RE: Light in the Storm: Touching Darkness

Dark had fallen entirely by the time Rogan reached the compound. This far form any major cities, the sky above was a dense scattering of stars, shot through with the great arch of their home galaxy crossing the sky at a low tilt. Rogan glanced up at it only in passing, his mind focused elsewhere while he assessed the steeply climbing cliff face before him. One their first night out here, Lyntael had been awestruck, looking at the sky and the stars through the gaps in the trees. She'd seen pictures, so she said, but had never been away from a dense city far enough to really see it, with her own eyes. The degree of overawed conviction in her voice, as she'd insisted that there was a legitimate difference between the two experiences, had lingered in the back of his mind long enough that he'd taken a moment out of his preparation to appreciate the view with her, that first night.

He refocused himself. The compound itself was built into the rising ridge – not quite steep or tall enough to be called a mountain, but enough to make any kind of foot passage near impossible. Far above, he could see the slowly sweeping floodlights, scanning the outer portions of the area; in many ways making assaults like this at night was easier, if you were dealing with less certain intel. They didn't have exterior patrolling guards, but the flood lights were on – that lined up with his other scouting to suggest that their external surveillance relied on the lights, rather than having any more advanced measures in place. They weren't expecting physical intrusions, after all. With care, he pulled on the climbing frames that fastened around his feet and ankles, and then donned his crag gloves as well, preparing for a long climb.

“You've walked nearly all day, Rogan, and now you're rock climbing?” Lyntael's hushed whisper barely reached his ear, but it carried an equal weight of worry and scolding. “You haven't even stopped for a rest all day. You're going to wear yourself out!” Rogan kept his eyes on the climb ahead of him in the dark; the moon wasn't providing much light, slim as it was, but between it and the stars, he had enough to see by. He knew he could get to one edge of the compound, where the rocky shelf continued a few dozen feet past the edge of the sweeps, from here, and he'd picked out a workable path by eye before the light went.

“I will rest properly when the work is done, Lyntael. I am fine for now. I'm in no danger of exhaustion.” It was true enough. Some part of him was aware of his body's fatigue, but he knew his limits, and how far to push them. His body was tired, and hungry, but it wasn't going to affect his performance – if anything he was at the point where those sensations just made him sharper, which was exactly where he needed to be for this job.

The climb was slow and silent, but by the end of it Rogan arrived at the forgotten edge he'd noted, looking across at the nearest slate-grey wall, some sixty feet away. They hadn't bothered with perimeter fences, except in a couple of places on the far side – the natural defences of the place were more than ample. There were no outbuildings either – just a single slightly protruding edifice built into the top of the ridge itself. Natural stone continued up past the structure as well; they'd wanted to preserve the natural look of the ridge line as much as they could, and he could only imagine how much stone they would have needed to laboriously hollow out to build the structure. A lot could be done with cheap local labour forces though – and fortunately for him, no amount of bonus pay would actually keep every set of lips sealed forever.

Rogan crouched low, setting his extra equipment down in the dark and selecting just what he would need or couldn't afford to lose. With his back to the compound, her pulled out his PET and shielded it in the depths of his coat. A careful probe showed a surprising lack of high grade networks, at least in the exterior of the compound As near as he could tell, the external cameras were tied to the lights themselves, and they simply recorded and swept, feeding by direct hard lines to a single, blocky protrusion of a room, with a single door leading into it... not an entrance by any means, and more of a back door, really, by the look of things. That room was outside the shielding of the complex itself, and was a simple, low tech security camera system.

Inside the walls, however, his probe came back entirely blind – the whole compound was shielded just was well from his near range probes as it had been from any wide area scans earlier. Rogan slipped the device away for now and eyed up the compound again. It was large in the interior, according to Varda's information, but right now, when it was in down time, it only held a skeleton staffing of twenty or so maintenance crew – people to keep the place clean, monitor long term projects and make sure everything ticked over. None of them would have been working there for more than six months, and employee shifts happened at regular intervals to cycle their staff around and prevent all but a few individuals from having a full understanding of any one project. Lance and his personal team, and their personal security, moved from base to base, taking the body of their work with them, but he favoured these three facilities for his most close-kept experiments. Right now, the man's focus was supposedly centred at the compound in the valley on the far side of the ridge, another ten miles distant, but he had been at this one before then, and, so Varda hoped, left some things brewing. Time to move.

Evading the sweeping spotlights was easy enough, and a minute or two later, Rogan crouched low with his back to the wall by the security door. The lock was an electronic key card lock, but the door itself was wooden, with a draught stop attached to the bottom. The lock would be easy enough, but not being seen was the important part here. Rogan retrieved the PET and extended the delicate-looking probe, accessing its settings and sub routines. As he did, he pulled out a small case from his other pocket and flicked it open; inside were a pair of absolute cancellation ear plugs. Once they were in, he lifted the corner of the draught stop and placed the tip of the probe against the widest point of the door crack. It wasn't much space, but it would be enough. He pressed the button and waited, counting to ten in his head, and pressed it again. Next he stood, accessing a different tool from the probe and overrode the lock a few second later.

Inside the small room, Rogan found a single person; female, late thirties, underweight, nicotine stains on her fingertips, red head with several months of brown roots showing – his detail brain picked out and catalogued the information. She was dressed in a generic green-toned security uniform, with the CMPF logo on the shoulder patch, and was slumped forward across a camera console, sleeping soundly, just a few inches from pushing her coffee off the desk. She'd wake by morning with a mild headache and no recollection of drifting off. Rogan stepped around her and moved the coffee mug in from the edge a little, then quickly extracted his ear plugs and put them away. He checked her pulse and her name tag, took a scan copy of her security card, then glanced at the camera screens. They were all external feeds – the entire outer ring of the facility, including the two exposed landing pads for air lifts and other transports; one was empty, one had what looked like a standard model air shuttle on it. Nothing from inside, though he'd been more or less expecting that. A quick look at the controls told him that he wouldn't find any connection to the interior systems here either. There was only one door, leading into the compound proper, with no details on this side. It was enough to make his lips twitch in a small grimace. He hated moving forward blind.

“Lyntael. The door ahead of me only has another simple electronic lock, but I can't tell immediately if this one is connected to the inner compound or not. Once I move through, there is every possibility I'll be under observation from other cameras, or a similar system. I'm going to interface you to the first thing connected to the inner system I find, and I need you to sync up our locations and begin removing my presence from any systems that catch me during that time. Once that's done, we'll move forward.” He spoke in a low murmur, barely above a whisper, and Lyntael responded in his ear.

“Understood, sir.” She still sounded nervous, but there was resolution there as well. Rogan listened at the door, eyes closed until he felt sure there as no-one on the other side, then moved the PET to the door lock and let it run an emulation of the guard's access card. It clicked with a slight hiss and Rogan pulled the handle, stepping through into the unknown.
posted in Yumland
Light in the Storm: Touching Darkness
((From => Electown Dealings))
----------

It was almost laughable, in a way, how much the pieces of the picture formed the archetype for an evil villain's secret base. It was so ridiculous that, naturally, in the modern world, no-one would ever seriously contemplate the thought, except as a joke. It was the sort of thing you might expect to be owned by one of the dastardly figures out of yesteryear's legends. Rogan adjusted the settings on his monocular with two fingers. Around him the sounds of Yumland's tropical, untamed jungle continued with their natural mid-morning energy, but Rogan was more focused on the edifice that peeked out of a risen stone ridge, some twenty kilometres away, at the end of the long valley.

It was one of three facilities, in fact, dotted in near proximity to each other, on plots of land purchased under a conservation research grant by one 'Carrey May Preservation Foundation', itself owned and founded by Caoránach Creative. They studied the climate factors of the surrounding jungle, took wildlife records and counts, measured rainfall, tracked the shifts in natural resources and occasionally released scientific studies on one native animal or another to the greater scientific community. They were generally innocuous; they had a missions statement, but they didn't make waves. The three facilities were isolated, and the only official way in or out of any of them was by air. The one he had been studying for the past three days was built into the mountainous ridge, and had all the hallmarks of a comic-book villain's secret lair. Lance certainly had a taste for the overly dramatic, despite his otherwise clinical ruthlessness in directing his corporation.

He watched for a few more minutes from his perch, making several more mental notes, before eventually climbing back down to the jungle floor and taking a long drink from his canteen. Electronically isolated, far out enough in the untamed jungle to be unreachable by any probing signals, physically isolated to the point that travel by air was the only real way in – on the grounds of minimal impact on nature, the trio of facilities had made it virtually impossible for anyone to see what they were up to without being detected in turn. Satellite pulls had only been so useful, as the bases didn't have much in the way of open spaces or courtyards, but Rogan had managed to track down the remnants of a couple of long reclaimed supply lines – the tracks that might have been once used when the structures were being built, and not everything could be air-lifted in easily. You'd never see them now from the ground, of course, and even from a high vantage point, the jungle was quick to recover such trails. It had taken a keen eye and a very wide, high shot to pick out the traces and recognise them for what they were. It had made his trek a lot easier, however.

He slipped his other tools away and returned to the small camp he had been using. A low, single sleeper tent, a solar cell battery generator and a pair of collapsible light-weight tables that served for his planning and gear checks. On one corner of the table, Lyntael's PET had been serving a secondary purpose of shielding the camp from any coincidental radio scans or electronic sweeps that the far off facilities might be making over the valley – he had no way of being certain yet, so better to take the precaution. He glanced about as he set his shoulder bag down, and found the small point of bright yellow in the overhanging branch a few feet above the table top where the PET sat. The branch was just about at the edge of the range Lyntael could move from the device, but from it Lyntael claimed she could see out through the jungle canopy, in one direction. Rogan was still a little surprised at the efforts she took, climbing up to the branch each day; it was a severe task for her small holographic size, but she had been determined.

The experience as a whole had been a string of thrilled enthusiasm and excitement from the small program – new sights and sounds and, she claimed, smells. Even the previous night, that had given rise to a thunderous, tropical storm had seen Lyntael staying up late, watching the dark jungle and looking out through the gaps in the trees to the tempestuous thunderhead above. Rogan had been more concerned about ensuring that everything that needed to stay dry had done so, but he couldn't exactly chastise Lyntael, since she couldn't help with that anyway.

As he returned, Lyntael looked down and stood quickly, then, for the umpteenth time, again remembered that she was standing several feet above him and wearing a skirt, and shifted her position hurriedly. She waved, smiling bright, but Rogan resisted the urge to caution her about taking things seriously. Until they moved in there wasn't anything she could really do, and he wouldn't be able to give her any warning about the nature of their internal systems until they made contact. She gave all the signs of being nervous and worried about the prospect whenever it was brought up, but seemed to have decided not to think about it while she had nothing that she could do. It was a surprisingly sensible approach, all things considered.

“Lyntael, were there any sweeps?” She shook her head, and settled back down into a sitting position again.

“No, sir. Still nothing. If I had to guess, I'd say they're so focused on their own security that they don't seem to do anything at all, out beyond the immediate exclusion zone of the bases. He nodded in turn and began to pack up the camp, folding everything away into its most compact and easy-travelling form one piece at a time. Lyntael noticed what he was doing immediately. She bit her lip.

“Are we changing position again, sir, or...?” Rogan answered the hanging question with a small nod in her direction as he worked.

“It's time, Lyntael. I've learned as much as I can, and it would be unwise to delay any longer. I can make it to the compound by an hour after nightfall, and if Varda's information is accurate, only the basic skeleton crew will be present. It seems accurate so far, from what I've been able to observe. I don't know to what extent I will need you yet, Lyntael, but I have no doubt that I'll require your assistance at some point tonight. Be ready.” She nodded, speaking a small, nervous confirmation now that it was upon them, and Rogan finished packing up his camp site. It all fit securely into a slim back pack, which he would need to leave outside before going in; he had carefully cleaned each piece of equipment of prints as he'd packed it away, just in case it was discovered, or he couldn't get back to recover it. Before long, there was little to no sign that anyone had ever been in the small space between the trees the man in the long coat headed into the jungle, towards his target.
posted in Yumland
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words
Out on the street, Rogan glanced at the faded sign one more time, then set off away from where he had left his vehicle. He took a few random blocks, then made his way back around. Lyntael was only able to keep quiet for about a minute before he felt her shift, now out of her PET and poking up from his pocket. He put a hand down and assisted her in shifting to his shoulder as he walked and she hung on.

“She didn't say anything about... about Sharo. What does that mean?” She sounded nervous, despite how well things had gone, and Rogan answered in a low tone, mostly under his breath.

“It means I am in the clear, I believe, Lytnael. If she had known that I was responsible for the incident, we wouldn't have had that meeting, and the next meeting we had would not have been on such polite terms. She doesn't even suspect that I had anything to do with it at all – no hint or suggestion of it means that it's just another family incident that isn't any of my business. That's what I need them to believe. It's good news.” He paused to acquire a coffee from a street vendor as they passed one. Lyntael waved to the server and she waved back with a grin before Rogan's stride carried them away.

“Chances are, in fact, that they might have pinned their suspicions on agents from Fitzpatrick's group. That would be ideal.” By his collar, he felt Lyntael flinch and shudder.

“Lance Fitzpatrick... He's the one who... He's... the operator, of, of...” She stumbled over the words and Rogan finished for her.

“Yes, he's the man who operates Vigilance, the navigator you've encountered before. It's not the only navigator he operates, technically, but Vigilance is his personal one. We will not encounter them if Varda's information is correct.” He hadn't learned too much about the man's private navigator, but given what he'd seen of it in Lyntael's own encounters he felt he knew enough. Where Lance was merely a rational sociopath, Vigilance displayed all of the abject cruelty and sadism that Lance himself did not emote. He wondered whether he'd had the navigator programmed that way specifically, or if he had simply settled on Vigilance because he found the behaviours suited his ends. Lyntael had gone quiet again, until she murmured a soft sound by his ear.

“I'm sorry...” Rogan frowned as he arrived at his vehicle and slipped into the driver's seat.

“It is none of your doing, Lyntael, and as I said, we won't be encountering them, so you should be able to work without that consideration hampering you.” As he started the car, he reached out one hand and let Lyntael run down it quickly to assume her usual spot in the dash alcove. His eyes lingered on her after she settled in, watching the small girl hug herself with a nervous, retreated expression. After a moment he looked back to the road and pulled away from the curb.

----------
((To => A Far-off Jungle))
posted in Electown
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words

It had been a strange way to break down the tension that had lingered between them, but broken it had. Lyntael had returned to something approaching her usual self, though it was clear she was still dealing with the recent events at some level. She had been brighter and more relaxed, however, and as much as he didn't like to admit it, that fact alone had set Rogan himself more at ease as well.

He pulled his thoughts back to the present as he descended the steps into secluded bar that served as his contact point with Varda. The dimly lit folk club room was the same as it always was. The patrons were a different collection of nondescript faces, but the same watchful sense radiated from every one of them, if you knew what you were watching for. He nodded to the barkeeper and moved towards one of the tables on the left. The music that was playing was a different group this time, but it was another northern netopian folk tune that he recognised. To himself, Rogan wondered if it was the barkeeper's choice, or if Varda was doing it deliberately for meetings she had with him.

He was only waiting for a minute or two before the woman herself slipped smoothly into the place opposite him in the semi-private booth. Today she was wearing a formal blouse, in a dark red colour with a moderate hint of cleavage which Rogan ignored to focus on the more calculating blue-grey of her eyes. She was smiling and her eyes didn't change; he hadn't expect it anyway.

“Mister O'Conaill. You come when you are called it seems. This is good.” She knew it bridled him, but he resisted rising to the bait and instead offered her a small incline of his head in return with a smile.

“What can I say, Varda? When I have such a reliable client who pays as well as you do, I'm inclined to treat them well.” There was the smallest hint of a pout from her, but it was still just a part of the act.

“It is a pity we do not meet more often. Business is moving at pace, you know. Perhaps if we had a closer... relationship, we might have even greater rewards for you, no?” She shifted slightly and recrossed her legs under the table, then straightened her blouse in a seemingly innocent readjustment. Rogan let himself curl a lip in a small answering smirk.

“Perhaps, Varda, perhaps... But alas, you can't put a wisp on a chain. I'm afraid you'll just have to appreciate its magic from a safe distance.” She shrugged and he inclined his head again. “So... what can this wisp in the night do for you this evening?” Varda glanced aside and made brief eye contact with the barkeeper, then turned back to Rogan, seeming to relax somewhat.

“Your services have been of great value to us, mister O'Conaill. It would seem that, despite your own reluctance, our family have decided to... let us say, bring you in, just a little bit more, no? For now, we will retain your skills, and we will not acquire them by force. It would be a simple matter if we decided it necessary, you know. But we do not, for the time being.” The barkeeper approached and slipped a small opaque drink in a tall glass across to Varda's place and cast a brief glance towards Rogan; he shook his head. Once he left, Varda continued. He had no doubt the interruption was deliberately timed to give him a few seconds to digest the statement in silence.

“We feel you should know a little more about the tasks we have set you to, yes? You are a curious one, and we know that you will work at your best for us, if we share a little more of our knowledge. This is a gift of good will, mister O'Conaill.” She paused and he nodded to her. Better to keep the serious tone intact at this point. Varda waited a few extra moments and took a small sip of her drink, then produced a plain grey folder, sliding it across the table to him.

“The group you have investigated for us reaches far and wide, under several different names. We think you know this already, yes? These are the names and details of many of their cover businesses.” Rogan lifted the cover of the folder to let his eyes scan the top page and make a brief guess of how many pages were present.

“The group does research upon a great many topics, behind their screens, where the laws do to see them. We see them, mister O'Conaill, and we do not care for the work that they are doing. It... encroaches on business that our family has held dear for many generations. You understand how uncomfortable this can be, no?” Rogan glanced up, but her attention was on the folder and him – she didn't seem to have intended her comments about family as any kind of jab. The names in the folder so far were all ones he knew, and it was missing several that he had tracked down, though it was too early to say whether they were unknown to Varda's family, or simply excluded from the report for him.

“Well, protecting one's family is of course important, Varda. Family must look out for each other, after all. This group... this... Caoránach Creative, as they call their legal umbrella...” He mispronounced the name ever so slightly, just in case. “Their research looks... worrisome. What would you like me to do about it?” She still hadn't given any sign that anything was amiss. If she had any suspicion about his activities in Sharo, or even that he had been there in recent days, he was sure this interview would be going very differently. It was a good sign. Varda made an expression of distaste.

“We do what is best for the family, by agreement of all, of course... You should know, mister O'Conaill, I was against employing your services for this matter. I would have moved already to put an end to this bother in a more permanent manner, and yet...” She shrugged. “There are some in our family who see great value in what they are doing, if it can be turned to our benefit. So. We come to you, yes?” She paused, raising her eyebrows at him and glancing back down at the folder.

“Underneath the names and group entity registrations, you will find information about a particular location. We are sure you are a man of many means, yes? Travel will be of no consequence to you. This place, it is where they have recently been doing some very particular research and testing. Experiments that... let us say, the GNA, SciLab, and all manner of other net organisations would surely denounce them for, no? We believe the very head of this sea monster, he works here frequently in fact. It is... his playground, so to speak. You are to go there. At the times mentioned in the documents, the base will be all but entirely unmanned. It is a part of their security measures, and the way they cycle on-site employees, you know. The base is electronically isolated, and digitally secure at all times, to a very high degree, but physically... a man of means could do well, no? The past week, Fitzpatrick... he travels between this base, and others not too far from it. The file contains the times he has been noted moving.” Varda paused to sip her drink again, and Rogan took the cue to flip through the pages that had been presented to him. It was still all familiar information. He knew about Lance Fitzpatrick's movements, at least roughly, and had begun to build a small personal dossier on the organisation leader, and his personal navigator. He made a pretence of rapidly eye-scanning he document and absorbing 'fresh' information with veiled eagerness, until Varda set her drink down and cleared her throat. He snapped his attention up, playing along.

“When he is absent, you will infiltrate and you will acquire detailed copies of any projects you can, but in particular, we require information on the code names in the file, yes? It is imperative, in this case, mister O'Conaill, that you leave so sign of your presence. They are to have no indication that this information has been taken.” She paused again in order to make a motion of indifference “If you fail, of course, we will not be tied to you, and offer no protection; you are not family after all. We know that this group, they are not concerned with making small bothers disappear if they find a thorn in their shoe, yes?” She steepled her fingers on the table in front of her and waited. Rogan nodded slowly and glanced down a the folder again, then back to Varda.

“The pay?” In response her eyes dipped back to the file. Rogan lifted up the corner of it and thumbed to the back sheet, where he found a small mission statement along with the printed compensation. Despite his caution he felt the small flicker in his eyebrows and face before he could control them.

“For that much, Varda, I feel like I should ask if there's another detail I ought to know.” She gave a calm shake of her head, closing her eyes only briefly before fixing on him again.

“No secrets, mister O'Conaill. But do not mistake the simple statement for an easy task. It is a gravely dangerous request. If you fail, you will not return. You would not be the first to disappear within their ranks, you know. They will kill you, if you are caught, but they will do all they can to extract what you know before this. They will use all manner of tortures to do this; they do not care for unreliable witnesses, you know. It is the suffering they seem to enjoy. Do not fail, mister O'Conaill. It would be a shame to lose your skills, yes?” She was watching him with the focus of someone skilled at reading faces, likely gauging how nervous he was made by the information. Rogan was well aware of the risks already, and his mask gave nothing away. Instead he slowly picked up the folder with a nod and slipped it into his coat.

“It will be done, Varda. I will contact you when I have what you need.” He cast her a confirming glance then stood from the table once she gestured her agreement. “Have a good evening. We'll talk again soon.” He turned to leave, conscious of the various eyes in the club room deliberately not looking his way.
posted in Electown
RE: Hare and Hedgehog (VS Riccio)
Jazz got his bearings in the now weightless space as across from him the great beast wavered. It was perched on the inside edge of the slowly reforming prism, and after fixing Jazz with a glare that it was struggling to keep focused, the beast launched itself back towards him, a fresh meteor of electricity, blazing through the empty space between. Jazz met Riccio head on, striking back as they crossed paths in the centre of the hollow space; a crunch of impact as his attack struck while Riccio failed to connect in turn.

By the time Jazz touched down on the far side, the metal under his feet was shifting into new shapes. It wasn't simply recovering and filling in the wire-frame shape of the asteroid, but each facet now seemed to be growing inward in uniform steps of black metal blocks, led my golden circuit lines. Each section was forming inward-facing spires as the view of space and starlight grew smaller and smaller. Across from him, Riccio drifted slightly, scrabbling to catch his magnetic landing point with faltering claws as his reflexes seemed to slow further. Where his steps faltered, the network of golden threads laced across the gap to support the beast, but even so, he was definitely slowing.

Step by step, the inward-facing spires blotted out the stars, gradually returning the space where the pair battled to a contrast of darkness and glowing light. Jazz kicked off again and riccio responded, leaping back at him with another reverberating roar. The beast was slow, slower than Jazz, and though he crossed by the hare in another violent explosion of force and energy, he seemed to have forgotten that Jazz's shadowed form was still difficult to harm. The pillow crashed in a third time, scattering a minefield of wooden shrapnel across the centre of the asteroid's interior space, and as the navigator touched down on one of the opposite pyramid shapes, Riccio turned over in the air, floating off course and failing to correct. The beast had curled in on himself slightly as he lost momentum, drifting now just near the inner edge without landing properly.

The darkness became more complete, lit only now by Riccio's own soft electric glow, and the golden circuit light that laced the metal without throwing off any illumination of its own. In the network of line,s Jazz could see that every facet had sealed in, forming stepped pyramids that pressed into the internal space of the asteroid. Each one was extending a further pointed spire of metal that in turn began to branch out in symmetrical directions, stretching to meet up with others; the amount of open space was rapidly disappearing as the forest of magnetic spines grew and filled the space from every side. Around Riccio, a mass of the same golden circuit wires formed up then rose, beginning to create an angular prism about him, almost like a cocoon. The beast was momentarily asleep.

Before the shell could form completely, however, Jazz capitalised on the creature's vulnerability, splitting into a variety of clones that each threw attacks at the dozing beast. Each hit, digging in deeply all around Riccio's body, and he awoke again with a roar that echoed off the nest of metal spines and seemed to amplify to a painful screech of static noise. His quills bristled as the last of the internal space became obstructed by the inward-piercing mesh of magnetic spines. They began to spark, leaving Jazz with nowhere safe to stand amidst it all, and precious little space to move, despite his small size. He had one more weapon, but even as he readied it to fire, the clinging threads of gold that remained with him responded, reaching through the machine gun and casting a backlash through Jazz's mind; it wasn't painful, not exactly, but as he began to fire the gun, there was a sense of knowing, and of oneness to everything that was happening.

He felt, more than saw, Riccio leap forward trough the forest of spines; felt them fold back for him and snap back into place behind. Riccio was the creature, but it was also the lightning, and the circuits; it was the magnets and the metal, and the asteroid itself; it was Jazz, in this moment, and Jazz was it. Jazz felt, more than saw, the beast land across from him, supported amongst the spines of gold and black, and saw them open in an unfolding spiral to allow the two of them to see one another clearly. They roared, and a cavalcade of lightning bolts launched themselves through the chamber, diving and jumping, reflecting and ricocheting in every direction. They fired their weapon too; a drowning burst of golden threads, flecked with a green energy that empowered them further, darting through the space in tandem. Jazz felt the lightning strike him, multiple times, from different angles, scoring in where his shadows had begun to fail. He felt the golden threads imbued with that painful green energy striking in as well, rattling across his spines and through the rest of his body.

Then, silence. They took a long breath and exhaled it in a sigh and staticy growl; their eyes were locked, and try as he might, Jazz couldn't avert them; the empty black darkness of Riccio's gaze was still shot through with intermittent lightning flares, somewhere within the void of his being. But as the two creatures were held for a moment in the centre of the asteroid, the long sigh became a sense of relaxing. Golden circuit lines covered the hare's body and began to sink in, disappearing from sight. As they did, the body of the beast, still watching him with a gaze that was hard to break, collapsed into the holding embrace of the black magnet, and swiftly sank into it, dissolving away.

The asteroid trembled, and the claustrophobia of the space he was locked in became all the more pointed as the spines began to shift and branch and grow further, filling in what little room to manoeuvre remained. In a second, his arms and legs were pinned, held still by extensions of solid black magnet; there was no where to move, nothing to breath, no space at all; the asteroid was absorbing him. And then a sense of piercing; spines thudded into him across his body, and grew through. It should have hurt; it wasn't comfortable, but it should have hurt, and it didn't. The sense of Riccio's being swelled up underneath his own senses, and Jazz felt himself blacking out.

-=Beast-hunting Hare =-

Jazz.Exe: 65Hp [Magnet][ProseCross Lvl2][Imbue Wood: 1 Charge]

-=The Solitary Thunder=-

Riccio: DEFEATED

-=Lost Asteroid=-
100% Black Magnet
  • Non-Elec Elementals get -30% Evasion, and 50% (+/- 25% RP) chance to fail movement off the panel.
  • Only Elec Elementals can burrow.
  • Wood attacks: Change terrain hit to Normal.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Elec + Seeking.


Jazz finds himself back on the smooth surface of the asteroid.

-=Battle Victory!=-
Spoils: Riccio BeastOut, 20FXP with his own inner traumas.

Sense returned. Cold harness, a flat surface. Once he opened his eyes again, Jazz would find himself on a smooth plane of black magnet, with the stars of open space wheeling overhead slowly. He was on the surface of the asteroid, reformed and looking just as it had when he first approached, only something was different now.

The sense of life and power was here, but he could feel it, close and connected to his being. Faintly, he could sense the whole structure, and every tunnel and passageway that ran through it. Riccio, the great beast, the solitary thunder, was not here... but he was as well. He was here, and he always would be; that much came to jazz as a certainty, almost like a voice in the back of his mind telling him, but without words. He could feel a thread of the creature's power within him, responding to the land mass beneath him even as it strained to rework Jazz's body to its own preference, but the spark was answered by a greater presence that existed within the very metal and circuitry of the asteroid itself. This was his Home; This was absolute, and eternal. Riccio was not here right now, but he was always here, always would be, and Jazz was no longer welcome.
posted in NAXA Net
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words

A minute passed, but just as Rogan was about to call out, Lyntael appeared on her own. She had her back to him, and from the amount of pale bare skin he could see suddenly, Rogan thought at first that she must still be changing. He averted his eyes from her all but bare back and exposed behind, and started to speak, but he found himself cut short by a sudden motion from the girl, as she half turned, twisting her shoulders and putting one hand back towards him with a finger raised, pointing... scolding almost, he might have said. A pink blush was already marking her neck and cheeks, he could see, but the gaze she turned on him was... Rogan felt more strongly like he ought to be looking away from the smouldering look.

There was nothing but thin strips of green and yellow fabric, as far as his eyes told him – just scraps, held together by prayer and giving the false idea of a top and a skirt, but she was still all but naked despite it. He tried to object again, but her look held him still.

Lyntael turned to face him more slowly, taking broad, reaching steps that made her body ripple as she showed herself off. The font side of her 'outfit' was no better. Unbidden, his eyes quickly traced her form; bare skin save for the scantest covers over her nipples and – he felt something catch in his throat as he breathed in unexpectedly and almost choked. The girl had little in the way of a developed chest at all, but the outfit didn't hesitate to show almost the entirety of what swell she had, and yet, when his eyes scanned lower, before he could stop them, the lower half of the garment was worse. He'd seen narrow 'v' swimwear before, but this design veered so low that he could see the top of... her excessive personal details.

He needed to look away; this wasn't at all appropriate. Lyntael finished her turn, and then, in an altogether too sultry manner, pushed herself back to sit on the edge of the PET, hands behind her as she stretched and showed off, crossing one leg over the other with a grin. She was smiling and sultry, perhaps, but she was also rapidly blushing an increasing crimson in the process. She didn't stop, though. In one acrobatic motion, the girl uncrossed her legs, stretching them out and wide in a flicker of motion that made the faux skirt streamers flare as she turned over and moved back to her feet with her back to him. As she made the transition, Rogan's eyes were drawn to the focus of the movement before he could stop them, looking down at her hips and groin. He felt like the flimsiness of the outfit and the stretch itself briefly showed off something even more private than her pubic hair, but the move was over too quickly to be sure. Internally, Rogan cursed himself for looking in the first place.

Lyntael stood now, looking over her other shoulder at him, then slid her legs apart a little more so she could gracefully bend forward, away from him, to put her hands on the edge of the terminal; she arched her heels off the ground and her hips swayed gently, drawing his eyes to – Rogna tore his eyes away and turned his own body to look out the window instead. His voice caught as he grasped for words in a rush.

“Stop, Lyntael! Stop, that's enough! That's not—” He could feel heat in his cheeks. He swallowed and took a longer breath. He felt uncomfortable and slimy, like he'd unwittingly violated something he shouldn't have. Telling himself the feelings were completely irrational didn't help at all. Not in the slightest.

“Told you.” The voice that reached his ear was soft, vaguely nervous, but he caught hints of a determined vindication in it too. He risked a glance back. Lyntael was sitting on the edge of the PET now, legs tightly together for decency and with her arms crossed over her chest in a protective huddle. The burning, seductive expression was gone now and she was bright crimson. Despite telling himself to be rational, Rogan's first reaction came before she could stop it.

“Lyntael, what is that? That's never a uniform for anything. At least not anything decent.” She lifted her chin and looked away slightly, sitting straighter.

“It is. It's my uniform for the Neo-shogunate. General Yasu assigns them herself.”
“Neo-” He shook his head and brushed the line of inquiry away; the Neo-shoguns rang a bell – there had been some good work surrounding their activities a few years before, but he hadn't dealt with anything related to them since. It wasn't important right now.

“Lyntael, you can't go out in public like that. That isn't-” he hesitated. “You're too-” again he curtailed the explanation. Lyntael looked back at him, a renewed intensity in the green of her eyes.

“Yes? Too what? Finish the sentence, Rogan. Why are you afraid to? Why, if there's no-one here, but you?” He met her gaze, searching for a way to phrase his thoughts reasonably and she leaned towards him, still covering herself. “Just say it. Say it and we'll talk from there. Please, Rogan, sir.” Rogan winced.

“Please, Lyntael, do not call me 'sir' in that voice, while you are dressed like that...” He sighed, then looked down and pressed fingertips to the bridge of his nose.

“What I want to say, Lyntael, is that you are too young to be dressing like that, out in public. And it is irrational and foolish a thing to say. You aren't...” he waved a hand. “Fourteen...”
“Sixteen!”
“Hardly. Regardless, age is not a factor for navigators, and so it is a foolish impulse to have. So I control it.” He hadn't actually answered the question she was getting at, and she zeroed in on it again before he could deflect further.

“So why are you uncomfortable then? It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense to you, just say it... there's no-one else here to judge you.” She was pleading now, begging him to admit to something that simply wasn't true. It was hard to resist those eyes; he closed his own instead, drawing a breath.

“Lyntael, you have been made appealing, beautiful even. You're very attractive and it doesn't require... that... for your attractiveness to show through. You also look like you're fourteen to me,” he forestalled her objection with a hand. “However old you say you feel... that's how my eyes see it. And beyond that, my brother cares about you very deeply, and he, at least, thinks of you as his very own daughter... so even if I know that you are just a program that only emulates those things, the way he feels about you matters... and so when I look at you, and find your features...” he hesitated, despite himself, and scrambled for a tactful phrasing. “Appealing... I also feel slimy and vile for it. I feel distinctly unclean, seeing you dressed like that, behaving like that, and having my eyes devour the view before I can look away. It makes me feel like a lech. I did not believe that it would make me uncomfortable, but it has. So, I suppose you win. Are you satisfied, Lyntael?” He crossed his arms as he watched her, and tilted his head, arching one eyebrow as he finished.

Lyntael, for her part and relented with the piercing gaze and was looking down at herself instead. He saw a small smile creep up across her lips, but he knew her expression well enough to know that she wasn't simply happy or satisfied with the outcome. There was something wistful there too. After a moment she looked up and grinned more broadly with a nod.

“Thank you.” After a moment, she shrugged and rubbed at her arms, glancing about the room. “It's really not very practical. I feel practically naked.” Rogan gave her a flat look.

“That would be because you are, Lyntael. That isn't seriously a uniform for this faction you've joined, is it? They don't expect you to wear that thing when you work for them?” Lyntael glanced away the side new, rubbing at the back of her neck.

“It is. It actually is, official and everything. But... Well...” She trailed away.
“But?”
“Well, ah, when Yasu makes the uniforms, she has a questionnaire. About, ah... there's a question about how much skin you want to show. One to ten. I, um... I said eight. Everyone else seemed really surprised.”
“And... why?” Now Lyntael shuffled, not making eye contact with him at all any more. Rogan gave her time.

“I... I was upset, and I, um, I wanted to get a reaction out of you...” After everything, that was what she seemed embarrassed about now, more than the show she'd just put on? Rogan didn't really know what to do with the answer, though. What was there to say to that? In spite of the situation he found a wry smile trying to find its way onto his lips and he let a dry chuckle escape. It was all too absurd. Across from him, Lyntael smiled as well, then put a hand to her lips as she stifled an awkward giggle. Brief, self-conscious laughter filled the space between them from both sides.
posted in Electown
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words

Lyntael looked back towards him as he emerged into the main room – she had been looking out the hotel room's window, watching the mid-morning world go by outside. Now she turned and jumped down from the window ledge, to walk out to the edge of the desk and watch him instead.

“Rogan, there was a knock at the door, before, and the hotel service navigator popped in on the entry way projection unit, but I said you were showering. He said they'd accidentally overcharged you for the room, seeing as you meant to check out before five.” Rogan nodded, but he could feel the way Lyntael's eyes were lingering on him. He glanced her way and saw her avert her eyes just as quickly, almost like she didn't want to get caught looking. Again that creeping feeling of amusement threaded its way up through him as he pulled clean clothes from his bag and unrolled them. Girls her age always – he stopped the thought with a small frown, then gave up and let it continue; he was tired of scolding himself over thought correction. They always found things appealing, and then didn't know what to do with the feeling, and Lyntael didn't seem any different.

“I'll just check in about it when we leave. Lyntael, have you— ” A small gasp and squeak of sound gave him pause. He'd just unfastened the towel and put one foot up on the side of the bed to begin drying himself off properly, and Lyntael had stood straighter quite suddenly, turning most of the way to the side so she could only barely see him out of her peripheral. He laughed at her reaction, feeling his cheeks crease as he continued. “And to think you said that you had a uniform that would upset me. Whatever artifice makes you respond as you do, Lyntael, I've no doubt it would never even let you show such a garment off in the first place.” He caught her look his way with a sharp motion, as though to respond, then quickly avert her eyes again. He dried his body with a thorough efficiency that nevertheless seemed to be taking a toll on the girl.

“I- I have! It's terrible! You'd.... you'd have a fit if you saw it!” A few feet away, he could see that her cheeks had pinked considerably, and her left hand was fidgeting, running fingertips around the emblem at her chest. He'd seen the behaviour from her before – it was a nervous tick; a subconscious action. She had a tell. It was another thing that made no sense whatsoever for a digital program to have but somehow he felt certain that Eric hadn't actively programmed the behaviour into her at any point, as much as he didn't want to admit the thought to himself. He began to dress, but arched an eyebrow at her after he pulled the fresh shirt over his head.

“Oh? After everything, you still think so? Okay then... I still say there's no way you will be able to demonstrate such a thing regardless. Am I wrong, Lyntael?” He knew that even if the uniform was scandalous enough for her to think it would upset him, there was simply no way she would have the courage to show him.

At his challenge, he saw her open her mouth, then close it again, one fist clenching as though she was about to make another protest. He body language told the story of an internal war as she started towards him, then pulled herself back, seeking an answer, and then failing to form the words. After a moment, however, she tilted her head up and look at him squarely with an intense expression on her features. Intensely what was hard to say; she looked both determined, but also terrified at the same time, and Rogan began to wonder what can of worms he'd actually just opened.

“Fine! Fine then! You... You– sit down! Just wait!” Rogan found himself hesitating at the sheer edge of nervous mania in the little program's voice as she instructed him, then dashed back the few steps to her PET and disappeared. Not quite sure what he was doing or why, Rogan frowned and sat down on the end of the bed, opposite where the device rested on the desk. He began to pull on fresh socks, and told himself that was the only reason, not that he was waiting for her at all.
posted in Electown
RE: Hare and Hedgehog (VS Riccio)
Mania. That single word described himself forty years prior.

Once upon a time, Jazz was manic. He slipped deep into the struggles of greater and greater power...and now he began to slip into it again in an attempt to keep himself in check, even with the advancements that the net and society itself had made in these four decades, it was unsure what kind of destruction he could cause in his wake. Even as those thoughts flashed through his head, the idea he was gathering power again...the idea he might become what he was...Was I the one controlling the body? Was...I the one...who caused that destruction? Did I steal his memories when I escaped? flew through his mind as his eyes began to bleed...his mind's eye, his own eyes beginning to leak a deep, sticky crimson onto the paneling below, staining the eggshell white that his bodysuit had become with that same crimson that clung to his body...a dark pink staining it in multiple places as he moved. Even if he had not noticed it, the gold from his attack at Riccio earlier still clung to his forearm, the hare leaving striking golden trails as he flew.

Globs of his blood floating freely from his body as he jumped from his position and flew towards the cybeast, his hand reared back as he began to see clearer in the crimson that stained his vision, cutting through the darkness that encapsulated his eyesight just a moment previous. Even as his mind raced at a hundred miles per hour, his pupils darting to and fro in his head beneath a film of crimson. His wings flapping more in time with the world around him, frames beginning to blend together in a quicker manner, almost looking like an amateurish animation as he attempted to get within the beast's pervew, shadows slowly slinking away from his form as he brought the pillow down, hopefully upon the beast's face, a crunching sound echoing weakly from within, wooden needles poking through the soft fabric and fluff this time, crimson and gold . The hare would quickly capitalize on the attack again, this time as he hopped into the air, twirling about from his kickoff point, body twisting through the ether as he attempted to follow the beast's movements...and slam that pillow down a third time onto it's face, which upon impact with whatever that it hit, would explode outwards from it's point of impact and little wooden needles and fluff would begin to float through the area of it's impact, even as the battlefield continuously turned about like a dice rolling about. I'm a bad person for having fought Riccio like this... Echoed through his head, guilt beginning to tug at him...but the battle was nearly finished...and he didn't leave a job unfinished if he could help it.

Tapping into his signature processors, Jazz hopped backwards briefly as he began to split into multiple clones of himself, each Jazz landing in unison as the clones flickered between tangibility and intangibility. Words left unspoken as Jazz and his trio of clones lifted their knives up, one or two in each hand, the navi and his posse would take a quick, loose, aim at the giant flagging beast. Weather it managed to stay awake or not, it would wind up with a sextet of razor sharp knives flying through the air, attempting to embed themselves into it's hide...even as the hares had attacked, more pings of guilt running through the quartet before the trio of clones disappeared, knives hopefully having embedded themselves in the beast's body.

Just let this end quickly...I...I need to end this soon... He murrmured to himself as chip data embedded itself in his body again, the hare closing his eyes and inhaling deeply as he materialized the weapon that would pelt Riccio with...a battered and beaten tommy gun, almost twice the size that Jazz was used to...rust covering the barrel and body of the weapon as he loaded in a drum of wood-alligned ammo into the weapon, each tipped with petrified wood and ready to fire on his command. Leveling the weapon, a golden sheen beginning to take over the weapon before tightly gripping it in both hands...and depressing the trigger, the navi sending out a veritable hail of shots at the large creature, even as he tried to hold it steady, the shots would likely go wide and bounce off the reflective surfaces of the cave, an echoing RATATATATATATATATATA sound coming from the weapon before it emptied it's clip...and the hare discarding the weapon entirely, letting it break away into junk for later use, before quickly bringing a reflective shield outwards towards the beast, rubber insulating the inside whilst the outer material would gleem in the low light. Lets end this fight, big guy. I'll give you a proper death, no joking on you...but your power...I need your power...to prevent history from repeating...

Overview
*STAB: +15 Null
*High gear: Increases evasion on Dodge, Feint and Movement actions by 10%
*Overclock: Imbue on a movement action Once Per Turn, Movement goes as far as possible in a line and has 50% base evasion chance
*Floatshoes: Ignore panel effects, not multiplicative damage
1: Signature: Hyper Sight to self, Accuracy Enhancement 2 (1 turn, 2 ranks), Self Sacrifice 30 (1TCD, -30 HP)
2: Pillow3Damage: 90 + Sleep
Accuracy: B
Description: A fluffy pillow that will make anyone drowsy when it hits.
Duration: Until Overridden/Broken. Breaks after 3 swings.
Element: Null
Trader Rank: B
--->Riccio (Imbue Wood, +Sleep) (1/3 uses)
3: Pillow3Damage: 90 + Sleep
Accuracy: B
Description: A fluffy pillow that will make anyone drowsy when it hits.
Duration: Until Overridden/Broken. Breaks after 3 swings.
Element: Null
Trader Rank: B
--->Riccio (Imbue Wood, +Sleep) (Broken!)
4: Signature: Army of One--->Riccio First; Sacrifice15 before attacking with 15x6 Wood Shot Slashing damage. Then; Time Delay: Start of next turn, Decoy1 (3TCD) (X2 Source)
5: MachineGun1Damage: (30 x 9 Shots) + Spray Fire
Accuracy: D
Description: Creates a machine gun that fires 9 shots at a single enemy. While inaccurate, its missed shots are capable of hitting others.
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Special: Spray Fire: If a shot from this attack misses its primary target, it has a chance to hit something near the enemy instead of completely missing. Good RP increases the chance of triggering this effect.
Trader Rank: D
--->Riccio (30x9, Wood Imbued)
6: Equip Guard1Effect: (1 Hit Shield) + (Reflect(up to 60 + Piercing + Line Attack): On Hit)
Accuracy: S
Description: Generates a 1-Hit Shield upon activation. When this shield blocks one hit from a non-Break attack, it responds with a hyper-fast damage ray.
Duration: Until broken or overridden.
Element: Null
Special: Negated by Break. Ignores Impact.
Special: Reflect: Damage returned is equal to the damage of the attack blocked or the damage cap listed, whichever comes first. Reflect is not subject to negation by Impact.
Special: Status Guard: This chip blocks debuffs.
Trader Rank: E
(unimbued)

Cooldowns

Defensive Positions!: 0
Adrenaline Slice 1: 1
Shadow's Shadow 1: 1
Hyper Sight: 1
Army of One: 3


chips used

Boomerang1
Numberball1
PoisonBall2
CrackOut
TreeBomb3
IceDragon1
NeedleCannon2
RollingLog1x2
FireBomb1
Shadow2
BambooKnife
GigasArm3
SonicBlade1
Pillow3
MachineGun1
Guard1
posted in NAXA Net
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words

The time until his appointment passed quickly; a small amount of travelling and a handful of valuable information deals were the punctuation to his troubled thoughts about his navigator, rather than his primary focus. Rogan pulled into a parking space a fair distance from his destination, and glanced towards Lyntael, sitting in the alcove of the dash and watching him. She quickly stood and returned to the PET as he scooped it into one pocket and set out on foot.

Lyntael for her part had been... if not secluded, then certainly contemplative, just as he was. They'd spoken, over various necessary things, but it had been cool and reserved; perfectly cordial and sensible, but it had bothered him all the same, eating away at the back of his mind. His own thoughts continued to linger on the choice he'd had to make, and the consequences of it, unconsciously replaying every moment of the incident in different ways, even though he knew it wouldn't help. By the second day, he was able-minded enough to lock the rest of it away with his other mistakes and move onward, but it wasn't until he had made the error of challenging Lyntael on her earlier claim that they had actually managed to return to something approaching what passed best for normal between them.

It had been in the evening, two days after their more serious talk, in a different hotel room, and as he showered, his thoughts had still been on the quiet girl, and the bright exuberance she had first exhibited when she'd been given to him, compared to her demeanour now.

His mind often drifted like this as he washed, letting the warm water run over his body and working out his neck and shoulder muscles slowly. He ran fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp. Compared to when they'd first met, the way she acted now was very different. She did all the same things, of course. Still hassled him about sleeping and eating enough, still fretted about the situations he was putting himself in... but the little things were different, in subtle ways that he was finding he really noticed, when he let himself think about them.

As he turned back and forth under the warmth, his left hand rubbed with practised care across the long scar that ran across his ribs, on the right hand side of his chest – not his only blemish, but the one that still ached the most, against all reason. His other finger tips sought out the three other smaller marks – gunshot wounds – each a small reminder of mistakes made, though he didn't feel them any more; not like the scar. No scars from the latest incident, at least, none visible on his body.

The tally marks, etched into his subconscious and attached to memories he had to keep, were another matter but they didn't show on the surface, so it was alright. He turned the taps off and ran his hands over his body one more time, flicking most of the remaining water from himself... Lyntael could probably see them, given how easily she seemed to read him half the time. Would that make her forgive him the decision, or just hate him more? As he passed the towel over himself once and fastened it temporarily about his waist, he caught himself looking at his reflection in the mirror – the cheap bathroom didn't have a proper fan, but his showers were rarely hot enough to fog up the glass. The idea that she knew as much as she did about him now, and still thought that some uniform she'd been given would upset him seemed like a ludicrous through. Without really realising, he shook his head and chuckled to himself as he stepped from the bathroom.
posted in Electown
RE: Simple Lodgings and Difficult Words


Rogan spoke for a little over two hours, while Lyntael listened. He looked down at her as he finished; she was huddled up in his hands now, leaning against him. She was distressed and upset, shifting slightly and breathing in long, slow, controlled breaths, but she had kept her thoughts to herself up until now. He could feel the warmth of her body against the soft skin of his palms. A part of him knew that the warmth he was feeling was almost certainly just a result of the energy output of the whatever Eric had done to make her hologram body tangible... but as she shifted in his hands, it didn't feel that way. Unbidden, his mind jumped back to earlier days when Lyntael had made a habit of playing around his hands and fingers when they were talking. Looking back, she'd seemed to enjoy the closeness, and, he supposed, the fact that he'd humoured her antics at least with his hands. He hadn't thought much of it, back then. Back then... it had only been a handful of months. He looked down at her, his thoughts in conflict as he reached the end of his story, and Lyntael looked up when the silence drew out.

“So... Why?” She might have been asking why a group would do these things, but as he met her eyes Rogan knew that wasn't the question. He glanced away, out at the darkness of the night and the pouring rain.

“It pays well, and its putting my skills to full use. I enjoy the challenge of it.” Inwardly, a thought followed on, asking if those feelings were worth the cost of his mistakes, and the black line of tally marks etched in his mind. It felt like it, when they weren't close or recent, but at times like these, when there were fresh marks on the wall, he wasn't so sure. Lyntael just looked up at him, and when he glanced down again, he felt her gaze locking him in place.

“That isn't all. I know it's not. So why?” Rogan hesitated. She could have just accepted the answer and called him the callous bastard that he knew he was... or, she wouldn't call him it, but she'd think it, and he'd know. Instead she was pressing him, and Rogan felt his teeth clenching. He forced his jaw to relax.

“Would you believe me, if I said it was about freedom? Obligation and entrapment, control and enslavement... I see it all there, in this, and I think I'd like it to stop.” He felt Lyntael flinch softly in his hands, and her look drew into something of an accusation, mixed with confusion.

“You don't think that way about navigators. You can't enslave or entrap something that's not alive, or not able to think and choose.” Her words were a challenge, though he couldn't tell what response she actually wanted him to give. Instead closed his eyes and looked away.

“How someone treats their tools is all too real a sign of how they treat the people they see as tools. They may not be running experiments on humans yet, but the way their research is moving, it's only a matter of time. When they do, they'll be every bit as sadistic and destructive to them as they are being towards the programs they're using right now.” He opened his eyes to look at her as he felt the tiny girl's body go faintly limp in his hands, and he saw her looking away from him, out the window now. When she spoke it was barely a whisper.

“So why don't you treat me as nicely as you treat the people you see as tools?” The question caught him off guard, and Rogan blinked. Several different answers jumped up in his mind and he swallowed them all back while different thoughts fought for dominance.

“Lyntael, I don't...” he stopped himself. There was no point in saying that he didn't treat her poorly; she would respond like a human might, and if she were a human his protestation would be a lie. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “Lyntael... most of the people I work with I smile for, as I attempt to deceive, swindle, cheat and undermine at any real opportunity to do so safely, for my own benefit. Even those I work with see my charming side only because it suites me to relax them. I act nicely, but I would not say I treat them well at all. I at least do my best to be honest with you.” When she looked his way again, her eyes were considering, until, after a few quiet seconds, she nodded. He was just wondering what to say next, and how to break the quiet again when he felt Lyntael stand up, and climb out of his laced fingers to place one hand on his wrist.

“Alright. I'll help you. I'll do everything I can to make this work.” She spoke softly, but her voice was clear and firm all the same, and Rogan felt a knot that he hadn't been aware of unravel between his shoulders. As he relaxed, he caught himself wondering why the statement had relieved such a tension in him, and why the tension had been there to start with, but he set the worry aside. Lyntael walked across the desk top, moving to place her hands against the window as she looked out at the night. She pulled her hands away after a second, then rubbed at her arms, looking back at him with an accusing look.

“Rogan, it's freezing in this room. It's... it's seven degrees! Have you even eaten since you got here? I know you only had a coffee and a biscuit for breakfast!” She moved back to his hands quickly, rubbing her back against his skin for warmth; he felt the shifting of the silk pyjamas against her back as she shivered. Rogan looked around behind him as the the room might somehow provide an appropriate response. He didn't feel cold, but then he couldn't really remember the last time he had; vaguely, he was aware that the room temperature was indeed very low, but shutting out discomforts like cold was something he'd been doing so long that it was unconscious now. He shrugged.

“I'm fine, Lyntael. But if it will sooth you, I'll go and get something once I neaten up the rest of these.” He flicked his eyes to his laptop indicating the documents he'd been working through before the message from Varda had come in. Lyntael gave him a small frown, but relented as she rubbed at her arms again.

“Don't forget. You're really bad at that. If we're going to be doing all of this dangerous work, you have to take better care, Rogan, you have to.” He sighed and nodded; he'd long since learned that insisting that he took adequate care served no purpose in these conversations. Lyntael glanced at the window again, then back up to him.

“Ah, can I go, then? It's cold out here and I want to get inside and have some tea.” He let her go with a small nod and a flick of his fingers, and the small girl darted back to the PET. As usual, her image froze as she stepped onto the screen, then dissolved away a second later. Rogan found himself watching the spot for several more seconds, then glanced down at his hand, his mind recalling the sensation of her small form shivering against him in the cold. He shook his head and returned to his work.
posted in Electown