À Longueur D'avance
|À Longueur D'avance|
|Part of Two Steps Ahead|
Réseau des Faussaires
|Dassault Aviation||Rival Runners|
In which the runners are tasked with replacing a few lines of code in a routine diagnostics update.
In Recruitment Drive, Amrei Veidt made contact with a highly-placed Aztechnology engineer and made him a mole for S-K. In Data Jacking a key string of code was surreptitiously stolen from a data courier, which Amrei and her confederate were able to modify to create a kill code for the engine of Aztechnology's pride and joy, the Mk. 1 Blood Hawk. Now that her plans are coming to fruition, she requires a team to insert it into the main Dassault server without being detected so that it will be placed into the next diagnostics update. There is a hurdle to overcome however - another hacker from the Helix called Kaleidoscope is targeting the same server with the goal of recovering sensitive information with which to ransom a large payment out of the company. Unfortunately part of their MO is to leave a signature to prove the threat of releasing their sensitive information is a legitimate one, and any sign of such a breach will trigger an investigation that will inevitably uncover her sabotage before she can take advantage of it. Thus she has been forced to expedite her timeline and hire outside help to get the job done quickly and quietly.
Amrei contacts the runners (mostly through their fixers, directly in the case of Zenith) and arranges a meeting over the Matrix, where she explains that she has an job which will require them to travel to Paris and undertake a dangerous infiltration into a highly secure facility and insert some of her code into a protected server while remaining undetected and dealing with skilled opposition from rival runners. For their services she offers fifty thousand nuyen, as well as her recommendation for provisional membership with the Helix should they succeed without their work being discovered. While the group has reservations, they are tempted by the prospect of such a payday, and Janus is especially interested when he learns that Dassault (where his former persona used to be employed) will be the target of the operation. After some questions, the group accept the job and Amrei provides them with plane tickets for a flight from SeaTac to Charles de Gaulle, making arrangements to have the team's gear and Zenith's vehicles transported separately so that the group will have suitable equipment and transportation.
The first of several obstacles to overcome is getting through the airports/customs. Heracles and Zenith's fake SINs hold up and the two are waved through, however Ice and Janus are "randomly" selected for additional screening; while Ice is able to smooth talk and stall for time, Janus finds himself a bit flustered by the scrutiny of the airport police, so Zenith steps in and gives him an excuse by pretending to be a business associate, planting novacoke on him and accusing him of having a drug problem. The guards are not fools however, and the group are barely able to keep them from putting Janus under arrest long enough for the officer in charge to get a (fake) message ordering him to let Ice and Janus go free. The SINs however will surely be burned next time they are scanned, meaning that making contact with local forgers is even more imperative.
Thankfully the flight to France is relatively uneventful - the group take time to read Amrei's dossier on the facility they are to infiltrate (Dassault's main HQ, located in La Defense, a highly-secure corporate enclave - specifically wired server J-42 located in sub-basement level two) as well as their opposition (a technomancer who has committed several high-profile data thefts targeting major European corporations, always leaving a signature to mark their work). Convinced that they will have their work cut out for them, and with only a few days before the next update is set to go out, they start to plan out their moves.
Zenith (having worked in Europe before and developed some connections there) is aware with his knowledge of the shadow community that to operate in Paris one would be well-served to use fake SINs made by the Faussaires, a network of counterfitters who tailor their work to the data gathering algorithms employed by Marianne and the Neo-PD. With Janus and Ice's false identities compromised after the incident at the airport, this becomes their first priority. Amrei is able to use S-K's influence to smooth things along with customs upon entering the country, after which the group immediately proceeds from the airport into "La Zone", the northern suburbs of the city where Marianne's reach has yet to take complete hold.
"La Zone" has more co-op housing projects and functioning infrastructure than the Seattle barrens, but the feeling of an oppressed underclass struggling under a boot heal remains apparent in any culture. En-route to the safehouse, Ice spots some graffiti quoting Les Misérables and notices that it appears to be active on the Matrix (thanks to the nanites in the paint), though it is running silently. Curious, she attempts to hack it, getting marked for her efforts with a silhouette of a figure in a flat cap and scarf. Zenith starts to get nervous when he spots a Neo-PD drone eyeballing them suspiciously, but Ice clears the mark and manages to mark the graffiti in turn, discovering an encrypted and databombed file that appears to have been intentionally fragmented; managing to clear the data bomb, decrypt, and make copies of the fragments in short order, they quickly speed off and manage to lose pursuit.
At the safehouse, the group finds at least seven bugs planted by Amrei, with the near-certainty that there are more present they haven't located. Resigned to having their conversations monitored, they start to work on a plan to make contact with the Faussaires. After describing the mark briefly placed onto her deck by the graffiti, they determine that it was likely left as a clue for diligent hackers to unravel, so Heracles and Ice both decide to take cereprax and get to work recompiling the file.
While the hackers work, Zenith talks with Janus about his skillset, and Janus says that he can speak fluent French and has history with Dassault - or rather, his incompletely deprogrammed alternate personality does. He explains that he believes he was a deep-cover operative placed there by some unknown organization, and that as Caleb Blanche he was a low-level janitor assigned to clean the main floor and the first sub-basement; as the server they need to access is located in the second sub-basement, his insider knowledge could prove vital to getting them inside undetected. Unfortunately he is unable to trigger the personality shift at-will, explaining that it only happens during times of severe stress - thus he asks Zenith to physically interrogate him to make it happen, then question "Caleb" for relevant details while making it seem like he's been kidnapped.
Having pieced the file back together, Heracles and Ice find that it looks to be a cryptogram which is solved by answering a series of logic puzzles and bits of historical trivia; with a mystery on their hands, Ice contacts Informer for assistance, with the spirit arriving in short order to lend some (lack of) colour to the scene and provide a source of esoteric knowledge to bounce questions off of. The two nerds and the spirit proceed to enjoy cigarettes and whiskey while doing brain teasers for the next few hours, while in another room upstairs Zenith ties up and "interrogates" Janus, mostly through physical assault and threats of violence - Janus proves remarkably composed, but eventually the feeling of a cold revolver barrel pressed under his chin causes him to revert back to the Caleb Blanche persona.
"Caleb" is understandably terrified when they come to blindfolded and tied to a chair with various surface-level bruises while being questioned by a violent stranger, but quickly starts to provide some useful intel - including his employee number, his supervisor's name (Sinclair), and the fact that Dassault employs several pixies in their maintenance and IT departments, to the point that parts of the second sub-basement can only be accessed by the tiny metasapients (or a system of rail drones). Before he can offer more however the stresses of the interrogation force him back into his Janus persona. Satisfied for the moment, Zenith unties him and sees to his wounds.
Downstairs, Heracles and Ice manage to crack the cryptogram with Informer's aid - it appears to be a call sign, along with an address and a time. Having determined that it likely belongs to the Faussaires and that this is likely their best chance to contact them, the group pursue the lead.
The Lost Children
The location information in the cryptogram leads to a bar in La Zone called Les Enfants Perdus, where an agent of the Faussaires will be at midnight looking for those clever and skilled enough to find the resistance cell. Dressing appropriately down, the group makes their way over, spotting a bird drone observing the scene but concluding it is likely a lookout for the Faussaires rather than a spy for Marianne (in fact it is neither, instead belonging to the Green Team and left behind to observe after they made contact with the group).
Inside the bar, the group drink and socialize, attempting to ingratiate themselves into the crowd (all except Heracles, who is somewhat socially awkward and does not speak French). They do a good enough job convincing people that they aren't undercover cops, and when a lookout recognizes Ice's persona as one that was marked earlier they make cautious contact. The man introduces himself as René and drops the call-and-response line from the cryptogram, to which Ice replies with the correct counter-sign. René proves to be jovial and genuine, conversing frankly with the foreign criminals about their business in Paris and, once he is sure they aren't lackeys of Marianne, offering his network's services for a nominal fee.
Zenith drops a credstick with 50 grand on the table to cover up-front expenses, explaining that they need four new identities fit for use under Marianne's watch as soon as possible, as well as any info the Faussaires have on Dassault HQ and, if possible, the ductwork services of a pixie (preferably one who can cast the invisibility spell). René grins when he sees the amount on the credstick, pocketing it and assuring the group that he will make all the necessary arrangements with all due haste, and once he has their biometrics says that they should have their new identities ready by the same time the next day. Janus, compelled by his desire to find out more about his past and closer than he's ever been to a real clue, makes an additional ask of René, offering his services in the form of an open favor in the future to their network in exchange for any information they have on Caleb Blanche and how he came to be employed by Dassault. René, endeared by the earnestness (and the promise of payback), agrees to look into the matter for him.
On the Grids
While Janus and Zenith get some sleep, Ice and Heracles - still rolling on their cereprax - decide to hit up the Matrix for some more information. Needing to be cautious when searching for information on subjects like this under the watchful gaze of Marianne's data gathering algorithms, Heracles juices up Ice's deck with resonance so that she can stay extra silent in her searches; since he doesn't speak the language, he is relegated mostly to data processing tasks while Ice performs the bulk of the legwork. Working together, they are able to track down some info on the security measures present in La Defense (and learn, to their dismay, that the chief of operations is a Dassault representative - meaning they will almost certainly receive a priority HTR response if any alarms are triggered).
Knowing from Amrei's dossier that two-factor authentication will be needed to access the server they are targeting, the hackers focus their efforts on tracking down a programmer who has legitimate access in order to spoof their identity. Among the potential targets, they find a likely mark in the form of Pierre Laurent, a mid-level code monkey who seems to have a particular fondness for elves and who has pictures of himself on social media at Dante's Paris location with a variety of women. While reviewing his information, Heracles is able to spot the faint remains of a rather colourful resonance signature, and later on when tracing Laurent's data trails Ice is seemingly spotted by a persona made of constantly-shifting colours who is perusing the same information - after getting a look at their Matrix array, they deduce that this is Kaleidoscope.
The next morning, while Ice rests and Zenith sends Janus on a shopping trip, Heracles decides to go looking for more signs of the resonance signature in order to potentially make contact with their opposition - after some careful searching, he is able to find a brightly-coloured set of footprints entering the destination host of a local botanical gardens. Inside, he waves off the personalized IC and follows the resonance tracks to a large tree, where he finds the figure Ice described admiring the digital foliage. Sending a private message, he identifies himself and confirms that it is Kaleidoscope, who replies cordially and refers to him as 'brother', identifying him as a fellow Sourceror from his hyperthreading technique which they spotted on Ice. The two chat back and forth with their respective ICs non the wiser, and Heracles asks if them working against the same target is going to be a problem - they respond that it won't be unless his team makes it one. Not wanting to tangle with another powerful techno, he agrees that he will make sure there aren't any unforeseen issues.
Once Ice has had time to rest and the safe window to take more cereprax comes around, she and Heracles work together to locate "Caleb Blanche"'s employee records in the main Dassault Metahuman Relations host. In order to gain access, they first need to penetrate the digital fortifications of La Defense, requiring Heracles to once again infuse the both of them with extra sleeze; with this power boost from 01, they are barely able to stay under the radar and avoid notice from the security spiders monitoring the corporate hosts for unauthorized activity. Managing to mark the formidable host and get inside, the two stay silent while they search for Mr. Blanche's file, avoiding the notice of the patrol IC. Finding that he is marked as an inactive employee, Ice disarms the data bomb on the file and Heracles uses his editor power to get around the encryption in order to change the flag to active. With a copy for Janus to peruse, they quickly exit the host and make their escape.
A Pair of Pre-Crime Crimes
Before they can break into server J-42, the team needs to secure a few things - one is the two-factor ID fob carried by Pierre Laurent, the other is an employee ID card for Caleb Blanche so that the janitor can let the rest of them into the building and guide them to the sub-basement. Since "Caleb" had described being familiar and friendly with his supervisor Sinclair, the group decide that Sinclair shouldn't make it into work the next day so that "Caleb" can go to someone less familiar for a replacement badge and avoid questions about where he's been. Sinclair's home address in a nice condo building just outside the perimeter of La Defense is easy enough for the hackers to locate on the Matrix, and a perusal of Laurent's social media indicates that he plans to be at Dante's that evening as well.
Thus the group make plans for a honeypot and a B&E, both tasks well within their skillsets. After acquiring their false identities from René, the group put on their disguises and their best looking high fashion outfits and hop into Zenith's Saab to make an impression at Dante's - with the power of dryad glamor and flashy displays of wealth, they are able to secure their entrance to the club. Inside, Janus takes novacoke (purely to boost his confidence and performance as a face) and immediately becomes addicted, spending most of his time dancing and enjoying the atmosphere. While Heracles spots out some of the lighting infrastructure on the Matrix and Ice uses her natural charms to make an impression on the crowd, Zenith scans the dance floor for their mark. His sharp eyes are able to spot Laurent dancing with a pair of elves, as well as the fact that they too are wearing rather elaborate disguises - one wears a second skin, out of the neckline of which barely peaks some colourful glowing tattoos.
Pointing out Laurent to Ice so that the dryad can get his attention, Zenith observes as one of the dancers distracts Laurent while the other palms the fob on his belt - however they don't steal it from him when they have a chance to, merely grazing it with their fingertips for a few moments. Recognizing the technique as something he's seen technomancers do before, he correctly deduces that Kaleidoscope has copied the code on the fob to replicate it without Laurent realizing it's been stolen. Communicating this fact to the others, the group decide to change tactics - instead of Janus and Zenith lifting the fob while Ice distracts him, she volunteers to go home with Laurent and copy the code from the fob while he sleeps. As this will create less potential loose ends, the group go with it, with Heracles redirecting the spotlight to focus on Ice and attract Laurent's attention away from his current dancing partners towards her; the other two elves seem nonplussed however, allowing him to go without a fuss. The plan works, and soon Ice is leaving the club with Laurent to go back to his apartment, where once he's asleep she uses her hardware skills and her deck's induction receiver to expose a wire, access the fob's code and restore the case so that it looks like nothing has happened before leaving.
With the remainder of the honeypot left in her hands, the rest of the team leave Dante's and head towards Sinclair's apartment for the B&E. While Janus distracts the doorman and Heracles takes care of the cameras, Zenith hops up the fire escape and sneaks his way past both a nearby drone and a patrolling spirit to get to Sinclair's balcony. Inside he finds a sleeping dog, but thanks to his traceless walk he is able to avoid waking it, making his way to the door to buzz Janus (who successfully talks his way past the doorman) inside. Together, the two physically subdue the sleeping Sinclair and render him unconscious without waking either him or the dog, then proceed to create an apparently-compromising scene by scattering drugs and lingerie about before laesing the unconscious man (with the intent that, when he wakes up in about 12 hours with a splitting headache that Sinclair will be disinclined to report the incident to the police, or at the very least too occupied with it to attend work).
An Uneasy Détente
With their preliminary work complete, the runners get some rest and prepare for the day of the job. Zenith however contacts Amrei and convinces her to use her access on the Helix to send Kaleidoscope an anonymous message on his behalf with a burner commlink number and a request to talk. The next day while the group is gearing up for the infiltration, he receives a message on the burner telling him to head to the backdoor of the safehouse, where a holo-projector drone waits. Parlaying his considerable street cred to Kaleidoscope and employing all his negotiation sills, Zenith appeals to them as a fellow runner to not leave a signature in the host.
Demurring, the prideful hacker explains that knowing for certain that their hosts have been compromised by the party they're speaking to makes corporations more willing to take their ransom demands for their data seriously, but Zenith remains firm on his request - the combination of earnest runner-to-runner solidarity, a promise to watch their back during the job, and the implied threat that an infamous hitman might come after them otherwise, the two come to an agreement. This will turn out to benefit the group greatly, as Kaleidoscope tells Zenith the exact time that they plan to infiltrate the host, allowing the team to benefit from their temporary subversion of Dassault's infrastructure to create holes in the security grid for them to exploit.
Having secured an alliance with the rival runners and putting their trust into them that they won't be stabbed in the back, the team hops into their work van and heads to Les Enfants Perdus a final time to meet with their pixie contractor - a friendly enough man called Raphael who has some talent as a hedge illusionist in addition to his ductwork skills - filling him in on their plan en-route to the vast parking lots outside of La Defense. Dressed in janitorial uniforms and equipped with a toolbox with a secret shielded compartment holding broken-down B&E tools, the rest of the group have Janus exit first in order to talk his way though security using his legitimate credentials, then acquire a new employee badge that can be cloned with the keycard reader before letting them inside through a fire door in the rear of the building.
While Janus socially infiltrates, the rest of the group classically infiltrates, using Raphael's improved invisibility spell and Zenith's astral sight to sneak past the perimeter and avoid notice of the various patrols of watcher spirits. Heracles and Ice handle as many of the sensor arrays as they can, though they notice that some don't appear to be receiving proper input and continually report an all-clear signal. By quickly and carefully disabling sensors and slipping by patrols, they are able to tail Janus through the walls to the Dassault HQ. Meanwhile, Janus fights to keep his composure in the stressful situation and not revert back to being Caleb Blanche for real, managing to pose as a Normal Person and get past the meatspace guards - his itinerant status as a Dassault employee is made note of, but he convinces them he is returning from a prolonged period of intense physical illness, using the excuse to explain away his artificial bones/muscles and draw sympathy/pity from security officers.
Once Janus is inside the perimeter and subsequently the Dassault building (with the hackers spoofing the SIN scanners using the information from Caleb's file), he heads to meet with the grouchy supervisor filling in for Sinclair. He is grilled about some inconsistencies in his paperwork, but manages to stall and blame Metahuman Relations while Heracles and Ice quickly make the corrections to their copy of his file and send them along to present to the supervisor. Janus manages to sell the bluff, and receives Caleb's employee badge. In the employee locker room he manages to conceal what he's doing as he reassembles the card reader and clones the card, then he grabs a janitorial cart and makes his way towards the rear entrance. Outside, Zenith assists the hackers with staying quiet and concealed, using the shrubbery to hide from spirit patrols and keeping the nearby sensor arrays from noticing them using a Resonance Veil from Heracles; once they get the signal from Janus, they make their way to the door, with the hackers slipping into the host to disable the alarm and loop the camera before Janus opens it.
Guiding the invisible party towards the service elevators, Janus is stopped by a guard who is friendly with "Caleb" and quizzed on where he's been - he manages to sell the lie about the illness, and prevaricates by talking sports trivia for a few moments before excusing himself to his assigned tasks. Still managing to keep his composure and not slip back into his incomplete deprogramming, he accesses the elevator and allows the group to enter unseen behind him. Once inside, the hackers do their thing and subvert control of the elevator, but Zenith has a thought and takes Caleb's employee badge (containing an RFID tag tracking his location) and pries open the casing of the roomba drone on the janitorial cart, placing the badge's chip inside before reattaching the case and letting the drone go on sub-basement one, where Caleb has access. Then Heracles has the elevator descend to level 2, with Raphael casting an additional invisibility spell on Janus (hiding in Zenith's pocket while he sustains five spells). Outside the elevator, there is a short hallway to a security checkpoint.
Zenith, experienced with dealing with aware security guards and their capacity to see through invisibility and having heard of their preponderance in Paris, tells the others to wait while he approaches the guard station then to squelch his commlink and spoof his biomonitor signal on his mark while he knocks them out. The hackers do their part and Zenith manages to pick the lock on the door, approach the guard unnoticed, and use his supernatural prowess to enhance his strength enough to knock the aware out with a single blow. Beckoning the others inside the security station, they are able to compromise the network of security sensors and determine the most efficient path to server J-42; en-route, they find that the patrolling watcher spirits seem to have been disrupted thanks to the mage (Venus) that Kaleidoscope is working with, who is presently held up in the lavatory while the technomancer approaches the server room.
At the appointed time, the team reach server J-42, attaching Laurent's fob to the terminal before having Raphael make his way into the room through a hatch too small for even a gnome to fit through while carrying a length of universal data cable. Zenith, using his astral sight to keep an eye out for trouble, is able to observe an invisible ladybug crawling in through the same hatch, deducing correctly that the techno has been shapechanged and electing not to literally crush them like a bug (despite it undoubtedly being Amrei's preferred outcome); he does however remember to scrub his own signature, making sure to get the one in the guard booth on the way out. Once Raphael plugs the cable into the proper port, Heracles and Ice use a splitter to plug the other end into each of their jacks and jump into the wired host. They manage to stay hidden from the spider doing some work inside and the patrolling IC, locating the file ID Amrei specified (the next scheduled diagnostics update for the Blood Hawk's engine software, set to be sent out at the end of the day) and working together they are able to dismantle its protections before uploading Amrei's kill code. They spot no signature from Kaleidoscope, nor any sign of the other hacker's presence.
Once their task is completed, attention turns towards how to exfiltrate as quickly as possible. Initially planning to simply retrace their steps, the group instead elects to trigger the fire alarm and exit from the basement stairs; this gives the pair from the Helix a window to leave too, which they take full advantage of, sending along a "good working with you" to the team before vanishing into the crowd disguised as employees. As they have not raised any alarms (besides the fire one) or significant suspicion from security (though that will soon change when they find one of their number missing and unconscious). Quickly exiting La Defense, they return to their vehicle, thank Raphael for his invaluable assistance, and drop the pixie off in La Zone before heading to the safehouse and subsequently the airport.
Amrei is pleased with the team's performance, especially that the insertion of the vital code went seemingly undetected. As a reward, she provides the runners with not only their full payment but her recommendation for provisional membership with the Helix data haven - Ice and Heracles take her up on this offer. Zenith gets in slightly deeper with S-K while further solidifying his working relationship with Amrei, and Janus owes a favor to the Faussaires to be called upon in the future. He does however get a vital clue about missing memories - "Caleb Blanche" was inserted into Dassault as a spy by a cell of Section 89, who he was presumably affiliated with at some point in the past.
(1.5x RVP multiplier for duration)
50,000 nuyen (25 RVP)
5 karma (5 RVP)
+3 S-K reputation
Optional Contact: Amrei Veidt (C6/L2 S-K Prime Operative) for 7 RVP or 14 CDP
Optional Quality: Prime Datahaven Membership (The Helix) @ chargen price
A favor is owed to the Réseau des Faussaires in exchange for information on the past of "Caleb Blanche".
Optional Quality: Profiler @ chargen price
Optional Quality: Social Chameleon @ chargen price
Optional Quality: One With the Matrix II @ chargen price
Optional Quality: Sensei @ chargen price
Optional Quality: Good Looking and Knows It @ chargen price
Optional Quality: Trustworthy @ chargen price
Player After Action Reports (AARs)
Nice to get back to work, though I'm not used to being the only Awakened on a job. This crew did well, we got the plan in place quickly and executing got us to a good place. Don't always love Europe jobs, tends to be extra risky and that's before we even leave the airport. It all worked out, and my rep is probably gonna get another bump from this whole thing.
I am extremely impressed with the skill and acumen of runner Zenith, he was invaluable to this operation's success. Additionally, this has finally brought me a step closer to my past. This job was both stressful, but also immensely satisfying. Note to self: always use burner IDs for international travel.