Light in the Storm: Touching Darkness

Vigilance hummed, then chuckled to himself as his hand stroked and squeezed. Lyntael felt his gaze rake her prone form as he nodded. No matter how she strained, the current that normally suffused her skin couldn't break away from the completed circuit.

“Much better... Huh... talk about monsters, anyone ever ask you what the hell you are? Should be nice and comfy now though. Let's enjoy this. Show me your eyes...” He pulled her face back towards him, and she didn't have the strength to resist it, but even so, she could barely make out his form, squinting through the stinging sensation. Around the room, bright spheres of glass filled with flaring electricity while the ever-flowing stream of energy stole her breath. Vigilance made an irritated sound. “Damn sparks... Pity. Doesn't matter. I've been waiting for this for a while now, Little Lyntael... I just know you're going to feel amazing.”

“I'll indulge your depravity in this, Vigilance, for a little while... but you watch your slips. I think hearing his little navigator suffer might help convince our friend to be wise in his actions.” A different voice filtered across the room; it was casual and relaxed, with the hint of a northern netopian accent. Vigilance smirked.

“You're going to let him live? I'm surprised...”
“After he learns a lesson. Now mind you say nothing you shouldn't, got it?”
“Right boss. I don't mind an audience. Bloody pervert watched last time, after all, didn't he?” Her tormentor turned his attention back to Lyntael. A knife appeared in one hand and he leaned in closer to her, until she couldn't see anything beyond his grinning face. Out of pain, spite and hopelessness, she slammed herself forward, trying to headbutt him – to do something, or anything, to stave off what was happening. He liked it when she fought back, didn't he? That made him delay last time. Vigilance pulled back away from her before the attempt connected; her motion had been slow and laboured.

“Heh, that's it. Struggle, gorgeous. Show me your spirit... I want to watch it break. How do you like it, hmm? Putting on a little show for your bastard operator, huh? He get his rocks off seeing me have you like this, do you think? Does it make him hard?” His voice was a sneering whisper, cold and indulgent. He stepped in closer, still holding her jaw in one hand, and Lyntael felt the coarseness of his clothing rub against her thighs, then a hard pressure pressing beneath her skirt, against her groin. It seemed like a vile, petty thing, against the agonising pain and fear for her very life, but the girl thrashed violently anyway, trying, in futility, to shift away from the sensation.

“Get... nngahh... away! Don't touch me, you—” her voice broke into a strangled gasp as a fresh line of new, clean pain lanced across her senses; a line on her left calf that made itself known with razor clarity before gradually beginning to fade into the mass of other points that her awareness was struggling to cope with. She could feel her senses drifting as some part of her tried to separate itself from the overwhelming situation. Vigilance pulled the knife out, dragging a whimpered, choked sound from her, then brought it up to glance at with a smile. Blood dripped from the edge of the blade, to make a red stain on her skirt.

“Or what, beautiful? Are you going to stop me? A broken little doll like you? Any other navi would shrug that off, you know that, right? But you... I could let you go now, and you wouldn't even be able to run very far... You're exquisite. Making you suffer is the best use for a toy like you. I can see why he likes to watch... You think he's watching now? Like before, hmm? Just letting me have my way with you...” Through grit teeth, Lyntael screamed again, thrashing at her restraints. Each tug brought a fresh flare of pain like tearing skin and breaking open scars. The constant flow of energy was drowning her thoughts. The cuffs at her wrists and ankles had taken on a dull orange glow, bleeding into shades of blue and purple at the edges.

“He's coming! He... He won't give up... gghhh... and he's... he's better than... than you... or your boss... or anyone.” Her defiance came out breathless and wet with tears, and she could taste blood in her mouth still. She squeezed her eyes closed and tried to reach out with her other senses, feeling the data space around her. It was vast, but she had to try. “Rogan! I'm here! Hurry... Please!!” The words broke into crying pleading, no matter her attempts to shout them, and Vigilance cut her off with a harsh slap. He was still wearing that twisted sneer.

“Not this time, sweet thing... Not this time. This time, it's just you and me, right to the end.” He hesitated, then licked the flat of his knife, running his tongue over his teeth for a moment. He shrugged. “Never did have much in the way of taste. You tell me, beautiful... Hold still now...” He pressed the edge of the blade between her lips, carefully, then withdrew it and made it disappear with a flick. His thumb worked around her lips once, coating them, though it came more from the blood already in her mouth, than from where the blade had cut her leg. “How's it taste, hmm? Tell me...” Lyntael only shook her head; past memories intersected with new horrors, each seeming as real as the other, and she struggled to call out again through ragged breaths. Her voice called for Eric this time as her grip on reality blurred, but above her, Vigilance just chuckled.

“No? Oh well... We've got time yet... There's more I've been looking forward to seeing again, beautiful...” His free hand returned to stroke and squeeze at one of her exposed breasts, more softly than before, while his other released her jaw and trailed down, dragging fingers over her midsection, then gripped beneath the clasp of her skirt. Lyntael tried to shut it out, along with the pain and the strain of her charge. He was coming for her. She just had to endure, until he rescued her. He was coming.

Rogan took a moment to let himself breathe. Once more, the world of silent light flashes and empty, open-mouthed shouting returned to one of normal sound as he ripped the ear plugs out and stuffed them into one pocket. There was no stealth from here on out. He'd made it far enough into the cavern that he was sure the shriek would cover the whole area, but he wouldn't have that luxury for whatever else waited him up above. Bodies littered the chamber all around him, but they were all still breathing. No deaths today; not this time. He stood from the knee he'd been on and vaulted the nearby barrier, swinging himself up onto a higher level so he could scan the room properly. It was similar, but not quite identical to the other chamber. His eyes found the wide doors of the elevator up, but here there were two smaller lifts as well, one on either side. They'd said that Lance had ordered everything sent to him directly... but it still had to pass by fixed locations first, and if he was lucky it would take a while to get to him. He was sure the CEO of the organisation was a busy man. If he was lucky, it wouldn't go directly to Lance before the morning.

Rogan searched a few of the more casually-dressed bodies for access passes and identification he could use, then brought out his PET to begin searching for some digital signature he could trace properly. Where would they have sent her?

“There you are, right on time! Our little Sharo sneak come to find his lost toys!” The small black device in Rogan's hand lit up with a fresh short-range communication. It had forced its own acceptance and the voice spoke into his ear-piece with a bright, laid-back tone, and a hint of lingering northern-netopian lilt. Rogan grit his teeth but didn't answer right away. He checked the screen, then tapped a few buttons and checked other details of the 'call'. He could cut it off, if he had to, but for now he let it play. It was a short range connection, and it was coming from somewhere close. As he strode towards one of the small elevators, he carefully began to work on the signal.

“Not feeling chatty? Is my Netopian too thick for you? Somehow I don't think that's a problem. It's very interesting that you're here, but it just means you haven't leaned your lesson yet. We're going to have to fix that, aren't we?” Rogan glanced at the screen. It wasn't coming from any of the terminals here, or routing through them either. If Fitzpatrick knew they had his navi, then he might have picked her up already... threads of emotion rippled up underneath the mask as he worked the controls quickly. He pressed them back down. They would only get in the way, and he needed to be calm if he was going to rescue her.

“Aren't you a bit too important to be bothering with all the little rats and mice in the night?”
“Oh I always like to make time for the little unimportant folk. We're all one big family here, and family is important, don't you think? The things we wouldn't do for our family. I do hope you haven't brutally murdered too many of mine for the sake of a silly little program.” There was a pause as Rogan called the elevator, then disregarded it; he'd spotted what looked like an emergency stair, behind another row of shelves, and broke into a run as he made for it instead. The voice continued. “But she is a rather delicate piece of work, isn't she?” Rogan felt his chest lurch sharply but he ignored it and pushed on. That confirmed that Lance had her directly then. He began bolting up the stairs, each long stride taking three at a time as he glanced at the screen every few moments.

“But I'm being a bad host, aren't I? You've come here to get her back, so you're going to need to know where she is, right? Here, let me help you...” There was quiet for a moment, but then a broken sob, cracking into a scream of pain, echoed into Rogan's ear-piece from the call. His step faltered for a moment and he shoulder-checked the wall at the turn of the stairs with a grunt. He didn't let himself stop running, but he brought the PET up again to look; his jaw was tight near to pain as he saw the feed that had pushed onto the screen alongside the call information.

His eye found Lyntael first, slightly off-centre of the image, strapped down, half stripped of her clothes and bleeding. He heard her cry out again, saw her struggle weakly as the other navi on the screen mouthed words to her that he couldn't hear. Rogan flinched as Vigilance stabbed his knife into her leg and drew it out, sending another tormented sound to his ear. Anger and disgust surged but he kept his voice level and his face smooth, just in case.

“What do you want?” He spoke between breaths as he continued up the stairs. Not far now.

The sounds of Lyntael being... tortured... were hard to block out as Rogan tried to plan his assault on the floor above. He didn't dare cut off any piece of tractable data, but listening to it was hard to bear, even behind the cold calculation of his focus. Lance hadn't answered him yet, letting the sounds of torment continue for long seconds instead. There would be many guards above, most likely.

With any luck, if they'd been summoned to meet him, most would be checking the elevator signal first. It might give him an opportunity. With one hand, he continued trying to trace the signal from the forced 'call'. It had definitely originated up on the main high security floor above, but he hadn't narrowed down where yet. After another moment, Lance's voice spoke back with an equally flat, controlled voice.

“The first lesson, is that I don't want other people, no matter who they are, or what their history in Sharo may or may not be, to mess with my things... or I'll mess with theirs. But of course... You aren't actually one of their things... Are you? They wouldn't be caught dead letting one of theirs be caught dead here. You're just fodder to them.” His words continued, but in the background, the feed to whatever depraved lab Lyntael was held in had continued, and he was forced to listen to the girl cry, whimper and shout. The twisted navigator with her had already half undressed her, leaving the girl indecent and exposed; he was sadistic, and liked to torment his victims, but there was no telling how much time that would buy him. He had to get her out before... Rogan cut the thought off. He couldn't afford to make emotional stipulations like that. He would retrieve her as fast as he was able to, no other qualification. He had to keep Lance talking as well, even if it was just to let him gloat.

“Alright. You kill me, you send them a message. That's fair. What's all this about then? Why bother?” He crested a landing in the stairs and glanced upwards, then bounded up the last few flights to the heavy emergency door, stopping to listen through it as best he could.

“Well that's the second lesson, isn't it? Oh navigators, especially the good ones, they feel and fear and suffer, sure, but it's not really the same as you and me, is it? But still, it doesn't stop us getting attached. This little thing you've got here... sorry... that I've got here. Someone's got to be real attached to that. So, point is, I want you to suffer as well.” Another dragged out breath's worth of wracked crying punctuated his words and Rogan resisted the impulse to look at the screen. “And maybe you'll learn that it's a bad idea to mess with my stuff, too.” The voice chuckled to itself. “Well, I'm fibbing. It's a bit more personal than that, isn't it? A lot more personal, really.” Rogan couldn't delay any longer; couldn't afford to. He narrowed the range of his scrambler and pulsed it, then as the lights flickered, he shoved through the door and into the hall beyond.

Immediately he came face to face with a security guard, but the moment of surprise was a moment too slow for the other man and Rogan moved quickly, pressing him to the wall opposite and forcing his arm away from his weapon. The guard struggled, and Rogan grunted as a fist struck him hard in the midsection, but his fingers found the man's neck a moment later and pressed under his jaw until his eyes lost focus and he slumped. Rogan lowered him down and looked around, listening. Nothing yet. The floor plan was different here; he could see that right away. Quick steps took him to the end of the terminating side hall and he paused to listen, then retrieved his corner mirror to check.

The hall emerged into an open lobby that held one of the smaller elevators. Further along, down the directly opposite hall, he could see another broader lobby that presumably had the main freight lift in it. Two armed guards were focused on the nearby door, and he saw several other dark-clad figures down the hall further, poised at the other doors just in case.

“Sounds like you're busy again. We'll talk more in a minute or two if you're still alive. Don't disappoint me.” The call went dead, and a quick glance at the screen showed him that the feed of Lyntael's situation had gone with it, leaving him in silence again. He fought down the urge to curse. They were here on this floor, somewhere, and he had no time for caution. How many guards with weapons between him and them? He had no way of being sure. The ones on this floor were all dressed like Lance's personal guard, not the site security, so he was probably close. He checked the lobby again and decided against it. They were on high alert, and looked ready to shoot on sight. His eyes scanned upwards to the ceiling panels.

Lyntael felt the rough tug that jerked her body against her bonds; heard the tear of fabric, and felt the slide of the ruined material being pulled away from her. It really wasn't very much that covered her from the world, a distracted thought contemplated. Barely anything, really. When it was gone, it barely felt different, not amidst the unending strain of her charge that flowed from her. The sensation of being exposed the rest of the way, of air against the skin of her lower body, was too subtle a thing to really notice, in between everything else. She couldn't feel her fingers, or her toes. Her limbs were going numb from the burden of the completed circuit. The rapid pound of her heart in her chest was a different source of pain; a dull, fast-beating ache. Individual pains won through the background feeling that her body was trying to block out now. The stinging in her eyes would have driven her to tears, if her cheeks weren't already run with them. Closing them didn't help, and she forced herself to keep them open; to focus on whatever she could. Dimly, some part for her was aware of her conscious thoughts separating and drifting apart as her mind buckled and rebelled from the situation.

“A fucking work of art... that's what you are...” A voice breathed close to her; the figure of Vigilance had his head tilted to one side, his eyes raking across every inch of her exposed body and taking it in. Her limbs were numb, save for spikes of intermittent agony whenever she shifted and something at her extremities tugged. Vigilance reached out and ran one finger over her emblem, circling it, and Lyntael felt herself shudder, revolted. The hand moved, sliding across to grip and massage at her breast again, still sickeningly gentle. She couldn't breath; every effort just came to small, tight pants that made her chest flutter without really providing relief from the suffocating feeling. Another shudder passed through her and she struggled again, trying to shift the sensitive skin away from his hand, but it only sent more spikes of sudden pain through her wrists and ankles. A sear, like something tearing beneath the metal restraints, and the sound of something wet, sizzling on metal. An iron scent reached her nose, but it only joined with the taste already filling her mouth. She wasn't here; that was how it always was in the end, wasn't it? She wasn't actually here. It was just another nightmare. Another bad memory. This wasn't now and wasn't real.

A sharp shock slammer her vision to one side, then pulled it back again and she squinted up at the other navi's sneer. Her whole body trembled and shook, in between more pronounced sobs.

“Don't you go anywhere, beautiful. Stay with me now... we're just getting to the good bit.” The hand holding her jaw gripped tighter and pulled her head down so she could see the rest of her body, and Vigilance above her. His other hand left her chest and dragged fingertips down, whisper light, across her middle and then further. Lyntael felt fingers tug at soft hair, then press lower; felt foreign invaders explore slowly, pulling and sliding, parting skin and letting go again. She struggled, thrashing despite the spikes of tearing pain at her extremities. The pain in her eyes blazed harder and the hum in the room grew louder in the background.

“Get away! St- op it, Stop! You can't!” The words she tried to form came out stuttered and wet, cried out between breathless sobs even she she fought to pull herself away from his hand. She couldn't do anything. Even if she tried to burn herself out, embrace that terminus for a moment, and buy time – it was no use; the cuffs just ate it up and she couldn't even reach that point of personal oblivion. Vigilance laughed and nodded, his tongue sliding out to run across his teeth as he watched her thrash. He wasn't going to stop... and even when he had taken everything else, he'd kill her in the end as well. She had to hold on. Hold out, until Rogan found her. She had to make it through. Vigilance looked back down at her as his exploring hand played.

“Who even does this, huh my little doll? Who puts so much work into someone... gives you so much... thinks of every little detail like this... and then just... sends you here, to a place like this, hmm? I ain't going to question it... but that's twisted. Still...” Suddenly he leaned close, and she could feel his body close against her as he brought his face right up to hers, only a few inches away. “I'm going to make the most of this.” His fingers gripped her jaw tight, holding her head still, and then she felt him press against her lips, his tongue briefly exploring between them, against teeth that he wasn't giving the chance to close. She felt her face contorting in reaction to the sensation, an ill, queasiness rising in her, but Vigilance pulled back a moment later, blood on his lips and a smirk as he licked them clean. She heard herself mumble something, or try to, but it didn't make it into proper words. The navi above her watched, then ran his tongue over his teeth again and spat into his hand. A moment later she felt his fingers again, down between her legs. No, no he couldn't. She had to stall him. Rogan would save her. She reached out again, trying to force her charge to build higher, straining to find the place where she might lose herself to its fury, but nothing came. The light flares around the room grew brighter, and the softer glow from her cuffs faded from orange towards yellow, at the edge of her vision, but the oblivion of burning out wasn't there. Rogan was coming, he had to be.

She felt it, a moment later; Vigilance leaned in above her, then grabbed at her throat with one hand. He moved his body up against hers. A sense of contact, pressure and pain, and a lurch as her whole body was thrust upwards along with the sudden force. Vigilance lifted his head back, hissing a breath.

“Fucking exquisite...” The pain wasn't really much pain, not compared to everything else. He moved again, and her body shook, shoved up against her bonds in response. She felt sick. Revulsion overpowered everything else as bile rose in her throat. She felt sick; on the verge of retching. The horror, the fervent denial, even the fear, was balanced by the disgust that flowed up through her from the violating sensation. It didn't even hurt that much, in the end. Everything else hurt more. Another spasm of pain from her extremities as Vigilance shoved her body with his movement and pulled at her wrists and ankles. Where was Rogan? She knew he wouldn't leave her. She knew he wouldn't. She hadn't managed to stall long enough. She'd been too scared. She hadn't fought hard enough. She'd felt too helpless to do anything. Too weak to keep herself safe. Now...? She felt sick. Rogan was still looking for her. He had to find her soon.

The crawl space in the ceiling was low and narrow, but nothing that Rogan wasn't used to. He moved quickly, but more importantly, quietly from brace to brace, keeping his weight even and shifting smoothly. He paused as, below, he heard the muffled sound of a radio crackle and a voice speaking. It was too muffled to make out, but it didn't sound hurried or urgent. He held still a moment longer, but there was no rapid or sudden movement. Carefully, he pulled out his PET and searched again for anything that would give him a definite answer. Lance's call had come from somewhere on this floor... but with it cut off, he had no lead for where.

His mind reached back for what little he could be sure of, of the floor plan, then peered across the narrow maintenance space he was moving through. There weren't hallways and corridors here, but while he could see the limits of some of the simpler storage rooms, the bigger obstructions were the heavily reinforced and protected walls that he had to guess made up the actual research labs. Each was probably a closed box, of a sort, without an easy back door. How long did he have, before that navi got bored of lesser torments? He shoved the thought from his mind ruthlessly and refocused. Thinking like that would just distract him and slow him down.

He moved further across the floor, away from the elevator shafts, and found a grate that looked down into a document room. It was empty of people, but Rogan knew that aside from Lance's personal contingent, there would be more active site security here than in the previous facility. They knew he was here, but he still had to stay hidden; getting caught would be the end... but he needed more information all the same. He couldn't just go lab to lab and guess. Where would Lance be?

Below him, the door slid open with a hiss and three shapes moved into the room, the lead one pushing a small trolley holding several boxes. Quiet murmurs of conversation drifted up. He didn't know how viable the opportunity really was, but there wasn't any time to second guess. Rogan shifted his weight and lifted the grate in silence. The trio moved around the trolley once they'd stopped it at one shelf and began to unpack the boxes with tired motions. Rogan lowered himself through the gap in the ceiling with practiced surety and dropped to the carpet. One of the white-coated figures began to turn his head just before Rogan hit them, but it was far too late to react.

A handful of seconds later, two of the unfortunate technicians were slumped over the trolley and on the carpet respectively, while Rogan held the third pressed tight against the back shelf of the room, pinning his limbs with an arm and one leg while he held his free hand over the other man's mouth.

“I'm not interested in you. You're an innocent victim who saw nothing, as long as you tell me what I need. You get one chance. Where is Fitzpatrick holed up, right now. Try anything else and it goes badly for you. Understood?” Against the shelving, the other man struggled to nod. With most of his body pressed up against the scientist, Rogan could feel the panicked beat of his heart in his chest. He'd have to trust it. He removed his hand.

“D-14. Mr Fitzpatrick requisitioned lab D-14 when he came. I don't have access, I swear, I don't!” Rogan covered his mouth again and looked into his eyes, measuring. After a moment he nodded, then pressed in hard enough to make the man's eyes roll and lose focus. He lowered him to the floor. Next step. His eyes scanned the trio and took in details. As far as quick-changes went it would be rough, but he didn't have a better option; he got to work.

A little under fifteen seconds later, Rogan made his way down the open corridor and took a right turn. He pushed the document trolley, leaning heavily on the handle with a tired, bored slump and lidded eyes. A lanyard with a tangled cord held an ID card that had gotten turned around and back to front so the picture couldn't be seen. His coat was safely wrapped up in his shoulder bag, itself inside the top document box, while Rogan himself wore the long white coat that one of the scientists had worn. He glanced up at the hall and door numbers, then took another turn. Other people passed him in the hall as he moved – site guards and employees alike, but their eyes mostly slid off him as he sought the right lab.

A pair of black-clad private guards waited outside in the hall, on either side of the entrance to the lab that he needed. They both looked in his direction as he rounded the corner and Rogan payed them no heed as he paused in front of a different lab door, fiddling with his lanyard and swiping the ID card in front of the lock. It blinked green but as the door opened and he began to wheel the trolley in, one of the guards looked again, then put a hand to his ear.

“You, wait there!” A voice called out, and Rogan didn't wait. Inside the lab he saw a collection of inquisitive faces look in his direction; bad luck for them. He moved quickly, pushing the trolley to the side near the door and pulling out his PET. The two security guards in the room with him stood froward, calling out, but Rogan ignored them. He pulled in the settings on the shriek program, set a delay and put it on the top box. The security raised their weapons and Rogan ran, pulling the ear plugs from his pocket and hurriedly trying to get them in as he slid down and behind the benches at the far end of the room. People were shouting as Rogan clamped his fingers in his ears over the plugs and braced himself. The black-clad guards burst into the room behind him, and Rogan felt the pulse of sound rippled across the room.

His limbs stiffened and a wave of dizziness made his head reel. Around him, other figures collapsed as he counted to three then pulled out the ear plugs and tried to move. His movements were sluggish, his limbs stiff as he tried to shake off the fringe effects of the pulse. There was no time to worry about that now. As he stood, another shaped moved nearby; the guard that had followed him tried, stiffly, to claw her way towards standing and drag her weapon towards Rogan across the bench that was between them. Rogan threw something that looked very expensive towards her then heaved himself over the bench after it, sliding across to her side. He heard the dull bark of several muted gunshots, and a tell-tale tugging feeling as he landed, driving the guard to the ground and delivering a quick rabbit punch to the back of her skull. He winced as she went down hard beneath him, and hurried checked her vitals; stable, but he had no way of knowing if he'd struck too hard. The best he could do was lie her out more carefully and move on. Even that was too much time wasted, he knew, but there was no point to killing anyone now, and Lyntael wouldn't ever forgive him.

He stumbled back to the trolley, shaking the lingering stiffness out of his limbs and recovered his PET. He threw off the lab coat and pulled his own back out of the box, sliding it on. His eye slid over the red stain on the discarded white coat and he didn't think about it. They'd be on him in seconds if he didn't get out of sight soon. The hall was empty as he looked out, and though he listened, there wasn't yet any sound of running feet. He darted to the lab door. Between the ones at the elevators, the ones in the cavern below, and the two at the door, Lance couldn't have more than a couple more guards with him. He'd handle it, somehow. Getting access was the next problem.

It took him precious seconds to located a hatch in the carpeted floor and work his way down into the under-works of the shielded lab. Lance was private in his personal projects; from the outside, no-one had access for entry, only intercom and radio. A quick scan had come back dead beyond the walls, and he didn't have the tools to force the doors physically – not these ones. Instead, Rogan found himself braced and half curled up amongst a mesh of tightly configured system maintenance panels and connected cables, beneath the lab itself. That the man was probably only a handful of feet away from him, through blast-reinforced metal, was a galling thought, but as long as he could get access to wherever Lyntael was, that was all that mattered right now. He began to work.

It wasn't his strong point; he knew that. Having Lyntael on the inside was what let him approach jobs that he would never have normally taken on. Without her to support him, hiding his dive was more or less out of the question, and even breaking in at all was... less certain than he wanted. His side ached; he ignored it. One attempt failed, then, a minute later, another. He tried different approaches, one after the other, but nothing progressed far enough to give him an edge. Eric was always the better one for system cracking. Eric would have gotten through this in seconds... especially if it was for Lyntael. Rogan cursed under his breath as another probing attempt frayed out and failed.

“Alright friend... I think that's close enough, don't you?” Lance's voice cracked in his ear piece and Rogan froze. Sure enough, another call signal had patched its way through to his PET. There was no feed to Lyntael this time, just the self-assured voice.

“Don't know what you're talking about. I gave up ages ago. I'm halfway to Netfrica by now.” Rogan tried to keep his response light, suppressing the disgusted anger that roiled beneath the mask of his calm expression. In his ear, Lance laughed.

“Oh, yeah. I'm sure. So let's cut the pleasantries then, right? You ain't getting in here, not unless you've brought a whole pack of high yield explosives with you. I doubt it. Now, normally I wouldn't bother myself with all this, but see... this little navi we've picked up... she said some interesting things...” Suddenly, the line clicked and Rogan heard Lyntael's voice. Between the tormented sounds, she called out to him, begging him to hurry. A few seconds later she cried for help again, speaking Eric's name instead. Rogan grit his teeth. The voice clip played a second time, a recording on repeat, then the line clicked back.

“And I heard that, and I said to myself, I said, Lance... What are the odds, do you think, of someone saying those two names, together. What are the odds, really?” He tetched down the line. Rogan focused on the connection, studying the data stream as he tried to concentrate. There was a way in here, there had to be. Lance continued – thank all sense of good fortune for people who thought they were clever. “Now, you're alone out here... and I don't know which prodigal brother you might be... It doesn't really matter, of course. You did it together, after all. You have any idea what you two left behind? The mess you left? I doubt you care, but I am not going to pass up a chance to pay you both back for it, now that you're here.” The words stirred thoughts and memories that Rogan generally avoided thinking about, but he had to keep the man talking while he worked. Lance Fitzpatrick wasn't a name that meant anything to him, not even distantly, other than being from the right region... but he wasn't surprised there had been fallout.

“Okay, Lance... what's your plan, then? You've got me here... now what?” Rogan kept his voice even, but he was altogether too conscious of the passing seconds. Lance laughed down the line.

“Oh, it's very simple... Are you Rogan, or Eric? I never knew you personally of course, this seems more like a Rogan thing, but this navigator... the Rogan I know about would never make a thing like this, or put himself in danger to save it.... Anyway... it's simple. Just justice, vengeance... pure and straight forward things. You suffer, and maybe you die, or, maybe you live, and you go back to your brother broken and cowed. You were both so tight; I break one of you, and I know it'll hurt the other as well. It would only be a small vengeance, but maybe enough to resist killing you here and now, perhaps.”

“And you're going to do that by deleting a program?” Rogan fought to keep the tightness from his voice. He only needed to make the barest connection, even just a hairline little tunnel – as long as the PET could see where Lyntael was, and reconnect with her. He didn't need to break the whole thing open, just get through.

“That would be too plain, don't you think? No, no... Vigilance is currently entertaining himself with your navi... normally I'd put a stop to his perversions, but see... this navi of yours... One of you made this, with such care and precision... One of you loves this program, loves it like a real person. Like... like a daughter? Maybe? So, just deleting it would be a waste. Would you like to see what they're up to? I think you should.” Lance's voice grew sharp and vindictive as he spoke, and as Rogan worked on carefully building a narrow tunnel through the nigh impenetrable security his display changed.

He saw the room with the two navigators again, then wrenched his eyes away, bile rising in his throat. He'd only seen it for a second, but it had been a second too much; the damage, the blood, the act taking place; he felt sick to his stomach and fought off the need to retch. He spat to one side, trying to get the acid taste out of his mouth. In his ear, sounds accompanied the scenes, and though he'd thrust the PET's view screen away from himself, the sounds continued.

“Stop! Just stop! You've made your point, now what do you want!?” It came out as a growled shout, all thought of keeping his voice down gone. He just had to get her out; as long as he got her out, everything else could be repaired. He knew it wasn't true even as he thought it. Rescue would not be the end of this now, the damage was done. Was being done. His stomach turned and he swallowed hard, his jaw hurting as his teeth ground. The sounds stopped, but the image he'd seen burned in his mind in a way he knew he'd struggle to forget.

“I told you what I want... You can stay and watch your navi suffer for as long as Vigilance feels like tormenting her... or... Or... you can cut this call, and run away. That's what you're good at, isn't it? Cutting ties and running off? Leave the girl and go, cut the connection, and then you never need to see or hear what happens to her. I've pulled my people back... you can run, if you want to. Just run away again. Go on.” Lance's voice was cold and dark now, but Rogan pushed every other thought to the side and focused on his work. He was almost there, gentle and subtle, using the call itself. Be careful, don't let Lance know what he was doing, and get through.

By instinct, Lyntael resisted the urge to retch, and tried to stay afloat above the feelings of helplessness and disgust. She tried, again, to tell herself that she wasn't here; that it wasn't real, but there was too much to ignore. Above her, Vigilance found a rough, forceful rhythm, squeezing the hand around her neck tighter. Her vision began to narrow down, multi-hued, distorted splotches filling in her periphery. She fought the urge to struggle against him now. It would only give him what he wanted. She could barely make out his face as her head swam, but then the grip disappeared and she drew an instinctive breath, gasping. The hand started to grip and squeeze at other parts of her body instead, rough and careless now. It hurt, but not enough to break through the the other sensations. She felt numb all over, now, save for the wretched, sick feeling. How much longer before Rogan found her? He would rescue her from this... and then... Would it be over?

Vigilance sighed again, lost in himself, and muttered another vulgarity under his breath. She tried to shut it out, let the creeping numbness take over entirely, but he looked down, meeting her eyes. A second later his hand moved, whipping up and then down again; a fresh pain seared white hot across her mid-section, parting the numbness and dragging a fresh shriek from her lips before she could stop herself. Her eyes tracked down without thought, to see a thin red line welling and beginning to seep across her middle. Vigilance thrust harder, but the new pain won out in her senses as the cut bled to one side, trailing down onto the metal below.

“That's it. Scream for me, gorgeous... just like that.” Along with the breathless voice, his hand whipped again. This time the line of sudden scalding pain scored across her right breast, and her voice broke as the scream ripped out of her. All thought scattered as her brief, detached sense of clarity collapsed. He struck again, on the other side, drawing a diagonal line that just missed her nipple, and she cried out again, gasping air unconsciously just so that her body could put voice to this new violation. His movements were faster, rougher, slamming at her body now. His hand plunged down, and she felt the dagger stab hard into her thigh, burying itself all the way. Even as the pain voiced itself again, he was there, leaning in close to her as his hips hammered, one hand gripping her jaw as he thrust his lips against hers. She felt his teeth bite, filling her mouth with a fresh taste of blood. She couldn't scream again; her body struggled to draw air, convulsing as she writhed. He pressed down tight against her, his movement halted as he pinned her down and forced himself in hard. She felt him grunt, growling in his throat as his body held a rigid, iron hardness against her. Inside her. Revulsion churned in her gut. Her body convulsed again and Vigilance pulled away suddenly, one hand on her bleeding chest as he stayed forced against her groin. She tasted bile as a sob became a series of dry, acid heaves. She managed to turn her face to the side as the sharp taste displaced the blood in her mouth with a fresh stinging. Rogan would come. He would come.

“Hahh... I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life, little Lyntael... hahh... you're amazing....” he shifted his hand and jammed two fingers into the cut on her breast, forcing it apart and tearing another shriek, weaker and strangled from her. “Fucking amazing... and we've got a little time yet... hahh... until the boss man says...”

“I hope you've had your fun, Vigilance. Time to finish up. Our friend has gotten close enough.” Another voice, one Lyntael barely registered, filled the room, and Vigilance cursed aloud. He looked up and around without focusing on anything, then wiped his face and stood back from Lyntael. She could still feel him on her, even after he moved away and snapped his fingers to fix his clothes.

“Right. Fuck. Right, but come on, boss... Look at her. Isn't...” He cast about, suddenly desperate. “Isn't she, you know, just, exactly the kind of thing we're after? I mean, she'd be perfect for, two, maybe three of the things you've got going, wouldn't she? You couldn't ask for a better custom to just fall into our laps, right? She isn't just custom, you know... you've seen the scan. 'Custom' doesn't come close with this one. It'd be a fucking waste not to keep her, wouldn't it?” There was a moment of silence, and Vigilance remained still, tense.

“Depends on the purpose. This has become a very personal little matter now, and I'm not taking any chances. They love this little program? Then they suffer. I know you want to keep your new toy, Vigilance, but not this time. Finish up. That's final.” Vigilance sighed and his shoulders slumped. He cracked his neck.

“Right. Fuck. Right, fine. Just so you know, I object. It's a crying shame and a damn waste.”
“Yeah. You aren't wrong. But the order stands. I need to talk to our guest again now, and I'm not taking any chances. No mistakes and no stalling.”
“Right.” Vigilance turned to one side and punched at one of the other benches with another curse, then stood straight and drew a breath, before turning back to Lyntael with a smile. She looked to face him, eyes bleary and sore. The endless flow of electricity hadn't released her yet, and even the shots of pain when she shifted her wrists or ankles had faded into numbness beneath it. She could barely feel anything, barely think anything, and her mind grappled trying to hold onto the words that had been spoken. Rogan would need to know.

“Well, little Lyntael... guess we don't have that long after all. Shame. Hope your operator gets his rocks off good to that little show, because it's the last one he'll be getting.” He stepped in close, looking over her naked and abused form, but focused on her eyes. “We've got to do something about those sparks. I... Need... to seem 'em for this...” She lost sight of him as he walked around her, and distantly she heard the sounds of a terminal working. “Let's see if this'll do it...”

When he returned, Vigilance was holding something metal in his hands, but she wasn't focused enough to make it out clearly. He stepped in and gripped her face, straightening her head; she felt too weak to resist now... everything was numb and sore, or throbbed in the back of her senses. Something cold touched the side of her head, then again on the other side, and suddenly the incessant stinging in her eyes was replaced by a more concentrated, localised needle of discomfort on either side, shooting a line of narrow pain across her vision. Something was digging into her skin at the edges of her eyes, and she couldn't move her head at all now.

“There... Perfect... Well, almost.” She blinked, and found it hard, as Vigilance came back into view above her, nodding and smirking to himself, He leaned in close, fixing her gaze with his. “There're those broken green beauties I want. There's something I've got a see, Little Lyntael. Something important...” He smiled, and let out a long breath. He was almost panting for some reason. “Hah... I'm hard again just thinking about it. Now don't move...”

He straightened up, looking over her again, and then his hand reached in to clamp around her throat again, hard enough to stop her breath and then some. She felt her body react, struggling on its own despite how little she could actually move at all now. Vigilance watched, then leaned in close, bringing his face to within inches of hers. There was a pressure behind her eyes, and she couldn't even squeeze them shut from his leer.

“Watch me...” His voice was a whisper. “Show me your eyes... Let me see it...” The edges of her vision began to fade into dark splotches. He eased his hand just enough to let her draw half a breath, before another sensation filled her awareness. Intrusion; not pain, just intrusion. Something sharp, sliding inwards, beneath her left breast and upward, slicing and piercing within the numbness that had taken over her body. It was cold. A feeling of freezing cold, in that place in her chest. She gasped, trying to suck air, eyes wide, but Vigilance clamped down harder on her neck, staring back at her with captivation. Her body spasmed and shook as her vision collapsed inward again. Just his leering face, and his staring eyes. Where was Rogan? He was looking for her. Her thoughts spaced out to nothing. He was looking for her. She had to hold out. All sense faded into void; no sight, no scent, no sound or taste. Even the cold and the numbness faded down to oblivion. There was a crack, then a sound like shattering glass, then nothing.

Rogan glared at the screen in front of him, keeping his features smooth and his breathing steady. It was a race, but any trip or fall would stop him reaching his goal at all. Lance was waiting for his response, and he had to keep the bastard on the line. He had to change the play field somehow. A new approach.

“Alright. I'm not running anywhere this time, not until I have what's mine, back. I am a resourceful man, Lance, and I have a lot of skills.” His fingers worked, and Rogan was painfully conscious of the sound of each keystroke. He knew the PET's own audio wouldn't pick them up, but they still sounded loud to him in this moment. In his ear, the other man laughed again.

“What's this? Threats? Are you sure that's wise...?”
“Not threats.” Rogan was quick to respond, and it wasn't entirely a part of his new act. “No... think of it as an offer, Lance. I'm useful. But first, call off your dog and leave her alone... and let's talk like businessmen.” There was quiet on the line for several long seconds, before the voice responded.

“I'm intrigued. I should have guessed your loyalty would blow with the wind, but... I'll listen.”
“My navigator?”
“You'd best talk quickly, hadn't you?” Rogan could hear the smirk in the words and the snarl that escaped his lips in response was out before he'd even thought about it. He only bit the sound back part way; it supported the act at least.
“Fine. You were not wrong: our Sharo friends have no ownership of me. I'm a free agent, and they contract my skills. I am a valuable asset and my skill set, in this modern day and age, is very close to irreplaceable. Given the work you do, I would be an invaluable asset to you; physical acquisitions of information and data, and its removal from others, even well secured others, is something of a speciality of mine. You could make a lot of progress with my abilities at your disposal.” He was almost there. The tunnel was holding. He didn't trust any deal that he might make with Lance in this situation, but if it was stalling him long enough, that was all that mattered.

“And I suppose you want your navi back, undamaged... or near enough, eh? ... and safe passage out of here, right?” There came a small chuckle. “I haven't forgotten you came here to steal information from me. I would need to take certain... precautions... to ensure that you didn't do any kind of back selling or defecting again... especially when you're as untrustworthy as all this, hmm? Maybe I need to keep your little girl here just to make sure you stay loyal?”

“I need her for my work,” Rogan felt his chest tighten as he picked his next words, even before he spoke them. “She is unique. Irreplaceable.” There. Was it enough? A hair-width of clean data along the back of Lance's call, and into the shielded space beyond. The screen of the PET showed unintelligible raw data bytes; there wasn't enough clearance to waste on visual depictions of the systems inside.

“Irreplaceable? Oh I can see that... It's an interesting offer, but I have one problem with it...” The PET began a simple scan, searching the internal networks it could now see. All that mattered was it finding her, and reconnecting. He barely spared any focus for the voice in his ear.

“Okay, what problem?”

“I have another clip to show you first.” The display window-boxed a visual feed to the call again suddenly, while, behind it, the device continued to search for a match to Lyntael's data. The screen showed the lab again, and Rogan tried not to see it. Vigilance, slashing a knife, one hand around her throat. He focused on the incomprehensible data instead, but couldn't block the window out of his peripheral.

“The truth is, I don't make deals with filth like you, and you're never getting your precious toy back.” The voice was positively vicious this time. The PET found a match for Lyntael's data and Rogan gave the extraction command. In the corner of his eye, he saw the other navi lean in, pushing his blade into the girl's chest, just as the image froze and snapped off again. The PET confirmed an emergency retrieval with a small beep and Rogan hurriedly detached it from the panel he was using and jammed the cords into a spare pocket. In his ear, he heard Lance curse a moment later.

“You little... Just try and run then. You won't get away.” The call ended but Rogan was already moving to extract himself and get moving. His side complained again as he pulled himself out of the cramped space and made his way back towards the main maintenance tunnel. He ignored it.

“Lyntael, you're safe. We're getting out.” He whispered the words as he closed the device and slipped it into his pocket. There was no answer, but he wasn't surprised, given what he'd seen. Words wouldn't be enough... not that he had anything else to offer the girl. For now, escape was the goal. He couldn't afford to risk a run through the jungle itself; his body was tired enough. This facility would have shuttle pads, just like the other one had. That would have to be his best option. The sound of running feet echoed further off as he pulled himself out of the tunnels and stood on the thick carpet of the hallway again. Rogan ran.

Vigilance ran his tongue across his teeth, watching the limp, prone form in front of him. She lay still now, with various fluids dripping to the floor in an otherwise silent room. The power had stopped, fading away to nothing moments after she had expired. He closed his eyes for a moment and recalled the look of her eyes in those last moments, and the life, true life, fading away with a whisper. The beautiful sensation had a bitter twist as he opened his eyes and looked at her again.

Such a damn waste. He spat and shook his head. A stupid, bloody waste, to throw away something like her. He walked around the dimly lit play space, looking at her from every angle. Depite being specifically made, the cuffs had warped and deformed, melted almost all the way through. Beneath them he could see burned, torn flesh that no longer bled but still oozed slowly. The circuit had kept the rest of her body clear of the electricity, but it had destroyed those focal points of power. Her face, too, bore a torture mask of burns around her eyes now. If only they'd found something neater. He glanced at the array of power converters around the room for a moment, then turned his attention inward again. The little thing had almost overloaded the data space anyway, before the end.

With a growl, he punched at a side tray, then, when that wasn't enough, upturned the whole cart and sent it crashing against the wall. It was a damn, stupid, pointless waste! After a moment, he took a slower breath and looked at the body again. It was still here, and the data space wasn't doing anything to preserve it. Most navigators, even most custom commissions, were still a light-weight shell, or container, which housed their core, and the black box that made up their personal AI... There wasn't, in all reality, that much holding them together. Even himself, he knew. Get through the protection, or bypass it, give them a deletion shot, and the whole navi would just fall apart and disintegrate, most times in seconds. Sometimes it took a little longer than others, but never very long in the end, unless something intervened to preserve them.

This one... she wasn't the same. The density of code that constructed her – the magnitude of extreme detail and meticulous construction. No shortcuts anywhere, no simplification or generated closures... Just... her. And now, there wasn't a collapse, or a rapid disintegration of code, or an unravelling, or anything falling apart. He'd checked the scan – it was beginning to happen, slowly, but at this rate it might be hours, or even days before her data broke apart entirely, on its own. Damn Lance and his personal vendettas. He reached out to run one finger around the rim of the shattered emblem on her chest, then pulled back quickly as a shard of it nicked his fingertip like glass. He sucked the finger, and wished he could taste the blood properly, like he knew she'd been able to. He was going to savour these memories for the rest of his life, but still... damn waste.

He settled back, leaning on a bench at the edge of the room with his arms folded, watching the body with a grim, dissatisfied expression. Lance was going to have instructions, when the situation with her operator was done, and he was finished with the recordings; for now, there was nothing to do but wait, and brood – two things Vigilance was exceptionally good at.

A change in the air made his eyes flicker to the edges of the closed space suddenly and he stood, tense and ready to act. What was– A flash of light shot into the space from one corner of the room, striking towards the body of the girl and enveloping her in a flickering beam. Vigilance leapt forward, but he knew already that there was nothing he could do on his own. Before he'd taken a step he opened a line to Lance.

“Boss! He got through, pulled her out!” He heard his operator curse, and snap something vitriolic back down the call he was obviously still using to talk to the girl's operator. The call snapped off in the same second, but it was too late; the body was long gone. A second or two passed, before his operator spoke to him directly in a forced calm that shook at the edges.

“When you say 'her', Vigilance... I know you mean 'the navigator's remains', or possibly 'the scrap data that was previously a navigator'. I know you mean that, because I told you to get it done, with no delays and no mistakes.” The obvious threat in his words rolled off Vigilance without bothering him. He'd done his job.

“Yeah. Don't worry, the job's done. Much of a fucking waste as it is. He didn't get anything but a corpse.” He kicked at the overturned cart and sent a clatter of metal implements skittering across the floor. “You've got the damn recording, you know I watched her die.” On the other end, he heard a slow sigh of breath.

“Good.” Lance sounded much more relaxed in an instant. “Good. Well, if they catch him they catch him, if not... well... he's learned a little lesson today, and there'll be more in the future. Good. Very good, Vigilance.” Vigilance nodded to himself and waited for what he knew was coming next with a grimace. There it was... Lance chuckled to himself, then laughed aloud for several long seconds. Vigilance looked at the now empty, blood-smeared table and punched a wall.

Still running, Rogan crashed through an external door that led out into cold night air. Flood lights swept slowly across the landing pads ahead of him. One held a large twin-rotor helicopter, the other held a shuttle bearing the paint job and emblem of this ridiculous cover group. He let the door close and seal behind him, but at a glance couldn't see anything to bar it with. Their base keeping was apparently too neat for convenient barrels or crates. He shook his head and ran towards the waiting shuttle. He had no doubt that the helicopter would have weapons stowed in it, but while he could fly it he doubted any of his access cards would work and he couldn't risk the delay. The shuttle was surer.

His steps were uneven; one part of his mind registered it while he crossed the tarmac, as the rest of him shut the information out along with everything else that wasn't important right now. The door behind him opened just as he wrenched open the driver's door and slipped into the seat. The bark of gunfire accompanied him swiping his stolen access ID and setting the engine to humming. Something put a hole in the glass of his door as it slammed shut, sending cracks across the side window. Rogan felt a grim smile spit his lips as the shuttle lifted up and he dragged the controls around, setting the craft to spin and plunge suddenly down from the edge of the complex, down the cliff edge and across the tree tops. So much for stealth. Well, Varda and her family could take a leap themselves anyway... her intel had been wrong, and he'd been expected.

The shuttle swept up again, and he levelled out once it was far enough away from the complex to avoid any particularly determined gunfire. He didn't know if they'd give chase. He'd deal with that if they did. As soon as the craft was stable and turned towards civilisation Rogan pulled the PET out of his pocket and examined it.

“Lyntael, we're heading away. Are your injuries healed?” His breathing was laboured and he pushed away the urge to cough, swallowing the iron taste. There was no answer, not even the sounds of her struggling with her emotions. He looked at the device more closely and tried to bring up her status but it responded instead with a warning message. The warning replaced the normal PET interior display, and even when he pushed it over to her personal vitals, a different set of warnings replaced the normally excessively detailed medical readouts. Rogan swallowed, reading them.

The navi link had been successfully re-established upon a ninety-eight percent data match, the emergency system had successfully recovered the navigator data. Extensive, critical damage had been assessed and recovery and restoration was in progress. Re-verification of all integral data would be performed after restoration was completed in full; the damaged program could not be reactivated until this verification had been completed. Rogan felt his fingers clench and his teeth grit tight. Had he been too slow? It said it was working... the process projected several hours, but it was working, and wasn't complaining of errors or failures. He tried to relax the tension in his body without success. No use. He set the PET in the dash holster for it and tried to focus on flying the shuttle, but gaze drifted back to the small black device. Why had he done that, really? Black suited him, but the device was for the navigator in the end. Would it have been so bad to leave it in the original, brighter colours Eric had made it for her? His eyes returned to it every few seconds as he flew.


The airport hotel sleeper room was barely more than a capsule really. A single flat, hard bed, with a foot of space around it, white fabric, white walls and the universal airport carpeting. A dark coat, stained with blood, hung on the divide between the small sleeping room and an even smaller bathroom that contained a sink, mirror, toilet and a narrow standing shower.

The sink was scattered with reddened sods of cloth, cut gauze and thread. Bloodied water still clung to the edges of the drain and lingered in small pools on the white surface. Two bent metal slugs sat to one side of the sink. The third had left a clean exit wound, at least. In the shower bay, a discarded pile of fabric made the shape of a bloodied shirt and pants. The space was quiet, almost silent save for the background sounds of a busy airport, humming, muffled through the walls.

Rogan's eyes remained watching the PET that rested on the end of the bed as he moved and stretched cautiously, testing his work. As he drew a long breath and let it out again, his left hand slipped down to press against the freshly applied bandages around his middle. A few careful stitches to help the wound close, underneath what was now the second set of bindings – these ones weren't bleeding through, so that was good. He checked the wrap around his thigh as well; still clean, no bleed through there either. Good enough. Three more scars. Choices he'd made; his own and no-one else's. He looked at the device again. Could he have been faster? Maybe. Surely he could have been faster, somehow.

He'd left the shuttle in one of the outer parking bays and abandoned it. Someone was going to have questions about the bloody mess he'd left in the pilot's seat, but he wasn't going to be around to answer them. He'd be on a plane tomorrow afternoon, and between then and now, he would make himself suitably scarce. The device was almost finished. Satisfied that nothing was bleeding through any more, he reached across to retrieved the fresh shirt and slacks he'd picked up on his way past the airport shops. The shirt wasn't in the cut or style he preferred, it was really the very furthest concern right now. He pulled the new clothes on carefully.

Minutes later, the PET chimed and Rogan's attention came back to it. Everything read green; he passed his eyes over the read-out without really understanding many of the lines, then set the device in front of him on the bed and let it run everything at its own pace. A few moments later a hologram appeared standing upon the screen. Rogan let out a soft sigh and his body sagged. Bright green eyes, clear skin unmarked by cuts or injuries. From the tips of her spiky hair down to a simple, sensible pair of sport trainers. She smiled up at him softly.

“Lyntael. Good... Are you well?” The program blinked and tilted her head slightly, then inclined her head and smiled up at him again.

“I'm not reading any errors or incongruities. Everything is working correctly.” A sensation gripped Rogan's chest like a vice. Something was wrong. She'd barely moved from the neutral stance she'd appeared in, and her voice was calm, soft and gentle. This wasn't right.

“Lyntael, what's happened? What's wrong?” Her brow creased briefly and she tilted her head back the other way, then closed her eyes slowly. They opened again after another second.

“Nothing is wrong. I've double checked. Everything is fine, Rogan. Can I assist you with something?” Rogan fought of the urge to recoil from the navi's reaction as he stared down at her. This wasn't right, not at all.

“You're distressed, Rogan. If you need help I can't assist with, I can contact...” she glanced aside briefly, “this airport's help staff for you?” He shook his head, holding up one hand.

“No. No, Lyntael. Just... Just wait. Rest. I... I have to check some things.” She nodded smoothly in one graceful incline of her head to him, before her hologram faded away again and returned to the device. Rogan snatched it up and looked through every reading he could find. There was nothing... nothing wrong, according to anything anywhere. The restoration had been a full success, it claimed. He felt an urgent panic rising through him and shoved it away. The PET creaked in his hand and he relaxed his grip, almost dropping the device in shock.

Tomorrow afternoon was too long to wait for his flight. He needed help, and there was only one option. He needed to be on a plane now. He shoved the remainder of his things into his bag, threw his coat on and fled the room.

((To => Seeking Solace))