((From => Somewhere Close))

The midday sun was struggling to burn its way through the lingering storm clouds by the time Rogan concluded the last prospects for the interesting tidbits he'd come up with from SciLab. His mind hadn't been on the deals as firmly as it ought to have been, he knew, but they weren't terribly important transactions, not compared to the picture he had begun to put together from the more important data he'd retrieved. He was already in too deep with that, and there wasn't a safe way out, now, save for pushing all the way through and walking the fine line. And if he was really honest with himself, not a small part of his background thoughts had still been turning over the issue with Lyntael unconsciously, distracting him further. What a mess it all was, and more so for the irrational ways it was making him feel. It didn't seem to matter how firmly he reminded himself., the truth was hat Eric had designed his little trojan far too well; it took all his focus not to respond emotionally to the program, or fall into the trap of treating what was really just a collection of code, like it was a human. And to what end? He needed a tool that would function exactly as he expected it to, reliably... and Lyntael simply was not that; would never be that, he had realised, ever.

He closed the case on his laptop with a sigh and shifted his position, sitting upright again. It was a realisation he'd had to accept; there was no malfunction, no flaw. It was pure design, and she would never be what he needed because of it. The affectations of humanity had always taken absolute priority over his commands, even from the very beginning; he could see that now, looking back. She couldn't stop them, literally couldn't, no matter his instruction, because she was built and coded to give them complete and unwavering priority, no matter the situation. And that... made her useless to his work.

In between deals, he'd thought about his options with her. He could never make her reliable for the work he wanted to use her for, that much was clear. There was no point in playing Eric's little game, either, as it wouldn't get him anywhere productive. It didn't matter how much he knew, in his head, that the things her behaviour was making him feel were false, unjustified and irrational... he was going to keep having to fight them off around her regardless; there was no uncanny valley here, the gap was bridged and crossed clean to his side already, far, far too well. Rationally, he knew he should really just get rid of her... and the thought made him cringe, each time. He didn't need to see the little program to be able to see in his mind how she'd look, if he said that to her. The distress, the heartbreak, the tears... begging even, that his heart would both respond to, and tell him that he didn't deserve at the same time... Every time he thought about it, about palming her off back to Eric or selling her to someone else, he realised just as swiftly that he wouldn't be able to do it, now. He cursed softly under his breath.

The few minutes away from focusing on work were enough that his body began telling him, very firmly, that it needed food and Rogan relented, shifting around to resume his position in the driver's seat. He hadn't heard a peep from Lyntael the entire time he'd been conducting his business, and as much as he'd requested as much, like he normally did, he couldn't stop the feeling that this was different. She must have heard him stop working, but hadn't said anything yet, which made it more noticeable. Carefully, Rogan reached over and retrieved his PET in silence, turning the screen so he could look in and see what Lyntael was doing without being noticed. What he saw made the man close his eyes and let out a slow breath, another sign to confirm his worries about the program.

The girl was curled up in the corner of her room, head down and hands around her knees, silently crying into her chest... crying not to gain attention, or for show, or to cause a reaction; there was no-one to see and she was aware of it... Eric's little program was crying just because she couldn't help herself... and it was his fault. Internally he lashed back at the tail end of that thought, coming to him unbidden as it had. It was crying because of the way it was programmed, and there was no 'fault' to assign. He wasn't guilty of anything real here, however much it looked or felt like it. Silently, he let the PET rest down again, then waited a few seconds, rubbing one hand over his forehead.

"Lyntael... are you awake?" He kept his voice soft when he spoke, and listened as he heard a small intake of breath, then a muffled sniffle. At last she answered, and he could hear the traces of her trying hide her tears from him.

"I— Yes, I'm here, sir." She cleared her throat, though she didn't emerge in her hologram or make any of her normal efforts to meet his eyes. "If you're finished with your work, Rogan, you've not eaten at all in a long time. You... you need to take better care of yourself..." Her efforts to 'hide' her upset were faltering the longer she tried to talk, and he voice shook in places. When she stopped it was punctuated by another sniffle, but Rogan had already decided; he might speak more gently to her, but he wasn't about to play along.

"I'm aware, Lyntael. My work was more important but now that it is done, I am going to get something to eat. I have always taken sufficiently good care of myself even before you arrived, and I will continue to do so." She still hadn't emerged, even as he started the car up, and Rogan moved his PET to the hollow in the dash where she normally ended up sitting. A blinking light caught his eye and he looked at it. "Lyntael, what is this? Pending chip data?" Genuinely curious as to how it got there, there sound of the girl's sharp intake of breath made his eyebrows draw down. His hands worked even as he waited for her answer, pulling out the little chip clip fold he used and outputting the data onto blank chips, but he was far more interested in hearing his navi stumble through a very uncertain-sounding answer.

"Ah, Sorry, sir, that's, um.. I, I ah, picked those up, um, back at... at SciLab... I um, I just... forgot until now, sir... I... it was..." She had begun to sound increasingly breathless as she tried to explain and Rogan looked at the screen again. At some point she must have stood up to speak to him, but now the girl had shrunk back against the wall or her room, hands covering her face and head as she trembled all over. If she were human, he'd assume she was thinking about what had happened, but even as he reminded himself that there wasn't a 'person' 'thinking' here, he struggled with just how real it seemed.

"Shhh... Be calm, Lyntael. Focus. Here and Now. It is alright, and I am not upset. Shall I assume you also forgot to transfer the increase in your personal funds as well?" It seemed like the same thing that had happened before, when she had turned up unexpected funds and didn't want to say where from, though it struck him as very strange indeed that it would happen right now, of all times. When Lyntael answered she sounded... well if he had to put an emotion on it, she sounded borderline wretched, and ashamed of herself.

"... Yes, please, sir..." Emulation aside, it really made him wonder just what she had been doing while he worked on his laptop. He couldn't even begin to guess anything that made any sense.

"Alright. Well, in that case, I think I'll take us back to SciLab proper and get a bite to eat at one of the cafes there, since it seems like we should get you some more upgrades now." Another sharp gasp as he pulled out and a swift glance told him she had begun shaking her head while still trying to cradle it in her arms.

"No, sir, please Rogan... please don't take me back there. I can't, I don't want to go back there, please!" He was only mildly surprised by the plea, and a part of him had almost been expecting it, all things considered. Unconsciously, he cast the girl a wry glance before realising that she wasn't going to see it while she refused to come out of her PET. It ended with a slightly uncomfortable shift of his shoulders instead.

"Last I checked, Lyntael, there was an unfortunate monopoly on navigator upgrades. If you want them, then SciLab is where we must go. You do want more upgrades, don't you, Lyntael?" The pause was longer than he expected before she answered, and when she did it was barely above a whisper.

"I... I.... Please don't make me fight any more, Rogan. I can't do it, I just can't. I won't need upgrades if you don't make me fight... please Rogan... please, I can't go back there... please don't..." By the end it sounded like she was breaking down into sobbing and Rogan tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.

"You will do as I need you to, Lyntael, and that means you need to be competent, and capable. We're going, and that's all there is to it." The sounds of distressed sobbing were all that answered him for many long seconds, and at last Rogan sighed. "I'm not going to jack you in anywhere, and you don't need to leave the PET. You won't even be able to tell that we're there. Now calm yourself."

"Please... don't..." Her response was barely a mumble and Rogan shook his head, squaring his jaw and turning his focus back completely to the road.

((Heading To => The Navi Shop))