Ararat Parks, Suite 428

((From => Rogan's Electown Hotel Room))

For once the hotel room that Rogan found himself settling into was relatively nice and well kept, even if it had been one of the cheapest rooms he'd seen. Simple, solid furnishings, heavy wood, on a thick carpeted floor, well insulated walls and double-glazed window. There wasn't much decoration, but it was cosy, for all its heavy-set construction. the TV in one corner was switched off and the blinds were drawn over the window, blocking out the early afternoon snowstorm. Rogan was sitting at the small desk against one wall, working on his lap top with an intent look on his face. Beside him, The PET was lit up showing that Lyntael was jacked in — properly for once, which was a rarity in itself.

He was in the largest city with an airport, in the north of Sharo. The flight had been uneventful, though he had watched Lyntael spend much of the time staring out the window seat he had, looking at the world go bar far, far below. Unconsciously, he had still spent time looking at her behaviour for signs of deliberate affectation, but found none; of course he had, but it wasn't a habit he was making nay effort to stop. Lyntael, for her part, had been nothing but fascination and wonder. She had never been to an airport before, either, and the day had been one long series of new sights and new experiences for her. That was a habit he was still debating on whether he should crush down or not. The propensity to think about her in terms more befitting a living, thinking being. In the end, he had stopped correcting himself simply because it was more effort than it was worth to constantly pit his rational mind against the twinges of emotional response that he hadn't yet managed to put a stop to.

He was in Sharo to work, and to learn more about what he needed to to survive Varda and her 'family's vested interest in him... and as part of that to force Lyntael to shut out her ineffective behaviour when she ended up in conflict. Regardless of the cause or source, that much was necessary now. He needed her to no longer risk freezing up or panicking when unexpected things happened. He had accepted that it wasn't a deliberate process or anything he could override, and that only left one practical course; hard conditioning.

"Lyntael, have you acquired what I sent you for?" He turned his head slightly to direct his voice towards the PET, but kept working all the same. What he was learning here was only tangential, to begin with, but it was a hook he could start with. The girl's voice came back after a moment, sounding worried, but not uncertain.

"I think so... Ah, the transit should be at the end here, if the markers are right. Are- Are you sure about this, Rogan? You know I'm not very..."

"Yes, Lyntael, I am certain. It is precisely because you are not reliable in combat that I am doing this. We have time, and I intend to use it to fix your problems. I don't want you arguing with me over whether something is right or not, or whether other pieces of inanimate code deserve anything, so you are going to take one of these bounties, and then work on it until I am satisfied. they are legal contracts, taken out on viruses that are rampant in a network area and have multiplied beyond acceptable levels. They are dangerous and destructive and everyone is in agreement that they need to be culled, so I expect to hear no complaints from you in doing this. Do you understand?" Rogan wasn't really aware of how cold and blunt his voice had grown while he answered, until he heard it back in his own mind, and heard his navi's quiet, dejected response.

"Yes, sir."
"Now, I need to set up some contacts before I go any further. It will take me a short while to confirm this, and in the mean time, Lyntael, I see no reason why we cannot begin with you. I am going to jack you in now, while I work, and you will pursue this contract until I am satisfied." Rogan's hard lined voice made Lyntael wince, but she knew he wouldn't relent at this point. Not while he was in this kind of mood. She swallowed and nodded, then slipped back into her PET to prepare. A thought occurred to her just as she moved to the middle of the main room, and her eyes snapped back up to the screen quickly.

"Ah! Just... Just a second, please, Rogan! You're, um... It's the Sharo net, it's all full of ice and snow. Can I please change, just for a moment!" She heard Rogan sigh heavily, but before he could deny her request, Lyntael was already dashing to the side into the sectioned off area that served as her private room, sans any actual privacy. She ran to the small terminal and quickly brought up one of the outfit changes she'd designed and registered for herself, activating it as quickly as she could. The clothes materialised in a neatly folded bundle beside her and she spared only a brief glance around before beginning to strip out of her vest and skirt.

She knew that the area she used for a bedroom didn't actually afford any privacy from being looked in on by Rogan, but she was also very sure that he wasn't about to show any interest in peeking anyway. Not that she would want him to, of course, but, there was still a small part of her that was sad and disappointed at how certain she was that he had no interest at all. After she had unfastened her skirt and vest and slipped them both off, folding the flimsy articles neatly on the opposite side of the terminal to her new clothes, she spared an extra glance about, then slipped out of her underwear as well, replacing them with the thicker, warmer undergarments of her new outfit, including thermal socks, sensible underwear and thin thermal leggings. The rest of the outfit followed in a rush as she heard Rogan's finger tapping on the desk, but soon enough she returned to the centre of the main chamber, fully dressed for snowy weather. the warm clothes actually made her feel somewhat better about the situation as a whole. The idea of being warm and cosy and comfortable, in the snow, was pleasantly comforting in a strange way.

"Ok, I'm ready, sir."
"Good, I'm..." She looked up when Rogan's voice hesitated, and she caught sight of him looking at the screen of the PET more closely. "Where did you get the design for that?" His eyebrows were drawn in, contemplative. Lyntael dropped her head, hiding a sudden blush and lifted one gloves hand to grip at her opposite elbow.

"I designed it myself, Rogan. The ice and the frost, around that security system, in Okuden, it hurt my feet, so I thought..."
"By yourself? Hm. As I said, I'm jacking you in now." his voice returned to hard seriousness again almost instantly, but even with her head down, Lyntael was sure he had sounded surprised, if only for a moment before he hid it. she allowed herself a small smile as the beam of light took her.

((Lyntael Jacking in, to => Sharo Net))
((Lyntael, Returning from => Sharo Net))

Rogan resisted the urge to pace, and instead busied himself double checking his documents and triple checking his other preparations in between glances at his watch. The timepiece was another odd throwback. Few people wore watches at all any more, when something as simple as the local time was carried by just about any other piece of technology a person might have on them. He kept it anyway, though; it housed one or two of his other specialty toys, and it was particularly useful at a time when he didn't want to reclaim his PET or look at it, where it sat on the counter across the room.

Some self-flagellating part of his psyche had caused the man to leave the sound channel open on the device, just in case Lyntael had anything to say, and he was only mostly shutting out the sounds of the final conflict's aftermath. Had there really been a moment when he'd missed the girl's sobbing and crying? No, missed was the wrong word, he knew that. He didn't want to hear it at all... and hearing it now had still been better than seeing the situation before, and hearing next to nothing. He grimaced and clenched his teeth again, forcing the thought away as he rescanned his research so far. Why in the hell would his brother create something with that level of biological reliance? It was beyond irrational and impractical. He sat on the bed and flipped open the folder for the third time.

Let's see... The Ezarith name had shown up in a few places while he was poking around, and from what he'd been able to learn without raising any flags or being on the spot, Reverus was a researcher with enough information to pull details from. Setting up a contact that was to both of their satisfaction had been slightly cautious, and he knew he wasn't going to be meeting either that man, or the other Ezarith name he'd happened upon, not directly. He'd be talking to a proxy, but it would be a proxy that at least had the information that Reverus was willing to share, and that was all that mattered for now.

The name was mostly attached to navigator weapons tech, not real-world, but everyone worked both sides of the coin if they were smart, these days, and if he wanted to ID the equipment that he knew the group he was following had in their possession, he at least knew that their net operatives were more equipped than they ought to be, and there was a good chance the two were connected after a fashion. This lead was on the side enough that no-one would notice the thread getting followed.

A he flipped through his notes, Rogan's thoughts diverted again without warning. He'd looked up a number of the warnings that had flashed up on Lyntael's read-out when she'd been down. He'd had a small idea what some of it meant, but looking up the medical terms more precisely, and what they meant for humans, was upsetting. Apparently the girl had suffered a series of heart shocks and stutters that might have lead to a full blow cardiac arrest, from taking the blow that had knocked her down. Despite the way she sparked up, external electrocution had the same effect on her as it would have a person made of flesh and blood. It was ridiculous. He wondered, with a cold, slithering feeling, if she could actually 'die' without having her actual program write protection compromised, or triggering the emergency system. No, Eric wouldn't have done that, he was sure... Realism and his dedication was one thing, but when it came to a flip between that and how much he loved his little creation, Rogan felt sure that that, at least, wouldn't be a risk. He guessed that if she'd actually reached a point of expiring in a human sense, that the emergency would trigger, regardless of her program integrity. he turned another page. He was sure. But there was being sure, and there was risking it to test... and he wasn't that brave.

From the PET, he could still hear Lyntael whimpering softly. She'd quieted after the first few minutes of panic and furious sobbing. she'd claimed that the sense of pain hadn't faded entirely, because it was al still there in her mind, and that she could still feel it... but the statistical readout had reported everything repaired fully and fine. It had been a struggle not to respond in a sympathetic manner, and he'd tried to keep his voice hard. It nagged him that he'd been the one to pull out, not her, but he repeated to himself the same reassurance he'd used multiple times in the intervening minutes; there had been nothing to gain, at that point, to letting it continue. She'd already had the break down, and wasn't going to recover herself, so there was no gain in forcing it onwards at that point. Better to start again, when the idea was to push her so that she didn't break any more. And yet, it had still been him pushing the button, rather than letting himself see her suffer any further. He grimaced and stood up again, snapping the folder closed and sliding it into his shoulder bag.

"Lyntael. It's time to go." No response. He hadn't been expecting on. He walked over and scooped up the PET, sliding it into his coat pocket, and muting the sound channel so that her whimpers wouldn't be heard by anyone who walked by him between the room and his vehicle. Once he was in the car, he pulled it out and unmuted the channel, sliding the device into the dash alcove before he started to drive.

"Are you listening, Lyntael?" He kept his eyes on the road, but he heard a brief sniffle and a further quieting of her breath, before a mumbled response came back that he couldn't really make out.

"Good. I'm going to be meeting with one of my contacts now, and discussing some business with them. If I understand correctly, the individual is registered as an active netbattler. Considering your... difficulties, and the fact that we clearly cannot make very much progress with you on your own, I'm going to suggest that you continue to practice with his navi while we conduct our business. I don't want to hear any protests, do you understand, Lyntael?" There was another mumbled response that he failed to understand, but it was short enough that it couldn't really be anything other than an affirmative. the drive continued in silence for many long minutes through the snowy landscape, until her voice spoke up; clearer now, but still very quiet.

"I'm sorry I couldn't do any better. I had another... thing. It... It's happened before. Something happens around me, and it reminds me of... of SciLab... and, um... I just, it's all I can think of, and all I can see. I forget that I'm not there any more, and it all comes back, and it's all real, and I just..." What had started as a quiet apology rose to a distressed out-spilling of words before she caught herself with an audible gulp and a few deep breaths. she still hadn't emerged from the PET itself, and when Rogan had glanced at the screen before she'd been huddled up in the corner of her room, as small as she could make herself. She probably still was. He kept his eyes on the road, but sighed.

"It's called a panic attack, Lyntael."
"... I know. But..." There was a hitch and he recognised the twist of bitterness that came with her voice when she continued. "But that's something people have, not programs, right?"
"Yes, Lyntael, it is. Nevertheless, it is easier to use the term to describe your behaviour, than it is to call it a 'thing' that then needs describing."
"Yes..." Rogan suppressed the urge to wince at the sound of her answer, and was briefly glad that she wasn't watching him like she usually preferred to.
"Regardless. I'm sure you'll learn more effectively with someone experienced keeping an eye on you."
"Another friend I'll make and then never see again?" This time Rogan did wince, and barely caught himself from leaning away from the PET in reaction. Where had that come from? He took a moment, focusing on the road.
"You aren't here to make friends, Lyntael. Neither of us have the luxury of socialising for friendship, nor the time." He waited, but it seemed like the girl was finished responding to him for now, and she remained silent for the rest of the drive while Rogan rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.

((To => Strelka Bar))
((Rogan, returning from => Strelka Bar))

By the time Rogan pulled in to the hotel where he was staying for his time in Sharo, at least for now, he was caught up again in thoughts revolving around his work and exactly what this dance of large players in the shadows might mean. Harke had indeed given him leads and ideas to follow up on while he waited for a more solid confirmation from the Ezaith family about his suspicions. The real question he was pondering to himself now was the matter of exactly who this other party was, and who was funding them... He understood why Varda and her 'Family' were interested now, but that hadn't answered any more about who they were or where they were getting their resources.

He returned to his room, pulled out his laptop and got to work on other documents; it was a little after two in the morning, so he could work for a few hours at least. Lyntael would no doubt fall asleep soon anyway, and wouldn't bother him about resting. His mind turned over the evening in relation to the diminutive program. Signs were that they'd done some training at least, but not for very long. He felt sure she wouldn't have stopped on her own, but Harke certainly hadn't given any sign for them to break off either. He put the thoughts to the back of his head instead and returned to focusing on his work.


Around eleven the next morning, Rogan put his documents away and debated getting something quick to eat before arranging a few more meetings for handing off valuable bits and pieces he'd acquired. It was only as he was putting everything away that he noticed Lyntael was sitting out on the small table by his bed-side, stifling a yawn but otherwise watching him. He wanted to take that as a good sign, considering her more common withdrawal of late.

"So, just how much actual practice did you get done last night, Lyntael?" he spoke across the room without looking directly at her, but from the corner of his eye, he saw the small figure perk up, and take her hand away from her mouth quickly.

"Ah—! Um, good morning, sir. I, ah, I struggled, sir, but Eternalis and Aurora said they wanted to keep helping me! Um, that is, we did agree that I would try again with them, soon, to..." She hesitated and he looked in her direction, raising an eyebrow. Lyntael hung her head and hunched her shoulders, but then, in a small surprise, stopped herself and looked up again, meeting his look. "We took a break, sir, because I needed it, but we're making plans to try again and do better." There was a tone of firmness in her voice that he hadn't expected, and he wondered what had brought about the renewed determination.

"And how sure are you that the same thing won't happen again, hmm? If I am not there to supervise you, and make sure you actually put in the effort, how can I be sure you won't simply disobey again? If you will so easily abandon my instructions, how shall I trust you, Lyntael?" This time she flinched badly, her fresh resolve shaken and she broke away from his gaze.

"I... I'm sorry." No further answer came, though he gave her a long count of thirty to think of something. At last, he shouldered his bag and checked the room for anything he'd left behind, then retrieved his PET and slipped it into his coat pocket.

"Well, regardless, Lyntael... The funds I set aside for your improvement are building up, and that, at least, should be something tangible we can do about you. I have several brief meetings set up for today, but I believe I can at least trust you with a shopping run while I'm busy. I'll give you a list." there was a moment where he caught her hanging her head and looking away from him, before she nodded and answered in a quiet affirmative. It would do. As he moved the bedside table, he put out one hand so that she could jump up and cross over to the pocket where he'd placed his PET, then once she was secure, Rogan made for the door.

((Moving to => A New Location))