IC 1 - Amsterdam - Day 1

MikeS 2016-11-11 00:44:42
"Peut-être," Luc replies. This all sounded way too convenient, and Luc doesn't trust Pierre much further than he can throw him.

"Que savez-vous sur les Crips? Les dissensions dans leurs rangs actuellement? Les .. lieutenants ambitieux?" (What do you know about the Crips? Any dissensions in their ranks currently? Any.. ambitious lieutenants?)

"Priver Varayev de son jouet est bon, mais semé la discorde entre lui et ses alliés serait encore mieux." (Depriving Varayev of his toy is good, but sowing dissent between him and his allies would be even better.)
Gatac 2016-11-11 17:37:08
(Luc uses Interrogation.)

"Pas que je sache de," Pierre says. "Je ne sais que ce que mes amis peuvent voir. Les Crips n'ont pas l'habitude de parler de leurs affaires internes à des étrangers. Je pensais que c'était pour ça que tu avais emmené ton ami." He turns to Blake and raises his glass of wine. "Veuillez pardonner ma présomption." (Not that I know of. I know only what my friends can see. The Crips are not in the habit of talking about their internal affairs to outsiders. I thought that's why you brought your friend along. Please forgive my presumption.)

(Both of your Bullshit Detectors are ringing at this point.)

Pierre's nervous. More details about the guard detail seemed on the tip of his tongue, the heist all but pre-planned in his head, but the question about a power struggle within the Crips has rattled him, and playing it off like he mistook Blake for a Crip...yeah, no sale. There's more in this for Pierre than a payday and a chance to piss in Varajev's cornflakes.


Meanwhile, in a certain houseboat, a commercial transaction has just finished, and both parties to the deal now lie in a slightly-too-small bed, at a loss for things to do what with the place being non-smoking.

"So," Mason says.
"You're quite talented," Ms. Akkermans remarks. "Is Edil still on your mind?"
"You could say that," Mason says. "I guess there's not much pillow talk with him?"
Ms. Akkermans chuckles. "He does not talk of business in front of me, you understand," she says. "He does not talk much at all. He asks me questions, and then I talk, and" - she smirks - ""well, you look better than him, anyway. But the conversation is not about personal things - almost."
"Hm?" Mason intones.
"This one time, he asks me about my family - and then he sees me try to think of something and waves me off, and...he talks about his sister. I barely know Edil's first name, but he talks about his sister for minutes. Her name is...Aysha? She is at the Sorbonne in Paris, for studying astrophysics." She meets Mason's eyes. "You will keep her out of this, will you not?"

Aysha Varajev. Mason's read the CIA dossier on her, which didn't take long. The investigation into her background turned up precisely zilch: yes, she's real, yes, she is studying astrophysics in Paris. But not on her family's money - certainly not on Edil's. She's there on a scholarship, and other than yearly birthday calls to her parents, she barely has any contact with her family. As far as anyone could tell, she hasn't spoken to Edil in years. Sure, it pops a few red flags if your brother is an international arms dealer, but as far as anyone could tell, Aysha's got nothing to do with that.

"Yes, I don't see any reason, to get her involved," Mason says. "When was the last time you were there?"
"A week ago," she says. "But he was distracted the whole time. After a half hour of him not listening to me, barely looking at me, he got a call on his phone. I had to leave right away. His bodyguard handed me a box with some jewelry, too. Said it was a present, and that Edil was sorry about the abruptness."
"What does he hire you for?"
"We talk, for an hour usually," she says. "About...whatever. Usually what I did that week. Then we sleep together, sometimes we just lie in bed and nothing. Maybe he likes it more that he could than when he actually touches me? Then he says we are done, I dress and shower and they see me out."
"In Dutch, or chechenski?" (...in Chechen?)
"English," she says. "I don't know if he speaks Dutch at all. He always speaks English with me."
Mason frowns. "Vy podslushala kogo-libo yeshche govorit' o chem-nibud'?" (Have you overheard anyone else talking about anything?)
Ms. Akkermans looks at him like he just started imitating the beeps of a truck backing up. "...what?" she says.
"I apologize," Mason says. "I thought you might speak Chechen."
"I would not have the job if I did," she says. "You do your homework, 007? You know about Zulay. He take her once but never again. He is afraid one of his men might speak and she understand."
"Interesting," Mason says. "Well, anything else...interesting? How does the security in his apartment work?"
"Ugh. Two men outside search me," she says. "They look in handbag, wave metal detector over me, it takes ten seconds. The big one says in...Chechen? He says something, and they let me through the door. Inside, he has his other men. One is his bodyguard, follows him around, stands outside the bedroom door when we are in there. Three others hang around the apartment."
"Where would they keep things they want to keep safe?" Mason asks.
"A safe in bedroom cabinet," she says. "He never opens when I am around, of course. If he wants to give me gift, his bodyguard has it with him already when I come."
"And how big is the safe?"
She shrugs. "Not sure. I see glance of it only. Did not look very big. Maybe a meter tall?"
Mason nods. "All right. One more question." He smiles. "Have enough time for round two?"
"I think we do enough tonight," she says with another smirk. "You show me shower, you may get kiss for goodnight?"

Mason stands up, and leads her by the hand out of bed and into the houseboat's shower cubicle. "All yours - the water can be a bit cold."

"Thank you, 007." She leans over to smooch him on the cheek.
Mason returns the kiss - enough to show his appreciation, nothing more.
"And tomorrow, we spy?" she asks.
"Tomorrow, we spy," Mason confirms.
skullandscythe 2016-11-13 22:30:06
"Vous ne savez ce que vos amis voient?" Blake is quite still, fingers frozen to the glass stem, eyes fixed on Pierre. "Comment avez-vous donc appris la visite imminente de Varayev? C'est une chose à deviner, et une autre à savoir." (You 'only know what your men see?' How, then, have you learned of Varayev's impending visit? It is one thing to guess, and another to know.)
Gatac 2016-11-14 12:26:41
(Gonna play that as Blake using Intimidate.)

It's not easy to unnerve men like Pierre. Blake's calm deconstruction of his story seems to be doing the trick, though, and Pierre affects a fake smile as he pivots to what he imagines will get the hardened operative off his case.

"J'essaie seulement de protéger mes amis," he says. "Tu comprends ça." (I am only trying to protect my friends. You understand that.)

He raises his glass to his lips and tilts it back for a bigger gulp.

"Mes informations proviennent directement de Marius Visser," he explains. "Il est leur chef de file pour toute l'opération, il est l'homonyme et le visage de la compagnie, mais il ne se soucie pas de la Crips se mettre au lit avec Varajev. Le matériel militaire qu'ils contrebandent pourrait les mettre tous en grand ennui s'ils sont pris, et il s'inquiète que la Marechaussee soit déjà sur eux. Vous voyez, mes amis, il peut prendre soin de la paperasse, mais le matériel doit aller, volé ou détruit, ce n'est pas grave. Il obtient mon ami Visser hors du crochet et assure que ses partenaires d'affaires ont leur propre vie à s'inquiéter au lieu de le traîner vers le bas avec eux. Et c'est toute la vérité!" (My information comes directly from Marius Visser. He is their front man for the whole operation, he's the namesake and face of the company, but he does not care for the Crips getting into bed with Varajev. The military hardware they are smuggling could get them all in big trouble if they are caught, and he's worried that the Marechaussee is already on to them. You see, my friends, he can take care of the paperwork, but the hardware needs to go, stolen or destroyed, it doesn't matter. It gets my friend Visser off the hook and ensures that his business partners have their own lives to worry about rather than dragging him down with them. And that's the whole truth!)

"Alors, quel est le problème, mes amis?" Pierre asks. "Avez-vous besoin d'un moyen à l'intérieur, une distraction? Je suis sûr que Visser peut vous aider, si vous l'aidez. Mais il doit arriver ce soir." (So what is the problem, my friends? Do you need a way inside, a distraction? I'm sure Visser can help you, if you help him. But it has to happen tonight.)
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-11-14 14:55:43
"I need Edil so I can follow the shit back to its source," Tim answers. "You were in Delhi - shit got real. I'm trying to keep it from getting... realer," he adds, petering out as his curiosity wars with his instincts to not trust scary gun lady. "Why are you chasing me? This isn't about Dublin, is it?"
Gatac 2016-11-14 15:25:14
There's a brief pause as motorcycle lady takes in the information. Still makes no attempt to remove her helmet.

"Dublin is irrelevant," she says. "Give me a reason to believe your story."
Gatac 2016-11-14 15:56:59
(Tim uses Negotiation.)

Another pause.

"My employer is unaligned with the factions you may believe are involved in this situation," she says. "Our interest is the stability of the status quo and the elimination of rogue elements that threaten it." Another pause. "We are Fractal."

Which tells Tim about as much as if she'd claimed to be the Fairy Godmother.

"In Delhi, the order was merely to apprehend you and discover your intentions for infiltrating Varajev's detail," she continues. "Following your pursuit of him here, we determined that you were making an attempt to get in touch with the Dane and inferred your intent to acquire specialized materiel for breaching Varajev's security measures. It is my task to...deter you from seizing the item we believe you seek - Varajev's laptop. Fractal believes that the information on the device is critical to ending the crisis. We require access to it. If your story is true, cooperation is possible. If you are lying, my engagement parameters extend to classifying you as a rogue element and working towards eliminating you. So, please. Give me a reason to believe your story."
Gatac 2016-11-16 13:26:39
Another head-cock from the woman.

"This is Fractal's assumption, too," she says. Pause. "You are better positioned to acquire the device. Keep the cell phone with you, proceed with whatever you have planned and contact us again when you have the device. If you run out on us instead, we will proceed with our efforts on our own with no further regard for your ends." Her head swivels towards the parked motorcycle. "And I would personally appreciate it if you would keep your hands off my bike in the future."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-11-16 13:39:35
"Don't give me a reason to steal it again." Tim's reply comes with a low underhand toss of the keys. "It's an upgrade compared to that scooter I took off you in Delhi, I can say that much." With that, Tim looks for an exit. This awkward "we could be on the same side but we've been expressly told not to say any of what we just said" shit is getting old, and he needs to get the phone to Blake and brief the team on this Fractal monkeywrench.
Gatac 2016-11-16 13:54:04
The woman barely acknowledges catching the keys, just stomps past Tim, gets on the bike and guns the engine again. One more head turn to him, in that "I see you" way, then she rides off into the night.

With the inconclusively mysterious encounter finished, the night is still young, and Tim's coffee is still lukewarm.

Time to call a cab.
skullandscythe 2016-11-16 22:53:05
Blake blinks as Pierre takes a deep swig, acknowledging his flimsy excuse with a "Je comprends." He still gauges the man's performance, but he takes sips of his own wine and doesn't focus quite as intently as before.

"Je pense que nous devrions pouvoir arriver à un arrangement dont tout le monde bénéficiera-" Blake raises his glass and tips it toward Pierre with a nod. "-à l'exception de Varajev, bien sûr. Y a-t-il moyen de contacter Visser lui-même discrètement? Nous pouvons avoir besoin de son aide - peut-être une méthode d'entrée, comme vous le dites." (Well, I think we'll be able to come to an arrangement that everyone will benefit from - except Varajev, of course. Is there a way to contact Visser himself discreetly? We may need his assistance - perhaps an easy way in, as you say.)
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-11-21 12:10:39
The cab's clean enough and the night drive is relaxing enough, but Tim can't settle. Mention of yet another faction getting involved in this mess prompts him to get out the secure phone, connect the VPN, and leave a prearranged signal on a private server. Laura Mayer used to be Mossad until she got blown up in Syria, and Tim always liked to cultivate relationships across the aisle, so to speak. She was a dark web information broker now, and Tim's hoping she knows about Fractal.

Half an hour later, there's a link to a youtube playlist of panda videos waiting for him. Steganographically hidden in the file (and encrypted with Tim's PGP public key) is a dump of a couple dozen files.
Gatac 2016-11-21 12:56:54
Reviewing the data, it's obvious why you've never heard of Fractal: they seem to change their name after every exposure, burning the outer layer of their organization and reforming somewhere else. Chamber 17, Fuller White, Silent Leges, The Network, they all seem to be the same core of operatives changing names and iconography far quicker than routine analysis can keep up. While Fractal meant nothing to Laura, Tim's description of their modus operandi did, because it turns out that the motorcycle woman is a quote-unquote known factor. Referred to as "The Cleaner", the woman has been active in Asia and Russia for at least two years and linked to a number of disappearances and assassinations, her targets terrorists and cops alike. She was last seen working for Fuller White, which had the same fake address on a bank account as The Network, which in turn used similar darknet handshake protocols to Silent Leges, and one of their patsies gave away the connection to Chamber 17 after a couple of weeks in an Armenian prison. In any event, feeding all those names through the CIA's team of analysts ought to be good for a lot more circumstantial encounters and scattered puzzle pieces, the real trick is gonna be putting it all together into a useful overall shape.

So, whatever you want to call them - and Fractal is as good a name as any - it's clear that they value their anonymity. They spend at least as much effort on covering their tracks as they do gathering information. Meetings are arranged through several layers of cutouts, outsiders are blackmailed into surveilling strangers who turn out to be working for Fractal themselves, and nobody seems quite sure who's calling the shots. Their agenda does seem broadly anti-terrorism, but their targeting of state and law enforcement agencies complicates things considerably. And even in that murky mess, Tim's face-to-face meeting with The Cleaner stands out as highly anomalous. While Whatever-They-Call-Themselves-Today have tried their hand at "working with" (read: blackmail) CIA agents before, it was always a few steps removed from anyone who actually knew what was going on, a big old game of telephone and digital dead drops that frustrated any attempt at a counter-intel investigation.

But Laura wouldn't be Laura if she didn't find a way to cut through the obfuscation and manage to nail something down: she's 90% sure that the Cleaner's real name is Valentina de Silva, a FARC alumni who went into business for herself when it became clear to her that ongoing armed insurrection in Colombia wasn't worth dying for. Height and build line up, which isn't saying much, admittedly, but de Silva was also playing in the big boy leagues of international mercenaries back in the 2000s, known for her methodical approach and - incidentally - her love of extreme sports, to include motorcycle racing. Then, in 2013, her One Last Job went Terribly Wrong in the kind of narco kingpin mansion explosion Nobody Could Have Survived, but they also Never Found The Body, and Tim imagines that Laura was rolling her eyes pretty hard by that point. Six months later (long enough for treating serious injuries and rehabilitation?), The Cleaner shows up with no prior history, refuses to show anyone her face but rocks her assignments much the same way as de Silva used to do - maybe even a bit more careful and efficient at that. The difficulty in that conclusion is all down to The Cleaner's reticience in leaving substantial evidence, but Laura's scraped together profiles on jobs in Madrid, Johannesburg and Ulan Bator that draw a pretty strong picture. It's the kind of well-reasoned detective work with plenty of strong inferences that would have even Speed Racer connecting the dots.

And if it is de Silva...well, you don't fight in a glorious revolution for years without making a few friends. Most of de Silva's old FARC buddies are either dead or "retired" now, but a couple followed her into the freelance business, and they're not nearly as hard to track as her. Take Juan David Sotelo, or as he likes to advertise himself, The Lynx. Sotelo specializes in briefcase explosives and gladly lends his plastique chops to anyone with more dollars than scruples. Word is that he's lying low in Marrakech right now, but not low enough that Laura couldn't get you a hotel name.
MikeS 2016-11-27 23:20:37
"Allons contactez Visser," Luc nods to Blake. (Let's contact Visser.)

Visser didn't need to be happy after this deal went through, and neither did the Crips, but of course the main purpose of this visit was to alienate Varajev from his local allies. Luc just didn't feel taking the heat for a two-bit Corsican who almost certainly was overplaying his hand to achieve this goal.
Gatac 2016-11-29 10:36:04
(Mason decides to handle your current Heat to make sure things don't escalate just from being in Amsterdam.)

Mason double-checks that Ms. Akkermans is indeed in the shower, then pulls a burner from the box and makes a call to another burner a certain friend keeps turned off and locked in a EM-proof box most of the day - a digital dead-drop.

"Hey, buddy, it's me," Mason says. Keeping names out of it is another part of the protocol. "Remember that time I proved your hunch in Bali was right? I could use a bit of help right now. Throw whatever you have on me on the hotlist and forward the pings to this number. Thanks."

(Mason's spends 1 point from his Surveillance pool to roll against Heat 3: 1d6+1 = 3 SUCCESS! Mason will receive a timely warning against things going sideways prematurely.)

After a short shower, Ms. Akkermans emerges and nonchalantly dresses herself before giving Mason one last look.

"You call me tomorrow for meeting?" she asks.


Reluctantly, Pierre reaches into his coat and retrieves a leather-bound notebook, which turns out to be written in a peculiar cypher - a decidedly low-tech version of remembering his "friends", but one less likely to be Bluejacked by SIGINT ninjas who mean him harm. Doing some math in his head, he descrambles Visser's phone number onto a blank page and tears it out, handing it off to Luc.

"Là!" he says, stashing his notebook and buttoning his coat as he gets up to leave, thereby elegantly sticking you with the bill for that fine dinner. "Faites avec elle ce que vous voulez, mais n'oubliez pas: nous pouvons tous nous aider les uns les autres ici. Bonne chance, mes amis!" (There! Do with it what you want, but remember: we can all help each other here. Good luck, my friends.)


While Tim browses the intel on Fractal, the cell phone he took off Probably-Valentina-de-Silva - and which is his token of Fractal's promise not to keep coming after him, for the moment - buzzes with a new message.

Procure 1:1 image of laptop harddrive. Deposit storage device in locker 207 at main train station by 1800 tomorrow.

Then it buzzes again.

Lock code is 555744, if you need it.

And again.

Looking forward to working with you.
MikeS 2016-12-01 00:46:54
Luc picks up the bill. "I expected no less," he comments.

He pays up and wait until they have left the restaurant and he has finished the after-meal cigarette before he dials Visser's number on his burner. No need to rush these things.
skullandscythe 2016-12-01 10:54:48
"Merci pour votre aide à ce jour, monseur Niemans," Blake says, holding out his hand and smiling. "Nous ne l'oublierons pas. Bonjour." (Thank you for all your help so far, mister Niemans. We won't forget it.)

Blake himself waits until they're out of the restaurant before commenting. "Think that went well."
punkey 2016-12-03 15:53:13
Mason nods. "Keep that burner on you, and your bags packed. When this happens, it's going to happen fast." He smirks at her. "I don't have to say anything about keeping this quiet, right?"