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B: The Santos Scheme

Episode 03

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#21
Rivel

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“I’m pretty sure that man drooled on the key.” Nick said.

 

The ‘motel’, and that was being generous, was a hole.  Hab modules purchased by an enterprising businessman/slumlord.  Of course they preferred cash or anonymized currency cards, and the key was still hardware: cheap plastic.  You could pay by the month, by the week, by the day, or by the hour.  Nick paid for a week.

 

He deadbolted the door and closed the blinds.

 

Time to go home, Quola had said, but when you were playing a role, home changed with that role.  Home was the open road, and this was just a pit stop for a while.

 

“Gonna be honest, most of the time these places aren’t awful.  The area might be, but the insides are pretty standard.  Might want to check the sheets just in case, though.”

There was a certain awkwardness in the air.  He and Quola were comrades, sure.  Friends, he hoped, but now they were playing a role unfamiliar to her, and in a way that was unfamiliar to him. 

 

“I hope Rod found a place to hole up,” he said, filling the dead air.  “Think you can risk a message, or are you not sure how pre-bugged the network is?”

 

“Also, do you want first shower, or second?” he said, trying to keep things professional, but it was going to be time to feel out that minefield sooner or later, might was well jump in.



#22
Hiro Protagonist

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Natalya hit the network hard. She started with politics, looking for public and government sentiment about the slum. It was about what she expected to find.

She had never been poor, exactly. But she knew what it was like to live in the unpopular part of town. To be silently blamed for the perceived blight. She often wondered at her father's bizarre behavior, in hindsight. No one knew what he had amassed until the will was read.

His pretence at lower middle class struggle gave her a sense of the real world. That sense was coming back, now that she was in a place worse than any ghetto she had ever lived in.

Next stop was locating the activists.. She started collecting files on everyone advocating for the poor, especially those looking at education. That stuff was to be packaged and sent to her lawyers. Best to let them do the knocking. Her part was the micromanaging debutante. No one with her kind of money showed up hat in hand, unless the other side had orders of magnitude more. She needed them to come to her.

She trolled the job boards, until she found a set that seemed likely to be frequented by the locals. She quickly dashed off a job add for a local guide and assistant. She fired that off to Alexi, for review, with a critical flag. She had no idea, or interest in, what it was like to get email in one's head, but she hoped the priority flags came with some kind of attention grabbing alert. It amused her to imagine a little alarm ringing in Alexi's skull.

Despite the game, she wanted to make sure bringing a local in fit with his plans for the op. She understood the risk, but black ops wasn't her thing. Not like this, anyway.

Hide in plain sight. There was no way the base of operations was going to pass for a philanthropic venture without a thorough cleaning, at least. She needed a guide to get the most out of the least time.

She pulled a list of the local politicians responsible for the area and fired that off to Alexi as well. Who can be bought? That was the question.

She sent all of her messages, instructions, and a note to her mother. Then focused on her kit. Small arms, concussion weapons and flashbangs for the most part. She had gone with low profile armor, rather than her tactical gear. She almost doubted she would need it.

There was nothing left to do but wait.

#23
Coolhand

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Cursory analysis backed up what Nick was saying.
 
"I've lived in worse, still going to do a bug sweep though. Motel owners have a nasty habit of leaving cameras where you don't want them to be."
 
Setting her Sari-C to look for wireless transmissions she got down to the manual part of the sweep answering Nick's second question as she did, painfully oblivious as to how awkward he was being.
 
"Network isn't bugged so much as it's a mess. Even an amateur could get inside and listen in. But unless someone is specifically trying to find us it should be safe to contact others."
 
Trumph spread on her face as she found a micro camera hidden by the bathroom mirror, giving it a little wave and a wink she deposited it in a drawer.
 
"I already told the old man where we'd be, shot Rod a message as well. Suggested he rejoin with the others, but thats up to him."
 
She emerged from the bathroom, satisfied with her sweep.
 
"Showers clean if you wanted to go in. I'll finish up while you scrub up. Try not to wash your hair tonight, the dye might fade."
 
It had not entirely dawned on her that they'd be living together for a week, not until she discovered there was only one bedroom and only one double bed. Her face flushed a little upon realising this, but she shrugged it off and renwed her search. It was she who had chosen to play this couples role and if that meant sharing a bed then thats what she'd do. 
 
"Besides, it's not like you hate the idea anyway." she thought to herself, a smile forming in the corners of her mouth.


#24
CrazyDreamer

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The swing through the slum had produced a variety of ground-level commerce catering to the basic needs of humanity. A barber operating in the street with nothing more than an apron, some sheets, three battered chairs, and a comb and scissors had called out to Nick, telling him to take off his hat and get a nice haircut instead. He made a similar suggestion to Rod when he drifted past.

 

A bodega had offered directions to the bar, not to mention a small variety of basic groceries, check-cashing and money-transfer services, and, predictably, bottled alcohol. Possibly it was even the alcohol that had originally been in those bottles, although in that case the prices suggested it had fallen off a truck at some point.

 

Evening had crept in on the way to the bar, and the flicker of neon lighting up momentarily drew their eyes to the top of the central tower, where the glow of a crude pictogram suggested the presence of some sort of computer or network access, maybe even a net cafe. If someone wanted a clear line of sight for a satellite dish or transmission tower, that would certainly be the place.

 

The bar . . . the bar was interesting. It had a few tables outside, and the clientele appeared to be locals who stretched their drinks as long as possible while chatting with each other. Some of them took an interest in the outsiders, although there were no obvious nibbles at the hooks Nick was throwing out. Rod wasn't making any noise and was left alone in return. When Nick made to stumble out, a man in a loud Hawai'ian shirt stumbled out after and suggested, with not-quite-drunken camaraderie, that he knew of a place where Nick could find all sorts of fun. He pressed a cheap business card into Nick's hand and left; the card was little more than a map to an establishment on the outskirts and the bland name "The Den". He was gone by the time Rod followed them out the door.



#25
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Natalya's lawyers jumped to it with the alacrity and lack of fuss that she expected of them. It would probably be a day or two before word got out and replies and inquiries started coming back from non-profits and advocates.

 

Alexi got the job listing as a little translucent, orange icon along the right side of his vision. For most users this option would have generated a nice "floating" effect as if it were a little ways in front of him, but Alexi's left optical nerve and visual processing had been damaged for too long to fix with a simple implant; his Sari-C, like the rest of his vision, was strictly monocular. He opened the message and speed-read through it so he could recall it later when generating expense reports (if all went well and they got paid), and sent it back with a simple, "Looks good." Alexi was a bureaucratic legend and knew people and could trade favors with NCOs and executive assistants everywhere, but when it came to more creative forms of skulduggery he relied on and trusted his team.

 

Alexi had been digging into the local politics already, so he had a ready response to her second question, as well. There was a mishmash of agencies and political committees with responsibility for this or that, but generally speaking it looked like no-one could be overtly bought on the political hot potato that was the favela. That being said, where politicians could do nothing themselves, they might be persuaded to facilitate a philanthropist coming in and doing something charitable. After all, if things turned out well, the politician could highlight their support for it in campaign ads; if it turned out poorly, they could always claim to have been misinformed. Welcome to black ops social services. . . .



#26
Hiro Protagonist

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Natalya posted her job ad, and considered the other information she received from Alexi. It looked like horse trading to her. Not exactly one of her skills.

Better than going it alone, however. She didn't expect to have time to manage the details. If there was a chance that someone local, and connected, could be enticed into making the school happen, so much the better.

Something about that line of thought bothered her, but she wasn't interested in pursuing it. She focused on figuring out whose asses needed kissing and where to find appropriate wardrobe for the task.

She also considered who she could use. Alexi, of course, though she wasn't certain he would project the right image. On the other hand, having him play body guard wouldn't interfere with the mission. She was certain he could coordinate the operation from a burlap sack. Swee, perhaps. If he hadn't already developed a line of inquiry.

She sent the suggestions to Alexi, detailing the need to go shopping, see a hair and makeup artist, and generally prepare to press the flesh. She added a question about cross referencing the list of movers and shakers with people who might benefit from, or be afraid of the assassin. It might be helpful to drum up leads, at best. The least it could do is create enough spectacle to draw attention away from the truly undercover teams.

She also admitted that she likes the idea of seeing Swee in a properly fitted suit.

#27
Rivel

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The night had been peaceful, but Nick didn’t get much sleep.   Part of it was paranoia, part of it was a different kind of tension altogether.

 

The next morning he washed his shirt in the sink, put on one of the other changes of clothes he’d brought, and resumed his scouting of the city.  Last night he’d scoured the gutters, this time he would check the eaves.

 

‘Can we skulk?  I haven’t skulked in ages’ an old memory from… somewhere rattled around in his head.  Maybe later.  For now he just walked some of the upper level walking paths that had been formed over time.  Bits of plasteel laid down across rooftops, or barriers alongside little vegetable gardens.  Cute.

 

As he got a bit higher, he started to get a better look at the transmitter tower.  He tried to trace where it could be connecting, although he might need proper climbing gear and the dark of night to actually get close enough to figure that out.  Maybe later.

At last night approached again.

 

“I’m going to check out The Den.  I don’t know if it’s members only or what, but hopefully this card can get us both in.  If not, I’ll need you nearby.  I’m not sure what I’m getting into.”



#28
gradius

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The whole of yesterday was a novel experience (not counting a rather bizarre one that happened a few years back).  And today was a continuation of that experience.

The means to this novel experience, was a piece of applique that added ten years to his looks.  In short, it made him look like a young man of military service age rather than a kid that skipped out of middle school and would be spending a lot of his time running away from truant officers.

Aside from being able to walk within five meters of a law enforcement official without being asked if he was lost (in the sense of an adult asking a kid if he was looking for his parents), yesterday was dull.  Mostly.  Right up until Nick was handed a note and the hander disappeared.

Today he'd followed Nick through a loftier route.  Nothing had happened yet but as day progressed to night, Nick got in touch with him and laid out a basic plan.  "Will do.  Want me to call it in?"



#29
CrazyDreamer

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Natalya spent the next day shopping and "beautifying" and ass-kissing. Alexi tagged along. As it turned out, he was at least as skilled as her in the wardrobe & style department; a decade or more hanging out with the brass at fancy parties apparently paid off. He'd gotten her onto a few people's schedules, and while she schmoozed with them, he worked their secretaries, personal assistants, and entourage. It wasn't immediately clear what good any of that would do, but various people had promised to call people and then give Natalya/Alexi a call (or have their people call her people) and if nothing else they were at least making some noise.

 

That being so, it shouldn't have surprised Tommy when someone knocked on the safehouse door shortly before Natalya and Alexi arrived back.



#30
CrazyDreamer

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Nick skulked with acrobatic grace. Eventually he had to come back down to ground level, though, because "The Den" turned out to be a small, freestanding 2x2x2 block on the edge of the slum, the same as the safe-house Natalya was in except about 150° around the perimeter. There was no sign outside, but the lights were on and a small satellite dish was visible at one corner, the quiet hum of a generator suggesting that the establishment either needed an unusual amount of power or had no internal generator and was "off the grid."

 

More immediately, there was a well-groomed man in a dress shirt and dress pants standing next to the door, watching the street. His sleeves were rolled up, and he didn't look like he was waiting for someone.



#31
Rivel

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So, that was it, eh?  Not much to look at, but no real cover, either.  Probably at least a few cameras, and a camera-spotter would quickly be noticed by those inside.
 
Time for the direct approach.  He walked calmly up to the door, card in hand and hands swinging freely.  When the bouncer noticed him, he raised the card to eye level then resuming walking casually.
 
"This The Den?" he asked, "I'd like in."


#32
Abaddon

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The last few days had been a blur to Tommy. As much as it Paine's him to admit it he was out of his depth at this stage of the operation.

Give him a nice clean target any day of the week over this subterfuge.

While the team was out doing their bits Tommy stayed in the safe house, keeping things in order and constantly cleaning the small cache of weapons.

The knock on the door broke him from his reflection. He quietly and quickly stashed any equipment that would seen out of place.

Grabbing one of the pistols he moved to the door and asked, "What do you want?"

It was probably nothing, hopefully nothing.

#33
CrazyDreamer

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"Let me in before they see us talking, idiot."

 

A quick glance through the peephole confirmed Tommy's worst fears: She was tall. She was blond. She was wearing a simple black mourning dress and one of those hats with a tiny black veil that made it unclear if the person was attending a funeral or a fashion show. She was free of almost any of the dust that was unavoidable in the slum.

 

She was trouble, and she was glaring at his front door.



#34
CrazyDreamer

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The seeming bouncer glanced at the card, gave the newcomers a quick visual once-over, and simply inclined his head towards the door.

 

Inside, the difference from elsewhere was apparent: none of the other patrons looked over when they came in. There were several booths, a bar with a grainy video feed of the VF races and current odds, a doorway to the back with the suspiciously over-enthusiastic giggle of hostesses emanating from within, and a suggestively dressed man and woman sitting next to a stairway decorated with a hanafuda motif. It was dimly-lit, seemingly clean, and had a penchant for red carpet and mirrors.

 

Oh, and there was a small, elderly man of Japanese descent wearing a slightly-too-large tuxedo-style jacket with red rose embroidery. Approaching them. With his hands clasped in an obsequious manner. "Welcome to our humble establishment. What can we do for you today?"



#35
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It took Tommy's brain a few seconds longer than it probably should have to process the information his eyes were seeing.

 

"What in the hell..."

 

Reluctantly he pulled the door open and motioned the woman inside. Ensuring the door was closed and locked behind her he returned to his seat, facing both the door and the woman.

 

He allowed himself a few moments to collect his thoughts before speaking again. "Can I help you miss.."



#36
CrazyDreamer

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The woman remained standing.

 

"A friend of mine told me you're trying to catch the bastard who killed my husband. I want the chance to look him in the eyes before you hand him over."



#37
Rivel

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Nick looked about the place, soaking in the details.  Somehow he felt Alexi would like this place.
 

He also set his eyes on the man he was talking to, taking in a detail or two while trying not to be obvious.

"New in town, 'tween freight jobs.  Out last night and a guy in a floral shirt said this was a better place to be, better place to look for opportunities, maybe he meant."
 

"Nice style you have here.  Classy."

Making use of my High Society skill to gauge how genuine this guy is, and looking for cameras and suspicious behavior, scuff marks on the floor, that kind of thing.



#38
CrazyDreamer

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Booze, hostesses, gambling, and whores, a poor man's high society dressed up in casino chic: to Nick's practiced eye, nothing out of place, assuming that place was a hive of fake-classy iniquity. Judging by the hanafuda designs and the manager's attire, one run by the Yakuza, to boot.

 

The man glanced over to Quola and back to Nick. "Ah, a freighter and his . . . companion. So you're looking for opportunities?"

 

Okay, that was out-of-place. And Quola's sari-C threw up a yellow flag as local network traffic spiked, requiring it to reroute its connection to a weak signal from a nearby building to avoid dropping out entirely.



#39
Rivel

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Nick started to reach up and run a hand through his hair but settled for knuckling against his chin, remembering the dye job.  It seemed like his hair just didn’t want to hold color at all.

“Well… S’complicated. She’s a techie.  Real dinkum thinkum computerwoman.  When I had to stay… well, she’s here a while.”

There was emotional complexity in that line.  Words unsaid.  Affection… that was real even if the story was not.  Also lingo that was old when Nick was newborn, but retro jargon was in again.

"And yeah, I suppose I am."



#40
CrazyDreamer

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"Well, then, have a seat and order a drink. Who knows; maybe your luck will change." The manager led them to a booth.







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