IC 0 - Prelude

Gatac 2016-09-10 16:31:56

"Brahmvir Singh," Operations says. "We'll chat with him later, once we're out of here."

"Ah, introductions. Blake, these are Mason, Barstow and Luc. Boys, this is Blake. And this is now the express line to Safdarjung. Buckle up."

The Plane

With everyone's pockets suitably empty of electronical doodads, Operations stows the gear into an under-seat lockbox, then leads the lot of you through the locked door into the rear half of the cabin. It's not hard to spot the extra thickness of shielding in the dark grey walls, which are reassuringly window-free, and then there's the far wall, a large touchscreen display that comes to life when Operations steps close to it and taps a code into the bottom right corner.

"Okay, let's make this official," she says. "For those of you who haven't guessed it yet, this is now a Wildcard operation. We have been granted final action authority. Which means everything we just did and everything we're about to do is sanctioned from the top. The President will issue executive orders or pardons if it comes down to that. Merry Christmas."

"None of you were cleared for the Wildcard SAP until just now, so let me run down some basics for you. Yes, we're real. Yes, we're CIA. And yes, we're always looking for a few good men. You're the closest we've got right now, so welcome to the team. Until mission end, your asses officially belong to me. Right now, we're cruising to friendlier skies, ETA to Thumrait AFB is about two and a half hours. Once there, we'll refuel, rearm and pick up some more support staff. So far, we're coming at this from four different angles. I'll see about squaring the intel you collected and then we'll reconvene here for a full briefing, let's say in thirty. I recommend you take a breath, take a leak, maybe grab a coffee and a sandwich. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, boys."

"Oh, and if you didn't catch it, the name is Operations." She smiles. "Any questions so far?"
punkey 2016-09-11 06:04:54
Mason's hand immediately shoots up, and he waits to be called on like he's back in elementary school.
"Yes, Mason."
Mason drops his hand. "So, since I've heard Wildcard pretty much around shit that would have caused World War 3, or the planet being blown in two...this isn't just about a few bombs going off. What's the deal, Ms. Wildcard?"
Gatac 2016-09-11 06:13:09
Operations nods.

"The deal is that we've been observing several attempts to heat up tensions between India and Pakistan; this is just the first one in a while that succeeded, and with a considerable amount of planning and logistical support behind it. Our friend Mr. Singh mentioning that Al Queda was just a proxy for some group I've never even heard of, which makes this look even worse."

"As I'm sure you know, India vs. Pakistan is still the tensest nuclear standoff in the world, and there are hardliners on both sides who are willing to send a lot of people to their deaths to get their hands on disputed territories. Once Kashmir is in play, both sides are going to move aggressively. China, Afghanistan, even the Russians have their fingers in this pie. There's enough bitterness and hair-triggers around here to set off World War 3 even without foreign powers meddling. Not to mention that AQ's foothold in Pakistan has proven extremely difficult to dislodge, and they're just waiting for a chance to destabilize the government there further."

She takes a breath.

"Imagine a fundamentalist revolution in a nuclear power, or if that's too far fetched for you, imagine an Empty Quiver incident. It only takes one nuke in the wild before chaos breaks out everywhere. These two incidents today, tragic as they are, might not justify a Wildcard deployment by themselves...but what's coming next will, and we'd rather get the jump on it now. We're already playing catch-up as is."
MikeS 2016-09-15 01:36:56
Seeing as nobody stops him, Luc lights up one of the beedees, exhales, and then waves his hand at the smoke. "Mince alors, zese cigarettes smell as bad as most of ve country. I don't sueppose anyone brought Gauloise? Or just straight tobacco?"

He checks his watch. "Ve tracker went live abote 2 hoers ago. If you wont ve Chechen, you are playing catch-up wiv ve Chinese."

That had been a nice bonus, added to a Cayman Island numbered account. Switzerland was not a good place for Luc these days.

Despite his earlier complaint, he takes another drag on the beedee.
Gatac 2016-09-15 10:23:33
"China's good," Operations says. "We can work with China."

She smirks. "And I have a carton of Gitanes, but they're for good boys only. How about we start with where that tracker is heading right now?"
skullandscythe 2016-09-17 10:03:59
"Ma'am," Blake pipes up, "I was working with an analyst stateside at the time of the incident. He's been trying to get a hold of me, and doubtless he'll have questions, both about the op and me going off-grid. How are you planning to handle that?"
Gatac 2016-09-17 10:09:00
"I don't know, because I don't know Ronald Dutch as well as you do," Operations says. "I'm not going to read him in on this operation if I can help it, but I don't want him to go snooping after us and get himself in trouble that way. If you have a suggestion for how to get him to shut up and stop asking questions, I'm all ears."
skullandscythe 2016-09-17 11:43:53
Blake nods. "I'll send him a message letting him know I'm okay. That should keep him mollified." Hopefully.

Blake steps outside the operations room, retrieves a burner from the under-seat box, and punches in a few numbers.

"Hello, Jimmy Johns? Yes, I'd like to place a delivery order for Ronald Dutch. Slim number 3, oatmeal raisin cookie, and an extra large Coke. ...No, he'll pay cash on delivery. Just, uh, add 'Courtesy of Lennie' on the receipt."

There's a short pause, then Blake chortles. "Yeah, I'll pay him back for it later."
Gatac 2016-09-17 11:57:35
"Luc?" Operations asks. "You still want those smokes?"
MikeS 2016-09-18 03:06:10
"Brun or blonde?" Luc asks back, exhaling nasty smoke. "Blonde, wiv filter, is almost like in'aling air."

"Ok, cette tracker... when ve laptop is connected to ve web, it broadcasts location. But ovverwise it just runs a weak radio signal, maybe two mile range. It runs off ve laptop battery, so it will keep going for a while."

He looks after Blake as he steps out. "I never missed ve babysitters after I left. Do vis, do vhat, you con't go zere, how are you suepposed to get stoeff done?"
Gatac 2016-09-18 03:53:42
Operations tosses Luc a plastic-sealed blue pack of cigarettes. "Original, of course," she says. "Black tobacco, no filter. I'm not running a Kindergarten here."

After Luc leaves, she turns to Mason and Tim. "You can wait outside now, boys," she says.
punkey 2016-09-18 12:21:46
"Time for the adults to talk," Mason says as he stands up. "Already like the Army." He turns around and walks out of the SCIF-in-a-SCIF.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-09-19 10:56:04
Tim smiles. "Dress code's more relaxed, though. It's why I got into all this, you know." He follows Mason out after giving the SCIF a last once-over.
Gatac 2016-09-21 15:08:18
Tim's glance around the SCIF reveals three facts:
  • The sound-deadening within the compartment is excellent. Probably enough to swallow a suppressed gunshot if the door is closed and the engines are running.
  • Speaking of: there's a corner lockbox that's definitely sized for a pistol. Considering that things on airplanes are usually there for a good reason, there must have been at least one scenario with an aggressor on board. Not the kind of thought that puts you at ease.
  • When Operations absentmindedly brushes her hair behind her ears, it becomes obvious that her left earlobe is almost entirely missing - and that she's wearing some sort of hearing aid in that ear. Not a tactical earbud, not earpro - a no-shit hearing aid. Tim's been around enough musicians to tell that.

And on that notion, it's off to smokes, instant coffee and whole grain ham-and-pickle sandwiches.


Somewhere over the deep blue seas where the Gulf of Oman turns into the Arabian Sea - or vice versa - the team is asked back into the SCIF, where Operations has wrapped up her collation of the known intel. As soon as the door is closed, she launches right into her shpiel and brings up a presentation on the wall-mounted screen. Death by Powerpoint - so far, so US government.

"Alright, here's where we are," she begins, clicking a button on a small black remote in her right palm.

The first thing that pops onto the otherwise white screen is a big red question mark labelled 'RoI'.

"At the top, we have a group that Brahmvir Singh calls 'Renewal of Islam'. As I'm sure you can imagine, you can't exactly Google a name like that. I've got my best analyst back home going through our spiderweb of Al Queda affiliates and their shells, but even she hadn't heard of those guys. I take that to mean they haven't blipped on our radar before. So they're either really smart, really new or Singh's lying his ass off - a possibility I'm not willing to eliminate, given the circumstances of this revelation. The plan here is to turn him over to our HVT unit. They'll meet us when we land at Thumrait, take custody of him and then get him out of the line of fire to your standard-issue undisclosed location. I expect we'll have the results of their interrogation in a couple of days."

A red line appears under the question mark, tracing its way to Brahmvir Singh.

"Proceeding under the assumption that this Renewal of Islam actually exists...Brahmvir Singh claims to have had contact with them, and they subcontracted AQIS to carry out the bombings."

A box appears around Brahmvir Singh, labelled "Al Queda in the Indian Subcontinent", with matching Arabic script beneath.

"AQIS is a relative newcomer to the scene, a conglomerate of previously separate Jihadist cells united by Brahmvir Singh in 2014. They've carried out smaller-scale attacks and bombings before, but as such things go, we considered them merely a subfaction of the TTP, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan."

A box labelled TTP appears to the side of the connection between RoI and AQIS, then lines are drawn between TTP and the other two, both topped with question marks.

"Whether AQIS's work for RoI indicates that RoI controls TTP or competes with them or is some unknown intermediary between TTP and AQIS, we don't know yet. Al Queda and the Taliban have never had the clearest sense of who's actually in charge where, and this isn't helped by copycats and spinoffs all doing their own thing and jockeying for power and influence. TTP's merely the biggest fish in that particular small pond, maybe even the most powerful organization left when it comes to AfPak as a whole. This is something we'll have to untangle as we go. Which means we're following Standard Operating Procedure - roll it up from the bottom."

Another line shoots out of AQIS to the left, connecting it to a picture of Varayev.

"Edil Varayev," Operations says. "Now there's a world-class scumbag with excellent credentials in gunrunning and supporting sectarian violence. Now, if you're not up to speed on your post-Soviet Caucasus politics - and I don't blame you if you aren't - then you ought to know that Chechnya is a hotspot for the Caucasus Emirate. They're radical even for a country where the President has come out in favor of honor killings. Just the fact that Varayev supports them should tell you everything you need to know about Varayev and the CE. Anyway, turns out that AQIS has been reaching out to a bunch of Chechnyan radicals recently, and whether on their own or with the help of RoI, they got in touch with Varayev. Who, we're assuming, is ultimately behind the theft of untagged SEMTEX from Ukrainian arsenals earlier this month, the subject of Chief Blake's investigation for the KIWC. Now, Explosia has publicly maintained that they've tagged everything they made since 1991, so either they're lying about the tagging, lying about the shelf life of SEMTEX...or somebody else cooked imitation plastique that ended up in a Ukrainian arsenal, and they just called it SEMTEX to hide what it really was. Not liking either of those three."

A line rises from Varayev to another box, this one labelled "Russian partners?".

"Now, notably, we're talking about an arsenal on the Crimean peninsula," Operations says. "Russian-occupied territory. And the Russians were in no hurry to confirm any information about the stolen explosives to ONI. These guys held up the strike mission for three weeks, and from what our contacts in ONI and State tell us, they're still playing dumb even after the bombings. I don't know if there are elements of the Russians who are working with RoI, or if they were just caught flatfooted by Varayev stealing stuff from under their noses, but either way they're stonewalling us and trying to cover things up."

A line is drawn between "Russian partners?" and "RoI" with another question mark superimposed. Then, a circle appears connected to Varayev, labelled "Laptop".

"What we know thanks to the tracker on Varayev's laptop is that he made it to Indira Gandhi International and got on the next KLM flight to Amsterdam," Operations says. "Our analysts have reason to believe that this is his final destination for now. He has a secure apartment downtown where he will likely lay low. I expect that China - the MSS, to be precise - is coming to the same conclusions. We have one major advantage over them - we have the key device that is needed to decrypt the laptop's data. Luc here says the tracker is just that, a tracker, not a logger or a phreaker, so the MSS has nothing on what’s inside the laptop. That said, the MSS is nothing to sneeze at, boys, and they have one major advantage over us, too: Varayev probably knows that we have the key. The laptop without the key is practically worthless to him, but it would give MSS leverage against us. Meaning that he might make a deal for it with the MSS, cutting himself out of their investigation and maybe even earning some money on the side, and then we're really stuck. We might work out something with the MSS eventually for shared custody of the intel, but that'll make getting cooperation from the Russians look easy. Or Varayev might destroy the laptop, figuring better safe than sorry, but I expect he'll want to contact someone at AQIS first, and we've bagged their leader. This won't keep them isolated forever, though. Either way, as long as we don't have the laptop, Varayev and AQIS have time to cover their tracks. Boys, this is time I don't want them to have. I want that laptop in our hands, pronto."

Another box appears. This one is another big question mark, labelled simply "Woman on motorcycle". No connecting lines to anything.

"And now we're into the really loose ends part of the presentation," Operations says. "This...person came after Agent Barstow right after he broke contact from Mason's interruption of Varayev's deal with Singh. No name, no biometrics, no affiliations - we've got nothing on her. And I don't like knowing nothing about people who are trying to kill us. We need to figure out her deal."

Another box for Amrita, again without any lines.

"Amrita Bhaduri," Operations says. "That had to get messy. She was at one point on the payroll of pretty much everyone who wanted to get something done in the region, often two or three clients at a time. The CIA used her as a fixer a couple of times, which is where I'm guessing you learned about her, Mason. In any event, she was obviously double-booked both on your little op and for somebody who didn't want our friend Brahmvir Singh to survive his captivity. Whether she was RoI's backup plan, or working for someone else entirely...there's the rub, as the Bard would say. She's too dead to ask, but her being in the right place at the right time to kill Singh after you captured him doesn't sit well with me at all. I'm not a big believer in coincidences. Let's figure out her other client, too."

A line from Amrita to a box labelled "Kill Squads?"

"These guys seemed to be working with Bhaduri when they came after Mason and his buddies," Operations says. "Their gear screams National Security Guard, but how they got mixed up in all this, I don't know. If AQIS or RoI has suborned the Indian government, we're in even deeper shit than I thought. On the other hand, this might be a false flag op, but whenever someone puts on a show, you have to ask yourself, who's the audience? What were they trying to do by sending NSG operators - or people who look like them - after you?"

One more box without lines. This one features the blond guy Blake killed in the bike repair shop, labelled "Geraint Reese".

"I'm not sure there's a Wikipedia page for Notable Welsh Terrorists, but Reese would have been on it," Operations says. "Demolitions expert for hire. Probably our man for the Delhi U bomb. Again, too dead to ask him now. He almost certainly build the smaller device that Blake disarmed, which I expect is now in the custody of the Delhi police. He might have prepared the Islamabad devices, too. What interests me here are three things: one, did Reese build all those bombs, and if so, did he do it alone? Two, do those devices account for all of the stolen SEMTEX, and if not, how much is still in the wind? Three, was he working directly for AQIS or did he have ties to RoI - and if so, can we trace whoever paid him to RoI?"

Operations takes a breath.

"We've got a lot on our plate, boys," she says. "So, the ground rules, one more time. For the duration of this investigation, you'll all be answering directly to me and only me. No side deals, no going behind my back - you won’t enjoy it if you do. I'm delegating final action authority to you, so wherever this takes you, you go with my blessing - for whatever that's worth out there. I can't hand out any Get Out Of Jail Free cards, but if you get in trouble, I'll do my best to get you out again. Whatever you do, don't compromise the mission, don't compromise Wildcard, don't compromise your team - in that order. Anything you need, I can probably get - but we are on a clock here, so I expect you boys to make do as best as you can. You lie, cheat, steal and kill, I don't care. But you find the people behind this, and you take them down for good. Questions?"
punkey 2016-09-24 09:07:02
"Do we have plans for the building this apartment is in, anything on the neighborhood and police presence?" Mason asks. "How about burglary tools?"
Gatac 2016-09-24 13:02:25
Operations nods. "The analysts are preparing a data dump on Varayev and associated topics as we speak," she says. "We'll have a secure jumpdrive for upload to the SCIF's computer waiting for us at Thumrait with as much intel as we can get our hands on, but given the time constraints I asked the shop to prioritize volume over analysis - we'll have a couple of hours on the flight to Amsterdam to sift through the raw product and figure out what we can. Burglary tools, well, we'll have lockpick guns and C4 from the standard field kit, but I appreciate that there's a rather large spectrum in between that we're missing." She looks to Tim. "Agent Barstow here is our infil specialist, so maybe he can take point on this. Our man at Thumrait is...resourceful. I hope you can figure out something with him while we load and refuel. Failing that, diamond heists are not exactly unheard of in Amsterdam, and that's going up against some of the most secure physical infrastructure in the world. It's not my scene, but it shouldn't be too hard to get whatever you need if you can find the right people to talk to."
MikeS 2016-09-25 00:44:57
"I may still 'ave an in wif ve Chinese. It's their tracker, afteroll. Vey may be a beet suspicios if I show uep so soon in Amsterdam. Vhot is on vat laptop, anyway? Not sure I see ve big picture yet. You 'ave ve key, ve Chinese care enough to puet on a tracker, and ve guy I got it from 'ad a Russian accent. Didn't recognize 'im, eiver."

Luc has switched from beedees to Gauloise, and one of those is now lit in his left hand.
Gatac 2016-09-25 01:03:01
"That's the million dollar question," Operations says. "I'm not going to speculate what exactly is on that laptop, all that matters is that we get our hands on it." She takes a look around. "Luc's not the only one who's going to stick out in Amsterdam. You've already had the kind of exposure that would bench a regular CIA case officer. But this isn't regular CIA and I can't wait for new assets to get close to Varayev. Make it work, boys."
punkey 2016-09-25 03:52:48
"Yeah, Edil and I know each other," Mason says.


Varayev grunts in pain. "You're a man of many poor choices. This will prove to be your last."
Mason keeps his stance, knife in hand. "And if you tell me where your boss is, you can let those bad choices catch up with me all on their own."
"They already have," Varayev grunts. A particularly loud gunshot draws Mason's gaze to the side for a moment, enough for Varayev to angle his ballistic knife at Mason and trigger it. The blade gashes open Mason's arm, who loses control of his own knife just as Varayev surges forward to pin him to the wall, hands surging upward to seize Mason's neck. "Allahu ackbar," Varayev hisses as the two men struggle for advantage.

Mason fails to get more than a gargle out as Varayev starts to choke him, and his hands desperately grasp for something to fight back with. A few grasps on the table - paper, cup, blotter - briefcase! Mason grabs Varayev's stupid aluminum briefcase by the handle, and swings it against his head as hard as he can. The blow stuns him enough for Mason to break free, and with a wind up and swing, another blow hits Varayev hard enough to send him to the floor and put a permanent dent in the briefcase.

"Your boss," Mason coughs. "And Madina - she was cute."
Varayev flips on his back, adrenaline keeping him moving, but the two blows have stunned him too much for him to get up - he just flails for a moment, then rolls onto his side and spits up blood and splintered teeth. With supreme effort, he finally rolls back onto his belly and painfully rises to his hands and knees. "You will not win," he mumbles in barely comprehensible Chechen as he tries to crawl...somewhere.
"Anya said that last time I saw her," Mason replies with a grin - then slams the briefcase down on Varayev's ankle.
Varayev cries in pain and flops onto his belly again. As tears of pain gush from his clenched eyes, he rises laborously onto his elbows and tries to drag himself further.
"Edil, stop," Mason says. He takes a knee and leans against the briefcase in front of Varayev, leaving the man looking at his own blood staining his accouterment. "I didn't know about your crush on Kheda - and I'm sorry she came at me with a shotgun. You tell me where your boss is, you'll get a hospital bed right next to her."
Varayev takes a few labored breaths. "Crush?" he pants. "You...pig!" With a final surge of power, he launches his arms upward to wrap himself around Mason in a bid to bring this fight to the ground - and finish it there.

Mason decks him one last time with the briefcase, rolling Varayev onto his back. Obviously tired of the whole thing, Mason straddles his chest and presses the briefcase against his neck. "Edil, stop." He sighs. "Tell me, or you never see Kheda again."
"Fuck you, Jacob," Varayev spits (literally).
Mason sighs, and leans onto the briefcase with all his weight.
"!" Varayev croaks as the pressure on his neck chokes off his air supply. His hands, first trying to gather up the strength to hit Mason again, finally hit the floor as Varayev panickedly taps the ground.
Mason lets off - but doesn't move the briefcase. "Good choice."
"Maximoff," Varayev croaks. "Mikita Maximoff."
"Where?" Mason asks.
"Mansion," Varayev coughs. "Mansion in Barysaw. East of Minsk."
"Thanks," Mason says, and clocks Varayev one more time.


"He probably remembers who I am," Mason adds.
skullandscythe 2016-09-25 09:20:26
Blake frowns.Stick out, she says. Yeah. Yeah I can see that.

"Doesn't sound like there's any assets in play there. Should probably include some materials about the city in with Varayev's file - most of my ops have been Middle East/South Asia. Can we include what we've got on Reese in the pack as well? We didn't get to talk much."