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.