((From => A SciLab Reminiscence))

As she opened up the link on the same SciLab overlook she'd arrived at, Lyntael wasn't sure where she actually intended to go. She let the light take her, but her senses drifted, unfocused and she felt herself pull free of the direct link back to her PET with a static tear and drift loose across the transitional network spaces, untethered. There was a strange comfort the odd, bodiless sensation that lingered while the only senses she actually had were ones that couldn't be described... but there was also something frightening about it, at the edges of her thoughts. This wasn't safe. She wondered about why all of her friends seemed to disappear, or abandon her, or just... never write back. Rogan was a mess, and wouldn't explain; Eric was devastated, and wouldn't explain. Eric blamed Rogan, and Rogan accepted it, blamed himself even. They agreed, but they'd still severed ties. And they wouldn't talk about it in front of her. What would happen, her thoughts wondered, if she just didn't come back? What if she just disappeared? Would they reconcile then? No... Probably not.

Eventually – she wasn't sure how long – she felt her thoughts drawn to a new anchor point as she contemplated all the bonds she held, and all of their severed, frayed ends. The anchor felt familiar, and she let herself connect back to the downlink that seemed to be drawing her.

A soft glow and a crackle of electrical energy swelled at the edge of a steamy hot spring in Yoka net, before it actualised into a slim column of yellow light that held the form of a young girl. It coalesced fully, then faded, leaving Lyntael to draw a long, slow breath, head down and eyes closed as she felt the warmth and the rising steam around her. She knew this place. She opened her eyes and looked around.

The area was a series of shallow onsen pools, surrounding a larger, deeper spring, each ringed by hot coals, broken up by smooth stone pebbling in places. It seemed natural, or at least long forgotten about, somewhere deep in Yoka's poorly mapped regions – definitely not set up specifically for human use. She had been here before... this spring, empty as it was right now.

Baked orange evening light filtered between the trees at the edge of the spring as Lyntael began to walk slowly between the pools; the coals were hot, but not hot enough to damage her shoes, and her slow steps scribed a wandering path around the main spring. She'd come here... to get out of her head, to escape things she didn't want to think about... to get away from Rogan for a little bit, and the way he was treating her like an object and a tool, that didn't really exit. Her eyes scanned across the steam-covered water, following the ripples that formed as she scuffed occasional pebbles into the spring. It wasn't so different now, really.

Lyntael paused, examining the thought, then looked around the spring – definitely empty of navis and viruses alike, for now. She made a decision. It only took an extra moment or two to find a suitable place – at one edge of the main spring, where a larger rock remained protruding up from the coals and smooth pebbles. That would do. Despite herself, she felt her heart quicken and her cheeks pink ever so slightly as she shrugged out of her vest and unfastened her skirt, folding them neatly and placing the garments on the rock for safe keeping. She paused for a second quick scan of the spring just to be sure before slipping off her underwear as well, then pulled her shoes off and stuffed her socks into them, just at the edge of the coals too. A few quick, careful steps let her wade out into the spring and sink down until she could sit comfortably with the water reaching her shoulders. A natural shelf in the pebbles let her lean back slightly and she sighed, letting her body relax into the warmth.

This was where she'd met that adorable little bandcoon, and all of those other viruses that had just wanted peace and to be left alone. She caught herself wondering again how many there were like that, scattered across the net – beings that had reached a point in their existence where they recognised themselves, and had the capacity to choose friendship and peace instead. How many, she wondered, ended up fighting for their lives, and dying, when they were discovered by navis who didn't take the time to ask. Another thought rose up from the steam unbidden; she hadn't stopped to ask, not lately. She'd been so angry – things were wrong, and she didn't know why, but that anger that came with it, the feeling that nothing was fair, and the need to just fight, and scream about it... she hadn't been checking to see who was friendly and who wasn't... had she?

Despite the heat, Lyntael felt herself shiver, and under the water she shifted to slowly rub at her body with her hands. Why was she so angry all the time lately? What was wrong with her? Why was she always instigating fights with people she cared about? Why did she always end up saying, or shouting, things that she didn't mean? When they'd come home from Eric's place last time, she'd felt so certain – so desperate that she wanted to be there for Rogan, when he needed her most. She'd felt so sure about her place... but it hadn't lasted. She could tell him she loved him, and in his face, she could see that even saying that hurt him, for some reason, and she couldn't understand it. The frustration had grown quickly – every smile, every reassurance, ever attempt she'd made to be the brightness he needed, since then, had been.... acknowledge; he'd seen and heard her in a way he never really had before, and yet, it only seemed to hurt him and upset him more. And frustration had turned to anger; anger at things not going the way they were meant to, at the unfairness of it – at he way she'd seemingly gotten what she'd always wanted, and yet it was somehow all wrong as well. She never used to be this angry; however she'd ended up this way, she knew she wasn't... all right. She just didn't know why, and it felt like others did, somehow, and no-one would tell her... and of course that just made the frustration worse.

While her thoughts wandered through now-familiar circles with more contemplation than she'd allowed them before, Lyntael let her hands continue to soothe the rest of her body, running slowly over her arms, thighs and midriff, enjoying the sensation without getting too adventurous. There was more to this place, her thoughts ventured. She'd met someone else here too, hadn't she?

It took her a moment to follow the thread of memory back, but after a moment she blinked and shook her head. Of course; this was where she'd met Ion, the navi that had stumbled upon her while she was... distressed. Lyntael felt her brow furrow, though she didn't open her eyes. She'd been upset about something, she was sure of that... It couldn't have been anything to bad if she couldn't bring it to mind now. Oh, right... a guilty wince caught up with her. She'd hurt some of her new virus friends in the fight that had happened here, and she'd been quite upset about that. Ion had calmed her down and been friendly while she was... panicking. She shook her head slowly, brushing the confusing thoughts aside. She'd been upset about the trouble she'd been having controlling her charge.

Lyntael blinked suddenly, sitting upright in the springs and ignoring the sudden change in temperature as the air moved against her chest and midsection. That was right. Ion had said he worked with a group that studied those things. He'd said he might even be able to help, and he'd given her an address. It definitely wouldn't hurt to get another opinion. Magistrate had given her a pretty good assessment, even if her solutions weren't nice ones, and Aurora's interpretation seemed pretty accurate, but maybe Ion's group might be able to suggest some other things that would help too. Not that she wasn't getting better on her own now anyway, but... but if there really was something else wrong with her now, causing all this anger and frustration, they might be able to tell her what everyone else around her wouldn't say.

The girl nodded to herself then stood up from the water fully, stretching and shaking off as much of the water as she could. She took an extra moment or two to run her hands over herself again, slicking off more moisture; she might have taken better care of her clothes this time, but she still didn't have a towel. What to do... With a small shrug to herself and another self-conscious glance around the spring, Lyntael waded out of the water and took a few more skipping bare-footed steps across the coals to find a section of the smoother pebbles that was large enough for her to lie out on. She shook her body one more time, then lay down, spreading out onto the hot rocks and relaxing again while she let the heat do its work to dry her off the rest of the way – more or less at least.

Thinking about Aurora brought back the more disappointed feelings and she felt herself sigh, scratching briefly at the shock of soft hair above her groin as she settled and got comfortable. There would be other times; that was what she had to tell herself. Soon, even. She had almost certainly made up her mind about this, and it was what she wanted, she felt almost sure. She wished she felt as sure that Aurora and Eternalis would be open to the suggestion – she felt sure they both wanted her, at least at the level of physical appeal, but she wasn't as confident that they would actually want to act on those desires. Some part of her knew that what she was planning on inviting wasn't exactly 'normal', and they were a couple, and, as far as she knew, an exclusive one. She hadn't exactly asked, but it seemed pretty clear, at least to her eyes. A part of her was still worried that they'd be upset, or offended if she actually made the invitation seriously and for real, rather than just flirting or teasing it. She was worried, too, that Eternalis, gentleman that he was, felt like she didn't... her features grimaced briefly as the thought ran through her mind and she mentally contemplated her own body... look ready for that kind of thing. Maybe she wasn't being fair. It wasn't as though he'd ever tried to treat her like a child, not really – he was just protective in general, and she'd definitely needed it at times. Her thoughts wandered on.

She'd been so ready to make a move of it tonight though... well, almost... a little nervous. A lot nervous... but still, she'd psyched herself up to it, and now... It wasn't like the other times, though – Aurora and Eternalis were different. This was just an honest emergency, and she'd see them again soon. It would be different this time. They wouldn't just vanish, and stop responding, like everyone else did sooner or later. They weren't like that... and... if the problem really was her, and something about her, or something she was doing that drove people away, then surely, Aurora would tell her. Eternalis might not, he was too kind, but Aurora would let her know, she was sure of that.

Eventually, Lyntael felt like she was as dry as she was going to get, lying spread out on the hot stones, and picked herself up again. The light was fading towards night here too now, just a fading orange reflection off looming dark clouds that spoke of a storm on the way – she'd been skipping time zones as she wandered, she thought, and had sat through a couple of sunsets at this point. It was probably well into night time, back home. One more stop, then home.

Carefully, she picked her way across the coals, and started to get herself dressed again – for once the errant forces of fate and ill-luck hadn't found some excuse to steal her underwear or drop all of her clothes in the mud, though she still wasn't completely dry. Close enough though. She leaned against the taller stone while she pulled on her socks and scuffed into her sneakers, then took an extra moment to smooth herself down and straighten everything properly. The feeling of being in warm, comfy clothes after a swim was one of those intrinsically pleasant feelings that everyone could enjoy – even if the sum total of her clothes was a short vest, a short skirt and underwear that she'd had to deliberately make more decent than their original design herself. Lyntael let out a content sigh and hugged herself briefly, then began walking back around the spring towards her entry point. Ion had said that Vaccine was an actual legitimate business, so there was no real chance that this one would stand her up and leave her no-one to talk to. With another nod of reassurance, Lyntael let the light take her.

((To => Further Wandering))