Mission 1: Andromeda Blue
Winning a Nobel Prize - big deal.
Winning two Prizes - noteworthy (eg Marie Curie, Linus Pauling).
Winning two Prizes in the same category - not entirely unprecedented (John Bardeen managed it in Physics, Frederick Sanger in Chemistry, and the UNHCR and ICRC managing it in Peace).
But carrying off the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, two years running? (1999-2000)
This trick attracted XCOM's attention to the Andromeda Foundation and its cofounders, specifically the dual Nobel laureate, Sir Matthew de Grey KBE, and his 2000 co-laureate Corey Jagland.
The unshared 1999 prize was for de Grey's leadership and development of what has come to be called the "Andromeda Vaccine", a broad-spectrum three-shot immunisation schedule that has dramatically reduced the burdens of both infectious disease and vaccinating against same worldwide.
The 2000 prize was for the basic research underlying, and the development of a prototype, high-bandwidth, high-fidelity neural interface that XCOM has adapted for its own use.
These, on top of other, almost-as-earth-shaking, breakthroughs have aroused XCOM suspicions as to exactly where they're getting their tech.
Before XCOM officially onboards Andromeda (having not yet approached them due to the above suspicions), they want the PCs to find out where they are getting their tech. If Alien, the pipeline needs to be cut while Andromeda keeps operating. If its confirmed to be autogenous, Andromeda needs to be onboarded yesterday.
The Foundation's major areas of excellence lie in biomedicine (under de Grey) and nanotechnology (under Jagland).
Kevin Smith decides to first look into de Grey's background, compiling what they can from open sources.
De Grey gained his MB BChir from Cambridge in 1971, then spent the next five years in general practice, returning to academia in 1977 with an Oxford professorship.
Over the next 16 years, he goes full-banger on research, with a prodigious output in immunology and neurophysiology, gaining his MD in 1991 on the strength of that corpus, and retiring in 1993 as an emeritus. Shortly after, he co-founds Andromeda along with Corey Jagland, his future co-laureate, and Geoff Davies, an escapee from the AU intel community.
The Andromeda Vaccine entered clinical trials almost immediately upon Andromeda's creation, showing significant promise that held throughout all three stages. He was ultimately knighted for his services to medicine in 1998.
Since the Vaccine, he's pulled back to more of a technical/research director role, although he still keeps his hand in some investigations directly, and publications still come thick and fast.
Open sources also turned up a personal and professional conflict with his cousin, Aubrey de Grey. The two differ religiously (Aubrey being practicing Roman Catholic, Matthew having told the RCC to go jump when it condemned his work in Africa) and on the topic of radical life extension (Aubrey very pro as in OTL, Matthew somewhat anti).
Andromeda itself turns out to have facilities in Ghent, Cape Town, Sao Paolo and Mumbai. Smith fishes out Interpol cover IDs and decides to waltz in the Ghent facility's front door along with J and the Mad Turk (Jennifer was off chasing up something else).
One thing immediately obvious is the paranoid levels of security - card readers and biometric locks at each door, frinstance.
According to their cover story (as used to break a manure spreader to the facility's manager, Gerard Appeldoorn), Interpol is investigating some claims that have been made, and they would prefer to keep it quiet since AF is doing such good work nationwide. Appeldoorn is surprised that the first such attempted smear of 2001 took until mid-February, suspecting one or more of the big biotech corporations. He rings up Davies, currently in the Cape Town facility, and gets persimmon - Edwards and Smith go in as internal auditors while the Mad Turk is assigned as de Grey's driver.
According to their snooping, there have been a total of 5 bad eggs on the research side since AF opened. Aside from discovering the cofounders' rather ferocious intolerance of academic dishonesty, the most interesting bad egg was the first. After being accused of theft and plaigarism, he up and offed himself before he could be fired. Further investigation turns up no family. Smith now has a prime suspect as to where the alien tech initially came from, and suspects he was actually offed to keep him quiet. Blacklake gets sicced on a very cold case.
Meanwhile, the Mad Turk bugs the ass-end of the car he'll be driving for Sir Matthew.
They call home and ask about de Grey's history and specifically, get some shoe leather on the ground about the clinical trials, especially interested in side effects or reactions.
The trials were unusual in both their promise, and size, with stage 2 and 3 trials being 6x larger than customary, showing side effects were much less than expected and some unexpected synergies. The boot leather continues with chasing up 20 randomly-selected participants from each trial - XCOM MIB were able to find and talk to 39 of them, #40 having keeled over three years earlier.
History-side turns up Sir Matthew's identical twin, Michael, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in 1993 while his twin apparently wasn't. Seems to be a stoush between Michael's daughter, Dr Bonnie de Grey, and Sir Matthew re: treating Michael, concern for dying father (Michael having progressed to the early end stages by 2001) colliding head on with medical ethics.
More asking around the Ghent facility turns up that Davies thinks rules are for other people, not him, to follow. Arrogant, abrasive, he also turns up as a suspect for the alien tech, having motive, means, and opportunity.
During the Mad Turk's first day on the job, driving Sir Matthew to Amsterdam, he notices that he's picked up three pursuers. Asking Sir Matthew if he was expecting company and receiving the expected negative answer, he shows exactly why XCOM recruited him, causing all three pursuers to crash within 48 seconds of spotting him, de Grey swearing in Afrikaans the entire time. Plates get run, leaving team to ask what were the Belgian federal coppers doing sneaking about?
Back inside, Edwards and Smith learn the first bad egg's suicide came as a surprise all around. This, of course, helps confirm Smith's suspicions. Chasing up security holes turns up paydirt, with a couple of the oldtimers remembering that Davies did black out a lab on floor 38 for about six months after the start of operations. As Davies is still in Cape Town, with Blacklake now joining them, they decide to break into and toss his office the following day.
At first, the search confirms his paranoia - Blacklake sweeps the place with an improvised bug sweeper, disclosing that not only had he privately bugged his office, he had bugged the bugs bugging said office. Then the search really begins.
Deliberately concealed, and spread among multiple cabinets, are plans for a second-generation, softball-sized, psi-amp. They promptly grow legs. Three further hours of office tossage disclose preliminary plans for what appears to be the defensive energy shielding the larger UFOs have been seen to use. Curiouser and curiouser, since Davies has no known science background, so they swipe his computer's hard drive, leaving a can of herrings in its place. Search also turns up a panic room, which monitors the previously mentioned black hole, and also has independent NBC filtration.
Searching the panic room reveals a toilet, which Smith promptly empties his bowels into, CD recorders, camera monitors, and CDs with black hole surveillance footage. He digs out the ones covering the black hole period while Edwards and Blacklake search the black hole lab. They turn up a bit of notepaper with an encoded message, and a dust-covered CD that seems to be full.
Smith discovers that the lab was only used outside hours, and at least once, there are three Matthews de Grey present. After a quiet couple of weeks of footage, Davies turns up, ranting about something - the video isn't good enough to read lips from.
Abdul lifts the prints from the jesus handles in the limo he's been driving, which Smith promptly runs to confirm that yes, that's Matthew de Grey.
Back at their hotel rooms, Blacklake worries the code out to reveal a reference to "Project Veracocha" and hints that it's involved in pandemic preparation. Offensive or defensive, she has no idea.
Day after, the crew chase up a hacker (having no computing ranks between them) to crack Davies' hard drive, which takes a day and a bit. Email reveals a couple of takeover attempts, Andromeda being the daddy, not the mummy. Ongoing arguments with Jagland and de Grey to commercialise discoveries quicker. It takes a bit, but by reading between the lines, the crew puzzle out that Davies has connections to a private group, via anon remailer, that has beaten XCOM to salvaging crash sites more than once.
HQ is VERY interested in this, upgrading the mission to Cal III.
- Storm his plane in Africa, hijack it there.
- Force plane down early/offcourse via sabotage.
- Jump him at Brussels airport. Storm aircraft as fake Customs officers, incapacitate the crew, and light out for Switzerland.
- Aerial intercept.
They decide wait for Davies' scheduled return, disguise themselves as Belgian customs officers, bang him on the head when they search his plane, then nick said plane and leg it for EUROCOM, near Lugano. They also take this opportunity to swap out their gear picks.
The Mad Turk, upon his return from a dinner run, improves the plan - instead of customs officers, they and their Edwards-derived goon squad are mechanics, giving them legitimate reason to be on the apron at that time. He also points out the little wrinkle that Belgium doesn't allow terminating flights from outside the EU to refuel before they clear Customs, before asking XCOM to have a light bizjet with an enhanced active EM sensor array standing by as close as possible to Andromeda's hangar.
They finish planning, roughing out where to go and what to do, ready for the assault day after tomorrow. Davies' plane is scheduled to touch down at 5:05 am.
The extra day came in handy to preposition everything. Place on top of hanger for Edwards to shoot out tires from, cardboard boxes below for him to land in, goon squad ready to go under overalls, and the Mad Turk and his plane fuelled and only needing tower clearance to depart. (Sletchman the player and MadCabler were absent for this session)
They set up two ambushes, first to take out the tires, second to storm the plane (Vivat Turk!).
The hours until showtime uneasily pass, Edwards concealing himself and his AW50 under a tarp atop the selected hangar around 4 am while the Mad Turk double checked that everything was ready to rock on his bizjet and the goon squad got their kit ready, relying on taser shotgun rounds. Mad Turk had previously sabotaged the maintenance carts to delay a legitimate response.
Listening via his plane's radio, the Mad Turk gives everyone a heads up when Davies' plane arrives. When it reaches halfway down the taxiway towards its hangar, they trigger their first ambush, with Edwards blowing out the front tires and taking two feet of nosewheel stalk with it (Midget was sweating, as I had said I was going to activate any threats. He rolled a 16, with a great sigh of relief). The bizjet sparks and creaks to a stop, while Edwards, after dumping the rifle in the waiting jet, joins Blacklake and Smith on the goon squad's maintenance truck before it peels up the taxiway in response to the crew's call for help.
Rattled somewhat, the plane's crew lower the airstair. Goon #3 obliges them by hoicking a flashbang into the plane, clipping the top of the airstair as it moved. It made it in, deafening everyone inside and blinding the pilot.
They storm the plane, and Goon #1 stops a bullet with his head. Edwards spots the pilot cowering in his seat and the copilot trying to radio for help and lets him have it, tasing him up but good with a critical hit (anything else and he would have hit the transmit button, gaily plastering the sounds of the firefight over GUARD), then, via his Surge of Speed, dives for cover behind the seats rather than look down a bunch of MP5 barrels.
The seat cops a pounding but stands up to the dakka, while Blacklake crawls under the other seats towards Davies while Edwards and the goons show off their shotgun fu. The shotgun fu falls apart just a little bit, when Goon #3 shoots Edwards in the ass. Edwards is unamused.
While the firefight continues, Blacklake reaches Davies and proceeds to beat the living tar out of him.
The end of the following round, the last goon surrenders ("Bugger this, I ain't paid enough!"), and the team withdraw with one unconscious person (Davies) and one corpse (Goon #1). The Turk had previously received takeoff clearance and just happened to be taxiing by when Edwards flagged him down, the XCOM personnel quickly piling aboard.
With the runway clear, the Mad Turk didn't wait for clearance, redlined the throttles, and booted it, screaming down the runway like a certain cab in Ankara.
After getting clear, it was all Turk, with 90 minutes of manual terrain following flight to get to Lugano from Brussels.
30 minutes in, his luck almost ran out, sucking half a flock of geese into his jet's right engine. With MANLY TURK RAGE, he GAVE IT A DAMN GOOD THUMP and avoided the worst of the problem (really really quick Mechanics check, iirc), although there were a couple more hairy moments, especially struggling over the Alps.
Edwards rang ahead to ask GOC XCOM about possible immunity from prosecution in exchange for spilling guts. He had Alistair's approval upon entering EUROCOM.
Edwards took the lead in interrogating Davies, calmly laying out his XCOM badge, his Interpol badge (cuing the "Oh CRAP!" moment for Davies), a bottle of whiskey, a phonebook and a plate of asparagus with hollandaise sauce.
Long story short, Davies put up a fight but Edward managed to crack him with gratuitous use of "BADGE!". The immunity offer helped significantly.
He doesn't know who the group are, just that they have passed him a lot of stuff - research hints, tips, etc. Anything AF couldn't use, he resold, sending them a cut. The deflector shield was sold to a couple of defence contractors.
Project Veracocha was actually defensive in nature - their major worry was a subtle bioweapon that decreased the birth rate sufficiently to doom humanity. Big stuff legit, small stuff questionable. "Soul Catcher" came up - quite interesting. XCOM had investigated restoring troopers from backup early last year, but had ditched it due to one of the test subjects taking up suicide as a hobby. Davies suspects de Grey is sitting on an Alzheimer's cure, and was as surprised as everyone else when the first bad egg suicided. The Turk suspects the coldcase "suicide" had to do with Andromeda's Soul Catcher.
EDIT: Corrected Sletchman's PC's name.