IC 3 - Amsterdam - Day 3

Gatac 2017-09-17 06:10:32
Varajev's laptop turned out to be a treasure trove of dangerous knowledge, and more than that, people have proven they're willing to kill for it. A disgraced US special ops team, one of the MSS's elusive Sages with a team of mercenaries, even the CIA's own station have tried to get their hands on it, but you prevailed. Now, during the Remembrance Day event at the Dutch Royal Palace, you have what could be your best chance to finally negotiate with Fractal and stop RoI's plans in Amsterdam.
Gatac 2017-09-20 15:21:45
It's a long night ahead of Blake, first helping Laith clean the Safebarge's network, then improvising a new secure connection, then using Luc's description of the mercs - plus his memories of the other pair that shadowed him - to start narrowing down suspects in the CIA's exhaustive - if inconsistent - database of freelance operators known to be active in the European theater. Thousands of pictures to go through and clean up, travel reports to correlate, psych profiles to compile...it's a lot of work, and it won't get done unless Blake zeroes in and tunes his brain for optimal performance.

Insert pizza, caffeine and earplugs.

Three hours later, Blake falls back into his chair. He's too focused for a smile of triumph, his brain still too deep in the zone to appreciate his own success - and there's more to be done, anyway. His mind turns to the next item on his to-do list: keeping Randall safe. While he works that problem, he forwards the merc profiles to the others.


(File picture of Otto Keller taken by covert camera. Background has been retouched to white to mask the location of the shot.)

Otto Keller hails from a small town outside Dresden, Germany. He's fourth-generation German military - grand-grandpa fought for the Kaiser, grandpa was a Luftwaffe Paratrooper who lost a leg to gangrene after the Battle of Crete in WW2, his father was a Lt. Colonel in the GDR's National People's Army, and Otto himself signed up for an eight-year contract with the Bundeswehr as NCO, where - after three years of meritorious service - he was approached by and recruited into the KSK, the Bundeswehr's premier special operations unit. Operating in Afghanistan, Keller earned a reputation both for his "motivation" and his ability to push through fatigue and pain to achieve his missions. He was all set to re-up and maybe even get a cushy training NCO position when a junior soldier in the unit wrote to the Inspector General about what he saw as cryptofascism in the unit - including a basement full of "trophies", to include some Waffen-SS regalia.

Although Keller was hardly the only or even the first soldier in the Bundeswehr who had bought into revisionist views of the Third Reich, he was perhaps too open about it. In 2011, photos emerged that showed him proudly posing with the trophies during a party, and his awkward attempts to explain himself - that he wasn't a Nazi, but respected their "honor" - just got him into more trouble. Seeing the potential for the investigation to keep escalating, his CO prevailed upon him to "take one for the team" and take the blame for the trophy collection, since it seemed likely that Keller would go down for it anyway. Taking orders one last time, Keller did indeed do that, confessed to everything and was summarily dishonorably discharged from the Bundeswehr. However, that confession continued to haunt him, as the photos of him soon spread, first within the Bundeswehr, then through the media. The stress of the media controversy and a falling out with his family led Keller to draw up plans for suicide.

However, Keller never carried those plans out; they were only found in his diary when firefighters broke down the door to his apartment, where he had apparently tried to set a timed incendiary charge to symbolically burn down his old life. By that time, Keller had already left Germany and was spotted making his way back to Afghanistan, a place where he now seemed to feel more at home. Using a fake passport, Keller started over in contract work, but news of his real identity eventually caught up with him. As "legit" contracting work for him dried up, Keller's standards seemed to slip further and further, to include work with the Taliban against the "stooges" of the US-backed central government; although Keller took pains to avoid engagements against "Western" troops themselves in the beginning, he soon targetted them, too. We believe that Keller, though remaining non-religious, came to view the Taliban in similar "honorable" terms to how he saw some Nazi soldiers, while seeing coalition troops as cowards and manipulators. When Keller left Afghanistan in 2014, his ideology seemed to be that any action against "Western agents" was righteous. That would certainly explain his travels in Eastern Europe, including as a technical advisor to pro-Russian forces in Crimea, as well as his current employment as an MSS asset.

According to sources from within the KSK, Keller is an expert mountaineer, survivalist and driver. His preference in weapons runs towards anything heavy and full-auto. He's in excellent physical shape and described as brutal in a fight. Despite appearances, Keller's no meathead, either: he speaks at least five languages, was noted as an excellent "contact NCO" while dealing with Afghan civilians and holds intense interests in military science and history. However, we have found no satisfying explanation for why he maintains his hair in highly recognizable dreadlocks.


(File picture of Angelina Kovač, acquired from a photo album confiscated during a police raid on her Belgrade hideout.)

Angelina Kovač made a name for herself as an information broker and arms dealer during the 2008 Kosovo unrests, supporting Kosovar "militias" in their attempts to secure independence. With the calming of the unrests, Kovač fled the country to avoid persecution, resurfacing occasionally to ply her trade throughout Eastern Europe. Though she still advocates for an independent Kosovo through inflammatory manifestos, her primary occupation has become collecting arms and other supplies for just that purpose by hiring out her services to anyone who's at least nominally willing to support "the cause". Kovač is known as both a romantic (as she often speaks eloquently of the need for all oppressed people around the world to rise up and demand their freedom) and a gifted businesswoman with a particular talent for running complicated transactions entirely from memory, avoiding any written or electronic record of her deals. Comments about her appearance are often half-jokingly deflected by her saying that she's trying to sell the dream of something truly beautiful: a free and prosperous Kosovo.

(File picture of Captain Stana Debeljak)

The real story's more complicated, of course. "Angelina Kovač" is really Stana Debeljak, a Captain in Serbia's Military Intelligence Agency, the VOA. Though tensions between Serbia and Kosovo remain, both sides have quietly begun the process of working out their differences. One of their most important joint operations is tracking down anyone trying to start another armed conflict between them. As "Angelina Kovač", Captain Debeljak's mission is to act as a honeypot, monitoring the overall situation, sucking up resources from anyone willing to invest in further fighting and collecting actionable intelligence. But Serbia's ambitions seem to go beyond just keeping the pot from boiling over; with Serbia a candidate for admission to the EU, Captain Debeljak's investigation could serve as proof that Serbia is actively trying to clean up its act and prevent more bloodshed in the Balkans, as well as respecting Kosovo's bid for independence, factors that might well tip the decision of being admitted into the EU in Serbia's favor. Captain Debeljak is noted in her service evaluation as a near-ideal candidate for undercover work: empathetic enough to forge connections with her marks, ruthless enough to do whatever it may take to uphold her cover, centered enough to not lose herself in the fantasy.

All of that makes Captain Debeljak's appearance in Amsterdam a bit baffling - far from her usual hunting grounds, with an organization that doesn't exactly scream "We want to stir up shit in the Balkans right now", and obviously in far too deep when it comes to kidnapping and violence. We're trying to establish whether she's still on mission or has for some reason gone rogue, but we don't expect any straight answers from the VOA to arrive soon enough to matter, if they answer us at all.


(File picture of Bibiana Colombo)

Colombo's one of very few female mercenaries without any military or intelligence training. Hailing from Sicily, Colombo got into "the life" via her then-boyfriend, a made man for the mafia. Although he tried to keep her in the dark, she quickly figured out his "job" and set about entering his world. Starting out as a courier, Colombo proved herself adept at both the soft and hard skills of organized crime. In time, the bosses realized that she was more valuable to their racket than her boyfriend, especially after he was found embezzling money from them. Colombo convinced him to tell her where he had hidden the money, then led the mafia to it and oversaw his "punishment" and execution. From there on, Colombo has acted as a mafia "bloodhound", testing member loyalties, investigating discrepancies in accounting and tracking down people who did not want to be found. A few years ago, she went semi-independent and reached a profit-sharing agreement with her bosses, allowing her to take on freelance assignments with their blessing. There is as of yet no indication that Colombo intends to ever actually leave behind her position in the organization, apparently seeing it as a measure of her legitimacy - and having the mafia covering your back is rarely a disadvantage.

Colombo's primary skillset is finding: information, items, people. In another life, she might have made a good detective or intelligence analyst; as is, Colombo's talents are in high demand by criminals who can afford her. She's an expert manipulator and saboteur, able to zero in on "human factors" and exploit them with ruthless efficiency. Beyond the threat she might pose to people's minds, she's also no slouch at hurting them physically. Rumors that she has personally devised several extravagant methods of torture remain uncorroborated, but we regard them as credible. Colombo certainly seems to have been involved in several cases where bodies were found with gruesome mutilations, to include traumatic amputations, acid burns and other torture outcomes best described as "medieval". Colombo's less at home in direct combat; she has taken some time out of her schedule to undergo focused training in Krav Maga and close-quarters pistol techniques for self-defense, but her work and frequent travel preclude continuous training, so we believe that Colombo will seek to avoid fighting.

Colombo's manner is reported to be overtly analytical, almost detached; she is described as patient, precise and "corrosive". If Colombo has a clear personality flaw, it is the pride she takes in her work. She allows no second-guessing of her methods and particularly resents micromanagement, but so far, her clients have apparently tolerated this due to her rate of success and otherwise professional manner.


(File picture of Liam Warren)

Liam Warren's part of a new generation of criminal; he doesn't seem to care about hurting people or making money, per se. To him, it's the thrill of transgressing that seems to have gotten him into the swing of things, and Warren's apparently very good at transgressing. Computer networks, physical locks, even the laws of traffic: Warren's been seen to exploit, bend and break all of them, and while he seems to have no bigger purpose to it than to do it and get away with it, he certainly doesn't mind getting paid to let other people make use of the chaos he leaves behind. At least, that's the picture we've gotten by analyzing chatter from people Warren worked with in the past.

Sadly, that's about it for what we know about Warren. Most biographical info we could dig up on him is contradictory or implausible, suggesting that Warren has somehow managed to falsify just about everything about himself - and obviously so, as if to taunt anyone trying to investigate him. Either that, or somebody's done it for him. Until we can establish a better picture of what Warren knows and what he's capable of, we advise caution in dealing with him. All credible information about Warren's activities should be forwarded to Langley for further analysis.
Gatac 2017-09-22 14:44:27
Mason's going out again tonight. Sitting around staring at screens won't help - tackling some items off the ever-growing to-do list will. First stop: threads. Mason plays a game of five-corner phone tag, working his way through the surprisingly tight-knit world of Amsterdam's underground couture until enough people give him the nod that he gets a time and a name. The appointment leads him through a rainy evening drive on Java-eiland, then to a penthouse studio overlooking the city lights reflecting from the Ij. Waiting for him is Hilke van Bochove, the grand old dame of concealed body armor, 72 years old with an effortless chiq that women 50 years her junior would kill for - and a half-dozen strong team of assistants, bodyguards and "body consultants" (read: male eye candy). As Mason is escorted in, she briefly scans him and then holds out her hand to him. Mason might have spent a lot of time in the mountains, but he's been on enough CIA missions - well, guarded enough CIA missions - okay, monitored CIA missions from a remote location enough times to know how to respond. He takes her hand and delicately kisses her largest ring.

"Madam van Bochove, it is an honor," he says.

Hilke turns slightly away from him to stretch her arm out further, but there's a wry smile on her lips at Mason's show of respect.

"So I've been told on many occasions," she answers, in slightly accented English. "You must have run quite the gauntlet to get here, my American friend. Surely you've been told that my wares are expensive - and rush jobs even more so." She turns to direct her smile at Mason. "That marks you as an unreasonable man, doesn't it?"
"Reasonable men don't buy armored suits," Mason points out. "And they definitely don't buy ones as good as yours. You're probably very used to dealing with unreasonable men."
"Oh, the world never seems to run out of them," she says. "Let's discuss your...needs, then. But first, I should probably help you get a bit more comfortable - this may take a while to get through." She turns away. "Guiseppe!" she calls. "The gentleman will have a" - she looks at Mason again - "an Old Fashioned. I do believe we have some WhistlePig under the counter." She smiles at Mason. "Would that be to your taste?"
Mason nods. "Thank you," he says to Guiseppe.
"And one for me, too," Hilke adds, before turning her attention back to Mason. "So," she asks, "what did you have in mind?"
"American in style, black, business but not tight enough that it impedes my work,” Mason says.
"Naturally," Hilke says. "Wilhelm! Get the materials." She turns back to Mason. "Any other considerations?"
"Diplomatic cover, so I'll be carrying a full-frame sidearm," Mason says. "The rest is up to you."
"Hmm," Hilke says. "I like a man who lets me do my work."

Guiseppe arrives with the drinks; Hilke hands Mason his tumbler, then holds hers out to clink glasses.

"To unreasonable men," she says.
"To doing the job right," Mason replies as his glass touches hers.


"You'll be Michael Williams," Operations reads through the phone as Mason travels back to the city center in his new suit. "You're replacing one Jeffrey Brown, who'll be getting double pay to wait in the limo - just in case. Ambassador Phelps is ex-CIA; he's not officially read in but he won't make your job harder than it needs to be, provided you do the same. Oh, and when you get the body, please be sure to dispose of it properly. We don't want to cover up a cover up."


The things you learn to appreciate about Europe: they have very, very no-nonsense morgues. This one, in the basement of the central hospital (ironically the one Abbing lied about holding Luc), is pretty much just a hallway with a reception desk to the side. It's staffed by a fifty-something male nurse with short, graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses making up most of his thin face. As per Mason's request, Senior Constable Hesselink - looking like this isn't much of a disruption of her non-existant sleep - is waiting for him there.

Tired though she may be, Mason can see her checking out his new suit. "I see you went shopping," she says. "Come on, I'll sign us in." She turns to the desk and receives the log book from the nurse. Mason takes the same, using the Stef Heimans identity from earlier.

With the formalities done, Hesselink leads Mason into the actual morgue. A resident's still working on preparing a body on the slab for autopsy when Hesselink asks her to "take a quick smoke break", and so she goes, though not without staring a bit longer at Mason and his eye-poppingly black suit. Hesselink moves towards the body, then picks up the almost completely blank report hanging from the slab.

"Is that the one?" Mason only has to briefly look to be sure that, yeah, that's Coemans - sans teeth and fingertips.
"That's him," Mason confirms. "I'm going to need his body. I have a van outside."
"Of course you do," Hesselink says. "And I'm going to need more than that. You're asking me to cover up quite a bit here."
"What do you want to know?" Mason asks.
"I have a feeling you know why he died," Hesselink says. "The how is pretty obvious."
"He was a double agent for the Ministry of State Security - the Chinese intelligence service," Mason replies. "We had figured that out, and so they killed him and made him more difficult to identify."
"No shit?" Hesselink asks, raising an eyebrow.

Mason nods.

"Double agent," Hesselink repeats. "So, the other side he was working for..."
"The Chinese," Mason says.
"And our side," Hesselink says. "What department was he working for?"
"That would be us," Mason says.
"Us," she says. "Right." She sighs. "I do this, we're even. Not that I don't appreciate your help with those shooters, but there's only so many favors I can do you before this needs to get...official."
Mason nods. "I'd like to read that report. Victim was foreign double-agent killed by his Chinese handlers during foreign denied operation that I participated in?"

Hesselink bites her lip. "You're right," she says.

"But yes, this does make us even," Mason says.
Hesselink shakes her head. "Okay. Take your colleague with you, I'll clear a way to the fire exit. And then lose my number."
Mason nods, collecting the personal effects and paperwork tied to the former Agent Coemans. Hesselink has turned and is two steps closer to the door when he speaks up again. "Are you on the security detail for the Royal Palace remembrance event?" Mason asks.
"No," she says, stopping and turning her head to look at him over her shoulder. "...you're not..."
"I don't know," Mason says. "But if you want me to lose your number, then I'd try to get on that detail, just in case."
"Just in case?" Hesselink asks. "In case of what?"
Mason looks at her. "If you really don't want me to contact you."
"Jezus," Hesselink sighs. "But...how? At the end of the day I'm just a regular cop, I can't just flash my badge and walk in there. I could get into the crowd control detachment outside...maybe."
"How about your tactical friends? Don't they have a presence inside?" Mason asks.
"I really wouldn't know," Hesselink says. "This whole thing is so far above my paygrade I'm getting dizzy just thinking about it. You're the big shot, why don't you pull some strings?"
Mason shrugs and extends his hand. "Do you have their number?"

Hesselink reaches for her wallet, browses through some of the business cards inside and retrieves one before handing it out to Mason.

"Good luck," she says. "Whatever you're doing, it looks like you'll need it."

Mason inspects the card. It's got an official KMar logo tucked away in the corner and a font for the name and number that seems to have been picked by the expedient of being the default in Microsoft Word '97. So, legit government work. Mason pulls his latest burner out of his pocket and dials the number.

After a few rings, the phone picks up. "First Lieutenant Arnts," the voice of the KMar commander comes through, loud and clear. "Who's calling?"
"Lieutenant Arnts, this is Agent Heimans, I have been working with Senior Constable Hesselink on the tower incident?" Mason says.
"Ah, you're that guy," Arnts says. Then he says "Thank you for your assistance," though it sounds a lot like "what do you want?"
"Your security detail for the Royal Palace event, it would be greatly appreciated if Constable Hesselink accompanied them," Mason says. "She is privy to sensitive details that your men are not."
"That's not how we do things here, Agent Heimans," Arnts says. "No offense to Constable Hesselink, but she's not qualified to work a security detail, much less THE security detail. The roster has been set in stone for weeks at this point."
"That is unfortunate," Mason says.
"Good luck with your investigation, Agent Heimans," Arnts says. Then he hangs up.

Well, that's a bit of a bummer. Mason draws in a sharp breath. Looks like another favor to cash in - that Randall character Blake got in with would know the right kind of people to make it happen. Mason's sure he can be convinced.

"Do you have a single stack subcompact pistol?" Mason asks Hesselink as he slides his phone back into his pocket.
"Something that fits in a clutch or purse?"
"Just my P99," Hesselink says, indicating the service pistol on her belt. "What kind of a question is that? I mean, where would I - I'm not in a gun club or anything -"
"We'll get you one," Mason says. "You should prepare your most formal dress for tomorrow - you'll be attending with the royal diplomatic party as part of their protection detail."

Hesselink narrows her eyes. There's only so far the whole "For King And Country" routine will go with her, and this seems to be reaching that point.

"If you're going to drag me into this, I'm going to need to know more about what's going on, 'Agent Heimans'."
Mason shrugs and pulls his burner out again. "Lock the door," he says as he dials Operations, keeping it off speaker for the time being and switching to Mandarin. "I'm thinking Constable Hesselink would be a good backup surprise for Fractal at the event - she has good instincts and can clearly handle herself. I'm thinking we get Blake's friend Randall to vouch for her with our friends in the Dutch intel service and put her on the royal diplomatic detail - but she wants to be read in. How much do you want to tell her?"

Hesselink looks at Mason like he's grown a second head.

"What's wrong with the truth?" Operations says. "We're hunting terrorists who want to disrupt the festivities."
"Works for me," Mason says. "You or me?"
"You want to play handler, you tell her," Operations says.
"Understood," Mason says, hangs up and turns to face Hesselink. "What do you want to know?"
"Let's start with what's going on, and in Dutch, please," Hesselink says. "Who are those people going around fucking up my city?"
"We don't know," Mason says. "They're connected to the bombings in Pakistan and India, some kind of false-flag attempt to kick-start a war, and they tried to do something similar here with Russia and the Netherlands."
"...fuck," Hesselink says. "But the shooters, they're...I think they're American? How does that fit together?"
"We don't know," Mason says. "Some kind of third party group here to steal a laptop that's basically a ready-made insurgency - funds, weapons - physical and cyber, blackmail and intelligence, including potentially valid nuclear codes."

Hesselink just stares into nothing for a moment.

"So...so, this is some..." she tries to say, "no-shit, saving-the-world thing happening?"
Mason nods. "Yep."
Her eyes narrow. "You better not be shitting me," she says.
"You've been looking into everything I've been telling you, you tell me," Mason says.
"Yeah, that's why this is scaring the shit out of me," Hesselink says. "Well, fuck. I'm already in this deep. Okay. I'll back you up tomorrow - I mean, if you can get me in there with a gun, I'll know this is for real, right?" She nods to herself. "Do I get an earpiece and a radio, too?"
"You'll get one with the detail - or do you mean with us?" Mason asks. "Do you really want one?"
"Fuck yes I do!" Hesselink says. "You're the guy who knows what the hell is happening, plus I need to observe and report, right?"

Phone comes back out, Operations is dialed again, but this time on speaker.

"You're on speaker," Mason helpfully informs her. "Constable Hesselink wants on our comms - I already asked her if she really wants to hear that, but it's your op."
Without missing a beat, Operations answers in Dutch - through a voice scrambler. "Constable Hesselink," she says. "I'm the operations officer assigned to this matter. I'm sure Agent Heimans has impressed upon you the importance of confidentiality. I cannot permit you to receive communications on our operations channel; you do not have the appropriate clearance. Agent Heimans will instead give you a phone number to dial if you need to contact him for any reason. I trust you know how to work a Bluetooth headset?"
"Uh, yeah," Hesselink says.
"Then that will have to suffice." Operations says, then something almost like emotion bleeds into her voice. "I'm sorry about all the secrecy, but you are taking a big enough risk helping us at all; knowing too much would make you a target for the people we're hunting."
"...I understand," Hesselink says.
Mason hangs up again. "I'll send you the number. Any further questions?"
"Just one," Hesselink says. "Are you sure we can stop...whatever's going to happen?"
"Haven't been certain about anything for a long time," Mason says. "Just keep your eyes open for anything strange, and be ready to protect the Royal party and back us up if anything happens."
"You got it," Hesselink says. "So...I guess I should clear you a path outside. Can you handle the body?"
"Trolley seems well maintained," Mason says.
"Okay," Hesselink says. "I'll...see you there?"
"I'll send you the information for a package with your pistol and anything else you'd need," Mason replies, and grabs the cart. "Ready when you are."
Gatac 2017-09-24 11:27:35
"'vis is Sage Virteen," Luc points out, as Blake pulls up the bug's surveillance on a fresh laptop.

It's both not much and more than enough; a live-feed webcam view of the MSS's security station and whoever is in front of it, to the tune of maybe one frame per second, a compressed audio feed and a live readout of a keylogger.

And there, sitting at the security station desk, is Liam Warren, with Sage Thirteen over his shoulder.

"- out of bright ideas, boss," Warren says. He's not currently typing because whatever he's doing, it's probably already running without user input. "There's only so much I can do."
"I'm paying you to find solutions," Sage Thirteen says.
"You're not paying enough," Warren says. Sage Thirteen doesn't reply, so Warren kinks his head. "Right, let me rephrase that. You're paying me enough, just so we don't have a misunderstanding on that point. But what you're asking for requires more boots on the ground, cooperation from local authorities, maybe even keyhole surveillance sats retasked. There's no magic 'find this man' button I can press here. We're already running Lagarde's picture through 35% of security cams in the city and all selfie machines with the Magic Background! app backdoor. This is as far as we get on your budget."
"And the others?" Sage Thirteen asks. "Coemans mentioned that Lagarde arrived with others."
"Mentioned being the key word," Warren says. "Did he get us pictures? Provide descriptions? Names? Did he ever share the location of their safehouse with us? Do we have anything at all from him I can use?" Warren sighs. "What about his phone?"
"Dumbphone, no SIM inserted," Sage Thirteen says. "I don't suppose you can figure out where he went regardless?"
"No GPS, no cell tower records - he's just not very useful, is he?" Warren says. "Forget Coemans. What about Clayton's team?"
"A little too arrested to ask them, still," Sage Thirteen says. "Forget them, too. Not our problem anymore."
"The bloody hell they're not!" Warren snaps, jumping out of his chair to face Sage Thirteen. "They've been here, they've seen our faces -"
"They're not our problem," Sage Thirteen insists, standing his ground. "It's being handled. What I want to know is how Lagarde got the gun from Coemans without you seeing it."
"You asked me to hide a camera in the room," Warren says. "I did. I hid a camera in there. I had a pretty good angle on the room, I think, but that's just it, one angle - and Lagarde must have figured it out. Maybe I could have seen it if I had a second or a third camera in there, but I didn't because you told me to hide a camera in there, just like in every other interrogation room, so if you wanted Google fucking Streetview in that particular room, you should have bloody specified that! Besides, you and Otto and Angelina were all in the room, and you didn't spot it on him, either."
"...Lagarde's good at what he does," Sage Thirteen admits.
"Which includes hiding," Warren says. "Bibi's reporting no movement at the workshop, either. Randall's phone is quiet, no calls to his cell - they're not going for him, either." Warren shrugs. "Don't know what to tell you, boss. They've gone to ground. We lost them. End of story."
"Then I guess we need to lure them out," Sage Thirteen says. "Stay here and keep looking. We will go ask Randall some questions. If they're as wired as I think they are, they're keeping an eye on him, too - and they won't want to lose their asset."
Warren is quiet for a moment. "That's...bold, boss," he says.
"Well, you haven't exactly provided me with any alternatives," Sage Thirteen says. "If you find anything, you let me know immediately."
"Naturally," Warren says.
"Get back to work," Sage Thirteen says.

As he turns and walks out, Warren stands alone for a few moments, then snorts and runs his hand through his hair. Walking back to the desk, he sits back down. After a second or so, he seems to look directly into the webcam and rolls his eyes, in a "Get a load of this guy" way. Then, he types out a message on his keyboard.


After a final nod and a mock salute, Warren begins tapping on the keyboard again - Blake can recognize some commands used to reconfigure a router. Seconds later, the connection to the bug stops responding and finally times out.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-09-29 17:44:27
"17 Lutmastraat," Laura Mayer tells Tim over the phone. "There's a hackerspace there, dark web stuff. Don't try to fit in, and don't compromise them. I need them there at least till next Wednesday." With that, Tim's ex-Mossad sometimes-info-broker hangs up.

Some time later, Tim follows a hoodie-uniformed youth through the front door. His sandy, shaggy hair's back in place, and a dark t-shirt and jeans was enough of a uniform across enough subcultures that the denizens didn't give him too much stink-eye. Despite the claustrophobic conditions, the fans, towers, and server racks afforded some privacy. Tim moved quickly, listening hard for the telltale sounds of oneupmanship. Sure enough, two college-age kids arguing over air gaps and transport protocols. It wasn't hard for Tim to insinuate himself into the conversation and further insinuate that his semi-truthful role as some sort of spook afforded these developers the chance to prove their work in real-life situations.

It took a while to haggle out the specifics, but Tim leaves 17 Lutmastraat with a nasty little war phone loaded with radioactive apps, hopefully the kind of gear the Royal Palace's security wasn't prepared for yet.
MikeS 2017-10-01 20:42:23
"I fink I should make vat call. Obviously not from 'ere. I'm going to take a walk," Luc tells Operations.

"Is someone going to go check on Randall? What are ve odds of ve Chinese getting to 'im before we can warn 'im? I 'eard 'e was pretty paranoid."

Luc grabs a burner of the stack and heads outside. Liam can trace the call instantly, of course, but being in an open area where the phone can connect to several towers, and being in a moving vehicle are all things that make it harder to get an exact location. Add to that some distance from the safe house.

Luc gets onto a bus, changes lines once, and calls from a stretch where the bus matches speed with the surrounding cars.

"Are you growing a conscience?" he asks when Liam picks up.
Gatac 2017-10-02 02:30:31
"Depends," Liam replies. No background noise or echo on his end of the call at all - either he's in a recording studio or he's running some good filtering software on his end. "This job has gone a bit above and beyond, in my estimation. There's messing with the CIA and then there's messing with the CIA, you know?" He pauses. "So, rather than earning myself a permanent spot on anyone's - do excuse my language - shitlist, I thought I should evaluate my options. Discreetly, of course - if Rosemary 69 hears about our little conversation, he might put the screws to me, and I do so hate being brutalized. I'm not a man who much values secrets, and right now I am holding on to one for free, which adversity might liberate from my lips quite easily, considering. And how very considerate of you to spare Angelina...Stana...whatever her real name is. You'll have to forgive me, I'm not very good at keeping everyone's names straight, especially the ones I do not give a toss about - like undercover thugs from a repressive regime. Or did you not actually know you're colleagues? Maybe you are just lucky. So, Lucky Luc, how about you make me an offer? Or would you prefer that I play a part in the production of another Serbian film?"
Gatac 2017-10-04 08:11:16
What a fine mess. Luc's mention of Randall spurs Blake into action - after all, that's his asset. Operations says something about "exposure", but Blake's already grabbed the Stingray and texted Mason for backup. He takes out Tim's new rental and races it against the rising sun. Fifteen minutes later, he pulls the car - Mason aboard now - to a stop a block down from Randall's workshop and boots up the Stingray. With any luck, Randall's hoarding cell phones - they just have to find the right one.

(Blake's Surveillance v 4 to get the number of a phone in Randall's evidence drawer:

1d6+2 = (1)+2 = 3 NOPE)

"Damn it," Blake mutters. Down to six numbers, somewhere on this block, all of which have IMEI's inactive enough to be a phone in a drawer - but what's the right one?
As Blake agonizes, Mason sighs. "I'll handle it," he says, then selects the first number and dials.

"Hello?" a woman answers. "This is Uta."
"Good morning," Mason says smoothly. "This is Thomás with NederTel. I was wondering if you had a minute to talk about your mobile phone provider -"
Click, beep beep beep.

"Next one," Mason orders, and Blake scrolls the screen for him. Mason dials. A jingle plays on the other hand. "Hello. You've reached the mailbox of one-six-one -"

Mason hangs up. "Next one." That one rings a few times, doesn't pick up but doesn't go to voicemail, either. Mason hangs up and waits.
A few moments later, it calls back - and it's Randall on the other end. "Whoever this is, you should not be calling this number."
"How's the weather outside?" Mason asks. "I heard it's cloudy with a chance of MSS agents tapping your lines."
"...hm?" Randall replies.
"I have Mr. Johnson for you," Mason says, and passes the phone to him.
Blake passes a "thank you" to Mason as he takes the phone. "Ah, Mr. Randall? Mr. Johnson here. I've heard some rumors about mice in your yard. Have you seen any?"
"Not interested in looking, Mr. Johnson," Randall answers. "If there's any chance that there might be a threat against me, I will evacuate as soon as possible. Your...brash...colleague mentioned the MSS compromising my phones. Your unorthodox method of contacting me indicates that you are both physically close and desperate to contact me without tipping off the MSS. The concern is appreciated and I will take it as a sign of the seriousness of the situation."
Despite himself, Blake grins a little at the use of the word 'brash'. Like a glove. Still, Randall didn't need to spell all this out...unless there were others already on site. "Yes, Mr. Randall. We just want to do our part in keeping the neighborhood clean. Just got a couple last things to talk to you about."

(Blake uses Bullshit Detector.)

Sure, Blake made a positive impression on Randall, but this doesn't quite add up. Why say he's evacuating without even checking outside? Randall's careful, but not that easy to spook. Bringing up the MSS again, plus that they must be physically close...feels like an attempt to confirm things. Possibly an attempt made with a pistol aimed at his back.

Blake quickly mouths 'go go go' to Mason, then starts talking into the receiver again. "Now, we're going to wire you the agreed-upon payment for your services so far to your account in five minutes, with a little extra. I'm sure you won't mind." Blake chuckles briefly as Mason exits the car and starts legging it for the workshop. "The last thing, then, is to thank you for everything you've provided to us so far. We're going to put it to very good use. Now, don't let me keep you. Just...keep your head down, my friend. Alright? Take care." Blake ends the call, and makes a break for Randall's workshop, hoping he's still there...and that they haven't moved him already.

Arriving at the workshop entrance, you can see that the lock on the front door has been drilled out - crude, but fast. Inside, you catch a glimpse of the ladder to the workshop space being down, with voices coming from above. Looks like they're still there. With a nod, Blake and Mason divvy up the task - Mason dashes for the nearest drain pipe, whips off his belt and starts ascending, while Blake draws his gun and ever so slowly edges into the building through the front door.

(Blake's Infiltration to get into the workshop without being noticed = (2)+5 = 7)

Blake inches towards the ladder and starts stepping - softly, and using the edges of the steps to minimize creaking. It's agonizingly slow, but slow is smooth and smooth is fast, that's what all the SEALs always tell him. And while this might not be the training course set up for covert ship boarding drills, the principle of it is the same: stay low, come through the hatch, rotate on your side so your belt buckle doesn't snag on the hatch's lip, then pull yourself along the floor, using your legs to stabilize the ascent and prevent yourself from banging against anything. Gliding like a snake, Blake works himself behind one of the many, many workbenches in the shop and peeks around the corner. However, what he's looking at are not mere henchies. Otto Keller's there, weighing a knife in his hand and a phone pressed to his ear in the other, while Randall's sat down on a chair. The way Randall's rubbing his throat, it seems like that knife was pressed against said throat during the phone call.

(Mason Athletics to climb = (3)+4 = 7)

Goddamn emergencies. Mason pulls his weight up onto the roof, forces the lock on a rooftop window with his knife, then glides down into Randall's apartment, using the bed for a soft landing. Mason rolls off it at once, already considering his options. The new suit is a sturdy piece built for work, but while they might be able to get out a few spots in time for the reception, explaining bullet holes would be harder. Plus, coming down from Randall's apartment...hmm, maybe there's a cleverer option here.


"Ja, I have him," Keller says into the phone. "No trouble. We are leavink now." He hangs up, then turns to Randall. "Get up, Mr. Bomb," he says. "My friends want to see you."

Blake's grip on his pistol tightens. When they come his way, it'll probably be Randall in front, with Keller holding a gun on him - need to wait until Randall passes, then -

Then there are footsteps coming down the stairs; Blake dares to glance around the corner and sees Keller pushing Randall back into the chair as he steps forward, knife at the ready. Then the sound reaches the workshop, and the door to the stairwell opens. You could hear a needle drop when Mason walks into the workshop in his oh-so-tightie whities. Randall looks at him in shock, while Keller - good God those dreadlocks why - regains his poise within a few seconds.

"Who ze fuck are you?" Keller growls, knife in hand.
"Oh my god," Mason says in Dutch, hands going up. "Randall, what is going on? I was making early breakfast and I heard -"
"- everything is all right," Randall jumps in. "Don't make any sudden moves, Claudio. Everything is all right. He's here for me, not for you."
Keller still eyes Mason but doesn't seem quite sure what to do next.
Mason steps carefully further into the workshop, positioning himself so that there's nothing valuable between or behind Otto. "Are you in some sort of trouble?"
"Everything is fine, Claudio," Randall says, then turns to Keller. "Please, let him go," he says in English. "He doesn't know anything."
"Fuck you, faggot," Keller says. He takes a few steps towards Mason, past Randall's chair, weighing the knife in his hand. "Claudio, huh?" he says. "You have a good memory, Claudio?"
Mason keeps his eyes on the blade - both good for his cover and for what he needs to do next. "Uh - uh, kinda?"
Keller goes from taking single steps to walking toward Mason. "Too bad for you, Claudio," Keller says.

(Mason to shoot Otto = (4)+2 = 6)

In a flash, Mason's right hand snaps towards his back, ripping off the pistol duct-taped to his back, John McClane style. Keller tries to dodge out of the way of the first shot, but can't quite manage it - the bullet digs into his shoulder. This would be an appropriate moment for anyone else to go down or at least flinch, but Keller's still coming strong.

(Blake's Shooting = (6)+2 = 8)

Just as Mason tries to reacquire and shoot him again, Blake jumps into action, drawing a bead and sinking a shot into Keller's back. Keller appears to stumble towards Mason, but his blade flashes - Mason ducks it, but Keller's not aiming at him, not really.

(Keller's Athletics = (2)+4 = 6)

Instead, he goes full tilt at the wall - and smashes through it, revealing it as drywall. Before either Mason or Blake can reacquire Keller as a target, he's gone through the wall and plunged through light ducting and drop ceiling of the ground floor cleanroom below.

(Chase ensues with an initial Lead of 3 and difficulty of 4!

Blake spends a point of Chemistry to fuck with Keller before he can get too far away, learning both that Keller's spending two points this round and reducing Keller's chase pool.

Keller's chase roll = (3)+2 = 5

Agents' chase roll = (1)+2+1 = 4)

Apparently unconcerned by two bullet wounds and falling through a ceiling, Keller rolls out of his landing and starts running for the cleanroom's exit. Mason's hot on his heels and jumps after him. Blake, spotting a canister of pressurized aerosol, pumps a round into that; the spray right in front of Keller causes him to flinch and duck under it, almost stumbling but somehow getting back on his feet again. You start to wonder what it's going to take to actually slow this guy down as you pursue him to the cleanroom's exit.

(Both succeed, but Keller has the better margin of success, so he increases the Lead to 4. A costly victory for him nonetheless.)

Keller's chase roll = (1)+1 = 2

Agents' chase roll = (4)+2 = 6

Blake uses Architecture, gaining a further reduction of the Lead.)

The question "What can stop Otto Keller?" remains tantalizingly unanswered, yet the question "What can slow down Otto Keller?" gets an answer, as he plows into the cleanroom's exit door and almost bounces off it. He scrambles his way through the heavy door as it opens and then out onto the street, but Mason's catching up on him. Just then, Blake bursts out through a window and tucks into a parkour roll landing, coming up just behind Keller as the chase sprawls onto the street.

(Keller fails, the Agents succeed, for a total shift of Lead by 3 down to 1! NOTE: This was miswritten as 2 in the Discord channel.

Blake spends a point of Urban Survival to set up a free melee attack for Mason.

Mason Weapons = (3)+2 = 5

The attack takes Keller below 0 Health, meaning he has to make a consciousness roll to avoid blacking out on the spot.

Keller's consciousness roll = (2) = 2

He barely makes it and stays up, but every roll he makes will have a +1 difficulty applied. And thus, we get to the chase rolls:

Keller's chase roll = (2)+2 = 4

Agents' chase roll = (1)+3 = 4)

Even a Teutonic Titan can't outrun the laws of biology for very long, though Otto Keller sure is trying. Blake spies an opportunity as Keller tries putting on a burst of speed, probably heading for the alleyway. He sees the car, the fire escape, the plant rafter…complete with hanging potted plant. Blake speeds up, jumps, hits the car hood square with one foot, flat on the roof with the other. Hands up, grab the edge of the fire escape. Feet up, kick the pot under the lid – hook comes up, pot comes down – just in front of Keller. He sees it coming, only takes a half step, but Blake’s there next to him before he can get his rhythm back. He hesitates, another half step.

Keller swerves to avoid it, but that takes him right in the path of Mason, who catches up and clocks him one good with the pistol in hand. Not how Blake planned it, but you take the win when you can. CRACK! goes the side of Keller's skull. The merc stumbles, runs a few more leagues, then finally steers himself into a pile of trash bags and collapses onto them. He's still squirming, as if to free a weapon, but he's definitely done running away from you.

(Keller fails, the agents succeed, the chase is over.

Blake burns a point of Intimidation to get Keller to back down.)

Mason stops a few feet short, pistol pointed squarely at Otto's face as he sucks in a winded breath. "Don't fucking bother," he pants.
Keller slowly turns in the trash, looking up at both Mason and Blake aiming their guns at him. He's got his knife in his hand, but he's holding the grip with his fingertips, and tosses it away onto the tarmac. "You got me...good," he croaks. "What now?"
"You come back and apologize for scaring my boyfriend," Mason says, then dials up the volume as he feels the eyes of an old lady watching the scene from her balcony on them. "Amsterdam PD, dirtbag! You're under arrest." He looks up to the old lady and favors her with a nod; she seems to nod back, then retreats back into her apartment. Mason turns to Blake. "I left my cuffs...back in the apartment, Constable."
Blake manages not to roll his eyes, but it's a close thing. "Along with everything else, it seems," he responds, also in Dutch.

(Mason uses his Preparedness to materialize some police equipment into Blake's pockets:

Mason Preparedness = (5) = 5)

Somebody had long fingers at the crime scene, hm? Blake gladly reaches into a little "cop equipment" satchel Mason prepared from their haul and produces a pair of handcuffs.

"Scheisse," Keller moans. His eyes roll back, and he passes out.
skullandscythe 2017-10-04 11:28:54
Blake responds to Ops that, unfortunate though it was, exposure was a risk they'd just have to take - Thirteen had guessed right that Randall's current work and connections to Dutch Intelligence were too valuable to lose right now.
Blake does move to secure Keller - cautiously at first, then more thoroughly as it becomes clear that Keller is not playing possum. Cuff, pat down, quick search, then he and Mason take their new catch back to Randall's, both to make sure Randall was okay, and to get off the streets quickly. Blake still figures the MSS has eyes out here, and Mason's quick bluff to the locals won't last long.

Only about as long as his clothes can stay on, apparently.
Gatac 2017-10-10 15:06:29
At Randall's place, the munitions expert is already on the phone with his benefactors, but not too busy to indicate to Mason and Blake where to put the unconscious Keller and where to find the first aid kit. Mason busies himself with stabilizing Keller's wounds while Blake waits for Randall to finish his call.

"Goddamn shit," Randall mutters after he hangs up, then turns to Blake. "It seems I am still deeper in your debt, Mr. Johnson," he says. "If there's anything -"
"Constable Hesselink," Mason cuts in as he packs the wound in Keller's shoulder with gauze. "We need her inside the Royal Palace today."
Randall raises an eyebrow. "I'm not sure -"
"The people who sent him are going to be there," Mason adds.
"And you, too?" Randall asks, but gets no further answer from Mason. "I see. I guess I'll forward her name to my contacts and let them figure out the details. I've got a few favors to call in." He turns back to Blake. "You've already cleaned out the materiel I could provide, so I suppose the only thing I can do for you right now is to leave out your involvement in this...incident? I've managed to delay the cops a few minutes, at least, but I'll still have to vacate the premises and give a statement. I'd be glad to work with you in the future, however, if you should ever find yourself in need of my services."
skullandscythe 2017-10-10 16:49:20
"Thank you for the offer," Blake replies. "We'll be on our way once our new friend here is ready to go."

The emphasis on 'new friend' manages to be completely devoid of friendliness.

"Just one thing, though I hate to trouble you given how little time either of us has - have you learned anything new about the filler?"
Gatac 2017-10-17 13:35:03
While Mason finishes up on first aidin' Keller, Randall gingerly walks over to a corner of the workshop. The bench there pivots aside, revealing a safe, which Randall opens to retrieve a small USB flashdrive.

"I had a feeling you might be back," Randall says, handing the flashdrive to Blake. "Spectral analysis results. It reads as Semtex, but without detection taggants - neither EGND nor DMDNB. Highly irregular, but consistent with your analysis of the munitions as a custom build. I'm afraid I can't speculate on where this might have been made, but perhaps someone more familiar with Russian explosives in particular can make use of the data to point you the way."

He shakes Blake's hand.

"Best of luck with your investigation, Mr. Johnson," he says. "God willing, we'll meet again in good health."
skullandscythe 2017-10-17 14:37:13
Blake's face falters as Randall confirms his suspicions, but he manages to slip the mask back on quickly. He even smiles - and one with some feeling to it - as he clasps Randall's hand.
"God willing, indeed," Blake replies. "Thank you, Mr. Randall, and stay safe."

Blake helps Mason with any last minute prep work, if necessary, and thanks him for his help as well once they're in the van.
MikeS 2017-10-18 00:14:20
"Vat is all you got? If you are looking for a ticket out of ve Chinese 'ole you doeg yourself, you will 'ave to do better van vat. I'll be listening to vat boeg you turned off."

Luc moves to hang up, but gives Liam a moment to put in a better offer.
Gatac 2017-10-18 00:34:33
There is silence on the line before Liam chuckles.

"Be seeing you," he says, then hangs up.
Gatac 2017-10-22 06:24:59
Mason and his new suit stroll right up to the US consulate on the edge of the Museumplein, a nice little brownstone surrounded by a not so nice fence. Exchanging a few nods with the obligatory Marines on guard, he finds a "motorcade" of two black limousines as they're packing up for the ride to the royal palace. As is, the trio of bodyguards give him a bit of a stinkeye - it's not that his suit is indecently more stylish than theirs are, but it costs money to make a suit that looks just right on a man without drawing attention to itself, and it's clear that Mason's suit has had that money spent on it, while they're languishing in the 500 dollar tier of incredible deals on made-to-order suits.

"Mace," the leader of the bodyguard element - big, black, born in a suit - introduces himself with a firm handshake. "You're riding with Caroline and Pete," he adds with a glance at his colleagues, a woman sporting a buzz cut and piercing brown eyes, as well as a guy whose mustache exudes a certain undeniable Texas-ness. "Don't get in our way," Mace finishes.
"I'm sure he'll be fine," a balding man with in his fifties says as he walks out of the consulate front door, wearing a very nice light blue three-piece suit. "Kerry Lewis," the consular says, also shaking Mason's hand. "Glad to have another old war-dog on the team. Black Knights '91, second into Iraq after the Brits." He grips a little tighter. "Your boss said this might get kinetic," he says in a low voice.
"That's our department, Sir," Mace says.
Lewis doesn't let go of Mason's hand, or break eye contact with him. "Don't worry about me," he finally says, after what seems like a detailed visual assessment of Mason's better qualities. "I can handle myself. You just get the job done."


La Presse, that rock of Québécois print journalism, doesn't often send media teams to Europe, but in light of recent terror scares in Europe, the Dutch Day of Remembrance seems particularly poignant, especially as it is rumored that the King will use his speech to both denounce extremism and plead for staying the course against violence - sentiments that, just a few years ago, would have sounded trite, but now take on both greater urgency and (dare we say it) might invite controversy. And wherever polite dissent might be approaching, Canada cannot be far behind.

And so it is that Chad Yachtzmann, the one-quarter-Dutch-on-my-mother's-side reporter, and Spencer Freneau, the sort-of-reverse-Louisiana-Creole photographer, are having a little meeting in the "PRESS" security queue with their producer/second reporter Joanna Généreux.

Except it's really Tim and Blake getting a first unobstructed look at what they think is Valentina de Silva, Agent of FRACTAL. Except Tim's been around enough secret agents to tell when somebody's wearing a subtle full-face mask. Easier to pull off when you're a woman and meant to be in heavy make-up and can therefore pull off looking a bit "fake", but still.

"I was really hoping to speak to your boss," deSilva(?) says. "But I guess she'll find her own way inside. Let's save the shop talk for later, then?"
punkey 2017-10-22 10:35:20
"Good to hear," Mason replies, finishing the handshake/battle of masculinity with a strong shake. "Glad to be working with professionals," he continues as he looks from the consul to the bodyguards. "This isn't my first goat fuck, so just let me know what positions you need me in and I'll be there - and when I'm not going to be, I'll let you know."
Gatac 2017-10-22 11:01:09
Caroline cracks a grin at the phrase "goat fuck", but it's Mace who answers.

"You'll be bringing up the rear when we're moving," Mace says. "When we're put, you sweep the crowd, keep moving, and when you see something, say something. That's usually Caroline's beat but I'm sure you'll prove that a guy can do just as good a job. More importantly, it keeps you and any bullets you might try to catch as far away from Mr. Lewis as possible."
Mason nods. "Smart play, that's been kind of a problem recently." He pauses. "You guys work with...outside three-letter backup often?"
"Of course," Mace says. "DSS, FBI, DEA...all the good guys."
"I take it that doesn't include my current employers?" Mason asks, looking at his three new coworkers. Mace might as well be wearing a "Ask me about my opinions on the CIA", but Caroline winces when he reels off his shpiel, while Pete and Lewis seem content to watch things play out for the moment.
"Not usually, no," Mace finally says.
"You're not usually this chatty, Mace," Pete weighs in.
"I don't usually have these kinds of complications," Mace answers. "I'm watching you, spyboy."
"Gentlemen," Lewis says. "We all salute the same flag, don't we? Let's not keep his Majesty waiting."
"Sounds good to me," Mason replies. "Lead the way."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-10-23 13:58:44
Tim/Chad nods. "Oh sure. Couldn't pick a nicer place to wait, though," he adds with a touch of endearing Canadian accent.
Gatac 2017-10-28 03:50:26
After a short (distance), long (time) ride, the consul's motorcade finally approaches the royal palace at a crawl, blocked on both ends by other cars trying to navigate the chaos of the inner city on a national holiday. Mason can't help but think about tangos with RPGs on rooftops, but fortunately, the handful of snipers he does spot on overwatch around the palace and Dam square all seem to be KMar operatives. As the car pulls to its final stop at the heavily secured "VIP" side entrance, Mace and Caroline - as well as Pete, presumably, in the second car with the consul - do a final press check on their pistols before straightening their suits.

"Look sharp, spyboy," Mace says. First out of the car - and there's a loud murmur from the distant crowd, even here in the side street -, he does the "look around and talk into his sleeve" thing, then it's time for everyone else to get out.

With the consul in the middle, the team quickly forms a diamond formation around him and walks him to the entrance, past a pair of uniformed KMar slinging C8NLD automatic carbines and into the palace proper. Inside, there's yet more KMar and a few uniformed cops, as well as a handful of suits who apparently belong to the permanent security detail of his Royal Highness. The entrance hall here is not meant for the public, and retains its opulence only where that doesn't conflict with practical matters of security. Speaking of which, a security checkpoint looms ahead, with an airport-style X-Ray conveyor belt and a metal detector arch. Sitting to the side of that are two German shepherds wearing KMar-branded harnesses, together with their armed handlers - probably bomb-sniffing dogs. One seems to perk up as Mason approaches - she can probably smell the traces of the taggants from the C4 Mason's been handling - but ultimately doesn't bark at him, though her handler gives Mason a thorough once-over before seeming to defer to a nod from Mace.

And just like that, it's Mason's turn at the security gate. "Please place all weapons or metal items on the tray," the didn't-join-the-cops-to-play-Siri operator at the X-Ray machine says to him. As Mason turns to disarm momentarily, he spots Constable Hesselink on the other side of the security cordon, wearing a kinda-nice dress and clutching at a handbag just big enough to conceal a pistol inside.


The security at the "public" entrance is no less thorough; after the whole X-Ray and metal detector rigmarole, Blake's sequestered for a hard screen when a bomb-sniffing dog does bark at him. He then spends a few minutes getting quizzed on the contents of his camera bag. Presumably, the officer asking him to describe all the lenses isn't a photography geek, but merely making sure that Blake's on the up and up as a photographer; not a problem, that, as Blake effortlessly chews his ear off about f-stops and aperture, eh, while another officer pats him down. After that, deSilva(?)'s digital recorder and audio setup only needs to demonstrate that it can be turned on, record a few words and play them back before the officer is satisfied with their search and waves the lot of you through.

You swim in an ocean of other reporters and not-so-V-IPs all the way up the narrow main staircase, boxed in by marble on all sides. Government building though this might be, the splendour of the interior decorations is a proper fit for the title of "palace", and when the crowd finally opens up into the main hall, with its gorgeous astronomical theme floor and chandeliers, Blake has to resist the urge to start shooting some pics just because.

deSilva(?) leads you into a bit of a quiet corner by one of the tall windows.

"So, about that negotiation," she begins.
"About that, indeed," Operations says. You turn to see her approach in a very nice dress, accompanied by a red-haired man in a tuxedo who'd look equally at home with a rubber apron, a face mask and two gallons of piranha solution in his hands. "Don't mind me, boys," she tells you, "just here to put my cards on the table."
"Witty," deSilva(?) says.
"And I'm charmed, Ms..." Operations says, putting out a hand and putting on her best smile.
"White," deSilva(?) replies, accepting the handshake. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Ms..."
"Oh, I should hope I do," Operations says. "You know who I am. We took your invitation. Now what?"
deSilva(?) frowns. "We intercepted some chatter on the darknet. I can have the chat logs sent to your men for analysis, but the gist of it is that the organisation you know as RoE has managed to place five operatives inside this event."
"Exactly five?" Operations repeats impassively.
"To judge from their code names in the discussion," deSilva(?) explains. "Unfortunately, the only bit of the conversation we were able to dig up was their discussion of an...exit strategy. It involves a certain particular form of Semtex - no taggants, all but undetectable. We believe the explosion is intended to open a secure escape tunnel underneath the palace - and collapse part of the foundation behind them to cut off pursuit. There's no telling what that'll do to the palace itself and the people inside." She pauses for effect. "And that's just their escape. God knows what their actual main objective is."
"Nothing good, if I had to bet," Operations says, then turns to you. "How do you want to play this, boys?"
skullandscythe 2017-10-30 23:41:24
Blake tries to gauge DeSilva's(?) reactions, only now realizing the presence of the full-face mask due to the lack of microexpressions. But while her face says nothing and her tone is professional, her breathing is quicker than it was when they were in line. She's not lying about this.

Blake shakes his head and starts putting his camera together. "Joanna," he refers to DeSilva's(?) alias, "if you could furnish Milady with the logs, please? The sooner they're analyzed, the sooner we can stop playing catch-up. Additionally, if there is anything else you know, now would be an excellent time."