IC 4 - Hamburg - Day 1

Gatac 2018-06-26 18:01:21
(1d6+2 Mason conceal knife = (2)+2 = 4)

55 minutes later, Mason's at the St. Pauli side of the Elbtunnel, getting a feel for the area. It's tourist-y all right, but the security perimeter and metal detector at the entrance seems more formality than even basic security theater. Just walk through and make no beepings, essentially. The ceramic knife stashed in the well-padded inside pocket of his bullet-resistant suit is as hidden as it's getting. Just as he surveys the scene some more, he gets another message on the burner. Buy a baseball cap at the Hard Rock Cafe and wear it backwards, so we will recognize you.

Mason buys a black cap and a bottle of water from the gift shop with a pre-loaded debit card, then steps out back to the throng milling around the elevators to the tunnel, taking a swig from the bottle as he does so. Nobody seems to make contact for the time being, so Mason proceeds down the quickly moving line and up to the security checkpoint, turning in his metal items and water bottle for a quick X-ray. He easily passes the check, but just as he queues at the actual line for the elevator down into the tunnel, the burner vibrates again. Proceed through tunnel. We will meet you at Steinwerder.

Mason puts the burner back, and patiently waits for the elevator, then makes his way down the tunnel and up the stairs on the other side. It's a bit of a walk down the tunnel, but on the other side, it basically opens up to the Blohm+Voss parking lot, so most people do a 180 and just go right back. Mason, however, rounds the tunnel building, ending up on a little stone plaza that overlooks the Elbe and much of Hamburg's inner city harbor. Standing there is a group of men who Mason files as Bulgarian at a glance. As they watch him approach, they smile and call out to him.

"Ah, Dimitry, you made it!" their leader (?) calls. "It's been too long, my friend!" He moves to hug and (probably) surreptitiously pat down Mason.
"Georgi, it's good to see you again," Mason replies, returning the embrace and (definitely) making it a bit more difficult for the man to pat him down.

(1d6 Pat-down = (1) = 1)

Between Mason's moves and the suit's padding, the knife goes unnoticed. 'Georgi' pats Mason on the back and leads him closer to the plaza's edge, away from the minimal crowd lingering for beauty shots of the harbor. "We were told you wanted to meet with us, Mr. Spader," Georgi says in a low tone. "I mean no disrespect, but our plan is reaching a critical phase. If his Excellency wanted us vetted, we would have preferred that to happen beforehand. Right now, every move we make in public is dangerous."
"Relax," Mason replies. "This is not a vetting of you or your people. This is a final check of the plans - something sorely needed since this morning's changes, yes?"
Georgi sighs. "The delegates would have been quite a prize," he says. "But if we are honest with ourselves, they were not realistically in reach, and I hope His Excellency understands that we are in the business of agitation and precise action, not spree killing."
"Well, we shall see, yes?" Mason replies. "So, what have you changed in response to this?"
"We're reevaluating our approach to Sulemani," Georgi says. "Some rewrites of the e-mail trail to be left on his computer. Previously, we had him buying the information about the summit directly from a source within, but that never felt too plausible. Now that the leftists are picking up on it, we're pivoting to Sulemani getting the information from them. The plans for the shooting at the hotel remain the same, he just didn't get to carry them out."
"Same as before," Georgi says. "You can tell His Excellency that the Sulemani issue will be resolved by tomorrow evening. After that, we'll just need to clean up after ourselves a bit and then we'll make our exit. Discretion is our highest priority, after all."
"Going to be hard to get the same desired effect without some kind of impact," Mason points out. "His Excellency didn't go through this much effort for a minor scandal over something that didn't happen."
"We're working on that," Georgi says. "But to be frank, Mr. Spader, pulling together a new kinetic event with zero footprint is not so easily done. I'm sure His Excellency was told in advance that his investment was not in conventional terrorism. We cannot afford to be as sloppy as the contractors in Amsterdam."
"Of course, of course," Mason replies with a smile. "We trust your instincts on this. I just need to be sure that we achieve our goals."
Georgi smiles. "And how does His Excellency see our goals?" he asks. "I'm sure he has an angle in this."
Mason puts an arm around Georgi's shoulders. "My friend, you are a grand step down the path towards ending the dominance of all of this," he says, sweeping his arm over the waterfront.

Georgi just laughs. Not a hearty laugh, but a genuine one.

Mason pats the man on the chest. "I will be eagerly awaiting your results. If there are any further changes, you know how to contact me, yes?"
"Indeed," Georgi says. After a moment, he adds "May I please have the hat? My nephew collects them."
"Of course," Mason says, pulling it off and giving it a very good shake before checking the inside. "I think I put the receipt in here." Of course, there's no receipt, but his sweep inside catches a couple stray hairs caught in the snapback, which he plucks out before handing the cap over. "Like new," Mason says.
"You're careful, Mr. Spader," Georgi says. "Were those carbide liners I felt in your suit?"
"A gift from His Excellency," Mason replies.
"May it serve you well on your travels," Georgi says. "I hope a further meeting will not become necessary. Goodbye, Mr. Spader. Enjoy your stay in Hamburg."
"And good luck with your endeavors," Mason replies, giving the man one last pat on the shoulder before taking a step back and turning towards the Elbtunnel.

It's a short stroll to the Elbtunnel, a slightly longer one back through it, and then another short one to a car parked there, where Mason has made out Mandy Wiesner in the driver's seat. Being sure that nobody else is watching by now, he gets in. "Had a productive conversation?" Wiesner asks.
Mason shucks his jacket off, dusting it - and checking for anything they might have stuck to it. Mason's inspection turns up a little patch of dark fabric stuck close to a fold where it's supposed to blend into a seam. Too small to be anything self-powered, but maybe a chemical taggant or a "parasitic" bug working off wireless signals? Even if so, probably not audio, but might work as a rough location tracker.

"Tomorrow, they're hitting Sulemani," Mason replies. "Bulgarians, I think. Hired guns, freelance terrorists. Think pretty highly of themselves. They were planning on pinning a massacre at the G7 event on him, but now they're going with a Plan B that includes framing him for a planned shooting and something else."
"I got a few pictures of them," Wiesner says. "We'll run it by SIA, see if they have anything. Do they still believe you're working for the financier?"
"As far as I know, but this?" Mason says, carefully lifting the patch off the jacket. "Says that they don't trust me very much."
"You're a new face at a critical time," Wiesner says. "Even if you say and know all the right things, they'd be fools to trust you at all."
"We need to move on Sulemani today," Mason says.
"Agreed," Wiesner says. "How sure are we that he really is just a patsy?"
"Pretty sure," Mason replies. "Good guy, no idea, but patsy, 100%."
"Right," Wiesner says. "Well, I'm going back to HQ. Do you want a ride or can you find your own way?"
Mason sticks the bug to a piece of tissue paper and puts it on the dash. "Take the long way around. I'll find my own way to K Group."
Wiesner nods. "Be seeing you...Raphael."
"Same to you," Mason says as he steps out of the vehicle.
Mason pulls out his secure phone and dials the van. "Tell me Tim's on site with Sulemani."
"He is," Laith replies. "I take it we've got incoming?"
"I thought you guys were hijacking at least one of my phones," Mason says. "The Imam has some kind of Bulgarian assholes-for-hire running a false flag terror attack with Sulemani as the patsy. Timeline ends tomorrow night, which means we need to make contact for real today."
"Okay, I'll get that to Barstow and let you know what he finds out. Any angles in particular he should look at?"
"A Saudi prince wants to frame you for plotting to murder the G7 seems like a good start to me," Mason says.
"Ah, the softball approach, that's a classic," Laith says. "So where are you headed now?"
"K Group, I need to stay off the radar for the moment so it's not too suspicious that Sulemani has a new friend," Mason says. "Ask Tim not to blow my cover too badly."
"You got it."

There's a pause where Laith is not saying something.

"What?" Mason asks.
"We got a notice from some friends at ARCYBER," Laith says. "Unauthorized access to your service files. Any idea what that could be about?"
"Nope," Mason replies. "They manage to trace it?"
"They told me that's classified," Laith says. "That's Army for 'no', I'm guessing."
"They tried to pull 'it's classified' to Ms. Wildcard?" Mason asks. "That probably went well."
"See, you'd think that everyone would be backing us up no questions asked, and yet..." Laith sighs. "Besides, it's Army. They've never been very forthcoming with us. They think Wildcard is drinking the milkshake of JSOC's Task Force Whatever."
"As someone who certainly never worked in conjunction with any such task force, that sounds about right," Mason replies.
"So, bottom line, add it to the problem pile or disregard?"
Mason pauses. "Disregard," he says. "Probably nothing."(edited)
"O-kay," Laith says.
"Anything else before I sit in the box?" Mason asks.
"Yeah," Laith says. "Can you tell me where you got that Currywurst yesterday? I'm starving."
"Lübecker Straße station," Mason replies.
"All right," Laith says. "I'll get back to you when I have news from Tim. Have fun stalking K Group."
"It'll be a blast," Mason says, and hangs up. The phone goes back into his pocket, and he smirks. Attagirl.
Gatac 2018-06-26 18:06:32
#realtalk: Tim's been in bigger, shinier mosques. And this, well, this is better described as a communal prayer hall inside a community center. Fortunately, Tim's look - black suit, white shirt, no tie - blends reasonably well with the crowd, and he's got his "Peace be upon you"s down pat. Tim's also nice enough to wait his turn for a handshake from Dr. Sulemani, whose smile is all the more beaming for it.

"Ah, Freiherr von Wertheim, welcome, welcome!" Sulemani says as he shakes Tim's hand and gently pulls him aside. "Thank you for making the time. We will begin our prayer shortly" - Sulemani casts a look around the room, as if to make sure everybody's got their spot and prayer mat set up correctly - "but if you wish, you can take a short tour of our facilities. We have a nice little garden with a fountain out back, for example. Muhammed will come get you when it is time to eat." He smiles. "It is not our way to be unkind to guests, but I hope you understand that it would be...odd to have you standing next to us while we pray."
"Of course, Dr. Sulemani," von Wertheim responds - the only acceptable answer, really. "I think a tour would be a perfect alternative to participation."
"Very good," Sulemani says. "As I said, there are gardens out back" - he indicates down one hallway - "and I have a small collection of Afghani art in the museum room over there" - he indicates a door. "Of course, you may also go upstairs to my office and help yourself to a coffee, if you wish. Now, if you would kindly excuse me..."

With niceties handled, Tim rich-guy-wanders his way through the mosque. Once the area's clear, he heads to the office for that coffee - and to see if Sulemani's already got damning evidence of a summit shooting in his files. Maybe he can wipe them or put in a backdoor for Laith to watchdog the doctor's system.

The good thing about coming into the office at Zuhr is that Tim can be sure he has at least ten minutes before anyone will come looking for him. The lock on Dr. Sulemani's office offers no meaningful resistance to the Lock King, and after a rather more sentimental stay inside yesterday, Tim's eyes now focus on the business end of things. Physical file cabinet or laptop - where to start? Tim knows that despite people's lives being online, getting solid evidence from a secure computer can get tricky. If RoI wanted to frame Sulemani, physical evidence sticks a lot better. Tim pops the file cabinet and quickly starts scanning.

(Tim spends a point of Forgery to sniff out fakes in the files.)

Tim doesn't have to search long; the second drawer contains a slightly too-new file folder, with some receipts and letters obviously cribbed from existing files to mix in with new forged copies of Western Union money transfers. Tim recognizes the "signature", too - that's Hans "Dagobert" Baumgarten, a dude who did a cool 5 years back in the 90s for faking bearer bonds. Ol' Hans was never the ideological type, but Tim knows that his attempts at being a "legit" artist have largely been unsuccessful, so a little contracting work would be hard to turn down. On the other hand, Tim also knows Hans is a notorious recluse and refuses to do any business by electronic communication - so whoever hired him for this job had to come see him face to face. Hm, doesn't he have a "show" in Gallerie FreiGeist, the local "anarcho"-left squat of an abandoned factory? Hunch proven correct, Tim sends pics of his findings to the team and gets working on the laptop, especially now it's clear the bad guys have gotten here first. He checks his watch, refills his coffee, and wonders if it's as simple as Muhammed planting stuff. He'll keep an eye on Sulemani's assistant in any case.

Sulemani's laptop isn't even password-protected - no doubt he didn't even consider that someone might gain access to his office without him knowing in the first place. Not enough time to go through everything here, but Tim can at least grab a dump of the harddrive to a flashdrive and check the laptop for obvious signs of physical tampering - finding none. As he finishes up, however, the timer runs out in a manner not quite expected...police sirens outside. A quick glance out of the office window shows a couple of cop cars parked outside and Muhammed just outside the front door, arguing with a cop in a leather jacket who's waving around what looks like a search warrant.

Tim frowns. Well, time to flex the power of privilege. He conceals the file, tucking it up close on his back. Wildcard's new friends might make use of it, even though Baumgarten's mark is all over it. Besides, there's no time to destroy it properly. With coffee in hand, von Wertheim walks out the front with his best "puzzled rich white investor" expression.
"What seems to be the problem, officer?"

(1d6+2 Tim's Conceal = (4)+2 = 6)

"We have a search warrant for these premises," the cop says, but as his look sweeps from Muhammed to Tim, he does seem to straighten up. "We're not here to arrest anyone, but if they get in our way we'll have no choice but to do it. If you could please explain that to them..."
"We understand you perfectly well, officer," Dr. Sulemani says, appearing from a throng of his other guests and telling them to calm down and go back to the prayer room in Pashto. "I am Dr. Sulemani, the owner of these premises. Tell me what you are here to search and I will help you find your way."
The detective looks to Tim. "And you are?"
"I am Freiherr von Wertheim, and this is being poorly done, detective," Tim says, not condescendingly, but sympathetically. "Is Zuhr really the best time to execute a warrant? Is searching a place of worship and interrupting devotions the best way to build bridges with the marginalized of our community? You are, through either malice or ignorance, adding to the friction many of these people seek to escape. Let's try to do better than the Americans here, yes? It's not a high bar to clear."
Then to Dr. Sulemani: "Doctor, if you need anything from me, I would be happy to make my legal team available to you. I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding - one that we will quickly clear up."

(Tim uses Cop Talk!)

Tim's performance as Freiherr von Wertheim was like a verbal pressure point strike on the cop - leading with his own importance, then the whole 'not pissing off the muslims" aspect and mention of a legal team - you can see the cop mentally backspace from "Just doing our duty, Sir" to "This was a mistake". He looks to his colleagues, who seem if anything even more intimidated.
"Yes, um," the detective says. "Yes, of course, we would not want to...interfere with your community. Like I said, we're just here to execute this, er, search warrant."
"Perhaps you could do so in two hours?" Sulemani suggests. "By then we will be done. You are free to stay and watch me and my assistant, of course. We have nothing to hide."
"...I think it's best if we just come back by then," the cop says. "Don't...don't touch any documents in the meantime."
"Of course not," Sulemani says. "Until later, then?"
"Yes," the cop says. Figurative tail tucked in, he pockets the search warrant, turns away and walks back to his car, while his colleagues also do their best to back off.
As the cops leave, Sulemani lets out a breath he's been holding. "What a regrettable confluence of events," he says. "I am sorry you had to be here to witness this, Freiherr von Wertheim. I assure you, there must be some mistake...our organization is above board, and I will prove it to anyone who would accuse us." Another breath. "I would be remiss not to thank you, however. Your generous offer of legal assistance is appreciated...as is putting your reputation on the line for me."
"It's not on the line, Doctor. I wouldn't have approached your organization if I didn't believe your work was beyond reproach. It's unfortunate the police weren't willing to share in the meal."
"Speaking of that," Sulemani says. "I think we should go in now and take a seat. The least I can do to thank you is make good on the invitation I extended to you yesterday."
Tim nods, looking at the afterglow of retreating squad cars. A public ransacking - especially with a guaranteed prize - would be icing on the cake. Sulemani might be clean as far as Wildcard could tell, but that didn't say shit about anyone else here. Tim follows Sulemani inside and prepares himself to overeat.
Gatac 2018-06-26 18:17:20
While Blake is working on actually running the surveillance equipment - snapping pictures, saving video, taking notes - Mason busies himself looking over the raw intelligence for any patterns. This kind of boring intelligence work never was his favorite thing; there's a reason why Mason became a soldier and not a spy. Still, the person that he would go to for this is currently incommunicado, so he does the sifting himself. So far so boring internally - some kind of permanent daily software dev setup is in one of the conference rooms that really should have its blinds drawn, and the ground level looks like a standard office, but there's a commercial van that's waiting to leave the premises. Cleaning service - Rasch, apparently. There's a bike courier that Blake's noted that's shown up three separate times - and been rejected every time. Maybe a scout?

Mason rubs his eyes. This is usually the kind of thing he has the CIA or NSA or someone better handle, but -

Speak of the devil. Mason's phone alerts him to an new posting on an online auction site - a signed rugby ball featuring the full 1987 All Blacks lineup. The ad lets interested buyers know to meet at the Old Commercial Room in a half-hour if they want to inspect it in person.
"Going out, probably be gone for a couple hours," Mason says, grabbing his coat on the way out the door.
Blake murmurs his acknowledgment, and just like that, Mason's out.

Blake's gone to the trouble of mapping out an exit route through the construction site that puts Mason into a godforsaken little back alley, and from there it's an easy walk to the next bus stop, ten minute ride to Michaeliskirche, then a short walk to the restaurant itself. Pushing past a tourist photo op with a Winston Churchill impersonator - and taking care not to show up in any of the pictures taken - Mason makes his way through the restaurant proper, eyes open for his contact, when a server approaches him.
"Mr. Spader?" he asks in heavily accented English. "Your friend waits in the White Lounge. Please to follow me."
"Dankeschön," Mason replies, and follows him - at just out of arm's length.

Mason follows the server upstairs and into a room decked out in one of those "arty" stark white-black color schemes. Sitting in the far corner at a table for two is...Alira Holden, Mason's soon-to-be better half, taking a second to look out the window and enjoy the view of the church's tower - the famous Hamburger Michel.
Mason can't help but smile once he sees her. "Hey, you." He slides into the other seat at the table, giving her a kiss as he sits down.
Alira returns the kiss, but it's brief - not the indulgent "pash" she keeps insisting Mason still owes her. Her glances sideways reveal that, for all that she's glad to see him, this is not the time to let down her guard. "Hey, trooper," she says. "Sit down, we need to have a little briefing."
"Can't agree more," Mason says. He nods at the window. "Is it safe?"
"I may or may not have a friend in the tower," Alira says.
Mason nods. "So, what's the deal?"
Alira turns her head from side to side, making sure nobody's listening in. "Delhi," she says. "Just nod if...you know."
Mason gives a slight nod.
"This was not the first move of the people you're after," Alira says. "Remember #509, Singapore Airlines?" Mason's mind flashes back to a plane crash eight months ago. 240 passengers, went down over the South China Sea, never even found the main wreckage, nevermind any survivors. "The passenger list was falsified," Alira says. "At least ten people who were on that flight...weren't. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to fake a couple of deaths and hide them in" - Alira cringes - "noise. Three of those people, I'm fairly sure are now dead for real - killed by operatives of the group you know as Fractal. They've been waging war, Mase. Right under our noses."
"Fractal did the killing, who did the hiding? RoI?" Mason asks.
"It looks that way, but I'm not sure," Alira says. "I've been down several dead ends with this, and I'm...I was scared to ask more of my assets in this. Told them all to lay low after I got word that there was an....incident with one of them in Toronto. I can't be sure that some of those leads I had them follow up on weren't dangles."
"Fucking Christ," Mason says, leaning back. "It's a goddamn shadow war. How big's the picture?"
Alira sighs. "I have two different ballparks for you. RoI, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Fractal, I think we're looking at several dozen operatives and a hell of a lot more assets they've compromised."
"Name Imam Hanania or a Saudi prince by the name of Khoury ring any bells?" Mason says. "Hanania is trying to stir up shit here, and Khoury has bankrolled both him and some Bulgarian assholes that seem to be in on the larger RoI plan, so Khoury is almost certainly a major player in RoI."

The answer is on Alira's lips, but just then, Mason's neck hairs stand up. He doesn't need to turn around to identify the footsteps closing in on them.

"Hello there," Operations says, pulling up a chair. "You don't mind if we share the table, do you?"
"And who the bloody hell are you?" Alira asks warily.
"The one who asks the questions, Ms. Holden," Operations says, then turns to Mason. "But go on. I believe you were about to call me and tell me you have a new source of intel?"
Mason clicks his tongue. "Damn, almost thought I got away with it. Ms....tery lady, meet my fiancé. I'm sure you've read whatever file we have on her."
"Alira Holden, ASIS," Operations says. "Medical retirement. Something something psych eval, with a dash of lengthy recovery from injury sustained in the line of duty."
"What's it to you?" Alira asks back.
"Let's just say I'm familiar with that kind of biography." She looks to Mason, then back to Alira. "Fiance, huh? How serious is that?"
"Deadly," Alira says.
"You better be right about that," Operations says. "As of this moment, you're in the circle of My Problem. You'll hear from me...and from Mason...exactly as much as you need to know to work with us. If I catch you with your fingers in stuff you're not cleared to know again, I will personally see to it that your next retirement party will be your last one. That said, you're an asset and I'm not known for wasting assets. Help us and we'll help you. You have some idea of the people we're up against. I don't care how long the drive to your farm is, it's no longer secure. If you weren't already a target, you just became one." She smiles. "Welcome to Wildcard. Now, you were saying about the Saudis?"

(Mason adds Alira as contact and spends 1 point right away to get an intel dump.)

Alira looks taken aback for a moment, but then nods and starts talking. "Hanania's a local player only," Alira says. "Khoury has similar outreach operations in Madrid and Prague, too. For someone in the House of Saud, he's impressively independent. Petro is only about a third of his income, the rest is gray market trade and financial instruments - he bet against the Russian market and won big. Also he's barely been at home in the last year. Just the travel schedule he's publicly acknowledged is difficult to follow, it's no exaggeration that he's been all over the world." Alira looks to Mason. "And get this - I got word that he's been making arrangements to stay in Morocco for a week. After all the jetting around, staying that long in one place has got to mean that he's there to do something important. Don't you think?"
Mason looks at Operations. "Fractal was looking at serious operations in Marrakesh."
"That's not the type of coincidence I feel like trusting," Operations says. "You wouldn't happen to know where exactly Khoury plans to stay, would you?"
Alira smiles. "The last two times he was there, he stayed at La Maison Arabe," she says. "The royal suite, of course."
"What did you find out about Fractal?" Mason asks.
"The woman you ran into is known as the Cleaner," Alira says. "I've confirmed that they have also have a Knight, a Statesman and a Saint. All people with remarkable talents...and seemingly no past. I'm impressed you managed to even connect the Cleaner to a civilian identity. I only had a few days to dig, but I like to think I'm pretty good at digging - these people just seemed to pop into existence about a year ago."
"That Silent Leges guy is with them, too," Mason says. "Remember him?"
"You're quite sure he's not a fever dream of yours, Masie?" Alira says. "I ran the sketch through every system I could get to via Five Eyes. There not only isn't a file of him, he's not even tagged as unidentified in any video footage." She sighs. "And yes, I got surveillance footage of Amsterdam Centraal, too. Cameras next to the restrooms from when you said you were in there with him. Nothing. Didn't see him enter, didn't see him leave."
"Sounds like we can add 'Ghost' to the cliche codename list," Mason mutters.
"Let's not get metaphysical just yet," Operations says. "Is that all?"
"Just about," Alira says. "I did have to spend some time tracking you folks down, too."
"Great," Operations says. "I'll take your intel under advisement, then. Do you have a place to stay in the city?"
"Yes," Alira says.
"Good, make sure nobody knows where it is," Operations says. "I'm sure you and Mason can handle setting up comms." She gets up from her chair and replaces it at the next table over. "Now, you kids go ahead and have some lunch. I heard good things about the eel soup." She looks to Mason. "I'll see you at the base tonight."
Mason smiles at her. "Sounds like fun."

After Operations leaves, Alira leans back in her chair and scoffs. "I know you like the bossy type, Masie, but she's a bit over the top."
"She's just a little touchy that someone managed to crash her party," Mason replies with a more genuine smirk.
"Control freak much?" Alira says. "What did you get yourself into, Jacob?" She smiles. "I mean, what did we get ourselves into?"
"Saving the world, one dead bad guy at a time," Mason says, taking Alira's hand. "At this point, you know as much as I do - probably more."
"That's not reassuring," Alira says, taking Mason's hand in turn. "But you know what?" She grins. "It feels real good to be back in the field. And, if we're being honest...I've had worse bosses."
"Definitely had worse co-workers," Mason replies, leaning in to give her another peck on the cheek.
"Oh, you dag," Alira says, gripping Mason's hand tighter. "So, do you believe her taste in food?"
"She does has an annoying ability to be right all the time," Mason says.
"Then let's have the sea rope juice," Alira says. "Maybe after, we can get...some dessert?"
"We do have a place to secure, after all," Mason replies.

The soup does turn out to be pretty good (much to Mason and especially Alira's annoyance), but it's Alira that Mason's focused on. Both because, well, it's been a few months since he's been in the same room as her, and also because he can tell that she's nervous - pushing her hair back over her ears, looking out the window, and actually finishing her meal after Mason does for once.

Before Alira gets up, she gives a quick hand signal to the window - an "all clear" she's used with Mason, too - and then slides out of the corner booth. She looks up at Mason and smiles for him. "So," she asks. "Where are you taking me next?"
"Well, I figure I toss the Agency phone in the river and we go meet your friends," Mason replies.
Alira smirks. "Still keeping the feature phone market alive all by your lonesome, Masie?"
Mason takes her hand as she stands up. "Someone's got to, with all these smartphones around these days, how will the rest of us get along?"
"Not sure there's much of a 'rest of us' left these days," Alira comments.

Your exit from the restaurant is swift, even if it does mean weaving through the arriving lunch crowd downstairs, and soon enough you're out on the street again. As Mason walks with Alira, he spots her giving a slight nod to a man with a scraggly beard and thick eyebrows on a leathery face - but there's a certain dignity in his features, and a grace to the nod he returns before he walks away, sports bag slung over his shoulder.

"That's as much of a meeting with Roy as you're going to get, I'm afraid," Alira says. "He prefers people at arm's length - or through a 4x sight."
With Roy gone and a bit more of a walk behind them, the lack of substance from Alira's side of the conversation becomes more obvious. Mason's seen her put together puzzles that stumped a whole floor of analysts, but she can't seem to string together a sentence that's actually about anything other than volleying back Mason's casual banter.
Mason gives her a peck on the forehead. "You all right, babe?" The direct approach always has been Mason's favorite.
"No," Alira says, not one to dodge from Mason's directness. "I mean, I'm fine, if I'm gonna stick around I need a refill for my pain meds but I'm...I'm fine. Physically." She takes a breath. "Okay, straight talk, Masie. How...how amateur was that just there? Me risking it all, just to audition for someone who already knows all the answers?" She looks at him. "Because...sure, that was probably pretty good for me and a couple of favors called in starting from scratch, but you're working for...you know who. They briefed you with everything they had, right? The best I could do is fill in the margins."
"One-hundred percent honesty? We didn't know a damn thing you said in there," Mason says. "You just outsmarted the whole of the CIA by your little lonesome. Whether or not that makes you feel better is up to you, but this wasn't just some read-in tryout you aced. You showed up the whole sea of CIA analysts they got on this. We need you on this one."
Alira stares at Mason. "...are you having me on, Masie? I barely scratched the surface and took a few shots in the dark and -" Her eyes widen. "- bloody hell, you're serious, aren't you?"
Mason nods. "As a heart attack. We've been playing whack-a-mole as best we can, and but Khoury and the Bulgarians are our first look at anyone who might actually be RoI. And Fractal, I think you just showed the CIA that you're the world's expert on them by knowing more than just their name." He smirks. "I know you ASIS types have an inferiority complex, but -"
Alira snaps out of it and gives Mason a playful shove. "Oh shut it, you dag," she says. After a moment, she returns to serious. "The only way out is through, huh?"
"Has there ever been any other way?" Mason replies.
"Been looking and I'm pretty sure I would have found it by now," Alira says. "So, before I meet more of your new friends, I think dessert was mentioned?"
"Well, there's dessert, and then there's...dessert," Mason says. "What did those eyes of yours spot on the way in that looked good?"
"The café right over there had a blueberry cake on daily special and five free tables inside, including one in a niche on elevated flooring," Alira recalls. "But we should tip well. They must have been light on their last protection money payment, I saw the same 2007 model BMW roll very slowly past them five times in half an hour. If that's not a gentle reminder that somebody will be along later to settle up, I don't know what is."
"I have a stack of Agency cash in my wallet," Mason replied.
"Okay, but let's try not to get the blond server," Alira adds. "His girlfriend broke up with him and he's been messing up orders all day."
"Stop teasing me or we'll skip straight to the other dessert," Mason says.
Alira grins. "Oh, we are not skipping anything, Masie," she says.
Gatac 2018-06-28 14:53:13
The evening finds you back at the safehouse - only for Laith to show up and shuttle you to a new location. No explanation is given, but the reason seems clear: after the little stunt Section 9 pulled, there's no telling whether they might have made the previous safehouse, too, and in any event Operations has seemed disinclined to roll over for them and make any part of this easy on your German "colleagues". The new safehouse turns out to be more of a safe-flat, a university-proximate third-story apartment with three bedrooms usually rented out to a gaggle of students. Definitely not quite as isolated or roomy as the previous accommodations, but it'll have to do.

Conspicuously absent even during the reunion with Operations and Lucy is Luc; on the other hand, Operations sees fit to officially introduce Alira to the whole team. The "You can hang, but you better be cool" implication is clear.

"G'day," Alira says, looking at Laith and tapping her shoulder bag. "No worries, mate, I'm good on tech. Brought my own lappy."

Personnel issues sorted, you share intel on what happened today: Mason gets to introduce the Bulgarian ops team you'll presumably be working against, adding yet another well-resourced enemy to your threat matrix, while Alira fills you in on some background for both Saudi prince Khoury - apparently at least middle management in RoI - and Fractal. Tim recounts how he managed to save Dr. Sulemani from getting SWATed and presents a planted fake file he smuggled out of the office. Blake, for his part, has to break down hours of observation at K Group into a concise statement: too much high-tech, not enough (motivated) manpower. That's sure to come in handy when you get around to infiltrating the Black Vault beneath.

With your reports shared, it's on Operations to provide a news update, and, well...

"Here's some bad news to brighten up our day, boys," she says. "The secret Pre-Seven meeting continues to blow up on social media. A lot of it is bots, but we're tracking at least several hundred known radicals coordinating for a protest downtown. These are hardcore Black Bloc, so we assume they're rolling in to throw molotov cocktails and burn cars. The moderate left are trying to organize a peaceful protest of their own, which means the right is busing in their troops, too. And the cops are calling in reinforcements to deal with all this. Bottom line, things will get...interesting tomorrow."

"I have word from Section 9 that they managed to find the car from which the viral video at the hotel was taken. In what I'm sure comes as a major surprise to you all, the car was running with fake plates and reported stolen three days ago. However, they have surveillance video from a street camera. The passengers in the car were all part of the Bulgarian group Mason met with. So that's one mystery solved, at least."

"Speaking of Section 9, they also got to the bottom of where the search warrant for Dr. Sulemani's organization came from. You won't believe this one, either: anonymous tip called into local PD by a man with a 'foreign' accent. Local hotshot Hauptkommissar got a rush warrant and had his troops roll up. As expected - thanks to Barstow's quick thinking - nothing suspicious was turned up. Section 9 has made it very clear to everyone involved that any further police action against Dr. Sulemani or his associates will be considered interference in their investigation, so it looks like we gained some breathing room there."

Her look sweeps the room.

"So, boys...what's the plan for tomorrow?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-07-03 15:15:30
"Couple things, maybe," Tim offers. "Hans Baumgarten's the forger who made that file meant for Sulemani. He only meets face to face, but he's got a gig at some artsy warehouse thing locally. We could see if he knows any of your Bulgarians, Mason. Second, won't all this unrest actually provide cover for hitting the vault?"
punkey 2018-07-03 15:50:51
"It will, but it'll also be an excellent cover for whatever it is they're trying to pull off," Mason says. "We need to get Sulemani out of danger today. Make our approach for real, get him out of town. We have to assume he's being watched, so our Bulgarian friends will probably try to give him a send-off party."
punkey 2018-07-03 15:54:47
Mason pivots to look at Tim. "He already knows you, and the Bulgarians know my face."
skullandscythe 2018-07-11 16:05:51
"I could go if you'd prefer," Blake says to Tim. "But someone would have to take over surveillance for a bit - the other reason we can't hit the vault just yet. I've learned some things, but not a lot yet."
Gatac 2018-07-13 19:33:58
"Okay," Operations says. "Get some rest, boys. I'll see what I can do about unfucking our Langley situation with what we have so far. Briefing tomorrow at 0800."