cool.”
“You want me to be relaxed, I will be relaxed,” Amrita replies, nonchalantly reaching for the radio. Instead of cool tunes, a somber-sounding announcer seems to be repeating a message in Hindi.

“- please stay calm and do not leave your homes, if possible. Rescue units and police are on their way to the scene of the explosion. Please do not hinder them. We will let you know when we have more information.”
“Fucking shit,” Amrita says in Bengali.
“Uh,” Daniel says, “what’s going on? I only got the ‘explosion’ part.”
“Shut up!” Amrita barks and turns the radio louder, only to hear the message repeated. “Recording loop,” she says in English. “Some kind of emergency? What did you cowboys do?”
“We didn’t blow anything up, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mason says, and looks back at Daniel. “Get his mouth uncovered, he’s got some explaining to do.”
“Right,” Daniel says. He quickly unclips a knife, cuts the duct tape close to Brahmvir’s mouth and pulls off the small part, trying not to take too much beard with it. “You know what’s going on,” Daniel tells him. “Talk.”
“And to think that I was warned about the poor manners of you Americans,” Brahmvir says. “There is no harm in telling you that you have failed. My capture means nothing now. Our friends have poked the tiger once too many, and this time there will be war.”

Mason spins the radio dial to the local news - still in Hindi, but that means that at least two of the people in the car understand it.

“- buried under several tons of debris,” the radio announcer says, clearly struggling with keeping her voice neutral. “The University of Delhi has announced that it has suspended all classes and sent its teachers and students home to let the firemen do their jobs. Several buildings around the destroyed laboratory are also reported to be damaged and are being evacuated right now. The police have asked concerned citizens to avoid jamming the emergency phone line with premature calls, as a separate hotline for questions regarding this incident is being prepared.” There is a short pause as the announcer collects herself. “For our listeners who are just joining us, we are sad to report that the University of Delhi’s campus was rocked by a large explosion ten minutes ago. The police have yet to announce any official estimates, but in our phone interview with the Dean of Students we were told that the Department of Physics’s main lab would have housed about 120 people at this time of day. Casualties in other buildings are still a possibility. We do not know what could have caused this explosion and can not tell you anything else at this moment, but we ask all our listeners to please follow all official instructions and remain calm -”

Mason turns the radio down and thinks for a moment.

“Fuck,” Amrita cusses in English. “2011 is back.”
Mason turns to Daniel. “Search him. Every inch. He was meeting Edil for a reason.”

Daniel just nods and starts patting down Brahmvir, who seems utterly calm in the face of being captured by US special forces.

“What does it matter to you now?” Brahmvir says. “Worry about your own hides. The whole city will be looking for terrorists, men with guns. You are men with guns, and I do not think the government wants you to be here. Will whoever sent you also fight for you? Or will your masters give you up? Maybe your paymasters at the CIA will send another robot with a missile to blow us all up and destroy the evidence that you were here at all?”
Mason pulls a pair of latex gloves out of his bag and tosses them to Daniel. “Keep going, no need to be gentle.”
“How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” Daniel quips. “Wrist-deep in terrorist ass.”
“Torture me, humiliate me, it does not matter,” Brahmvir says.
“Trust me, buddy,” Daniel says, “this won’t be a picnic for either of us.”
“You know,” Mason says as Daniel gloves up, “it occurs to me that you’re trying really hard to get us to stop asking questions and stop searching you. Now, maybe that’s just a sincere and devout belief that your mission on this Earth is accomplished - but I also know about the harems, and the drugs, and that sweet Ferrari you’ve got. So, let’s just say that I’m not one-hundred percent sold on your surrender to the will of Allah. So, what do you think we’re about to find?”
“Something like this,” Daniel says, producing from Brahmvir’s pocket a keyring with a flashdrive dangling from it. “What do we have here, Muhammed?”
“Why should I answer any of your questions?” Brahmvir says. “Your bargaining position is weak. You know nothing. You cannot keep any promises you make.”
“Now he shuts up,” Mason says. “Rita, laptop?”
“Oh, thank God,” Daniel says, replacing the tape over Brahmvir’s mouth.

Amrita taps her left hand on the glovebox until it opens, revealing the kind of laptop that was probably advertised with “USB ports!” as one of its bullet points - but it’s clean, secure and still runs.

“Keep looking,” Mason says as he plugs the USB drive in. “This might just be his dirty pictures stash.”

While Daniel reluctantly continues to search Brahmvir and Rita keeps cussing under her breath, Mason takes a look at the contents of the drive. Lots of MP3s and subtitled anime, what looks like the first two pages worth of ebooks when you search the darknet for “building explosives”, plus some password-protected zip files. Nothing that looks particularly suited to a terrorist mastermind, when you think about it.

“Come in, Strike One,” the radio chirps with an unfamiliar voice. “Strike One, do you copy?”
“This is bad,” Mason says. “This looks like the kind of shit the FBI plants on college students to pad their numbers, not the shit the head of a network has on them. You find anything else, Daniel?”
“Nothing quite that fun,” Daniel says, dumping a pocket knife, some credit card receipts for local fast food places and a pack of gum on the floor of the van. “This really is coming down to a cavity search, huh?” he asks the gagged Brahmvir.
“Strike One,” the radio insists again. “Strike One, come in, we need to talk.” After a moment, it continues. “Strike One, I’m telling you right now that you are in deep shit. Pick up the damn radio and talk to me.”
“Do you think they know what ‘going dark’ means?” Mason asks the gagged Brahmvir, then turns to Amrita. “I don’t think they do.” He picks up the radio and talks to it without keying down the transmit button. “See, this is exactly what the bad guys would say if they wanted us to break radio silence. Next, they’re going to bring Mike into it.”
“Strike One,” the radio continues. “Strike One, I’m going to have the proper auth codes in a minute. You don’t want to talk, fine, just listen. There’s been an incident in your AO that’s got the Indian government spooked, and they’re locking down all transport as we speak. Whatever your exfil for your little unauthorized excursion was, it’s probably shot by now. My job is to get all allied personnel out of this country ASAP, but I need to know you’re receiving so I can either come get you or cross you off my list. I’ll try one more time when I have the code, but if you would kindly get over yourselves and talk to me before that, that would be really nice. Thank you.”
“...is she for real?” Daniel says.
“‘We know that you’re operating illegally, but we’re just here to help’?” Mason says.
“Likely story,” Daniel comments.
Mason looks at Amrita. “Your safehouse still good?”
“Yes!” Amrita says, then rolls down the window to cuss out a driver in front of the van in Bengali.
“Then we drive on,” Mason says.
“Strike One,” the radio flares up one more time, “auth code is Five-Sierra-Eight-Bravo-Zero-Zero-Golf. I won’t ask again. Respond if you’re hearing this.”
Mason looks back to Amrita. “You sure our exfil at the border is still solid?”
“...of course!” Amrita says. Doesn’t sound very “of course”, that.
“Rita, if I’m gonna tell whatever shadow lady is on the other end of the line to fuck off, I need to know that we’ve got a solid landing,” Mason says. “Are we still good to exfil?”
“You talking shit about my brother, cowboy?” Amrita answers. “He is good! He is solid! He will get us across the border, like I told you!” After a moment of fuming, she sighs. “It will work, cowboy. It will work.”
“Uh,” Daniel says.
“You!” Amrita says. “You do not give me shit, radio man!”
“Wasn’t going to,” Daniel says. “Just saying, Mason, this could be legit. I mean, if they have our auth codes...they’re either for real, or we’re totally fucked. Yeah?”
Mason turns around and leans on Amrita’s seat. “And if they’re real, then we admit to breaking many, many international laws by answering that radio. And if they’re not, then we let them know we’re here and where we are. Trust me, we are better off not picking up that radio unless we absolutely have to. Good?”
“No, it’s not fucking ‘good’, Mason,” Daniel says. “We’ve bagged this asshole here, Mike’s out of pocket, we’re way over the fucking edge here. No offense, Rita, but I’m gonna need something a little more reassuring than your brother for this, okay? You guys feeling me?”
“I get you, I get you, but Daniel,” Mason says with a smirk, “if you want a guarantee, buy a car. We are on an illegal operation in a country we are not authorized to operate in. The voice on the other end of that radio - even if they are the good guys - they’ll put us in prison just as fast as the cops will. Trust me on this, we are better off with Amrita’s brother and the plan we have. It’s a good plan, right? You helped scout it out, remember?”
“Fuck,” Daniel says. “Fuck. Go in, get the asshole, get gone, lie low, get out when the heat dies down. Fuck, Mason. That’s a yesterday plan. That’s a plan we had before that Chechen asshole was in play and we got stuck holding our dicks in the middle of a fucking terrorist attack.”
“And they are looking for terrorists, who thanks to this numbnuts, will be claiming responsibility any time now,” Mason says. “A week is plenty of time for Mike to either send up a flare or make his way back to the safehouse on his own. And believe me, no one is going to be looking in some mountain pass - going the wrong way - for us.” He looks back to Amrita. “Right?”
“Of course not!” Amrita says.
“Okay,” Daniel says. “Okay.”

He looks up.

“Then this is where I get off, Mason. Pull over, let me outside. I’ll give it five minutes of running, but then I’m gonna answer that call. Doesn’t matter who it is, I still think it’s legit and I gotta pull the e-brake here, man. If it’s prison, okay, but I don’t see anything good coming your way, man. You do what you gotta do, but I gotta do this, Mason. I’m out.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mason says, then extends a hand to shake - and then his other hand once Daniel extends his still-gloved right hand. “It’s been an honor, and I’ll see you back at base. If not, let me know what you need and I’ll make it happen. I know one hell of a military defense attorney.”
“Okay,” Daniel says as Amrita reluctantly pulls over. “All the luck, you crazy bastard. I really hope you make it. I just...well, you know.” He nods to Mason and Amrita. “It’s been good. I hope you make it. I’ll...I’ll see you when I see you. Godspeed, man.” His brief goodbyes finished, Daniel climbs out the side door and hurries into a side alley to duck out of sight and put as much distance between him and the van as possible.

Amrita pulls back into traffic and fiddles with the radio until she finally gets a station with music, which she turns to low.

“Radio man is still one of them,” she says. “Too much soldier. You hear him whine about confirmation before? I knew he would be first to crack under pressure.”
“He had to do what he thought was right,” Mason replies. “In the Army, that’s what higher up tells you to do. But this, right now, is not the Army.” He pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and passes one to Amrita. “Let’s just get back to the safehouse and tie this asshole to the pole.”
“We do that, cowboy,” Amrita says. “Then we...celebrate?”
“Don’t see why not,” Mason says with a smirk.


Safe houses buried three shell companies deep all look essentially the same - random “For Sale or Rent” sign posted, the same scent of drywall dust, and the same rough collection of random construction tools in a locked storage box on the first floor. Mason’s team had made good use of those tools turning a central bathroom into a cell for their guest - complete with floor-to-ceiling piping, convenient for handcuffing someone to. The rest was easy enough - a few rough beds, a dusty table or two, and a couple sofas. Brahmvir makes no attempt to struggle as Amrita and Mason lead him into the house and secure him in his cell with a set of cuffs.

“Everything is quiet,” Amrita comments. “I can go check the cameras, then we talk to him? Or dinner? What is your plan now, cowboy?”
Mason taps on the wall. “You think Brahmvir knows anything? I mean, anything at all.”
Amrita shrugs. “Maybe,” she says. “We talk to him for five minutes. Anyone can play tough guy for five minutes, cowboy. We work him good, he will talk.” She smiles. “I know a guy, he would make a stone talk.”
“Maybe later,” Mason says, and holds up the thumb drive. “You know someone that can crack this?”
“Is that an Indian joke, cowboy?” Amrita asks. “Maybe. Depends on what is hidden. Ask the asshole first, figure that out. When we know if it is encrypted file, or steganography, or hardware hack...then we can find expert. Yes?”
“Always thought it was smarter to know the answer before I ask the questions - makes it easier to know if they're lying,” Mason responds. “If you want to soften him up first, be my guest. But…”
“But what, cowboy?” Amrita says. “You want to watch me? Maybe get jealous of asshole?” She smirks. “You check cameras and make food. I will...encourage Brahmvir.”
“After you call about the drive?” Mason asks.
Amrita sighs. “I know a man,” she says. “But he will want cash in advance. I go there with empty hands, it will be bad. How much do you have to spend, cowboy?”
“Should have enough,” Mason says. When Amrita reaches for the drive, he pulls it away the first time, and smirks.
“Time for games is later, cowboy,” Amrita says. “I need money and drive to give to the man.”
“Cash is in the bag, rolls are a thousand,” Mason replies, smile not leaving his lips.

Amrita turns away from him and digs into the bag, grabbing five rolls of bills.

“Your friend radio man,” she says, back still turned to Mason. “He is...reliable?”
“You mean is he going to squeal?” Mason asks. “I guarantee whatever CID is going to dish out, SERE was worse. He'll be fine.”
“Good,” Amrita says. “I will go to the expert. You stay here, wait for your other friend?”
“Probably should wait a day before going out,” Mason says. “Until the heat dies down. Until then, you want to go a few rounds with Brahmvir, or me?”
“Not sure,” Amrita says, then grins. “Can I see his dick first?”
“Sure thing, I'm not the kind of man to be threatened by that,” Mason replies. “I'll check the cameras, meet you in the bunk room.”
“You got it, cowboy,” Amrita says, then wanders off towards the cell.

That leaves Mason to get to the kitchen. It’s a little light on gear (No rice cooker? Really?), but the pantry is exceedingly well stocked and there appears to be enough meat in the freezer to bribe a herd of lions. Plus, the fridge is at least half beverages, none of which seem to be alcohol-free. Amrita sure knows how to live it up when she’s laying low. But all of that is down on Mason’s priority list underneath a basic security check. Using a laptop plugged into a particularly concerning wall wart, Mason quickly checks the wireless cams one through six covering the approaches to the house - nothing on one to four, five has the occasional car driving past, six can’t quite seem to decide whether its look at the shady side of the house needs to kick in low-light mode or not. The automatic motion detection (leaving aside the camera watching the road) has about a dozen hits for the day; on review, all of them are animals. Mason nods to that, then decides it’s time for a beer. Apparently, Amrita’s taste runs toward Kingfisher Strong, though there appears to be a bit of a sampler of international beers towards the back of the fridge - two bottles of Guinness, a German Weizen and the obligatory bottle of Heineken. Figuring that he ought to go local, Mason grabs a bottle of Kingfisher and goes back to the laptop, where he watches the camera feeds for a spell.

Which is when he spots Mike Schiavelli climbing the fence into the backyard.

“Come on, buddy, give me the all clear,” Mason says.

Mike wanders into the yard, head on a swivel until he spots the camera, then looks directly into it. He gives a thumbs up, then points to his radio and mimes snapping a twig with his hands - a pretty clear signal of “My comms are brokedick”.
“And?” Mason asks.

Mike stands there for a moment, staring into the camera, then seems to realize what he did wrong and performs the pre-arranged all clear signal. Doing so reveals something else: he seems to be missing most of his gear. Not just the shit he would have stashed, either - his kit bag, radio, HUD kit, all of it. He's basically walking around in street clothes.

“Oh, Mike,” Mason says. He walks over and cracks a window. “We have distress codes for a reason, dickless,” he shouts out the window.
“Yeah, can I apologize inside?” Mike replies, his eyes going left to right as he watches his surroundings.
“Only if whoever is yanking your chain comes out to play too,” Mason says. “I'm gonna guess CIA, they're the only ones dumb enough to be operating here too. Which means you,” Mason gestures with the beer in his hand, “owe me a bottle of Scotch instead of me owing you an ass whupping. No fair when the other side cheats.”
“Hey, man, what the fuck?” Mike says. “Look, Mason, this isn’t CIA fuckery, this is some real shit, okay? I’m gonna spill, but can I come inside, please?”
“What's the rush? No other occupants, no prying eyes,” Mason says, sliding the laptop closer to the window to keep an eye on it. “You want a beer? This local shit ain’t bad.”
“The rush is I dropped two motherfuckers trying to kill me and now I’m trying not to get drilled through my forehead, okay?” Mike says.
“Which is why you left your rifle, sidearm, and knife behind?” Mason asks. “Look, I know that this isn't you making this play, so, I'm not mad at you, I just don't have the time or patience for these stupid fuck-fuck games. Now, if your buddies - either the ones you whacked or the ones pulling your strings -”
“There’s nobody!” Mike interrupts. “I killed two guys trying to get me, stashed my shit because I had to take the fucking metro here, now can you stop being an asshole for a second and let me go inside so I can explain?”
Mason takes another look at the cameras. No movement around the house itself, but there's a car pulling to a stop across the street on camera five.
“Mason,” Mike continues, “I swear to Christ, this isn’t me fucking with you, alright?”

Mason keeps looking at the car in the camera. The resolution’s not good enough to show much of what’s going on inside the car, but generally when you pull over, you turn off the engine and get out, right? Neither seems to be happening here.

“Fuck you, man,” Mike says. “I’m coming in, I need a fucking drink.” He takes his first step forward.
Mason hits the button to unlock the door. “Beer's in the fridge.” His eyes don't move from the car, though. “Seriously, try the local stuff.”
Mike enters through the back door and makes his way into the kitchen, where he walks past Mason and grabs a bottle from the fridge. “So,” he begins, “I’m gonna guess you guys have not been busy killing people in balaclavas? Considering how you’re sitting here sipping beer and giving me shit?”
“Got a call over comms - local comms - had proper codes to break radio silence, and that they were here to rescue us from the Indian government’s terrorist fishing expedition,” Mason says.
“Yeah, my comms went out pretty much right after you nabbed Brahmvir,” Mike says. “I wanted to confirm our meet here, got nothing from you, that’s when they came for me at the perch.” He takes a swig of beer. “Two-man kill team, I’m talking black clothes, suppressed Glocks, short-barrel SIG rifles. Tripped my laser on the stairwell door so I knew I had incoming. First guy I got from behind, two to the chest, the other guy was real fast...shot first, actually. Missed me, though, and then I tagged him. I go to secondary evacuation, ‘cause I can hear more coming up the stairs, get to ground level, motherfuckers are on my fucking car. Ditched the heavy stuff at the drop and tried to raise you guys, but got nada, that’s when I realized my comms must be completely fucked. So I went to the metro, but there was already a police checkpoint. Had to get rid of everything else, too. Rode three stations, doubled back one, walked the rest of the way. And now I’m here and I’m wondering what the fuck is happening.” He takes another swig. “Where the fuck is Daniel?”
“He wanted out, took the call, gave us time,” Mason says.
“Okay,” Mike says. “You tried to stop him, I’m guessing? Because this shit’s gone way fucked up, Mason. You got strangers on your comms while they send a couple fucking ninjas after me, I’d say we’re way past what we wanted to do here. We gotta lay low and GTFO when we can, not go running off half-cocked into...whatever the fuck is happening. Right?”
“Right,” Mason says.
“Hey, where’s the chick?” Mike asks.

Just then, Mason notices movement on the cameras. Somebody’s getting out of that car - an Indian male, trying to look a bit too civilian as he looks left and right before crossing the street towards the safehouse.
“Bunk room,” Mason says. “We were about to celebrate a job well done before you showed up.” He turns the laptop to Mike. “Friend of yours?”
“Friend of hers?” Mike says. “Shit. You got a backup?”
“Sure do,” Mason says. “Amrita!”

There’s no answer from Amrita.

“You think I could have that backup?” Mike asks. “Right now?”
“Yep,” Mason says. “Bunk room. I'm checking our guest.”
“Got it,” Mike says.

Mason makes his way to the cell, whose previous designation as “guest bathroom” now seems more than slightly sinister, and opens the door - just in time to see Amrita all but sitting on Brahmvir’s leg. Brahmvir is struggling mightily to escape for the first time since his capture, which may have something to do with the syringe Amrita is about to plunge into the space between his toes. She looks up at Mason, her expression utterly cold.

“You are too early, cowboy,” she says.
“Got tired of waiting for the big finish,” Mason says. “Got a guest outside, friend of yours?”
Amrita glances at the gun in Mason’s hand. “He would like to ask you some questions,” she says. “How he’s going to ask, that depends on what you do next.”
“That have anything to do with what's in that syringe?” Mason asks.
“This,” Amrita says, “this is just a quick end. The smallest favor we could do...for a useful idiot.” She smiles a shark’s smile at Mason. “What now, cowboy? You are out of time, and out of moves.”
“Not yet,” Mason replies. “Uncuff him, and cuff yourself to the pipe.”
“Aw, cowboy,” she says. “You still need me.” She stabs the syringe downward, towards the meat of Brahmvir’s foot. The needle makes contact - and then the two slugs from Mason’s 1911 make contact with her chest. She falls backwards, dead, the needle still standing out of his heel.

Mason hustles over and pulls the needle back out - the plunger barely depressed. Brahmvir has completely lost his calm exterior, whimpering through his gag as Mason pulls the needle from his foot.

“Where’s your fucking -” Mike shouts from across the house. He doesn’t get to finish that sentence, because all further sound is droned out by a long burst of automatic fire that sends bullets ripping through the house at about chest height - passing just over the sitting Brahmvir and the kneeling Mason. Brahmvir huddles down as low as he can, but just as quickly as the gunfire came passing through, it stops again - feels like maybe one or two automatic rifles getting raked across the whole house, not a machinegun. In Mason’s line of business, that can be a critical distinction. There’s now shouting outside - sounds like Pashto.
“Here!” Mason shouts, grabbing the sidearm off of Amrita’s body and sliding it down the hall to Mike.
“Jesus Christ!” Mike shouts back, skedaddling on all four towards the gun and then into cover.
Mason rips the tape off of Brahmvir’s mouth. “You were almost assassinated by an Indian spy, and now we’re all about to be gunned down by assholes shouting in Pashto. Now is a great time to start convincing me you’re worth saving.”
“I will help you!” Brahmvir says. “With the drive! Get me out of here and I will help you!”
“I have friends that won’t shoot me that can crack your drive,” Mason says. “What I need to know is what’s on it, what you know, and why those two things are worth killing me and my men over.”
“I explain!” Brahmvir says. “I will explain everything!”

Outside, Mike lets loose two shots at the perforated front door.
“Five seconds, and remember, you’re still handcuffed to that pipe,” Mason says.
“Renewal of Islam!” Brahmvir blurts out. “They want war! Not Al Queda!”
Three more shots from Mike. “Mason!” he shouts.
“That’s who’s outside?” Mason asks. “That’s who blew up the building?”
“No, they pay us, they pay us to do!” Brahmvir shouts. “The drive is a key! The gangster has the computer!”
BANG! BANG! “Mason, get out here!” Mike shouts.
Mason tosses Brahmvir the key to the handcuffs. “Be right back.” He hustles out, staying low, grabbing his backpack from the kitchen on the way - and pulling his MP5K out of it. “Should have spare mags in the pack,” he says, and rips off a three-round burst towards a shadow near the door. “You got this?”
“Yeah, sure!” Mike shouts back. “What’s so hard about fighting off kill squads?”

BANG! BANG! Braaaap!

That came from outside. And then, silence.

“Okay, what the fuck?” Mike asks. “You see anything?”
“Not yet,” Mason says. “Brahmvir! Keep your ass in the bathroom!” He scoots over to the laptop, which managed to escape the bullets. Right there on camera one, he can see what happened at the front entrance - both the civilian-looking guy from the car and a couple of black-clad commandos matching Mike’s description lie dead on the front lawn - some cut down by Mike’s fire from inside, but at least two of them shot in the back. Just then, another armed figure with a suppressed MP5K jogs into view - Daniel. Mason clearly sees him stack up at the front door, followed shortly by an unknown woman with brown hair, slinging what looks like a SCAR-H.

“Mason?” Daniel calls out from the front door. “Outside’s clear now! You guys still up in there?”
“Yep!” Mason shouts. “Amrita’s having a bad day, she’s taking a bit of a nap! Brahmvir’s still kicking, though! That all right with your new friend with the battle rifle?”
“That’s just fine by me!” the woman calls out - the same voice as on the radio. “So, listen, I know we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, but as I’ve already had a chance to explain to your friend Mr. Holtz here, I’m your ticket out of this mess! I’ve got a car, I’ve got transport, I’ve got everything you need to follow up on this incident! But I need you guys to put down your guns and come with me. I’ll explain on the way, alright?”
“Come with you, sure - but it looks like you want us well-armed, lady!” Mason shouts back. He hustles into the bathroom, grabs Brahmvir by the collar of his shirt, and hauls him out into the hallway. There, Daniel comes in, followed shortly by the mystery woman.
“Guns are not the problem,” the woman says, tapping her SCAR-H. “I’ve got a few more of these in the trunk, shouldn’t be a problem for a couple of badasses like you.” She nods to Brahmvir. “Mr. Singh, I’m prepared to make accommodations for your safety and comfort in exchange for whatever information you’re willing to offer us.”
“I accept!” Brahmvir hastily answers.
“Peachy,” Mike says and tries to stand up - which is the precise moment he realizes he’s taken a grazing hit to his left leg. “Don’t suppose you have a band-aid on you, too?” he asks.
“I left my purse in the car,” the woman answers with a smirk. “Anything compromising in here that we need to clean up before we go?”
“Intelligence wise, we’re clear, tech, we’ve got a few boxes, DNA...well, it’s an empty building,” Mason says.
“Okay,” the woman says. “Grab the tech, I’ll come back with some incendiaries. We torch the place, then we’re out of here. Mr. Schiavelli, do you need help or can you walk?”
“I’m good,” Mike says.
“Perfect,” the woman says. “Mr. Holtz, would you please secure Mr. Singh for transport?”
“Sure,” Daniel says, taking charge of their prisoner once again.

Finally, the woman turns to Mason.

“That’s a nice clusterfuck you’ve survived there,” she says. “Ready to go?”
“Been,” Mason says. “There’s an arms dealer, Edil Varayev, he was meeting with Brahmvir when we grabbed him. He should still be in town, and he has a laptop we need.”
The woman nods. “I’ll see what we can do about staying on Mr. Varayev’s trail, but retrieval’s out of the question,” she says. “Right now the State Department is working overtime to keep the bombings from spilling over into worse.” She narrows her eyes. “Did you hear about Pakistan?”
“You do know what ‘going dark’ means?” Mason asks.
“I do, I just prefer staying plugged in, thank you,” the woman says. “The bombing at Delhi U wasn’t the only incident today. Motorcade in Islamabad was targeted with a car bomb. The Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs is in critical condition. There’s a couple of idiots shouting that it was India getting back at Pakistan for new deals with China. We’re trying to disabuse them of the notion, but it’s gonna take some doing - and in the meantime, we really can’t have any US operatives running around here shooting the place up. Not without clear buy-in from the Indian and Pakistani government, but we need to put together a case for it. That’s where we’re going to come in - after we’re out of the country. Make sense?”
“Everything but the Pakistanis buying the Indians moving on to diplomacy by terrorism,” Mason says. “And the Indians aren’t seeing the bigger picture here, either?”
“They usually keep cool, but this is a pretty hard push - and State’s problem for now,” the woman says. “And when State’s done getting everybody to settle down, we can come back and get to the bottom of this. We can fix this. We will fix this. That’s what we do.”
“And with our friends outside and Amrita in - oh, shit,” Mason says. “I gotta grab Amrita. The Indians will ID her.” He turns back to the woman. “Got space in there for a body? She’s only a little leaky.”
“Space and body bags,” the woman says. “I was told to expect bodies when I got your name on my shopping list.”
“Shopping list?” Mason asks. “For -” His eyebrows shoot up. “You’ve got to be shitting me. They finally pulled my number?”
“You go off-book enough, you get a reputation,” the woman says, smirking again. “As someone who does the right thing and lives to tell the tale. Not too common, sadly.”
“You guys have to be fucking desperate,” Mason says, shaking his head. “Rest of my team coming for the ride?”

At this, the woman seems to grow more somber. “They’re good,” she says. “But we both know Mr. Holtz won’t go that last inch when it comes down to it, and Mr. Schiavelli...he’s a good trigger-puller, but we’re looking for a bit more than that. You’re on the list, Mason. They’re not. We’ll get them out, make sure they’re taken care of at home, but they’re done with you, for now.”
Mason nods. “Well then.” He turns to Daniel and Mike, and extends his hand. “It’s been an honor, gentlemen.”
“Yeah, same,” Daniel says. “Maybe when you’re back, you can...look, just call, okay?”
“Spare us the ‘Let’s just be friends’ speech, Danny,” Mike says. “You ever need asses kicked, Mason, you come find me.”
“Your country thanks you for your services, gentlemen,” the woman says, checking her phone. “Your ride will be arriving in a minute. Try not to get it any more firefights in the meantime.”
“Hey, the ninjas started it,” Mike says.
“We’ll be careful, Ma’am,” Daniel adds.
“We taking Mr. Personality with us?” Mason asks, jerking Brahmvir’s collar.
“Yeah, he’s coming with us,” the woman says. “Mr. Holtz, if you could do me one last favor and show Mr. Singh his seat in the back?”
“Sure thing,” Daniel says, leading Brahmvir towards a certain black SUV parked further down the street.
“Gonna go find that band-aid,” Mike mutters, and follows them.

“Well,” the woman says. “You’ve got a body to haul out, I’ve got a crime scene to spoil. Shall we get to it?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Mason replies. “Ms. Wildcard.”
The woman smiles. “RUMINT never fails, does it,” she says. “Please try to hurry. We’ve got a few more stops to make.”
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-09-07 16:09:34
Tim Barstow sits outside at a corner market, willing the combination of curry and cheap beer to burn away his shaking hands, to distract him from seeing armored windscreens catch bullets inches from his face over and over again. Varayev was gone, shit had gone down, his mission was scrubbed like a motel room after prom night. Barstow considers a third beer, then thinks better of it. He pays for the meal, then heads to the restrooms to pay for the meal.

Ten minutes later, he's got the other other earbud in and walking with a purpose towards one of New Delhi's intersections, an almost-graceful crossroads borne of pure chaos and overcrowded streets. It's the singular focus of the scooter driver headed towards Tim that twinges his instincts - that, and the woman was wearing a full helmet. Nobody bothers with a helmet here.

Tim ducks into an adjacent store selling a mix of bootleg music and knockoff plastic toys, wishing sandy-haired white guys didn't stand out in India like a road flare. Was this Varayev's people catching onto him? The shooters from the hotel? Some third party?

Outside, the scooter's plaintive muttering comes to a stop. No no no no too many people who the fuck does this on a crowded street-

Tim's pushing past the wizened proprietor, mumbling an apology and would you please get down behind the counter now. He makes the back stairs before three bullets fuck their way through the shop's wall and into the alley beyond. Screams from outside muffle the suppressed reports from inside. Tim shouts in feigned pain, then pumps up the rickety steps, praying the shooter's blood is up, her predatory instincts flaring.

It would really suck to jump out of a second-story window right into her sights. But she's not there waiting for him, and Tim doesn't die like some youtuber trying to reenact a Jackass skit. He hits a passing cab's roof hard and rolls off right into the shooter's scooter. It tumbles and he goes with it to the tune of a dozen irritated drivers. Tim's on the throttle in a second, spinning the back wheel with the scooter's meager engine, scraping his arm on an angry bus, then into the intersection. Adrenaline carries him through, each heartbeat a whispered no whammies.

Ten minutes after that, the scooter's ditched and Tim walks out onto a less-crowded street. An SUV slows down to a rolling stop, opens the back door, and Tim gets in, having exchanged his "Chechen limo driver" look for "I lost several wardrobe-related bets."
Gatac 2016-09-07 16:18:54
"Welcome to the party," Operations says as Tim takes a seat in the SUV, opposite a handcuffed Sikh man who looks like his last few hours have been no less pants-shittingly terrifying than Tim's, and a Delta-looking motherfucker who's loving this shit.

"Mason, Agent Barstow," Operations says by way of introduction. "Agent Barstow, this is Mason. He and his buddies broke up the business meeting between Mr. Singh here and your quote-unquote employer. We can go over the intel you gathered on Varajev's operations here later, right now we're all leaving the country. Do you need anything taken care of before we jet?"
Gatac 2016-09-07 16:29:21
"Had to ask," Operations says, then pauses for a moment. "How did you know that was bulletproof glass, Mason?"
punkey 2016-09-08 00:35:07
"International arms dealers that carry Halliburton briefcases in $3,000 suits roll in armored vehicles - it completes the cliche," Mason says. "And you can tell from the light. It looks thicker." He nods towards the new guy. "You on the receiving end of those bullets? I recognize the haircut. Good reflexes."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-09-08 06:55:57
"Thanks for not using AP rounds," he replies, smiling back. "Sorry we didn't nab him, too. How fucked are we?"
Gatac 2016-09-08 07:01:43
"Bombing at Delhi U probably killed north of a hundred civilians," Operations explains. "Plus another attack up north in Islamabad. Varajev supposedly has a laptop with him that contains critical intel, but right now my orders are to evacuate everyone and pick up the pieces later." She sighs. "Did you see the laptop?"
MikeS 2016-09-09 00:32:33
In the plane...

The frenchman shrugs at all of the hardware that Mason drops into the box, then pats himself down, finds a cheap Xiaomi burner in the left front pocket of his jeans, and drops it into the bucket. Then he pulls out a packet of beedies in a blue box with a Sanskrit label that he cannot read and asks: "Ok to smoek, yeah?" He pats down his pockets some more, shrugs and says: "Should've brote some vaseline. Feels like it wheel be vat kind of joeb."


Of all the alleys in the world, New Delhi's were among the worst, Luc thought. The trash itself was more or less like everywhere else, with fragrance of the local cooking, but the heat and humidity turned everything rancid in a hurry, and then things were usually left to rot until they could walk away by themselves. But alleys were good, innocuous places to meet... unless the contact rolled up in a limo.

The Chechen was inspecting the laptop critically, then turned it on while facing the screen away from Luc. His guards eyed Luc critically, hands on their guns.

Then he waved one of the guards over. The guard took out a small scanner and swept it over the laptop. Luc watched impassively. His tracker would not activate for another 30 minutes.

"Is good," the Chechen grunted after a few moments. "Give him the money."

The other guard went to the back of the limo and pulled out a small duffel bag. He came back and tossed it at Luc's feet.

Luc picked it up, nodded at the Chechen, and turned to walk away.

"Not going to count?" the Chechen asked.

"Not my moeney," Luc replied, "and I'm shore you want to do business again wiv our commen friend."

The Chechen nodded, and climbed into his limo along with his retinue. Luc could hear the engine before he reached his beat up Corolla that was parked on the street next to the other side of the alley.

A black SUV was parked next to it, and a woman stood beside it. Luc sighed. "I hope you're not trying to be covert wiv zhat car. Look, I can explain."
The woman made a beckoning motion with her finger while revealing a SCAR-H she was holding behind her back.

"OK, I can explain in ze car."

In the SUV...

"Yes, I saw ve laptoep. I cannot tell you what's on it; it's got IronKey encryption zhat melts ze drive after zhree attempts. But I added a tracker to ze wireless card."

edited by Gatac on 2016-09-09 00:09:16
Gatac 2016-09-09 00:51:39
"Right," Operations says as Luc speaks up from the back of the SUV. "Mason, Barstow, this is...Luc. Freelance asset, our last eyes on the laptop...and the man who'll help us track down Vasajey."

She checks her cellphone as she rolls the SUV through another back alley.

"One to go," she mutters.
punkey 2016-09-10 06:40:18
Mason looks the guy over - shitty taste in cigarettes, but wears expensive clothes. One you get young, the other you slide into with money. "Foreign Legion? Then...DGSE, and now...spy-for-hire?" Mason guesses.
Gatac 2016-09-10 15:07:20
"Quiet down for a moment, boys," Operations says as she pulls the SUV to a stop and touches her ear - radio, obviously. "Get in," she says.

"Please get the door," she tells Barstow.



West Delhi’s Tilak Nagar neighborhood is the place to go for all your needs, tens of thousands of people crowding the market where almost anything can be bought or sold...for the right price.

Provided it’s Punjabi wedding supplies. You are here for the Punjabi wedding supplies, right?

Or maybe you’re Chief Petty Officer Leonard Weldon Blake, ONI. In which case you’re not here for the Punjabi wedding supplies, but instead for 30 kilos of SEMTEX that have made the long, arduous trek all the way from half-forgotten Crimean weapon storage depots across the Black Sea, in the back of a Land Rover Defender older than all three of its drivers across Georgia and Azerbaijan, another swim across the Caspian, then a Rumspringa through a half-dozen -stans and fucking Tibet all the way down here. Counter-proliferation is a stone-cold bitch sometimes, especially when it’s not even the sexy kind. (Nukes. Nukes are sexy. We’re talking about nukes.) No, this is 30 kilos of plastic explosive of dubious provenance, and if it wasn’t from an antique batch predating chemical taggants, it wouldn’t be the kind of headache you send Blake after.

But it was from that batch, and 30 kilos is not an amount of plastic explosives you just “write off”. Blake’s come too far to write anything off, and while the bike repair shop he’s watching through his monocular isn’t too promising a venue for a final showdown, it’ll do if it means that three weeks of hunting, sleeping bags and unfiltered coffee might come to an end today. Just as soon as he defeats his trickiest and most resourceful opponent - bureaucracy.

“Blake, you still there?” chirps the voice of Ron Dutch, analyst in charge of the night shift back in Suitland, Maryland. “I’ve got a real shocker for you, we’re still waiting on the Russians to confirm the lot numbers. What’s your status?”

“Too quiet here,” Blake hisses, keeping the monocular trained on the building.. “Targets haven’t let out a stray fart for over thirteen hours. No food runs, no departures or arrivals, no movement. They’re getting prepped for something in there, and I’ll miss the window if the brass don’t wrap it up soon.”

“Well, that’s the nature of the beast,” Dutch says. Blake’s sweep of the bike shop finally shows some movement: a panel van pulls up to the shop, and two men in neat delivery uniforms climb out of it before disappearing into the shop. “But State pinged the attache again, we’re looking at one, two hours tops.”

“Unmarked van pulled up, Ron. They’re getting ready to move.” Blake sets down the monoc next to a matching set of empty coffee cups and reaches for his kit. “State has five minutes to get an answer, or we lose the trail.”

“Blake,” Dutch says, “State can’t wipe their ass in five minutes.” He sighs. “Look, do I have to spell it out? There’s no greenlight coming from the Russians. We know how this works. Keep your eyes on the van, get a...get a description, a plate, something.”

Blake’s eyes narrow. Plates are easy enough to lift, and vans like this were not uncommon to see on the streets - he’d already entertained the idea of using one for exfil, if needed. “I’ll see what I can do, Ron. Call you back with an update.” Blake hangs up, and removes his sidearm and a combat knife from his kit.

Blake’s picked the one backstreet in a five block radius that doesn’t have a copious amount of people in it, but then again, he’s never been much for crowds - who needs them when the noon sun is casting shadows sharp enough to shave with? Darting from hiding place to hiding place, he slides up to the parked van and reaches underneath the right rear wheelwell, feeling for the gas tank. Bingo! One more reach into his kit and he produces a tracker - the foolproof kind. If he had more time, he’d get into the van, maybe hide something more discreet in the front seats, or pop the hood and find a good place in the wire harness to MacGyver something to the battery, give that tracker some legs for long-term observation. As it is, the best he can do is a cigarette box-sized metal device that sucks itself against the gas tank with a rare earth magnet. Gingerly, he unrolls the prepackaged antenna wire and leads it towards the outer silhouette of the van, using the built-in adhesive layer to stick it at the seam between body and wheelwell where it’ll draw less attention. There. 48 hours of real-time tracking. Dutch had better appreciate going the extra mile.

”Where is the rest?” someone asks in Pashto, loud enough that Blake can hear it from outside the shop. ”I said, where is the rest, you bandit?”
”It’s all there,” a much calmer voice answers. ”Count it again.”
”You think I’m an idiot?” Angry Guy asks, angrily.
”No,” Calm Guy says. ”I think you’re a patriot.”

Three loud clacks. Blake would recognize a suppressed 9mm anywhere. He frowns, and moves towards a nearby entrance. The victim - likely the seller - would’ve been nice to take alive, but the buyers would still need to use the truck to move the semtex. No need to rush in until he learns more.

The nearest entrance is the roller-shuttered back, still locked down via padlock to a metal eye in the concrete foundation, though the door built into the shutter has been left slightly ajar. One more reach into his toolkit produces Blake’s fiber-optic camera, and he gingerly feeds the wire through a crack in the foundation under the shutter.

Five people inside: one very calm blond guy in a turtleneck / leather jacket combination that looks utterly out of place, the two delivery guys (both gathering up weapons from a workbench) plus a forty-something local man and what looks to be his teenage son, both chained up to a ceiling beam and gagged. Perhaps more critically, the dead “seller” lies slumped over a black duffel bag; calm blond leather guy nonchalantly kicks him off the bag, takes a knee to zip it open and thereby reveals a nasty-looking explosive device within the bag, which causes Dad(?) and Son(?) to desperately struggle against the chains.

”If I were you,” calm blond leather guy says in Punjabi, ”I would stop wasting time rattling those chains. What’s there to be upset about? In five minutes, you’ll just stop being here - no pain, no suffering, you’ll just be gone. And, if it’s any consolation...it’s not your fault.” Without missing a beat, he turns to the men in delivery uniforms and switches back to Pashto. ”Get the van ready.”

The footsteps of the delivery men is what gets Blake moving. He draws his knife and, turning, jabs the blade into the rear passenger tire. The tire hisses and crumples as he pulls the knife out; he hears a pause in the men’s footsteps inside, and the confused shouts in Pashto just confirm that they heard. Blake stands and strides over to the shutter door, which opens outward as the first delivery man comes out. His gun is drawn, but not fully raised - Blake figures he must have just pulled it out - and his guard is open for Blake’s two jabs to his chest. Blake leaves the knife in and shoves the man back, showing his friend’s gun coming out of the door first. Blake grabs the hands before they can fully swing towards him and forces the gun to the side, the man’s wrists cutting against the shutter door. The delivery man barely gets to cry out before Blake’s elbow crushes his windpipe, and now his grip on the gun loosens for Blake to grab it. The man staggers back out of the doorway, hands going for his throat, as Blake adjusts his grip on the gun, brings it up, and drills him - two to the chest.

Blake fires another round blind and steps inside quickly, just in time to see the Calm Man, already recovering from the blind fire, draw a bead on him with the silenced 9mm. Lacking cover, he jukes left and then dives the other way, just managing to spoil the Calm Man’s aim long enough to get a few shots of his own in. Blake’s not the best marksman, but he does put one in center mass and another in the hip. The calm man grunts and stumbles, giving Blake time to put one last bullet in his head.

Blake lies there for a few moments, ears ringing, gun trained on the dead professional, and takes a few deep breaths. When he doesn’t get back up, Blake gets up and steps over to the bomb checking to see - oh, yeah, it’s live alright. Dad and Son are really rattling their chains right now, but Blake needs to focus up - and yeah, this isn’t a bomb build for an audience. Blake does his due diligence, tracing the repurposed motorcycle wire harness around the device - no cellphone or pager, just a 20 buck Casio as a timer - and inspecting for anti-tamper or other fun surprises. Power source, power source - ah! Nine volt battery duct-taped to the top of a still plastic-wrapped SEMTEX block. Blake unsnaps his automatic working knife, grips the main wire harness and just cuts that sucker in half as the Casio stopwatch blazes past 04:43:whatever. When it sprints past 5 minutes and nothing goes boom...that’s when Blake catches his breath.

“Blake? Blake?” Dutch shouts in his ear. Has been shouting for the last minute, really, but auditory exclusion from adrenaline is a hell of a thing. “Blake, you still there?”

Blake lets a deep breath out. “Give me a minute, Dutch,” he growls into his earpiece, “I’m working.” Time to address the elephant in the room. Pop and Son rattle their chains even louder as Blake turns his attention to them. “I have one important question. I need you to answer calmly,” he intones in Punjabi. “Where is the shipment?” He then takes off Son’s gag, so he can answer.

The son coughs and sputters and breathes heavily, but he doesn’t immediately start screaming. 90th percentile hostage right there. “Please, Sir,” he says in English. “We do not know these men. They came here two days ago. They kept us prisoner. We are innocent.”

Blake raises his hand, to gesture silence. He reaches over and undoes Pop’s gag, though he keeps it close. “They must have brought a large shipment with them. Tell me what you know about it.”

“No shipment,” Pop says. “Blond man.”
“He was here,” the son adds. “He made many phone calls, but we did not understand what he was talking about. And the other man.” He nods towards the first casualty of the hour, the ‘seller’, who had been haphazardly dragged into a corner of the shop by one of the goons. “They always speak in their tongue.” He takes a breath. “Sir, please. We do not know what this shipment is. We do not know what these men wanted. Please, let us go.”

Blake’s face cycles through anger, shock, and fear pretty quickly. “Very well. The keys - on the blond man?”
The son nods quickly, and pop follows suit.

Blake walks over to the formerly-blond man, careful to keep the hostages in line of sight. He rolls the corpse, finds the keys as well as his phone - cheap burner, but Blake pockets it anyway. He unlocks Pop, then gives him the keys. “Take him and run. Do not use the van outside.”
“Yes!” Pop answers, nodding and bowing as he takes the keys. “Thank you, Sir.” He quickly gets to work on the cuffs holding the son while they mutter to each other in Punjabi.

“Blake?” Dutch radios again. “You want to tell me what the hell’s going on?”

Blake rolls the supposed ‘seller’ for his phone as well, burner or no. “Dutch,” he responds curtly as he gets up and heads outside to the van, “are we sure the intel was good?”

“It was the best intel we had,” Dutch replies. “You went in, didn’t you.”

“Sounded like they were going to erase evidence,” Blake grunts as he pulls up the back door of the van. It’s worse than Blake feared - it’s empty, but the extra cargo straps and the dust on the floor suggest recent use, and a big package. “Which is something you do after everything else is done,” Blake gasps. “I think they already moved it.” He dashes to the cab, hoping to find something - anything - that could tell him more.

“Blake, hold on a second,” Dutch says. “They moved it? It was in the shop, you’ve been there the whole day, how the hell did they -”

“They’ve been here at least two, and the only signs I saw in the shop was just one charge primed to go!” Blake wrenches the door open - there’s a piece of paper on the dash, he grabs it. “The truck - fuck me!

The page was a confirmation slip for the delivery of one new lab centrifuge, intended for the University of Delhi. The proportions of the package described on the slip were close to the approximate size of 30 kilos of SEMTEX...give or take a block.

“The truck made a delivery today to Delhi U. It’s a big package.” Blake says softly.

“Calling them now,” Dutch says. “Jesus, Blake. See if you can find anything else.”

“ I need time to find more leads, Ron, and I don’t fucking think I’m getting a better one!” There’s a motorcycle a block down the street, closer than his vehicle is. He runs for it. “I’m en route to Delhi U.”

Jacking the bike is a blur to Blake; he only registers the roar of the engine as it turns on, and maybe a shout in Punjabi as he rides off. The engine squeals from the hard rev as Blake darts into traffic, dodging between two taxis and a delivery truck while he thunders across a lively intersection. Pedestrian crosswalk - Blake roars right through the middle - oh God the divider - TRUCK HORN - brakes hiss as he dodges an open door.

“Blake, we’re on it,” Dutch radios.

More throttle, push it to the redline. Lanes don’t matter, free spaces between cars do. Blake ducks and weaves and leans from side to side, gunning the bike, not even looking at the engine temperature gauge. Doesn’t matter.

Truck in a left turn ohhhh shiiiiitttttttt

WHOOSH as Blake ducks his head and tucks in and sails underneath the trailer, barely keeping himself from wiping out. There’s a thought: if he wipes out at this speed, he’s dead, no two ways about it. Existential crisis? Gun the throttle again.

“Blake, police is on their way, you gotta pull back,” Dutch radios.

Blake is not pulling back. Which is not to say that his way forward is unimpeded, because noon traffic, but when you really think about it, the sidewalk is kind of like another lane. Right? Whip past a falafel stand so close Blake can almost hear the vendor cursing at him, almost. Another intersection, and to be fair, the signal was green for pedestrians and Blake is driving on the pedestrian area, that’s clearly within the spirit of things.

“Blake, you have to -”

A half mile to the university, but he can still feel it. Feels it before he hears it, really. Blake lets off the throttle and pumps the brakes and somehow the bike in its infinite benevolence tilts up into a stoppie instead of just somersaulting and crushing Blake underneath. That it then goes down and tips over a bit and has Blake scrambling away into the grass of an adjacent park is the kind of “You owe me, sucker” shot across the bow that fate only grants its most favored subjects. He reaches up to discard a helmet he’s not wearing, then stands there, not sure whether he’s more rattled by the ride or the explosion’s shockwave. All around him, people are crying and screaming and running and he’s the lone dumb asshole standing on the grass staring at the pillar of smoke rising just a bit in the distance.

“Blake?” Dutch shouts in his ear. “Blake?”

“Didn’t make it,” he breathes.

“Blake,” Dutch says, trying to calm down. “Blake, we’re getting a call from Delhi police, they’re at the shop now.” Pause. “Blake, you didn’t say shit about killing them. Where are you? Wherever you are, you stay put now, no more heroics. Blake? Blake, goddammit, do you copy -”

Buzz on the radio. Dutch goes bye-bye. Then, the channel clears up.

“Chief,” a woman’s voice speaks up. “Sorry for busting in on your comms, but you’re the closest asset we have to the scene right now. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you don’t want to stick around for the cops, right?”

Chief. That snaps him back. Blake turns and starts moving away - walk first, then a jog, then a run, and he’s one soul in the mob now. “And just who is ‘we,’ Ma’am?”

“Your best chance to make sense of this,” the voice answers. “We’re...we’re with the government. Let’s keep it at that for now, I don’t fully trust this line. So, how about it? Are you gonna sit this out, or do you want in? I have some things that might be interesting for you to hear, if you’re in.”

Blake nearly starts laughing, but manages to stop, and start taking deep breaths. After three, he responds, and there’s only a tinge of mania in the voice. “Long as one of those things is a writ of ‘we’re not going to court martial you’ signed by NAVSEC and the Commander-in-Chief, sure, I’m on board.”

“Presidential pardon, sure,” the woman replies somberly. “I was thinking more about a chance to speak to Muhammed Brahmvir Singh. I’ve got an ops team that’s renditioning him right now.” There’s a pause. “Or the man your Russian sources probably protected when they wasted your time. Edil Varajev, does that ring any bells? I’ve got a line on him, too.” Another pause. “And I’ve got a plane fueled up ready to take us anywhere we need to go. So, I like to think that’s a pretty good deal. What do you think, Chief?”

There’s an honest-to-God giggle on the other end, followed by more deep breaths. Another three-count, and an actual response comes in. “Thought the boys were joking about you, Ma’am. Well, you get me a time and place, and I’ll show.”

“One hour, South Moti Bagh market,” the woman says. “If you could get a look at ground zero and take some pictures before the Indians sanitize the site, that would be great, but don’t jeopardize yourself. I imagine they’re gonna be looking for you.”

Blake nods, frowning. “I’ll see what I can do, Ma’am.”

Just another soul in the mob.



South Moti Bagh isn’t the biggest market in Delhi, by far, but it’s also not exactly three stalls and a water fountain. Between the various stalls, Blake’s pressed into a corner, sorting through the shots of the blast site taken through the monocular. Then back to the van, the bodies in the shop, the bomb he disarmed...he scrolls through everything, looks at everything, all with that one question burning in the back of his mind. What went wrong?

It’s one hour and two minutes sixteen seconds after the last radio contact with the strange woman that Blake looks up from his ice-cold bottle of Coke as he hears the heavy squeal of brakes in the street next to him. Black SUV, windows tinted to hell and back. Great fucking tradecraft, really blends into the local traffic - but it does send a pretty clear message.

“Get in,” the woman chirps on his radio, and then the side door of the SUV slides open.

Blake gets in.
skullandscythe 2016-09-10 16:05:00

Blake nods to Barstow with a muttered "Thanks" as he squeezes inside with a black kit bag and half-drunk Coke. Once he's settled (read: had a couple swigs) he fishes out a monocular. "The photos you requested, Ma'am."

He glances into the back, eyebrow rising as he notes Brahmvir zip-tied and gagged. "May I inquire about the prisoner, or would I join him?"

The Plane

Blake just holds up his whole kit in response, though he does pull out two phones out of his pockets. "Pulled these burners off dead men, on the off chance I could get something from them."