IC 7 - Marrakech - Day 1

Gatac 2019-03-05 20:16:22
Operation MARKETPLACE begins with your arrival in Marrakech. With RoI's lackeys on the run - for now - it's finally time to dig into Fractal and figure out who they are, what they want...and what they know.
Gatac 2019-03-05 20:17:48
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are on final approach to Marrakech airport. Local time is 08:30 AM and we currently have a temperature of 12 degrees centigrade, expecting up to 25 degrees today, just a, uh, a beautiful day. On behalf of the entire crew we would like to thank you for flying with us and we hope to welcome you aboard one of our flights again. Thank you, bye bye."


The less said about the actual flight the better (seriously, six euros for a quote-unquote "toasted snack"?), but you do arrive safe and sound at Menara Airport. Then it's time for the gauntlet - passport control queues, filling out customs declaration forms, acquiring new burners and cash and so on and so on. By the time you actually make it out of the "sterile" area, it's creeping up on 10 AM. In the crowded arrival hall, Operations leads you unerringly to a 30-something man who just barely passes as a VIP limousine driver, though his sure gaze and physical shape hint at an, ahem, active lifestyle. But he is holding up a "Tasker International Ltd." sign with a nice fake company logo on it.

"Khalid Qamari," he introduces himself. "Mr. Al-Hasan's valet. Welcome to Marrakech." Mr. Al-Hasan, you remember from the briefing, is the 'friend' of the CIA who's letting you use his mansion as a base of operations while he's away on an extended sailing trip on his yacht.

Qamari shakes Operations' hand first like it ain't no thing before he moves on to the rest of you. He doesn't ask your names, though, another sign that he's been briefed about exactly as much as he needs to know. As he leads you out of the hustle and bustle to an immaculately shiny black 2019 Lincoln Navigator parked right outside the arrival hall in a reserved spot, he slips a discreet 10 Dirham note to a uniformed parking attendant and helps you load your sparse carry-on into the back of the SUV. Within the minute, you're seated, the A/C starts up nice and subtle - not that the weather calls for it - and the car glides forward as Qamari steers it onto the airport's arterial road, going against the flow by driving away from the city center just as everyone else tries to get in to get to work.

"I have prepared everything for your stay," Qamari goes on to explain. "The fridge is full and I have also stocked the kitchen with some wine from the cellar. I've also been told you were traveling light, so I took the liberty of arranging some suitable clothing for you. I would ask that you take a look and let me know if you need anything else - I'll get to it right away. Oh, please also let me know if you need any specific vehicles. I am available on call to shuttle you around, of course, but perhaps one of you would like a sports car or a motorcycle? Of course, you will probably want to recover from your travels first. I've turned on the heaters for the pool outside - if you would prefer colder water to swim in, there's a smaller indoor pool by the sauna. Please do make sure you do not accidentally enter Mr. Al-Hasan's chambers or the vault - matters of privacy, I'm sure you understand." He thinks for a moment. "If you have any other questions, I will also gladly answer them."
punkey 2019-03-06 11:16:44
Mason's busy on his Fractal burner, setting up the prelims for the meeting, but he manages to look up for a few moments. "Groceries? Neighbors?" Mason asks.
"We should be all stocked up," Qamari says. "Like I said, if you find anything missing, tell me. As for neighbors, do not worry. Mr. Al-Hasan's estate is generously sized." He pauses. "I take it by your other question that you could use a good breakfast? I will get to cooking right away while you settle in."
"If we need to go shopping, though," Mason says. "How about late night? Any good tangia or brochette places?"
"Ah," Qamari says. "First, I must give the obvious answer. My uncle has a stand and a small restaurant in the Souk el Attarine, just a few steps from Spice Square. The best lamb brochettes in town. And a rooftop terrace to enjoy them on. Very good view of the market streets...and privacy, if you call ahead."
"Your uncle, hm?" Operations asks.
"Yes," Qamari says. "He taught me how to cook. A skill that has always served me well."
"Still, in case we need to go out for essentials?" Mason asks.
"You will find everything you need on the street markets," Qamari says. "That said, if you want your things imported and wrapped in plastic, you should probably go to the Carré Eden. It is the biggest shopping mall in town and they have a supermarket in the basement."
"Sounds like a hike," Mason says.
Qamari smiles. "You are not used to having a valet, are you?" he says. "Tell me what you want and I'll get it for you." He hands Operations a business card. "Call me, any time, if you need me to drive you somewhere or pick you up. If you want to submit yourself to the hassle of driving around yourself around the city, well, I don't recommend it, but we will find a suitable rental car for you, yes?"

Mason waits for Qamari to turn back to driving before giving Operations the "really now" look he and Alira have been sharing for the last few minutes. Operations returns a "Come on, play nice" look.
"That's very generous of you," Mason replies, looking back to Alira.
"You are Mr. Al-Hasan's guests," Qamari replies. "It is my job to make sure that you lack for nothing in your stay here."

edited by Gatac on 2019-03-06 08:03:26
Gatac 2019-03-06 20:17:39
Making a bit more pleasant conversation with your babysitter, the drive takes you about thirty minutes down the arterial, past a golf course and the Ritz-Carlton all the way down to Lalla Takerkoust, an old town living in the shadow of a large hydroelectric dam. The SUV winds through the town proper, Qamari pointing out restaurants and neighborhood grocery stores as he does. A group of tourists on quad bikes get on your six in the middle of town, earning a look of disdain from Qamari.

"It is becoming more difficult to truly retreat from the world," he says. "Between us, this may be a reason that Mr. Al-Hasan travels more frequently these days."

After you leave town, you drive a few minutes more, then finally turn onto a private road, the gate automatically opening for the SUV - transponder of some sort, probably. The quads continue on down the road, heading for the Atlas mountains that now dominate the horizon. But even with it being a half mile still to the mansion proper, you can already see it before you. A colossus of postmodern architecture, it combines the red sandstone and arcades of Marrakech architecture with smartglass facades and rooftop solar panels. Before it, a large recreational area sprawls, featuring a tennis court, an olympic-size swimming pool and a large pavilion with BBQ gear that would put some Michelin kitchens to shame. Eucalyptus trees dot the hilly landscape, interspersed with sun loungers and parasols.

The SUV comes to a rest inside the mansion's underground garage. Mr. Al-Hasan seems a bit of a low-key car guy: you spot a Lotus Exige Roadster, a Ford Focus RS and a BMW M240i. The heavy steel door to the vault remains uncommented as Qamari shows you to the sauna and the smaller indoor pool, enjoying a nice look over the lake through large glass panels matching the hillside contours. There's a game room, a viewing room and a mini-gym downstairs, too. Then it's up to ground level, where you find three bedrooms, a common living room/lounge and the main kitchen. Each bedroom opens up to its own terrace, of course. Next level, two more bedrooms, Mr. Al-Hasan's off-limits chambers and the library. And to cap it all off, another, smaller floor that's a rooftop terrace with a bar and a small infinity pool.

"I'll get to making you some breakfast," Qamari says. "Please, make yourselves at home. Oh, one more thing" - he hands you a print-out of the floor plans, with some areas in the bedrooms and the living room circled - "the wall panels come off without tools. If you would please just unplug the connectors - it's a bit of a hassle to replace the wiring. And when you're done, please burn the papers. I shall start the chimney."

This may just be the first time that you've been a) blatantly told your house is bugged and b) handed a guide on how to find and disable the bugs. Considerate host, if nothing else. Of course, this doesn't abate your suspicion in any way. For the next hour, the house undergoes a concerted effort to scan for surveillance devices. Even after you find nothing but the devices indicated on the plans, a vague unease remains. The bugs you were told about are, however, genuine enough: French tech from the 90s, already out of date when they were put in, but definitely in working order. You suspect there's a certain amount of unspoken diplomatic back-and-forth here, with different guests of Mr. Al-Hasan perhaps not getting quite that clear an indication of the devices. Whether this is a courtesy extended to all CIA operations using the mansion or the result of a particular horse trade behind your deployment, well, that would be irresponsible speculation.
Gatac 2019-03-07 15:01:17
It's a damn good breakfast, that's for sure. Fresh-squeezed juices, gently scrambled eggs and fresh Moroccan bread are served alongside fruits, sweet pastries and more adventurous fare such as a fresh loaf of tehal - camel spleen stuffed with meat and spices, which Qamari expertly fries up and fashions into sandwiches for you. Things remain slightly awkward following the bug hunt, but Qamari doesn't seem to mind. After breakfast, he cleans up quickly, then excuses himself to run some errands, leaving you the run of the estate.

"Okay, boys," Operations says. "I need to get some stuff from the airport. Who's coming with me?" She looks to Alira, who looks at Mason, who in turn looks at Laith.
"...that'd be my turn, then," Laith surrenders.
"That going to be a problem?" Operations asks.
"No," Laith says. "As long as we don't talk."

Yikes. Better not get in the way of whatever's happening here. Blake quickly grabs a fresh laptop and excuses himself to work, leaving only Mason and Alira to pass the time.


(Blake spends Military Science to research Blacksite Romeo.)

Ah, Janet. Blake's not keen to advertise it, but he's actually been on his share of those flights from his time in weapons testing, shuttling him between Las Vegas and Groom Lake. It wasn't nearly as ominous as some conspiracy cranks would say it is - the peanuts did, most certainly, not contain mind-control drugs - but it is secretive enough, and you just don't get on one of those flights unless you really, really need to be on one of those flights. Everyone aboard has a Top Secret clearance at minimum plus the appropriate SAPs, but that's still a surprisingly large number of people. That precludes it being the sole transportation method for WILDCHILD / Blacksite Romeo / Insert Spooky Name Here - you couldn't put someone like, say, Jessica onto one of those flights, because shouty experimental subjects wouldn't blend in with the contractors. So flip it around: the really darker than black stuff probably doesn't use Janet, but it's expedient for shuttling around personnel. After all, even at a blacksite, you have shift rotations, people going on vacation or sick leave, all that. But it would be difficult to bury a secret site at any place that sees large amounts of traffic. The general public might not think of Groom Lake as a high-traffic facility but Blake's been there, Blake's seen the hundreds of contractors that pass through every day and Blake's very sure that America's Worst Kept Secret is not the place to go looking for WILDCHILD. So what Blake looks for is a location that is served by Janet but otherwise out of the way.

And, well, it's a short list, especially once further limited by being on or around Thanksgiving. Most Janet flights do serve large regional military bases and the timing excludes several of the smaller destinations. But according to the tireless work of civilian aviation enthusiasts, there are also Janet flights out to NOLF San Nicolas Island - and there was one just before Thanksgiving 2016. San Nicolas, one of the small Channel Islands off the coast of California, is probably the closest equivalent to a Closed City on the list. The whole island is used by the US Navy, chiefly for ballistic missile research and training purposes, with no civilian population to speak of. The actual base is still a bit too public for a real blacksite, but it's the closest possibility. The rest of the island...hm, much of it is basically a weapons range. Good reason to keep out of there, one supposes, but wouldn't explain semi-regular personnel movements. Blake's about to dismiss the whole idea and backtrack to zero when his browse of the facility's information reveals a new mission added in 2013: support site for SBX Alternate. SBX-1, as far as Blake knows, is that white elephant "radar dome on an oil rig" that's supposed to help track ballistic missiles and is supposed to be in real-deal service any day now, you guys, for serious. No surprise the Navy has looked into alternatives - but Blake hasn't heard of an "SBX Alternate" before. A bit more digging and Blake finds that construction of an SBX-2 was actually begun, but then canceled midway through the conversion of the semi-submersible platform. No radar components were ever installed; instead, the whole thing was finished as a "research station" and towed out to test "crew fatigue" during long-term operations at sea. Sounds like a lot of bullshit to Blake - not much there the Navy wouldn't already know from its ships or from civilian platforms - but apparently that's still an active project, funded from some research initiative Blake's never heard of - and Blake's heard of a lot of research initiatives in the US military.

Just one minor problem, then: Blake has no idea where "SBX Alternate" is actually based. It sounds like it's supplied by helicopter and barge from San Nicolas, so it's probably within a hundred miles or so. Avoiding standard shipping lanes, too, if they have any sense - so probably due west-south-west, but more like 50 miles out...and, surprise, surprise, no commercial satellite imagery out there, just ocean floor mapping. That's a whole lot of nothing to hide something in.


As for Alira and Mason, well...


A few minutes after the shower turns off, Alira emerges from the bathroom in a black silk robe, her hair wrapped in a towel. The look of relaxation doesn't go away even after she catches a look at Mason's expression. "Future on your mind, Masie?" she asks.
Mason turns away from the window, startled by Alira's emergence from the bathroom. "Huh? Oh, yeah." He smiles as he climbs out of bed, wrapping his arms around her from behind. "How'd you guess?"
"Either that or the past," Alira says, placing her hand on Mason's. "I had a 50:50 shot."
"What do you think about it?" Mason asks.
"I think that, when we're retired..." Alira says. "...we're gonna renovate the farm. I want a nice shower like the one here. Feels like it's been years since I got all the dust out of my hair like this." She strokes the back of Mason's hand. "Retirement is still the plan, yeah?"
"I don't know, is it?" Mason asks. "You got back into the swing of things pretty quick."
"Yeah," Alira says. "Yeah, I did." She snuggles up closer to Mason. "Good to have a goal ahead of me again. Feel like I'm useful. Feel like I'm...dangerous." She cranes her head to look at him over her shoulder. "So, Army, CIA...what's next? Feels like you've already got a foot out the door on this gig."
"You want to work for Marsh, after what we've seen?" Mason asks.
"I want to work with you," Alira says. "But...even if Marsh is a dickhead - and that seems a safe call, considering - you know I'm the diggy sort. And as long as we're in this outfit, we've got the CIA on our side...nominally. Easier to find out things from the inside. I'll swim through a river of shit if there's truth on the other shore."
"We'll see how we feel about that when we get the truth about Operations-slash-Jessica," Mason says. "And I still have that business card."
"You do," Alira says. "But you don't know a thing about what happens on the other side of that curtain, Masie. You met anyone from Fractal that wasn't a freak of some description?"
"I don't think you or I have much room to talk about normal, babe," Mason points out.
"Hm," Alira says. "Maybe I'm just scared of trying to uphold the mystique of it. You think I'd look good in leathers?"
Mason rubs a hand along Alira's backside. "I think you know my opinion on that."
"Mmh," Alira says, but leaves it at that.
"But...seriously," Mason says. "I'm not going to let this thing with Jessica hang. I'm chasing this down wherever it goes - if you're on board with it." He leans forward to rest his cheek against hers. "You're the most important thing in the world to me, 'Lira. If you don't want to go there, we won't go there."
"Masie," Alira says, "I knew what I was getting into when I got on that plane. You know what I think. Fiat justitia ruat caelum. We're gonna sort her out, together."
"And if it means signing on to the freak squad?" Mason asks.
"Then hand me the pen and paper," Alira says. She leans out to kiss Mason. "Ride or die, Masie."
"Ride or die, Lira," Mason replies, returning the kiss.


It is towards lunch and the lounge chilling has commenced when Operations and Laith return from the airport, wheeling several hardcases into the mansion with them. One you recognize from the the stop at Thumrait - the C8 carbines - while the other is new and substantially bigger. Probably whatever Operations had hand-delivered from the Nomad's armory.

"Intel update," Operations proclaims. "We got a little present from the Netherlands." She props up a fresh laptop and shows you several pictures from inside the Dutch Royal Palace - surveillance pictures of Valentina deSilva(?), nothing incriminating, but at least with good enough shots of her face. "Which brings us to 'the Lynx' - Juan David Sotelo. Not sure how much we still care about a positive ID on deSilva, but he's the one to talk to for that, if we can find him." She looks around. "Unless you boys got a better way to pass the time until Fractal calls."
skullandscythe 2019-03-11 00:58:05
"Juan might be the best place to start, true," Blake speaks up, "but we shouldn't forget the other game in town. Khoury is here as well, as I recall." He gives a nod to Alira. "Whatever his allegiance, some discreet probing into his activities is likely to turn up something interesting."
Gatac 2019-03-13 17:04:48
"Discreet, exactly," Alira says. "Until we get this Fractal party over with, I'm not stepping into any bloody crosshairs."
"Especially Sotelo's," Mason weighs in.
"Mind sharing with the class, Mason?" Operations says.
"He doesn't like open accounts and I'm one of those," Mason says. "He favors poison, but he'll use bombs or guns if he has to. Money, ideology, adrenaline, it's all the same to him - he just likes killing." Mason shrugs. "When even FARC tells you to knock it off, you know you've come too far."
"So, he knows you," Operations says.
"Which means he knows me," Alira says. "Don't it, Masie."
"That's my guess," Mason says. "We go after him, we're gonna have to take him out."
"Okay, then we skip that complication for the moment and wait for the call from Fractal," Operations says. "Blake, if you can snoop on Khoury without leaving this house -"

Blake just nods. It's like they don't even know him.


(Blake uses Human Terrain to get a bead on Khoury's plans)

Blake does a quick browse of the Marrakech scene on the laptop to see what Prince Khoury's itenerary might look like. Some things can be inferred from the public details of his last visit: He's liable to do most business at the hotel, so if you're gonna see him, you're gonna see him there, on his terms and surrounded by his bodyguards. However, there is one glaring exception to this rule. Prince Khoury holds a commission in the Royal Saudi Air Force and is a qualified pilot of several types of fighter aircraft, so he surely wouldn't miss this year's Marrakech Air Show, the highlight of which is gonna be the combined Spanish-US demonstration flight pitting Eurofighter against F-35B. Last year, he spent most of the time in his VIP box but ventured onto the airfield in his own flightsuit to get pictures with the planes and their pilots. Other than that, the obvious point of contact for Khoury is Hadir Mernissi, yet another Imam of yet another suspiciously well-funded mosque. However, Mernissi has been doing God's work for the last half-century. Funny that a man who's already been preaching his own way the whole time would suddenly accept funding from foreigners.


Finally, towards 3 PM, the Fractalphone goes off with a simple message: "The pavillon at the Menara gardens. 5 PM."
Gatac 2019-03-17 15:37:19
Mason turns the screen off on the Fractalphone. "Meeting's at 1700. Let's roll."


(insert lock-and-load montage here)


It's kind of redundant to call them Menara gardens and direct you to the pavilion in particular because "menara" means "pavilion" and anyway, they're quite pretty with the sun low and reflecting off the central basin. What few tourists were here have gently fucked off to the souks which are only now really coming alive, leaving you mostly alone here. Laith stays on exfil duty with a rental van while Blake takes the perimeter to watch out for surprises. First observation: there are no good perches around the pavilion for snipers or snoopers. That reduces the problem space to just the interior. Ops, Alira and Mason enter through the unlocked front door and make their way inside to the dimly-lit main room, hands near their guns in case this turns kinetic. Inside, there's a hastily erected folding table, with the recruiter sitting behind it on a folding chair. As he beckons you in and offers you your pick of folding chair from a stack leaned against the far wall, you notice that you're alone with him - and a teleconference box sat on the table, its futuristic aluminum and glass housing somewhat marred by the power cable trailing off it, over the table and towards another wall to a nearby socket.

"Welcome," the recruiter says. "I trust you had no problems on your way here?"
"Traffic was light," Mason replies. "deSilva is on lookout?"
The recruiter smiles. "We're here to discuss bigger questions, Major," he says.
"Indeed," a distorted voice echoes from the teleconference doodad. "I am Control. Sorry I could not attend the meeting in person. This will have to suffice."
"Couldn't get off the beach?" Alira asks.

Operations leans back against a wall, folding her arms in the universal gesture of "Let's see what you got first".

"Something like that," Control says. "Samuel, if you would give us the room."
"Certainly," the recruiter says. He nods his head towards you, then gets up from his chair and walks out.
"Issue one," Control says. "You have had a chance to look at the data that was stolen from us. What did you learn from it?"
"Mostly that you've been chasing RoI longer than we have, but haven't been able to even slow them down," Mason replies.
"That statement is not as inaccurate as I would like it to be," Control says. "We have been fighting a delaying actions against various arms of the Renewal of Islam for several months now, but with a very light touch. I did not know the scope of the threat until it was too late and therefore prioritized discretion over effect. The outcome was unacceptable, so I ordered a change in tactics. As a result, you became aware of us."
"Amsterdam?" Mason asks.
"The primary objective was preventing the terror attacks," Control says. "Although we would still prefer to take custody of Edil Varajev's laptop, that was a target of opportunity." Control pauses. "You destroyed the tank drone. What did you learn from it?"
"Looks Russian, but the sticker underneath said 'Made in China'," Alira replies. "Explosives were all knockoffs, so were the control systems."
"MSS was poking around, as you know, and the shipping papers for the tank had it moving out of Shenzhen," Mason adds. "And if you want a knock-off smartphone or smart tank, there's no better place."
"Problematic," Control says.
"Yeah, I got a question," Operations pipes up. "How the hell did you get that project file from WILDCHILD?"
"That is information I am not willing to divulge freely," Control says.
"Horseshit," Operations says.
"I can hear an inflection in your voice that simulates anger," Control says, "but I am aware that it is just a simulation. Never mind how I got that file. There is a more general question you should be asking me."
"What's your agenda in all this?" Operations says.
"Exactly," Control says.
"RoI first," Mason says. "What do you want with them?"
"Eliminate them," Control says. "My usual approach with malformed factors is more subtle but in this case I see no alternative to a complete eradication of their organization and everyone in it."
"Odd way of showing it," Mason says.
"I am not sure I take your meaning, Major," Control says. "If you mean to say that we have not engaged any known RoI operatives in the field -"
"I mean helping out the Bulgarians in Hamburg," Mason says. "We know you had a guy cleaning up after them."

(Mason spends Interrogation to put Control off balance.)

There are a few seconds of silence from the line. "Yes," Control says. "It is pointless to deny that."
"So?" Operations asks.
"I gambled," Control says. "I saw first-hand what you could do in Amsterdam. Frankly, you could put more capabilities into the field than I could. After you made a beeline for Hamburg, I had to make an unorthodox decision in order to delay your access to the stolen data. I tasked an operative with replacing the contractor that RoI had hired to help the Bulgarians achieve their goals. They would not have kept you long otherwise and their various plots would surely have failed without my operative's abilities in masking their trail. By the time you were ready to hit the vault, my assets were in place to intercept you on the way out. Even then, I clearly underestimated your...tenacity."
"I got two words for you, then," Operations says. "Fuck. You. You aided and abetted terrorists and your man murdered at least one innocent civilian doing it."
"That is accurate," Control says. "But rest assured the Bulgarians will not live long to celebrate their narrow escape. They remain our targets and will be dealt with at an opportune time."
"So, you directly aided RoI's terror attacks, in order to stop RoI's terror attacks," Mason says. "That sounds like the kind of shit that, no offense, Operations, the CIA would do."
"Yeah, and we're talking vintage CIA," Operations says. "Southeast Asia in the 60s CIA."
"I had a backup plan in place to ensure that they would have been stopped even if you had failed to do so," Control says. "I understand your anger -"
"No," Alira says. "Don't think you do, you bloody drongo."
"No wonder you're recruiting from FARC leftovers," Operations says.

Control stays quiet.

"So," Mason says. "You need our help with Renewal of Islam. Or rather, you need us to take over your RoI efforts."
"...yes, I suppose I do," Control says. "Permit me to ask, then, what your agenda in regards to RoI is. Do you also wish to destroy them utterly?"
"We were thinking about having them 'round for beers, but that works too," Alira replies.
"Utter destruction sounds lovely," Operations says.
"That brings me to the CIA, then," Control says. "I take it you are no longer on the best of terms with them in regards to WILDCHILD?"

Mason and Alira both look to Operations.

"How about this," Operations says. "You said you're not gonna part with your information freely, so let's trade. You tell me what you know about WILDCHILD."
"...and?" Control asks.
"And I don't call Langley and tell them to blow up the portion of your assets we have by the short and curlies, right now," Operations says. "Because I'm this close to just throwing you on the target list and letting another team sort you out while we refocus on our primary objective, instead of wasting time jumping through your hoops." She clears her throat. "Deal?"
"I think you have made your position very clear," Control says. "I will compile what we have and send it to the device." A pause. "I hope you understand that we have the same ultimate goal here, even if our methods -"
"Spare me the equivocation bullshit," Operations says. "Everything you know about WILDCHILD, within the hour, or all bets are off."

Mason raises his eyebrows while Alira suddenly has to cough and look away.

"So," Mason says, clearing his throat. "What's the overview of it?"
"What's the overview of all secret programs to create better people?" Control says portentously. "It's a failure. You will receive an excruciatingly detailed account of its failure. There have been renewed attempts to reproduce Kilo, but to my knowledge it hasn't worked."
"So, wait," Alira says. "They're building those regulators just for Operations here?"
"No," Control says. "There are other subjects who require them. But even with them, they're not capable of field duty."
"What about Bravo?" Operations says. She looks to Mason. "I listened to the recording from Jessica. She seemed hung up on him."
"The records I have indicate he is still being held," Control says.
"So, new question," Mason says. "With all of the weird bio-tech shit that Fractal is up to, can Fractal break the implanted suggestions and commands, fuck up whatever controls they have in the regulator?"
"Yes, we can do that," Control says.
"I don't suppose you'll want to tell me how it is you can do that?" Operations asks.
"I employ some smart people," Control says. "They worked backwards from the project data."
"And you had them do that just for fun?" Operations asks.
"Oh, no," Control says. "Contingency planning, in case the CIA did ever figure out mass production."
"Fascinating," Operations says.
"But we will need to fly in both the equipment and the experts," Control says. "I'm afraid it'll be about 32 hours before we are set up to attempt the procedure here."
"I've got nowhere to be," Mason says.
"I'll cancel my plans," Alira adds.
"I will make the arrangements," Control says. "...and I would like to conclude the conversation on that note."
"I'm all out of questions," Operations says.
"Looking forward to meeting the team," Mason says. "We'll just wait here while they pack their rifles away."

The line goes quiet as the teleconference doodad powers down.

"Remember when I told you I don't get emotional?" Operations says. "No longer quite sure that's true."
"How are you feeling?" Alira asks.
"Like I'm getting real tired of being yanked around," Operations says. "I didn't expect them to be secret saints, but..."
"There are no saints in this business," Alira opines. "But we can do better than these dicklicks."
"Leadership's always playing the long game and fucking over the people in the field," Mason says. "If they give us the latitude to do what we need to, then we'll see."

At that point, the recruiter walks back into the room. Giving you a curt nod, he unplugs the teleconference doodad and begins packaging it up in a hardcase. "I don't mean to throw you out," he says, "but I can't sanitize the room around you."

You make your way outside and to the waiting van, where Blake ushers you inside before climbing in himself. Laith drives off and takes a few corners until he's sure you're not being followed.

"Nothing on the perimeter," Blake says. "Either deSilva was in a really good palm tree costume or she wasn't there at all."
"Then let's head back," Mason says. "Eyes up."
skullandscythe 2019-03-20 15:39:40
Blake takes in much of the debriefing in stride, occasionally writing notes in his notebook, with the exception of one item.

"So let me get this straight," he interjects brusquely, "this...scrupulous gentleman said 'yeah I know how the CIA fucked around with your head wiring, want me to have a go' and you-" he jabs his pencil towards Ops "- did not object. That right?"
Gatac 2019-03-20 16:09:25
"My life coach told me to say 'yes' more often," Operations snarks. "Also, it'll get us a look at more of Fractal. And I never said I'd let them do it to me. That remains to be negotiated, after we have eyes on their setup."
Gatac 2019-03-25 06:38:47
(1d6+2 Mason Sense Trouble = (5)+2 = 7)

The van drives casually at Laith's hands, putting you down the same long stretch of Marrakech's outskirts on the avenue R212 that passes the airport and gets out to your safehouse. Lucy has her head on Operations' lap and is receiving scritches, while Alira double-checks some intel on a laptop. Various signs for fast food restaurants at the side of the avenue challenge your conviction to have that home-cooked dinner. All in all, a quiet drive.

And yet, something piques Mason's gray matter. There's a car that's following the van, maybe three vehicles back? Real low-profile type of tailing, except for two things: one, Mason can spot a rental from a mile away and this is a rental going against the flow of the kinds of traffic rental cars usually generate here and two, the man at the wheel seems too familiar. Mason mentally flips through his enemy rolodex - lots of mid-30s to mid-40s with short dark hair in there, how weird - until he hits on someone that was supposed to be off the table but is very much in the wind: Dana Lamb, the ex-DEA wheelman of the rogue US special ops team you tussled with in Amsterdam. A quick scan of the environment doesn't reveal any other obvious tails, so for the moment this looks like initial recon. Probably gonna peel off and hand over the tail to someone else after a few more blocks.

"Grey SUV," Mason says. "Got one of the trigger pullers from the apartments in Amsterdam behind the wheel."
"I see it," Laith says. "Thoughts?"
"Well, we gotta ditch them," Mason says.

A look out of the window shows the evening traffic of Marrakech in all its glory. It's not so much that there are a lot of cars - though there are - but it's that the avenue has a lot of side roads and every intersection is yet another chance for people to disagree about who has priority. Quite a bit of honking. Still, one supposes it would be possible to squeeze through at a fairly good clip if one were to abandon all regard for safety.

"Right now he doesn't know he's made," Operations says. "We ditch him, we lose a chance to see more of them."
"We've already seen his team," Mason says. "And I'm not in the mood tonight. What do we have in this van that's good for crowd control? CS? Foam?"
"We didn't exactly pack for a riot," Laith comments.

(1d6+2 Mason Preparedness = (6)+2 = 8)

"Well, we didn't," Alira says. She glances at the cargo area behind her seat. "There's a ton of tools back here. Enough to give MacGyver a stiffie."
"So Qamari's the estate's handyman, too," Operations says.
"Looks like," Alira says.
Mason turns around and looks in the back - and smiles. "Yeah, that'll do." He settles back in his seat. "Turn around and run the next intersection, but stay on the outside lane. That'll get him right where I need him to be."
"Buckle up," Laith orders. Behind the clicking of safety belts, he adds a whispered "Inshallah".


Vans were not made for e-brake turns, did you know that? Laith's attempt is not very rally champion, accordingly, being that he has to be careful not to roll the vehicle. Still, the broad avenue and its wide concrete curtain in the middle give enough room for him to hang a very sharp left, completing a u-turn that seems unimpressed by the honking of just about everyone around you. It still looks halfway like someone forgetting to take their exit and being a dick about it rather than the start of a car chase, though. Laith straightens the van out, barely not scratching the paint of a bus running into the city center, and then weaves through traffic at best speed.

And Lamb is right behind you. He's really pushing that SUV and it corners better than the van, getting him onto your tail in moments. Laith guns it for the outside lane while Lamb comes up on the inside lane, maneuvering as if trying to PIT you off the street.

"Okay, let's block him in," Mason says. "Just shove him into the wall."

Lamb's play goes to shit the second he realizes that the Hilux in front of him is slowing down for the next traffic light while the blinged-out SUV behind him is halfway inside his trunk. All the opening Laith needs to pump the brakes, fall back half a length to just beside Lamb's car and then smash into that sucker.

BABOW! BABOW! BABOW! It's a symphony of airbags milliseconds before the CRUNCH of metal against metal and then the SCREEEEEEEE of metal against concrete. You come to a full stop with Lamb's SUV pinned to the median and a concert of honks from behind you.

"Your move!" Laith calls, waving his hand ineffectually at the fine dust from the airbags deploying into the cabin.
Mason grabs a repeating screw gun loaded with metal screws and tosses it to Blake. "Seal him inside," he says and hops out the sliding side door of the van, crowbar in one hand and bottle of brake cleaner in the other. Blake gets to work with the swiftness while Mason rounds Lamb's car. He whistles loudly to get his attention as he jams the crowbar under the hood at the locking latch, and waves when Lamb looks his way with a smile.

Lamb, if you can believe it, is not returning the smile. He's trying to free himself from the belt buckle - no, scratch that. That's step two. He's currently working on step one: freeing a pistol from a waistband holster.

"Get down!" Mason shouts, crouching down himself and cranking on the crowbar as hard as he can with both hands.

(1d6+2 Mason Athletics = (6)+2 = 8)

The hood pops open easily, providing with at least some concealment.

"Lira! Grab a pic of the sticker on the rear side window!" Mason shouts as he unscrews the oil cap, dumping half the bottle of brake cleaner into the engine and the other half all over the glowing hot exhaust.


Everybody ducks just that tiny bit more as Lamb's pistol discharges from inside the car, popping his airbag out of the way. The engine doesn't idle much longer after the liquid diet prescribed by Dr. Mason, building a squeal that'll have it seizing soon. The effect of brake cleaner on hot exhaust is rather more dramatic. Just as Mason ducks away from his latest masterpiece, two more shots ring out. Mason's heart stops for a moment - it's like he can feel Alira duck behind their van as the bullets fly past her.

"He's coming out the back window!" Alira shouts.
"We're good!" Mason shouts, hustling back into the van. "Go!"

As Mason jumps back into the van, he clocks Alira popping the rear cargo hatch and climbing inside, reaching for her gun hidden in the stack of tools.

"Go go go!" she shouts.

Laith puts pedal to the metal, as Blake jumps in from the other side, snatches a loose seat belt and hangs free for a moment before he pulls himself in.

You run the next light, swerve through some more traffic. It seems like all of Marrakech is honking at you, but there's no more gunfire. Accordingly, after a few seconds, Laith hits the power close button and the rear hatch draws closed.

"Tell me you got the picture," Operations says.
"Oh, I'm fine, thanks!" Alira says, putting her gun on safe. "And yeah, I got the picture."

Just then, the dash radio comes on, with a pleasantly bored French voice on the other side. Looks like the van has OnStar, Morocco edition. Laith quickly kills the inbound connection.

"I don't know about you," Laith says, craning his head to see past the spiderwebbed part of the driver's side window. "But I vote we change cars."
"And ditch our hosts' fine automobile?" Mason asks. "Just pull into the nearest parking garage, wait a few minutes, and call Qamari. His van was just stolen by some young punks, but we think we know where they took it."
"Punk, I'm with ya," Alira jokes from the back seat. "Young, though..."
Gatac 2019-03-29 08:00:27
'The nearest parking garage' turns into a bit of a stretch, as the only nearby suggestion offered by the car's navigation turns out to be merely a big parking lot with not a lot of visual cover.

"Fuck," Laith mutters, but goes for it anyway, going right through the lot and into some back alleys - anything to get the banged-up van off the main streets ASAP.

Fortunately, the sirens of police are very firmly in the distance and eventually pass you by as they race back towards the scene of the collision. You stop the van in the backlot of a small residential complex and then make to deass the area with the quickness after a brief spell of sanitizing the car. As you walk, Operations dials up Qamari's cell phone and explains the situation to him. That seems to go well, until...

"Yes, we are -" she begins, but is obviously cut off. She rolls her eyes. "He wants to speak to you," she tells Mason, holding out the phone.
"Hello, Mr. Qamari," Mason replies.
"Ah, my friend," Qamari says. "Terrible news with the van. I will be speaking to the police and the insurance shortly to sort it all out. Under the circumstances, I think it is best if you do not come here too quickly."
"Of course," Mason replies. "And just to let you know, if there's any damage that happens to occur, we would be of course happy to pay for the repairs at a local shop. Are there any you recommend?"
"Do not bother yourself with these things," Qamari says. "I will take care of it all. Do not worry. The car can be replaced. My regret is that I cannot have you here for dinner." He pauses in a completely artificial way. "Do you remember my uncle's restaurant? It would be one worry less in my heart if I could impose on you to be his guests tonight. I will call ahead and tell him you are coming."
"Of course," Mason says. "Anything you recommend?"
"The lamb, of course," Qamari says. "Just...go there with an open mind. I think you will like what is on offer there."
"Will do," Mason replies.
"I hope to see you back for breakfast tomorrow, then," Qamari says. "Have a good night." He hangs up after that.
Operations takes the phone back from Mason. "What do you make of it?" she asks.
"I'm glad we didn't leave anything sensitive behind," Mason says. "And his bribe of choice is probably going to be vastly overpaying for kebab. What's our security setup back at the house looking like?"
"Everything sensitive in my room," Operations says. "Rigged the doors and windows so they won't open without my say-so. I've got enough sensors in there to tell if anyone tries to force the issue. Push comes to shove, the hardcases are rigged against unauthorized tampering."
"Then, in the interest of international host-guest relations, let's go overpay for lamb," Mason says.


Within the souk, the hustle and bustle of full-on touristing hits you for the first time. Considering all the offers extended to you for fine jewelry and tailored suits, walking-distance-to-empty-wallet comes to a shockingly low 15 meters. Lots of polite "No, thank you"s, then. Mason can't help but notice that Alira's got her eyes on some silver necklaces, though. Not that she doesn't also have her eyes on the crowd and the team's six, but still. Even Laith seems a bit relaxed for once, stopping to briefly haggle over a pair of leather shoes before falling in with you. At Youssouf Qamari's restaurant, Mouton Noir, you find that the tables outside hold a few lost tourists sucking on longdrinks with a plate of skewers in the middle of each table. The restaurant itself is narrow, barely allowing three tables on the ground floor, but a glance upwards shows it extending several floors up all the way to a larger rooftop terrace.

"Mes amis américains!" a 60-ish mountain of a man greets you, a big smile under his mustache as he waves you inside the mostly empty restaurant. He insists on giving you each a hug. It is most definitely not optional - and you can feel him quickly checking you for weapons, though he doesn't comment when he finds them. "Come in," he says, in lightly-accented English, then leads you up the winding stairs. "Your table is all ready."

And, indeed, the table is set. Lamb skewers, baskets of freid pastries and fresh bread, bowls of chunky stews and a pitcher of flavored water await, alongside several bottles of red wine from the North. It's all lit by candles, though the fabric roof tented overhead does hold some LED lights to even things out.

Also provided free of charge: an old man in a dressy suit, with thin wireframe glasses and what's left of his crinkled gray hair bound back into a neat ponytail.

"Good evening," he says by way of greeting, getting up and greeting you each with a handshake. "I am Doctor Suhaim Benchemsi," he says. "Deuxième Bureau. If it is agreeable to you, I should like to speak to you all over dinner."
punkey 2019-03-29 08:04:59
"Just once I'd like to go somewhere without the secret police wanting to talk to us," Mason says in Arabic. "All the suspicion is a little insulting."
Gatac 2019-03-29 08:14:46
"You are not my targets," Dr. Benchemsi replies. "The other Americans - the criminals - are where my interest lies."
"That doesn't reassure me," Operations says.
"Of course," Dr. Benchemsi says. "And I did not mean to make this inconvenient for you. I have been told you have other, bigger problems to take care of, and that was enough for me on that matter. Still, I would like to be of help to you, but if you wish to see me another time, I shall leave you to your meal."
skullandscythe 2019-03-29 20:39:46
Blake scratches what is rapidly becoming proper facial hair. Something had been nagging at him since they had narrowly escaped their tail, and this seemed a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the MSS patsies.

But it's not just his decision. He looks over to Mason and Alira. "Do you guys just want a quiet meal for a change?"

punkey 2019-03-30 01:46:01
"If I wanted quiet, there was plenty of it back home," Alira says as she slides a chair out.
"Any info is better than no info," Mason adds as he does the same.
Gatac 2019-03-30 07:58:39
"Please, have a seat, Dr. Benchemsi," Operations says.
"Thank you," Dr. Benchemsi says.

You crowd around the table and find your seats.

"In the Name of God, the gracious, the merciful," Laith says Grace in Arabic, then waits as Dr. Benchemsi repeats it.
"I shall be quick," Dr. Benchemsi begins. "We were most surprised to hear from the Dutch military yesterday that they had traced a group of escaped American terrorists to a private yacht - unfortunately too late to intercept them in European waters. But their course led them to Rabat, from where they proceeded on land to this city. My colleagues of the DST insisted that this was under their jurisdiction. So we did not intervene."

He retrieves a file from a weathered leather briefcase and slides it to Operations.

"Nevertheless, we were compelled to help, so my office has compiled a list of possible persons sheltering the terrorists, in support of our colleagues at the DST," Dr. Benchemsi says. "I must have mislaid a copy."
"Not necessarily," Operations says, intently studying the file and committing it to memory. "Laith, would you ask our host if we can have one of the fire bowls moved closer to our table? I'm feeling a bit chilly."
"You got it," Laith says, getting up and moving away.
"So why give this to us?" Operations asks.
Dr. Benchemsi sips on a glass of water. "We have a...complicated relationship with your country," he says. "There are many who are eager to profit off your desires in the 'War on Terror'. There are also many who think that yours is a corrupting influence on our kingdom and that we would do well to renounce all ties with you. My office has a rather...pragmatic course to chart. As far as I am concerned, it is our job to protect the people by whatever means necessary."
"Your department's tracking us, then?" Alira asks.
"Hardly," Dr. Benchemsi says. "As I said, officially, this is not our jurisdiction and we have no knowledge of your operation." He takes another sip. "Unofficially, it is understood that Mr. Al-Hasan's special guests may require us to turn the occasional eye away from their actions...or provide them some information. News of your presence finds its way to me in the strictest of confidence. I should stake my life on the integrity of every man involved. Of course, this does not answer the question of how the terrorists knew to intercept you."
punkey 2019-03-30 08:20:37
Mason looks over the file and passes it to Alira, who gives him a shrug before passing it down. "In the US, it's customary to at least flirt with us first before you ask us to do your homework for you."
skullandscythe 2019-04-04 03:34:10
Blake takes the file next, and looks over it a little more carefully than the rest. He can use the list later to narrow down where the patsies are.
Gatac 2019-04-09 16:03:29
Dr. Benchemsi nods. "It is true that not all of these people may be involved in your case and yet I would quite appreciate them off the streets, so in this respect I will admit to an agenda of my own," he says. "But as of right now, we are just sitting at a table. No deals made, no expectations established...and I am most certainly not here to tell you what to do." He rises from his chair. "In any event, I shall not keep you. I have a family to go home to, after all."

He goes around to shake your hands again, making sure to slip a business card to Operations.

"In the protection of God," Laith tells him in Arabic.
"With peace," Dr. Benchemsi replies.

After Dr. Benchemsi leaves, Operations gives Laith a stare.

"You're friendly," she says.
"I like people who aren't trying to shoot or arrest me," he says. "And he's a man of faith. If I had a nickel for every time it's 'Agent Sy, we have a Muslim prisoner, would you take point please', well...I could get a coffee, I guess."
"He could just be trying to play you," Operations cautions.
"Politeness costs nothing," Laith replies. "We can't all be mysterious badasses like you."

Operations sucks in a sharp breath but says nothing further, averting her eyes.

"Let's eat, then," Laith adds.
punkey 2019-04-09 17:10:04
Mason takes a sip of his tea. "You get a ping off that rental sticker?" he asks Alira.
"Smaller rental shop on the outskirts," Alira says, stirring her own tea. "That scans with what the good Doctor said about them arriving overland. Might narrow our search grid if they went for a shop close to their base of operations."
"Who rented it?" Mason asks.
"That, I don't know," Alira said, taking a sip of her own. "Their website looks old enough to vote. They might have paper records...or no records, in this case." She smiles. "How do you feel about going there and asking nicely?"
"Better than kicking down the doors of half the assholes in Marrakesh," Mason replies, and looks over to Operations.

"Might be a tripwire, Lamb has to assume somebody's gonna come looking after the car was wrecked," Operations says, sitting there with her arms folded defensively in front of her. "You take point, we'll get another car off the grid and approach from another angle. If you get there and somebody moves, we can follow them and see what's what."
"Got any insurance covers in your pocket we can borrow?" Mason asks.
Operations digs into her coat and produces a stack of Moroccan Dirham notes. "That's what I've got," she offers, retreating back inwards and almost slumping into her chair.
"Should be enough for a quick business card," Mason says, making note of Operations'...reaction to Laith.

Operations brushes her hair back as if that hides that she's really running her fingers over her regulator. Her eyes wander the rooftops around you, scanning for threats - but still can't avoid flicking over to Laith every so often. Her right foot taps impatiently in thin air as the waiting continues.
Mason leans over to her. "Feeling all right?"
"Good to go," Operations replies, forcing herself to meet his eyes and hint at a smile. "Right now I want my dinner and then I want my hands on these murderous assholes."
"Could have fooled me," Mason says. "Looks more like you want a pint of ice cream and a blanket." Operations scoffs. "Hey, it's good that you're feeling...anything," Mason continues. "But Operations-you isn't used to having emotions to hide. Just giving you the heads up that you've got your pants down, emotionally speaking."
"So noted," Operations says and looks to Laith. "Looks like it's my turn in the van, then."
Laith looks at her for a moment, some concern poking through his I-want-to-be-angry-at-you expression. "Probably for the better," he says.
"Hopefully whatever our new friends can do will help with all of that," Mason says.
"Hopefully," Operations echoes, taking her glass of red wine and drinking a deep sip from it.

Alira puts a hand on Operations' shoulder. Operations quickly turns her head to look at Alira, with a Hey-you-do-know-you're-touching-me-right? look on her face. Alira returns the look with a little smile. "You're all right," she whispers.
"I've been a lot of things but I don't know about that," Operations replies, her voice low. "Would be a first."
"You know about me," Alira replies. The rest of the table is busy looking around - for food, for hostiles, at the packet of info Benchemsi left. "Trust me, you're all right. You'll be all right."
"If Jessica doesn't kill me," Operations says quietly.
"Laith liked her, he's an all right sort," Alira says. "You two should be able to work something out. After all, you got a lot in common."
"I don't know," Operations admits. "It's just a scary situation to be in."
"And you can talk to me about it," Alira says. "Any time."
"Well," Operations says. "Let's see what storytime tonight gets us."
"Tell you what," Alira says. "Write down what you want to say to her, what you want us to ask. We've had her all to ourselves, you should be the one asking questions."
"Hmm," Operations says, nodding slightly.