Offensive Plans

((From => Lyntael's Home))

Interrupted only by the occasional click or keystroke, silence lay thick and muffling in the nondescript overnight room that Rogan had relocated to after the previous outing. The services were adequate, and the volume of people that passed through the travel lodge, along with their lackadaisical approach to bookkeeping made it one of the more ideal stops for his needs. He shifted slightly at the small desk space and readjusted his posture. Reading usually took up the greater part of his preparation between jobs, and the work of swiftly scanning through documents, sorting the information they contained and filing it into different boxes and categories in his mind was a comfortable, almost unconscious process now that let him observe and think on the material with something of an external eye even as he processed it.

It also created space for his own undercurrent thoughts to intrusively chase around his mind at the same time – though some days it was worse than others. It was bad lately, though in his own defence, he had a lot of... well... just a lot, really. A lot to work through. A few taps shifted the screen's view to the next document.

Lyntael was at the heart of it all, as she always was; for all he had tried to push through the storm of self-destructive emotion and the dead-feeling sense of loss and devastation on the other side, every time he saw the young girl the cut felt fresh and the weeks in between hadn't dulled it. He had even managed to accept, at least somewhat, the damage he'd done and the bridge he'd burned with his brother – he'd had no choice but to get used to that – but as deep as that injury still felt Lyntael was different. A living, breathing, innocently smiling mark on the inner wall of his psyche, deeper than any other that marked him, he had come to realise. Worse... he didn't want to grow cold to it, the same way he had needed to for the marks of his other failures; each one mattered and was worth remembering, but of necessity the rest faded into dull scars in time. He didn't want to reduce the feeling of his failure towards her to becoming like that, even as another sense within him knew that holding onto the pain was not going to do anyone any good.

Never mind that on top of all of that... Rogan's attention focused in closely on the document he was reviewing for a moment as it crossed the path of his background thoughts. Some things about the girl that she was now mystified him more than ever. The small changes and little differences were one thing... so many small details undermining his certainty interacting with her... but he was second-guessing himself as well. He wanted to say that the girl he knew would never have behaved this way, especially during a mission – he was past the point of trying to pretend it had all been accidental coincidence, beyond the initial awkward circumstance – but the thoughts always came back; was that true, or was it just a sign that he had never really known as much about her as he ought to have?

She'd taken the inappropriate indecency of her situation and run a marathon with it, for some reason, and she'd enjoyed every moment of it in ways he still felt unclean for thinking about. She clearly didn't though... and he knew that despite his protests the girl – young woman – wanted to be see as an adult. She wanted him to see her as someone capable of being alluring and appealing, in an adult way, and he still had no idea how to respond to that without hurting her feelings or offending her.

Despite all of that – Rogan's gaze reviewed the net-side footage that he had ended up gathering along with Lyntael's own report; he tried not to focus too closely on the girl on the screen, and knew that he was avoiding it precisely because he did, and could, see her the way she wished – Despite all of that, the thought restarted, she had performed perfectly to task, and had even retrieved useful details and other piece of information he could pursue, above and beyond what he'd asked. He wasn't comfortable with her methods, at all, but that discomfort wasn't a luxury he would allow himself for any other similar situation, and he tried to set it aside here as well. Had she always been so willing to tease with her body like that? He felt like she hadn't been, and he remembered many situations, what felt like an age ago now, of her frustration and embarrassment when things like this had happened in the past... but was it a change, or was it just him failing to understand her? There was that … uniform... and that had been all her design, well before... the incident. He focused on his work as his thoughts avoided articulating details that still made his chest feel tight.

The lead that Lyntael herself had acquired, by convenient coincidence it seemed, did appear to check out – someone was due an unexpected social engagement on their way home from their favoured pub, soon, and Rogan expected it to be further enlightening. Beyond that though, his next steps were clear enough; he had a location on the site where another cover business for CC was performing some of the latest stages of their navi-based experiments, and while he only had a couple of names to work with beyond that, he had pulled up some information about some of their acquisition plans – something he was confident the Ezarith boy would be grateful for the sharing of, and possibly willing to share a little in return. Information was more important than money at this point; they'd been guarded about how much they could say before, and he understood why, but this might earn him something he could use, at least.

For a few moments, Rogan flicked his reading aside and studied the elements of planning he'd already done. The goal, of course... well, this was personal now... reflecting in the screen his features shifted subtly from a cold impassivity to something harsher and darker. It didn't take much to make something burn, if you knew how, and for large secretive corporations the match could be no more than few words – a few files, mere kilobytes of data, delivered to the right eyes and ears.

Keys tapped as the darkness lengthened and the room grew cold. He hadn't yet worked out exactly how and why Lance Fitzpatrick was connected to the mess he and Eric had left behind in their youth, but if that man wanted to make it personal, and didn't want to leave them well enough alone to live their lives, then the complete destruction of his little empire seemed like a suitable lesson.

A new message interrupted his work and Rogan's eyes scanned it after making the necessary safety checks. A small grimace twisted at one corner of his lips before his features smoothed again and he shook his head to himself. Perfect timing. He made a short response, then tided up his other documents.

“Lyntael,” He spoke as he picked up her PET with one hand and glanced towards the screen. When it lit up, it showed what he was fairly certain was the living space of the home she'd made for herself; it was blurred out by a privacy censor, and the indistinct figure that moved around the living space in a gentle dance seemed to be the tone of pale skin in its entirety. Rogan felt his brow furrow slightly, his initial thought derailed. Censor or not he set the device down again and turned it partially away.

“Lyntael, if you're still trying to make me uncomfortable, you should probably know that the censor is active, so your efforts aren't achieving anything.” He felt a wry chuckle threatening at the edge of his voice. The odd juxtaposition her behaviour and the seriousness of their work still felt strangely surreal every time they clashed. From one corner of his eyes, he saw the dancing motions stop.

“I thought you didn't want to see me like this?” As the girl responded, Rogan felt his amusement turn into a sharp start and he swallowed. He hadn't considered that she might take it as a request to drop he censor, and was glad she hadn't despite her teasing – if anything she sounded... a little agitated? Like he'd genuinely interrupted something. Perhaps he had. He cleared his throat and continued as though nothing was out of the ordinary; her figure had disappeared from the screen's view, and it hadn't followed her to her bedroom – he truly wasn't sure what determined whether the device's view automatically tracked her in her home space or didn't. It must be something she controlled herself. He refocused.

“Indeed... Regardless, you may wish to get yourself presentable.” He glanced back to his other work, flicking between pages as he double-checked details. “I've assessed what we retrieved, and I think you should know our next moves.” Her voice responded only a moment later and Rogan nodded absently. It was still a strange situation to be in, discussing his plans with the girl. Not that it felt strange talking to her and considering her opinions – that came all too easily, shockingly so, and against all of his years-long instincts to keep his cards close at all costs – now, rather, he found himself torn between the desperate need not to let what happened in Yumland happen again, and the promise he made to keep her informed, and... to accept her insistence on helping. He glanced towards the small black device beside him again. It was difficult, especially, when she didn't really know just how badly it had gone, and couldn't ever. The situation was not the rock-and-hard-place dilemma he had ever expected to be in.

Clouds rolled by beneath the edge of the blue sky view as Rogan gazed out the the window. A softly spoken in-flight message reminded passengers of the time shift at their destination, and announced the approach of the snack trolley. His eyes slipped down further to where a small girl in pale yellow clothes stood on the inside lip of the window, hands pressed against the plastic, utterly engaged with trying to peer through the cloud layer towards the coastline sliding by underneath. He watched her for a few more moments, letting his other thoughts drift to one side; the running shoes caught his eyes again. She always wore her shoes now, and didn't hate them, like she had. From the day they'd met, to... to the day she'd died, she'd hated them enough that she'd refused to wear them at almost any cost.

A voice to his right asked if he wanted anything, and Rogan shook his head, waving off with one hand as politely as he could muster in the moment. The trolley rattled on, and he heard the woman in the seat behind him asking for more wine – it was the third glass she'd requested on what was barely a two hour flight. Lyntael looked back towards him over her shoulder then moved to turn back again, but something seemed to stop her. She hesitated, then turned around properly, leaning her back to the window instead and looking up at him.

“Are you worried?” Her head tilted to one side and she leaned in just a little, as though trying to get a better look at his expression. Rogan shifted in his seat and shook his head with a small sigh.

“No, just contemplating the possibilities.” It was a fib, he realised; as Lyntael let herself slide down the window into a sitting position and kicked her feet off the edge of the shelf, he was really finding himself keenly aware of how little there was to even her normal day to day clothing. The vest was a thin scrap of fabric, light and loose enough to make it obvious that it was the barest barrier between her and indecency, while the skirt seemed as though it was always a hair's breadth away from an equally compromising malfunction. Had she always been comfortable like that? It seemed like it. It wasn't far different from what he sometimes saw other girls only slightly older than her wearing, at least in summery weather, but it still felt dubious to him. But maybe it wasn't his business, if she liked the style... choice, and having the freedom to choose. Having the freedom to choose, and having choices to make. Everything spiralled its way back to that, in the end. Lyntael was still watching him.

“Depending on what our friend wants of me, it may make my own plans more challenging. Depending on what she knows, or has been told since our last meeting, my own freedom to act might become more limited.” Here, Lyntael frowned and folded her arms.

“How do you mean? If you don't join up like she wants, but they still need you, doesn't that give you a free hand?” Her expression had grown faintly thoughtful as she searched for the detail she hadn't understood. Rogan gave her a very slight nod, then turned his attention back to his open laptop, scanning across the document that was open, and the notes he'd made on it. His fingers began to tap at the keys.

“It does, but that isn't what I mean. Being free to make your own choices is important, but it doesn't mean much if you don't have much in the way of choices to make. I could be free as a lark, and under no obligations, but if there are things I must do, without fail, and limited space to do them in then I am not so free as I seem.” For a moment he flicked his gaze towards the girl to see if she followed the thought all the way through, but his eyes lingered unintentionally. The words he'd spoken cut closer to that pain he felt, looking at the girl in front of him and seeing the girl he'd failed. Eric had stressed to her that she could come home to him, if she wanted to. At the time, Rogan had internally scoffed at the conversation, but now... Eric had meant it, and Lyntael had heard him, but despite that, she hadn't felt like she had that option – hadn't really felt free to look after herself, when he hadn't, and it had led her to a point where his failure had cost her her life. Freedom, and having choices to make.

“You're not talking about the work she actually wants of you, are you?” She was still studying his features, and Rogan wondered if she was seeing his thoughts through the mask like she always used to. He shook his head, though he didn't look away from his work. In his peripheral, Lyntael shifted to cross her legs and rest her chin on one fist. The moment stretched without her venturing another answer and Rogan spoke again after another minute.

“There are many things I could do, but if our friend has grown suspicious, or just simply unhappy enough with my... belligerence... then for all of my options, there will be many things that I will have to do, which, if I were truly free to act, I would not wish to do just yet.” From the corner of his eyes he caught her nodding slowly to herself.

“And that would mean we couldn't do the mission you want to.” Unbidden, Rogan flicked his eyes across to Lyntael. He'd never questioned the way she had fallen into referring to the work he did as 'missions'. It made his work sound larger and more important than it was, and put a certain element of romanticism into it that it really didn't deserve. She wanted to believe they were doing something important and good, and she always had, but he'd never noticed.

“That work would need to be delayed until the more pressing dangers were taken care of.”
“And... the navigators there now?” This time he didn't look her way, though he could feel her eyes watching him.
“Out of my hands.”
“But you said...”
“Yes, I said I would... we would do our best, as much as we could within the other tasks I need to get done there. If I don't have the freedom to go when I wish to, however, then my best will be nothing, until I do have that freedom again.” He saved the filed then paused to rub fingers across his temples and eyes. “Lyntael, if I had my choice right now, I would not choose to work with or be involved with our friend and her family at all any more, until these personal matters were taken care of to my liking... and I do mean that. As well as it pays, I would rather be free of them for the time being. I had the hope that I would have longer, after our last meeting, but it seems our less than amicable parting didn't buy me as much time as I would have liked. Unfortunately, I'm halfway across a tightrope and I cannot just step off for a coffee break. They set their own schedule and I have to work to it, even as an outsider.” He closed his laptop and rested back with a small sigh, while beside him Lyntael pouted for an extra few moments. Eventually she relented and her features dropped into something more pensive.

“They know that I'm important to your work now, don't they?” The question caught Rogan off-guard and he looked away, across the aisle. It was exactly the sort of situation he had wanted to avoid, in truth. To being with he'd enforced that by having no such connection, or at least that was what he told himself... but even then, looking at her just as a program that Eric cared about, he'd let her exist as a potential vulnerability. Now... Now it was very clear, both to Lance and his group, and to Varda's Family, that Lyntael was his companion and associate, and not just a disposable tool. He nodded slowly, and finally met her eyes again. There was something hard there, underneath the worry.

“...Yes. They do. I wanted to avoid that, but it's done now.” Lyntael nodded in response, biting her lip while the fingers on one hand lifted up to rub unconsciously at her emblem. He could tell there was something deeper on her mind, that she was pushing towards, so he gave her the space. After another moment or two she averted her eyes and pushed herself back to her feet so that she could lean against the side of the window and look out at the clouds below again.

“Aurora... Aurora said that, sometimes, um... they... employ navigators to eliminate other navigators that are problems to them. She said that she had...” Hesitant as she was suddenly, Lyntael seemed to stop herself and pick her words even more carefully. Rogan could only see her face in profile, but it seemed like she was thinking about something painful. Maybe it had been what had upset her, when she'd been out with that pair before? They still hadn't talked about that, after she'd told him it wasn't his business. The topic had become awkward. Lyntael took a breath and continued.

“She said she'd seen it first hand, you know... assassins, killing other navis, just because that was the order... no hesitation, no remorse. Rogan... I'm going to be in as much danger as you are, from both sides, now, aren't I?” The idea that the Ezarith boy's navis had come into contact with Sharo assassins seemed a little far-fetched, on the surface of it... but given the area they worked in, the chances of their business not having certain affiliations at some level was slim. Perhaps he owed the boy, and his sister, more credit. Perhaps he owed them more information too, if they had faced Sharo attention and its associated risks. He swallowed.

“It's possible, but I am not going to let it come to that. We need to work together, and there will be danger, but I promise, I am not going to let you come to harm.” He felt an uncomfortable sensation threaten in his throat, and behind his eyes, and he smothered it before it could reach his voice. The image burned into his mind, of Vigilance and that terrible scene, reared up and Rogan felt his stomach turn again. He thrust the memory away as hard as he could. “I mean that, Lyntael. The work is necessary, but keeping you safe will always come first.” A phrase he would never have conceived of speaking, a few months ago. The remembered sounds of her suffering rang in his ears and he shut it out. Never again. He hadn't taken his eyes off her, and Lyntael was looking back at him. There was a smile, but behind it there was something sad. She was probably wondering how the fight with Eric had changed him so much, and he couldn't tell her the truth. It was a secret he'd have to keep from her for the rest of her life, and it wasn't a good foundation to build something new on.

“I know you won't ever leave me behind, Rogan. I know you'll always be there.” He had to fight to not let the wince show on his features as she spoke. “I just want to be ready. No more accidents, no more mistakes. We'll get it right from here on, right?” He managed a nod, and she smiled more brightly before looking back out the window. Rogan couldn't take his eyes off the girl for another few moments, but eventually he managed to get back to work.

Lyntael's thoughts swirled in mirror to the rolling shapes of the clouds as she watched them from the window of their flight. She was excited for the new mission, and the chance to do something real, but underneath it the nagging whispers reached back to the frustration and confusion, and now there was a chance that Rogan's Sharo contact, Varda, might make it difficult for them to take action at all. She kept her features soft, and a smile on her lips – Rogan would notice if she let the stormy thoughts rise to the surface – but underneath, the idea that she couldn't trust her own memories had returned. There was too much about it, too many little things, little differences, things that didn't make sense... and Rogan was looking at her like that again. That gaze that looked through her, past her, to someone else that wasn't there. She wished he would stop looking at her like that, wished it with all her heart. Before, her memories said, he had looked at her, and past her, and around her, without really seeing her at all. He'd treated her like a tool, and had admonished or corrected himself any time he'd slipped into treating her like a person, but somehow this was worse – to be looked at and seen, but seen for stranger... seen as though he was looking for, or seeing, someone else. Her memories before Yumland, and the gap, didn't contain anything like that. She felt happy, when he reaffirmed his promise to keep her safe, but it came with that look; those pained, far-seeing eyes, and it soured the warmth she felt.

She blinked, distracting herself for a few extra moments as she tried to look through the clouds to the land below. It didn't matter; she was here now, and she knew who she was, and if details didn't line up, they had to be wrong for some reason, because there was no question that she knew who she was now. It was probably more sensible to think about what was coming, anyway.

She didn't want to be angry at Rogan, not really. The danger was real, dancing with powers like Varda's people... but the more they delayed, the more lives would be shattered. A testing centre, destructive experiments, and the keys to blowing that terrible group of monsters wide open. She would have been concerned about how driven Rogan had become, on the goal of destroying their operation, but everything she'd learned from him about them only made her agree with the sentiment. Overhead, the soft in-flight voice reported that they were beginning their descent, and she looked towards the navi on the nearest screen as they began to report on the weather and conditions on the ground for a moment, then returned her attention to the window.

She'd danced around telling Rogan about Aurora's past, but he'd taken something from it anyway – though she wasn't sure what. Hopefully it wouldn't get back to them, or cause any trouble. The idea that, had their situations been just slightly different, Aurora could well have been aimed at killing her, was still chilling. She wondered how they would square off, in a straight match, but really... Aurora wouldn't be the sort to risk that anyway. Lyntael knew that if it had ever come to that, she would never have seen the other woman coming in the first place. She felt herself shiver. The more they worked for Varda, the more likely it became that she'd end up with a target on her back, being aimed at by good people trying to make things better, just like she was. It was a horrible situation.

Beside her, Rogan closed down his laptop and slipped it back into his shoulder bag carefully, then retrieved her PET from his coat pocket and began to adjust it. Lyntael closed her eyes as she felt the usual programs activate and slide into place.

“Masking is up. All clean.” She murmured in a soft, quiet voice in response to his sideways glance and Rogan nodded in return, slipping the device away again. The view slipped below the clouds and a familiar, somewhat dreary sprawling urban landscape came into view. Behind them, the drunk woman began leaning on the assistance button and calling in loud, uneven tones for one more wine while Lyntael climbed back to Rogan's shoulder in preparation for landing.

The dark grey of thick clouds overhead had taken on a faint greenish hue as Rogan made his way through the city. A heavy rumble rolled across the sky and the scent of threatening rain cut through the muted air. The walkways were mostly deserted, as they usually were. Even the few individuals who still preferred to walk reasonable distances rather than taking other transport weren't chancing the weather this evening, but Rogan had somewhere to be.

Lyntael was safely hidden away in his pocket for now. He would normally have expected her to insist on standing out on his shoulder, in this weather, but that was... another little detail that cut when he noticed it now. He pushed the thought away; it was time to focus. Before long, rough cobbles gave way to descending stairs as Rogan diverted from the main street and into the familiar entryway of his normal meeting place with Varda. The sound of softly playing folk music rolled out towards him as he pushed the door open and slipped inside.

The interior was much the same as it always was – quaint and comfortable, cosy even, and moderately occupied with 'patrons' scattered unevenly about the room. The sense of surreptitious eyes turning towards him without any obvious stares settled over him and he gave a casual nod to the barkeeper as he polished glasses behind the central circular bar. The man nodded once in return, and gave a faint flick of his head in one direction. Rogan followed it, and slipped into place in one of the back booths. He felt Lyntael shift in his pocket, and caught the faint spec of brighter colour in the peripheral of his vision as she peeked out at the room. There was no harm in it at this point, after all. She didn't speak, even so – the cosy atmosphere and friendly music masked the obvious tension of the space and it wasn't a place for casual words.

Minutes passed; any normal establishment would have insisted he order a drink, if he was going to stay, but he didn't go to the bar, and no-one came to him. Varda was making him wait. The display of authority was mostly lost on him, but it was intriguing that she wanted to intimidate or unnerve him. Their last contact had been thorny, to say the least, but she had definitely been at a disadvantage – even if they had caught their mole, it was strange for her to play like this. He waited, a calm, passive expression on his features, and let his body fall into a relaxed pose.

It was several minutes more before a figure approached his table and slid into the position opposite him. Varda smiled and met his eyes as her hands placed a closed folder of documents on the table in front of her. Gone were the overtly feminine clothes and revealing necklines this time, replaced with a sharp, flatteringly tailored business suit. Perhaps she'd decided that approach wasn't getting her anything, or maybe it no longer mattered. She was still his handler – which meant that the information leak and potential mishandling of him as an asset hadn't been deemed too terminal an error by her superiors. Rogan let his eyes shift to the folder and then back up to her before he inclined his own head to her.

“To business then, mister O'Conaill. There is work that must be done, and you will be paid well for it.” Authority and command were the tools then. He let a small smile quirk one corner of his lips; careful not to make it too cocky or self-assured, but soft amusement should do.

“A pleasure as always, Varda. Though if you recall, I suggested at our last meeting that I needed some more assurance of your... integrity, before I'd take more work. I presume, since we sit here this evening, that the issue of your vermin problem, has been eliminated?” He raised an eyebrow, hands folded in front of his own position without making any move towards the file. To her credit, Varda's expression didn't waver, though he could feel the cold knives of her eyes hardening as she glared at him.

“This is not your concern, mister O'Conaill. The matter has been dealt with as we see fit.” The words were dismissive and clipped and Rogan held her eyes for an extra moment. That was all he was going to get out of her, regardless. It would have to do. He backed off and shrugged.

“Well, I wouldn't think to tell you how to run your own house, of course. So... what can this wisp in the night do for you this evening?” Her glare held him for an extra moment before she relaxed as well.

“The organisation headed by your good friend mister Fitzpatrick, Caoránach Creative, and all of its many little fronts and subsidiaries... They have become a troublesome thorn, yes? One that encroaches upon our interests in several sectors. It has been decided that we will not humour them any longer. Their experiments showed promise for a time, and their research was interesting, you know, but what we may gain from controlling them is no longer worth the investment this would take. They are to be removed from the board.” With one hand Varda reached out to place her fingertips on the folder and slid it across to Rogan.

“What we need from you at this moment is straight forward.” She paused, with a pointed glance, and Rogan drew the folder the rest of the way to his position. He flipped open the file and quickly skimmed the pages within; a geographical location, some satellite images, and reports about the lab in question. Navigator experiments, closed and sealed. Familiarity almost made his eyebrows jump and but he controlled the reaction as he skimmed back to the first few pages. A cautious alarm started in the back of his mind; this was far too much of a coincidence. Varda gave no signs that she knew he'd been looking into this location, but he still didn't trust the timing. He closed the folder over again and looked up to her, his expression unconcerned behind the mask. She continued once he met her gaze.

“They are very careful with their experiments now; these ones, they keep isolated, without any external connections to the sites, save singular hard lines that are kept disconnected with physical dead spaces. You are familiar with this situation, yes?” Rogan gave her a brief nod, as much as her question was rhetorical – she didn't pause. “We wish now to employ the will'o'wisp that leads only to destruction. They do not have replacements for the materials upon which they experiment, nor back-ups of the work they do, outside of the lab in which it is conducted... you have retrieved information for us in the past, but your skill set, it also deals with the complete removal of such things as well, no? This is what we now require.” As she spoke, Rogan casually flipped open the file again and leafed through the reports and images. It was definitely the same place. A dark feeling in his mind knew exactly what the 'materials' were that she was telling him to destroy.

“This is within your abilities, yes, Nightwisp? Nothing is to remain of their work in this location. No trace to be followed, no pieces to be restored. Nothing. We are not interested in its retrieval or copying, only its complete destruction.” Rogan's mind raced through possibilities as he picked his response. This was still a negotiation, even if direct refusal wasn't on the cards.

“The report mentions navigator experiments. There will be many illegally obtained net navis there; your Family isn't interested in their value?” He felt Lyntael shift again, but she didn't immediately object. One part of him wanted to cover his pocket with a hand, and make sure she remained quiet, but it was far too much to give away. Varda only shook her head.

“No. The value of such programs is of no consequence to us at this stage. It is all simply data that must be erased, you know. They must have nothing upon which to rebuild or restart their work. You understand this, yes?” Rogan watched her and let himself lean back from the table with a more thoughtful expression.

“I'm not an assassin, Varda. I work with information and data, not people.” Across from him, Varda's eyebrows rose and a briefly amused smile crossed her lips.

“It is good then, that we know well your feelings on the matter of navigator programs, and their uses, and we know that coming to you, there will be no conflict here, yes?” Her head turned slightly, watching him from the side of one eye for a moment, almost as though daring him to say that something had changed. Rogan found an answer quickly as his thoughts navigated the conversation.

“Indeed, Varda. However, I was talking about the scientists themselves. You want me to leave nothing for them to rebuild or restart their testing and research from, but I cannot pull the information from their minds... and I am no assassin, as I said.” Here, he was rewarded with a short frown from the woman across the table.

“I would not advise playing coy with us, mister O'Conaill... we know well enough of the lives you have taken in the past. A few more in this situation is not so great a burden, you know.” Before he could get full control on his response, Rogan leaned forward, a grim darkness peering through the mask of his calm to glare out at her.

“I have killed before, Varda, yes, but only to preserve my own life, and not for coin. This is a hard line, Varda. That is not the work I do.” He heard the hard edge in his own voice and pulled himself back to something resembling calm. To her credit, Varda's own expression hadn't shifted, but after a moment she pursed her lips, then lifted her own PET to examine something. She looked to him again and let out a short, dissatisfied breath.

“Remain.” Without another word she stood from the table and disappeared into the the back of the room, through a poorly lit doorway. Rogan resisted the urge to watch her go, and to look around the rest of the space; others would be watching even now. In his pocket, he felt Lyntael start to clamber up.

“Rogan, you can't—” It was only a whisper, but he reached down and put one hand over the top of the pocket and gently pushed her back down.
“Hush, Lyntael.”
“But she wants you to—” Rogan smothered the pocket more firmly, whispering through clenched teeth.
“Not Here. Be silent, Lyntael.” He heard an angry, indignant sound and a moment later felt the shift of her presence shuffle alongside the device in his pocket, then disappear. He resisted the wince that threatened. She could be unhappy; whether Varda was away or not, this was not a safe place to have that conversation. Fortunately, his handler was gone for only a short few minutes this time and when she returned it was to close her eyes and incline her head towards him – not exactly apologetic, but accepting, it seemed.

“Very well, Nightwisp. The scientists and researchers are not your responsibility. We require only that you deal with the digital data itself. But you must be thorough, yes? If you miss so much as a chip drive in some white coat's pocket, we will be displeased. This is understood, yes?” There was no room to push this any further; as much as she was speaking graciously, Rogan was well aware of being at the limit of what he could force. He nodded.

“It is. What are you offering?” He waited while Varda brought up the projected figure on her device and showed him. She shrugged and glanced aside.

“It would be more, you know... if we could rely on you to perform the full job.” Rogan let the comment go and nodded instead.

“I'm sure. This is acceptable.” Her twisted the folder of reports sideways and slid it back across to Varda as he stood from the table, taking brief solace in her surprised expression. “It will be done. You can keep your files, I'll do my own preparation. Not that I don't trust you, of course, Varda, but the last time I did, well, I got a little scorched... so, I'll gather my own intel this time.” The surprised turned into a dark scowl, but he gave her a short bow and backed away from the table with a smile before turning to leave the establishment with quick strides.

Lyntael didn't attempt to speak up for the several long minutes that Rogan took to make his winding way back to the distant block where he had left his vehicle. She didn't emerge from his pocket to take her normal place in the dash alcove as he pulled away from the curb either. Rogan wasn't entirely sure where he was driving towards, at first. His thoughts were a series of calculations and ordering of different elements that were now converging. Plans that were already requiring of great care were becoming increasingly delicate in their moving parts.

He avoided thinking about Lyntael for the first few minutes, or he tried to; she was upset at him, most likely, and he guessed she hadn't taken well being silenced so sharply, but he'd said worse to her without driving her to hide away. Not since the incident though. He shook his head to himself and focused on the road. No, it was more than that, but it would have to wait until they were somewhere safer.

The occasional roll of thunder from the dense grey clouds had ensured that there wasn't another soul on the long stretch of beach that Rogan eventually pulled up to. A cold, stiff breeze tugged at his coat and scattered the first spitting flecks of rain against his face as he stepped from the vehicle and began to walk. The road curved back away from the shore while the beach itself continued on down the coast and Rogan followed the roughly marked walking track until wet, hard-packed sand became shell grit and rock pools. At the far end of the marked beach, a last look out was only occasionally maintained and cared for on the promontory. Really it was little more than an iron bench and a small covering pavilion, welded into the rock, along with a barrier rail that did nothing at all to actually stop fools from being foolish.

The crash of foamy waves against the rocks below made a counter point to the more intermittent and irregular thunder rumbles, while the light spitting rain flecks blended into the light drift of sea spray. Rogan took a seat and closed his eyes for a moment or two, then withdrew his PET and extended the probe, adjusting a couple of settings before activating it. There was a small whine of sound that faded from hearing and he set the device down on the broad arm of the bench beside him.

It only took another minute or so before the small, bright figure of his navi emerged from the screen of the device and settled into a sitting position of her own, one kneed drawn up and her arms wrapped around it. She watched the sea and the clouds, and Rogan held his silence, doing the same. It was another stretch of time before Lyntael finally spoke, though she didn't look his way.

“It's the same place.” A soft statement, but with a thread of something underneath it... anger, he would have said. She was so much more inclined to grow angry since... Since. He nodded, and watched the waves.

“It is.”
“She wants you to kill all of those navigators.”
“She does.” Beside him, in the edges of his vision, Rogan saw her clench her fists as caustic patterns of light began to shift and dance beneath her skin.
“How could you agree to that!? I won't let you do that, Rogan, I won't!” The violence of her sudden shout made him turn his head to look at the young girl. She still wasn't looking at him, but he could tell her teeth were clenched and her body was tense. A painful sensation gripped his chest. Did she really think..? A month ago she might have been right. He couldn't blame her for not trusting.

“I'm... I'm not going to, Lyntael. I was lying to her. I haven't worked out how to sort this out yet, but I will think of something.” Now her head did turn towards him, the obvious anger broken through by an expression of off-balance surprise that almost hurt as much to see as the initial accusation had. The way her eyes glared up at him, brilliant green marred by mistrust, was hard to see. He tried again. “I wouldn't be very good at my job if I couldn't make some data disappear without others catching on. I made you a promise, Lyntael. We are going to do what we can for them.” Her gaze broke away from his after another moment and she looked down at her hands. Her shoulders slumped and relaxed and the tracery of light in her skin began to diffuse. When she spoke again it was much quieter.

“...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...” Rogan sighed and scrubbed at his face with one hand, then looked up at the sky. He stood and stepped out to the rail, feeling the rain begin to pepper his face and clothes.

“It's alright. I... I haven't exactly made myself the most trustworthy person.” More words came up behind them, thoughts that he'd never spoken that, this time, he couldn't stop. “Lyntael, I always felt you trusted me far more than anyone had any right or reason to. I never understood why you trusted me as much as you did, when I truly did not deserve it. Even in between everything else, I never wanted to admit that I appreciated that. I never told you.” He glanced back, and found himself taking in everything he could about the young woman near to him as he spoke, while his subconscious supplied memories of the many times before when he could have showed her more appreciation, if he hadn't been so stubborn He averted his eyes as he finished, unable to hold her expression when she looked back to him in turn. Lyntael herself was silent for another second or two, but when she spoke again he could hear those now-familiar threads of unhappy frustration.

“You're doing it again.” Unconsciously, he glanced back towards her, only to find that her thoughtful look had turned accusatory again. “The way you said that. You're doing it again. Speaking like it's some missed opportunity, or time passed, like you're talking to someone who isn't here, now, right in front of you. With that look, like you're not really seeing me.” Rogan winced. The last time she'd said something like that, it had turned into shouted demands for answers he couldn't give. This time, however, the girl subsided and looked down at herself again instead.

“I'm me. I'm myself, just like I've always been... right?” The words sounded like she was trying to make the same determined, forceful demands she'd made before, but there was uncertainty behind her voice now. “I'm real, and I'm really here. This is real, and I'm really me... aren't I?” Rogan looked at her, but the right words to say didn't come. How could he answer that, and be comforting, and be honest at the same time? The girl sounded like she needed a hug, more than anything else, and that was one comfort he literally could not give her. He reached out and gently let the tip of one finger brush through her hair and stroke down her back; the faint warmth of her form felt like a glow against the the cold wind and spitting rain. Lyntael gave a startled jolt as he touched her, but turned and reached up to grab onto his hand and stop him from pulling back. There were tears in her eyes when she looked at him again.

“I'm real, aren't I? The way I feel, the way I think... that's what's real, isn't it? It's all these other memories, all the little things that don't make sense, all the things I remember doing and saying that don't feel right... they're what's wrong, right, Rogan?” Her voice was bordering on pleading and he could feel the pressure of her grip begin to phase as the tangibility of her hologram reached its limit. Threads of panic scattered Rogan's thoughts as he looked for a good answer, amongst all the answers he simply couldn't give. How could he explain, without saying any of the things the Eric had worried would lead to danger?

“Lyntael... Yes, you are. Of course you are. You are exactly the person you feel like you are... and, I suppose, if... if you used to think a little differently, about some things, before... before that mission, well, you could look at me. I'm not exactly the same after it either, am I?” He could feel himself fumbling for words, but he needed to say something. Lyntael pulled away so she cold stand and look up at him properly, but she didn't look reassured; the edges of tears were still there, and her breathing had grown heavy. Small cracks of light jumped in her hair.

“You're not. That's... that's another one of those things! Every memory I have of you, from before that point, you're like someone completely different! And I'm not saying it's bad, and I'm not saying that I'm not glad. I love you, and I'm happy that you care like you do... but I'm feeling that because I feel like, everything I know about you says that you don't, that you never have. It doesn't make sense. Why are my memories all full of things that don't line up!?” Above them, the thunder rolled across the sky with a heavy peal and Rogan began to notice white flecks bouncing off the rocks at the edges of the waves. He moved back beneath the small shelter to bring the PET out of the starting hail. Lyntael herself moved in the other direction, clambering up from the arm of the bench, onto the rail to look out at the storm. The shift only bought him an extra moment or two, and no answers came in the interim. He sighed.

“I don't know what to tell you, Lyntael. It was a bad situation, we both got hurt, and now we move forward.” There was no point letting the girl prod further at the issue; for all he knew the questions she was pushing at the edges of it were dangerous enough for her. Rogan took a deeper breath and stood, then reached out a hand towards Lyntael. “Come on, we have planning to do, and preparations to make.” With her back to him, looking out, he saw Lyntael's shoulders slump before she nodded and turned back, leaping across to his hand and returning to her home. Rogan slipped the device into his pocket and stepped out into the growing storm.

((Rogan, To => The Navi Shop))
((Lyntael, Branch To => The Bounty Shop))