Tech Heights Hotel

((From => Okuden Valley))

Leaving Okuden, Rogan still caught himself pondering exactly what had happened between himself and his navi there. Something was different, but he couldn't quite grasp what it was. He still had a lot of work to do, and it wasn't really the most important thing he could be thinking about, but it kept coming back to his mind all the same. As he drove, Lyntael had emerged from the PET, and was sitting in the same place she always used to, in the dash alcove. She was watching him, while he watched the road, and he could feel it.

The past weeks, since SciLab, had been quiet and awkward; silences that were uncomfortable, and words that were spoken only briefly, and of necessity. Lyntael was still quiet now, and the work they'd done here had shaken and upset her further still, he knew... the retaliation thought, that she didn't feel anything, came up again but he let it go without correcting himself; it might be true, but for all intents and purposes it didn't matter. Eric's design was flawless, and her behaviour was as real as any facsimile could ever be, so even if he knew better, it was still simpler and quicker just to use the terms that came naturally. In his own head, anyway.

The silence didn't feel as uneasy as it had, though. He caught himself wondering how it was that all of their serious conversations recently had left him being the one to concede things, when facing this timid, quiet and fretful girl. If it wasn't so concerning it would almost be funny. The woodlands faded as he travelled, and though Lyntael took occasional glances out the window at the scenery as it passed, she still spent most of the trip just watching him. It made him wonder what she was thinking about; true, perhaps the process couldn't truly be called thoughts but he had no doubt that Eric's design was complete enough that the behaviours themselves were driven by the same sorts of impulsed underneath, and he was curious about what was going on inside the tiny program.

"Rogan... What are you thinking about?" Her voice barely reached him over the whisper quiet hum of his vehicle, but he flicked his eyes down, then up again.

"The more I have learned about the things Varda is having me look into, the deeper it seems to go. I knew it would, from the beginning, of course. This is Sharo's mafia we're talking about; it would have to be massive to see them sending agents over here... but still. They aren't the source of it, that's what's worrying. They're looking into something that's happening here, because it's managed to get their attention, and that's... well, suffice to say concerning doesn't quite cover it. I need to analyse the things I took more closely, before I give them to Varda. I need to know more, otherwise I'm as good as dead. If I refuse to join their 'family', then they'd rather I be a blind hound, but blind hounds are never more than cannon fodder and sacrifices. Knowing more of the picture is the only way out of that path, but the more I know..." He shrugged his shoulders, uncomfortable. He really was in over his head, he knew that, but there was no way backwards. It was only going to get more dangerous for him, but pushing forwards and diving deeper was the only option he had if he wanted to survive. Lyntael was quiet, letting his ominous trail off linger in the air. She shifted slightly, and his eyes flicked down to see her draw her legs up to her chest so she could hug her knees.

"What... What are they doing, Rogan? It involves navigators, doesn't it?" He wondered how much the girl had managed to guess at. She only had small fragments of what he'd said while working, but he'd hoped to keep most of the details from her. He only knew some of it himself, but he knew enough to be sure that Lyntael would not react well to learning more.

"It does. I'm hoping to learn more when I've looked over the information I gathered more thoroughly." It was a deflection, but it was an honest one. Even so, Lyntael peered up at him, her expression worried.

"You won't tell me, will you? You know more than that, but you won't say. Is... is it really that terrible?" Her voice tremored, and Rogan sighed to himself. It didn't seem to matter how he said a thing, in so short a time, Lyntael had developed an unerring ability to speak directly through all the layers of his words.

"Those who like to treat navigators like they were humans would think so, yes. And so no, I will not tell you more, Lyntael." She fell silent again, looking down at herself rather than at him, and Rogan left her be.

His drive ended eventually in dingy vehicle park behind another cheap hotel, not too far out of the city's commercial district. The building itself was a stained off yellow colour, its coat marred by age and city air; it might have been cream coloured at one point. There was a poor attempt at a garden bed on either side of the path that led to reception, long since neglected to brown death, but Rogan didn't pay it any mind. He took a simple room and headed up the stairs to it, throwing his things on the bed before taking the time to have a short, hot shower in the en suit bathroom that had certainly seem better days. His mind didn't stop working while he washed, or as he dried himself off thoroughly and hung the towel back on its rack, before returning to the main bedroom for his clothes. It was only the short, sharp gasp from Lyntael that made him glance up, in time to see a very surprised after image of her hologram dissolving back into the PET suddenly. He paused, then glanced down at himself, before raising one eyebrow as he looked back to the device on the bed. It was enough to raise a soft chuckle from him before he began dressing again. That done, he stretched out on the bed, pulled out his work, and made a start.

"Ah! Um, sir, are..."
"Yes, Lyntael, I'm dressed." Despite himself he couldn't stop a small smirk. She appeared a few moments later, looking about as flustered as her voice had sounded. There was even a dash of pink in her cheeks. Rogan continued to work as he spoke to her. "Tell me, Lyntael, what do you know about the fates of navigators who are left without owners, or are otherwise permanently cut off from any PET?" There was a moment when the girl looked shocked, even frightened, but she recovered quickly, biting her lip instead.

"Ah, well... I don't know that much, really, but, without a home system to protect them, or pull them out of dangerous situations, a lot of them end up getting deleted quite soon after being abandoned, I think, sir." She paused, rubbing at one arm with her other hand.

"The GNA tries to protect any that come to them, I think, and maybe there might be a few groups here or there that were formed to help or look after unoperated navis. I... I know there's a lady who does charity events online sometimes, raising money to help orphaned or unoperated navis. Her name's Holly, and I, um, I..." she mumbled into her chest, though Rogan thought he caught something about admiration in amongst the muffled words. She cleared her throat after a bit. "There's, um, there's not really as much information about it as there should be, sir. It's a big problem, but it doesn't get enough attention by far! I think, too, there might be some navi-formed communities on the net, places that are populated mostly by unoperated navis looking out for each other, but they try to keep themselves secret, since um... well... since some people might..." Rogan nodded, letting her know that he understood. If a community of unoperated navis existed somewhere with no protection beyond themselves, then secrecy, at least of the fact, if not of the community itself, would be essential for their continued existence.

"It is a pity the information is so hard to find. I'm going to be busy for a few hours Lyntael, likely more than a few. Do not disturb me until I call for you." There was a moment when her features flickered, but then she nodded her head, then let her hologram fade away again. Rogan rolled his shoulders and resettled himself. The puzzle had many, many pieces. He got to work.
Lyntael couldn't rest, and couldn't sleep either. Rogan needed her to be silent and not bother him, but that left her at a loose end after she finished the designs she'd wanted to register for more snow-appropriate clothing. She paced in the small space that made up her home, not really looking at the barren walls or the cold floor as she walked and stretched her limbs. How long had it been since she actually felt like dancing? The thought came unbidden, but it made her hug herself and rub at her arms. Weeks, really. Nothing was the same since then, and even when she was distracted, memories of those feelings on her skin were never far away. She was doing better, at least enough to fake it somewhat, and as much as the mission in Okuden had shaken her to an in coherent mess of tears again, the panic had faded much more quickly.

She had something else to take away from it too. Something positive, that she hadn't expected. He might deny it, but she was certain now, in a way she'd only ever worried about before, that Rogan was never going to truly abandon her, or leave her behind. It didn't matter what he said to her face, she could see it in his eyes; she knew it was true. Her thoughts drifted back for a moment to that broken, revised email she'd accidentally sent to Martia, and the questions she'd wanted to ask the other woman. As much as she hadn't written her back, Lyntael felt like she had at least one part of her answer now. She had wandered out into the larger space without really paying attention to where she was pacing, but when she looked out of the large screen on one wall, she could see Rogan's back as he studied a very detailed-looking document. He was going to expect her to start working again now, she knew that. It wasn't going to be easy, but she knew that Okuden really had gone far better than either of them had expected of her. She had to do her best for him. With a small nod to herself, Lyntael took a deep breath and headed back towards the terminal in her room, dropping down in front of it to bring up the GNA's mission request board. That meant it was time to restart her plans for improving herself whenever Rogan didn't need her. Her fingers hesitated over the keys briefly. She could do this.

((Lyntael Jacking in, to => Wanderlust))
((Lyntael Returning from => The Recently Vacated Wanderlust Cruise Ship))

Rogan was still working away in a busy-minded oblivion by the time Lyntael arrived back in her PET, the emulation light on the probe flicking off again silently. He had only moved slightly since she'd slipped out, despite two hours having passed, but the girl wasn't surprised. She doubted he even knew she had been gone, but was quiet as she loaded back everything the trip had earned her. Rogan would see the pending funds and chip data when he checked, and he might ask her where they had come from, or he might not. He knew now that she had slipped away without telling him before, and she wasn't going to fool herself into thinking that he'd worry for her safety over the time that she was essentially rogue and disconnected from him.

What mattered, though, was that she'd actually achieved what she set out to do this time. she'd taken on a mission, performed well, without falling to pieces, and had even managed to surpass her employer's expectations for her, and through all of it, she hadn't needed to do anything that she objected to, or even tell any direct lies to anyone... though a bit of it had been careful skirting of the truth, she admitted. She'd never expected to be paid as much as she had been, that was for certain, and she wondered what Rogan would do with the funds for her. She didn't think about it too long, though. As much as Rogan wanted her to be more capable, and as much as she wanted to be able to help him in whatever ways he needed her to, there was something... strange, and a little bit violating, about the thought that someone could use the PET she was connected to to make changes to her directly. She walked in a slow circle about the larger space in the poor excuse for a living space that was her internal homepage, getting used to the cool temperature again, after the sun of the Wanderlust cruise ship.

From there, her thoughts skittered back to worrying about what Rogan was researching; what Varda's people were investigating, and what some other mysterious group was perpetrating on navigators, somewhere. She felt distantly uncomfortable about the idea that someone could alter or change her body with upgrades, while she was connected to a PET; it was mitigated because she knew the device that served as her home would only ever be in Rogan's hands, or Eric's... but that kind of thing was considered normal and every-day by just about everyone else she'd ever encountered. What must this group be doing, then, if the general public would think it so terrible that it had to be buried deep in hidden secrets? She looked out through the screen again to where Rogan was still reading documents. She was sure he hadn't gotten off the bed since she'd left, and that meant he hadn't eaten anything yet, or slept, but he had told her not to disturb him until he was finished. The girl sighed and looked down again.

There wasn't anything else for her to do while she waited for Rogan to finish working; she still couldn't do anything that might improve the state of her home space, not without his confirmation, and as much as she could spend time designing new costumes for herself, she only had a small amount of space to actually realise any of them. She sat down, crossing her legs, so she could look out the main screen and watch her operator work. Unbidden the image of him stepping out of the shower room jumped back into her mind and a blush raced over her cheeks. She'd never seen him naked before; her mind's eye lingered on the single slim scar that she'd seen running in line with his ribs, across the right hand side of his chest. She'd never managed to speak to the man much about his past, before Eric had given her to him. She knew precious little more from Eric; only that the two of them had fled their ancestral home and cut ties with their family at a young age, escaping from a life that neither of them wanted. The word 'family' always had a bitter, twisted ring to it whenever Rogan said it. It wasn't a word he liked or cared for. The same feeling hadn't been there with Eric, but she knew it was a past they shared together as close brothers.

For the first time Lyntael found herself thinking much harder about the mystery. It had never really come up in the time she'd been with Eric, and she hadn't asked... and with Rogan she knew better than to ask, but the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to understand; needed to understand even. What had happened? What about their life had led the two to flee to another country, another continent entirely, and cut all of their ties as firmly as two brothers skilled in data manipulation could. No matter how they had seemed to bicker and rib at each other the few times she'd seen them together, or over calls, she knew that Rogan trusted his brother with a level of absolute totality that she would not have thought the man capable. Rogan trusted no-one at all, and relied only on himself and his own certainties... but he trusted Eric with his life, without a second thought. Eric was never so cold or false to others, but she knew he trusted Rogan just as much; more than anyone, even.

The line of thought led Lyntael to look down at her own hands in her lap, resting gently on the pleated fabric of her skirt, and the pale white skin of her legs crossed below. It made her wonder who she was, really. She was what Rogan needed, apparently, but what was she, that couldn't pass between them in words or deeds directly? He'd laughed. The thought answered back to her pondering, summoning the image in her mind again of him standing, bare skinned and with one eyebrow raised, just out of the shower as she'd fled in embarrassment. Ok, so maybe not a proper laugh, but it had been an honest sound, and a true one. However small a chuckle, it was still that at least. He laughed for others, but it was never real; it was always part of the mask and the persona that he wore. It didn't matter how flustered she'd been about it, or what he tried to convince himself he believed about any of it... not if the result was an honest and unguarded laugh. She wondered if Rogan himself had even noticed.

"Lyntael," Rogan's voice snapped her head up with a small, startled intake of breath. Looking out, she could see he hadn't moved much, save to turn his head slightly in the direction of where the PET rested. She quickly jumped to her feet and clambered out of the device as she answered.

"I-I'm here!" The PET rested on the bedside stand, and the wood beneath her feet felt slightly warm, compared to the interior of her home. She was tempted to make the small jump across to the much softer-looking, and likely warmer still, bed where Rogan was still tapping away at his laptop, but as long as he was still working he wouldn't appreciate her looking over his shoulder. She waited where she was as he continued, not looking up.

"I have decided what my next course of action must be. It won't be an easy matter, but it is the only way I'm going to move forward with my skin intact. If Varda and her Family," there was that bitter, dark sound again; she noticed it all the more now that it was on her mind, "find out exactly what I'm doing before I'm ready, it will not be good, but it must be done. I need more leverage than I have currently, and bluffing will only work for so long. I am going to deliver this information to Varda, and hope that she doesn't have another requirement of me right away. I think she won't. She'll need to consult her masters about me before taking another step."

He hadn't actually told her what this meant yet, and Lyntael waited patiently while he tapped a few more keys. After another extended stretch of seconds, his eyes flicked across and looked at her properly, then, she noticed, just past her to where a light was blinking on the PET. She tried, and failed, to stop a wince from sliding across her features as she saw him notice.

"If you are ready to make private excursions again, then you will not object to what I have in mind." The way the words came out, in Rogan's most business-like cold logic told Lyntael that she most certainly would not like whatever his next plans for her entailed, but she took a breath and swallowed, then nodded. "Good. I need you stronger and more capable of taking care of yourself, and you need to stop shutting down under pressure. Once I have gotten some clear space from Varda's work, and we have time, we are travelling to Sharo, and we are going to fix both of these problems." Despite her best efforts, Lyntael flinched, drawing back, but Rogan turned his eyes back to his laptop. "I'll get something to eat shortly, then sleep for a couple of hours. Then we will get started." She could only nod again as he closed the computer screen and climbed off the bed. She climbed up to his shoulder, like she often used to, when he reclaimed his PET from the table and transferred the money and chip data she had earned, but all the while, even after he strode from the hotel room, her mind dreaded whatever it was he planned to do.

((To => The Navi Shop))