IC 6 - Hamburg - Day 3

punkey 2019-02-21 20:21:00
"All I know is she started getting antsy and trigger-happy, and then Blake did something to the...regulator, I guess?" Mason shrugged. "The thing on the side of her head, and she was better. Guess it was getting wonky. If you tell us what to look out for and when to call tech support, we're good." He looks over to Blake.
skullandscythe 2019-02-22 04:05:25
Blake's eyebrow arcs upward, but he directs his attention to Marsh as he recites what he remembers. "Shell splintered. Not entirely sure how, but my impression was the equipment was pretty delicate. The splinter lodged between a couple contacts. I just removed it."

(BS Detect here)
Gatac 2019-02-22 16:10:51
Blake intently scans Marsh for signs of deception - and what he gets in response is that Marsh is watching him intently as well. What should be clear is that there's absolutely nothing to be gained by Marsh by offering to read you in on any of Operations' background, except maybe some trust from your side. Either it's a value play or...he really is that desperate to trade for details. What Blake tells him obviously doesn't satisfy him. Does he know you know about WILDCHILD? He has to at least calculate that being a possibility. By telling you about the 'regulator' and alluding to the program via its cost, he's all but signalled it to you. But still, he's not just reading you in. What is he waiting for? What is he concealing?

The confrontation ends when the door opens and Operations walks in, followed by Dr. Lamm and Laith. It's getting mighty crowded in the small SCIF. You notice Operations sporting a duplicate of her previous regulator, but this one obviously in mint condition. As, seemingly, is Operations herself.

"Sir," she says, nodding to Marsh as if she expected him to be there but hadn't yet encountered him in person today. "Where are we on the harddrives?" she asks Hoi Yan.
"Still decrypting," Hoi Yan says. "We're running it locally in the sandbox."
"Smart," Operations comments. "God knows what warware they stashed on those."
"Your report?" Marsh probes.
"Dr. Lamm says I'm good to go," Operations says. Dr. Lamm smiles shyly. "If the boys haven't told you yet, we ran into Fractal in the vault. Made a hard play for the drives, but we outmaneuvered them. They made another approach to Mason to bargain for the data. Claim it's theirs to begin with, big list of their operational assets."
"Terms?" Marsh asks.
"We don't engage their assets and we turn over a copy of the data," Operations says. "In return, we get to peek into their cards and they're gonna read us in on their agenda."
"That's mighty vague of them," Marsh says.
"Fractal SOP," Operations comments. "Do we proceed?"
"Ah hell," Marsh says. "You've dealt with those guys. Your call."
Operations smiles. "I was hoping to kick this one up the chain," she says.
"Except nobody but your team knows the first thing about Fractal," Marsh says. "If you want my advice, though...wait and see what's actually on the drives. Whatever play you're gonna make, I'll back it."
"Figured you'd say that, Sir," Operations says. "We good here, boys? I need a fucking coffee."
punkey 2019-02-22 17:52:10
"One more thing," Mason says, not standing up. "Just in case Section 9 tries to fuck with us on the way out, it might be smart to, you know, not fly on the obvious CIA-operated plane to our next destination. Just fly commercial."
Gatac 2019-02-23 13:29:21
"Done," Marsh says. "Barstow, take point on this. Grab operators from our team that match Holden, Operations, Blake, Mason and Sy, then dress them up. We have an F/X bay for quick disguises, that should stand up to a telephoto view. Then they can take the Wolfhound and draw the heat. After that, you get on some fresh IDs for the team and tickets for whatever the next flight south is."
"...what about me?" Tim asks.
"You're reassigned to my staff as analyst, for the time being," Marsh says. "I hate to pull you off field ops when your team is already light another operator, but, well." He nods to Hoi Yan, who manipulates a seperate terminal in the SCIF. Moments later, a wall-mounted screen comes alive, displaying an Instagram post...


yo #djentledudes this is london calling with some NEWS

you guys


you cleaned us the hell out in hamburg, we are OUT of tshirts, we are OUT of posters, we are even OUT of effin buttons #thataintright

so carla did the math and guess what we refunded like 400 tickets and STILL came out in the black thanks to YOU GUYS buying our merch like crazy #makeitrain



were not THE best band yet! but we sure have THE BEST FANS #fanssoawesome

word is bond and all the profit is going to #movementDE who are the awesome dudes who got your back if you need a lawyer for the #G7bullshit

also a SHOUT OUT to my bro TIMMEH for making the time to RAWK with us! but next time you hang around after the show and RAISE A GLASS with us you lightweight :P


for our london gig we cant sell merch but for a kind donation we will RUIN YOUR STUFF, we will sign tshirts and albums and backpacks and juicy backsides #everythingbutconfessions

we are burning some serious minutes with management to have a shipment of new shit ready for dublin #rawkfindsaway

this is carlas home turf and we really really REALLY want to meet her friends! #cellonurse

almost made a spice girls joke there, you guys i am OLD af

keep screaming!!!

syd the sorceress


"You only get to burn your real name once," Marsh says. "Tim Barstow was in Hamburg last night. Do a keyword search on your sister's feed, you'll figure out pretty quickly that Tim Barstow wasn't supposed to be in Hamburg yesterday. The Bulgarians may not have identified you otherwise but they do know your team was at the concert. If they care to put one and one together they could compromise you."
"We stopped a lone gunman in the crowd and got the Bulgarians to back down because we were there," Tim says. "If you're asking me if I would do it again -"
Marsh holds up his hand. "This isn't a disciplinary hearing, Agent Barstow," he says. "And it ain't punishment, either. But we need to lower your profile fast and we can't do that if you're jetting around putting your face in RoI's crosshairs. Let our containment teams worry about scrubbing the trail. You can still help from Langley. Besides, you've yet to be debriefed about your undercover assignment from driving Edil Varajev around in Delhi. I realize he's not the biggest threat on the board right now but I want that bastard in custody yesterday, and every detail you can tell us will help."
Tim nods slowly. "...Sir."
Gatac 2019-02-24 07:58:46
"Glad we got that sorted," Marsh says. "Also, while we're waiting" - he glances at Operations - "we put together a quick briefing package for the Tuma issue. You can let that one digest over a coffee. Hoi Yan, if you would..."
"Yes, Director," Hoi Yan says and puts a new presentation up on the screen.


Operation BRIDGEHEAD: Varna

Much of our intelligence gathering in the Black Sea region is reliant on cooperative local assets. One of them is - was Asim Tuma, codename BLACKFIN. Although he bragged about being a well-connected fixer and black market dealer, his intel didn't pan out and so we wrote him off. That was until we learned recently that Tuma was actually one of the contacts used by "Renewal of Islam" to hire the Bulgarians you encountered in Hamburg. Taken together with some of the shipping papers from the Amsterdam warehouse and the route the untagged Semtex took through the Caucasus on the way to Delhi, we believe that RoI has a major operation running somewhere in the region - making this a grand opportunity to finally get ahead of them and force a confrontation on their turf. However, BLACKFIN remains our only lead so far. Make contact with him and gain his cooperation. His last known location is Varna, both a major industrial port and a tourist destination, a city with ancient provenance and Roma shantytowns. Make sure you avail yourselves of local resources to reduce your footprint. Your primary objective is intelligence but if you run into any targets of opportunity, engage them if possible - we don't know when we'll get another chance to confront RoI assets.


(High-speed montage of the team squeezed into the table by the galley, fetching coffee and sandwiches as operators scurry by you to audition for 'playing' you. Nobody talks.)


Fortified with caffeine and essential glutens, you file back into the SCIF after the announcement that the decryption process is complete. Hoi Yan can't help but smile a little as she fires up her favorite toy - the interactive intelligence mapping system. A web mercator world map is displayed and then, as intel is processed, hot spots are displayed. Very 200X chic. You notice that the majority of data seems to be from Southeast Asia, so Hoi Yan zooms the map to there.

"Looks like they're heavy into Malaysia," Marsh says.
"Availability bias, Sir," Hoi Yan comments.
"Right, I misspoke," Marsh corrects himself. "We've got a fairly heavy presence in Malaysia just from this data. But we don't have any way of knowing what proportion of the big picture this is." He smiles to Hoi Yan. "Better?"
"I'm just trying to be accurate, Sir," she says.
"And don't I appreciate it," Marsh says, chuckling a bit. "I tell ya, you get old and tired, you think you can tell everything at a glance. Takes a good analyst to keep you grounded. So, what do you make of that?"
"Let's add travel," Hoi Yan says, hitting a few more buttons. Assets on the map light up and Indiana Jones in the 21st Century style lines jump off the map to converge in...Delhi.
"Fuck," Laith mutters.
"What are we seeing here?" Marsh says.
"Several Fractal operatives traveling into Delhi days before the bombing," Hoi Yan says. "The confluence of events precludes founded speculation as to the reason. Possibilities include movements of Singh or Varajev, receiving the same intel Agent Blake did about the Semtex or...a part in the bombing."
"Okay, we have to keep working that," Marsh says. "Anything actionable?"
"I have a pre-booked travel itinerary for an operative but..." She puts it on screen and zooms out - a line leading straight to Amsterdam.
"What the fuck," Laith throws in. "That's got to be deSilva. How the hell did she know we were going to go to Amsterdam?"
"Again," Hoi Yan cautions, "it's dangerous to read intent into this. There could be several reasons. Varajev's apartment in the city was a known factor in our planning. We do know Fractal was at least tangentially aware of further RoI actions planned there, else they couldn't have placed her at the reception in the palace." She pauses. "Or there was something else we didn't notice at all."
"Whole lot of maybes," Marsh says. "Bank accounts?"
"We have some numbers in here but they'll take time to verify and trace," Hoi Yan says. "I'm just visualizing the surface of the data right now."
"Okay," Marsh says.
"Nothing I'm seeing here changes my plans," Operations says. "We'll continue to Morocco. Send us the analysis results as soon as we have secure comms up there."
"Will do, Ops," Hoi Yan says.
"Will that be all, Sir?" Operations asks Marsh.
Marsh regards her for a moment. "Yes, that will be all," he says. "We're buying you a distraction. Get your team out of the EU without catching any further heat and then do what you need to do."
"Thank you, Sir," Operations says. "Also, request permission to confiscate a few specialty items from the Nomad's armory for the Wolfhound."
"Knock yourself out," Marsh says.
"Good," Operations says. "Let's hit the road, boys."


As the group of operators dressed up in Diamond Team Cosplay fills into the Ford Transit and drives very obviously back down the tarmac toward the Wolfhound hangar, Operations leads you through the dark to the perimeter of the airfield, where a couple of operators in black have already prepared an exit through the wire fence for you. A few final nods and you're through, into dark parklands utterly devoid of people at this time of day and year. Further concentrated staring at the evening sky reveals no drone surveillance from Section 9, either. You're in the clear, for now.

Which is the perfect opportunity for Operations to seize a wooden picnic table / bench seat arrangement build into the park and plop herself down, beckoning you to join her.

"So," she begins. "Anybody wanna tell me why we're going extra secret squirrel? I didn't want to bust any plays in there but I feel like a missed a memo in there."
punkey 2019-02-24 08:08:10
Mason just pulls the phone with Alira's info dump on WILDCHILD out of his pocket and opens the relevant document before passing it to Operations.
Gatac 2019-02-24 18:59:44
There's a certain basic element to most of Operations' facial expression. Smiling or serious or bored, there's always a degree of...control, or self-assuredness. A bigger picture she sees that she doles out as she needs to achieve what she wants.

This is not in evidence on her face as she reads the file.

"Fuck," she says. "How the hell did Fractal get this?"

Blake looks askance at her from over his phone, reading the file in full the first time himself.

"That's..." Laith begins. "...not the question I would ask first."
"Oh, I see what's going on here," Operations says. "Yes, I'm Subject Kilo. I didn't tell you about the whole sordid WILDCHILD thing because it was very much not need to know at the time. But I am aware of the whole story." She looks at Laith. "You understand why I couldn't tell you."
"...fuck you," Laith says, anger playing over his face. "Fuck you, Jessica. I understand nothing except that you're some sort of fucked-up science experiment now and you knew the whole time?"
"You know about the command phrases?" Mason asks, crossing his arms.
"I do," Operations says. "There are several, I assume you've heard the ones for switching 'me' off and on again. And yes,” she interjects as Blake opens his mouth, “I thought about the idea that there might be ones that I wasn't told about. I don't like living with that risk factor. I don't like living with this at all. But it is living and all other things being equal, I'd still choose it over being a vegetable who can't spoon oatmeal into her own damn mouth."
Mason turns even redder, but keeps his cool - insofar as clenching his jaw tight enough to pop a vein out on his neck is cool. "What is Pale Rainbow?"
Operations nods. "A system for dispensing performance-enhancing chemicals," she says. "The drugs aren't particularly new, but the problem was dosing the right amount at the right time. You could put people on stims to push their wakefulness but it was usually too much at once with nasty side-effects from coming down. PALE RAINBOW is how they tried to solve it. An implanted pump system that monitors my vitals and works together with the regulator to trigger as needed. I've got a Series 6 implant but there are a few prior models out there that were used in military trials throughout NATO. It doesn't work as well without WILDCHILD, which is why the project is on ice...mostly. Turns out I'm hard to reproduce."
"Fucking hell," Alira comments.
"How did RoI find out about it?" Mason asks. "Because the KMar major, van Roemburg? He said RoI used it to blackmail him into working for them."
"I don't know," Operations says. "I wasn't told much about PALE RAINBOW myself. Marsh told me that the more I knew about it, the higher the danger that it could be coerced from me and then used to compromise me if I was ever captured."
"Bullshit," Laith says.
"What, the situation in general or this bit in particular?" Operations asks.
"...how the fuck can you be so calm about this?" Laith says. "God damn it, Jessica. It's like...it's like they sucked out your soul."
"I've had a head start in accepting it," Operations says. "Laith, don't take this the wrong way, please, but...we'll sort this out later between us. Right now I have some people here who are very invested in actionable intel about my condition and its implication and I'd very much like to keep it at that level."
"...fuck you," Laith repeats and stomps off.

Blake watches Laith storm away, then looks back at Ops and shakes his head, sighing.

“Smooth, Ops," he says. "No wonder all the boys want to hang out with you.”
Alira glares at Operations. "The man loves ya," she says, "and the best you can do is sit there and play icicle?"
"Yes," Operations says. "Thank you. I'm well aware of how that is off-putting but any deeper emotional response would be mere play-acting and also unproductive. WILDCHILD is designed to not come apart under pressure. I couldn't go to pieces if I wanted to. Not as long as the regulator is working. Now." She turns back to Mason. "My guess would be that RoI has compromised a former experimental subject who was implanted with PALE RAINBOW. There's got to be a discard pile with less sophisticated equipment if they got to a Series 6 to put into me. That still leaves the question of how van Roemburg was involved in the program. I assume it wasn't in a nice way."
"I'm not so sure about that anymore," Mason says.
"What's your take, then?" Operations asks.
"My take is that there's a bunch of highly impossible shit going down, and the only one that's been remotely up front with us about it are the shadowy private intel group with a bullshit Latin motto," Mason says. "My take is that now that Marsh knows that we know about you, our life expectancy after this mission, win or lose, just got a lot fucking shorter." He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and lets it out again before opening them. "Tell me this isn't your first mission after WILDCHILD."
"It's not," Operations says. "I've been at WILDCHILD status for a year now. I've gotten things done and that makes me valuable. It also makes you valuable. The way I see it, that's one reason why your life expectancy may not be as short as you think it is...unless you make it that way."
"And the other?" Alira says.
"We - and by that I do mean the CIA - are the closest thing to the good guys in this whole mess," Operations says coolly.
Alira snorts. "Are you having me on, sunshine?"
"No, and it should be a fairly obvious calculus," Operations says. "There are paper trails. A whole department inside the CIA working with us. The Wildcard program is so leaky you heard of it before I came to collect you. Regardless of how much we definitely are getting away with to do our job, ultimately we are accountable to a state agency and bureaucracy. This is not conductive to building the kind of fiefdom Director Marsh would need to have several US citizens casually murdered. I'm not saying he couldn't get it done, but the exposure risk to him is considerable. If it ever came out Wildcard would fold. He doesn't want that. Ergo, as long as you're still right-side up on usefulness, there is no motive to have you killed. So what if you know more than you should? That's just espionage. The question is what you do with that knowledge." She takes a breath. "Compare that to an organization so secret we still don't have a confident ID on a field operative we've encountered multiple times, whatever the hell the Chinese are doing, a Europol team whose incompetence and territorial behavior is indistinguishable from malice and actual no-shit terrorists. If you had to pick a side in all this...where would you put your chips?"
"That doesn't square with a secret program that programs people and a enhancement project dark enough to blackmail someone into attempting to assassinate the top of their government," Mason says. "Whatever the fuck is going on, I want to get the full info and, no offense, you're literally pre-programmed to support the CIA."
"That's fair, and we're going to keep working the PALE RAINBOW angle because I also have a vested interest in figuring out what's going on inside my body," Operations says. "But that doesn't answer my question. If you had to pick a side...and you do, you're already far too deep to walk away from this...whose side do you pick?"
Blake barks, a hyena’s laugh. “Because those are the only sides! Ops, we’re just deep enough to know two things: we don’t know shit, and we’re assets. Not allies. That includes our home team, now, too.”
"There are no sides anymore," Mason says, nodding to Blake. "There's this team, and whatever the fuck else is out there. What I need to know is how far can we trust you. Because if it turns out that this is all some bullshit US black project gone off the fucking rails, I don't want to worry about someone flashing the Queen of Diamonds at you and you shoot us all in the back of the head."

Operations looks straight at Mason. No expression.

"Which leads us back to Fractal," she says. "If this is what they're handing out as a lure, there's a good chance they have more intel on the project...and possibly someone who can make a meaningful determination as to whether I'm a threat as a possible sleeper agent with a hostile agenda. The sooner we get to the bottom of them and how they found out about WILDCHILD, the sooner we can eliminate that possibility from our problem set and get to work on stopping RoI. But for the moment...I rather think you're stuck with me. If you want to talk threat mitigation, let's hear your suggestions."
"Easy - full disclosure," Mason says. "Everything you know, right now. Codephrases, triggers, what they designed the things on and in your head to do and what they do to you."
Operations nods. "You've already got shutdown and restart," she says. "There's 'I can't see the stars from here', which...well, it basically makes me incapable of lying until I'm reset. You might want to put that into effect before I get into more details. There's also 'The tiger eats cheeseburgers' -"
"What," Alira comments.
"They were drawn out of a hat or something, I didn't make them up," Operations says. "Anyway, that's a sort of...backup persona. An actual sleeper, I suppose. Her name is Rhonda and she's a travel consultant. Doesn't know the first thing about the CIA or espionage but has some conveniently vague explanations for being wherever she's activated. I can activate that one myself if I repeat it three times. Anyway, those are the ones I was told about. No specific object-related triggers. As for the implants, I'll tell you what I know but that could get a bit technical and it's also getting cold. Mind if I hash this out with Blake later when he's got something to make notes on?"
"We'll have time on the plane for a full write-up," Mason replies. "How about what they do to you?"
"My TBI was like being locked in a tiny room while someone screamed at me," Operations explains. "I couldn't move and I felt scared all the time. I couldn't focus on anything. The regulator changes that. It's like...nothing is scary anymore. I can see the risks but I'm not afraid. Everything's clear. And everything is easy. I don't have to think about doing something, I just do it. I feel the shift points on a manual or I punch people in the throat first try or I do vector calculations in my head while I'm tumbling with a torn chute. It doesn't get to me. I still can't do what I wasn't trained to do but I learn easily. And I never forget anything. The day we met? I could recite the entire conversation we had on the way out of Delhi after I found you at Amrita's safehouse, from memory. Pauses and inflections and everything."

Blake pulls out his little pocket notebook and is jotting words down feverishly.

When I
Stared into the Abyss,
It looked

can I do?
I can.

can’t I do?
Whatever I

can’t I do?
Whatever I

can’t I do?
Forget it.

"That's what you can do," Mason says. "How about what they do to you?"
"I'm a mental skyscraper built on an emotional superfund site," Operations says. "I still have feelings...loud feelings, and impulses. I have urges to run away from this conversation or launch across the table and bash your face in. They're not small. But the regulator means I can't act on them. Of course, without the regulator, I also don't have the volition necessary to actually do any of those things...mostly." She looks to Blake. "That's why I told you to lock me up when you took the regulator off. There's no predicting what I might do without it. I'm usually semi-compliant but unless I'm doped to the gills with tranquilizers, I get destructive urges." She looks over to Laith pacing out of earshot while Lucy trots beside him. "Also, Laith's not wrong. The regulator swallows the bad emotions just as easily as the good ones. I have to consciously use every expression. I've learnt to fake a lot so I'm less off-putting and obvious in casual situations but I can tell from your expression that you're disgusted with how I'm droning on about myself and my damage like I'm Mengele vivisecting a living person. I could pretend to be outraged at what the procedure has done to me to maybe make a play for your sympathy but to tell you the truth, insofar as I am capable of feeling anything at all, I feel powerful with the system working. And I don't like switching it off. Maybe it's pre-conditioned, maybe it's some pleasure button no longer being hammered that I've become addicted to, but absent further information I don't see the point in a value judgment of it. I am what I am, at this moment. This is Operations."
"If it's all the same to you - which, as far as you are capable of, it probably is - I'd rather know what that thing on your head is hammering into submission," Mason says. "'Lira?"
"Could get loud," Alira comments. "And while we're alone right now, we've got nothing to work with, either." She's clearly swallowing rage but it's been long enough that she's had some time to think despite it. "Let's find a place to shelter, tie her up and take the regulator off again. See what happens. Any risk of permanent damage they told you about?"
"The possibility exists," Operations says. "But it wouldn't affect my mission efficiency with the regulator on."
"What a perfectly creepy answer," Alira says.
"There'll be time for that later," Mason says. "I mean you stop acting like a buddy that got a new carbon fiber leg from the VA, and if whatever that thing is suppressing starts getting a bad feeling or gets angry, I want to know."
"Difficult," Operations admits. "As long as the regulator is running, I'm me. When it's not, I'm...not. I don't have a lot of insight into the thoughts and feelings that are getting squashed. I can just speak from experience and I can...hear the echoes of particularly strong ones. But I don't have her in a cage in my head that I can just observe. You really would have to take the regulator off to get an accurate idea of what it's like underneath."
"Strong ones are good enough," Mason says. "And no offense, but this is what they made you into. Operations is a person, but so is Jessica - and I'm not interested in making either one of you suffer to get what I want - which is more than I can say for Marsh."
Operations nods. "Through the course of this conversation, Jessica has been mostly afraid," she says. "I got a very strong feeling that she was afraid telling you all this would lead to more pain. And she was sad when Laith left." She turns to Blake. "Also, she wanted to hurt you. If I had to guess I'd say she picked up the association that you're one of the people responsible for the state I'm in."
The pencil stops moving mid-stroke and Blake’s head shoots up. “Wait, what?”
“You were there when the regulator was off,” Operations explained. “I don’t know how much she interacted with you but she noticed you. And then you fixed the regulator and put it back on. You’re one of the people who make her go away. Hating you is as coherent as she’s going to get.”

Blake takes a moment to stare at Ops, then puts the pad and pencil down on the table and looks at her, but not at her.

“I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m sorry,” he chokes a little, speaking towards Ops, “for ignoring you, and then putting you back in the box. I understand that you don’t trust or like me, and I will work to let my actions prove myself.”
Operations pauses for a moment. Her expression seems...human. “That was a nice thing to say,” she says. “I didn’t get anything back but that doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“I understand,” Blake replies, and then focuses more on Ops. “A question for you, Ops. You can feel Jessica’s stronger emotions. How did - does - she feel about Wiesner?”
“That’s a...that’s a good question,” Operations says. “I wrote off most of what I got as the regulator being screwy. But if I had to put a word on it, it would be...disdain.” She thinks for a moment. “I’m pretty sure I don’t know Wiesner. But it’s possible Jessica does and if that’s true then…”
“Then what?” Alira asks.
“WILDCHILD only affects recall for memories created while it was working,” Operations explains. “I do remember the life before the mission went wrong, but it’s...hrr.” She thinks some more. “We can’t discount the possibility that there is some retrograde amnesia in effect here. If it is, it likely concerns memories that were created shortly before the trauma.”
“So Wiesner played a part in it?” Alira suggests.
“Maybe, or I read a briefing about her, or we’re reading tea leaves here,” Operations says. “I’m not sure I like any of the options.”
Blake harrumphs, eyes on his notebook, tapping it with his pencil. “We’ll keep it in mind for later.” He looks back up at Ops. “Thank you. I appreciate the effort.”
“One more thing,” Mason says. “You wouldn't know about anything else like...all of this? There's been something bugging me about the K Group break in - Loewe, or rather, how Fractal pulled his identical twin out of their asses. That's an awfully big coincidence, and you're read in on more weird shit that we are, so…” He shrugs. “While we're on the topic of 'crazy shit we can do to people’.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help with that,” Operations says. “The Agency has some advanced tissue reconstruction techniques that they used to mend my face but nothing that could duplicate an existing person in anything approaching an operationally useful timeframe.” She thinks. “Considering that something’s going on with deSilva’s face, my money is on Fractal being ahead of the curve on this. How they might have done it is beyond me, but I’m no plastic surgeon.”
“Won’t be the first or the last time we’ll have that feeling,” Blake growls. “You’ve already guessed the bags were secret spy shit - codename CLEAN WHISTLE. DIA property, so questions abound about how Fractal got them, or the hot tip about the munitions boards used in the attempted Amsterdam attack.”
“Right. So, to-do list," Mason says, his gaze drifting over to Laith. "Make contact with Fractal, hand over their data, and see what they know about RoI and...all of this." He looks back to Operations. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Operations says. She holds up a flashdrive. "Made a copy when Hoi Yan wasn't looking at the decrypting terminal. The weakness of the sandbox systems is that they're deliberately light on security precautions to not trigger anti-tamper measures. Still, they should probably not have unblocked USB ports. Strikes me as incautious. But I'm not a systems integration contractor."
"That's not very Company of you," Mason remarks.
"Final action authority," Operations says. "If I think I need an off-the-books copy of sensitive data, I grab it. What matters is you come clean after you're done with it. You can always beg forgiveness at the debrief."
"And you thought you needed it because..." Mason raises an eyebrow. "You were switched off when we decided to bamboozle Marsh."
"I can read a room, Mason," Operations says. "I saw your reaction when I brought up Fractal. I couldn't stop without making Marsh suspicious but I figured I needed to prepare some...options for down the line."
"Mmhmm," Mason replies.
"You could use the codephrase and ask me again to make sure I'm not lying," Operations.
"But how would we know the codephrase actually works on that scenario?" Alira asks.
"No codephrases," Mason says. "Ever. And you know I'm not saying you're lying."
"No, but I extracted a promise from you by bringing it up," Operations says.
"And you know I didn't need to say it out loud," Mason says.
"I like having principles on record with witnesses," Operations says. "Call me old-fashioned."
"I think what Masie's getting at is that there's no good bloody reason why you should take this to Fractal," Alira says. "For someone who's waving the CIA flag you're awful casual at going behind their backs."
"I suppose I am," Operations says. "But Mason's right about Fractal being more forthcoming with certain information than our own people. I'm not going to throw away the chance to learn more about myself and gain a powerful ally because I have to wait on word. Ultimately, if Marsh gets a good answer for 'what' he won't care about 'how'. That's my experience. Besides, it's still better than letting one of you do it. If it's the wrong call then it's the wrong call and I'll catch the flak for it."
"That might be literal if they catch their pet super-spy off the leash," Mason says.
"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it," Operations says.
"Anything else from Jessica?" Mason asks.
"She's scared," Operations says. "But that's not news. Let's move."
punkey 2019-02-26 14:42:00
It's a short walk through the woods to a housing development just outside the airport, where a few different transportation methods present themselves at this time of night. Stealing a car while trying to avoid the law seems like a poor idea, and a bus is inadequately private with its security cameras, so a taxi it is. However, before then, Mason motions for a moment's pause while Laith takes a seat on the bus stop bench to rest his leg. Another burner comes out, and the Fractal recruiter's number is called.

The phone only rings twice before the recruiter picks up. "Good to hear from you, Major," he says. "I trust the information I sent was useful?"
"It was," Mason says. "We're in. What's your secure app of choice?"
"Signal will do," the recruiter says. "Go ahead and hang up, then set it up. I'll wait."
Mason gets the app set up, and the moment the recruiter's burner pings him for a connection, he picks up. "Hit me with a secure IP."
The phone vibrates with a secure text message. "You can use the SFTP server there as a drop," the recruiter says. "I assume that will be the information from the hard drives?"
"You assume right," Mason says. A few taps later and a dongle to let the flash drive hang loose from the bottom of the phone, the transfer starts. "So, let's talk details for Morocco."
"Morocco," the recruiter asks. "Your next destination?"
"We know you've got something working out of there, figure we'd make it easy for us to sit down and have a chat," Mason says. "We've got a lot of questions."
"Contingent on verification of the data upload, we are willing to provide answers," the recruiter says. "I assume this phone will be destroyed when we are done talking. Just as well. You still have our device with you, I assume? We will activate it when you are in country and then we will set up a time and place for a meeting."

"Good," Mason says. "Topic #2 is going to be whatever weird science shit is going on here. Not just on our side, too. Don't think I didn't notice your hand, deSilva's face and whatever you did to make a clone of Loewe."
"I see," the recruiter says. "This is critical information about our operational capabilities. If we were to hand it over to you, that would represent a substantial...commitment on both sides. You understand that."
"I'm looking to get to the bottom of RoI," Mason says. "RoI seems to know a shitload about your operations, so that bridge might be a little toasty."
"We're aware," the recruiter says. "However, leadership is undecided on how to proceed. A meeting in person should provide enough background for all parties to come to a decision about that."
"Sounds good to me," Mason says. "See you and our other friends in Morocco."
"We look forward to it," the recruiter says, then hangs up.

"Meeting's set," Mason says, letting the phone hang in his hand as the transfer finishes. "Details to come when we arrive in Morocco."
"Hm," Laith says, just nodding to it as he looks towards Operations. He's not looking forward to their next private conversation.
"We should not push too far off the grid, that might tip our hand, but the good news is that there is no CIA safehouse in Marrakech," Operations says, ignoring Laith for the moment. "We have a mansion on loan from a local ally. That does not mean it is surveillance-free but the bugs should be far easier to find."
"Sounds good to me," Mason says.
Gatac 2019-03-04 18:26:47
About a half hour later, you climb out of the taxi at Kummerfeld, a small town to the northwest of Hamburg that seems entirely worthy of its name - a field of sorrows. The single motel with a scenic view of Autobahn 23 seems stuck in the 80s and its parking lot is far too big for the three cars actually parked there - one, as you notice, hasn't been moved in a few weeks, the other has branding from a local supermarket and only the third, a Renault hatchback, seems to belong to an actual guest. Inside, a whole forest's worth of wooden furniture - including a massive reception/bar thing - bars your smooth entry, smelling distinctly of badly-aired out cigarettes smoke. A hand-written sign taped to the card terminal informs you that due to "technical difficulties", only cash payment is possible. Yeah, this place earns every one of its two stars. But it's out of the way and quiet and the owner/receptionist does not bat an eye at Lucy, renting you three rooms for the night. Probably the most business he's had all week. Chunky keys in hand, you proceed upstairs and assemble in the corner "suite" that just about fits all five of you (+a very tired-looking dog). Operations locks the door behind you while Laith claims half of the (small) bed to lie down.

"When's our flight?" Mason asks, filing onto the deflated GDR-castoff sofa in the corner next to Alira, putting his arm around her and drawing her close.
"0630, bright and early," Operations says. "We should be ready to move by 0400."
"Now I remember what I don't miss about field work," Laith says.
"How are we dividing the rooms up?" Alira asks.
"Either you or Laith with me," Operations says. "The rest should sort itself from there. Objections?"

Mason and Alira both look to Laith.

Laith looks to Alira. "If you don't mind..." he says.
Alira squeezes Mason's back. "How many bedrooms does that villa in Marrakech have?"
"Five," Operations says.
"Okay, I'll go with Operations, then," Alira says. "We could all use the rest."
Mason gives Alira a squeeze in return. "Agreed."
"What do we do about Jessica, then?" Operations asks. "I'm not keen to delay the investigation but we don't have a lot of possibilities to work with here."
"Well, I just want to see if we can have a chat," Mason says. "Which probably means Blake should step out." He looks over to Blake. "Sorry, but if she doesn't like you, we don't need any extra volatility."
"Guess I'll set up our quarters, then...roomie," Blake says, nodding to Mason and grabbing one of the keys from Operations.

Once Blake closes the door behind him, Mason looks back to Operations.

"At this point," he muses, "I think maybe we just lock the door, put our guns away, hide anything sharp, and say hello."
"Two wrinkles," Operations says. She holds up her arm, rotating it to expose her watch. "One, I have to check out first. Once I do that, they'll assume I took it off for the night. No putting the regulator back on after that." She then retrieves a metal tin from her jacket and hands it to Alira. "Two, I'm supposed to be on tranquilizers at this point. Takes about three of those to get me low enough to sleep. If I take them now, you won't have much time with Jessica...if I don't, well, you're gonna have to convince her to take them after you're done talking to her."
"We can call in a suspicious vehicle on tactical," Mason says. "That's reason enough to put it back on, if it comes to that."
"Again, part two," Operations says. "I'm supposed to be asleep or well on my way there before I take this off. I wouldn't be much good to you, regulator or not." She ponders. "I suppose you wouldn't know that. Plausible. But still, more suspicious than the alternative. Besides, I'm not sure how Jessica's going to like you forcing the regulator on her. So let's call that Plan B."
"Like I said, if it comes to that," Mason says. "But only if she makes us do it. Ideally, we have a talk, we get through enough that we're not like the others, and earn a bit of trust. No codewords or forcing."
"All right," Operations says. She raises her arm again to watch the clock, then retrieves a phone from her jacket. The call goes through immediately - likely a voicemail-only number configured to pick up on first ring. "Operations, Diamond Team, sundown is in effect," she says. "Signing off." She hangs up, stashes the phone - then takes off her jacket and disarms herself, handing a pistol and two knives - a folder from a pocket and a small cinch knife hidden in her belt buckle - to Mason. "Okay, I'm going to take it off now," Operations says. "Get ready to restrain her."
Mason unloads and locks open her piece, his piece, and then takes Alira's and Laith's as well. Magazines go in one corner, guns in the other, and knives are stashed in Alira's pack. After that, he stands square in front of Operations - just out of lunging and kicking range - and nods. "Go ahead."

Operations takes off the regulator with a little magnetic "click!" and hands it to Mason. Even as she retracts her arm, the confident coldness of Operations disappears from her face and the pupils of her eyes widen as her breath picks up. She jerks her shoulder, pulling at a restraint that isn't there, then seems to realize that she can move. Her hand goes to her head, fumbling about in the area where the regulator sits. Feeling nothing, she stumbles back, bumping against the door. She looks up at Mason.

"You're not here," she says, then looks away. "He's not here. He's not here."
"Jessica?" Mason asks, raising his hands as he passes the regulator off to Alira.
"Jessica," she repeats. "Jessica. Back to the room. Take me back. Take me back. Take me back."
"What room, Jessica?" Mason asks.
Jessica's breathing speeds up. "I have to go back. I have to go back." She looks at Mason. "You. I've heard you." Her look darts through the room - until she sees Laith. "Oh no. Oh no." She squeezes herself into the corner. "2100. They have a spotter. You have to get out, Laith. You have to get out. You have to -"
"I know, Jess," Laith says softly. "I got your warning. I got out."
"You have to get out," Jessica repeats. "They're coming. They're coming for us."
"Ancient history," Laith instructs Mason. "Get her focused on the now."
"Hey," Mason says, snapping his fingers as he takes a knee. "Over here, Jessica. We're in Germany, remember?"
"Germany," Jessica repeats.
"Hamburg?" Mason says. "K Group? Fractal?"
"Germany," Jessica says again.
"I think that's 'no'," Alira guesses.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Mason asks. "Do you know who I am?"
Jessica looks up at Mason, fear obvious in her eyes. She shakes her head. "You're one of them. One of the voices. Outside my room."
"Where is your room?" Mason asks.
"14K and K is for Kilo and Kilo is me," Jessica says. "The house at the end of the dirt road."
"Is that where you go when you put this on?" Mason points to the regulator in Alira's hand.
Jessica doesn't look up but she nods. "I go to my room. I go to my room and I am safe and I hear the voices but they're not there."
"Well, you're safe with us," Mason says. "See, Laith is here, and you're safe with him, right?"
"A gun in the mailbox," Jessica whispers to herself.
"What do you mean?" Mason asks, keeping his distance and shifting to the balls of his feet.
"She said something like this to Blake, too," Alira says. "Part of a codephrase?"

Jessica struggles to her feet. Part of the fear in her seems to have gone.

"We're talking," she says. "Right now we're talking. But that will change if you don't tell me what I want to know."
"Beats me," Mason says, eyes staying on Operations/Jessica.
"What do you want to know?" Mason asks.
"Where is Bravo?" she asks.
"We don't know," Mason says. "Should we know?"
"Don't give me that crap," Jessica says. There's something all too lucid in her anger as she rises to full size. "What did you do to him?"
Mason stands up, but keeps a non-threatening posture. "Jessica, this is Mason. I don't know where Bravo is. Can you tell me about Bravo?"
"I don't care who you are," Jessica says. "Always the same. We don't know, that's not the issue here, we want to talk about you. I know you bastards. You don't think about people. Only assets and threats." She cocks her head. "You had him killed, didn't you?"
"You want to talk about Bravo, we'll talk about Bravo," Mason says. "I'll help you find him, just tell me what to look for."
Jessica stares at Mason intently, then a bitter smirk appears on her face. "...you really have no idea, do you?" she says. "Errand boy."
"Jessica," Laith cuts in. "We really want to help you but you know a lot we don't know."
"Blacksite Romeo," Jessica says. "If you can find the supply flight you can find it."
"You don't know where it is?" Alira asks.
"Pretty much the point of a blacksite, isn't it?" Jessica says.

You can see the building blocks of Operations in her expression, and for the moment, she seems with it - quite the contrast to when you started talking to her.

"Tail numbers, plane make, call signs, anything other than 'Romeo'?" Mason asks, not quite relaxing, but adopting a less 'walking on landmines' tone as he smirks. "Or do we just start going through all the R's in the CIA Rolodex?"
"Janet," Jessica says. "It's a Janet flight."
"Okay, now we're talking," Mason says. "Only a few of those and they have to declare routes."
"Blake's wheelhouse," Laith says.
"Any dates we can key off of?" Mason asks. "Holidays, events, something we can use to track which one?"
Jessica's expression slides back towards blank. "I don't...we don't...there was a thanksgiving turkey..." she mutters. She clutches at her head again. "He's coming. He's coming back."
"Who is?" Mason asks. "Jessica, stay with me."
"No," Jessica says. She looks back at Mason, new fire in her eyes as her feet shift into a defensive stance. "No! You get the hell away from me, right now."
Mason backs up, hands in the air. "You got it." He looks over to Laith. "You calmed her down a bit before, care to give it another go?"
Laith nods and gets up from bed. Also putting his hands up, he steps closer. "Hey," he says. "It's okay, Jess. I'm here. Lucy's here. And he's Mason. You know" - he winces - "the asshole."
Jessica looks confused for a moment, then she stumbles over to Laith. After an awkward moment, she embraces him. "Oh hey," she says to Lucy, perking the dog up. "Come here, Luce." Lucy gladly obliges, so Jessica takes a knee and brushes her hand over Lucy's patiently outstretched head. "Good girl," Jessica says.

Mason knows better than to interrupt a lucid moment, and takes a knee again next to Alira. He waits for Jessica to look his way again.

"She's getting more combative with every backslide," Alira whispers to him. "We got a few good leads. Let's wrap it here and get her to take the tranqs."
"That's the idea," Mason whispers back. "Just gotta wait for her to give us a look."
Jessica strokes Lucy's fur a few more times. "She's so much bigger than I remember," she says quietly. "How long have I been away?"
"...two years," Laith admits.
"Two years," Jessica repeats. One hand still on Lucy's back, she looks over her shoulder towards Mason.
Mason nods to her. "We're on your side, Jessica. Whatever they did to you, it's fucked up. I know it's hard to talk to us like you want to all the time, but...however you can, if you let us know you want to talk, we're always going to listen. And when we get word on Bravo, we'll let you know."
"...you want to put me back under now," Jessica says.
"It's getting late, and we'd all like to get some rest," Mason says. "We've got a flight to Morocco tomorrow, and I'd like to be fresh and well-rested for when we meet with our new secret squirrel friends in Fractal."
"A fractal is a self-similar shape," Jessica says. She looks confused again.
"I can give you some medicine and take you to your room," Alira says.
"14K, because K is for Kilo..." Jessica says. She stands up, utterly ignoring Lucy and Laith, and walks up to Alira. Taking three of the little pills from the tin off Alira's hand, Jessica swallows them in one gulp, then opens her mouth and stretches out her tongue to show that her mouth is empty.
"I'll take you to your room now," Alira says, giving a nod to Mason.

As she steers Jessica towards the door and out of the room, the effect of the tranqs on Jessica quickly becomes obvious. It can't be kicking in this quickly from a pharmacological POV, but maybe there's a psychosomatic element? In any event, all that's left is a final sad look from Jessica to Laith before she and Alira walk out.

"Fuck," Laith says quietly.
"She's still in there," Mason says.
"No, she's not," Laith says. "She's gone. The only thing left is a few echoes and someone else walking around with her body and her memories." He looks away. "After they had Operations put together, I got the phone call. Miraculous recovery! She's finally well enough to talk to you! But she wasn't. It was just...Ops, pretending to be Jessica. I've been through it, Mason. The anger. But...I told myself, wasn't Operations' fault."
"That looked like a lot like more than a few echoes," Mason says. "It looked a lot more like someone that got blown up. I've known a few. They had moments like that, and then they got help - and it's pretty fucking obvious that Marsh and these WILDCHILD fucks were more interested in what they could turn her into than helping her. I'm not saying she'll ever be like she was before, but...if nothing else, maybe we can bring more of that out of Operations. Maybe."
"Don't get me wrong, Mason," Laith says. "If there's anything I can do to help Jessica, I'm going to do it. But because it's the right thing to do for her and because I want to stick it to the people who did this, not because I still think I'll get anything back. I already grieved for her."
"No reason we can't do both," Mason says. He taps the phone in his pocket, turning off the recording. "There's something going on with WILDCHILD and her and all of this. I can feel it, it makes me itch. Maybe this will help Operations tap more into Jessica's memories - maybe we can find a way to break whatever hypno-shit they did to her. I don't buy that she magically has amnesia about the shit they did to her and was brainwashed. Maybe Fractal knows a way to kick down a few of her doors, too." He slides the phone into his pocket. "Maybe we find this Blacksite Romeo and it's got all the answers and the Ark of the Covenant too."
"Maybe," Laith says. "But count me out of the Fractal fan club. The fact that they were willing to arrange a meeting with you after all the cloak-and-dagger shit doesn't fill me with confidence. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."
"We're in uncharted waters," Mason says. "And a big wooden horse is only a trap if you don't know to look inside it."
"Then let's keep our spears ready," Laith says. "Good night, Mason."
"I'm gonna get this to Blake," Mason says, tapping on the phone in his pocket. "I'm sure it'll make for fascinating in-flight entertainment. Try to get some sleep, Laith."
"Same," Laith says.


While the Operations situation is resolved - pointedly with Blake's absence, bad associations possibly triggering "Jessica" - Blake takes a moment to unpack a spare clean laptop from his bag and get to work on the decrypted data. Langley's gonna have more luck with the actual crossreferencing, but Blake's not looking at the data itself, but the metadata that came with it. Much of it is obviously non-indicative from the repeated copying and the encrypting/decrypting, but still, it's enough for a couple of suppositions. One, relatively current data, transmitted by Varajev on his flight from Delhi to Amsterdam. Ergo, probably acquired either in Delhi or on the way there. Two, Fractal organisational structure. Assuming Fractal cells are present worldwide and not vastly misshapen in size / area of responsibility, Blake's Fermi guess - based on land area and population percentages - would be on the order of ten regional cells in total. Three, the timestamps are weird. UTC + 05:45? That's Standard Nepal Time. Hey, wasn't Amrita Bhaduri's 'exit strategy' for Mason's team through Nepal, too? And she turned on them, but she tried to kill Brahmvir Singh and aren't Singh and Varajev both RoI? Blake feels one of those headaches coming in. It's another piece of the puzzle but damned if he can see the whole picture yet.

Mason arrives shortly thereafter to drop off a recording of their talk with "Jessica", as well as an executive summary. Blacksite Romeo, serviced by a Janet flight. That's not nearly as far off the grid as one might assume, then, since that phantom airline transports contractors for the US Air Force in bulk. Blacksite Romeo would have to be decently sized to justify that kind of logistics tail, but if it's the research center for WILDCHILD, that makes sense. And, more importantly, it means there are people out there who know the program, being shuttled to and fro. Even if you can't get into the site itself, maybe you can figure out who's stationed there and catch them on this side of the looking glass.

Blake looks at the whole mess and flips to a new mental notepad page. There is research to be done. But for today, enough.


The next morning arrives all too soon and when you assemble downstairs in the (big, big scare quotes) "lobby" to wait for the taxi, you look it. It is hoped you'll be catching some more Zs on the flight. The only one who looks decently rested is Operations, who looks none the worse for wear after yesterday's activities - and Alira gives Mason the 'all quiet' sign, too. For once in this goddamn operation, something might actually work 100% as advertised. Even the taxi arrives on time and in you go. Sidearms and other "disposables" were last on your to-do list yesterday, but they did get done, and most of the specialized gear remains on the Wolfhound. It'll be a bit weird to have to deal with commercial airport security and accordingly be (wink wink) unarmed, but as you drive through the dark, nothing feels like it's stalking you.

With a quick nod to the plainclothes embassy officer who hands you fresh overnighted passports, you fast-forward through luggage drop-off, customs and the security into the "sterile" mall / departure gate area. American hegemony be praised, there's a Starbucks to catch up on your caffeine needs; Alira takes her Caffé Mocha in Venti, thank you, then you also get some fresh pretzels from a bakery across the hallway because goddammit, you don't go to Germany to not have fresh pretzels. Especially because the only non-stop available at short notice is cattle class, so...best get fed early. Boarding is a mess, you barely manage to sit together - Alira with Operations, Laith with Blake, Mason with a 20-something German dude who looks entirely too small for his expensive suit, probably on his first "big boy" business trip.

Then there's the usual unpleasantries over the intercom, seats upright tray tables stowed, thank you for being desperate enough to get on this plane. Engines spool up, the runway is sped down - the Nomad is long gone from the staging area at the end, by the way - and then you're up in the air, sun rising behind you.

3 hours to Marrakech.